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December 31, 2009

New Year's Eve in DC



Photo from Chow.com


I have a love-hate relationship with New Year's. I love getting dressed up and going out with friends, but I hate the ridiculous pressure in making plans and the insane amount of money you have to front to go out. Seriously- it should be illegal to charge $150 at the door unless they are planning on donating it to a charity.

If you still don't know what you're doing tonight, here are some ideas that will hopefully help you ring in 2010:

  • Party with friends at a house or apartment. Get some easy appetizers and whip up a signature cocktail asking everyone else to bring something. You will save money, sanity and if you go out you are likely to be socializing with your own group anyway.
  • Hotel parties where you will probably pay too much, but guaranteed drinks, music and fun. You may have needed to buy advanced tickets though.
  • Take your pick of numerous bars, clubs and lounges having New Year's parties that you don't likely need advanced tickets to
  • Celebrate with a good meal and cocktails at a nice restaurant. Many restaurants across the DC area  have special menus and party specials- it is likely to be difficult to get a reservation at this point but don't be afraid to call though. People DO cancel at the last minute. I did it last year when I got the flu and got charged $120 for it. Thanks Hudson.
Whatever your plans, I hope you have a safe and fun celebration. Happy New Year!

December 28, 2009

Mrs. K's Toll House

The weekend before Christmas we took my father for a birthday dinner at Mrs. K's Toll House in Silver Spring. I had been there a few times before- for a happy hour in the wine cellar downstairs (very cozy and charming) and for brunch and lunch (both delicious).

When you walk in, it looks like a quaint cottage in the countryside. It is charming, old, and makes you feel as though you are someplace 3 hours outside of DC. The entry area is decorated with antiques and you can see the character in the old faded wallpaper. The dining room had a fire going in the fireplace and ornaments hanging from the ceiling. It is a very beautiful restaurant.

I wasn't sure what to make of our server at first- he was a little stand-offish. He redeemed himself however when he brought our cocktails and shared a laugh at his french-martini making skills (and again later by bringing my dad birthday cake without me even asking).


For appetizers, we started with caesar salads and some chorizo and potato fritters. One of the salads was forgotten, but did eventually come out late. They were very good caesars- I will give them that. The dressing was creamy and flavorful with that little lemony bite. The fritters were delicious. They were delicately crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. The texture of the interior reminded me of applesauce which was off-putting to my husband, but it didn't bother me. I thought they were delicious. They had just enough spicy kick without being overpowering.


For entrees, my father and I ordered the seafood pasta in champagne sauce. The flavor was rich and not overpowered by the seafood. My only beef with it is that it was extremely heavy and my first bite had crab shell in it. That's not a big deal I guess since I know how difficult it is to pick apart crab meat, it's just a pet peeve of mine. I have the same problem with eggs- if there is even the tiniest bit of egg white uncooked I am turned off and can't finish it. I did continue eating the pasta, however. The scallops were some of the best I have had in awhile. They were large, tender and not at all fishy.

My husband got the lamb chops which did look beautiful. It was cooked perfectly and plated well. He noted to me that he didn't think it tasted like anything though. I grabbed my fork and took a taste and had to agree. It was odd that it wouldn't taste like much of anything- especially since it was lamb. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't bad by any means. It just didn't have a lot of flavor. That could be just the cut of meat in general.


We continued the meal by stuffing ourselves with some birthday desserts. My father insisted on ordering two- a chocolate cake and bread pudding with whisky sauce. The waiter also brought a slice of birthday cake which had an incredible frosting on it with coconut. The chocolate cake was dark, rich and dense with a berry sauce. Who doesn't like that? My favorite was the bread pudding with whisky sauce and vanilla bean ice cream. It was the embodiment of comfort food. I wanted to lick the plate.

My father had a wonderful birthday and loved Mrs. K's Toll House. I was pleased, although I admit mildly disappointed in the overall experience. I will certainly go back again, though. I recommend if you go for dinner, go early and have a drink in the downstairs wine bar. It's really charming!

December 18, 2009

Gingerbread House Contest



Photo from This Old House

Ahh the holidays. It's a time of year for traditions. For many, one of these traditions involves making a huge mess, getting your hands covered in frosting and candy and losing your patience building an edible house. For those who are extremely talented at this task, This Old House is holding a Gingerbread House Contest. Some of these are unbelievable (and some are not, but I won't be like this guy.) If you think you have the gingerbread-building chops for it and have steady hands, enter for the chance at the T.O.H. Gingerbread Champion title.

I'm no stranger to gingerbread competitions myself. Thanks to my friend Christy, we held a little competition in our office for a few years. We sadly retired the contest after she left for San Francisco, but frankly I think it's really because people were just too scared to challenge me anymore. I have to say I was pretty awesome at gingerbread architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright had nothing on me. See for yourself. Maybe I should enter the This Old House contest. What do you think?


December 16, 2009

Holiday Roast Beast



This past weekend we got in the holiday spirit by decking the halls, trimming the tree and a meal of roast beast. By roast beast I'm talking about a recipe I found from Tyler Florence for Roast Prime Rib of Beef with a Horseradish Crust. Whenever I want to make a special meal, comfort food or just something that I KNOW will turn out good, I turn to Tyler. His recipes have never failed me and usually aren't overly complicated.

This prime rib is simple, easy, will impress your friends and family, and most importantly it's delicious. This year for your holiday meal or dinner party- try out this recipe. You will appreciate its simplicity and enjoy spending time with your guests instead of frantically slaving away in the kitchen. Just be mindful of the amount of salt and seasoning you use if you adjust the recipe for a smaller or larger roast- the balance is important. If you want to make it even easier on yourself- omit the sauce recipe. It's delicious without it.

Tyler's Roast Prime Rib of Beef with Horseradish Crust

December 14, 2009

Food & Wine's Best Places In DC

Food and Wine put together a great list of the best places to eat around the world. You can click on a city on the map and it will list their top restaurant picks for that area. I was embarrassed to discover that I have only been to 3 out of the 10 picks they had for DC. Shameful! I clearly have some dining out to do.

