Another Fantastic Joint (Hometown edition)

What do you say about a restaurant with over 180 whiskeys and a small, thoughtful menu build around their industrial-strength, wood-fired rotisserie?  What if they have a very friendly, extremely knowledgeable staff that loves to talk about their food?  What if the beverage manager will pour you a custom flight of Bourbons so you can sample several, without having four shots for lunch?

What if you drive past this joint every day on your way home from work?

That was me yesterday at Brine in the Mosaic district of Fairfax county.

brine 1

I was roaming around Google Maps looking for somewhere new. I clicked on them because they’re close to home. When I visited their web site, I was intrigued. The whiskey list alone goes on from 14 screens.

I got there during the slow time long after the lunch rush and before Happy Hour.  The place was basically empty except for a large table in the back. That was fortunate because it gave me a chance to talk with Timothy, the new beverage manager, and Tracy, a bartender. Tracy is also a classically trained chef. He offered many insights into Brine’s approach to food and their menu.

As I said above, the menu is small and very thoughtful. There are roughly 30 items, including appetizers, soups, salads, entrees and desserts. They have a couple of typical bar foods, like a burger (everyone has to have a burger) and smoked pork. But most of the items are on the funky and creative side.  Like the Lamb and Cheese sandwich I got or the Lambs and Clams broth on the soup menu.  Or the sea bream salad, a “simple fish” menu and English Pea Crostini.

While I didn’t get to try anything from the rotisserie yesterday, just looking at the thing makes me want to go back.

brine 2

The dinner menu includes daily fish and meat specials from the rotisserie.  They warn you that it takes up to 30 minutes to prepare one of those dishes.

That’s probably what the 180 whiskeys are for.

Speaking of the whiskeys, Timothy says the old beverage manager may have gone a bit “overboard” on the selection.  He’s trying to trim it down to a “respectable” 100. I tend to agree with him.  They carry both the Catocin Creek 40% and 46% bottles.  I have a hard time imagining some one tasting whiskeys saying, “The 40% was good. Now I’ll try the 46% instead of one of the other 180 varieties.”

Timothy and I debated whether a corn whiskey can be called a Bourbon if it doesn’t at least pass through Kentucky.  He said yes. I say no.  He also told me about some new flights he’s curating. He said was going home that evening to work on those.

brine 3

The space is large and open, with lots of hard surfaces.  I worried that it might get loud in there a dinner. Tracy pointed out the sound baffles hanging from the ceiling. He claims it not bad during the week but admitted that Friday and Saturday night get raucous.

I might have to set aside a weekend night soon to find out.

Highly recommended if you’re in the area.

 

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Another Exceptional Joint

When I travel, I seek out exceptional, local joints.  I’ve found some real gems this way (like this Cincinnati joint, sadly now closed).

On a recent trip north of Philly, I had an evening free so I made a bee-line to the Geechee Girl Rice Cafe in Mt. Airy, PA.

General Pix 417

I’d been wanting to go here ever since I saw it on Triple D.  I recreated Chef Erwin’s signature North African Chicken dish.  My version is really good, but I wanted to try the real thing.

I got there early on a Friday evening.  The place was almost empty. Just one other table had customers.  The staff was really nice and very attentive. I guess that was easy, since there were only three of us in the restaurant.

I told the hostess why I had come. About 10 minutes later, Chef Erwin came over and introduced herself.  We talked for about 5 minutes about her business, the neighborhood and her food.  She stopped by several more times while I dined.

I started with soup of the day. It was a white bean and smoked red pepper.  Like most of the food here, it was a simple dish.  Much more comfort food than haute cuisine.  The base of the soup was a clear broth. Chef Erwin added celery, beans, smoked peppers and herbs to make a light, flavorful starter.

After that I had Chef Erwin’s version of the North African Chicken.  It was everything I’d hoped it would be.  I’m happy to report that my version is very close.  Mine’s good. Chef Erwin’s was better.

I think the biggest difference between the two dishes is that Chef Erwin uses a much smaller bird than I had been using.  Her’s are about 3 lbs.  I’d been using the 5 to 6 lb monsters you get at Safe way.  Her’s have better flavor and, because they cook more quickly and evenly, are moister through.

Next time I make this, I’m getting a better quality bird.

I don’t usually get dessert, but I don’t know if or when I’ll ever be back.  So I loosened my belt a notch and asked to the the dessert menu.  There’s the typical brownie sundae and rice pudding and pecan pie.  I homed in on the Gingerbread.

Good choice.  It was excellent.  Light and tender with a warm, almost pudding like center.  Topped with whip cream it was a great way to end the meal.

