Shaw’s Tavern, a northwest D.C. gastropub, offers up dishes such as chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, and gouda grits. But I couldn’t resist trying its poutine, a savoury Quebecois comfort food. Unlike in Quebec, poutine is a little hard to come by here; unless, that is, you want to order “disco fries” in Jersey. Lousy with umami, salty French fries are saturated with a rich brown gravy, then topped with melting cheese curds. No wonder poutine is the sine qua non of Canada. Canadians even serve it at fast food joints with accoutrements like bacon. Visit Shaw’s Tavern here.
I recently had the opportunity to interview a woman whose job is to train wait staff at the largest-grossing P.F. Chang’s in the world. As a busy certified trainer / bartender / supervisor, she could answer three questions, so I made them good ones:
Q: What is one of your weirdest experiences in the food industry?
A: My first serving job was when I was a shy 19 year old. One of my tables was a group of relatively quiet men, except for the one drinking Goldschlager. When the bill came, ‘Goldschlager’ paid, and said “You’re the prettiest waitress. You took great care of us. Thank you so much!” I knew he had a few drinks; so I thought nothing of the compliment, until after I dropped off the credit card slip. He jumped up from his seat, gave me a bear hug, and kissed me on the lips. I was in shock.
Q: The man kissed you. I hate to ask, but can you top that?
A: Yes I can, actually. When I began working at Sin City’s P.F. Chang’s, I had a table with women drinking alcoholic slushy drinks that were shaped like the Eiffel Tower. They drank for a few hours, and towards the end of their dining experience, one of the women decided she couldn’t manage her liquor–or her bladder. The things is, our restaurant doesn’t have restrooms in it because it’s attached to a major casino; so you have to exit the restaurant, and she was far from it. Well, she couldn’t make it. She vomited her red frozen drink into our glass candle holder, fell down the stairs, and was picked up by an ambulance.
Q: So is the moral of the story that we shouldn’t drink alcohol?
A: God no.
If you’ve ever driven 5 1/2 hours for the sole purpose of trying a cup of coffee and a doughnut, then perhaps you’re a foodie like me; a foodie with a smacks of masochism, sitting in gridlock on I-95 for said American staple.
Federal Donuts in Philadelphia is the place I first discovered the strawberry and lavender flavored doughnut. Yes, that’s right–strawberry and lavender is not just for that little Christmas tree hanging above your dash.
You’d think it wouldn’t work; but as I watched the ‘doughista’ drop a single goblet into the boiling oil, then sprinkle the dough with what can only be described as edible pixie dust, I remembered my high school love misting lavender on her bed before sleep.
The taste of the doughnut was much more subtle compared to the visceral memory it prompted. A delicate piece of cake with the lightest dusting of strawberries, it was truly a delight to savor. Dunking it in your coffee would be a mistake.
The coffee was a bit bitter, however. I suppose I’m spoiled by useful apps like Brewseful, which help me calculate the time for each step along the brewing process.
After my coffee and dough nut, I walked to my car in the brisk November air, warmed from the inside. On the drive back, (playing Kanye’s ”monster” on repeat), I didn’t feel like a GIF doing jumping jacks from the caffeine content.
Next time I visit Federal Donuts, I’ll sample its fried chicken. If you want to meet up and cram your belly, let’s get some at 1219 South 2nd street in the city of brotherly love.
Despite that I love raw pig ears with hot sauce, ceviche with a crisp lime wedge, and anything sushi–I’ve always found raw beef to be a bit…encephalitis-y. Nonetheless, I tried Steak Tartare at Cafe de la Presse, a taste of France next to Chinatown in San Francisco. The beef had a buttery smell that I’ve only experienced as a butcher’s apprentice around the freshest ground beef. Or ‘boeuf’ in this case. The brine of capers and raw onions balanced out the almost sweet taste of fat. And when placed on a crunchy toast point, all things Mad Cow got 86’d. Read about how to prepare Steak Tartare here; visit Cafe de la Presse at 352 Grant Avenue.
I could say that Next Glass (free, iOS) is the love child from a drunken night between Netflix and Pandora because it helps you find craft beers and fine wines based on an intuitive four-star rating system; But instead I’m going to say it’s like my old friend Tony.
