Friday, November 30, 2012

Lunch at Blue Duck Tavern

Following our engagement, B. and I went to eat with my mother at a restaurant in DC that my parents and I fell in love with a few years back during restaurant week.  Incredibly enough, it has take me four months to write about it.  Such is the life of someone in medical school.  (B. insists that he knows what he is getting into.)

Located in the Park Hyatt Hotel, Blue Duck Tavern is a lovely contemporary style restaurant serving new American cuisine.  Their menu is set up to "recognize the purveyors and artisans who enrich [the] menu with their fresh ingredients," so each course has listed beside it the area from which it came.

Our party of three was promptly seated and we mulled over the choices offer on the menu before finally settling on our selections.  Having eaten there before, my mom and I knew that the main courses were large enough to be more than enough for a full meal; no need for starters or sides.

B. ordered the veal "schnitzel" with mustard spaetzle and mushroom sauce (from Chapel Hill, NC, $20).  It was earthy and full of character, but the kitchen has still managed to keep the veal light.  It had great texture, and we all liked that the layer of breading was just right; not too thick, and not at all greasy.  Both my mom and I felt that it was missing high notes or a fresh acidity that a salad or fresh vegetables might have provided, but B. liked that it was fairly traditional.  My mom and I gave it a 8.5 out of 10.  B. gave it a 9 out of 10.

I ordered the wood oven roasted confit of duck leg served with frisee, a poached egg, and warm bacon vinaigrette (from Grimaud Garms, CA, $20).  The salad was very beautifully dressed.  I am not normally impressed with salads, but this one definitely stood out.  The acidity and body of the vinaigrette was the perfect foil for the duck confit.  I love the sweet, crunchy Kalamata olives and the wobbly, perfectly "saucy" poached egg.  Everything together was lovely.  All the elements worked together, and I gave it a 9 out of 10 overall.  The duck was good, but alone I felt that it was only a 7 out of 10, as it wasn't as moist as I was hoping.

My mom ordered the crispy skin salmon, served with cucumber, hearts of palm, smoked roe, and sorrel cream (from Sitka, AK $23).  The dish truly lived up to its name, as the skin on the salmon was beautifully crispy, while the fish was perfect moist and light.  The sorrel cream, hearts of palm, and cucumber provided a fresh and light spring element to the dish.  We gave it an 8.5 out of 10.

For dessert, we were all approaching fullness, so we decided that among the three of us, we would split two desserts.  Every day there is a "Market Dessert" that is offered on the menu, and this changes with the seasons.  When our waiter described their market dessert for the day, it sounded too good to pass up.

The Market Dessert of the day was a peach and rosemary tart served with vanilla creme fraiche and candied rosemary ($9).  The roasted peaches sat on a dense olive oil cake (I wouldn't call it a tart, as it was more sponge-y than crumbly).  It was a very creative dessert.  The candied rosemary was very interesting, though I think had the kitchen fried the rosemary, it would have been more fragrant and effective.  We loved the combination of the creme fraiche, peach puree, olive oil cake, and roasted peaches together.  It was a very satisfying dessert.  We gave it an 8.5 out of 10.

The other dessert we ordered was the milk chocolate banana s'mores ($9).  This was rich in flavor but light and playful.  I absolutely loved the brûléed mashmallow and the thin banana chip.  The graham cracker crumbs went well with the milk chocolate.  I do not know quite how to describe the milk chocolate part, except that it was like a cross between a panna cotta and a pot de creme.  It was silky, creamy, and light.  We gave it an 8 out of 10.

In the end, we were very satisfied and full, and as usual, we had perfect service throughout the meal.  I highly recommend this restaurant to anyone in the area.

Blue Duck Tavern
1201 24th Street NW
Washington, DC 20037
Tel. (202) 419-6755

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Thanksgiving Spread

I've truly been slacking on posting lately, but this was the Thanksgiving spread this year at the D. family house.  It was just the four of us -- my sweet B. did not join us this year because our long distance relationship means we need to spread out our visits evenly, and I was only just in Paris in September and I will be returning for Christmas -- but as usual, my mother, my sister, and I worked all day in the kitchen to make a delicious spread.

There was maple link sausage, chestnut, mushroom, onion, sage, and thyme stuffing, which was every bit was delicious as it sounds.  There was also garlic soup, thickened with parmigiano reggiano and served with fresh croutons.  We repeated the kale chips recipe from last year, and we added Molly Wizenberg's recipe for custard-filled corn bread to our list of favorites.  As always, the star of the meal was my mother's rosemary Cornish game hens, stuffed with a mixture of sticky rice, corn, water chestnuts, lap xuong (Chinese sausage), and caramelized onions.  We drank Moscato d'Asti, a very light sparkling white wine, and for dessert, I made a dark chocolate, caramel, and coffee tart with a sable crust.  