The 3 that I had been to were Commonwealth, Ray's Hell-Burger and Proof. Commonwealth had a crispy and delicious Smithwick's Fish n' Chips. Ray's had the best burger I've ever had, hands down (I accept the challenge of others if they think they can beat it). Proof had some of the most sophisticated and well-thought out dishes I've had in DC (for example, they have a duck confit with grilled house made lamb sausage as well as charcuterie and cheese plates to awaken the palate).  Let's not overlook their impressive wine selection and knowledgeable food pairings.

I'm very much looking forward to hitting up some of the others on their list. If you've been to any of them, let me know how they are!

Food and Wine's Picks for Best Restaurants in DC

December 12, 2009

Mashed Potatoes Are My Crack

If you know me, you know that I am mildly obsessed with mashed potatoes. I love them. I worship them. They are my drug of choice. I don't get how anyone could NOT love mashed potatoes. They are creamy, rich, salty and smooth. People who say they don't like mashed potatoes are either lying to try not to sound like a fatty or they haven't had them prepared properly. It does make a big difference. No lumps, no dried pile of mush and no boxed mixes here. Check out Chow's how-to video on making the perfect mashed potatoes and I'm sure you will be just as much of a worshiper as I am.

December 9, 2009

Voltaggio's and Tonight's Top Chef Finale


Photo from Voltaggiobrothers.com

In case you haven't noticed, I'm eager to watch the Top Chef finale tonight. With 2 out of the 3 finalists originating from the DC area (Frederick) this season has become particularly relevant.  The Washington Post just did a Q&A with the Voltaggio brothers that asks several questions we all want to know- including questions relating to their sibling rivalry. Check out the full article here.

The brothers seem to be taking to their new-found fame quite well.  They are even launching a new site tonight, www.VoltaggioBrothers.com. It appears to be a site that will be dedicated to food lovers (and perhaps Voltaggio lovers!)

If you still haven't gotten your V-bros fill, follow them on twitter at @BryanVoltaggio and @MVoltaggio. (So far, Bryan is more twit-talkative). You can bet I will be catching the brothers in action tonight on the Top Chef finale at 10pm on Bravo.  We'll see what's in store for them next! Good luck Voltaggios!

December 7, 2009

OMG, Who Will Be The Next Top Chef?

I know I'm not unique in being completely obsessed with this show. I am waiting on edge to find out who the winner of this season will be. Will it be one of the local-bred Voltaggio brothers (although Michael now resides in LA) or the lovable Kevin from Atlanta? Although I think all three of them are incredibly talented I am putting my money on Bryan Voltaggio. His food is sophisticated, looks delicious and he is consistent. Michael shows incredible skill and is never afraid to do something risky to wow the judges, but it doesn't always pay off and I'm a little put off by his cocky arrogance. Or do I like that about him? I can't decide. I will say that I ADORE Kevin. He seems like he has to be the sweetest, nicest guy on the planet and makes food that everyone would love. His food seems to evoke comfort and I have no doubt some of that comes from his personality and overall aura. I am guessing the judges will go with Bryan, though because of his consistently immaculate plates, complex and sophisticated style and likable personality. Besides, the producers have to give the V brothers one more thing to fight about for the rest of their lives. I have been surprised before though, so I guess we will all have to wait and see what happens.

Now the only question is, where should one watch the finale? I'm sure there have to be viewing parties around DC. Perhaps you could go to booted contestant Mike Isabella's Zaytinya or see how hard it is to get a reservation at Volt in Frederick (I'm guessing impossible). Better yet, gather some friends and show off your culinary skills by hosting a Top Chef party of your own with a little help from Bravo or even do a virtual party.

If you know of any great parties or happy hours let us all know! Until then, I'll be counting down the minutes until Wednesday's finale!

November 28, 2009

My Twist on Thanksgiving



Ah, Thanksgiving- the American celebration of gluttony. A day in which we give thanks to the turkey, stuffing and mashed potato gods. This year was a low-key Thanksgiving for us. We opted not to travel given the holiday is sandwiched between two destination weddings we are attending. There were only going to be four of us so instead of doing an entire turkey, I opted for a turkey roulade with apple cider gravy. Along with the roulade, we had stuffing, mashed potatoes (courtesy of our friends Eric and Suzi), brussel sprouts with bacon and apple pie. Below is my roulade recipe. You will notice I opted to make my life easier by using bagged stuffing mix (shame, shame!). Don't judge. I added my own touches and frankly happen to really like the mix. I hope everyone had a wonderful and tasty Thanksgiving!

Turkey Roulade with Apple Cider Gravy (for 4)
Ingredients:
4 Turkey breasts, pounded flat to 1/4"
1 Bag Pepperidge Farm stuffing mix (or whatever brand you want)
low sodium chicken broth
1 package baby bella mushrooms
1 yellow onion, diced
2 cloves of garlic
2 stalks of celery, finely chopped
4 slices smoked bacon
1 cup apple cider
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 stick of butter
2 Tablespoons flour
1/4 cup white wine
1 Tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
Roasting twine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. In large skillet, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil. Add celery and onion and cook until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and saute for about 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and a tablespoon of butter. Cook until the mushrooms are soft and cooked down. Prepare the stuffing mix as directed. Add the mushroom mixture to the stuffing and set aside.

On a cutting board, lay the 4 turkey breasts side by side. Cover with plastic wrap and pound flat to about 1/4" thick. Take spoonfuls of the stuffing and place in the center of the breasts along the length of all of them. Add the remaining stuffing to a casserole to bake as a side dish. Fold the turkey around the stuffing and tie them all securely with the twine. (see roulade tying demonstration video below)



Place the roulade in a glass baking dish. Cut the bacon slices in half and cover the roulade with them. Bake in the oven until the temperature of the center of the turkey is 160 degrees F, about 20 minutes. (Do not insert thermometer through the roulade into the stuffing- you want the temperature of the thickest part of the meat). Remove from oven and let rest on a cutting board for about 10 minutes. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add flour and stir into a paste. Pour the drippings from the turkey into the saucepan and stir, removing all lumps. Add cider, cider vinegar, white wine, 1/2 cup of chicken stock and another tablespoon of butter. Continue to stir over medium, to medium high heat until thickened. Add the sage. Salt and pepper to taste.

Carefully remove all of the twine, slice and serve with the cider gravy. Enjoy!

November 25, 2009

Gimme Some Flippin' Pizza



Flippin' Pizza, a chain originating in New York in 2007, just opened in downtown Silver Spring. There are not many great options in Silver Spring when it comes to pizza. Of course there is Mama Lucia's which is pretty good and Z Pizza which seems to take 45 minutes just to get a slice. I have been eagerly awaiting this Flippin' opening and yesterday had the chance to try it for lunch along with my friend Laurie (shout out).

It definitely had the feel of a New York pizza place with the brick walls and cozy black wainscoting. It was a little on the kitschy side and ditto for the menu with its quirky anecdotes (check out the IFAQS "where does pepperoni come from?"). What didn't seem very "New York" is the people were extremely friendly. There were what seemed to be about 15 people behind the counter all smiling and politely willing to serve. Ok, there were 5, but you get my point. At Z Pizza there could be 30 people behind the counter and yet none of them will acknowledge you are there unless you throw something at them.

In the limited time I had, I opted for a slice of the Brooklyn pizza from the case. This has pepperoni, meatballs, mushrooms and garlic. I have to say it was pretty good, even though pizza is never as good as a re-heated slice as when it's a fresh pie from the oven. The pepperoni was spicy and curled with crisp edges. You could taste the garlic and seasonings and I was pleased with the thin crust- not too crispy and not too soggy. It's not the Italian, gourmet neapolitan style pizza like you would find at 2 Amy's, but if you are looking for a simple New York style pizza this is a pretty good bet. It would be even better if they delivered, but they don't. The menu has an anecdote for that too.

Flippin' Pizza
8517 Colesville Rd (near Georgia)
Silver Spring, MD 20910
www.flippinpizza.com

November 23, 2009

Hard Cider Happy Hour At Equinox





Warm up this fall with hot-cider and seasonal snacks at Chef Todd Gray's Equinox . Every Friday through December 19th from 5-7 p.m. you can get hard cider cocktails and snacks including venison chili, sweet potato pot stickers and pumpkin fritters. Don't miss this adult version of a seasonal favorite!

Equinox
818 Connecticut Ave, NW
Washington, DC
By the Farragut West Metro should you over-indulge
www.equinoxrestaurant.com

November 22, 2009

Go Out for Thanksgiving


Don't feel like slaving in the kitchen for 4 hours and stuffing your face with a week's worth of calories in one sitting this year? Perhaps you just are a little challenged when it comes to roasting, basting, or even boiling water? Go out! There are plenty of restaurants who offer wonderful Thanksgiving menus and will take care of the mess afterwards. Going out lets you feast up and skip the clean-up. Below are a few DC options but you can get a full list of over 100 participating restaurants and make reservations online at Opentable.com . Better hurry, I'm sure most places are filling up fast.

Bistro Francais
Wisconsin Ave and 31st Street
Georgetown
3 Course Thanksgiving menu starting at $18.95 for adults, $10.95 for kids
www.bistrofrancaisdc.com

Blue Duck Tavern
24th and M St. NW
Foggy Bottom
American brunch 10:30-3:30 including hors d'oeuvres, entree, sides & dessert
$85/adult, $42.50/child
www.blueducktavern.com

Chef Geoff's
13th and F streets, nw or Nebraska Ave, NW
3 course Thanksgiving dinner $39, children dine for just $11
www.chefgeoff.com

November 17, 2009

Sushi at Sei


I don't mean to be harsh, but D.C. is not exactly a "sushi" town. When I lived in Manhattan, I could get amazing sushi on pretty much every corner. I was in a bit of a sushi-shock when I moved here to find so few options. I recently decided to meet my girls downtown for some sushi at Sei, on 7th St., NW in Penn Quarter.

When you walk in, you are surrounded by the warm glow of soft light, white walls and gold trim. The hostess was incredibly friendly. She led us to the dining area which was ultra-modern white and gold accented by red twigs in the room partition and a gold, ornate picture frame around a glass wall.

We were concerned at first when we looked around and saw that NO ONE was eating! I was worried that it was either bad food and a good place for drinks or a restaurant for hot anorexic types who want to give the appearance that they eat. We were delighted to discover that it was a huge coincidence that everyone had only recently been seated and hadn't ordered yet. Whew!

The model-like waitstaff was incredibly attentive and pleasant. We were seated and perused the menu. I took a look around and noticed the strong "naughty and nice" theme. Everything was so modern, clean and white, then I noticed the backs of the chairs being laced up tight like a corsets. This place is sex on rice!

Now for the food... we ordered a lot. Enough that I can't remember each roll or beautiful slab of sashimi, but it was ALL quite spectacular. The one that stood out to me would have to be the "Fish and Chips roll" which included a fried fish, vinegar, fries and wasabi tartar sauce. It was amazing! I was incredibly happy to find something unique on the menu other than the standard options of California Rolls, Philadelphia rolls, or rolls representing any other city or state for that matter. There were several unique options and everything we tried was magnificent.

The waiter was incredibly polite and attentive without being too intrusive. We didn't even feel rushed when we realized we were the last people in the restaurant keeping the poor staff from locking up and going home.

Sei was a great sushi experience and something I have longed for since I moved here about a decade ago. I wish there were more sushi restaurants like Sei in DC (although I also would love more that are this quality and more casual and budget-friendly. Sei is magnificent and hip, but you will pay for it.)

This is making me hungry. I think another girls' night at Sei needs to happen again soon! Ladies?

Sei
444 7th St., NW
Washington, DC  20004
202-783-7007
http://www.seirestaurant.com/

October 24, 2009

Baked Ziti with Pancetta and Broccolli






Fall is here and it is the perfect time of year for comfort food. This recipe is cheesy, rich and deliciously satisfying for a cool fall day.

