Sunday, November 22, 2015

Rye Pasta with Salmon and Tomato Cream Sauce

In an effort to take advantage of the relatively mild weather before the inevitable cold spell comes (though the winter wonderland decorations already bedazzling just about every outdoor space have me believing that it’s already here), I’ve been booking my weekends with just about every outdoor activity possible. From long walks and wineries to old college town tailgating and, just last weekend, to the delightfully food-oriented Emporiyum.

Essentially a pop-up market, Emporiyum set up shop at Union Market in DC and about 100 chefs, creatives and artisanal food-makers brought their beautiful and delicious creations for all to eat, drink, and purchase. With free samples at almost every stall, my friends and I spent a good two hours meandering through every inch of the space, robotically reaching out to try everything presented to us. Scattered amongst some more well-known purveyors like Shake Shack and Route 11 chips, it was actually the tiny food businesses, the ones really experimenting with their subjects of choice, that impressed me the most. A crowd favorite was Buredo, the sushi burrito sensation that’s taking DC by storm (and yes, it is as good as it looks). I also ended up walking away with cod brew coffee aged in whiskey barrels from Vigilante Coffee, spicy maple syrup from Mixed Made, a smoked cinnamon ice cream from Little Baby’s IceCream, and some rye trumpet pasta from Spoglini Pasta Shop.

I’m not entirely sure why I bought the pasta. I honestly don’t even really eat that much pasta. But something about the unique and interesting shapes they offered, the rough-textured exteriors of the dry noodles, and the array of flavors from Everything Bagel Fusilli to Mint Cavatelli, had me suddenly needing to buy a bag. When it came time to make a dish out of it, I started with my favorite tomato butter sauce and built upon that with ingredients typically paired with rye, in this case hot smoked salmon and capers. I cut the tanginess of the sauce with a little bit of cream and added some freshness with spinach, fresh dill and a touch of lemon juice and zest. The dish is comforting and hearty without being overly heavily – it is Thanksgiving in 4 days after all – and once the sauce is done it all comes together fairly quickly. Of course the dish would still be great with any standard pasta, but if you can get your hands on some made with rye (Spoglini sells online!) you’ll see just what a difference it makes.

Rye Pasta with Salmon and Tomato Cream Sauce
Serves 4-6

1x28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes
5 Tbs. butter
1 medium onion, peeled and halved
½ cup heavy cream
1 lb rye trumpet pasta
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large bunch of spinach
2 Tbs. capers
juice and zest of a lemon
8 oz hot smoked salmon, torn into large chunks
1 Tbs chopped fresh dill
salt and pepper

Start by making the sauce. In a large saucepan combine the tomatoes, butter and the two halves of the onion along with a generous pinch of salt. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer to cook for about 45 minutes, until thick. Occasionally use a wooden spoon to stir and break up chunks of the tomato. When the sauce is done, transfer the onion pieces to a plate, cut into rough chunks, and return to the pot with the sauce. Stir in the cream and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta according to the package instructions until al dente. Reserve a half-cup of the pasta water and drain. Pour the noodles back into the empty pot and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil over medium in a large skillet. Add the spinach and sauté until wilted. Add in the capers and the lemon zest and pour in the tomato sauce to warm it back up.  Once hot, add the sauce to the pot with the cooked noodles. Add the salmon pieces and the dill to the pasta along with a squeeze of lemon juice and gently mix to combine. Pour in some of the reserved pasta water if it looks a little dry. Taste and season with salt and pepper as desired.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Eating my way through New Orleans

So what do I think about when I think about New Orleans? My recent 5-day trip to this non-stop party of a city left me thinking just that and I honestly don’t even know where to begin. The answer I’ve been giving when asked about my vacation is that it’s unlike anything I’ve seen before. That it feels vaguely as though I’ve walked onto a trippy carnival-esque movie set of a place full of gluttony, debauchery, and excessive libations.

It’s a place where you can get a double vodka soda for a mere three bucks… if you know where to go. A place where the daytime has you eating beignets by a water fountain but a few blocks away in the evening you find yourself passing a voodoo shop as a sleazy man outside of Lipstixx Gentleman’s Club announces that “It’s titty time!” A place where groups of twenty somethings gather in the street and play some fantastic bayou tunes on everything from a banjo to a washboard yet at night, nothing gets a group of tipsy fifty somethings more excited than a cover of Jon Bon Jovi’s Livin’ on a Prayer. But most importantly, it’s a place with a passion for its food and drink culture and the people there will do all they can to hook you up with finest, greasiest, richest, and most decadent dishes that New Orleans has to offer.

Going there with the number one priority of running the Jazz Half Marathon, trying as many iconic Nola food items as possible was a very close second. My friends and I stayed a good ways away from the French Quarter in Uptown, so we tended to stick to nearby Freret Street for a good number of our meals and were very pleased with what came of it. And we certainly found that when it came to eating and drinking, we also had to treat it like a marathon. From frozen Irish coffees to étouffée fries to countless beignets, it started to feel like making room in our stomachs what a more difficult task than running the 13 miles. In the end, feeling like I need to go though some serious detox therapy, I can certainly say that it was completely worth every bite. 

