Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Browned Butter and Sage Sauce

Sometimes, the sauce truly is the boss. The right sauce can transform the most basic pasta meal into something amazing. And it can be achieved with less than 5 ingredients!

I've made some pretty awesome sauces over the years, from romescos to marinaras. But I believe that with certain types of pasta, in particular those made with pumpkin, squash or sweet potato, that something a little lighter and savory fits the bill. One evening I found myself in possession of some leftover fresh sage, as well as sweet potato gnocchi that I had brought back from Pittsburgh over the holidays. With just a few more staples, I had what I needed to make this very basic sauce. So if you find you are short on time, and ingredients, this is a favorite.

Browned Butter and Sage Sauce (serves 4)


  • 4 TB butter
  • 8 sage leaves
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

While your pasta of choice is cooking, melt the butter in a saute pan and cook until it starts to turn into a golden brown color. Add sage leaves and remove from heat. Add lemon juice and then sit aside until the pasta is done.

Once you've drained your pasta, save a bit of your cooking water and then gently pour into the pan and return the sauce to heat. Add the cheese, toss to coat and then serve.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Date Night at Home in Four Dishes

 Now that we've passed the weekend of love, I feel enough time has passed to talk about two of my loves. 1) Cooking multi-course sophisticated meals at home as opposed to going out to eat on one of the busier restaurant date days (see: Valentine's Day); and 2) Achieving amazing time management skills in the kitchen.

When you're cooking multiple courses, time management can be extremely difficult. One key factor is having a partner in the kitchen to help execute multiple dishes at the same time. I'm happy to report that our date night at home effort was very successful in the area of time management. Not only did we execute a starter salad, a main dish with side, and a dessert in under 2 hours (when you count the time it takes to cook the sweet potatoes in the oven) we did so without any major disasters and little time wasted. We even had the dessert ready to go in the oven when we started the meal so once we were done eating 20 minutes later, dessert was ready.

In short, here is what we made and how we got it done. Our menu was as follows:

1) Lacinato Kale and Ricotta Salata Salad (courtesy of Epicurious, see recipe below)
2) Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin - a gem I've made multiple times.
3) Sweet Potato Puree with Smoked Paprika (also courtesy of Epicurious)
4) Maple Bacon Bread Pudding - I learned to make this during a cooking with bacon class last year

In order to execute this four course meal, I suggest starting by cooking the sweet potatoes in the oven as this will taken the most time to execute (1 hour). While those are cooking, I suggest opening a bottle of red wine. Because I said so. 

About halfway through the cooking time, and once you've enjoyed some wine, make the salad dressing and set aside. Then mix the herb topping for the pork tenderloin so that once the potatoes are removed from the oven, the meat is ready to cook. I also suggest cubing the bread for the bread pudding. Once you place the pork tenderloin in the oven,, you can also toast the bread cubes needed to make the bread pudding. I suggest assembling the bread pudding at the same time as when the meat is cooking so once that is done, you can place the ramekins filled with maple bacon bread pudding goodness in the oven so they'll be ready when you're done eating.

I know this sounds a bit complicated, but if you take a few minutes to plan your prep strategy for any multi-course meal, it can be done. Wine also helps.

Here's the kale salad recipe. It's awesome and I'll be making this again. The dressing also works well with arugula.

Lacinato Kale and Ricotta Salata Salad (serves 4)


  • 3/4 to 1 lb. lacinato kale (also called Tuscan kale) or tender regular kale, stems and center ribs discarded 
  • 2 TB finely chopped shallot 
  • 1 1/2 TB fresh lemon juice 
  • 1/4 tsp. salt 
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper 
  • 4 1/2 TB extra-virgin olive oil 
  • 2 oz. coarsely grated ricotta salata (1 cup)

Working in batches, cut kale crosswise into very thin slices.

Whisk together shallot, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl, then add oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well.

Toss kale and ricotta salata in a large bowl with enough dressing to coat well, then season with salt and pepper.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Failed Soup Experiment...or was it?

I'll be the first to admit that not everything I cook is a winning dish. But 9 out of 10 times, I think I do pretty damn well. But what constitutes a failed dish? In baking, it's pretty easy to determine. The bread doesn't rise properly or perhaps the brownies sink in the middle of the pan (true story.) With cooking, it's a bit more complicated. Yes, you can burn a dish, or over salt, but what happens when you just don't like it?

This was the case when I tried to make a healthy soup for myself using a few ingredients I had on hand that individually, I enjoy. And this is not to say that they wouldn't work together in other dishes, hell, maybe even in this soup. But for whatever reason, I just hated this soup. Maybe my taste buds were off. Maybe the butternut squash had started to go bad. It could just be that what I was craving was something unhealthy, but I made this and couldn't stomach eating the rest. I share this recipe to show that I am human when it comes to cooking and who knows, maybe this will fit your taste buds just fine.

Butternut Squash, Kale and Pasta Stew (serves 4)


  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 butternut squash, peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 3/4 cup tiny pasta, like macaroni
  • Salt and pepper

Peel butternut squash and then dice it into 1/4 inch cubes. Or you can be lazy like me and buy the pre-cut squash, and cook it into smaller pieces.

Cook pasta according to directions.

Add oil to a large pot over medium heat. Once hot, add onions and cook for a few minutes until they are soft. Add garlic, rosemary, and squash. Continue to cook until squash starts to soften.

For kale, cut out any large stems and roughly chop. Add kale to pot, cover, and let steam for a minute.

