Sunday, May 23, 2010

Veronica takes on the National Zoo

Zoofari…more like Zoo-you might need to roll me out of here because I just stuffed my face and have grown to a rather unmanageable size-fari.  Doesn’t quite roll of the tongue with that title I think.  But it’s okay, right, since it’s for charity…right?  Anyone? 
Let’s get down to brass tacks here Zoofari is a great cause and you can feel good about yourself, but it’s about the food.  (Though the wine and beer doesn’t hurt either.)  It is one of the best foodie events of the season in DC with 120+ restaurants and food vendors set up along the winding paths.  And were talking the good ones, the restaurants that most of us young professionals pray are going to be participating in restaurant week so that we have an excuse to blow some of our money there in a more affordable way.  Zola, Central, Vidalia, Commonwealth, Belga, Taberna Del Alabradero, Coco Sala, etc; with a so many restaurants you know the offerings were to die for, or at least to go into a food coma for.

I make it sound like warfare!  Though when I think of it it can be a bit like warfare when it comes to these events.  First you have your mission: Eat/drink as much as possible without getting sick.  Second you have a game plan: Avoid eating in the first 10 feet of entering.  The really good stuff is toward the back of the event so you need to quickly haul ass down there.  And then take a look around before you begin piling your plates.  Third you have obstacles to overcome:  The dessert offerings are toward the front of the event, but you should not, I repeat, should not stuff you face in here first, take it from me.  Grab a cupcake and then save it for later.  Also lines will try to deter you, but I say move past them and head to the next booth, you can always go back.  I hope you are taking notes because my advice is like gold doubloons that you should stash away for future food pirating experiences.

And, of course, our beloved Equinox was part of the Zoofari experience as well, dishing out a few treats to get everyone’s taste buds ready for the delectables that would soon be bombarding their palates. What I really appreciated about Chef Gray’s offerings was that they were really the perfect size, as in bite sized. 

A Buttermilk Biscuit topped with Wild Ramp Butter and Duck Ham and a Brioche Grilled Gruyere Cheese Sandwich with Tomato Chutney and Chive Flower - sensible food to eat standing, with your hands and in a crowd.

Both were just enough and not so unwieldy that you were worried that cheese will drip on you and you are doing the infamous hunch and hold as you try to look cute in your sundress and cutest platforms.  Perhaps that is only a girl concern, but still with the magnitude of food that was being passed out it was nice to just have a bite so you do not feel like such a glutton.  Both appetizers were approachable for both adults and children, while being refined ideas of dishes that all of us have had in one form or another.  I am also just huge fan of the salty sweet combination in foods and both were right on target: sweet corn with salty prosciutto, a touch of sweetness in the brioche that offset the cheese and chutney.  My mouth is seriously starting to water over here, and I am getting strange looks from the other coffee shop residents.  Stay cool Veronica, play it cool. 

The most impressive part of all of this is what chefs are capable of cooking outside of their kitchen.  The Equinox staff had to set up shop in a tool shed with the bare minimum tools that could fit on the table: griddle, knife, cutting board, a tub of chutney, etc.  I can barely cook in my own kitchen sometimes, but this why I am the interpreter and they are the food experts.  Because did I mention that I set my toaster oven on fire once? I’m just saying that this is just one of the many reasons why we are all better off with me being the avid observer.


p.s. it is countdown time everyone!  Equinox will soon be reopening their doors and I hope that everyone is excited as I am.  So look forward to Memorial Day weekend and more news on upcoming events and news.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

G.R.O.W. Growing Roots of Washington DC - starts with the kids!

Chef Gray has been tapped by the Administration to consult on carrying out the mission of the First Lady of the United States to put healthier food on the table at lunch time for our nations children. We are working with Ben Murch Elementary in NW DC to help with this mission.

CHOP - Grilled Mushrooms!

Capital Harvest on the Plaza (CHOP) has come back to the Ronald Reagan & International Trade Center along with the warm weather and sunshine that we have all been aching for.  I swear that when the spring/summer farmer markets re-open it is a sign to retire closed toe shoes and get ready for the heat.  If you work around Metro Center/ Federal Triangle then you should definitely stop by on Fridays from 12-5pm and check out the amazing variety of vendors.  The smell of kettle korn alone will draw you in. 

The market also offers chef demos at 12:30 pm showing how you can use the products that are at the market to make a delicious meal.  With the variety of products at CHOP there are so many possibilities, which is very exciting for anyone who sees certain produce and has no idea how to cook it or what to make with it.  (I’m looking at you rhubarb!)  

