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Pastry chef Susan Wallace shares one of her favorite fall desserts. By Anna Spiegel
Photograph by Scott Suchman.

Looking for an easy way to spruce up classic pumpkin pie? This recipe from BlackSalt pastry chef Susan Wallace is both impressive and simple—you don’t even need to make a crust from scratch. Simply fill a store-bought shell with spiced pumpkin purée, and top with buttery oatmeal streusel for crunch. (Bonus: It looks pretty, too.)

Pumpkin Streusel Pie

Makes one 9-inch pie (serves 6 to 8)

For the oatmeal streusel:
⅔ cup all-purpose flour
⅔ cup quick oats
⅓ cup light brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into ½-inch cubes and chilled

For the pie and filling:
1 (9-inch) unbaked pie shell (Wallace recommends Pillsbury Pet-Ritz deep-dish)
2 eggs, separated
15 ounces canned pumpkin purée (Wallace likes Libby’s brand)
14 ounces sweetened condensed milk, preferably Eagle Brand
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt

Prepare the streusel:

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flour, oats, brown sugar, granulated sugar, cinnamon, and salt.

Work in butter by hand, until butter pieces are pea-size. The mixture should be crumbly. Chill 15 minutes.

Pre-bake the pie shell:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place a piece of parchment paper on top of pie shell and fill with pie weights, beans, or rice to weigh down shell. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pie weights, beans, or rice.

Finish the pie:

In medium mixing bowl, whisk together egg yolks, pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt.

In separate bowl on mixer, whip egg whites until stiff. By hand, whisk the whites into pumpkin mixture. Pour the filling into pre-baked pie shell. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until almost set on top (the pie will be dry but shiny about 1 inch around the center).

Remove from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Sprinkle streusel on top, covering pie. Return to the oven and continue baking for 20 to 25 minutes, until topping is golden brown.

Remove from the oven and cool 30 minutes. Chill at least 3 hours or overnight. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

Posted at 10:15 AM/ET, 11/18/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Simple, festive, and (somewhat) healthy. By Anna Spiegel
This delicious and easy-to-make cocktail is perfect for holiday gatherings. Photograph by Chris Campbell.

In case you haven’t heard, pomegranate seeds are good for you. Funny enough, so is sharing delicious drinks with friends. In the spirit of both: my go-to holiday cocktail from Thanksgiving through Valentine’s Day. It looks festive (and kinda fancy), goes down smooth, and is potent enough to satisfy your booze tooth without tasting overtly alcoholic (so yes, drinker beware). The recipe is very similar to a classic French 75, with the gin-soaked pomegranate seeds as an extra treat.

Another perk of this recipe: It’s budget-adaptable. If you’re splurging for cocktails a deux, Hendrick’s gin and true Champagne are hard to beat. When I’ve whipped up a batch for a holiday party, moderately priced Citadelle and Prosecco make tasty substitutes. The key is to use a lightly flavored or floral gin versus a herbaceous one. Regardless of your alcohols, slightly sweet Meyer lemon juice is the ideal seasonal citrus.

The only thing daunting about this formula may be seeding the pomegranate. Fortunately, we have an instructive video for that.

Sparkling Pomegranate Cocktail

Makes 1

2 ounces lightly flavored gin, such as Hendrick’s or Citadelle
½ ounce simple syrup*
½ ounce lemon juice, preferably Meyer lemon in season
About 6 ounces Prosecco or Champagne
1 tablespoon fresh pomegranate seeds
Optional: a lemon twist for garnish

Pour the first three ingredients into an ice-filled shaker and strain into a Champagne flute or coupe.

Add the pomegranate seeds, and top off with the bubbly. Add the lemon twist, if using.

Don’t let specialty stores lure you into buying $12 bottles of plain “bar syrup.” It’s called simple syrup for a reason: put equal parts sugar and water in a small pot (say ½ cup of each), and let it sit over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Chill it before mixing your cocktail, and keep it stored in the fridge.

Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 11/15/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Two party-friendly shooters that would make Bill Cosby proud. By Anna Spiegel
Bourbon-based Psych Ward Jell-O shots bring the right amount of crazy to any party. Photograph courtesy of Jack Rose.

Remember Jell-O shots in college: the ingenious combination of Jell-O packets and vodka that leave your mouth red and your mind blank? Well, now there’s an adult way to enjoy those boozy wiggle-bombs. Jack Rose barkeeps Nick Lowe and Trevor Frye took our challenge to gussy up the ol’ sorority favorite for all of your Halloween party fun, no Kraft Foods product needed. The best part: You must make both recipes in advance to let the gelatin set the cocktail, so they’re hassle-free come party time. Unless, of course, that guy in the Miley Cyrus costume takes one too many. 

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Posted at 03:04 PM/ET, 10/25/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Hearty but elegant and perfect for fall, this is a great dish for holiday entertaining. By Jessica Voelker

Gorgeous, healthy, and delicious: This is the perfect fall salad to start off a dinner party. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

As a food writer, I get the chance to sample a lot of salads. It’s always good to have vinegar-dressed greens on the table when you’re tasting a lot of different—and often heavy—dishes. At a recent meal at J&G Steakhouse, a friend suggested we share this butternut squash starter as a healthy way to begin a meal of many meats. To our surprise, it was our favorite item that evening—with bright acidity from two vinaigrettes bringing out the sweet earthiness of the squash, measured dollops of goat cheese adding a touch of richness, pumpkin seeds lending crunch, and frisée and watercress offsetting the heft of the orange vegetable.

The best news: As the recipe below reveals, the uniquely delicious flavors come from ingenious ingredient combinations rather than time-consuming or challenging techniques.

Watch as it steals the show at your next fall dinner party.

Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Salad, Pumpkin Seed Vinaigrette

Serves 4

For the squash:

1 small butternut squash
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Black pepper
1 small dried red chili, ground
1½ teaspoons coriander seed, crushed

To the rest of the recipe....

Posted at 11:59 AM/ET, 10/21/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Take advantage of peak peach season with these sweet pastries. By Anna Spiegel

Photograph courtesy of NoPa Kitchen + Bar.

If you’ve been to the farmers market lately, you know peach season has hit full stride. Take advantage of the sweet, ripe fruits with a hand pie recipe from NoPa Kitchen + Bar pastry chef Jemil Gadea.

Don’t be intimidated by the recipe’s multiple steps—they yield various rewards. Macerating the peaches makes an abundance of filling, which you can use to top ice cream, mix into smoothies, or even incorporate into a savory dish (peaches and spice-rubbed pork loin comes to mind). The liquid that’s drained from the fruit mixture before you make the pies is also a tasty side product; treat it like peach simple syrup to use in iced tea or cocktails, or reduce it with some fresh raspberries for sauce. Gadea is partial to the stone fruits from Black Rock Orchard, which sets up stalls at local farmers markets like the Penn Quarter FreshFarm Market on Thursday and Dupont on Sunday.

Gadea’s number-one tip for recreating NoPa’s dessert: Don’t overstuff the pies. Filling them beyond capacity will make them leak in the fryer and disintegrate. Serve them with vanilla ice cream for a classic summer treat.

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Posted at 03:08 PM/ET, 08/27/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A fiery recipe for your summer repertoire. By Anna Spiegel
Chef Jim Jeffords of Evening Star Cafe and his “throne” hot sauce. Photographs courtesy of Neighborhood Restaurant Group,

Even in the summer heat, there’s nothing like a splash of hot sauce to perk up eggs or barbecue. Instead of reaching for the Tabasco, try this simple recipe from Evening Star Cafe chef Jim Jeffords.

