Edible Holiday Reads

Gifts to Make Anyone Happy: New Books from Local Chefs & Bakers

Searching for a great gift? You can show off local super-star writers and recipe creators with pride this year. (Plus, books are easy to wrap!) These engaging reads will earn a place on any food lover’s shelf. Written by masters of their craft, any of these will make you proud that this talented group calls the DMV home.

The Red Truck Bakery Cookbook by Brian Noyes and Nevin Martell ($25)

This cookbook has been a long time coming for the devoted fans of this popular Virginia bakery loved by locals and the elite (think President Obama and Andrew Zimmern). This gorgeously produced book will make any baker you know happy. Noyes and Martell present 85 recipes that include “secrets of biscuit-making,” sweet and savory pies, cakes, breads and condiments. And President Obama’s favorite sweet potato pecan pie with bourbon. An even better idea? Go to one of Red Truck’s bakeries in Warrenton or Marshall, pick up a signed copy of the book and get some of Noyes’ deservedly famous granola while you’re there.

Buttermilk Graffiti by Edward Lee, $27.50

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A chef who was a literature major (and magna cum laude no less) bring chops to his kitchens in DC (Succotash) and in Louisville and, once again, to the page. This book is a reflection of Chef Eddie’s deep dive into immigrant communities and explores how the inhabitants, some new to the U.S. and others here for decades, cook and use food to tell their stories and remain connected to their home culture. It’s a great romp of a read with humor, poignancy and—for people who love food—a page turner as you find yourself wanting more and thinking about the characters you meet in Houston, Lowell, Montgomery and Brighton Beach. This may not be a cookbook per se, but each chapter ends with recipes that were part of the story he weaves.

Pie Squared, Irresistibly Easy Sweet & Savory Slab Pies by Cathy Barrow, $28

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This book by blogger Cathy Barrow (that’s Mrs. Wheelbarrow to you) is a guaranteed gift win for a home cook. How many times do you wonder what to bring to a potluck dinner with family and friends? Wonder no more. Now you will be on your A game, whether you make a dessert or a main course. The fabulous Mrs. Wheelbarrow has you covered with 75 recipes ranging from Spinach, Gorgonzola and Walnut Slab Pie and Curried Chicken Slab Pie to Sour Cream Peach Melba Slab Pie and Grande Mocha Cappuccino Slab Pie. All made in a sheet pan and designed to serve a crowd. Hungry? We thought so. You’ll probably need more than one copy: one for you, one to give. Get in early on the slab pie trend, you’ll be glad you did.

The New Chesapeake Kitchen by John Shields, $26.95

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Like us, you may already be a fan of John Shields, celebrated chef, restaurateur, PBS cooking show talent and all-around nice guy in Baltimore, one of the original champions of Chesapeake Bay regional cuisine. If not, now is the time to pick up his latest book, The New Chesapeake Kitchen, the perfect gift for lovers of all things Chesapeake. John Shields takes a 21st century look at what grows, swims or grazes in the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed, with recipes that take local produce and proteins and instruct how to prepare it all simply and memorably. The approach here is “Bay- and body-friendly food” with a focus on encouraging a plant-forward and sustainable diet, one that takes into account how the food choices you make affect your health and the environment. Find innovative takes on Chesapeake classics, as well as many vegan and vegetarian options: from Aunt Bessie’s Crab Pudding to “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Crab” Cakes—even recipes for a locavore cocktail party. Added plus: It’s gorgeous, with beautiful photography from David W. Harp.

Break Bread, Make Policy

Winning dinner party tricks from a lobbying guru

 By Susan Able, Photography by Hannah Hudson

With his charming half-grin, Jim Courtovich swings open the front door of his gracious Woodley Park home and welcomes me in. It’s late morning and Courtovich is half prepped for a dinner party, the kitchen filled with the rich scent of chicken stock simmering away in a huge copper pot. Apron-clad with a phone tucked under his chin, he talks business strategy about an upcoming project while chopping vegetables for a Tuscan soup.  

