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September 30, 2010

More Modern Kitchen Gadgets

So I've been surfing the interweb again for cool, modern kitchen gadgets and came across some of these funky finds:

Rubik's Cuet Salt & Pepper Shaker
Uncommon Goods- $15

Penguin Corkscrew
Uncommon Goods- $10

Modern Gadget- $27.50 (yes, that's for one glass)

And for my personal favorite...

Vino Mug
Chiasso- $18

I'm going to need a bigger kitchen.

Boneless Pork Loin Chops with Curry Butternut Squash Puree

It's Autumn! This is absolutely my favorite time of year, and not just because my birthday falls near the beginning of the season (we will not speak of that.)  I love the cooler night air, the leaves turning gold and red and, of course, the harvest of beautiful earthy vegetables. 

Unfortunately, it's been more than a bit dreary on the east coast the last few days.  I am staring out the window now at the at the billions of rain drops plummeting to the earth as if they had a personal vendetta for Montgomery county.  Rain jerks.  Even my dogs feel the general malaise, slumbering  all day long with occasional sighs and grunts of boredom and cabin fever.  What better on a day like this than comfort food?

Here is a recipe I whipped up that might take the dampness out of your bones and brighten your spirits. 

Ingredients (serves 2):
2 boneless pork loin chops, thick cut
2 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and pepper to taste

1 butternut squash
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. curry powder
1 tbsp. butter
1/4 cup chicken stock (warmed)
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Skin the butternut squash and slice into 1 inch cubes.  Coat them in a bowl with the olive oil then mix with Kosher salt and curry.  Spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes until tender.

Heat olive oil and butter in a large skillet on medium high heat.  Season the pork on both sides with Kosher salt and pepper.  Place in the pan and cook for about 6-8 minutes on each side, depending on the thickness of the chops. (Pork is not something you want to under or over-cook. There is very little chance your cut will be exactly the same as what I bought so I recommend using a meat thermometer. The pork will be done when the center reaches 155 degrees.)  Remove the pork and rest on a cutting board while you prepare the squash.

In a large bowl or mixer, puree the squash with the chicken stock and butter until smooth. Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary (always taste your food before serving!)

*NOTE: In the picture, I served with red-wine braised shiitake mushrooms. I didn't include them here because I didn't think they added to the dish.  My husband disagrees. I'll leave it up to you...

2 cups shiitake mushrooms
2 tbsp. butter
1/8 cup dry red wine
Salt and pepper to taste

In a skillet on medium heat, saute the mushrooms in butter until soft. Add red wine and reduce. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

September 25, 2010

Taylor Gourmet...But Not Really

Last weekend I was doing some shopping in Bethesda and wanted to grab a quick sandwich for lunch to bring home.  I heard the new Taylor Gourmet was really good and I have seen the place look packed before so I thought I'd give it a shot.

The menu definitely has a lot to offer with over 20 signature hoagies as well as chicken cutlet and vegetarian sandwiches. I decided to get the Race Street hoagie which has turkey, prosciutto, pesto and mozzarella.  It was a great combination of ingredients but there was one major, MAJOR flaw...I couldn't get through the bread.  The hoagie was so thick and hard it was like gnawing on a hockey puck.  I actually had to use all of the strenth in my jaws as well as my biceps to rip through this bread.  If I wanted to feel barbaric, I would have gotten a damn turkey leg at the Renaissance Festival or go to Medieval Times. This was obnoxious. It was so bad that I actually got slices of my own bread and transferred the toppings- which were just ok.

I'm sorry Taylor Gourmet, but epic FAIL. I give you 1 fork out of 5. Thumbs down.

September 20, 2010

Post-Race Brunch in Philly

This past Sunday my sister-in-law and I ran in the Philadelphia Rock n' Roll Half Marathon. It was a beautiful day and we ran for a great cause, raising money to support research for MS. After burning about 1300 calories and nourishing our bodies with Cytomax and Gu, we needed a proper brunch to celebrate. We cleaned ourselves up and headed to Bar Ferdinand on North 2nd Street.

The interior had an unmistakable Spanish charm, with lace-draped chandeliers and dried roses hanging around the bar. We chose to sit outside and enjoy the sun and fresh air. While sipping on bloody mary's and white sangria cocktails, we decided to start with some tapas for the table. We ordered Croquettes filled with serrano ham and charred scallion along with puff pastry triangles filled with dates, bacon and cream cheese. The croquettes were crispy on the outside and gooey on the inside. They were cheesy, salty and rich. The pastries were a perfect combination of salty and sweet- the dates were balanced with the salty bacon and flaky crust. Two fantastic ways to start a meal.

