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 Ice Cream, 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
Sauce recipe based on Marcella Hazan’s tomato butter sauce
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.
In the past year or so I have really been making progress in visiting new states and big U.S cities, starting with Arizona, then to NYC, over to San Francisco, down to Charleston, South Carolina, and finally, this past weekend to Nashville. Granted I spent all of about 2 hours in Nashville before heading an hour south for the wedding of my beautiful friend Kelly, but had a blast celebrating in a go-big or go-home southern style. I ate too much, I drank too much, I regret nothing.
I left my camera at home for this trip, sadly passing up the chance to document some really awesome eats (lot of biscuits included!) but did manage to hit up a few lunch and coffee spots that I would highly recommend.** So, after returning home yesterday, nursing a wicked hangover and eating a salad for dinner as if cancel out a weekend full of butter-laden and whiskey-induced damage, I decided a little casual cooking and something to attempt to wean me back into a normal food routine couldn’t hurt.
This recipe for Israeli couscous with ricotta and mint is a nice way to bring some comfort and freshness to what is now straight-up summer weather. After par-cooking some Israeli couscous, the rest comes together in one skillet. Bacon and onion get to know each other in the pan before joining forces with a hefty dose of white wine, chicken broth, peas, the pasta and fresh mint. What remains is something borderline soup-ish, a brothy pasta dish that gets several dollops of ricotta and a good drizzle of olive oil at the end. Coming together quite quickly, it makes for a great after work, recovery day dish.
**For a great cup of coffee check out the super-hipster Barista Parlor and then head to The Pharmacy Burger just down the road for burgers, beers, and housemade German sausages. And, if you have a car, I highly recommend a tour at the Jack Daniel’s distillery in Lynchburg, about an hour south of the city.
Israeli Couscous with Ricotta and Mint
Recipe from Bon Appetit
1¼ cups dry Israeli Couscous
2 Tbs olive oil, plus more for serving
4 slices of bacon, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 cup dry white wine (I used a pinot grigio)
2½ cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup frozen peas
2 Tbs. finely chopped fresh mint
Whole milk ricotta, for serving
Salt and pepper
Cook the Israeli couscous in a large pot of salted boiling water for 6 minutes. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking water and drain the pasta. Set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium. Add the bacon and cook, stirring often until it starts to brown, about 5 minutes. Add the onion and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. The bacon should be crispy at this point. Add the wine, bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for another 5 minutes. Add in the broth and the pasta and return to a simmer. Cook until thickened and the pasta is al dente, about 5-8 minutes more. Give it a taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Add the peas and mint and cook for another 2 minutes, adding some of the reserved pasta water if it gets too thick.
Serve in a bowl with many dollops of ricotta, torn fresh mint leaves, olive oil, cracked black pepper, and a sprinkling of flaky sea salt.
In true Northern Virginia fashion, it appears that Mother Nature has once again overlooked quintessential spring as a season and has taken us straight to summer. I can tell because I’ve been breaking out my much larger than necessary (and still growing) collection of muscles tanks and now, after I spend about 5 minutes outside, my already fluffy hair just about doubles in volume. I love every bit of it.
Despite the weather though, it still very much looks like spring at the farmers market. Local asparagus, so tender it probably doesn’t even need to be cooked, still remains and I bought the first of the strawberries just today. They are small crimson jewels with concentrated sweetness in every creamy bite. Honeysuckle and autumn olive trees are blooming along the bike path where I run, filling the dewy morning with sweet perfume and the muffled sounds of the earth waking up to the early light.
So much of this brings childhood memories flooding back. It takes me to mornings helping my dad in the garden or learning from him about keeping bees and to weekends spent with triple-header softball games. It spurs memories of strawberry shortcake for dinner and walking through the woods in the backyard playing a game I dubbed “Hakin’ Breakin’” which involved whacking thin low-hanging branches off trees with large sticks… I had to do something to entertain myself. And it brings back memories of a rare and special treat: fried morel mushrooms.
My dad has always had a knack for finding them despite the fact that they are only around for about 1 week out of the year. He spots them first during an early morning of turkey hunting after a period of rain and then goes on a foraging frenzy, harvesting enough for several days of indulgent fried mushroom feasting. We prepare them by dredging the halved mushrooms in flour, then egg, and finally saltine cracker crumbs before frying them in a ridiculous amount of butter. All they need after than is a healthy dose of flaky salt and are best eaten standing around the counter and shoveling them down while still crispy and hot.
So when my dad brought be the last of this year’s batch of mushrooms to me today, I jumped on the chance to make one of my favorite things for my roommates and I. They were gone in 5 minutes.
Butter Fried Morel Mushrooms
12-15 Morel Mushrooms, halved lengthwise
1 cup all-purpose flour, seasoned with a bit of salt and pepper
2 eggs beaten with a little bit of water
1 sleeve of saltine crackers, pulverized into dust
6 Tbs butter + 2 Tbs olive oil
Start by prepping all of the ingredients and getting a nice assembly line prepared. Submerge the mushrooms in a bowl of cool water to remove any bugs or dirt and let drain on some paper towels until dry. Once dry dust all of the mushrooms in the flour so they are lightly coated. Then, taking one mushroom at a time, dip it in the egg until fully covered and then coat it in the cracker crumbs. Set on a plate until all of the mushrooms have the cracker coating.
