Saturday, July 31, 2010

Southern-themed family dinner party

Last night, in honor of my sister being in town, we hosted a dinner party for family and pseudo-family. Fortunately, the deliciousness of our meal distracted from the mismatched chairs, plates, and silverware. [Upfront...sorry all the pictures are of partially-eaten food...I was so excited about the meal I kept forgetting to photo-document it!]

We started with a cold cucumber soup; thank goodness I decided to actually read the recipe that morning, because I realized some portions of the soup had to marinate for *at least 8 hours.* I also 1.5x the recipe to ensure we all had enough to eat--after all, there were boys at the table! I may have fudged a little on the marinating (I think it ended up being more like 6 hours), and was way too lazy to use a cheesecloth (as directed), and, for lack of proper tools, used a blender instead of a food processor. All that being said, the soup was absolutely delicious and surprisingly smooth. The dill added a real brightness to the soup without making it taste too chicken-soupy. A great beginning to a summer dinner party. We paired this course with an Avaleda Fonte 2009 Vinho Verde, which I had actually read about in Cooking Light and found at World Market.

Our next course was creole shrimp and grits, paired with roasted asparagus (400 degree oven for ~15 min, tossed with olive oil, S&P, finished with a touch of lemon juice). I subbed halved grape tomatoes for the celery and green bell pepper, but other than that cooked the recipe as written, also 1.5x. The sauce started out much too thick, so I think I used significantly more of the shrimp broth than the recipe calls for. The shrimp also took about twice as long to cook. But the results were SO good. I have had a few cravings for shrimp and grits in the past and been disappointed with what I've been served--looks like I'll just have to whip up some up myself next time, because these were second only to the s&g at a little stand at the Charleston, SC farmers market (which obviously, is a bit inconvenient to get to when a craving strikes!). We paired this with a local 2008 cab from Quattro Goombas, which was a little earthy and spicy and a wonderful accompaniment (thanks Pat!), and a Red Diamond 2007 cab, which is pretty delicious with just about anything (thanks D&D!).

We finished with an oatmeal cookie-peach cobbler, which thankfully my sister made! She used not-very-ripe peaches, which actually turned out to be a very good thing...the slight tartness balanced out what might have otherwise been a pretty sinfully sweet dessert. It also took about 10-15 min longer to cook than directed. I think about half the table went for seconds, so obviously this recipe was a resounding success as well! We paired this with a 2009 Ricossa Muscato d'Asti, also from World Market.

Thank you to our family and family-ish guests! Three recipes tried, three recipes successful! And seven full and happy people. :)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Artisa Kitchen

Last night, we dined with 22 new friends at the Artisa Kitchen supper club. What a fun experience! I imagine (because I've never actually been to one of these) it was much like a larger, more boisterous version of dining at the chef's table. Chef Bryon Brown, who works at Jaleo, is very affable; he, along with his sommelier, who hails from Poste, gave us a memorable *5 hour* dining experience.

Sadly, there are no pictures and I can't go into the details of the dishes, because Chef Bryon asked that we "preserve the mystique." But I can tell you that we had 12 courses, from bread through dessert, that featured a variety of proteins, cuisines, and techniques. There were emphases on Italian and comfort food, as well as a few homages to summer. Portions were generous, and overall the execution was about what we would expect from a professional chef experimenting, having fun, and finally in charge of his own kitchen. Although a few dishes could have used a little tweaking, my only real complaint was the bit-too-liberal application of salt. This might be a me thing, though, because I don't think the others at the table had the same issue. Flavors were good, though not particularly complex. The dessert stole my heart, but I *do* have the world's biggest sweet tooth...

We came away satiated, a bit tipsy, and best of all, with a few more friends than we came in with. Probably not something I will be a part of every month, but definitely worth the experience! It's really cool, particularly as a lover of food and cooking, to see a chef having fun and coming into his own.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


Eh. If you like having options, Marcel's is the place for you. Not only is the menu Cheesecake Factory-esque in the number of dishes, you also have many choices as to how you eat them--three, four, five, or seven (I think) tasting courses, in any order, from any section of the menu, OR anything on the menu as an appetizer or entree. Not to be a total dork, but that number of permutations is mind-blowing!