Ingredients:
1lb box of ziti
Head of brocolli florets
2 cups of shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup of shredded white sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups fat-free half n' half
1 Tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
3 oz of pancetta, diced
2 Tablespoons of Flour
1 Tablespoon of butter
1/4 cup bread crumbs
Salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a frying pan, fry the pancetta pieces until they are cooked through, but not too crispy. Remove to a plate and set aside. In a large pot, boil the noodles until cooked, but somewhat firm- about 8 minutes. Strain and set aside.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over med-high heat. Add the flour and mix, creating a thick roux. Add the half n' half and whisk until smooth. Heat until it starts to thicken, whisking occasionally. Once the cream mixture is hot and starts to thicken, start sprinkling in the cheeses in small amounts, whisking constantly. Reserve about a cup of the cheese for topping.

Add the broccoli, pancetta and thyme to the cheese mixture. Salt and Pepper to taste. Fold the noodles into the cheese sauce and place in a casserole dish. Top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes.


October 9, 2009

Cool Stuff: Pumpkin Ice Cubes



Getting ready for a Halloween party? Check out these cool ice cubes that will light up your cocktails with a strobe light.  $12.95 at Sur La Table .

Sur La Table
5211 Wisconsin Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20015
202.237.0375
www.surlatable.com

October 8, 2009

My New Favorite DC Restaurant: Bibiana



For my birthday I wanted to go out with some friends to a restaurant that would remind me of Florence. I read about Bibiana opening downtown and decided to give it a shot. When we arrived, I noticed the modern, stylish decor with massive silver chandelier balls and the walls covered in black and white photography including Vespas and the leaning tower of Pisa . Our table wasn't ready so we sat in the lounge area in front for a glass of prosecco.
After we were seated at our table, I was rather impressed with the menu . In traditional Italian style there were multiple course offerings. We opted to share a few appetizers for the table. We ordered Arancini (saffron rice fritters), Fiori Di Zucca (fried squash blossoms) and Polpettine (veal meatballs). All three were delicious. The Arancini were crisp on the outside and smooth and creamy on the inside. They tasted like fried mac n' cheese and it was amazing. The meatballs were salty and tender and the squash blossoms were crispy yet juicy and bursting with flavor.
Two hours after arriving, we received our entrees. Yes, two hours. That would be my only complaint. They must be going for the authentic European dining experience. Luckily, it was worth the wait. For my entree, I ordered the Calzoncelli (pasta filled with pancetta in a brown butter and sage sauce). The pasta was tender and tasted fresh. The sauce was delicate and flavorful and it was perfectly complimented by the shaved parmesan on top. The portion sizes were not overwhelming (for a change). I managed to clean my plate, which I almost never can do when dining out.
Don't think for one second I didn't taste some of the other dishes on the table. My friends know me well enough that I need to try everything I see. My sister in-law had the Spaghetti Al Nero Di Seppia (black spaghetti with blue crab in a spicy olive oil sauce). It was intimidating to look at- the pitch black pasta with lumps of crab on top. I expected it to be really fishy in flavor, but it was anything but. It was incredibly fresh- not even a hint of fishiness. The spicy aftertaste was a perfect compliment to the light and refreshing seafood pasta.

I also tried the Agnolotti (pasta filled with sheeps milk ricotta, lemon marjoram and spinach.) I could not get over how light this was. I felt like I would be able to eat five pounds of it. The lemon and marjoram made the dish very refreshing. Another friend ordered the Anatra (roasted duck breast). This was hands-down the BEST duck I have ever had. It was tender, juicy and crispy on the outside. It was like duck bacon. Outstanding. Seriously- outstanding. My husband had the veal loin special with polenta, osso bucco and wild mushrooms. It was tender and cooked perfectly. The wild mushrooms were earthy, but not overpowering and the polenta was creamy and smooth.

Even though it was my birthday, I couldn't bring myself to order dessert. I was very full, but mostly because I didn't want to wait for it. After all, It was after 11 and the city was waiting for me. Bibiana was as close as you can probably get to a modern yet authentic Italian dining experience in DC. I can't say I've been to every Italian restaurant in DC, but I'm willing to try. The service was professional and knowledgeable. The servers gave completely honest opinions on the dishes and they were very helpful with wine pairings. Bibiana is stylish, delicious and now my new favorite restaurant in DC. I will be back... when I replenish my bank account and fast for a few weeks.

Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca
1100 New York Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20005


Cool Stuff: Mustache Mugs

Ever want to know what you look like with a handlebar or Charlie Chaplin mustache? I haven't either but these mugs are pretty cool and would make great conversation pieces at the office!



Find out more about these quirky mugs from Ibruegger at artisticthings.com or check out the Peter Ibruegger's site for more info.

October 5, 2009

Capellini Carbonara


Yesterday was a lazy Sunday. I had no desire to go to the store and no desire to order food from one of the four places that deliver. I scrounged around my kitchen for ingredients hoping there was something I could whip up. I luckily had some capellini, eggs, bacon and onion so went with a Capellini Carbonara. I had never made it before, but it turned out to be quite delicious!

Ingredients:
1 lb box of Capellini
7-8 slices thick-cut smoked bacon
1/2 white onion
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
3 eggs
olive oil
1/2 cup fat free half n' half
salt & pepper to taste
couple sprigs of thyme

In a large skillet, fry the bacon slices most of the way through- but not until they are fully crispy. Meanwhile, heat a large pot of salted water until boiling. Remove the bacon slices to a plate and drain most of the grease from the pan. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and heat on Med/High. Dice the onion and add to the saute pan. Cook the onions until translucent, but not browned.

When the water is boiling, add the Capellini and boil for about 8 minutes. Be careful not to overcook or the noodles will get mushy. When finished, strain the noodles and add back to the bowl. Add 3 large eggs to the noodles. (The hot noodles will cook the eggs.) Chop the bacon into small pieces and add the noodles. Add the onion and parmesan and drizzle with a little bit of olive oil. Finish by adding cream and folding into the noodles. Top with thyme leaves and enjoy!