I said goodbye to Chef Erwin and headed home, happy I’d made the trip.

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Cuban Sandwich

I’m doing more cooking than writing these days.  I’m still breaking in the new kitchen and having a lot of fun doing it.  That’s eating (Ha, ha.  See what I did there) into my writing time, so I’ve got a backlog of posts to make.

While I get caught up, here’s a little something I whipped up yesterday.

Cuban Sandwich

It’s a homemade Cuban Sandwich which is pretty much as homemade as you can get.

I  made the ham (substitute a meatier cut for pork belly). I made the roast pork. I made the pickles. I blended the mustard. I made the Cuban bread (I used my homemade sourdough starter instead of the polish this recipe calls for). I even rendered the lard that went into the Cuban bread.

The only thing I didn’t make from scratch was the Swiss cheese.

So when I say I whipped it up yesterday, I actually mean it’s been three weeks from the start of the project (curing the ham) to the finished product.

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Dry Ice, Ice Baby

Here’s a preview of something I’ve been working on.  Hope to have it ready to post by next weekend.

flatbreads 047

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I’m back!

After ten weeks of no kitchen, I’m finally back.  They finished the major work on the new kitchen the middle of last week.  I was able to make some simple things, like scrambled eggs and vegetable tacos Thursday and Friday. But I didn’t have time during the week to unpack everything, so I couldn’t really give the new space a real work-out.

This weekend, I got enough unpacked that I could give it a test run. I decided to start with a loaf of rustic bread, using the home grown levain I started at the beginning of the remodel.  There was some yelling and frustration (“Where’s my bench knife?” “Where’s my scale?”) and it’s going to take some getting used to the new layout, but overall I’m very happy.

Bread 009

I started with a bunch of new toys.

Kitchen Toys Cropped

 

 

From left to right I’ve got a couche for shaping and proofing baguettes, two wicker bowls for proofing boules, my home grown levain (I named it Laverne, BTW), a golf towel and/or kitchen towel that came with my new sink, two New England Style Hot Dog Bun pans and a new digital scale that displays both English and metric units.

I cashed in my Amazon points while I was waiting for the remodel to finish.🙂

Here the first loaf baking.  The lower oven door was damaged during installation, so I’m waiting for a replacement.

Bread 004

And here’s the inside.

Bread 010

I’m very happy with the color and crumb of the loaf.  It’s a nice looking loaf

The flavor was also spot on.  Laverne give it a nice sour tang. Not as sour as a true San Francisco sour dough. Just a nice background note. I’m looking forward to baking a lot more bread and pizzas with this starter.

The crust wasn’t up to standards, though. I had the hydration too high for this oven, so the loaf still had quite a bit of free moisture in it when the crust was done. That extra moisture made the crust soft as soon as the loaf started to cool.

I’ll adjust the hydration down next time.

When Amounts Count, Use a Scale

I’ve been baking with a scale for quite a while.  Weighing fluffy ingredients, like flour, is much more precise than using volume measures like cups and teaspoons.

Even if you carefully sift the flour and level your measuring cups, you can still be off by five to ten percent too high or too low.  That can mean the difference between a perfect loaf and a too dense loaf.

When you weigh your ingredients, you get exactly the right amount every time.  Whether you’re using English or metric units, weighed flour is the exact same amount every time. If you weigh out 400 grams, it’s 400 grams. If you weigh out 14 oz., it’s 14 oz.

My previous kitchen scale only displayed English units, ounces and pounds. My new one also displays metric units.

That’s going to make it easier to scale recipes up and down.  Imagine trying to triple a recipe that calls for 1 3/4 cup of flour.

1 cup x 3 is 3 cups.

3/4 cup x 3 is 9/4 cups. 9/4 cups is 2 1/4 cups. Plus 3 cups is 5 1/4 cups.

What a pain!

Even working in ounces, it’s difficult because my old scale displayed 17 ounces as 1 pound, 1 ounce.  So it’s 14 oz x 3 is 42 oz. 42 oz divided by 16 is 2 lb 10 oz. Again, what a pain.

In grams though, it’s just 400 grams x 3 equals 1200 grams.

Simple, easy. Math I can do in my head.

Recipe – Makes two loafs

100 g levain or sour dough starter. Can substitute 2 tsp of dry yeast.

420 g water

590 g all purpose flour

10 g whole wheat flour

13 g kosher or sea salt

270 g water, divided for humidifying oven

Olive oil

Mix levain and 420 g water in bowl of stand mixer. Using paddle attachment, mix for 1 minute on low to combine.

Add flour, whole wheat flour and salt to mixer bowl. Using paddle attachment, mix on low for two minutes.  Switch to dough hook and mix on medium low for five to seven minute.  Dough will still be wet, but should start forming ball on the hook and begin pulling away from sides of bowl.

