Thursday, December 29, 2011

WLDC Posts Roundup: December 2011

It's been a while since I've wrangled up the posts I've done for We Love DC. Oh yeah, did I mention I'm food editor over there now? Exciting stuff! 

In closing out 2011, I'm hoping to write a personal roundup post over here of the highlights from this past year in food. But you can check We Love DC for the food team's roundup of our "Best Of" list tomorrow at 11 AM. In the meantime, here's a roundup of links to all my recent(ish) posts over on We Love DC.

Mike Isabella of Graffiato
Mike Isabella at Graffiato

 In my latest Capital Chefs-related posts:
Merroir's Crabcake
Crabcake at Merroir

 In other food news:
Though it's not food-related, it's still an important PSA as we head into new years eve that you should never, under any circumstances, drink and drive. Take a free cab ride (up to $30) from now until new years day from 10 PM til 6 AM.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Shuck an Oyster with Chef Pete Woods of Rappahannock River Oysters

A few weekends ago, I took a long drive out to Toppings, VA to check out Rappahannock River Oysters, LLC. I lucked out with a perfectly sunny and mild December day with barely a breeze on the river.
You can read the full feature I wrote about RRO on We Love DC, but it goes without saying that I learned a lot that afternoon, including how to properly (and safely) shuck an oyster. Watch the video below with Merroir's chef, Pete Woods, to learn how to shuck an oyster.

And while it may be too chilly right now to sit out by the marina and enjoy a cold beer and a dozen fresh oysters, definitely get yourself there this Spring and Summer. RRO has some big plans for Merroir, the tasting room that they launched this past July. And the food is incredible--hands down the best fried green tomato I've ever had (and in December, no less!), the crabcakes are outrageously rich and don't contain any breadcrumbs, and Chef Pete knows how to sear the skin on a rockfish to crispy perfection. Oh and get the lambs and clams dish; you'll thank me later. The food at Merroir shows off the freshness of the seafood--it is simple and it is delicious. There are a million places between here and Maine that do the over-fried po boys and cooked-to-death corn on the cob clam bakes, but this is the one place that let's the food itself do the talking with perfectly executed small plates. And don't be fooled by that phrase--Merroir serves hearty portions all from an unassuming outdoor grill station and small kitchen area indoors.

Big thanks to chef Pete and co-owner of RRO, Travis Croxton, for hosting me for the day and eaching me about oysters and aquaculture!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Recipe: White Lasagna with Chicken, Spinach and Bechamel Sauce

After a chef friend told me about her craving for white lasagna, it occurred to me that in my 20 something years of existence I had never once attempted to make a lasagna on my own. Oh sure, I had seen relatives master the art of baked ziti, lasagna and every variation of chicken or eggplant parmigiano at family functions. But I realized that it was time that I take on the challenge of preparing a lasagna on my own both to feed a friend's craving and to prove to myself that I was capable.

Below you'll find my recipe for White Lasagna with Chicken, Spinach and a Bechamel Sauce. Sure lasagna, and a lasagna with a bechamel sauce no less, requires some work in the kitchen. But the fat slabs of chicken, cheese and silky spinach sandwiched between fat noodles dripping with bechamel sauce is a pretty good reward for your labor. Feel free to play around with the recipe, and I haven't completely perfected the measurements. If you want a more loaded lasagna, add more chicken, ricotta and spinach--though beware not to overstuff your layers. If you like your lasagna to be oozing with sauce, add more bechamel. And let me know how yours turns out.

Now I also understand that this is a huge amount of lasagna. However, as pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac (the one who prompted me to throw together this recipe) said, "It just feels wrong to make a small lasagna." Share some with friends.
Sorry folks, this sad iPhone picture will have to suffice.
White Lasagna with Chicken, Spinach and Bechamel Sauce

- 3-4 medium boneless, skinless chicken breasts
- 3 bunches of spinaches, washed thoroughly and drained
- 5 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 16 oz. containers of fresh ricotta
- 1 1/2 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1 yellow onion, finely diced
- 1 1 lb. box of lasagna noodles
- 6 cups of bechamel sauce (I double Mario Batali's recipe for bechamel)

1. In a pan, heat about a tablespoon of EVOO or enough to coat the pan. Add about half of the minced garlic to the pan along with the chicken breasts. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and cook thoroughly. After the chicken is done, slice it on the diagonal or shred it, depending on your preference for the lasagna. Set aside.
2. Thoroughly wash and dry the spinach and remove the tough stalks. In a pan with EVOO and the rest of the minced garlic, cook the spinach until it's lightly wilted. This should only take a few minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside.
3. In the same pan as the spinach was cooked in, sautee the finely diced yellow onion until it's translucent and smooth.
4. Make the bechamel sauce according to the Batali recipe or one of your choosing. Add the cooked onions to the bechamel when it's finished.
5. Cook the lasagna noodles in a pot of salted, boiling water according to box instructions (For example, some lasagna noodles instruct you to cook the pasta for half the time you would normally cook pasta so that it doesn't turn to mush when you bake the lasagna). Using tongs, remove and drain the lasagna noodles. Be careful not to pile them on top of one another if you aren't layering them right away--they'll stick together.
6. In the bottom of a 13 x 9 inch glass baking dish, spread a thick layer of bechamel sauce. Then place a layer of lasagna noodles, followed by ricotta, half of a cup of parmesan, chicken, spinach and more bechamel sauce. Repeat this layering two more times.
7. Cover the top of the lasagna with a thick layer of the remaining bechamel sauce and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
8. In a 350 degree oven, bake the lasagna for 40-45 minutes or until bubbling. If the lasagna starts to brown too much on top while it's baking, cover it with foil.