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One way to beat the heat: popsicles. Here are a couple recipes for the frozen treat that are a far cry from the versions you remember from childhood. By Anna Spiegel

Strawberry-rhubarb (top) and honey-lavender-cream (bottom) pops. Photograph by Erik Uecke

With the scorching temperatures already plaguing Washington, popsicles are an ideal frozen treat: make-ahead, portioned desserts that won’t weigh you down in the heat. We asked Brian Sykora and Roger Horowitz, co-owners of the food truck Pleasant Pops, for two of their seasonal favorites, and they came back with a creamy honey-lavender version and a refreshing strawberry-rhubarb pop, inspired by Sykora’s favorite fruit pie from his grandmother.

If you don’t have a popsicle mold, check Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, or Amazon.com, or substitute small paper cups. Because molds typically come with lids, be sure to tent the cups with plastic wrap after inserting popsicle sticks if you’re going to use cups. To remove the popsicles, Sykora says to dip the container in lukewarm water for a few seconds until it slides out. Leftovers are okay in the freezer for up to two weeks for the honey-lavender, and up to a month for the fruit-based pops.

Once you get the hang of it, Sykora encourages experimenting with local fruits and ingredients like he and Horowitz do at Pleasant Pops.

The key is good flavor. “They might not look pretty the first time around,” says Sykora, “but as long as you have the ingredients right and they taste good, that’s what counts.”

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Posted at 03:27 PM/ET, 06/08/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
On the hottest of days, we crave both milkshakes and cocktails. Ted's Bulletin combined them, and we can't get enough. By Anna Spiegel

From left: the White Russian, Grasshopper, and Nutty Professor shakes. Photograph by Chris Leaman

In this oppressive summer heat, ice cream and cold booze are two chilly mood-lifters—and at Capitol Hill’s Ted’s Bulletin, you can get both in one glass. For his "adult" milkshakes, chef Eric Brannon blends vanilla-bean ice cream with vodka and flavored liqueurs such as Bailey’s and Kahlúa, and he gave us the formula for three of our favorites. (Note: these recipes call for 1 ounce of certain ingredients—that’s equal to one shot in most standard shot glasses—but feel free to up the booze to your taste and tolerance.)

For the milkshake that features vodka—the White Russian—Brannon says to save money by using a lower-end brand. Splurge instead on a good vanilla-bean ice cream, such as Edy’s—he says the varieties with beans impart a better flavor than versions that use vanilla extract—and high-end liqueurs. One more thing: Don’t fill your blender more than halfway, and keep your hand over the lid when mixing.

“Otherwise you’ll have the milkshake party all over you,” says Brannon.

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Posted at 11:48 AM/ET, 06/01/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
The sous chef at this cozy Adams Morgan restaurant put a spin on your typical Sunday-morning wakeup. For a fresh topping, pick up a pint of strawberries at the farmers market. By Anna Spiegel

Photograph by Erik Uecke

When chef Sarah Smith put waffles on the brunch menu at Cashion’s Eat Place eight years ago, she wanted an unconventional twist on a standard dish. A cup of masa harina—finely ground corn flour often used to make tortillas—did the trick. The ground cornmeal gives the waffles an added crunch that pairs nicely with smooth, macerated summer strawberries, maple syrup, and a dash of powered sugar.

Thankfully, you don’t need to empty your wallet for an expensive Belgian waffle maker or search hard for masa harina: Smith says she uses a machine from Target, and the corn flour is available at most supermarkets in the Hispanic-foods aisle. All that’s missing: fresh mimosas.

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Posted at 12:29 PM/ET, 05/25/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
This might be the easiest appetizer you'll ever make. And the produce for it is just now starting to show up at farmers markets. By Anna Spiegel

Cava's eggplant caponata is incredibly easy to make. Photograph by Erik Uecke

Until recently, eggplant caponata was one of Cava’s most popular Mediterranean small plates. Fans of the dish—punched up with chopped olives, capers, and a scattering of mint—may be dismayed to see it gone from the list of vegetable mezze. But chef Dimitri Moshovitis isn’t removing it from the company's repertoire completely: The Sicilian flavors fit perfectly for the lineup of Italian dishes that the Cava owners will debut with their new restaurant, Sugo Macaroni and Pizza Bar in Rockville, scheduled to open in late summer (read more about it here). In the meantime, we secured the recipe so you can make it all summer long.

