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Archive for April, 2012

While working at Cashion’s, I have watched Chef John infuse several of his potato dishes with both lemon zest and lemon juice. The combination of lemon and potato is often seen in Greek cuisine. Previously, I would never have thought that lemon and potato could work wonders together. When combined, the zests and juice tone down the starchy flavor of the potato. The potato is transformed, becoming light and refreshing (I won’t give away his recipe, you’ll have to come to try it!). After preparing potatoes with Gruyere cheese and heavy cream one too many times in culinary school, I was ecstatic to make this discovery.

The juice from a lemon is acidic, while the zests are sweet. The decision to use either the zest or the juice depends on several factors, for example, what kind of dish you are preparing and what flavor your dish needs. If you want a lemon flavor without the acidity, then use the zests. If your dish needs acid to balance out the other flavors, use the juice.

The sweetness of lemon zest often works well in desserts. For example, the zests are an important component of Pate Sucree, a sweet pie dough infused with lemon flavor. Zests give the dough a lemon flavor without all the acid from the juice.

On the other hand, many savory sauces can benefit from adding lemon juice. The acidity can assist a savory sauce or salad dressing that is too sweet or bitter. A basic vinaigrette made using oil, which has a neutral, slightly bitter flavor, needs an acid such as lemon juice for balance. Mayonnaise utilizes lemon juice in a similar manner as well. Still don’t understand? Consider lemonade – the addition of lemons to sugar water results in a perfect balance of acidic and sweet.

While it may appear to be a simple little fruit (and it’s usually not too expensive either), the lemon is one of the most useful and versatile ingredients with which I have cooked. I try to keep a few in my kitchen so I can use them for my tomato sauces, pastas, chicken marinades, salads, cookie doughs or whatever need I may have.

Here’s a few of the recipes I discussed (both adapted from l’Academie de Cuisine) that utilize lemon zest and lemon juice. Enjoy!

Pate Sucree (Sweet dough)

Ingredients

  • 8 oz. butter
  • 4 oz. sugar
  • 12 oz. AP flour
  • 1 egg
  • Vanilla
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • Pinch salt

Instructions

  1. In a mixer, combine flour, salt and sugar, and then room temperature butter in pieces.
  2. Add egg and mix until combined. Then add vanilla and lemon zest and continue to mix.
  3. Chill to set butter in dough.
  4. Roll chilled dough into desired shape (this works best when the dough is cold. If it becomes too sticky, then put it back in the refrigerator).
  5. Make holes in dough with fork, then blind bake (using parchment and baking beans) the crust at 375 F until brown all the way through.
  6. Fill the crust with custard and fresh fruit, chocolate custard and chocolate shavings, or whatever you’d prefer.
Basic Mayonnaise 

(Yes, this recipe has raw eggs. If it makes you nervous, use pasteurized eggs.)

Ingredients

  • Egg yolk
  • Lemon juice
  • Dijon mustard
  • Oil
  • Salt, pepper and seasonings

Instructions

  1. Whisk egg yolks with juice of one lemon and Dijon (try this ratio –  1 yolk : juice of 1 lemon : 1 tablespoon Dijon)
  2. Add a neutrally flavored oil (such as canola oil) to the mixture, a little at a time, making sure to whisk constantly. Add oil until the ingredients have emulsified. Add a little water if necessary to help the ingredients combine. When the consistency of the mayo has thickened, but it is still creamy smooth, you’re done. For one yolk, it should take about a cup of oil, but trust your eyes first.
  3. Finish with salt, pepper and any seasonings you’d like, such as cayenne pepper, Old Bay or curry powder.
  4. Taste for seasonings, adjusting accordingly. This mayo will keep in the refrigerator for at least 3 days. After that, use common sense – if it smells or looks funny, don’t eat it.

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Above is photo of the women I’m working with during my externship at Cashion’s Eat Place in Adams Morgan. Last Sunday night, it was just the four of us on the line. From left to right – Me (working the salad and cold apps station), Sous Chef Sarah (working saute), Lauren (pastry chef on the grill) and Tamar (working the sweat station, in charge of fish, hot apps and soups). I can’t imagine there are many kitchens in D.C. where the women outnumber the men for a night!

