Dinner Parties


It’s finally here!  This week’s beautiful weather arrived just in time for tonight’s Blogger Happy Hour – will you be there?  The cooler temperatures have got us looking ahead to everything that autumn has to offer: apple picking, pumpkin patches, corn mazes…and of course a sustained break from the fetid humidity we’ve all come to know and love as DC in the summer. 

But before we say goodbye to summer completely, we wanted to call your attention to two upcoming events that celebrate the best of the season in the best possible way: right there on the farm, among the fruits and vegetables that are just now at their peak.  Whether you’d prefer a farm-fresh dinner with RAMW’s Rising Culinary Star of the Year or a current Top Chef contestant, you’ve got your chance within the next two weeks.

Details on Outstanding in the Field and VOLT’s Late Summer Farm Dinner after the jump. (more…)

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Anticipation for Sunday’s Mad Men premiere has hit frothing-at-the-mouth levels. Will Don go back to his family? Will slimy Peter meet his bastard child and grow a soul? Will that Italian dude ever come out of the closet?

As any foodie worth their sea salt knows, the best way to celebrate is with a meal. So how can you celebrate the return of Mad Men in style? Here are a few suggestions.

Booze

No doubt about it, the characters of Mad Men hold a gimlet-eyed view of the world. A Mad Men-themed dinner party would never be complete without a strong supplement of cocktails.  If Prohibition created the cocktail to cover up crappy basement-brewed liquor, the 60s was the age to bring these concoctions to exotic climax. 

The exotic.  Sterling Cooper clients are wooed with Asian-influenced mai tais. Heineken was brought out for a big, international splash during Betty Draper’s dinner party. The Moscow Mule, steadily gaining popularity since the 1940s, was a happy hour staple. 

More tips on drinks and food after the jump! (more…)

Goat Meat with VeggiesFood news travels fast here in Washington – between the various professional reviewers and all of our fellow bloggers, there are very few items that pass unremarked.  Sometimes it seems like we’re all writing as fast as we can with one eye on Twitter, one eye on our inboxes and one eye on every promising storefront we pass.  The arrival of Poste Roasts, the newest offering from Chef Robert Weland of Poste Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco, has been no exception.

As luck would have it, we were writing about some of our favorite group- and family-style dining options around the city on the day that the Poste Roasts concept was announced.  We were already writing about the Thursday evening Market to Market dinners, so this new offering made a welcome addition. 

When we read the press release, Elizabeth was the first to see the potential.  “Any interest in getting a group together to do this for your birthday?” she asked me, thinking a month ahead.  I wasn’t sure right away, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that this would be a great way to celebrate with a group of our friends…weather permitting.  And the more I thought about it, the more excited I got.  After all, we already knew we were fans of Poste; why not see what Chef Weland could do with spit-roasting?

IMG_8564As it turns out, he can do plenty.  When you call to make your reservation (at least a week in advance, please), you select an entree for your party.  The locally-sourced options include standards like suckling pig, beef brisket, and baby lamb, as well as a grilled wild Alaskan salmon, but that’s just the beginning.  You can also go further afield and try Peking duck, squab (pigeon), poussin (young chicken) or capretto (baby goat).  Each comes with its own paired sides and is served family-style for the whole table to share.

If you’ve seen Metrocurean or Young & Hungry over at the City Paper recently, you’ve already read about a delicious suckling pig dinner they enjoyed in the Poste Garden.

Us?  We went with the goat.  Check it out after the jump. (more…)

Here at the Capital Spice HQ, we are always on alert for an excuse to drink sparkling wine. We’ll pop the cork to Blue Cheese Palmierscelebrate the end of the week or the completion of a Monday. I tried to do a sparkling wine drinking game for every time a Real Housewife of New Jersey acted trashy but, well, that show airs on a school night and I have to be bright-eyed for work the next day. Really, we don’t see sparkling wine as a festivity-only beverage but it does deliver a nice exclamation point to the day. 

If you are celebrating with sparkling wine and having some friends over, I highly recommend making these mini-stilton palmiers to kick off your party right. Selected from a cookbook we received simply titled Cheese Hors d’oeuvres (sponsored by the Cardiology Association of America), this recipe caught our eye for the June Cookbook Challenge for its rich combination of blue cheese and pastry.

