Thursday, April 29, 2010

April Favorites

April, it's been a whirlwind romance. You whisked me off to New York, LA, and Santa Barbara and even took a little time out to meet my parents here in DC. But things are moving way too fast, and Husband is unhappy sharing me like this. Time to say goodbye; bisous! I'll remember you every time I go to:

Vinegar Hill House in DUMBO. The menu is constantly changing to reflect the seasons and local farm offerings, so I won't recommend specific dishes. Just know that everything they serve is going to be delicious and special. And by all means, order a bottle of the Pithon-Paillé Savennieres, which is killer and hard to find stateside.

Natural Cafe and Arigato Sushi in Santa Barbara. Two tasty little spots on State Street. For lunches at home, I've created my own version of Natural Cafe's Old Town salad, which combines mixed greens, brown rice, avocado, shredded carrot, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, and a slammin' honey lemon vinaigrette (1/4 cup lemon juice, 1/3 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon honey). So healthy and satisfying.

Num Pang in Manhattan. I could eat the mind-blowing Cambodian sandwiches from this
gourmet hole-in-the-wall every damn day and never tire of it. So spicy, tempered by the fresh cilantro, cucumber, and sweet carrots. And the bread. My god, the bread. Get the ginger barbecue brisket if they have it on special, or the grilled king mackeral with leeks if you want to be sorta kinda healthy. The grilled asparagus is charred to perfection, and the corn on the cob is slathered in a mean chili mayo with coconut flakes. Really, get anything. It's going to be good.

Finally, April, you know I must mention the salted butter caramel ice cream. Yes, I'm prone to hyperbole, but you and I both know it is likely the best caramel ice ever invented. Thank you, David Lebovitz (and Adrienne, for suggesting the recipe).

Top photo via Patrick Andrade; bottom photo via David Lebovitz

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

In my mind, I'm going to Shenandoah

In my fantasy world, I'm not sitting in my living room in Husband's flannel pajama pants, contemplating whether to turn the heat on. No. I'm back in Shenandoah, on the glorious deck at Linden Vineyards, sipping a glass of their zesty, slightly tropical Seyval and snacking on herbed goat cheese and the most perfect baguette I think I've ever tasted. Or am I more in the mood for their gigantic, earthy, tobacco-y Petit Verdot, which reminds me of Piedmont? Or the seductively floral, off-dry Riesling? Decisions, decisions.

Afterward, I'll hike Big Devil Stairs, stopping for a long picnic just above the waterfall, then turning back for an exhausting but awesome climb back to the parking lot.

You might want to do the same this Saturday, when the Eastern Seaboard gives this cold weather the boot and turns warm and sunny. It's pretty dreamy.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Nutritionist-Approved Breakfast

As the product of countless bowls of (sugar!) cereal—actually, I can guess: nearly 10,000—I've always been a little confused about what constitutes a healthy breakfast. Growing up, my brother and I would play "garbage collection" at the grocery store, throwing boxes of Lucky Charms, Super Golden Crisp, Rice Krispies, and Cinnamon Toast Crunch into our cart—aka the trash truck. We didn't realize at the time that our game was an apt metaphor.

After college—when my breakfast of choice was Cocoa Krispies mixed with the plain version for fortification—I decided it was time to switch to "adult" cereal. Yet as it had been with sugary brands, every morning around 10:30 or 11, I'd experience a blood sugar meltdown and go from satiated to starving in seconds flat.

Lucky for me, my best friend has a nutritionist and could pass on some advice for a better morning meal. "Protein, protein, protein!" she told me, recommending two eggs any way. Since making the change, my appetite and mood have leveled out considerably, and I'm betting my blood sugar and insulin levels have, too. Some days I throw in leftover veggies or sauces from the last night's meal, but most days, I whip up an omelet with sundried tomatoes and thyme. A delicious, savory meal far better than anything that comes from a cardboard box, right?

Sundried Tomato and Thyme Omelet

2 eggs
2 tablespoons sundried tomatoes, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil

In a small bowl, beat eggs using whisk or fork until whites and yolks are well blended. Mix in sundried tomatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper.* Heat oil in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add a little egg mixture to the pan to make sure it sizzles on contact. Once the pan is hot enough, add the rest of the egg mixture. As the edges set, lift them with a spatula to let the raw egg run underneath. Once omelet has set, fold in half, slide onto a plate, and serve.

*Purists should add a teaspoon of milk.

Photos via and

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

For the Love of Lamb

This is long overdue, but have I told you how much I love lamb? Such a sophisticated taste, such a playful dinner star, how could I not? The past 6 months have been full of cooking firsts for me. First time I had a 12 course dinner (worth every penny), first time I cooked duck (it’s all about the braising), and first time I roasted a leg of lamb. First time I made lamb at all, actually, and now I’m addicted. And like any good addict, I’ve got a dealer, Lamb King (LK). So as long as LK keeps dropping off the lamb, I’ll keep cooking it up.
My first foray with a 4 lb leg of lamb was this January. Sarah and I had a genius idea: Moroccan. Over the course of 4 days we learned everything there is to know about Moroccan flavors, including how to make the essential, the beautiful, my new favorite, harissa. A quick little lemony, harissa marinade sounded like heaven. To go along with it my thought-I’d-hate-it-but-now-I-love-it mint dressing, cous cous with figs, and plenty of wine and good friends. And had Sarah and I remembered to actually stop watching movies and start the dinner on time, we may have eaten before 9 p.m.
Lamb #2. I can’t actually take credit for this. I received a call from LK. Friend was having tapas-style dinner to celebrate his bday, and requested something lamby. Lamb kabobs just fell into place with a nice mint marinade. Alas, cannot remember which recipe we used, but it was basic: lemon, garlic, mint, lamb on skewers and grilled with a bit of smoking wood on the fire.
Last Thursday was another feat. I had promised Friend a Passover-friendly dinner party, LK promised another leg of lamb, but it was a weeknight. I shouldn’t have worried. My lovely lamb didn’t let me down, it never could. While guests lounged on the roof deck with goat cheese cucumber apps and gin and tonics, my lovely lamb roasted beautifully directly on the oven rack (blasphemy, says LK, but it cooked much faster) after bathing for 24 hours in a mint lemon garlic marinade. Mint dressing. Smoky quinoa (it’s a berry, not a grain). Roasted asparagus. Flourless lavender chocolate torte. Perfection.
Moroccan leg of lamb
1 9-to-11-pound bone-in leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and membrane
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup fruity-tasting olive oil
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 tablespoon harissa (Moroccan chili paste), more for serving
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1. Score meaty side of lamb in a diamond pattern of ¼-inch-deep cuts about 1½ inches apart. Season with salt and pepper, and place scored-side up in a large roasting pan.
2. In a small bowl, whisk olive oil with lemon juice, lemon zest, garlic, harissa, coriander seeds and cumin. Pour marinade over lamb and massage into crevices. Cover pan with aluminum foil and refrigerate 2½ hours or overnight. Remove from refrigerator 1½ hours before cooking to return lamb to room temperature; in last 15 minutes, heat oven to 450 degrees.
3. Remove foil from pan and place pan on middle oven rack; turn heat down to 350 degrees. Roast, basting lamb with pan juices every ½ hour, until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reads 130 degrees, about 1¾ hours total. Remove from oven, tent loosely with foil, and let rest 15 minutes before carving. Serve with harissa and mint dressing.
Mint Dressing
2 cups tightly packed mint leaves, washed and dried
2 tablespoons chopped shallots

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
½ cup fruity-tasting olive oil
1 small clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste.
In a food processor, combine mint, shallots, vinegar, olive oil, garlic and salt until smooth. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.