I am also cooking with Executive Chef John Manolatos, Sam and Alex. It’s a small kitchen, but we produce a lot of food quickly and efficiently. I usually don’t have to go too far to find anything either, such as plates, utensils or extra ingredients.

Right now, I’m assigned to the salad and cold appetizer station, as well as the deep fryer. I also plate desserts on certain nights of the week.

Working in a kitchen isn’t easy, but I’m really enjoying the challenge so far. In just a few weeks, I have improved many of my skills in the kitchen just by practicing everyday. I’m working on knife skills especially, an essential aspect of the salad station. I’ve learned how to work with various fruits and vegetables, as well. I can now segment a grapefruit and slice an avocado without making a mushy green mess. Each day, I must also prepare a salad for family meal, the staff’s dinner before service begins.

One of my favorite dishes I have prepared is an asparagus salad with fava beans, Lukaniko (a Greek sausage) and Burrata cheese (similar to mozzarella). The dressing on top is an emulsion of lemon juice and olive oil. It’s simple, but  incredibly flavorful. As I’m learning at Cashion’s, great food doesn’t always have to be complicated.

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I can’t think of a gift more instantly gratifying than a big, fat juicy burger. For my boyfriend Paul’s birthday, treating him to Ray’s Hell Burger in Arlington was the obvious choice.

Like Ben’s Chili Bowl, Ray’s Hell Burger is a no frills D.C. gem. President Obama took Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to lunch at Ray’s Hell Burger in 2010, helping to make the spot a must on every D.C. foodie’s bucket list. Obama also made a trip to Ben’s Chili Bowl when he was first elected.

Michael Landrum opened Ray’s Hell Burger in 2008, just a few doors down from his original restaurant, Ray’s the Steaks. Two of Landrum’s more recent establishments, Ray’s Hell Burger Too and Retro Ray’s are also close-by.

Ray’s Hell Burger is cash only, but there is an ATM right next to the counter. I unfortunately failed to see this, left the restaurant and walked up Wilson Boulevard to a 7-11. I also parked in a metered spot about a half mile up the street, not realizing that there is a free lot right in front. None of these incidents were really that big of a deal, except they delayed the moment that I would get to enjoy my delectable burger.

The burgers come in two sizes – the 10-ounce “Big Devil,” or the smaller 1/3 pound, “Little Devil.” Considering that a pound is 16 ounces, a 10-ounce burger is almost a monster.

In addition to size, you can choose your burger’s seasoning – traditional grilled, seared au poivre, blackened with cajun spices or grilled with a spicy chipotle sauce. For toppings, there is just about everything you could imagine and more, from guacamole to roasted bone marrow and seared foie gras (wow). With a selection of gourmet cheeses, Ray’s clearly places an emphasis on quality ingredients.

I ordered the Little Devil “Soul Burger Number One,” Au Poivre style (pictured, above). This burger includes Applewood smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, Cognac and Sherry sauteed mushrooms and grilled onions. Every component of this burger could easily stand on its own. The melted Swiss cheese flawlessly coated the burger like a blanket, the mushrooms were perfectly caramelized, the grilled onions gave a nice crunch and a little sweetness, and the bacon was thick, salty and a beautiful deep red color. My favorite aspect of this burger was the Au Poivre seasoning, which added a peppery kick to the patty.

Paul ordered the “B.I.G. Poppa,” an Au Poivre burger with bleu cheese, sauteed mushrooms and grilled onions. The bleu cheese on the burger was clearly the standout ingredient. He wolfed it down in about one minute and 30 seconds, claiming that if you don’t eat a burger quickly, all of the toppings will fall out. Honestly, I don’t have a problem with that – it’s just a little something extra to enjoy on the plate after you finish.

When he finished, Paul gave the “I’m insanely full but couldn’t be happier” groan. Sweet birthday success.

By following a simple but fail-proof formula of using fine ingredients and good seasonings, Ray’s Hell Burger proves itself as one of D.C.’s best burger spots.

Ray's Hell-Burger on Urbanspoon

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