For brunch they offer a special- your choice of one of three 4-course menus for $15. Awesome deal! I ordered the eggs benedict with saffron hollandaise, potatoes with spicy tomato aioli, house-made Spanish bacon and bruschetta with spicy tomato sauce. The potatoes were golden fried and the sauce gave them a great little kick. The crisp, salty bacon was about as perfect as bacon could ever be and the benedict was outstanding. The eggs were beautifully poached into these perfect little orbs. I cut into them and the yolk poured out like tasty lava. I am VERY particular about my eggs, too. If I see one HINT of uncooked egg white, I won't touch the dish. These were perfect. The hollandaise was incredibly rich and smooth.

As full as I was, my sister-in-law was telling me the cupcake shop on the way back was featured on Oprah as one of her favorites. Of course that means I had to get one for the road. We stepped into Brown Betty Dessert Boutique a few doors down where I grabbed a red velvet cupcake to go. When I got home, it was smushed, but it didn't matter. One of the best cupcakes I've had to date. It was moist, rich and the icing was creamy but not too sweet. So worth the calories! What a great end to a great day! Many thanks to my family, my tutu-sporting running partner, friends and to all those who donated to I Run to Stop MS!

September 18, 2010

Oceanaire Seafood Room

The other night we went to dinner at Oceanaire by Metro Center in honor of my friend Suzi, who had back surgery on Friday. (Speedy recovery Suz! French martinis are waiting!) Speaking of French martinis, Suzi and I both started with those while we looked over the menu. I love French martinis, I really do. The problem is most places don't have a clue how to make a good one. Oceanaire does, which means I had two.

For appetizers, we ordered fried asparagus and Caesar salads. The Caesar wasn't bad, I just a bit light on dressing which means light on flavor. The asparagus was pretty good, not too greasy.

For an entree, I ordered the cornmeal crusted trout. It had a perfectly crispy coating and the inside was tender, flaky and moist. I would definitely order that again. We all agreed to split the sauteed spinach with garlic, Au Gratin potatoes and hashed browns a la Oceanaire as the sides for the table. The spinach could have been skipped. I love garlic spinach, but again, this one lacked flavor. The potato dishes, however- they were full of it. The hashed browns came out on a plate that appeared to be holding a giant tater tot. How can that NOT be good? The Au Gratin potatoes were incredibly creamy and cheesy- all top-notch things in my book.

Overall, the food was pretty good and the service OK. It isn't the absolute best food I've ever had, but I am also partial to completed dishes as opposed to steakhouse-style menus with staple dishes and family style sides. That being said, I had a good meal although I wouldn't make a habit of going there as it's a bit on the pricey side.

September 17, 2010

Assaggi Mozzarella Bar

Recently I joined a couple of girlfriends for dinner in Bethesda at Assaggi Mozzarella Bar. The menu concept is northern Italian and specializing in different mozzarella's paired with condiments. The menu is very traditional, with multiple courses.

For the first course, we split an assorted tray of cured meats and mozzarella di buffala. The cheese was very fresh and it was a great way to awaken our palates. I chose a beet and goat cheese salad for the next course. It was sweet and rich. I would have been happy with that as my meal.

After nibbling at our first and second courses and sipping our champagne cocktails, we ordered our entrees. I couldn't decide (shocker) between two pastas so they offered to give me two half orders. Done! I ordered the Bigolo-a thick spaghetti with a duck and porcini mushroom ragu- and the Orecchiette which had mild Italian sausage, green peas and Parmigiano Reggiano.  Both of these pasta dishes were quite delicious, although the Orecchette was by far my favorite. It was somehow rich and light at the same time, even though there was no sauce. The sauce was simply the oil from the sausage. The duck pasta was also delicious, however the thick spaghetti could have used just another minute in the water- a little too al dente for me. I would recommend either dish.

The food was really pretty good and the atmosphere...well...quiet. The service was excellent and we had a great time. If I were to go back, I would definitely stick to one course and take it easy on the drinks. The cocktails will drain your wallet at around $15 a pop and all of those courses add up. At around $270 for three girls, I would say keep this in mind when ordering and try not to listen too much to your grumbling stomach.

September 13, 2010

OBX Eats: The Really Good and the Really Bad

While getting our floors refinished, we headed to the Outer Banks to stay with my in-laws at their beach house.  I worked remotely by day and feasted heavily by night (well...and pretty much all day, too.)

My favorite restaurant anywhere would have to be The Blue Point in Duck. I've been going there for years. I was a little concerned when I heard rumors of recent bad reviews and dining experiences. Not once have I had anything short of exceptional. Hearing of these so-called bad reviews, I was anxious to go. I had to prove them wrong and make sure, for my own sanity, that they hadn't slipped.

There were six of us dining that evening and we were seated at a table with a great view of the sunset. Our server was very pleasant and quickly took our drink orders then came back with an amuse bouche. You don't see many restaurants offer these tiny palate-pleasers anymore. I love that the Blue Point provides this extra touch.

For first courses, we ordered the crab dip special and she-crab soup. The crab dip was creamy, smooth and rich. The she-crab soup, a restaurant specialty, was amazing as usual. I feel compelled to have this every time I'm there.