Founder and CEO of Sphere Consulting, a DC communications firm that just celebrated its 10th anniversary, Courtovich is one of those rare birds who entertains seemingly effortlessly, constructing an entire dinner party for eight or 18 in a day (with a little help from a cast of local college students who “house-tern” and learn to braise at his elbow.)  

For this DC lobbying guru, the best way to do business in “this town” is around a dinner table chez him; good food and good wine go a long way to smoothing difficult conversations, whether it be matters of party politics or state. “People come over and get to know each other over a great dinner, and yes, we end up doing a little bit of business. I’m lucky to be able to blend my passion for cooking with my work,” says Courtovich. 

Growing up in Winchester, Massachusetts, part of a large Greek family, gathering to eat was everything. Men were in the kitchen and on the grill as much as the women. 

“Food was a big deal for us, and all my male relatives could spit-roast a lamb like you’ve never seen. Part of my DNA is bringing people together. In my family, we never made a meal that served fewer than 12 people. Anything else was called a snack.” 

 Courtovich designed his home to facilitate his passion. Two kitchens—one upstairs and one downstairs—serve as base camps for prep; he even boasts a “charcuterie” room, a marble-countered space with a commercial-style refrigerator, a serious meat slicer and shelves of copperware. There is a formal dining room, but two other large dining spaces are used for more casual affairs. Dozens of cookbooks line the bookshelves in the Courtovich kitchens. At night, he cruises through them to relax and to garner ideas: Favorites are Wolfgang Puck’s Pizza, Pasta, and More and Nancy Harmon Jenkin’s Flavors of Tuscany. The Balthazar Cookbook is a “touchstone” for him. 

 “Greek food inspires much of my cooking—but I also live in South Carolina part of the year, so I’m starting to merge those cuisines. Greek sausage mashes up in Southern-style gravy,” Courtovich adds. “I’m trying to write a cookbook, but work gets in the way. It will be about city cooking and entertaining with tips that show how make everything easier.”  

For Courtovich, holidays mean opening his home for gatherings—from intimate dinners to his famous large parties for 50 or more, held on sequential nights with rotating guest lists. And this pro entertainer has hacks for that. As he explains, successful entertaining relies on a plan and depends on a circle of trusted vendors, reliable shortcuts and proven recipes. 

This holiday dinner for eight showcases the “Courtovich” approach: a strong appetizer program, show-stopping main courses and a simply elegant layer cake from Sweet Teensy Bakery.  

Jim Courtovich on Entertaining    

  • Create a vendor triangle—mine is a florist, my butcher at Wagshal’s and Calvert Woodley for wine. My route is up Wisconsin, over to Connecticut and then home—it’s efficient; I know how much time it takes. 

  • Place orders ahead as much as you can for things you are picking up; let them know when you are coming. Saves time. 

  • Do a theme party. People love simple food; for the debates this fall I set up a hot dog bar. Who doesn’t like a hot dog? All the toppings, plus deep-fried tater tots. So easy and everyone was crazy about it. 

  • Even a sit-down dinner doesn’t have to be formal. I’ve served chicken and biscuits for a business dinner. 

  • This is important: Trade off things that are easy to buy and customize. For my crab balls, I buy pre-made crab cakes, then roll them into balls, coat them with panko breadcrumbs and deep-fry them. 

  • For apps, keep them smallish in size and easy to pick up. If you are standing up, talking to people, how big do you really want something to go in your mouth? It should be one bite. 

 Menu

Lamb Kofta with Tzatzki Dip

Salmon Ceviche 

Jim’s Famous Pizza 

Crab Balls  

Tuscan Vegetable Soup

Filet Mignon with Herbed Butter (Caption on the filet describing prep) 

Roasted Asparagus (Caption mentioning prep on asparagus) 

Lobster Mac & Cheese  

Sweet Teensy Red Velvet Cake

Fresh Take on Fish Feast

By Cathy Barrow, Photography by Jennifer Cubas

Styling by Elizabeth Duncan Events and flowers by Philippa Tarrant

There’s nothing old school about this holiday tradition

By 5pm on December 24, Washington’s office doors have long clicked shut. Reagan National Airport begins to recover from the overflows of members of Congress and their staff who have fled town. Many expats will be gone.  

One cadre of Washington residents will spend the holidays here because home is somewhere around the globe (and a plane ticket is not in their personal economic recovery plan). But for many more of us, here’s no place we’d rather be. We love the quiet of holiday streets emptied of the masses, our nation’s Capitol bathed in winter light. Perhaps Christmas Eve is just another day. Yet, there is an undeniable celebratory twinkle in the air.  

Rather than press a virtual nose against the glass while forking cold takeout from a cardboard container, savvy Christmas “orphans” plan a celebration with their Framily—the friends they love, the family they choose—and together they make a new tradition. While some of those gatherings include a meal from a home kitchen, many opt to spend the holiday at festive restaurant tables. 

Around the city, there are spectacular options for holiday meals. French bistro Le Diplomate offers a Christmas Eve menu. On the 23rd, DGS Deli repeats the Chinese-Jewish deli mashup with guest chefs from around the city. And Osteria Morini Pastry Chef Alex Levin serves sufganiyot for Hanukkah.  

Since 2011, Chef Fabio Trabocchi has served up “an indulgence menu” based on the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes at his downtown restaurant Fiola, recently awarded one Michelin star. The Feast is also served at Casa Luca and Fiola Mare. The meal reflects Trabocchi’s native Italy, where there is a long tradition of a seafood feast on Christmas Eve and, in his case, seafood on the table every holiday. 

“It is the essence of celebration: caviar, lobster, black truffles, oysters,” he said. “We repeat those items every year but in brand new executions.”  

Served on Christmas Eve, the Feast of the Seven Fishes is a spectacular array of seafood dishes traditional to the Italian table. Cookbook author Domenica Marchetti (Preserving Italy, HMH) parses the details: “Italians always had seafood for Christmas Eve—numerous types. My mother was born in Italy and had never heard of the idea of counting the number of fishes. It’s more of an Italian-American custom to count seven—or, in some places 13—fish.” 

As a young chef in Italy, Trabocchi might have enjoyed these meals in restaurants, but it is infinitely more common to feast with family and that is the spirit with which he infuses his menu. It’s celebratory, beautiful and filled with opportunities to dazzle. 

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The first year, Chef Trabocchi’s menu honored each of the seven fish, but diners cried “uncle!” too soon, leaving some food languishing. The following year, he reworked the menu to express the seven in five exquisite dishes. 

From the briny oysters served atop a perforated ceramic tower, to a plump Maine scallop nestled in a puff pastry shell topped with a perfect disc of black truffle, to the buttery seared foie gras and lobster poached in Barolo, every element feels like a gift. 

EDC had a chance to preview Fiola’s 2016 Feast of the Seven Fishes menu. If you can’t get your Framily there this year (reservations fill up quickly), here are four recipes to add to your own holiday table. 

Feast of the Seven Fishes Menu 

from Fiola’s Chef Fabio Trabocchi 

A Winter’s Tale (Holiday Punch)

Shigoku Oysters & Prosecco Zabaglione 

Ahi Tuna Crudo Puttanesca

Baked Maine Scallops & Winter Black Truffle 

Gnocchi Crab & Caviar

Risotto, Langoustines, Sea Urchins 

Lobster, Foie Gras & Barolo 

White Chocolate Panettone Bread Pudding

A Field Guide to Holiday Lights & Nearby Eats & Drinks

By Tim Ebner

National Christmas Tree

The Ellipse: Look for giant toy soldiers guarding the doors at Old Ebbitt Grill, just a few blocks from the National Christmas Tree. You’ll want to head straight to the raw bar for half-off oyster specials during happy hour (3–6pm) and late night (11pm to close).  