After that Thanksgiving meal there was a family movie, Black Friday shopping, and a lovely dinner at Restaurant Eve to celebrate my dad's belated birthday.  More pictures, recipes, and a review to follow.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Making Caramel

You know why there haven't been recipes lately?  Because this is what I ate for dinner tonight.

And this is what I ate for dinner the other night.

I sautéed up some zucchini in a pan with garlic, cracked an egg, and then threw some rice in at a last minute.  I didn't even get a plate; I ate straight from the skillet.  That's what medical school and living alone is like.

I'm not saying I eat badly, it's just that this is hardly blogging material.  I do, however, have some pictures of caramel making, for all those who might be intimidated by the process, as I used to be.  Sorry, but there are no photos of the finished product because at the end of the process it's hard to stir, add butter, and add milk, and also take pictures at the same time.

I've been making salted caramel sauce a lot lately, mostly to eat with apples.  Apples are in season now, and grocery store apples get tiring to eat, but it's an easy and inexpensive fruit to buy, so I eat a lot of apples.  To make this less dull, I now spread caramel sauce on them.  This makes it a lot less healthy, but oh well.  You win some, you lose some.

It's very simple to make a dry caramel.  Just throw sugar into a pot and let it melt and start to cook.  Stir occasionally (for people who are paranoid: it doesn't matter how often you stir).  Once it has reached your desired level of caramelization, turn off the heat, add in a little bit of salt, a tab of butter, and some warm cream or milk.  Now you have caramel sauce perfect for ice cream, apples, coffee, etc.  If your caramel seizes up, just heat it on low heat for a little while.  Store in a glass jar in the fridge.  It'll keep for about a week.

You can also turn this caramel sauce into a delicious buttercream frosting, to decorate any cakes or cupcakes of your making, the recipe for which can be found here or here.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Election Day Chocolate Cupcakes with Salted Caramel Frosting

My fiancé once pointed out to me that although I love to cook, I have nearly no savory recipes on my blog; instead, I tend to write exclusively about sweet recipes for baked goods.  The reason for this is mostly that when I cook, I don't use recipes.

For example, I made a Vietnamese-style duck soup (mi vit tiem) the other night with dried lily bud flowers (kim cham), Chinese dried apples (tao tau), ginger, and orange peel.  It was the perfect thing for the cold weather we're having here in New Jersey.  But I couldn't tell you how much water was in it or how much soy sauce I put in the broth or how much ginger I used.  I just know that I tasted along the way and the end product was delicious.  Also, I made the soup with duck bones and I seriously doubt that you, my dear readers, keep Asian marinated duck bones in your fridge that are just waiting to be made into a delicious stock.  In fact, 90% of the ingredients that went into that soup are things that I'm willing to bet no one who isn't Vietnamese keeps in their kitchen.  In fact, my own mother, who knows how much I love this soup, doesn't always keep all the ingredients for it on hand.  Long story short, the point it, I do make savory foods.  I just don't know how to write about them, since I don't have recipes for a lot of what I make.

I do, however, have a lovely recipe for a chocolate cupcake with salted caramel frosting.  And I promise you, this salted caramel frosting is a breeze to make.  This caramel never fails, never cracks, never breaks... it is perfect.  You don't even need to keep your eye on it the entire time you're making it.  I've probably made it close to a dozen times in the past two months and it's never gone wrong.

I made these cupcakes to eat as my friends and I watch the election results, and I'm hoping they will be celebratory cupcakes.  Of course, since it'll probably be too late for you to make these in the spirit of the election, they also work well as birthday treats.

This recipe makes 36-42 cupcakes, or two 10-inch layers, or three 8-inch layers (if you're the cake making type).  You can also mix this combination up and bake 12 cupcakes and two 8-inch layers, or so on.

The cupcakes are the perfect level of chocolate-y.  They are flavorful, with a moist and delicate crumb, and the salted caramel frosting is the perfect ooomph to elevate everything to perfection.  Unlike other cupcakes, these don't taste like brownies.  By that, I mean they aren't overwhelming fudge-y in a way that makes you feel sick after three bites.  And the combination of vanilla, coffee, and rum in this recipe makes this all just irresistible.

I recommend making these cupcakes a day in advance.  Frost them and then keep them in a covered container in the fridge.  The flavors seem to just get better on the second day.  The chocolate is more intense and the nuances of vanilla and coffee seem to meld in a very lovely way.