If you don’t consider yourself much of a cook or are trying to make a variety of hors d’oeuvres for a party, this is an easy treat to impress. There are only a few steps and even less ingredients to work with and the final product is a warm, cheesy, salty delight.

Mini Stilton Palmiers

1 sheet frozen puff pastry dough, thawed
1 large egg, beaten
½ cup crumbled English Stilton cheese or other crumbly blue cheese such as Gorgonzola.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Unroll the pastry sheet and cut in half length-wise. Working with one piece at a time, brush the surface edges with the egg, forming a 1-inch border. Scatter half the cheese over the top of the pastry, avoiding the egg-brushed border.

Fold in the long sides to meet in the middle of the sheet. With the long side still toward you, fold the top and bottom of the pastry sheet to meet again in the center. Fold the top half over the bottom. Turn the roll over and pinch the ends together to seal. Repeat with the remaining pasty sheet and cheese.

Cut each roll into ¼ inch thick slices, placing them on a greased baking sheet. Place slices cut side down, about ½ inch apart from each other. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden. Serve at room temperature or just slightly warmed.

IMG_8235I have long lamented the lack of a really great French-style bakery in DC.  Luckily, we have no shortage of shops completely dedicated to sweet indulgences, which softens the blow somewhat.

After a failed attempt at pecan-bourbon pralines (more on that later today), I was in a pinch for a dessert to bring to our friend Aaron’s terminal Navy leave party in Adams Morgan. This was the perfect time to try out Sticky Fingers Bakery, a neighborhood favorite revered for  its all-vegan bakery, with gluten-free options. 

The space is very cute and unassuming… and very, very pink.  Shelves are stocked with additional vegan and vegetarian products including sandwiches, drinks, and vegan jerky and the menu includes sandwiches you can eat in a small dining room. There was only one person in line ahead of us when we arrived, but the guy behind the counter seemed a touch overwhelmed running around to fill his order. I got the feeling they were either understaffed or someone had stepped out momentarily.

The gluten-free cookie options were picked over by the time we arrived, so we loaded up on an assortment of cookies Sticky Fingers Displayfrom the bakery including chocolate chip, raisin oatmeal, lemon coconut and pecan cookies.  I made the fatal error of not trying one before we arrived, so I was a little nervous about bringing vegan cookies to a party. I mean, a vegan cookie? What is a cookie without egg and butter? Most guests were health-minded but I doubt anyone shows up to a party crossing their fingers for a sawdust-flavored dessert. Would they notice the difference? Would my party offering be silently scorned and politely ignored? (more…)

So you’re looking to celebrate with friends in DC? Uh-huh. And you want to have a nice meal with more than 5 other people? Riiight. Oh, and you’d like this to be a dining experience more unique than four tables pushed together at your favorite restaurant? Buckle up my friend, it’s going to be a hell of a search. Large group dining in DC can be an unrewarding challenge. Factory-stamped chains are often the restaurants most readily equipped for a party of 6 or more while other places that can handle the size include an insurmountable upcharge.

To soothe the pain, here are three of our favorite group dining set ups in DC:

Poste Market-to-Market 
A summer-only dining event, Poste’s Market-to-Market dinner is, hands down, one of my favorite special meals in DC. Every Thursday night in the summertime Chef Robert Weland takes a group of diners to the Penn Quarter market where he walks from stall to stall inspecting and selecting goods, chatting with proprietors, and discussing the bounty of the local countryside. Diners are then seated in a private nook in the Poste courtyard where the VIP treatment continues through the multi-course, seasonal meal. You can check out our in-depth review from last summer here. We’re hoping to make a return visit this August to take full advantage of the summer’s produce.

— UPDATE —-

We heard from Poste today that they’ve also launched a family-style Poste Roast available for reservations Friday – Wednesday nights in the courtyard. Dinners feature local meats spit-fired over their new grill and served up along side herbs from the countyard garden.  The dinner can host 6-12 people and costs under $30. Not a bad deal at all.