Tony was Irish and Jewish, like a shot of Manischewitz dropped into a pint of Magner’s. He could drink anyone under the table. And he tended bar with the best of ’em in Dublin. When we’d drink together, he’d say if you like this, then you’ll love that. And he’d be spot on pretty much all the time.
Enter Next Glass, your personal Tony. Tony asks you your opinion on nine beers, and then suggests for you your next glass based on what you’ve liked in the past.
The system can be confusing at first for those who are used to rating with five stars; however, it forces you to really think about what you prefer. For instance, I rated one star to Red Stripe Light, two stars to Foster’s Lager, three stars to Full Tilt Berger Cookie, and four stars to Guinness Extra Stout.
After rating nine beers, I received suggestions that included a lot of beers it had taken years for me to come across. And when you’re at the liquor store, Next Glass lets you scan any beer or wine and gives you a numerical score of how likely you would be to enjoy the drink, along with nutrition information and ABV.
There are a few downsides to Next Glass, however. First, when rating Sam Adams for instance, there are a limited number of beers to choose from instead of the sixty the company produces. Telling the algorithm you prefer cream stout to Boston lager is an important part of the ratings process.
Second, if you’re looking for an app that helps you find exclusively craft beers (as advertised), versus a multi-million dollar juggernaut masquerading as a ma and pa brewery, this ain’t it.
Third, the intuitive rating system would be great if it included spirits and cocktails.
Fourth and finally, I thought it’d be cool if Next Glass had an ”I’m enjoying it now” button with IFTTT functionality (like ordering a pizza), and tapped into your iTunes music to complement the mood, like Drinkify. I just suggested these ideas to the people over at Next Glass, and will publish an update alongside theirs.
I’m always looking for the perfect cup of coffee, and a great doughnut to complement it. I’ve been everywhere from the legendary Randy’s Donuts in Inglewood, California to the unique Federal Donuts in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—driving from Maryland each time for the experience of a classic dish in and of itself. I’ve tasted roasts from all over the world: café, kape, caife, coffee, C 8 H 10 N 4 O 2 (caffeine). It seems that no matter what language you say it in, coffee evokes something in us. Maybe you think of your first taste when you were a child. Bitter. Acidic. Face like you just sucked a lemon.
When I think of java’s counterpart, I remember driving up to Philly just for a freshly fried doughnut dusted with strawberry and lavender flavored sugar. Good jamocha and doughnuts are really hard to come by. Or so it seems. I tend to think of how I desecrated my first cup with sugar. I thought I didn’t like a strong brew, when what I really didn’t like was a bitter brew. I had no idea that ordinary kosher salt could make the grounds less acidic, or that the optimum time to pour my boiled water was fifteen seconds off the burner.
Great mud doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or time consuming. To me, it’s about the art, the science, and the ritual of brewing something that dates back to 800 B.C.E Africa; when one goat, having chewed on some cherry-red berries, changed the course of human history. It’s time to change it again.
Brew yourself the perfect cup of coffee
- Six ounces of cold, filtered water, boiled
- Two tablespoons (ground) of whole, sustainably farmed, freshly roasted coffee beans
Buy your coffee in small quantities to preserve freshness. Look for a roast date on the bag, as well as a bag that has a valve to release gas.
- Burr grinder or blade grinder
- Two metal spoons
- French press
- Warmed coffee mug or Thermos (fresh out of the dishwasher is perfect)
- A few grains of kosher salt; yes, salt!
- Tea kettle
- Food scale, if possible
- Measure out two grams of whole coffee beans for every six ounces of water, or two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water
- Grind beans for fifteen seconds on “coarse” setting
It’s important to note that there are different grind sizes for each method of brewing. If you want the science behind it, grind size affects the extraction rate because it affects surface area. Beans that are ground coarsely have less surface area than the same amount of beans finely ground, making it more difficult for the water to penetrate and extract the solids.