As with many Italian preparations, prime produce and good olive oil are the keys to the dish. Eggplant and mint are more abundant at farmers markets as the weather warms, and the rest of the ingredients can be found in grocery stores. The dish can be served as is or with pita for dipping.

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Posted at 12:33 PM/ET, 05/18/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Does dessert get any better than a classic cheesecake with a fruit topping? Pastry chef Cicely Austin told us how to make a bang-up version. By Anna Spiegel

Pastry chef Cicely Austin's cheesecake is brightened up with lemon zest and anchored by a graham-cracker crust. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

Pastry chef Cicely Austin has influence over three dessert menus at three restaurants—the Oval Room, Bombay Club, and Ardeo + Bardeo—but when it comes to inspiration, she often looks to home. Her creamy cheesecake at Ardeo is one such example.

“Cheesecake is one of my mom’s favorite desserts,” says Austin, who grew up in Fort Washington. “When we were creating the new menu for [the recently renovated] Ardeo, I wanted something classic with a spin.”

The spin in Austin’s recipe, which she calls “really forgiving,” is a sweet-tart compote made of cassis (a fruit similar to black currant). Like the cheesecake itself, the topping should be made in advance. But if time is short, the versatile cake goes with anything from freshly cut cherries and strawberries to caramel sauce. A tip from Austin: Take care when beating the cream cheese and sugar to make sure the mixture is smooth. As she says, if you have lumps in the beginning, you’ll have lumps in the end.

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Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 05/11/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Planning to bring your mom breakfast in bed this Sunday? Make her these (kinda healthy) pancakes, one of our favorite morning meals in Washington. By Anna Spiegel

Chef Art Smith's lemon-yogurt pancakes, named in honor of Gayle King, Oprah's best friend. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

Chef Art Smith’s lemon-yogurt pancakes have a devoted following, from brunchgoers at Art and Soul to Oprah’s best friend, Gayle King. Talk-show host King first sampled the pillowy pancakes during Smith’s ten-year stint as Oprah’s personal chef, and she raved about them so much that Smith named the dish after her.

While twists on traditional pancakes can be overly sweet, Smith’s rendition is both lighter and brighter: Lemon-infused honey replaces slicks of syrup, and airy mascarpone butter substitutes for the traditional pat. It’s possible to make the dish richer using whole-fat yogurt and milk, but Smith—who lost more than 100 pounds after a diabetes diagnosis—says that low-fat is equally satisfying. Smith likes to add two or three slices of high-quality bacon—he’s partial to Benton’s brand—that have been cooked in a 400-degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Both the lemon-honey and the mascarpone-butter recipes make more than a few servings require, but they keep covered in the fridge. Even the batter can be made a week ahead, which means you could start mixing it now for Mother’s Day brunch.

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Posted at 11:52 AM/ET, 05/04/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
Chef Amy Brandwein's recipe yields delicious meatballs and tomato sauce that are combined with hot cheese for a messy but excellent sandwich. By Anna Spiegel

Casa Nonna's meatball panini with extra sauce for dunking. Photograph by Erik Uecke.

Meatballs are often tossed into the somewhat pedestrian Italian-American category of red-sauce cookery, but don’t make that mistake around chef Amy Brandwein of the DC restaurant Casa Nonna.

“It’s my hot-button topic,” says Brandwein. “ Polpette [meatballs] and a great pomodoro [tomato] sauce are an Italian creation, and they’re beautiful when done with care.”

Brandwein’s lunchtime meatball panini—toasted bread piled with tender meatballs, tomato sauce, and melted provolone and Parmesan—are definitely made with care. Brandwein, a DC native, traveled extensively in Italy, where she picked up the three-meat formula—ground pork, veal, and beef—that she calls the “holy trinity of Emilia-Romagna cooking.”

A frequent rule is to let a sauce simmer as long as possible, but Brandwein warns against overcooking the tomato sauce: You want the flavors to develop but don’t want to lose the tomato’s natural acidity to its sweetness, which will start to happen after the 30-minute mark. She also notes that it’s important to taste both the sauce and meatballs—fry up a miniature meat patty to test them—while cooking.

