Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bread Class at Hill's Kitchen

Last weekend it was cold and blustery (as it seems to be on a regular basis here in DC these days), so it was the perfect day to take a cooking class! I headed on down to Hill's Kitchen (http://www.hillskitchen.com/) for a class on Overnight Breads. Mmmm, warm fresh bread with butter, doesn't that just make you cozy thinking about it?

Since my recent trip to Paris, I've been thinking that I need to make more bread. Have you ever looked at the list of ingredients on a loaf in the store - what is all that stuff?? Bread shouldn't have in it much more than what you can count on one hand, give or take a couple things, depending.....

The class was taught by Jane Griffith, a local baker who has known the owner of Hill's Kitchen since she was a little girl. She had moved out of the area for a while to study with a baker in the Berkshires, but now she's back and making bread for local bakeries. This was only her second class and I have to admit, it was obvious, as the instructions were a little scattered and confusing at times. But it was also obvious that she has a vast amount of knowledge regarding tips and techniques and the chemistry of bread-making. She showed us how to make two kinds of bread - a whole wheat made in a dutch oven and an oatmeal loaf.

She talked about the "revolution" that is starting to erupt in the US - finally we are starting to realize that the old-school artisanal European bread makers have got that shit down, and perhaps its time to emulate what they're doing! My mom is a phenomenal bread maker and has been as long as I can remember. Recently she told me of one of her techniques for making a nice crust on baguettes - open the oven on occasion and spritz some water in with a little spray bottle. Wouldn't you know that the teacher in this class told us that European breads are often so good because they use steam ovens? Way to go mom, you just gained even more credibility! The extra moisture from the steam helps keep the bread moist on the inside and give it that crunchy crust that keeps you coming back for more. God, I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.....

Here are a few great resources for bread making if you're willing to give it a shot:

- Beard on Bread by James Beard
- Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfinger
- Artisan Breads Every Day by Peter Reinhart

J&G Steakhouse at The W Hotel

A couple weeks ago I went out with some friends for a birthday celebration.  I'd still never been to The W since they transformed it from Hotel Washington so I was super excited to check it out.

When I first walked in I was immediately in awe of the gorgeous crown molding on the ceiling, the huge light fixtures and the very chic feel of the place.  It was like being transported to some fancy European boutique Hotel - or one in Miami for that matter!  Even with little to no bar crowd that Thursday night, there was a DJ spinning some very fun clubby music.  I hope some people showed up later to enjoy it!  Everything was tastefully decorated for the holidays and the permanent decor was of good quality.  I couldn't wait to get in to J&G (www.jgsteakhousewashingtondc.com ) and try the food, especially I've never been to a Jean-Georges restaurant.... 

As it should be at a steakhouse, all of the meat was delicious- all four of us ordered beef of some sort and I tried 3 of the 4 dishes - yum!  The homemade bĂ©arnaise sauce was absolutely delicious and the perfect complement.  Their steak sauce as well as a couple other sides seemed to have anise in them, which is a total hit-or-miss flavor, and for our table it was a big miss, so that was a bit of a disappointment.  Really, who puts anise in grits anyway?!?  Bleh!

Anyway - a few must-haves: 

- Baby iceberg lettuce salad
- Any of the steaks or the short ribs
- Potato Gratin
- Salted Caramel Ice Cream Sundae - with caramel popcorn, chocolate sauce and crushed peanuts - amazing!!

The service was great, our server was knowledgeable and helpful but not at all overbearing, and we even got a complimentary dessert in addition to our sundae for the birthday boy.  For a special occasion, definitely give them a try! 
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Thanksgiving Feast

Another holiday come and gone, and a good one it was.  I volunteered to do the cooking this year as there was a chance I wasn’t going to have a turkey dinner otherwise, and I just couldn’t let that happen!  Only problem with doing all the cooking, was that I was also running a 10K Thanksgiving morning…my first….and I wasn’t sure I’d survive considering I haven’t run that far since early high school, which was – let’s just say a bagillion years ago…

Anyway, despite the cold rainy weather, the race turned out fine and the dinner was even better!  Here’s what was on the menu:

Green beans
Creamed Corn
Carrot Tart
Mashed Potatoes
Cranberry Sauce
Rolls (cheated and bought these)
Pumpkin Pie

For the turkey, I combined a couple recipes.  I don’t have a proper bucket or pot to brine the bird, so I opted for an overnight salt rub which I found in November’s Bon Appetit.  It combines kosher salt, oregano, garlic, lemon zest and black pepper.  You coat the turkey and rub some inside the cavity then let it sit in an oven bag in the fridge for 18-24 hours.  The next day you rinse off the rub and go from there.  I then moved on to a recipe from a Bon Appetit from 1994 for an herb rub.  Basically you combine rosemary, thyme and tarragon and rub it all over the bird.  Then you pour melted butter over the whole thing and roast.  I’m not sure if it was the salt rub, the herb rub, the fact that we had a fresh free range turkey or the combination of all three that made it so tasty, but I would definitely repeat this method!

Green beans are easy – just boil long enough to keep a little bit of bite and not lose the green color.  Salt and pepper if desired.

The creamed corn is a new favorite recipe.  I know I know, you hear creamed corn and you think “gross!” but I promise, that is not the case with this.  Its called “Better Than Grannie’s Creamed Corn” and the recipe is by the one and only Alton Brown.  It is a MUST try!! http://tinyurl.com/2emuyhu

The carrot tart is a show stopper for its looks alone.  Its gorgeous!  Its pretty tasty too.  In fact, my guests liked it so much, one of them has commissioned me to make one for her Christmas party in a couple weeks.  I hope that one turns out as well as this one! (Recipe from the cookbook Big Night In by Domenica Marchetti)

A guest provided the mashed potatoes (thanks again!).  As simple as mashed potatoes may be, they are labor intensive and time consuming, so having someone else handle them took a load off my mind!  They were delicious, and they made a great topper for the Turkey Shepard’s Pie I made on Saturday. Yum.

For the cranberry sauce I used a recipe I found on The Bitten Word (http://thebittenword.typepad.com/).  I am (only slightly) ashamed to admit that I kind of like that perfectly molded tube of what-may-not-actually-be-cranberry sauce.  Of course I couldn’t serve that though.  My parents make a cranberry-orange relish every year – complete with clamping the grinder onto the counter and churning out the berries.  That happens to be a flavor combination I just can’t get into, so when I saw this recipe that included pomegranate juice I knew I should give it a try.  It was the perfect complement to the turkey and had a wonderful bright fresh flavor.

Finally, dessert.  I have had lots of pumpkin pie over the years and I have to say, this is one of the most delicious ones I have ever had.  And where else would the recipe come from but my good friends at King Arthur Flour!  They give the tip to make the filling the day before and let it refrigerate overnight so the flavors can meld.  It must have worked because this was definitely sweet, spicy, perfect pumpkin pie.

On to the next holiday and more delicious food…..but only after a trip to J&G Steakhouse at the W Hotel tomorrow night…review coming soon.