Pimm's Cup


I was at a friend's wedding two weekends ago and discovered a drink so delicious that it is now a new go-to. It's called the Pimm's No. 1 Cup . Pimm's is a dark colored english gin with smooth and spicy flavor. It's one of the staple drinks of Wimbledon as well as popular at polo matches. To have a Pimm's No. 1 Cup you simply mix with lemonade and garnish with a cucumber slice. The flavor of the cucumber really comes through. This drink is smooth, refreshing and VERY easy to go down. Warning: drinking several of these may make you snooty, dry-humored, speak with a british accent and dance like you invented music to the song Freedom '90 by George Michael.

September 25, 2009

Braised Short Ribs from Bon Appetit


I went to the Silver Spring Farmer's market looking for duck last Saturday. I have never cooked duck and really was anxious to give it a try. Unfortunately, the stand that was suppose to have it did not. The sign said "we were too tired". Ok, I'll let them have that. I don't imagine their job is easy. I had to think quickly and decided on some short ribs. I got a small package of only about 3 or 4.

Not having planned on short ribs, I had no idea what I wanted to do with them. I went home and figured it would come to me while cleaning. While going through my giant stack of magazines, there it was- Bon Appetit with a gorgeous cover shot of braised short ribs. Perfecto!

September 15, 2009

My Birthday Wish...



I love pizza. I probably eat it once a week. I'm not talking about the standard, greasy delivery varieties (although they have their place at times), I'm talking about wood-fired pizzas with crispy crusts and fresh ingredients.

It's not always easy to venture out to the gourmet pizza places such as 2 Amy's and Pizzeria Paradiso so we've spent a lot of time making our own pizzas at home with a pizza stone. It's certainly not the same as what a wood fired oven can produce, but it's a step in the right direction.

It is my personal home improvement dream to build an outdoor pizza oven in the backyard. It seems reasonable to me. It's more attractive than a garden gnome (sorry Travelocity) AND it produces crispy, smoky, perfect pizza crusts. It seems like a no-brainer really. In my quest for a personal hearth to the pizza gods, I came across this article on Lifehacker. Please note that my birthday is coming up in October should anyone feel like building this for me.

BUILD A BACKYARD WOOD FIRED POMPEII OVEN

September 10, 2009

Stuffed Peppers with Turkey, Bacon & Thyme


I was feeling inventive the other night and decided to try my hand at creating a recipe for stuffed peppers. I rummaged through the fridge and the cupboards for ingredients. I used lean ground turkey, smoked bacon, fresh thyme from my mini-garden, wine, pepper jack cheese, onion, tomato paste and brown rice.  It ended up being delicious! The combination of the turkey, smoky bacon and thyme was killer. It totally made the dish. As an added bonus, they are relatively healthy, too! Hope you enjoy as much as I did!  

(Should make about 4 stuffed peppers)
cooking time: about an hour
Ingredients:
1 lb. ground turkey
3 slices smoked, thick-sliced bacon
1 bag of boil-in-bag brown rice
4 red peppers
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup shredded low-fat pepper jack cheese
1/8 cup red wine
4 oz tomato paste
Small Yellow onion- diced
2 cloves of garlic- minced
3 sprigs fresh thyme
salt & pepper

Preheat the oven to 400. Chop bacon into small bits and pan fry until they are cooked through, but not totally crispy. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs. Add diced onion, thyme leaves and garlic and cook until the onion starts to become translucent. Add ground turkey and cook through most of the way. You don't need to cook all the way through as it will finish in the oven. In the meantime, cook the brown rice as directed on the box. Chop the top off of the peppers and discard the tops. Remove the insides and clean out. Add the tomato paste and red wine to the turkey, onion, garlic and bacon mixture. Mix together. Strain the rice and add it along with 1/2 the cheese to the meat mixture. Salt and pepper to taste.
In a shallow casserole dish, pour the cup of chicken stock. Stuff the peppers with the meat mixture, place in casserole dish and top with remaining cheese. Bake approximately 35 minutes or until peppers are tender. Remember to check them as cooking times may vary. I didn't cook mine long enough and the peppers were too crunchy. My next plan for this is to try stuffing heirloom tomatoes instead!

August 31, 2009

B.L.A. (Bacon, Lettuce & Avocado Sandwich)

Growing up BLT's were a staple lunch in my household. CORRECTION: BL's. I don't like raw tomato really so never was a fan of the "T" part of BLT. After many years of bacon and lettuce sandwiches, I finally found a perfect replacement for the tomato- avocado.  

There is something about the creamy, smooth texture of the avocado that compliments the salty bacon. I think it's pretty safe to say it actually enhances it. Everyone has their own variation on the classic sandwich, but I find a good thick, hearty and smoky bacon that is fried to extra crispy, some wheat toast, iceberg lettuce, avocado and miracle whip are the ingredients that make me most happy. If you have a fun variation or know of a local restaurant with a great BLT or BLA or just BL- let me know! In the meantime, if you're making your own, Chow has some great bacon tips just for the occasion.

August 25, 2009

Girls Eat Burgers Too, vol. 2- Quarry House


In continuing my quest for devouring all of the DC area's juiciest burgers, I hit up a local joint in Silver Spring- the Quarry House. After walking down the dark, scary stairs into the basement of a building we open the door and find we have to stand for a moment to let our eyes adjust to the dim lighting.
We peruse the beer menu and select some fine Belgian brews of Corsendonk and Kwak. After skipping lunch that day, we opted to start with some hot wings. After getting the wings, we quickly realized we should've gone with Medium. Don't get me wrong- I'm no hot-wing-wimp, but these were like chicken sticks of fire. Awesome. Unfortunately, I could only eat three before I started to lose the feeling in my tongue and felt the tears streaming down my cheeks.


The waitress saved my flaming lips just in time by bringing out the burgers and tots.  I ordered my burger with provolone and grilled onions while Joe ordered bacon, cheddar and Thousand Island dressing.  Both were ordered medium, of course.
The burgers were cooked to perfection. They were amazingly tender and juicy to the point they seemed they could fall apart at any moment. Being perfectly cooked burgers, however- they maintained their shape. Mine was packed full of flavor with the cheese oozing over the edge. My only slight criticism- and I mean SLIGHT- was that the meat was a bit over-salted.  Luckily I happen to like it that way so it was not an issue that would deter me from finishing my heavenly meat patty.

Joe's burger was equally perfect. The bacon was nice and crispy, overflowing cheddar and more
evenly salted than mine.  Absolutely delicious.  I probably don't
even need to mention how awesome the tots are.  They're tots.  Of course they're awesome.
I suggest if you're in the Silver Spring area and craving some awesome burgers, tots, great music and great brew to stop into Quarry House.  It's just plain good.
Quarry House Tavern
8401 Georgia Ave
Silver Spring, MD

August 11, 2009

Rack of Lamb with Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes


I know I should actually be writing about restaurants more, but let's face it- the economy sucks and it's not very good for the wallet to be eating in fancy dining establishments all the time.  I will get out more though, promise.  In the meantime, I'm working my creativity in my own kitchen and I have been seriously craving a good rack of lamb the last couple of weeks. Maybe I've been watching too much Hell's Kitchen or Top Chef Masters lately.

August 8, 2009

TV Dinner Shame

Hi.  My name is Heather (hi Heather). I've been a foodie for about 30 years. I had a weak moment last night and fell off the wagon. (sighs of disappointment) I went to a happy hour and enjoyed good company and libations.  I came home to an empty house (except my dogs) and was feeling tired. After looking through my refrigerator for something that I could throw together in some sort of masterful creation, I found nothing. I pretty much only had a fridge full of condiments.  I considered ordering in, but couldn't wait. I was famished. I saw one thing that was "edible" in the back of the freezer. It sat there staring at me, challenging me, daring me.  My hand shaking, I slammed the freezer door shut and told myself "No Heather, you are stronger than that.  Resist." Unfortunately I gave into the rumblings in my stomach and grabbed the microwave meal of beef tips merlot.  

I popped the plastic meal in the microwave and 5 minutes later came out the piping hot freeze-dried beef in a cheap merlot sauce. There were some flavorless potatoes and rubbery green beans. I devoured it. I can't believe I ate the whole thing. Oh the shame! I was so hungry I ignored the fact that it tasted like salty cardboard with a dash of vinegar.  

It was not my best moment. Even my dogs looked at me with disgust. I'm sorry dogs. I'm sorry world. I will overcome. Hopefully, I'll be stronger and go back to something yummy tonight to make up for it.  Don't hate me.  

July 26, 2009

Check Out My Big Mussels






It's summer. It's hot. Crazy hot. I don't like eating heavy meals when it's hot out and it's bikini season. I'm trying to stay in shape but still enjoy my nom noms. One way to do that is with seafood and this night in particular I was craving mussels. I took a short trip to Belgium a little over a year ago and discovered just how wonderful these little black mollusks could be. I decided to challenge myself with attempting mussels for the first time to compete with the memory of those done by the country known for them.



The first part of the challenge was actually finding the mussels. I got extremely lucky with grabbing the last two bags of them at Whole Foods. Part 1= accomplished. The second part I needed to accomplish was cleaning them. Tyler Florence tells me to just grab the beards between my index finger and thumb and pull them off. WAIT... BEARDS?!!! This is the first I've heard of this. Since when do I have to start ripping the ZZ Top off my seafood? I've now purchased two bags of something that now have been anthropomorphized and are going to gross me out!



With dinner guests looking on I knew I had no choice but to overcome my fears and just rip those gnarly beards out and scrub those suckers. One after another, I tugged out what resembled belly button lint mixed with dog hair out of the shells and scrubbed them under cold water, being careful to toss any of them that were open or damaged. When done, I set them aside and started the sauce.  


I opted for a pretty traditional white wine sauce to keep things simple. I added about a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to a hot pot. Next I added finely chopped leeks (whites only), minced garlic (2 tablespoons), a finely chopped tomato and some fresh thyme.  I cooked these until nice and tender.  Next come the mussels. I dumped the clean mollusks in with the leek and garlic mixture then covered them in about 1 1/2 cups of white wine. I like my mussels buzzed. I covered and steamed them for 10 minutes.


When finished, I dumped the whole batch into a serving bowl and tossed some chopped fresh italian flat-leaf parsley on top. Ohhhh, if you could have only smelled my kitchen!


To serve, I put out a bowl of warmed french bread slices to sop up the sauce and voila! It may not be Moules Frites but it was pretty damn good, if I do say so myself. By the time I had set the table the memories of hairy little shells had long been gone. I overcame and defeated. Heather= 1, mussels= gone.

July 21, 2009

Best Cupcake I've Ever Had


Last week I had the best cupcake I've ever had in my life! Ok- I know that's a pretty bold statement, but I consider myself somewhat of an expert or connoisseur, if you will, having eaten and baked thousands of cupcakes in my time. This cupcake was far superior to any I have ever baked or any that I've paid for.
A coworker came around with a small box of cupcakes that he had bought from another employee in the building named Irene.  She is trying to start her own business and has been baking on the side.  My coworker offered me one and, thinking about the fact that it's still bikini season, I declined.  I curiously asked "what kind?" and he said "boston cream pie."  Boston cream pie...CUPCAKES?! With this new found information I chose to change my cupcake offer response to a resounding YES.  I thought if I split it with a few girls in the office I wouldn't have to feel so guilty about it.  

I thought I would hold off on devouring the whole thing until after my meeting for fear of walking in and getting the shiny, silky chocolate all over my face. Needless to say, I didn't pay attention to anything in the meeting and counted the seconds until I got back to my desk. I grabbed a fork and knife and cut the cupcake in equal pieces to share with coworkers (a decision I now regret.  Why did I have to learn sharing in Kindergarten? It's overrated.) I shoveled the cupcake piece into my mouth and could not believe how smooth and delicious it was. The chocolate on top was perfectly shiny and smooth and the filling was decadent. There wasn't so much custard that it oozed out, but rather it was the perfect amount to keep the cake moist and give you a little treat in the center. Hands down- best cupcake ever.
I keep reading in other blogs in the area about how much we need a great cupcake place in Silver Spring.  (Sorry CakeLove- your cupcakes are dry, overpriced and just not good. Trust me, I've tried waiting an hour or whatever it is you preach for it to come to room temperature, but it was still a huge disappointment every time.) We need Irene to open a place ASAP! I know opening your own business is stressful, complicated and expensive- but can anyone out there help her out! SERIOUSLY! If I had money I'd donate to the cupcake cause but I unfortunately could probably only buy you a couple dozen eggs and a sack of flour at this point.  I sure hope she gets her shop and I hope it's in Silver Spring.  It would be worth having to make extra trips to the gym.  
I did get her business card so order your own and prove me right. Also, check out her photos- she makes some gorgeous cakes that would give Ace of Cakes or the Cake Boss some stiff competition! 
Irene
Icing for Joy
icingforjoy@gmail.com

July 13, 2009

Girls Eat Burgers, Too- Vol. 1

Chipotle Bacon Avocado Burger



That's right, I said it.  Girls eat burgers.  Not only do girls eat burgers but I'm sure there are many out there who can make a mean, juicy, delicious one, too. It is one of my favorite foods. I grew up in central NY, (God's country if you will), so I grew up in a meat and potatoes household.  As I've grown older I have moved around and traveled enough to sample many different cuisines but I never stopped loving or appreciating some of the more simple American dishes. I'll always love bbq chicken, steak, mashed potatoes and, of course, cheeseburgers. There are so many variations that I really cannot choose a favorite so I'm posting this in volumes. Tonight I decided to whip up a chipotle bacon avocado burger.
Every good burger has to start with good ingredients. I've realized over the years you really need to start with 85/15 ground beef. I tend to be a pretty health-conscious person so have often bought the super lean beef- 93/7. It's just not good. It dries out easily and is inferior in flavor to the 85/15. It's also more expensive. If you're going to have a burger, you might as well do it right.

Easy Summer Orzo Salad


This weekend we went to our friends in the Logan Circle area for some dinner and drinks on their rooftop.  It was a gorgeous day so I decided I'd bring a refreshing summer salad along. Below is the recipe for a very light, refreshing orzo salad with artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers.  Try it out for yourself and enjoy!

Ingredients:
1 small box of orzo
2 small jars of marinated artichoke hearts
1 jar of roasted red peppers
crumbled feta (approx. 1/2 container- but however much you like)
1/2 bag of baby spinach leaves
2 lemons
red wine vinegar
extra virgin olive oil
salt
pepper

Boil the orzo in a pot of water for approximately 7 minutes.  Drain immediately and rinse with cold water. Put the orzo in a mixing bowl and drizzle with some olive oil (about 2 Tablespoons to start- but eyeball it).  Also drizzle in about 2 Tablespoons of red wine vinegar and the juice of 2 lemons (be careful not to get the seeds in).

Slice the roasted red peppers and add to the orzo.  Drain the marinated artichoke hearts and add to the salad along with a handful of the baby spinach leaves and crumbled feta.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Refrigerate and you're done.

Remember to bring along some extra virgin olive oil with you if you're taking the salad somewhere.  The orzo is likely to soak it up and you may need a little more to keep it from being too dry.

July 12, 2009

Party-Friendly Pie Bites

Last Thursday was the annual off-site for our department and my group was in charge of throwing the happy hour that followed.  We decided on a carnival theme complete with games, drinks and and carnival-themed snacks.  I was in charge of donating a dessert and making sno-cone shots.  (These are great on a hot summer day!)

For the dessert, I decided to make miniature pie bites.  I made apple, blueberry and cherry. Given that it was a weeknight and I had about 50 to make, I opted for the easy way out and used all store-bought ingredients. After pre-heating the oven to 350 degrees, I started with store-bought pie dough that I used to line a mini muffin pan. 
 
I filled the shells with canned pie filling and then used a cookie cutter to cut little stars out of dough to top them with.  I baked them for about 25 mins until they were bubbly and the crust was browned slightly.  They turned out pretty good, but I must admit it's not my best work.  Nothing can take the place of fresh, homemade ingredients and fillings.



Now, for the sno-cone shots.  These were insanely simple, but a little messy. Get yourself a good blender and some crushed ice. Add some flavored Puckers and blend until, well, slushy.  I poured them in small sno-cone cups that I found at Target and they were a hit! They are cold, refreshing and dangerous. They don't taste alcoholic so be careful... or don't, your choice.  

July 8, 2009

No More Nicaro! Noooo!


Ok- I'm a little behind the times on this- but Nicaro is closed? Boo hiss! I LOVED that place.
It always had amazing service, great wines and wonderful and fresh food. The dishes were always simple, but elegant and I found the portion sized to be perfect- which is rare. I absolutely cannot STAND when restaurants give you 2 pounds of food to compensate for the fact that it's just not very good quality.

From what I understand, Nicaro is under new ownership and will reopen (maybe). The now former chef, Pedro is planning to open a new restaurant by the metro. If all of this is true, then I'm thrilled at the possibility of yet one more great restaurant in Silver Spring. I cannot say enough how sick I am at staring out my office window at the likes of Red Lobster and Macaroni Grill. Silver Spring needs to build on its character and continue to open unique, original and delicious restaurants- preferably those not affiliated with a chain or that have waitstaff wearing "flare". But I digress, I can only hope that the new ownership at Nicaro will have the same great taste, hospitality and basically that they'll have their act together to live up to the former owners. Good luck to both and please open up soon!

July 7, 2009

Pizza Night

Tuesday night is pretty common as pizza night at most Italian dining establishments and delivery services. You can usually get 2 for one or buy one get one for 99 cents or something similarly luring in nature. This Tuesday night we opted for our own bargain- homemade. We make our own pizzas once a week or every two weeks at least. It's easy, fun and most importantly it's delicious (or at least I think so).

We usually cheat a little and start with a frozen pizza dough. After trying the balls of dough from Giant and Whole Foods and numerous other grocery chains we finally found our favorite in the frozen pizza dough balls from Balducci's. I know, I know- Balduuuuucci's, it has such a connotation of elitism and snobbishness doesn't it? I have my own complaints about that place- ridiculously high prices and the rude old ladies that bump you with their carts in the narrow aisles and give you the evil eye as if you should've heard their sensible orthopedic shoes squeaking your way and parted the seas for them. Regardless, they have fantastic produce, meats, hard to find gourmet items and yes, the best frozen pizza dough. To sweeten the deal, it's a $1.99 so if you go only for dough, you can probably manage not to break the bank with every visit.

Moving along, we thaw out the dough, stretch and toss it until it's the shape and consistency we want then begin to top it with various fresh ingredients. We start with a good jarred sauce (keep it simple people) and always, ALWAYS go for fresh ingredients when available. I like to use a good quality mozzarella, well drained. Some other favorite toppings of mine include salami, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, and fresh basil leaves from the garden. We then bake on the pizza stone in the oven at 550 degrees until bubbly, remove it and season with oregano.

Tonight's toppings included sauce, mozzarella, fresh basil leaves, a mixture of fresh ricotta from, you guessed it- Balducci's, artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, salami, parmesan and pine nuts. It was bubbly, fresh, and bursting with fresh flavors. My only complaint would be to do without the pine nuts next time- but that was actually a mistake anyway. I had pre-mixed them in a filling of artichoke hearts and ricotta for a different recipe that I didn't use. Nothing wrong with leftovers, especially when you have such great ingredients.

The entire process really only takes about 20 minutes, start to finish and completely blows Domino's out of the water (or, any regular delivery service). Go buy a pizza stone if you don't have one already. You will be grateful for the little bit of extra effort.

July 6, 2009

An Evening with Friends and Ulah

Fourth of July came and went with tons of burgers, dogs, chips, dips and drink. A handful of friends, old and new came together for a night of beer pong, laughs and even getting shot with a bb gun (long story). This Independence Day was an eventful one, but that's not what I'm writing about. I'm here to write about the day after at Ulah Bistro.


Tired and hungry from a day of recovering, a handful of friends met at Ulah Bistro on 12th and U Streets to close out the weekend. We walked into a cozy yet modern and clean atmosphere surrounded by wine bottles and dim candle lighting. The decor was very sleek with cable railings on the staircase and simple table settings.


While we glanced over the menu, we wet our appetites with tapenade on pizza-style wedges with cheese. The tapenade had a nice fresh and robust flavor but not overpowering. The menu has a wide range for everyone, from crabcakes and halibut to meatloaf and pizzas.


I opted for the halibut sandwich with a saffron aoli. When the food arrived, it was colorful with the green from the lettuce and bright red roasted red peppers peeking out of the ciabatta bread. It was neatly put together and balanced and served with a cone of hot crispy french fries.


The halibut was cooked perfectly- tender and flaky, the large lumps gently breaking apart with every bite. The fish was complimented well with the roasted red pepper, but I will be honest to say I really didn't taste the aoli. I found as much as I love halibut, there was just a little something missing from this sandwich. The fries were fantastic, however, clumping together in a fried crispy cluster.


My husband ordered the crabcake sandwich which gave me food envy from the start. The crabcake seemed to have very little filler. The jumbo lumps fell apart, and even off the sandwich with every bite. It was extremely messy, almost to the point where it was annoying, but it was delicious.


I was also fortunate enough that my friends don't mind sharing so I had a bite of the Ulah pizza with crabmeat. It, too was delicious, but I think a little too salty to have more than one or two small slices.


The service was nice enough and it was all in all a very pleasurable dining experience. I look forward to my next dine at Ulah and only hope that I won't be so exhausted from a long, fun weekend.


Ulah Bistro
1214 U Street
Washington, DC
http://www.ulahbistro.com/


February 16, 2009

Who We Are

We are two people who've been in the DC area for nearly a decade and are obsessed with food. We love cooking, dining out, watching tv shows about food and, of course, eating!  We decided to start a blog to share our dining experiences, love em or hate em.

Hellburger is Heaven

Valentines Day, the most romantic day of the year, is a day couples venture out to expensive restaurants with fixed menus, flowing red wine and heart-shaped chocolate desserts with the token raspberry sauce. Not this couple. We instead opted for a greasy, cheesy, ooey, gooey, mouth-watering cheeseburger from Ray's Hellburger in Arlington, VA. We had been meaning to try this place out for what seems like ages, and for a couple on the hunt for the world's best burger, this was the most romantic way we could think to spend our day together.
When we got there, it was insanely crowded- apparently we weren't the only burger romantics out there. Looking over the burger menu, I knew this would be a great contender for the area's best burger. There is a vast variety of toppings and cheeses, from guacamole and bacon to double creme brie and stilton. We went with the following...

Heather's Burger: Soul Burger Number One- applewood bacon, swiss, cognac and sherry sauteed mushrooms, grilled Red Onions
Joe's Burger: Montecristo- ham, gruyere

We grabbed our numbers and hovered over people until we finally got a table. We sat and stared at each other with an excited anticipation as if we were about to be given a million dollars.

Our burgers were delivered and our pupils dilated with delight. Let's get down to the good stuff:
Heather's Burger- LOVED the fact that it was cooked a perfect medium rare. It was probably the juiciest burger I've ever tasted. The flavor burst from the sauteed mushrooms and oozing swiss cheese. I actually refused to have any condiments on my first burger bite. After that, I decided to experiment between the ketchup and the catsup (tangy version of ketchup). I liked both, but the condiments were not the star here. The only criticism I have is that I DON'T LOVE the mess. It's impossible to get through the whole burger w/out resorting to the use of fork and knife. I wasn't thrilled about the bottom bun becoming soggy and saturated either, but I suppose that's what you get for having a delectably juicy burger.

Joe's Burger: I tasted Joe's burger, but only for a bite. I was so busy concentrating on my juicy, meaty goodness I barely had time to worry about sampling, and to be honest, I'm not sure he was too eager to share his delicious burger as he was eating it with a concentration that could not be broken. His burger was something to envy. It had the same beautiful and juicy tenderness as mine, but the added saltiness of the ham and gruyere. There was no way we were leaving without being members of the clean plate club.

Did I forget to mention we got a side of mac n cheese, too? Well that is also amazing. It was creamy, smooth and delicious. I probably don't want to know how many cheeses or cream or other fatty goodness is in there and I don't care. It rocked.

Go to Ray's Hellburger. We drove 35 minutes to go and it was worth ever second.