- Pre-heat your French press by pouring boiled water in it for a few seconds
- Pour out water
- Dump ground coffee into heated French press
- Mix in a few grains of kosher salt to remove acidity
- Boil water, remove from burner for fifteen seconds (195º F), then pour over coffee as quickly as possible to agitate the grounds
- Dance for 3 ½ minutes
- Break the ‘crust,’ or the brown foam at the top by scooping out with two spoons
- Slowly push the plunger down on the French press, and immediately pour into warmed mug
- Add your favorite accoutrements like real cream and raw sugar
- Enjoy immediately, and never reheat your coffee
- Clean your French press with hot water and a towel so the coffee’s oils don’t rot
When I brewed my first cup of French press perk, it helped to think of it like tea. You steep the grounds in boiled water, wait 3 ½ minutes, and then push down the plunger. You can be as simple or as fussy as you choose. But no matter how much gear, technique, and fuss you invest into your battery acid, it won’t taste good unless you take the time to savor it. Learn how to create designs with your cream to make viewing your java as pleasant as tasting it. Associate the sounds and smells of the brewing process with starting out a great day. Cup your mug with both hands, feeling the warmth. (Imagining holding a warm ball of energy is a widely practiced form of meditation). Be like the pros and slurp your first taste from a broad spoon, letting it dance on your tongue as you notice the layers of notes. Think of the varnish remover as having a bloodline, a rich history in which you are taking a part. And if you’re feeling inspired, travel the world like Dom Dwight to find the ultimate ingredients for the ultimate cup. Then stick around after the video to learn how to make the perfect doughnut for a quintessentially American dish.
How did it get that hole? They say that a 19th century sailor’s mom used to make fried balls of dough for him to help stave off scurvy. Supposedly, the sailor found that the only way he could steer his ship and keep hold of the dough was by piercing it with the spokes of his wheel. A more likely explanation is that when chefs began adding egg to their fried dough, the middle wouldn’t cook at the same rate as the rest: I prefer the more fanciful story. However when doughnuts with holes first came about, it took a war to make them popular.
In World War I, women known as “Doughnut Girls” would pace the trenches, offering up nourishment. When soldiers returned stateside, the craving stuck. Soon, coffee and a doughnut became the go-to for busy Americans. The only question then becomes to dunk or not to dunk? Fry up a dozen crullers and then decide.
- 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons white sugar
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon orange zest
- 2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons shortening
- 2/3 cup hot water
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon shortening
- 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
- ½ cup melted chocolate
- 2 tablespoons cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Put 4 tablespoons sugar, salt, shortening and orange rind in saucepan with 1 cup hot water. Bring to a boil
- Mix in 1 cup of flour; Cook until thick, stirring constantly
- Remove from heat and cool slightly
- Beat in one egg at a time, beating each one in thoroughly before adding another
- Using a rose tip, press dough through pastry bag, in desired shape, onto a well-greased square of heavy paper. Turn paper upside down and let crullers drop into deep, hot fat (375° F – 190° C). Fry until well puffed up and golden brown in color, about 6 to 7 minutes
- Drain on unglazed paper
- Cream 1 1/2 tablespoons shortening and continue creaming while slowly adding sugar
- Add cream, salt, vanilla, melted chocolate and mix smooth
- Ice crullers to your preference and enjoy!
What’s next for the coffee and doughnut? Dunkin Donuts just launched doughnuts with coffee on the inside. And as we continue forward with innovations like the ‘cronut,’ a portmanteau of the croissant and doughnut, it seems almost anything is possible. (My favorite snack, for instance, is dipping a spoonful of peanut butter into a jar of instant coffee crystals.) When I think of brewing truly good coffee and frying the best doughnuts, I’m reminded of my graduate school professor saying once you’ve mastered English, you can then break the rules. Tomorrow morning, break the rules.
When I was seven, my grandfather gave me my first cooking lesson in the kitchen of his Florida home. Surrounded by blood orange trees and the smell just before a big storm, I felt my knife’s stainless steel blade balanced, cold, and right in my hand. He cleared his throat. A sign to watch him.
Today we were learning how to test the sharpness of a knife. My grandfather flipped his over so it was blade side up, and quickly strummed the meat of his thumb widthwise over the blade. He was a surgeon, and must’ve been very used to holding sharp objects. I, however, was not. When it was my turn, another clearing of the throat. Eager to show him how quickly I had learned, I turned my blade over and ran my pointer finger down the full length of the blade—hard.
That was my very first lesson in cooking. And it was a lesson, alright. Because as soon as he bandaged me up; my grandfather, the former Naval surgeon, sent me right back out to do it again.
