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…)

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If you’ve got a special someone to impress, Valentine’s Day really does take things to a whole new level.  Sure, we all talk a good game about what a made-up, commercialized holiday it is, and how we really don’t even understand what all the fuss is about in the first place.  But even couples who make a pact to ignore the day are loath to tempt the fates and skip the romance altogether.

Seems like a perfect opportunity to celebrate with a nice meal, right?  Unfortunately, Valentine’s Day ranks right up there with New Year’s Eve on the Capital Spice “worst times to dine out” list.  Prix fixe menus (often at inflated prices), crowds of diners and a general lack of inventiveness mean your meal is unlikely to deliver the romantic message you wanted it to.

A better – if not always safer – option is to take what you know about your Valentine’s likes and translate them into a home-cooked meal.  This year , I took the chance to cook up a three-course dinner for Elizabeth, with the goal of putting together a restaurant-quality meal in our new kitchen.

Along the way, I came across a couple of recipes that are likely to make future appearances in my cooking repertoire – a bright, citrus salad from Jose Andres, a savory duck breast/pear combination and a pie that would bring tears to Mrs. Fields’ eyes.

Colors, flavors and peanut butter cookie pie after the jump.

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img_7184Maybe it’s a Jersey thing, or possibly a guy thing.  Either way, I love me a good sandwich.  There are few foods that I approach with such eager abandon as a sub piled high with fresh-sliced cold cuts, slathered with mustard and topped with lettuce, tomato and other assorted veggies.

But there are sandwiches…and then there are sandwiches.  Oh, I’ll still gladly tuck into just about any combination of meats, cheeses and bread you offer me, but there’s really only one sandwich I actively crave.  For the life of me, I couldn’t tell you when I first became aware of the one they call the Cubano, but since that day it has been the sandwich by which all other sandwiches are judged in my eyes.

Details on this not-s0-guilty pleasure – including how to make them at home – after the jump. (more…)

img_2016After a period of indulgent eating (like on our recent trip to San Francisco), we often like to get ourselves back on track with a week of ‘whole foods.’  We cut out pasta, breads, and processed foods in favor of meats, fish and produce that we prepare ourselves.  It never ceases to amaze me how often we end up enjoying some of the most delicious recipes while we’re supposedly depriving ourselves.

Last Friday, we sat down to just such a dinner.  By coating salmon fillets in a delicious blend of crushed spices and serving it over a salad dressed with a homemade blood orange vinaigrette, we had control over everything that went into our entree.  Served with a puree of white beans, rosemary, and sun-dried tomatoes (the serendipitous result of my grossly overestimating how many beans we would for a chili we made earlier in the week), the salmon made for a satisfying and deeply flavorful dinner.

Recipes and results after the jump. (more…)

img_6895As you may recall, I resolved to try at least one restaurant-quality recipe each month as my foodie resolution for the year.  As you may notice, it’s now the last week of February and I have yet to report on any such efforts.

January kind of got away from me in this department, but I’m pleased to report that I started my resolution with a vengeance in February (for the record, I’m also committed to making up a recipe so that I still end up with twelve by year’s end).

I knew that I wanted to open strong – and local – so I spent some time looking around from recipes from some of DC’s best-known chefs.  What did I learn?  That most of those celebrity chefs are smart enough to put their recipes in book form.  As such, there are very few recipes from the likes of Michel Richard and Jose Andres that are available for free online.  As I progress through this resolution, I may just need to invest in a few more cookbooks (or reach out to some foodie friends for help).

img_6905I lucked out when I found out that Jose Andres cooked a few of his recipes for the Today Show last January – they were good enough to publish the recipes online.  I looked through them, and I was thrilled!  As it turns out, one of the recipes is for a “pork loin baked in sea salt,” and the technique is exactly like one demonstrated by Katsuya Fukushima at L’Academie de Cuisine last month.

I knew I had to try it – and I decided to do so along with seared piquillo peppers from the same Today Show segment.

Photos, descriptions and more after the jump. (more…)

homemade-exteriorThe week before Thanksgiving, we received an email announcing the arrival of Chicago-based HomeMade Pizza Company here in Washington and inviting us to sample some of their products (guess what they serve).  Though we were interested, we hesitated to take them up on the offer – because it is our policy to only write about restaurants and foods we actually enjoy, we were worried that we might end up in an awkward position if we weren’t fans.

As it turns out, we had nothing to worry about.

wrapped-pizzaFor the past ten years, the people behind HomeMade have been providing an all-natural shortcut to Chicago families on pizza night.  Instead of settling for delivery from a national chain or going out for über-heavy deep dish, they can order in a pie that is made fresh in the store and then delivered in shrinkwrap, ready to be popped in the oven whenever they’re ready. 

With a decade’s worth of experience under their belts, they’ve decided to take on DC.  Their first step: the arrival of their new location at 4857 Massachusetts Avenue (out past American University).  We sampled two of their pies – the Fresh Herb and the Sausage and Caramelized Onion – as well as their Pear and Blue Cheese salad, and the quality of the ingredients was immediately apparent.

Tasting notes, photos and more about the company itself after the jump. (more…)

tom-yum-goongSo…how ’bout that weather we’re having?  After an October that had us wondering if global warming is such a bad thing after all (it still is, apparently), we’re definitely feeling the chill now.  Here at Capital Spice headquarters, that means we start craving hot comfort foods.

But our (okay…my) days of Chunky Soup and Hot Pockets are mostly behind us, and as much as we love to make risotto we try to eat healthier even in the colder months.  That’s where homemade soups come in, especially soups that are made without any kind of cream base.

On a whim a few weeks ago, I suggested to Elizabeth that we try a homemade version of Tom Yum, the spicy Thai soup that mixes a protein (usually shrimp or chicken), lemongrass, and other traditional thai veggies in a chili-spiked broth.  We’re no strangers to soups that feature shrimp, so we searched out a good-looking recipe and got to work.

They say that great minds think alike, so it was reassuring to see DCist’s post last Friday describing Jamie Liu’s go-to home remedy for fighting off a cold: her version of Tom Yum.

Details on our version – including a few substitions for the hardest-to-find ingredients – after the jump. (more…)