Heat the butter and olive oil in a large frying pan on medium heat. Once heated, add the mushrooms to the pan. When they are golden brown flip them with tongs until brown and crispy on the other side. Once all of the butter is absorbed and the mushrooms are brown all over, tip them onto a serving dish, sprinkle with lots of flaky salt, and eat as fast as you can.
This week marks the beginning of the ends. Every day from now until next Saturday I will be exclaiming to anyone who cares to listen that I am doing something for the last time ever. The other day was my last time to have a serious case of the Mondays in college. Friday will be my last day of classes for good! Next Wednesday I will take the final final and then, Saturday May 5th, I will sit on out Quad one last time and throw my purple cap into the air, marking the beginning of the next stage of life. Cue Pomp and Circumstance…now.
As I celebrate my lasts I also can’t help but reminisce of the pasts. I often tell people that my college experience lasted only 2 years. I tend to ignore the fact that freshmen and sophomore year ever happened. I was a pretty miserable and homesick wreck and rather lonely. I didn’t find a true sense of belonging and meaning to my college experience until the beginning of my junior year when I studied in London for 4 months. I lived with 27 of the most amazing people as well as the team of outstanding faculty and staff for the program and they are the ones who I relied and depended on as I began to make a transformation into the person who I am today. London is where I found independence, where I found my passions for food, travel, and cultural experiences. As cliché as it sounds I came back a changed, more confident and self-assured person. I felt as if I was ready to graduate then, that nothing back in this small town could further my knowledge after what I had just seen abroad. But I was wrong. The past year and a half have been amazing as well and nothing like those first two awful years. With newfound sense of self and of course my London family and our memories alongside me, the remaining time at college has flown in a blur of all-around contentment.
This past weekend I had my study abroad friends over for a farewell gathering potluck, We ate, drank mimosas out of plastic cups, reminisced and subsequently laughed over the many ridiculous things that happened during our four months together, and celebrated our soon to come graduation. These people are my family. We saw each other at our best and worst of times, in our fragility and homesickness but also our sheer moments of bliss. We had drama but, more often that not, we had laughter and we watched each other mature into a higher state and more aware state of ourselves. We are so closely bound by this and therefore, I will miss this group immensely.
For our potluck I made this cake, a classic English dessert called a Victoria Sandwich, named after the Queen’s supposedly favorite teatime snack. I know I’ve mentioned several times here that I am not much of a cake person but this could be the cake to totally contradict that statement. The cake itself it mentioned various times on the Internet. The Wednesday Chef just made it but I remember seeing it originally on Orangette titled “busy day cake”. I don’t know why but I always wanted to try this one out. Perhaps I enjoyed the non-fussy qualities, the fact that it is best by itself, in all of its un-iced glory. I liked how every picture I saw of it seemed to be ethereally light and fluffy. It looked like it was not too sweet, like something that would be perfectly excusable as a breakfast item. It lived up to every visually created extraction I set. It was meltingly tender, wonderfully fragrant of vanilla and nutmeg, and I made it into a perfect springtime treat with the addition of the strawberries and cream (in my honest opinion few things are greater than strawberries and fresh whipped cream). It is simple and humble and, with its enormous sinkage in the middle, it is just ever so pleasantly frumpy. This cake is London in essence.
1 stick (1/2 cup) softened butter
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large room temperature eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sifted cake flour
2 Tbs. cornmeal
½ tsp. salt
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. nutmeg
½ cup buttermilk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
8 oz strawberries, washed, hulled, and sliced thin
1 tsp. sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a nine-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a parchment round. Butter the parchment too.
In a standing mixer, beat together the butter and the sugar on high speed until fluffy, 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time and then add the vanilla. Scrape the bowl to loosen the bits sticking at the bottom.
In a bowl, combine the cake flour, cornmeal, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg. Turn the mixer onto low and add the flour mixture in 3 parts while adding half of the buttermilk in between each flour addition (you should start and end with the flour). Mix until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake the cake for about 30 minutes until an inserted toothpick comes out clean. The top will brown quickly so you may need to cover it with foil at some point in the baking. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 5 minutes. Invert onto a baking rack and let cool completely.
Combine the strawberries with the sugar and stir to combine. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow the strawberries to release some juices. Whip the heavy cream with a mixer or by hand until you have stiff peaks. Once the cake is cool. Use a serrated knife to cut the cake into two layers. Remove the top and set aside. On the bottom layer of the cake arrange the strawberries overtop making sure to pour over the good juices. Spread the whipped cream over the strawberries and place the top layer of the cake over the cream. Dust with powdered sugar. (The cake itself can stay out at room temperature but once you add the cream it needs to be refrigerated. Therefore, I recommend assembling the cake just before you intend to serve it so that the cake can be at room temperature...but its still good cold…at midnight).