You’ll have leftovers from this recipe; the sauce and meatballs can be stored together in the fridge up to four days and in the freezer up to four months. Brandwein says good options for second incarnations are a pasta or pizza topping, or stuffed into a homemade calzone.

Have a recipe you'd like sniffed out? E-mail recipesleuth@washingtonian.com.

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Posted at 01:17 PM/ET, 04/27/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
With a couple easy twists, a simple breakfast is turned into a delicious dessert. By Anna Spiegel

The Greek-yogurt-and-apricot parfait at Zaytinya. Photograph by Greg Powers.

One of our favorite desserts at Zaytinya in Penn Quarter is a Greek-yogurt parfait with sugar-soaked apricots and roasted pistachios. José Andrés’s deputy at the Mediterranean mezzeteria, chef Mike Costa, says the creamy confection is similar to a breakfast fruit-and-yogurt combination, but it’s kicked up a few notches to make it suitable for dessert.

As with any simple recipes, the parfait shines when the ingredients are top-notch: Costa suggests sourcing the hard-to-find Skotidakis Greek yogurt or purchasing fresh from Everona Dairy or Trickling Springs Creamery at the farmers market and letting it drain in cheesecloth for three hours (or up to 24) for a thick consistency. It’s worth a trip to a Middle Eastern market to check for dried Turkish apricots—larger and more acidic than their American counterparts—and citrusy Sicilian or Iranian pistachios. When stone fruit comes into season in late April, Costa sometimes skips rehydrating the apricots in favor of diced fresh peaches, plums, or cherries.

While expertly sourcing ingredients may sound time-consuming, the dish itself is a cinch to prepare and can be made and stored in the fridge up to five days in advance (hold the pistachios until right before serving).

>>Have a recipe you'd like sniffed out? E-mail recipesleuth@washingtonian.com.

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Posted at 11:17 AM/ET, 04/21/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
The Mexican version of fondue is a great way to kick off a party. By Anna Spiegel

Queso fundido is the ultimate party food, though you may be tempted to scoop all the melty cheese into warm corn tortillas yourself. Oyamel chef Joe Raffa punches up the Mexican appetizer with smooth agave tequila, crumbles of chorizo, and freshly roasted poblano pepper.

If you have extra sausage or pepper on hand after the dish is assembled, Raffa suggests tossing them into scrambled eggs the next morning. As for the queso? Chances are, there won’t be any left.

Have a recipe sleuth you'd like sniffed out? E-mail recipesleuth@washingtonian.com.

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Posted at 11:59 AM/ET, 04/13/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()
In honor of our Food Truck Fight, we asked finalist Solar Crêpes to share a recipe with us. We got a delicious formula for a crepe stuffed with roast chicken, cheddar, balsamic, and spinach. By Anna Spiegel

Photograph by Chris Leaman.
When we asked Solar Crêpes founders Camille Dierksheide and Danna Andrews for a tip on how to replicate the savory chicken crepe from their solar-powered truck, they replied in unison: “Don’t be afraid!”

True, making the thin, French buckwheat pancakes may seem daunting. But in reality, it’s not as difficult as those Parisian creperies make it out to be. Dierksheide and Andrews warn that the first one never comes out right, even if you’re a veteran crepe maker. Luckily, the recipe makes enough batter for lots of trial and error. (It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for three months.)

If you source your ingredients as carefully as the Solar Crêpes crew, the fillings also won’t need much manipulation. Dierksheide and Andrews are committed to sustainable, local, and organic produce, and they seek out chicken from Polyface farm, cave-aged cheddar from an Amish producer, and local vegetables. The result is flavorful roast chicken, sharp melted cheddar, and a sweet-savory caramelized-onion compote.

We’ve included recipes for all the components you’ll find at Solar, including what Andrews calls “the perfect roast chicken,” a recipe from her French mother-in-law that her husband has eaten once a week since childhood. Most of these recipes can be made a day, or even a week, ahead, and any leftover ingredients can be incorporated into on-the-fly dinners.

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Posted at 01:48 PM/ET, 03/30/2011 | Permalink | Comments ()