Sadly, I think for this reason Marcel's suffers from lack of focus. There were a few real winners, and I think if you choose wisely you can dine well there; however, many of the options that sounded so good on paper fell flat or worse. The seared diver scallop on pork belly with smoked apricot was FANTASTIC. Most times I've had pork belly it tasted a lot like bacon, but this one was almost rib-like. I sopped up every bit of the sauce with my dinner roll. The boudin blanc was also amazing, as should be something that a) contains pheasant and b) has been *hand whipped for 3 hours* (seriously). The flavors were a bit too fall-like for July, but I will forgive R.W. because it is one of the restaurants' staples and scrumdiliumptious. (And apparently a good source of hazing in this teaching kitchen.) The trio of flavored butters that came with the bread were also pretty good, as was the cheese selection. Solid dishes, although not particularly memorable, were the bison and the duck. The accompaniments to the cheese course were not bad, but uninspired--glazed walnuts and raisins. Woohoo.

The rabbit terrine, however, made me sad. This is my favorite protein, but I am sorry to report that no bunnies should have died to make that dish. It was chunkier than I think a terrine should be, and frankly, I do not think the blackberry sauce worked. Perhaps another berry would have worked better, but somehow the blackberries paired with the rabbit ended up just tasting medicinal. It also was not a particularly appealing looking dish--a hunk of mushy, pink-gray in a pool of reddish-purplish sauce. I think the desert was a fail too--the apricot upside-down cake tasted like Fruit Loops, and they must have taken the "toasted" part of the toasted almond ice cream part seriously, because it was so melty when it arrived at our table that I couldn't even taste it.

Although the servers are friendly, knowledgeable and gracious, the service is slooooow. It took forever to get our menus, and to get each course--I think we spent nearly 2.5 hours on five courses, the last two of which were shared among three of us.

I might go back, but only if someone else were paying, and I would stick to a single entree of the scallops or boudin blanc. I also would probably have a snack before hand, because the portions are not exactly generous. And this is coming from someone who wears extra-smalls.
(x-posted to

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dinner tonight: Shrimp Stuffed Poblanos with Yellow Rice

Yum-O! Tonight, I decided to wing it with the poblanos (so, no link to a recipe). Thanks, Kelly, for the awesome quinoa recipe, but I had already bought shrimp for tonight's dinner and I try not to make Pat eat vegetarian too many dinners in a row!

Here's what I did:
1. Roasted poblanos. Place peppers on a baking sheet as close as possible to the broiler, broil ~10 min, turning as the sides get black and blistered. Once most of the peppers' surfaces are blistered, place in a zip-top bag for 15 min. Remove from bag, peel off outside skin, cut out top and very gently scrape out seeds. Set aside.
2. Prepared shrimp stuffing. Peel and chop shrimp (I used 3/4 lb for 2 small, 1 large serving (guess whose was whose ;) ), chop 1/2 cup red onion; saute together over M-H heat with 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp ancho chili pepper, and 1/4 tsp salt until done.
3. Stuff peppers with shrimp.
4. Place in a deep baking dish coasted with cooking spray, top with enchilada sauce, bake at 350 for 30 min.
5. While peppers are cooking, prepare rice. I just used a package of yellow rice and added in a 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper when the water started to boil.
6. Place peppers on top of rice, top with additional enchilada sauce, and enjoy!

Be careful with the enchilada sauce...apparently the kind I used was VERY spicy!! Absolutely delicious, though. I'm happy I was able to do justice to at least some of my locally-grown, organic produce this week!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dinner tonight: Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes

They had some wonderful, very mild yellow grape tomatoes at the farmers' market last weekend, so I decided tonight to make Tofu with Red Curry Paste, Peas, and Yellow Tomatoes. Highly disappointing.
Admittedly, I did make some modifications, but not to the sauce, which I wasn't thrilled with: way too much lime, and missing a little something. I left out the peas, because I think they're impostor vegetables (they're more sugar/carb than veggie) and served over spinach instead of rice. With my modifications, a third of the recipe (as opposed to a quarter--their serving size) comes out to 245 calories. So, fortunately, this did not break the calorie bank; unfortunately, I'm too frugal to throw out leftovers so tomorrow's lunch will not be something I think about all morning. Although come to think of it...that's probably a good thing!