In the years we would spend together—cooking, mostly—he would joke about that day, always pointing to a framed needle stitch of a doctor saying God, give me more patients. That mattered to him. He would eat his meals deliberately and sip his Scotch mindfully. One Chanukah, not too long after that, he gave me my first sip of Scotch, a rite of passage I’ll never forget. Join me, won’t you?
This wintertime version of my grandfather’s simple Scotch & soda has been adapted for the health conscious to make smoky, hot apple cider.
Smoky Sugar-free Apple Cider
- 1 cup sugar-free apple cider
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 4 tablespoons Glenlivet
- 1/2 teaspoon Laphroaig
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Heat the sugar-free apple cider, honey, cinnamon stick in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the honey has melted and the cinnamon is fragrant, about 3 minutes.
- Then turn off the heat, add both Scotches and the lemon juice, and stir to combine. Transfer to a heatproof glass and garnish with the cinnamon stick.
I still remember that after my grandfather would get warmed up from a drink, he would cross his legs, lean back in his chair, and just take in the world.
I’d sit under his arm, and he’d let me watch the blood in his blood vessels disappear and reappear as he’d raise his hand above his heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was getting me interested in anatomy. I would soon combine my interest in anatomy with my love of cooking to become a butcher’s apprentice. It was while under the employ of a local butcher shop that I learned how to prepare my grandfather’s comfort food, Steak Tartare. This version of my grandfather’s go-to meal has been adapted for the health conscious to make two beautiful, raw patties. Pull up a chair. People don’t eat like they used to.
- 12 ounces organic, grass-fed 93% lean ground beef
- Low-sodium Worcestershire sauce
- Low-sodium, Sugar-free hot pepper sauce
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- 2 tablespoons drained capers
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/3 cup minced red onion
- 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
- 2 eggs
- 4 slices of whole wheat bread, brushed with olive oil and lightly toasted
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 sardines
- Season beef to taste with Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, salt and black pepper.
- Shape the meat into 2 patties of equal size and center each on their plates.
- Around each meat patty arrange half of the capers, Dijon mustard, red onion and parsley.
- Carefully break the 2 eggs, reserving the yolk. Then sit an egg in the center of each patty.
- Serve the Steak Tartare with toast points, olive oil, and hot pepper sauce and Worcestershire sauces on the side.
It was staring up at me, this blob of mashed potato whiteness and chives with multiple, green unyielding eyes.
He sat himself beside me and showed me that you’re supposed to flatten the mashed potatoes to simulate a battlefield. My grandfather was one of the surgeons who saved the life of outspoken racist and Governor of Alabama, George Wallace. I don’t know if I could have done that. So accepting mashed potato advice was a no-brainer. Soon, everything fell into place. The peas were perfect soldiers, and soon I was—mm—popping them into my mouth. I was digging trenches before you knew it.
Get ready for war, soldier. This is our last recipe together, with a contemporary twist. And I intend to have it stick to your ribs.
Garlic & Truffle Oil Whipped Potatoes
- 2 Yukon Gold potatoes
- 2 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
- 2 tablespoons butter substitute
- 1 garlic clove minced (let stand for 15 minutes before use)
- Freshly cracked black pepper
- A dash of white truffle oil
- Parsley for garnish
- Peel the potatoes under running water and slice each into thirds. Place in heavy saucepan and put enough water over to cover potatoes. Make sure they still have room to move around in the pan.
- Add about 1 Tbsp. olive oil to the water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to medium and continue boiling, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft when pierced with a fork.
- Remove from the heat and drain excess water. Leave potatoes in the saucepan, and plug in a handheld electric mixer.
- Gradually add each ingredient except the truffle oil. Wait for your potatoes to cool to room temperature before adding it, as temperature affects taste.
It wasn’t until after my grandfather’s funeral that the really funny stuff came out. Apparently, he and my grandmother were once in a spat for days over what color to paint the living room. My grandfather wanted green, she wanted white. One day, my grandmother entered the living room to discover he had painted the f-bomb, in green, wall-to-wall. We all laughed. That’s who he was; obstinate, funny, sweet. At the funeral, my three brothers and I all coincidentally got Scotch and soda. We looked at one another, and drank a toast in silence. I guess he gave them cooking lessons, too. It’s in that vein that this article is dedicated to those who want to learn how to cook. My grandfather got me started. Now go out and eat like your Grandpa.