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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! 
Icing for Joy

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!

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

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