Sorry, beautiful tomatoes. I did not do you justice! Hopefully the poblanos will fare better in tomorrow's dinner.

By the way, readers, if anyone decides to try this recipe sans modifications, I'd love to hear if it turns out better.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dona Azucena Pupuseria

So it was Friday night, 8 pm, and we were looking for some quick takeout that would go with a vinho verde. We called Pupatella 3 times before anyone decided to pick up, at which point we were informed it would take over an hour and a half to get a pizza. Not happening.

We had been wanting forever to try this sketchy little pupuseria for forever (since everyone knows the best ethnic food is usually in the most unassuming places!), and the folks on Yelp indicated that it was fast and delicious, so we decided to take a chance. Dona Azucena is at the end of a strip mall that also happens to include: a pawn shop, a counter take-out Chinese restaurant, two family-owned Latin American restaurants (one of which doubles as a "sports bar"), and a Latin American mini-mart. So obviously, our expectations were high. :)

The staff was very friendly and took our orders right away. Although everything I read said they were fast, I think we came in right after the rush--every table was full and no one had any food yet. So we ended up waiting ~30 min for our order. The menu is tiny, and heaven help you if you want a vegetable. We decided to pass on the Nuegados con Chilate (deep fried ground cassava bites served with sugar cane syrup on top and a bowl of corn flour porridge) because neither of us was in the mood for a diabetic coma. Instead, we went with 4 pupusas (one cheese; one combination pork, cheese, and beans; one loroco con queso (edible flower); and one cheese with zucchini and squash) and a chicken tamale. These came with a pickled cabbage salad and red sauce, both packed in knotted plastic baggies.

By the time we got home I probably would have eaten just about anything, but I'm happy to report that the pupusas were, for the most part, delish! My favorites were the combo and the loroco; Pat preferred the cheese. The squash one was not so great...way too much butter used to cook the squash. And the tamale was was moist, but perhaps a little too much so, and seemed to be to be their way to use up left overs--I found a random smattering of: chicken, potato, green olive, and chickpea, but only a small bit of each. Considering that pretty much everything from the restaurant is fried, the pupusas were surprisingly un-greasy...I dabbed them with a paper towel first and it came up dry.

Two pupusas and a half a tamale each later, we were finally fed and surprisingly full. And less than $8 poorer! This is a great place for a quick and cheap pupusa fix. Although I would recommend supplementing with some veggies from home.
(portions x-posted to Yelp)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Kinda wish I didn't hate olives

Jose Andres and Google. Who knew they were a match made in heaven??? And that, to work in the culinary field, you must "learn to love failure."

Kelly Z and I went to Google's DC HQ tonight to hear Jose Andres (mastermind chef behind DC restaurants Minibar, Zaytinya, and Cafe Atlantico, among others) talk about molecular gastronomy and his approach to food. Although, according to him, he does not do molecular gastronomy, because "I do not look through a microscope everyday to cook chicken." He prefers "modern Spanish." Whatever you call it, it's TOO COOL. And I love him.

The talk (which lasted a little over an hour, was packed, and featured a slide show) covered everything from technique, to Haiti, to the corn lobby. It was part science show, part foodie-porn, part lesson in social responsibility. Jose showed us how he makes "almonds and cheese," and how he uses agar to make little mojito spheres (and carbonates them, no less!). He showed us how he used solar ovens in Haiti to empower the people there to feed themselves following the earthquake, and discussed the importance of seeing aid within a larger picture and its potential unintended consequences (for instance, how food aid can end up putting local farmers out of business and therefore increase their need to rely on future aid). Some obnoxious intern told us all during the Q&A section (in what was decidedly NOT a question) about how she works for a senator who supports the farm bill--Jose subsequently lectured her for ten minutes about the evil of corn subsidies. Perhaps his most interesting point, in my opinion, was about the local food movement. He pointed out that global trade, food included, has helped development throughout the world, and is responsible for US growth, too. So although buying local is good and environmentally friendly, choosing to buy exclusively local can secondarily create poverty in other, distant places...and this could then result in an emigration problem. I know. I was just hoping to learn about food, and I got a lesson in complexity and macroeconomics!

After the talk, Google treated us to Manchego cheese, Iberico ham, crackers, fruits, wine, and "liquid olives." Sadly, the only molecular gastronomy sample was based on an item from my trinity of hated foods! So although I did take a pic, I did not partake.

Of course, like big foodie dorks, Kelly and I had to take the obligatory "me with celebrity chef" photo before we took off. And I got confirmation from the horse's mouth that although octopus has been removed from all Andres restaurants in deference to Paul the Octopus, it is only temporary. Thank goodness!!!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Dinner tonight: Pork chops with peach chutney and roasted squash

That gorgeous two-toned squash from the farmer's market made it to our dinner plates tonight! On the menu was pan-fried pork chops, sprinkled with a little garam masala (Indian spice blend) and salt, smothered in peach chutney over rice. I hated to chop up the squash because they were so beautiful, but way too big to cook as they were, so I sucked it up and did it anyway. Squash was delicious, tasted, unsurprisingly, like...squash. Pat went back for seconds, so I think it got his approval too!

One veggie, one fruit, brown rice and a lean cut of meat = another successful healthy dinner!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Dinner tonight: Spring Vegetable Lasagna

Yesterday's rainbow chard today ended up in a spring vegetable lasagna. It took a good two hours to prep and cook, so I don't recommend it for a weeknight dinner. I DO recommend making it some weekend, though, because it was delicious and incredibly, surprisingly filling (for only 308 calories)!
Not only was it a great use for the chard, it also packed in a ton of other nutritious veggies -- yellow squash, red bell pepper, carrots, onions, and I threw in a zucchini for good measure. Although I didn't get these other veggies from the farmers market (remember I was trying to be quick and not catch pneumonia!), I made sure to buy everything but the onion and carrots from the organic section of the supermarket. Yellow squash and zucchini were locally produced, and bell peppers are among the "dirtiest" in terms of pesticides, so best to go organic with those. The other nice thing about this dish is that, although vegetarian, it has a ton of protein, which is important to keep you satiated long-term; big protein dinners are also important for anyone who exercises regularly so your body can continue to build and repair muscle.

Although there was a bit too much liquid in the bottom of the pan, overall the recipe came out fabulously. Looking forward to leftovers and freezing some for dinner down the road.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Finally, a summer's bounty!

I don't make it to the farmers' market every week (sometimes it's just too early to get up on a Saturday!), but I try to go regularly. Not only does produce taste infinitely better than the stuff from the supermarket, but there are some studies that suggest organic fruits and veggies have 3x the nutritional content of their mass-produced counterparts, you're supporting the local economy, and being friendly to the environment by buying local. Totally worth the heftier price tag, if you can swing it.

Sadly, the past few months at the Arlington market have been disappointing--not much variety, more breads/cheeses/pastas/meats than produce, and the only place that had berries had a line halfway back to my house!

Why, of all weekends, I chose to suit up in my slicker and brave the rains, I don't know, but I was richly rewarded! This week, the farmers' market was full of all sorts of exciting produce. I probably would have spent a lot more money had I not been fully waterlogged in the 10 minutes I was there, but even so I managed to score: rainbow chard, some cool two-toned zucchini (I forgot to write down the name in my efforts to stay somewhat dry), huge blackberries, deliciously sweet plums, and sunflower flax bread. I was a bit disappointed by the peaches, which were tart at all the stands I tried. I also saw a pattypan squash the SIZE OF MY HEAD (I swear), but was way too intimidated to buy it.

Stay tuned this week for how this week's taking makes it to my dinner plate! Suggestions, of course, are welcome.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Dinner tonight: Summer Vegetable Frittata

Three words: yum, yum, YUM! This simple summer vegetable frittata was soooo good!

Modifications I made (because for some reason I always feel the need to do this):
7 eggs, 3 egg whites instead of 9 eggs
Double the bell pepper and onions
Served with a smidge of sriracha (because I am obsessed).