The Georgia-bred toque grows his own peppers on the restaurant’s rooftop garden, including fresnos, datils—which are native to his home state—and cayennes. But no need to grow your own: The formula Jeffords uses is a base, and can accommodate a variety of common fresh peppers, such as milder red fresnos, earthy serranos, and fiery Scotch bonnets. Depending on your heat tolerance, he recommends a 3-2-1-part ratio for the chilies listed above. Mixed with garlic and white vinegar, this is destined to become a go-to condiment that matches the season’s temperatures.

Jim’s Special Throne Sauce

Makes one bottle

4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1½ cups white vinegar, such as Heinz
About 1½ cups mixed fresh peppers, such as red fresno, serrano, and Scotch bonnet, all available at Whole Foods and seasonally at the farmers market (see above for ratios)
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Using gloves, rinse all the peppers thoroughly. Remove the stems and chop into about ¾-inch pieces.

Heat a sauté or cast-iron pan over high heat. Coat it with olive oil. When you see “white smoke” and the pan is very hot, add the peppers. Season them with salt. Let cook for 4 minutes, tossing occasionally.

Once they are slightly charred, cover the peppers with white vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat. Remove from the stove and let cool.

Once cool, place the peppers and vinegar mixture in an airtight container such as a Mason jar or plastic container. Make sure the peppers are covered with vinegar; it may be necessary to add more. Store the peppers at room temperature for one week.

Once the mixture has aged, purée in a blender until smooth. Pass the hot sauce through a sieve or fine strainer.

Store liquid hot sauce in refrigerator for up to two months.

Posted at 11:15 AM/ET, 07/25/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
July 10 is National Piña Colada Day. Here’s how to celebrate. By Anna Spiegel

Duane Sylvestre’s masterful take on a classic island drink. Photograph by Anna Spiegel.

Bourbon Steak’s lounge feels like more of a go-to Manhattan spot than the place to quaff piña coladas, but wait until you try barkeep Duane Sylvestre’s version. The Trinidadian knows his island drinks, and knows they are often stereotyped as overly fruity, saccharine, and awash in artificial ingredients. Sylvestre’s take on the Puerto Rican cocktail is free of all of the above, and crafted with quality rum, fresh lemon juice, and house-made coconut crème.

The key is the crème—a simple syrup made with puréed coconut—which stands in for commercial coconut creams such as the ubiquitous Coco López. If you’re mixing up the cocktail for National Piña Colada Day (which is today), you may opt for the first method, which is slightly more involved and uses a whole coconut. You can also order high-quality frozen coconut purée on Amazon.com for future shortcuts. The recipe serves one, but you may as well whip up enough for a party while you’re at it—just keep the ratios intact. Sylvestre makes one large batch a day and pours each serving over crushed ice.

A word of warning from Sylvestre: “It’s a lot of booze that goes down easily, so be careful. This is not what they served you on your beach vacation.”

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Posted at 12:05 PM/ET, 07/10/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Virgin or boozy, this summer quencher is perfect for your barbecue. By Anna Spiegel

It’s super simple to re-create Taqueria Nacional’s summertime cooler at home. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

“Making an agua fresca can be a really simple affair, especially when you have high-quality fruit,” says Ann Cashion, co-owner of Taqueria Nacional. (She also co-owns and cooks at Capitol Hill seafood favorite Johnny’s Half Shell). So when mixing up drinks for your Fourth of July barbecue, skip the dyed red, white, and blue drinks and go with something naturally festive and fully refreshing: strawberry agua fresca, like the one you’ll find at the newly opened 14th Street taco spot.

At the restaurant, Cashion uses locally grown strawberries for the drink. Since strawberry season is nearing its end, she suggests adding fresh blueberries or raspberries or subbing out the strawberries altogether. If you opt for commercially grown strawberries, Cashion suggests adding more sugar for sweetness, though don’t overdo it—aim for one cup at most.

Another perk of this recipe: You can whip up a pitcher in advance for your party—just keep it chilled—and serve it with booze on the side for a mixed-age crowd. Just add one and a half ounces of your favorite light rum or tequila to your glass and stir for a more potent drink.

Strawberry Agua Fresca

Makes one pitcher

6 pints of ripe strawberries (preferably locally grown), washed, and stems removed
¼ cup sugar, or more to taste
1 cup filtered water, or more to achieve desired consistency
Optional: A bottle of your favorite light rum or tequila

In a blender, purée the strawberries with some sugar and 1 cup of water. Check for sweetness and add more sugar if desired.

Transfer the purée into a larger container and stir in more water until you achieve the consistency and concentration that you want. 

Strain the mixture into a pitcher to remove some of the seeds and chill until ready to serve. 

Posted at 11:30 AM/ET, 07/03/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Michelle Obama teams up with Epicurious and grade schoolers in the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. By Anna Spiegel
Michelle Obama, working on another of her healthy food initiatives: the White House garden. Official White House photograph.

“Pan-seared Mississippi catfish on a bed of river rice” sounds like a dish you’d read about on one of Jeff Black’s menus, but that recipe is from ten-year-old Reed Lindsey, one of the 54 kids to win Michelle Obama’s second Healthy Lunchtime Challenge. The First Lady teamed up with cooking website Epicurious as part of her Let’s Move! campaign, asking 8- to 12-year-olds across the nation to work with parents and submit lunch recipes that were “healthy, affordable, original, and delicious.” A winner was selected from every state, three territories, and the District out of 1,300 entries, and the aspiring chefs who took first place will be treated to a “state dinner” lunch at the White House on July 9 with several of their dishes included in the spread.

So what did the Washington contingent come up with? Emma Scielzo, a ten-year-old from Chevy Chase, won for her chicken masala wraps, while Campbell Kielb, eight, of Sterling took first place in Virginia for orange chicken lettuce wraps. Nine-year-old Ingrid Lamberg from DC had one of the most creative submissions, cooking up Inga Binga’s Salmon Salad. Read on for the rest of the winning entries (Sneaky Chili Surprise! Super Rescue Soup!), and check out some of the recipes on Epicurious’s contest site.

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Posted at 11:50 AM/ET, 06/20/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
You’ll want to drink this refreshing, peppery punch all summer long. By Anna Spiegel

Alex Taylor’s Summer Brunch Punch. Photograph courtesy of GBD.

Sunday brunch isn’t just for Mother’s Day: Fathers need some pampering, too. If you’re planning on whipping up a home-cooked meal for Dad come Father’s Day (June 16), this cocktail is perfect. In fact, since tasting the refreshing drink at GBD’s newly launched brunch, we’re planning on making it one of our go-to drinks of summer.

GBD manager Alex Taylor created this brunch punch, which gets its kick from two sources: a solid amount of gin, and an easy-to-make pink peppercorn syrup. For a spicier sip, you can go a little heavier on the amount of peppercorn you use in the syrup, or make the punch up to three days in advance for more potent flavor. Just remember to keep it in the fridge.

Alex Taylor’s Summer Brunch Punch

Makes about 16 portions

Pink peppercorn syrup:
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
3 tablespoons cracked pink peppercorns

Put water and peppercorns in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly add sugar and stir until all sugar is dissolved.

Allow 30 minutes for the syrup to cool, then refrigerate. (The longer this sits, the stronger the peppercorn flavor.)

Punch:

½ liter gin, such as Tanqueray
250 milliliters (about a cup) Bols Triple Sec
½ gallon fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, available at Whole Foods
2 cups fresh-squeezed lemon juice (if using store-bought, make sure it’s real juice, not concentrate)
2 cups pink peppercorn syrup

Mix all of the punch ingredients in a large bowl and stir well. Garnish with lemon wheels. Best served in Mason jars over ice.

See also:
An Easy Gin Drink for a Crowd
Ben Franklin’s Milk Punch
The Cocktail That Washington and “The Great Gatsby” Have in Common, and How to Make It

Posted at 10:40 AM/ET, 06/06/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()