Friday, July 29, 2011

romesco the stone

I wanted to cook something new and interesting and a little bit special last night, since I've been in something of a rut with my old standbys (good as they are). A little bit of skimming over on Epicurious led me to Chicken Cutlets with Romesco and Serrano Cracklin's, which probably caught my eye because of what appears to be a misplaced apostrophe.*

The dish really appealed to me, though, and I decided I was going to give it a whirl. I even conceded to myself that I would cook exactly from the recipe, which I rarely do -- but romesco has a distinct flavor profile** and, having never experimented with it before, I wanted to do it correctly before I started riffing on it.

I did almost skimp and use pre-made breadcrumbs, but after much deliberation at the grocery store, I caved and bought the baguette. Since the crumbs go into the sauce, dried ones would change the texture, and I realized I couldn't predict exactly how that would turn out. Baguette it was! I even bought new smoked paprika to make sure the old stuff in the cupboard wouldn't deprive the sauce of its depth of flavor.

Sherry vinegar, on the other hand, was nowhere to be found. I don't understand how a well-stocked store that carried several different kinds of high-end, infused, and/or otherwise esoteric vinegars didn't carry a simple basic like sherry vinegar, but oh well; barrel-aged red-wine vinegar stood in nicely. I also had to substitue prosciutto for the serrano, although the recipe itself sanctions that, so I didn't fret too much about it.

So I came home and got out the mini-prep. I whirred, I measured, I toasted, I chopped, I pounded***, I dredged****, I sautéed, and then we ate.

Oh, boy. Oh boy oh boy oh boy.

The fresh breadcrumbs and parsley on the chicken kept it incredibly tender. The smoky, nutty sauce -- enhanced by crisp bits of salty prosciutto -- provided a complex base for the chicken, soft lettuce, and herbal parsley, which sang with brightness. A complete stunner of a dish, and exactly the kind of thing I wanted to make for a just-a-bit-special night in.

I can't wait for this to become one of the old standbys.

*I suppose it's because "cracklin'" in the singular uses an apostrophe to show the missing "g," but putting it into the plural makes it look like a possessive to me. Darn grammatical cognitive dissonance!

**As much as anything can that of course has regional variations all over the place, and about which people argue that only their region's is the "true" version, of course.

***Yes, I could have bought chicken cutlets, but it's so much more fine to buy the regular chicken breasts and whack the hell out of 'em, don't you think?

****I was confused that the recipe didn't recommend dredging in an egg-wash or the like, but although some of the crumb mixture of course fell off, I think the freshness of the bread allowed them to stick better than I expected.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

tomato darn hot

(This title may be the worst play-on-words I've yet attempted.)

When the entire country finds itself strangled by a heat wave, what's a girl to do for lunch?

A giant bowl of gazpacho, that's what.

Now, I don't make gazpacho with bread, which I thought meant I wasn't adhering to tradition. Just now, however, a friend who has been living in Spain for a year told me that, while of course it depends whom you ask and where you are, gazpacho is the vegetable soup, and salmorejo is the bread version. So I guess I'm not as much of a renegade as I thought!

I found some gorgeous (actually, ugly as sin, but beautifully ripe and wonderful) heirloom tomatoes at the market. Grabbed a cucumber and a yellow onion and, after minimal prep, threw it all in the food processor with huge handfuls of cilantro and parsley, plenty of salt and pepper, and a couple small cloves of raw garlic. A squeeze of lemon juice and a few hits of hot sauce, and I had a huge batch of gazpacho for a few lunches.

I topped my bowl with diced avocado from the small half I had leftover, and man, did it fit the bill. Take that, ridiculous heat wave.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

down by ba bay

I can't imagine how different my life would be had ba bay not opened in my neighborhood. Well, I'd cook some more, sure, but I wouldn't have nearly as much fish sauce as I do now; nor would I have a go-to cheer-up spot a mere few blocks from home. And I'd certainly not have as many excellent happy-hour meet-ups on the Hill.

It's hard to believe they've only been there since November. They have refined and revised their menu over the months, to be sure, but it has only led to higher quality and spot-on consistency.

Now, with Khoa Nguyen leaving the front of house (sort of) to take the helm in the kitchen, along with the ever-excellent sous-chef Sara Siegel, the summer menu is veering toward slightly more traditional Vietnamese flavors, but still punched up with vibrant and innovative twists, local ingredients, and the finesse that comes of having highly-trained, passionate people in charge and on board.

I've been waiting for a lazy Sunday when I could toddle up for a late lunch ever since I saw cold vermicelli, grilled pork, green apples, sprouts, pickles, carrots, herbs, fish sauce vinaigrette ($12) added to the brunch/lunch menu. (Well, no; first I begged and pleaded for this to join the dinner menu, but alas, I don't call the shots.) A friend and I made the trip today, and oh, am I glad, because this is one of the best interpretations of bun thit nuong I've ever had -- the apples, the pickled onions! Enough fresh herbs to make a whole salad! I want to tell everyone I know to run right over and get it, except I don't, because then there'll be more for me.

My friend and I were lucky enough to taste the new summer cocktail of watermelon juice, lime, and cachaça as well, despite our protestations that late afternoon work beckoned. This drink is wonderful, and probably deadly, because it doesn't taste a bit like it's got a boozy kick. When the front windows are open at the end of a swampy DC day, this will be the perfect thing to sip and watch the staffers traipse by.

If you aren't looking for alcoholic drinks, I can recommend the herbal hibiscus iced tea, which is a gorgeously shocking-pink libation with herbaceous aromatics that linger pleasantly on the palate. My friend said her fresh lemonade was not overly sweet, making it nicely refreshing on a hot day.

I also happen to think Ba Bay should open a little kiosk (think childhood lemonade stand) out front selling their vietnamese coffee milkshake, churro, cinnamon chantilly ($7) to go. You see people wandering down the street with their milkshakes from various places around this part of the hill, but this one, I'm convinced, puts all the others to shame. Oh, how I'd love one of those to sip on the walk home after an excursion to Eastern Market! 

The Barracks Row/Eastern Market/SE Penn Ave area is blossoming with restaurants and bars these days. As a neighborhood girl, I am so, so pleased to have this particular one around: young proprietors expertly infusing tradition with creativity, and getting better at it each day.