The eggs were super fluffy, and the sweetness of the veggies complemented them well. Even though there was more zucchini than anything else, you barely noticed it was there--I bet this would be a good way to sneak veggies into kids' dinners (or breakfast, since a frittata can be either).

Although I subbed some egg whites, I also doubled the veggies, so this probably clocked in at around 215-220 calories per serving. Good for those days when you've been snacking all day (ahem) and need a light dinner.
Taste rating: 9/10. Only because I feel like it's really not fancy enough to warrant a 10. BUT, rest assured I will be having this again for lunch tomorrow...and the day after that!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Dinner tonight: Seared Scallops, Spinach, and Corn Soup

Tonight's dinner was predicated on two Harris Teeter specials: corn and scallops. Originally, I intended on pairing Sweet Corn and Squash Soup with Seared Scallops w/ Coarse Sea Salt over slightly wilted baby spinach. Sadly, they were out of corn (damn you, Independence Day grillers!), so I cheated and used Imagine's Harvest Corn soup instead. Oh well, less work and fewer calories.

Mistake #1: don't saute spinach in plan deglazed with white wine. I thought this would be a good idea, but it sapped all the flavor out of the spinach and made it taste a bit burny. Better to just serve the scallops over raw spinach and let the heat from them wilt it just slightly. Mistake #2 (one I ALWAYS make): wait for the pan to be hot enough that you get a nice carmelized color. I detest the cooktop I have in my new apt because it takes forever to get hot and then starts scorching everything after about 15 min.

The soup paired with the sweetness of the scallops, but not as well as I had hoped. Not a complete failure, though, so I'll give it a 6/10.

Now for the good news!
Only cooked 1 lb medium scallops vice 2 lbs large. With 1/3 the scallop mix and 1 cup of soup, dinner calories = 275. Perfect leftover discretionary calories for second helpings if you're a growing boy, some crusty bread to soak up the soap...or for a Georgetown cupcake. ;)

Monday, July 5, 2010

Eatonville and avocado sandwiches

So, after this weekend's oink-fest (and quite a few non-light beers), today I needed to start a week of clean, healthy eating.

Mandy's parents were in town, so we all met for brunch at Eatonville, run by the Busboys and Poets folks. The name comes from a Zora Neal Hurston novel, so of course the food is deep south comfort food--not exactly light! I successfully stuck to my nutritional goals, though, by ordering the fried goat cheese and spinach salad, which came with red onions. The pecans and dressing I ordered on the side, and only ate a little bit of each. And the fried goat cheese was not at sinful as it sounds, I swear! Kind of like two giant tater tots with cheese in the middle instead of spuds. Ashleigh got the same salad, but with chicken, and Mandy said her shrimp and grits, on jalapeno cheddar grits with greens, tomato, and gravy, was super yummy! I think her parents got a crab burger and a steak, which they both seemed to like okay as well. Overall, a stronger brunch than dinner (which I had several months ago), the ambiance is pretty cool, and I think it's a good spot for groups.

Avo sammies
I tried to be good for dinner too...wanted something light but satisfying enough that I wouldn't snack the rest of the night! I decided to make an open-face avocado sandwich, which I created a couple weeks ago and LOVE. Easy-peasy to make: start with a firm, crusty bread (I used flax bran bread this time), spread on a thin layer of light herb boursin, top with sliced avocados (1/3 to 1/2 of one) and fresh cracked black pepper. Delish, and only ~300 calories!!

Sunday, July 4, 2010



Last night we tried Ris...contemporary American with a comfort food twist. This restaurant had been much anticipated by the restaurant world, and we were excited to see what it was all about.

First thing--don't let the decor fool you. Sadly, the inside of the restaurant looks pretty much like every other hotel restaurant. Ick. The menus were pretty, but that's about it. Tables for two were a bit cramped, and the water glasses were that gross tinted glass that makes them look dirty.