Here's a look at our 5-day Nola food marathon:

Wayfare – A trendy bar and sandwich shop with quite possibly the best sandwich I’ve ever had, the Knuckle Sandwich, pictured. It’s roast beef and horseradish salad topped with pickled red onions, crispy onions strings, and arugula on a pretzel bun with housemade chips. The friend green tomato BLT and Cuban got rave reviews as well. 

Café du Monde – The obvious option for beignets and café au lait. It’ll be crowded at all times so get your loot to go (with A LOT of napkins) and find a bench somewhere secluded where you don’t have to feel ashamed about covering your body entirely with powdered sugar.

Erin Rose - A cool, divey bar with cheap brunchtime drinks including their Irish coffee slushies. Really it's more like a milkshake but that just makes it all the better. If you walk all the way to the back of the bar it turns into a tiny shop called Killer Poboys, a short and sweet menu of some really innovative versions of the classic sandwich. I tried the pork belly but was quite envious of the meatloaf poboys my friends got.

Dat Dog - Another spot on Freret Street, Dat Dog is just that, a lot of hotdogs, but unlike you've ever seen before. They have about 15 varieties of hotdogs with an endless list of toppings. I recommend getting the chef's choice for toppings. I went with the Duck Dog and they mounded it with a hot blackberry sauce, spicy mustard, bacon and bbq sauce. Pair it with some étouffée fries and an Abita beer, of course, and you'll be good to go.

Antoine's - If you're looking for a fancy place to bruch with accompanying jazz music, then head over to Antoine's. To be honest, it probably wasn't the smartest decision for the group of us to plan to eat three courses of rich heavy foods like shrimp and grits and hollandaise on everything to the sounds of upbeat jazz after a New Orleans Halloween. However, if your Saturday night was on the tamer side then jazz brunch will be perfect for you. But no matter how hungover you are, be sure to order the bread pudding. You won't regret it.

Humble Bagel - Our final Freret Street find. It's in no way a classic Nola dish but it is a damn good bagel if you're looking for cheap, delicious, and filling

Central Grocery - Home of the Original muffuletta sandwich, a pressed sandwich stuffed with italian deli meats and cheeses and an olive and pickled vegatable salad on soft sesame bread.

The Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone - Swanky drinks on a rotating carousel bar. Dont worry, it takes 15 minutes for 1 full rotation so there is no risk of motion sickness. Just make sure that you become friends with someone already sitting at the bar when you get in so they give you their seats when they leave 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Apple Cider Caramels

It has very quickly started feeling like fall around here. The other night I walked outside and it smelled exactly like a snow and the my first thought really was, “oh god, winter actually is coming.” Luckily I’ve been packing my weekends so full with fall activities (i.e. haunted houses at BuschGardens, college homecomings at schools I didn’t even go to, drinking beers while wearing flannel. You know, the usual stuff) that it kinda keeps my mind off that sad fact.

You know what else makes me forget about the impending horrors of winter? These apple cider caramels! So do apple cider donuts for that matter, but that’s a story for a different time. I know that the Internet has already said a lot about these caramels and they need no further verification that they taste like the actual essence of fall itself, but here I am doing just that.

The intense apple flavor is what makes these caramels so notable. It has both that rich, nearly buttery flavor of caramelized apples while retaining that tart aspect that really gets the salivary glands going. This comes from boiling 4 cups of apple cider down to about a half cup of pure apple syrup. The syrup then gets a hefty dose of sugar, butter, and cream and flaky salt and cinnamon help to counterbalance the richness and sweetness. The end result is what I can only describe as all things that are good in one single bite. I would go on about how it makes me reminisce about walking through a brisk park while admiring the changing colors of the leaves or something along those lines, but then I might start sounding like this guy. So, I’ll just stop here before things get too carried away and tell you to make these now.

Apple Cider Caramels

4 cups apple cider
½ tsp cinnamon
2 tsp flaky sea salt
8 Tbs (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1/3 cups heavy cream

Pour the apple cider into a saucepan and heat on high until boiling. Continue boiling until you have only ½ cup of cider remaining. This should take 30 to 45 minutes. In the meantime, measure out all of your ingredients since the process goes rather quick once the cider is ready. Also, line the bottom and sides of a square brownie pan with 2 pieces of parchment paper.

Once the apple cider has reduced, remove from the heat and add in the sugars, butter and cream. Return to a medium-high heat and stir until all ingredients are melted and incorporated. Stop stirring and attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Let the mixture boil until it reaches 252 degrees Fahrenheit. This will take 4-5 minutes.

Once it reaches temperature, remove the caramel from the heat, quickly stir in the cinnamon and salt and pour the caramel into the pan. Set aside until completely cool. You can also place it in the fridge in you are in a bit of a rush. To cut, remove from the pan and peel off the parchment paper and transfer the caramel to a cutting board. Coat the blade of a large knife in vegetable oil and cut in to 1-inch squares. Wrap each in parchment paper if you are patient like that.