At Last week's demo Chef Gray put together a Grilled Wold Mushroom Salad with Frisee, Toasted Hazelnut and Mustard Seed Vinaigrette.  He used a combination of oyster and shitake mushrooms that he lightly coated with olive oil salt and pepper and put right on the grill.  I know it seems silly but I honestly never think of grilling mushrooms unless it is in kabob form.  And really this is mistake as the grill gives a whole different taste to mushrooms.  The smoke brings out its earthy taste and they stay a bit firmer, in a good way, when cooked in this way.  I have often looked at clusters of oyster mushrooms but am always a bit fearful of these fungi and how to tackle cooking them.  With the grill you put the whole cluster on and that is that.  Once cooked you cut the caps from the stem and can make stock out of the stems if you choose to.  

Another great trick that we learned was that you can take your roasted nuts, put them in foil or plastic wrap, and use a heavy bottomed pan to crush them.  No fuss no muss.  And who doesn’t love to learn a quick tip that saves you from dirtying your food processor.   You can see a picture of this technique below.

At the end of the demo the crowd was very happy with the results.  We actually ran out of samples (sorry!).  It was delicious so I can understand how that happened.  Demos will continue to take place and everyone should come out and check them out.  You can go to CHOP’s website to see who will be doing future demos:  

Some of DCs best chefs will be coming out and you can support a great event.  And like I said before, the kettle korn alone is worth the trip.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

CHOP MARKET = Capital Harvest on the Plaza

Meet the farmers, producers and chefs of CHOP (e-i-e-i-o)

Todd & Ellen

Friday, May 7, 2010

Private Dining

When I throw a dinner party it consists of the best hummus you will ever taste (seriously I make some kick ass hummus), cheese, crackers, and probably some fruit just for giggles. But when you go to a chef’s dinner party, a chef who is aching to get back into the kitchen, well you are in for a treat because this gathering was appetizers and dinner to the “nth” power. But what else would you expect. Do I in anyway regret the kind of effort that was bestowed upon me? That’s like asking if I would deny myself a piece of cake right now if it were put in front of me, because the answer is “No”.

Friends were brought together and were treated like the best little guinea pigs as more ingredients, produce, and ideas were tested. Soft shells crabs, ramps, asparagus, rockfish, strawberries, gelato….I mean the list could go on and on. I know, I’m a food tease. But doesn’t it make you want some more? I know, I feel the same way.

It continues to be amazing to experience food that stays true to what it is. Where sauces are tools to enhance natural flavors rather than take over the show. A bite of rockfish tasted clean and pleasantly salty, like you were taking a bite of the ocean. Pickled ramps that enhanced the tanginess of caramello (a longer version of agnolotti) stuffed with sheep’s cheese that was light and airy. A perfect medium rare piece of rib eye that was earthy and accompanied by “These Aren’t Your Typical Ore Ida” tater tots that I wish I could have curled up on and made my pillow to sleep on. I realize that I have described three of the four elements in this meal: Earth, Wind, and Water. Since fire was used to bring together all these dishes I think it is safe to say the Equinox mission was met that night.

Dessert! Dessert! I cannot leave without a little tidbit on that. Did you know that when you bake strawberries that the flavor concentrates and becomes even more intense and sweet? It’s true! And when combined with strawberry soup, ricotta gelato, and thyme everything is deepened ten-fold. It once again proved that I do have a separate stomach for desserts; as by the end of all of our previous courses I was definitely full. (I’m much like a cow, which has a total of 7 stomachs; life could be worse.) Not only that it was the perfect example of all that has just come back into season. As a girl whose hometown hosts the annual California Strawberry Festival I was so happy to have some berries back in my life, because it has been a long winter and I am ready for spring. Apologies that I lack pictures of our wonderful sweet things; my camera ran out of power. Mea Culpa!

Privileged. That is a great way to describe how I felt the other night. Not only to become a part of this family but also to have the opportunity to experience tastes and sights that will not last much longer. Some produce such as ramps have only a small window when they are at their prime and can be enjoyed. Crab and rockfish will and have already been impacted by the oil spill that is still taking place just miles off the Gulf of Mexico. The fishing industry will be taking a major hit this season, which will mean limited supplies and high costs that are unfortunately unavoidable. Yet this is the time that we need to support our small vendors and become knowledgeable on responsible purchasing so that we do not further negatively impact an already delicate situation.

It is a learning process but I know we can all figure out how to do this together. I am enjoying being a student and I hope, that as your culinary interpreter, I can bring valuable information to your table as well. So here is to good friends and good times.