Food for Thought


Photo credit: Bravo

We have to give credit where credit is due.  The chefs who came back for this All-Star season of Top Chef have given us lots of reasons to root for them.  And the quality of this season has done a lot to wash the bad taste of Season 7 (filmed here in Washington) out of fans’ mouths.

By the end of tonight’s episode, we’ll be down to four remaining chefs.  And if bringing an extra chef along to the finale in the Bahamas means we get one additional week of sunny skies and killer cooking, we’re all for that.

Yesterday, we shared our interview with Mike Isabella as we head into the finals.  Today, we’ve got our pick for fan favorite, Carla Hall.  There’s something about the way Carla seems to root for everyone to succeed that is endearing and rare on competition shows like Top Chef.  Watching her fall short of her own expectations – especially when working with “her flavors” and cuisines – is heartbreaking.  But we’re not telling you anything you haven’t already seen for yourself.

We talked to Carla about her deceptively strong performance so far, her involvement with local causes, and some of the things she’s got in the works:

Capital Spice: You’ve really come out swinging this season!  Three Elimination Challenge wins, three big prizes.  How does it feel so far?
Carla Hall: It’s great, but I really don’t know when Matthew [her husband] and I are going to get a chance to take all those trips.

CS: Beyond the trips, you seemed really excited to win Jimmy Fallon’s challenge.  Are you that big a fan of his?
CH: There were two things going on there.  I’m definitely a fan of Jimmy’s, and it was so much fun to be on his show.  He really is just like you’d expect him to be.  But I’ve got a personal connection to chicken pot pie as well: that’s the first thing I ever tried to cook for myself back when I was modeling and going back and forth to Paris.

CS: So this was a recipe you’ve made before?
CH: It was, though I’ve never tried to make the upper crust by forming them around cookware like I did.  I’m glad it worked out!

More of Carla’s projects in the works after the jump.

(more…)

Some things are just meant to be.  The stars line up, you find yourself in the right place at the right time, and you’re handed something you didn’t even know you were looking for.  It can be a job opportunity, or a romantic connection, or something even deeper than those.

For us, it was bacon.

On January 26th, Mike read Bonnie Benwick’s profile of Mrs. Wheelbarrow and the Yummy Mummy’s tandem charcuterial endeavor and everything just fell into place.  We were just gearing up to start another one of our Cookbook Challenges – an attempt to winnow our ever-growing collection of cookbooks by attempting a new recipe from each one to make sure we still found the books helpful.  In fact, one of the first books Elizabeth reached for was Mike’s copy of Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn’s “Charcuterie: the Craft of Salting, Smoking and Curing.”  Although he had received it a little over a year earlier, he had yet to attempt any feats of cured meat.

Enter “Charcutepalooza.”  The article made it sound tasty and fun all at the same time, and anyone who has read at least a few of our posts knows our love of all things brined, cured or smoked.  So we reached out to Mrs. Wheelbarrow through her website and decided to throw ourselves into the challenge along with the hundreds of other bloggers who have signed on.  A contest with some killer prizes has no doubt piqued the interest of some, but most seem genuinely motivated by the spirit that inspired the ladies to begin with.

The process seemed easy enough.  Each month a new pair of challenges is announced, with one for novices and one for those seeking a more intense assignment.  We all agree to work on the challenges ourselves and blog about our results on the 15th of each month.  We’ll continue like this throughout 2011, having cooked our way through a dozen recipes (more if you try both challenges in any given month) by the time we’re through.

So why am I up at 11:30 on a Monday night (Valentine’s Day, no less) waiting for my homemade bacon to reach an internal 150 degrees Fahrenheit?  My delicious, unintentional procrastination after the jump. (more…)

When it comes to food, Seth Cooper knows that process matters.  He embraces the “Fresh, Local, Seasonal” ethos and he even makes his own cheese.  But he found himself frustrated over and over again as he tried to bring that mentality to meat.

From 2006 to 2008, Cooper lived in England and enjoyed farmers’ markets right on his street where butchers would bring freshly dressed cuts of meat to sell.  He loved the freshness and the more assertive flavor of the grass-fed beef.  He could ask questions about the differences between breeds of cattle and even between different steaks taken from the same animal.

Upon arrival in Washington, he found a kindred spirit in Jon Wrinn.  Together, the two engineers sought to tear down all the barriers that the meat industry has built up between the farm and the fork.  They visited butcher shops and market stalls trying to find knowledgeable purveyors offering top-quality local meats, but they found that combination in short supply.  They even toyed with the idea of butchering their own animals before buying a cow and splitting it among a group of friends.  They felt so strongly about what they were doing, they traveled to Penn State’s Meat Laboratory to take classes regarding the regulations and procedures governing small-scale butchering operations.