Let stand, covered, for ten to fifteen minutes.

Spread a small amount of olive oil on work surface and spread to cover an 18″x18″ square.  Oil your hands.

Place dough in middle of oiled area and give one light stretch and fold.  Cover and allow to rest fifteen minutes.

Repeat three times for a total of four stretch and folds.

At this point, the dough should be smooth, elastic and tacky.  It should stick to the work surface and your fingers, but pull away cleanly.

Place in a lightly greased container, cover and refrigerate over night.

Place a baking stone on the middle rack of oven and a cookie sheet with raised rim on the lower rack. Pre-heat oven to 475° F.

Turn dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half.

Being careful not to de-gas the dough, form each half into a tight ball.  Place into lightly floured bowls and cover with a couche or clean kitchen towel.

Let rise until almost doubled. About one hour.

Place a piece of parchment paper on a pizza peel or back of a cookie sheet. Lightly oil.

Turn one bowl of dough onto parchment.  Score top with a lame, razor or sharp knife.

Bring 135 g (about 2/3 a cup) of water to a boil.

Slide the dough onto the baking stone.

Working quickly, cover glass of oven door with kitchen towels to protect from splashing water. Pull cookie sheet out just enough to expose a place to pour the water onto it and pour boiling water onto sheet.  Be very careful not to splash boiling water onto yourself or the oven door.

Close oven door and bake for twelve to fifteen minutes, until crust is dark, golden and crisp.

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No more food porn

At least for a few weeks.  Thursday a bunch of guys came to my house and tore out my kitchen.  It’s down to the studs now.  The remodeling will take 4 to 6 weeks.

Kitchen 3

 

I’ve said before that my house and I are both in our early 50s and we both need work.  The kitchen had become critical.  Some of the cabinets were start to literally fall apart and one oven gave up the ghost a couple of months ago.

I’d planned on cooking on my Big Green Egg and I probably will.  But first I have to solve two problems.  Every horizontal surface in my house is currently stacked with boxes.  I have no room to prepare anything.

Kitchen 2

 

The other problem is where am I going to wash the dishes?  I don’t want to wash my dishes in the bath tub and all my bathroom sinks are too small to scrub pans.

I’ll probably have to get a couple of tubs and do it campground style.

Oh well.  In 6 weeks, I’m going to be making some amazing food.

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Black Bean Burgers on Brioche Buns

When I published my Pretzel Bun recipe back in March, I, of course, used them to serve spectacular cheeseburgers.  A friend of mine who was once a vegetarian and sometimes still leans toward legless food challenged me to come up with a veggie patty to fill those gorgeous buns.

I failed. I could never come up with a veggie patty that could stand up to that substantial bun.

Much food 086

Eventually I fell back to a Brioche Bun and these excellent Black Bean Burgers from my new favorite food blog.  My friend said this meets the spirit of the challenge.

While I am partial to meat, I do enjoy the occasional vegetarian dish.  When eating vegetarian though, there is one thing I can not stand.  Dishes that pretend to be meat.  If I want something that tastes, “Just like a hamburger”, I’ll eat a freakin’ hamburger.  Don’t try to disguise tofu as steak or pass some paste made out of ground chickpea flour off as meat.

These black bean patties don’t commit that sin.  They are proudly veggie, but with lots of flavor, great texture and nice smokey, spicy kick.

I didn’t deviate from Serious Eats recipe, so you can just go there for the how-to.

Make sure you don’t dry out the beans too much during the roasting step.  You need enough moisture to hold the patties together during shaping and cooking.

Much food 065

Kenji said 20 minutes in the recipe.  That was too long for my oven.  After about 15 minutes the beans were split open and starting to get too dry.  I suggest checking them after 10 minutes and erring on the side of too moist.

I cooked mine on my griddle.  I was afraid if I tried to grill them on the Egg, they would fall apart.  My daughter wants them again, so I might try grilling them next time.

Much food 083

A Note on Shredded Lettuce

I’m not a big fan of ice burg lettuce.  It’s flavorless. It has little to no texture. As a base for a salad there are a dozen better options.  In general, I leave it at the store.

But there is one decent use for ice burg.  Shredded, as a base for a burger.

Shredded Lettuce

Shredding lettuce transforms it into a crunchy bed that adds a textural surprise to a burger. It also keeps a juicy, condiment laden burger from soaking through the bottom bun.

Just take a thin wedge of lettuce and slice about 1/8″ to 1/4″ thick.  Put a generous layer on the bottom bun and build the rest of the burger on top of that.

 

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