Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dinner tonight: Warm Past Salad with Shrimp

Last night, I made Warm Pasta Salad with Shrimp. Except I made it without the pasta...because I still have pasta guilt from my stint on the Atkins diet in high school. I know what you're thinking, "But she just made stuffed shells!" Somehow that's different. Because they're a vessel, rather than the main attraction? I dunno. Anyway, enough about my neuroses. On to the recipe review!

This recipe was surprisingly unclear for a CL production. It tells you to cook the shrimp and then stir in everything else, but at no time does it tell you when to remove the pan from the heat! I decided, after the spinach stage but before the vinaigrette stage, to keep the pan on the heat for another few minutes to wilt the spinach, then took it off once I added the mustard sauce. The other weird thing was that the recipe calls for minced red onion, but the picture clearly shows way bigger pieces. This led me to start doubting my cooking terminology knowledge, and I went to look up the definition of mince. It does, in fact, mean to chop as small as possible without pureeing. So whoever made the picture in the recipe clearly took some liberties with the directions. Not that we know anything about that, right? ;) And yes, as you see from my pictures, I did not mince either. If they cheated, so can I!

In any event, I wanted to like this. I really did. I liked all of the components. But somehow they just didn't come together. It is possible that my carby foe may have served just this purpose, but I'm doubtful...I have a sneaking suspicion it would just be one more component that didn't work as a whole dish.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Dickson's Wine Bar

Saturday, Pat took me out to Dickson's Wine Bar on U St. It was much, much smaller than I expected, but we went pretty early, so we managed to get a seat. I should warn you that all of the tables are hightops, so ladies...maybe don't wear your low-cut jeans when you go.

Dickson's is great, conceptually. I love that everything, wine, liquor, and food, is organic or biodynamic (I had to look up what this is...it's like an even MORE granola version of organic--http://www.biodynamics.com/biodynamics.html). I love that they make their own duck proscuitto. I love that they have 3 different types of banh mi.

Unfortunately, the execution does not quite live up to the concept. Maybe the selection of organic wines available to purchasers is sparse, maybe the sommelier is not the good...whatever it was, the wines we had (a sangiovese and a bonarda) were both flat, dull, BORING. Particularly disappointing at $11-$16 for a really miserly pour. Although it's a wine bar, I recommend sticking to the cocktails (which, incidentally, all have wine in them, and are also $11). I got the "Gold Line," which was refreshing, super original, and not at all too sweet.

The food similarly was weak on the execution. The pear and arugula salad, which came with piquant, crumbly parm, would have been so much better if it wasn't drenched in dressing. The duck proscuitto was alright, but the mustard horseradish sauce accompanying it was a bit heavy-handed on the horseradish. The greens that accompanied the banh mi were also overdressed. And then there was the banh mi. Delicious, scrumptious flavors in the pork belly sammy...but it was served on a sub roll, rather than a french baguette, and the pork belly, which should be melt-in-your-mouth tender, was not. At all.

Perhaps the other banh mi's are better, but if I go back to find out, it will probably be at someone else's behest. This restaurant did not at all offend me, and I'm happy we tried it out, but it did not live up to its potential. (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Dinner tonight: Squash-stuffed Shells

Now that's it's starting to feel like fall (some days anyway...today it's 73 degrees out!), I've been wanting to cook homey, comfort food. Stuffed shells came to mind, and I was going to make the regular kind, but then I found this great recipe for squash-stuff shells from Prevention magazine. Even *more* fall apropos!

I made this recipe as is, but used fat-free ricotta instead of regular and a bit less breadcrumb. "Chunky" pasta sauce was nowhere to be found, so I went with a cabernet marinara sauce. The shells were surprising easy to prepare, and the result was yummy! I think the sauce was a bit strong-tasting for the subtleness of the shells...were I to make this again I might actually just dress them with a little olive oil. But this was perfect for fall, and definitely comforting. And you can eat 6 of these babies for only 400 calories, probably fewer since I used the light ricotta.