Parade of Lights

600 Water St. SW: Warm up with a winter cocktail at Ashlar, located inside the Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco. Get into the holiday spirit with drinks like the Sherry Cobbler #2, served with Dewar’s Blended Scotch, bianco vermouth and Alexandro Cream Sherry. 

Zoo Lights

3001 Connecticut Ave. NW: For hearty pub fare and a children-friendly option, head to Duke’s Counter, located across the street from the National Zoo. Bring an appetite because their “sarnies” (or sandwiches) can easily feed two.  

Georgetown Glow

Georgetown canal area and waterfront: Escape the madness of M Street by recharging and re-caffeinating at Grace Street Coffee Roasters, an independent, locally owned coffee company that’s new to Georgetown. 

 Christmas on the Potomac  

National Harbor, 201 Waterfront St.: Chef Edward Lee has been adding a Southern twang to National Harbor’s dining scene for about a year now. His restaurant, Succotash, serves a variety of shared plates, including Southern-style wings, pimento cheese and skillet cornbread.  

 Miracle on 34th Street  

720 W. 34th St., Hampden: Le Garage is a few blocks north of Miracle on 34th Street and offers a dive hideaway with an expansive beer list, the best french fries in Baltimore and a variety of tartines (open-faced sandwiches).  

 Festival of Lights and Carols  

The Mormon Temple, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington: Swing by Jenny Cakes Bakery in Kensington and pick up some holiday sweets before your visit to the Mormon Temple. This cute little bakery is tucked away in the Kensington historic district and serves mouthwatering cupcakes, cakes and cookies.  

 Festival of Lights

Watkins Regional Park, 301 Watkins Park Dr. (Route 193), Upper Marlboro, MD: Breakfast for dinner? Or Southern fried chicken? Both are possible at Mrs. K’s Restaurant, known as a “hometown, home-cooked, hole-in-the wall” place that has a local following for all-day breakfast and soul food. Open every day but Sunday ’til 8pm. 

 Annapolis Light Parade  

Annapolis Harbor and Spa Creek: Head away from the crowds, up Main Street, to Preserve. Obsessed with Mid-Atlantic cuisine, Chef Jeremy Hoffman pickles many local ingredients to last through winter. Try the pickled platter of root vegetables—served in a Mason jar—and a seasonal cocktail. 

 Garden of Lights

Brookside Gardens, 1800 Glenallan Ave.,Wheaton: Wheaton is a wonderland of cheap eats. To bring the heat and spice to your holiday look no further than Ruan Thai. Favorite dishes include grilled pork with spicy sauce and fried whole flounder with chili and basil. 

 Bull Run Festival of Lights

7700 Bull Run Dr., Centreville: To fend off December’s chill, head to Vit Goel Tofu for steaming bowls of tofu soup. This tucked-away Korean restaurant has a variety of vegetarian soup options, like soondubu, which comes with a whole egg to crack open and into the stew. 

 Winter Walk of Lights

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens, 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Ct., Vienna: Clarity Chefs Jon Krinn and Jason Maddens consistently get top nods in northern Virginia for delicious and creative cuisine. Dishes like cold-smoked diver scallops, braised lamb ragout and local tomato salad get rave reviews. 

 Festival of Lights and Carols  

Old Town Hall, 3999 University Dr., Fairfax: Bring the heat to the holidays with tsukemen, a nontraditional ramen, where the noodles are slightly thicker and served alongside a firey orange dipping sauce. At Marumen Ramen Shop in Fairfax, each bowl comes with a hearty helping of sides. Choose from options including pork belly, pickled cabbage and creamy buttersweet corn. 

Illustration by Mabel and Maggie. Artists Sarah Bohl and Mary DeStefano make hand-drawn and hand-lettered maps, cocktail cards and a variety of other paper products. mabelandmaggie.com