Thankfully, they came to the conclusion that they couldn’t be the only ones who were looking for this, and so they’ve set out to make it easier for others.  Thus was born White House Meats.  Their idea: bring grass-fed, dry-aged, locally-raised beef to Washingtonians in a way that allows them to promote the cause and have some fun at the same time.  Their method: The Meat-Up.

What is a Meat-Up and how can you get the hook-up?  Find out after the jump. (more…)

CREDIT: Steve Termine

While the blessed and food-obsessed among us are craftily plotting how to be even more selective about what we eat in 2011, nearly 17 million American children (roughly one in four) are “food insecure,” meaning they do not have access to food that meets basic nutritional needs due to their home’s financial situation.  It’s a sobering thought, especially next to our prattling on about local, organic, seasonal and blah blah blah privilegedcakes.

In response to this challenge, Sesame Workshop – the nonprofit arm behind the classic show – rolled out Food For Thought: Eating Well on a Budget. This bilingual media outreach is designed to support families with children between the Sesame Street wheelhouse ages of 2 and 8 who have limited access to nutritious and affordable food.

We had the opportunity to speak to Elmo – THE Elmo! Who only needs one name! Like Cher! Or Pele! Suck on THAT Boutros Boutros Ghali! – recently so he could share his tips on helping kids eat well and nutritiously on a budget.  Elmo is much more interesting on the phone than transcribed, so we went all 2003 on your asses and recorded the interview. Behold! Capital Spice’s first podcast-type-thing, in several shorter sections:

Elmo explains the difference between a sometimes food and an anytime food.

So what is a “Super Food,” anyway?

More of our conversation with Elmo after the jump. (more…)

Ah, the new year. So full of promise. What do DC’s favorite food bloggers hope to accomplish in 2011? A LOT.  Here’s what they offered from their 2011 foodie-to-do lists…

“My foodie resolution is to drink more champagne! Really — my co-blogger Jill & I plan to devote more time to the second half of our blog name in 2011. We’ll have monthly champagne/sparkling wine reviews in addition to our usual cheesy content.”
– Colleen Levine
foodietots.com
| Cheese and Champagne
@foodietot | @100cheeses

“I have 25!  But number #1, the one that I really suck at, is making bread.  See here, for 24 others.”
– Mary Cunningham
Arugula Files“To share at least one recipe a week with my readers (*pictures included).  In 2010, I stepped away from my recipes and focused on the other facets of food i.e. dining etiquette, top food events in the area.  For 2011, I want to return to the reason I started Johnna Knows Good Food:  cooking and sharing.”
– Johnna
Johnna Knows Good Food

“Cook more. I want to take a few toes out of the restaurant dining room and put them into my kitchen. I want to get in touch with soups, roasts, salads and challenge myself to figure out what to do with the mystery veggies at the farmers market.”
– Katie Test
Food Editor
We Love DC

“Resist the urge to check out restaurant menus online before dining.”
– Stefanie Gans
Endless Simmer

“Get back to Komi and Eve, plus try Minibar (finally!). On a more ho-hum note, keep finding ways to work leafy greens into my weeknight meals. Collard greens are the sexy newcomer on my plate these days.”
– Alison McConnell Pierce
The Humble Gourmand

“My resolutions are to get back to my regular brunches (life has gotten in the way the last couple of months…very sad and unacceptable) and to learn to cook one new vegetable each month out of my CSA box.  Cooking vegetables — outside of the usual zucchini and broccoli — scare me and it’s time to break out and tackle my fears.”
– Claudia Holwill
Brunch and the City

“I definitely need to try and make challah again (successfully!).”
– Olga
Mango and Tomato

“A few:
Eat more greens.  I love kale and collards and every green except that premixed mesclun stuff at the store that’s totally anemic.
Make more soup – learn how to make a consomme.
Chronicle my meals more. I have a memory like a sieve and think it would be enlightening (e.g.,How many dishes I’ve eaten have sweet potatoes, caselveltrano olives or aleppo pepper as trendy ingredients.  Or on a personal note, how often I’m eating red meat).”
-Melissa McCart
The Feast (Washington)

As for us… No more wasted produce! Too often we hit the farmers market and our intentions are bigger than our attention spans. Another big one is writing for the blog more regularly. We also want to join a CSA or other local food co-op.

We’d love to hear what your food resolutions are for 2011! Chime in with comments.

Interesting primer on the benefits of hunted and farmed game meat.  A co-worker of mine is married to a hunter and he actually hunts bear (!!). But this isn’t about a fancy rug for the cabin: he brings the meat home and she freezes it to feed the family in the winter. Apparently her bear lasagna is pretty tasty!

Trying out game meat.

Happy Halloween from Capital Spice!

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