 Poste
555 8th St NW
Washington, DC 22204 

Two more unique group dining experiences after the jump! (more…)

I had my first taste of gougeres when Central first opened. Everyone was raving about this crazy cone basket of cheesy bread that you just had to order as an appetizer. We quickly discovered gougeres are made of magic. How else could they possibly disappear in an instant? 

We encountered the almighty gougere again at Tartine in San Francisco, this time in a tennis-ball size serving with some spicy pepper. Yep, still heavenly. But surely difficult. Delicious, flavorful bread doesn’t come out of the oven easily. I’m sure there are special tools, craftsmanship and unique ingredients necessary.  Pete Bakes finally inspired me to give the at-home gougere a try. He wrote up a fantastic recipe and wow, it might actually be doable in a mere mortal’s kitchen. 

Pete, as usual, was right. Don’t tell anyone this but gougeres are surprisingly easy. They are one of those dinner party secret weapons:  A dish that tastes complex but can actually be completed with minimal fanfare. It’s perfect for impressing guests and then passing off as no big deal. “Oh these? I just whipped them up with ingredients we had around the kitchen. You know how it is.”* You can even make the batter ahead of time and pipe them onto the baking sheet and into the oven 30 minutes before guests arrive. If you time it right you are taking golden, cheesy perfection out of the oven just as they arrive with no evidence in sight of a sticky mess. You are a host(ess) extraordinaire! But I’m getting ahead of myself…  

Additionally gougere flavors are pliant. Most recipes will recommend using gruyere cheese and perhaps a certain herb, but you can mix it up: switch gruyere for chedder, pecorino or Swiss and it will still taste great. I made my second batch with some gouda completely by accident and they still turned out beautifully. The same rule applies to herbs: gougeres can handle change as long as you keep the salty/savory balance in mind. 

Using the recipe from Tartine’s cookbook, I started off by making a choux which is the same paste that forms the base of cream puffs and profiterole shells. This starts off by combining nonfat milk (the book is quite clear that whole milk won’t work – it causes the puffs to deflate), butter and salt in a heavy pan until the butter has melted and the mixture comes to a “full boil.” In practice, I brought mine to a general simmer and moved on after having to skin the milk more than once. Once it is boiling (ahem, simmering), add all the flour at once and stir quickly until it is combined. This will become a sticky mass that tends to clump into one piece. Good news: That is what it is supposed to do.

Now you officially have your paste. Transfer it to a large (heat resistant!) mixing bowl.  If you are using a standing mixer, use the paddle attachment. Mix at medium speed adding eggs on at a time. The paste will turn from sticky to downtright shiny and gelatinous. This felt incredibly wrong to me – how could this sticky mess every become a fluffy gougere? – but that is exactly what is supposed to happen. Remove the sticky-shiny-mess from the mixer and stir in cheese and black pepper and herbs, mixing with a spatula. 

So now you’ll have a sticky, flavored mess on your hands. Transfer it to a pastry bag, which is a fancy phrase for large ziploc bag with the corner cut off.  Pipe the sticky-flavored-mess onto a prepared baking sheet, making 1″ mounds. Space an inch to an inch and a half apart. You can also use a spoon to make 1″ mounds but I don’t recommend it. This dough is really sticky; even using a bag it got really messy. I had gougere-dough dots and fingerprints across half the kitchen. Once piped, sprinkle additional grated cheese on top of the dough mounds.**

Place the pastries in a 350-degree oven immediately. Bake until they are puffed (about 30% larger than their original size) and golden brown. The directions suggested 25 minutes but I found 30 minutes worked better in our oven. Once browned, remove from the tray and serve, trying not to eat all of them by accident. Word on the street is gougeres are delicious served piping hot or room temperature. I have never, ever seen them stick around a table long enough to find out if the latter is true. I think it’s an urban pastry myth.

Ingredients
1 and 1/4 cup nonfat milk
10 Tb unsalted butter
1 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
5 eggs
3/4 gruyere cheese + more for grating
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tb fresh tyme, minced

*This only works if you don’t, for example, have a blog your friends read. In that case, honesty is the best policy.
**The cookbook includes directions on an egg glaze topping, which I totally skipped and did not miss.

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