I paired the shells with some swiss chard. Tore the leaves off the stems, sauteed in a bit of olive oil and coarsely chopped garlic over medium heat. Although the leaves looked wilted (like spinach) after 3 or 4 minutes, the chard was still chewy until cooked for another 10 or so. Added some water every once and a while to keep it moist, and seasoned at the end with kosher salt.

Sorry guys, no picture this time. It was delicious, but not very pretty!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Dinner tonight: Big Sweet 'n Spicy Veggie Pot

This week was crazy busy, but I didn't want that to mean my healthy eating went out the window. I set myself up for success by prepping Hungry Girl's Big Sweet 'n Spicy Veggie Pot Sunday night, and throwing everything into the slow cooker Monday morning for a quick stop-by dinner before running out again for meetings that night (see? it's exhausting just reading about it!).

I'm not going to lie. The prep work is extensive. And I even cheated some--left the skin on the eggplant and skipped the cabbage entirely (I put in the whole b-nut squash instead). I was pretty excited about this dish, since I do love the Kashi Mayan Harvest Bake frozen dinner that inspired it.

The actual dish was...okay. I definitely featured a lot of my fav vegetables, and is VERY voluminous for the calories. And it got better as it sat in the fridge as leftovers. But still, I felt like there was something missing. Like it couldn't decide if it wanted to be savory, sweet, or tart. So, I was happy to use my slow cooker, and the leftovers all got eaten, but I don't think this will be a "must cook."

Quick foodie news update!

Readers--just wanted to let you know about two exciting, upcoming things.

First. My FAV restaurant, Rustico, is officially opening three blocks from my house on Tuesday (Oct 26). I can't make the opening night, but you can bet your duck-and-brie pizza Pat and I will be there on Wednesday! With, of course, a review to follow at some point once I get my life together and have time to catch up on all the posts I owe you all.

Second. I will be attending my first DC Food Bloggers HH in early November. Shocking, I know, but there are hundreds of food bloggers in DC...and I'm excited to have a chance to meet some of them. A recap of this is forthcoming as well. If you're in the DC area and would like to join me, let me know! I'm going either way, but it might be better if I'm not the loser blogger girl with a two-person readership sitting in a corner (***guilt-trip working? ;)***).

That's all for now...two recipe reviews are in our future!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Jerusalem Restaurant

This month, the Foodie Girls field trip (yes, ladies, I have named our little group) was to Jerusalem Restaurant in Falls Church. It's in this random, sideways strip mall that's actually really close to my work. I would have never noticed it if it wasn't for Anita. But, being that it was ethnic food in a strip mall, I had high hopes.

I would say that these high hopes were modestly met. We started our dining adventures with two types of hummus--plain and topped with chicken shwarma--and a combo pie, which was a sampler of the savory pastries the restaurant appears to be known for (judging from their website and the spread at the restaurant, it looks like pastries of all types are their raison d'etre). The hummus was good, nothing unexpected. I liked the shwarma topping...the chicken was not overcooked, and dressed with some burny-tasting saucing...and we all know how much I love burny things! The combo pie was really disappointing. The pastries themselves were dry and not flavorful, and the insides were totally meh. The plate also came with a single fried kibbeh ball, which was much better. Crispy on the outside, warm and not at all mealy on the inside.
Throughout the apps and entrees, we also got endless baskets of pita. These were poofed up buns that taste reminiscent of pizza dough, like the kind you get at Zaytinya but more substantial. I think I ate at least two.

For our entrees, we ordered the lamb shank, vegetarian makluba, and musakhan, the last at the recommendation of many Yelpers! The lamb shank came in a stew of white beans and spinach. It was super tender, again with dark flavors. Absolutely delicious and definitely the best thing we ordered. The vegetarian makluba was...eh. The rice was well-cooked, but I prefer the seasoned rice at Bamian (I know this wasn't Afghan food, but still), and it was, I think, overly greasy. Although the eggplant in it was yummy, the cauliflower and carrot added nothing. The musakhan was pretty good. A quarter chicken covered with sauteed onions on a piece of deep-fried flat bread. The chicken was tender, but again, a bit greasy. I expected the bread to be greasy, and it was, but in a different way. Deliciously, sinfully, greasy. I hated myself for every bite of it, but it was totally worth the self-contempt!
After all that we were pretty stuffed, but of course, I had to go for dessert. I got a kinafa to go, which was this weird gelatinousy custard square topped with a layer of sweet carrot stuff and then crispy shredded carrot and chopped pistachio on top. Although I wasn't sure what to think about the first bite, it grew on me. It was a strange mixture of salty and sweet, mushy and crispy that I apparently learned to love enough to eat half of a 9 square inch piece in one sitting.

Overall assessment. Not bad. Don't expect to eat healthy, and don't expect to be blown away. But if you're looking to indulge calorically in some Palestinian food, this is a pretty good bet. And it's certainly not a money indulgence...including tax and tip, we only paid $13 each! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Dinner tonight: Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia

Tilapia was on super-duper sale (which, in case you're not up on your pre-teen girl jargon, is way better than super sale) for like $3/lb this week, so I made Sweet and Spicy Citrus Tilapia paired with broccolini and brown rice to sop up the sauce. The broccolini I just blanched in boiling water, then quick-sauteed with some oil oil and chopped shallots.

Another score from CL! This dish was really, very flavorful. I can see how even the author's small children ate it. No fishy taste, and the competing citrus tartness and spiciness in your mouth is fun. Although she was very creative with flavors, however, I don't think she's so good at recipe-writing. The biggest flaw was the broiling time. I don't know if this lady was broiling with bicycle power or what, but there is no way it takes 15 min to cook tilapia under the broiler. I set the broiler to low and it was still done in 6. Also, I think the recipe called for too much ground red pepper. I used less than half of what she called for, and it was still pretty spicy.

Because the fish cooked so quickly, I left it in the oven on warm for a good 15 minutes, because the side took way *longer* than it should have. I should have known better...I was in a hurry to get dinner on table, so I stared at the pot of water waiting for it to boil. Correspondingly, it took...FOREVER.

Overall, solid dish. Definitely not an homage to sophisticated palates, but flavorful, quick, and easy. And low calorie (225 for a 6 oz fish filet), which always gets extra points in my book!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sinful Sunday Brunch at Ashleigh's

This past Sunday, even though apparently Ashleigh had quite an eventful evening, she still managed to put together a delightfully tasty brunch in celebration of Maggie and Tosh being in town. The main attraction, of course, was not the food--Ashleigh and Patrick regaling us with stories of their night, and a viewing of Clueless, definitely won out for best part of the morning. However, the refreshments were also super yummy! And definitely worthy of a blog post.

In addition to some super-sweet honeydew, croissants, chicken salad, and coffee, there were both a sweet and a savory casserole. The sweet one, Peach French Toast Casserole came from a VA B&B recipe (not online, approximate recipe below); the savory one, Spicy Breakfast Casserole with Andouille Sausage comes from the web.

Peach French Toast Casserole

1stick butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sour cream
2 cans of sliced peaches in lite syrup, drained
10-12 slices Pepperidge Farm Sweet Buttermilk or Hearty White bread
6 large eggs
1.5 cups milk or half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup chopped pecans
powdered sugar for garnish

Melt butter in a saucepan. Stir in brown sugar until combined. Add sour cream, whisk until smooth and set aside to cool. Spray a 9x13-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Evenly spread cooled butter mixture over bottom of dish. Arrange peaches over butter mixture. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cut up bread slices into one-inch pieces and pile on top of peaches to the edge of the casserole dish. Beat together eggs, milk and vanilla, pour over bread. Cover and refrigerate overnight. The next day, preheat oven to 375F. Top with pecans (can toast them if you want). Bake for 50-60 minutes. Cool slightly, dust with powdered sugar and serve.

And on top of that, Mandy brought a deliciously indulgent monkey bread (recipe below).

Mandy's Monkey Bread
2 cans jumbo refrigerator biscuits (8 each)
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1/2 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar, packed

Cut each biscuit into 4 pieces. Pour sugar and cinnamon into a plastic bag and mix. Add biscuit pieces, several at a time; shake to coat well.Place pieces in a buttered tube or Bundt pan until all are used. Bring brown sugar and butter to a boil in saucepan. Cool 10 minutes, then pour over top of biscuits. Bake at 350°F for 40-45 minutes. Allow to cool 15 minutes before removing from pan. Turn upside down onto a plate and serve.

I was feeling okay about all of these until I saw the ingredients. They were all fantastic, but it's a good thing Ashleigh doesn't host these every weekend! Next time, my house. And maybe a little less butter and sugar. ;) Thanks ladies!!!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Dinner tonight: Proscuitto, Peach, and Sweet Lettuce Salad

Because I think I consumed about 5,000 calories worth of wine, beer, and supermarket cookies on Saturday, dinner Sunday was a light salad: Procuitto, peach, and sweet lettuce salad. I chose this particular one because proscuitto was on sale for half price! (That reminds me of a joke, which I can make because I'm Jewish. :) What's the ultimate dilemma for a Jew? A sale on pork.) Clearly, I experienced no such dilemma.

NEways...I made a few, minor changes to this recipe. Peaches are not in season, so I used 1.5 Barlett pears, and I really dislike ricotta salata so used goat cheese. I probably used a bit less olive oil than they call for as well. It bummed me out to buy sweet lettuce because I had to buy a non-organic kind, but once in a while this is okay.

Yum! This was a delightful salad. Very fresh, without being to summer-tasting. The mint is unusual but Pat and I both decided we actually really liked it! Plus, with the low calorie count, Pat could have two servings and we could each have a crusty Alexia wheat dinner roll with no guilt. Good, easy dinner when you need to make up for weekend transgressions.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Eat Like a Catalan

During our trip to Barcelona, we had the opportunity to sample (often, on multiple occasions!) some delicious traditional Catalan fare. For this post, I thought I'd list a few of these and give you some links so you, too, can enjoy fine Catalan cuisine and stop stewing in your jealousy, already. Sheesh.

Catalan Bread
This doesn't really require a recipe. Take some crusty white bread, slice it, rub a tomato over one side. Really, that's it. Still tasty though!

We went to the touristy restaurant, 7 Portes, that is supposedly known for its paella. It was a bit...underwhelming. Especially when the table next to us ordered the same thing, and theirs came with huge, honking crab craws, and mussels, and all sorts of massive seafood, and all we got were a couple clams and a single langoustine. The seafood was cooked well, and I liked that the rice was a little al dente, but it wasn't, overall, memorable--and not a HINT of saffron. I know, by weight, saffron is more expensive than gold, but COME ON. All you need is like 4 measly threads, which weigh like a microgram. Also, they ran out of black (squid ink) paella, which was what I really wanted, so I think I was a little disappointed from the get-go. In any event, here's a CL recipe for Traditional Spanish Paella. I don't think I've made this particular one, but it has saffron and proscuitto, so how bad could it be?!

Iberico Ham
Also no recipe. But it is delicious. Kind of like proscuitto. Actually, exactly like proscuitto. Although maybe a bit more expensive? You can get some here. On a related note, I had a sandwich for lunch one day that was made with "traditional Galician pork." which was fantastic. I don't know what makes pork Galician, but I did find a recipe for Galician Pork and Pepper Pie...

Patatas Bravas
These are like if home fries, regular fries, ketchup, and salsa had a delicious, spicy baby. I'm not sure how a four-way can make a baby, but my knowledge of such things is pretty prudish. In any event, they're delicious. Our first snack in Barcelona included them, and even though the potatoes were poorly fried and not crispy AT ALL, the sauce totally made up for it. On our last night we also had some...the restaurant kind of copped out by just using regular fries, but they added what seemed to be some sort of mayo or creme fraiche along with the sauce that made them delectable but also even worse for my guilt. CL's recipe for Patatas Bravas is pretty decent...I made it once for a football-watching party I think.

Yes, apparently they eat mostly carbs in Barcelona. I recommend you supplement these with a salad or some zucchini or something so your insulin levels don't go nuts and you don't end up like me, fiending so badly for some produce that you eat a really, really depressing iceberg lettuce salad or a disgusting spear of canned white asparagus.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

(Verbal) Food Porn and a Challenge

Today will be the first of (hopefully) several posts dedicated to our recent trip to Barcelona! Because we ate so much good food (and some not-so-great food, though nothing terrible), I thought I'd share with you three of the menus in which we partook. There are only pictures from one: we were already gauche enough just by nature of being American, didn't need to add to it by being the weirdos who took pictures of our food. However, I will share those later, because...here's your challenge readers: guess which one was Michelin-starred, and which was made almost entirely from canned food. Seriously!

Menu 1.
Fruit de mer, dressed with vinegar and red pepper
Duo of toasts: salmon, creme fraiche, and honey; cured beef, tomato jam, and yellow cabbage threads
"Pizza" topped with white sardines and picked vegetables
Black caviar with olive tapanade, creme fraiche, and croutons
Cheese trio with preserved lychee, candied chestnuts, and assorted pepper knots, flatbread, olive toast

Menu 2.
Blanched, spiced almonds; pimento and anchovy-stuff fresh olives; romanesco breadsticks
Shooter of sea salt, maple syrup, cream, and cava foam
Toasted bread and tomato salad with tomato sorbet and salt
Traditional garlic soup with white anchovy, croutons, marcona almonds, and grapes
Foie gras on cheddar cracker with chives and a toasted brown sugar glaze
Red mullet with creamy basil rice
Veal tenderloin in a foie-mushroom demi-glace, caramelized onions and black truffle napoleon OR roast suckling pig with an apple-squash puree
Cheese with marmalade tuille
White chocolate crumble and lemon poprocks topped with a lime sorbet and yuzu sabayon
Warm salted chocolate mousse with olive oil and bread crumbs

Menu 3.
Foie gras with apple and vanilla on a thin cracker
Cream of chestnut soup with chestnut puree and morels
Cracker with saffron-onion jam and mussels
Flatfish in a sopressata sauce with snow peas
Roast suckling pig on a banana puree with white beans
Raspberry sorbet with strawberry foam and freeze-dried raspberry crumbles
Trio of milk chocolate truffle, brownie with cardamom ice cream, and chocolate ganache pyramid

Mmmm...let the guesses begin!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Dinner a past night: Thai-Coconut Bouillabaisse

After a brief (okay, longer than brief...things are crazy now that school has started and the new fiscal year has begun, gimme a break!) hiatus, we're back. I'll start with a review of Thai-coconut bouillabaisse, which I made for Pat's bday week.

This was another solid meh. It was fine, but not exciting. There are certain ethnic dishes that CL just does not do well. Thai is one of them...Indian is another. The only real changes I made to the dish were no red bell pepper (again, the cost!), all mussels instead of mussels and clams, and catfish instead of halibut.

First. I hate cooking mussels. I bought a bag of them, keeping them cool and moist and using them within 1.5 days of purchase. Guess how many were still alive at the time of cooking? 20%. Freaking one in five. In addition to most being smelly and dead, there were also not an insignificant number with cracked or shattered shells. You know that "fool me once" expression? I've been suckered in by these little guys probably 4 or 5 times. Which I suppose makes me a gargantuan moron. Sigh.

Second. The last part of the recipe says to remove the pot from heat, cover and let stand 5 minutes to cook the shrimp and fish. Yeah, right. My shrimp were still all but raw after this little exercise. I ended up putting the whole thing back on low heat for about 10 minutes, at which point Pat was starting to give me hungry eyes, so I served it. I still think they were a little undercooked.

Third. The flavors were fine, but somehow never bold enough. I think I used twice the red curry paste called for, and I still think the whole soup was really blah.

Minor victory--the catfish worked really well in the dish, and I actually think it was the best part. Also, I had planned on putting in rice noodles, but when I opened up the pantry I realized I didn't have any. I think these may have really helped this weak dish.

Hoping to end my "meh" streak of CL recipes soon. Feel free to offer suggestions!