Add vegetable stock to pot and bring to a simmer. Let simmer for a few minutes. Then, add cooked, drained pasta. Season with salt and pepper.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Tempeh Spring Rolls

As I posted earlier this month about the wonder that is prime football watching food for the Super Bowl, I was actually making something quite different for the Super Bowl Party I attended. It was requested that I bring a healthier side dish to offset all the chili, wing dip, and cookies you could imagine (and believe me, they were all amazing). After attending a party last summer where my friend Scott deftly made these healthy little bundles of goodness, I figured it was time for me to not only work with tempeh for the first time, but to also make my first spring roll. These were not that difficult to make, and I got the hand of wrapping them pretty quickly.

Were they the prettiest spring rolls ever made? Probably not, but they were tasty! This recipe is courtesy of my buddy Nick's awesome blog, http://www.macheesmo.com.

Tempeh Spring Rolls (makes 8-10 spring rolls)


  • 1 8 ounce block of tempeh
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 large carrot, shredded
  • 1 cucumber, sliced thin
  • Bean sprouts
  • Pea shoots (I couldn't find any so I used watercress)
  • Spring roll wrappers 
Dipping Sauce:
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • Sriracha sauce, to taste
  • Sesame oil, to taste

Whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, and Sriracha and toss in tempeh block. Cover and shake well to coat tempeh. Let rest for 15-20 minutes to marinate.

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Remove tempeh and sear on both sides for 4-5 minutes per side.

Remove tempeh and slice thin. Also grate carrots and slice cucumbers into sticks.

To make a spring roll, put some warm water in a large plate. Take one rice paper wrapper and submerge it in the water. Let it sit for 5 seconds. It should be flexible but not soggy.

Move wrapper to a clean surface. Add a few tempeh slices and veggies to the middle of the wrapper. You can fill them pretty big.

Roll wrapper up, pulling on the wrapper as you roll to keep it nice and tight.

Slice each roll in half and repeat until you use all your tempeh or veggies.

Serve with dipping sauce!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Food Porn: A Week of Thai-tanic Proportions

Back in January, I had what I would coin a food week of Thai-tanic proportions. Though I must admit, only two of the meals were true Thai food, but I'm hard pressed to find a better way to describe the amount of Asian food I consumed in one week. The total came to 18 Asian dishes in 7 days. Not bad for a cold week in January. Prepare to be insanely jealous.

Toki Underground
On a Saturday, I braved the cold with three others to wait in line (my first of two cold line waits of the week...good food can do that) for Ramen at Toki Underground. Toki is one of those places that people will wait in line for an hour or more just to get on the waiting list to get a table. The space is intimate and the food is fantastic. While waiting, a Toki staff member brought out hot tea. Fortunately the cold scared many people away from waiting for extended periods of time (which would be the case again at my second dining location the following week). We were able to get in for an early seating and what came next was just amazing. We ordered some stiff drinks and their fried chicken steam buns to start. Served like a traditional pork steam bun, the flavors and the dipping sauces were just awesome. You just can't go wrong with a sweet chili sauce.

There are several types of Ramen you can get here, with a number of add-ins from pork belly for fried prawn heads to their Toki Endorphine Sauce. I opted for the Red Miso, which included pulled pork, kale, egg and pickled ginger. Others tried a similar Ramen that also included Kimchi. Bottom line: this place is worth the wait and you should go in the Winter and arrive in late afternoon. The line will be shorter and the warmth of the food will warm your heart and your soul.

Little Serow
On the Wednesday after Toki, I went to Little Serow to celebrate a friend's birthday. Previous trips there had involved an hour or more wait in line with the slim chance of getting a table. The cold scared away most people and so I probably could have arrived a little before they opened at 5:30 and snagged one of their tables for 4. This was my third visit to this little gem and while I can't share photos with you (I respect their request for no photos in their restaurant) I can say that each time is a different experience, with some overlapping dishes. Probably one of my favorites this time around in the 7-course meal was the Chiang Mai Catfish Laap with shallots and spices. The heat levels at Little Serow are no joke for most people, but I find it to be comfortably spicy.

BaJeng Thai Pop-Up Restaurant from Capital Taste
The last stop in my Asian Tour-de-Force was a Thai pop-up restaurant hosted by Capital Taste. I had met Chef Mackenzie Kitburi at a foodie networking happy hour last Fall and was happy to finally check out his food after weather got in the way of several previous Farm-to-Table style events. The event was held in the Mess Hall, a relatively new space for chefs interested in holding events such as this. The space featured an open kitchen so that you could see the team at work from a distance. You can watch a great video about the event and the chef here. (And yes, you'll spot me at about the 5-minute mark.)

The meal was inspired by the chef's grandmother and celebrated the diversity of Thai cuisine. Many of the dishes in the 9-course spread  nailed the complex flavors that make Thai food so unique and diverse. Not to mention the fact that each dish looked like a piece of art and were beautifully executed.

The dish (pictured first on the right) contained an assortment of mushrooms, Thai sausage as well as lychee. The crumble, which I believe was peanut-based, had a meaty taste to it as well and really brought this dish together.

My favorite dish of the night was the giant prawn with seafood dumpling. This was cooked to perfection and the dumpling was sublime. While the spice levels overall were relatively mild, this dish included some shredded chiles (that Doug ate like candy) which really gave the the dish a nice level of heat.

Capital Taste hosts a variety of unique dining experiences throughout the year. I encourage you to check one of them out and support a hometown chef who is making a name for himself in DC.