But more importantly, on to the food (sorry, no pictures this time...Pat didn't want us to look like schmoes taking pictures of our meals at a nice restaurant). The bread and starters were the weak point of the meal. French bread came out warm but a little smushed in the slicing, and pretty ordinary. I honestly don't think it was necessary at all. We had two apps. Octopus salad came with greens, lemony feta, tomatoes, croutons, a vinaigrette and a puddle of yogurt sauce. Pros -- octopus was pretty yummy, nice and crispy at the edges and not too chewy. The whole salad came together really well, and Pat, who is not a feta fan, raved about the feta. Cons: I wish the octopus and salad proportions had been reversed...four bitty pieces is a little stingy for a $12 app. I think the croutons looked a little amateur, kind like the kind you would find at a Ruby Tuesday's salad bar. And the yogurt, while good, was totally unnecessary. Other app was a ricotta gnudi with spinach, tomato sauce and thin slices of crispy pancetta. It was much like a deconstructed lasagna. Decent, but not a star. I especially did not like the big chunks of salt they used to season the dish.

The entrees came significantly later, which was okay because we were waiting for the loud party next to us to leave so we could properly enjoy our meals! Pat got a pan-seared branzino with rapini, a little pile of olive relish, with tomato vinaigrette and a square of polenta. Delicious, well seasoned and cooked. I won, though. I got the Carolina grouper, which was perfectly cooked, on a bed of sauteed and buttery mushrooms, onions, preserved lemon. The menu said there was shrimp, too, but I found only one. Also on the plate was rice, which I again thought was unnecessary, and the BEST fried green tomato I have ever had. It was so good, I made a point to tell the chef personally when she came by at the end of the night and she seemed genuinely tickled! She also said that she had just put that dish on the menu the night before (and surprisingly had not had a chance to taste it herself yet), and it would be there for the rest of the summer. So. I recommend that you try to get to Ris before the end of the summer. Trust me. The grouper is so worth it.

Of course we had dessert, because we are gluttons. Or at least I'm a glutton and Pat is not good at resisting peer pressure (or at least, me! ;) ). We went with the butterscotch pudding with chantilly cream and cocoa crisps...the waiter said chef had tried to take it off the menu and they "went viral" to save it, it was so good. It did not disappoint. Creamy and fluffy, and not too sweet. And awesome with the crisps, which pretty much tasted exactly like cocoa crispies in wafer form.

Overall verdict: 3.25/4 stars. Definitely worth a visit. There were a few other apps we would have liked to try that may have been more successful. But honestly, we'd go back for the grouper alone.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Chez Manelle

Last night we decided to try out Chez Manelle. It's this totally unassuming little restaurant in Clarendon, smushed between an Italian sandwich place and a mixed martial arts studio. Honestly, we probably would not have given it a second look had it not showed up in Washingtonian's Cheap Eats this year, and noted to be the only Tunisian restaurant in the area. Tunisian! How exotic!

To be equally honest, we probably won't give it a second look. Things started off well...I saw that there was no booze on the menu, so I called to ask if they allowed BYO. The owner was incredibly sweet, and informed me that they just got their liquor license last week, so they now have beer and wine.

The service was's basically family run. Mom and tween daughter were attentive without being overbearing. The food, however, was mostly under-seasoned and underwhelming. :(

We started with the omek houria, a grated carrot, olive oil, and garlic dip, and the baba ganoush. Both needed some salt and would have probably been stellar with a few more spices! For dipping we got Mlawi bread, which is kind of like a savory crepe. The ones that had been cooked well were pretty yum, but a few were still a bit raw.

We shared two entrees. One was a vegetarian Lablabi (the website says
Tunisian chick peas stew, served over croutons of bread and topped with spices and an egg...but I think it had some tuna in it too) that you mix tableside. Again, could have used some salt, but not bad and super-filling. The Kaftaji was the winner of the night--a chopped onion and tomato stewy-type dish with a fried egg, surrounded by french fries and topped with merguez, delicious fat finger-sized sausages of lamb and beef. My only complaint is that I wish the fries were a little crispier!

We each had some okay wine, nothing fantastic but nothing offensive: a merlot, a dry white from Santorini, and a sangiovese from Chianti.

So...not disappointe
d we went. It was an experience, foods we had never had before, and we certainly did NOT leave hungry! But probably not a repeat...unless maybe I bring my own spice rack. ;)