For an entree, I ordered the tilefish special, with a fresh corn salsa and tomato water. It was heavenly. The fish was cooked to perfection- tender, flaky and moist. The salsa was obviously fresh and shaved off the cob and the tomato water added a sweet balance to the fish. We were tempted to order dessert, but knew we had my homemade dark chocolate ice cream waiting back at the house.

Another spot I like to hit up is Baldie's Burgers and Ice Cream in Duck. I love grabbing burgers from this place for lunch or for a no-fuss dinner. They actually remind me a lot of Five Guys' burgers. I always have to get a single bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions, pickles and ketchup. Simple and delicious. We grabbed burgers and salty skin-on fries to take back to the house.

The last time I was down in Duck, we had lunch at the Roadside Cafe. I remember it being pretty good but the service was slow. We decided to give it another shot one of our final nights there. Boy, do I regret this decision. When we arrived, we put our names in and got drinks. After about 30 minutes, we were seated outside. Little did we know, this is where we would have our butts parked for the next couple of hours. To say we had been neglected would be an understatement. We did get our orders in and our salads came eventually. Unfortunately, no one has told them that Balsamic dressing and Ceasar dressing don't go together. It's just wrong. Maybe I'm a caesar salad purist, but I don't think it's something to be messed with. It's hard enough to find a good basic caesar without having restaurants try to get "innovative." It's salad. Leave it at that.

At least another hour passed after our salads arrived as we sat with our over-dressed plates, empty glasses and chill of the night air. Thankfully we had the company of a giant spider that looked like a Maryland crab to entertain us. It could see we were getting bored so decided to dip up and down and back and forth between the pergola and our table umbrella. This freak of nature enjoyed paralyzing me with fear while I wait anxiously for our main course.

We sat so long my legs ached. As we all had the debate of whether or not to walk out- something I have NEVER done or even come CLOSE to thinking about- my husband made the call to go inside and see what the hell they were doing in there, if not cooking our dinners. (For the record, I voted to walk out. We'll be renegades next time, Mrs. G!)

About 10 minutes later our entrees arrived (not at the same time, of course.) We weren't even hungry anymore at this point, but shoveled away, pushing our food around our plates. To add insult, they barely apologized and were "generous" enough to comp us our drinks. Um, thanks. Needless to say, that will be on the list of places I shall never return. Cue the violins.

The Roadside adventure aside, we had a lot of great meals in the Outer Banks this trip and, even if I was working, it was great to be with our family to close out another season at It's Noon Somewhere. It may be a while before we can all get back there again, but I will be counting the days.

September 3, 2010

Pizza Making Class at Sorriso

Back in February I wrote a blog entry about a wonderful dining experience at Sorriso in Cleveland Park.  When I looked back on their website, I noticed the Pizzaiolo, Stefano, got his Masters in pizza making in Italy.  I also noticed that they would be offering classes, so I couldn't wait to sign up. The class is small, maximum of four people, which is fantastic.  It guarantees a great learning experience and it's fun to do with a few friends.

When we arrived on a hot July morning there was a man there with a camera. He asked if we were there for the class. I was confused since we already had 4 people for the class but he said he was doing a story on the Polles family for CNN.  First a "debut" on Top Chef now CNN- I'm on a roll this year!

We went inside where Stefano greeted us, gave us our aprons and a packet that includes some history and recipes. We dove right in. He told us about the importance of the dough, the ingredients and method. (I won't be sharing these secrets with you, sorry. I paid good money for this class- pay your own way!) Our math skills were put to the test in measuring out ingredients- which can be challenging first thing in the morning with a camera on you. No pressure! We went through in detail, step-by-step, the dough making process where we made the dough that would actually be served at the restaurant that week!

We kneaded, stretched, rolled and formed all of the dough balls. It was so much fun I wanted to stay on that evening as free help! Now it was time to make our own pizzas. Stefano showed us how to form the pizza and properly top them. By properly, I mean with simple, fresh ingredients. As a Domino's and Pizza Hut nation, we tend to get a little carried away sometimes. He showed us their kick-ass, wood-fired rotating pizza oven that costs about the same as half my college education. (I want.) We topped our pizzas and put them in the oven.  Shortly after, we were enjoying the fruits of our labor with a glass of Prosecco (admittedly followed by some wine and other libations.) The pizza was so incredibly fresh tasting and the crust...THE CRUST! Stefano was not messing around. Dough is not something to be taken lightly- it truly makes the pizza.

As we sat and stuffed our faces, Stefano's father, Pietro entertained us with stories and told us about his vineyard back in Italy. I want his life. What a charming and hospitable man.

As a foodie, there couldn't be a better way to spend a Saturday. It felt great to be in a kitchen again, other than my own. I had a great day with friends, great food and it was a great learning experience.

The added bonus was that it was filmed for CNN! Once again, however, only the back of my head made the cut. I see a trend here! I encourage you to check out the story below and definitely take the class!

Contact Info: