Saturday, December 24, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Broiled Salmon Fillets with Curried Chutney

So, I know lots of people are scared to cook fish at home. Never fear, this is the recipe for you! It's easy, salmon is one of the easiest types of fish to cook, and it's absolutely delicious!

A partially-used mango chutney jar was burning a hole in the condiment shelf of my fridge (figuratively, anyway), so I picked this dish for a easy weeknight dinner. And it was a total win. Sweet without being too desserty, and it still lets the flavor of the salmon shine through. Served with green beans (roasted simply with minced garlic, olive oil, salt and tiniest bit of honey) and some brown rice to sop up extra sauce. For an extra kick, you might even want to try it with a touch of ground red pepper. ...Do it.

I ended up still not using all the chutney, so stay tuned for trying-to-pare-down-the-condiment-shelf part II...at some point.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Buku (Raleigh)

On my way back from a work trip last week, I had the great pleasure to visit and dine with the moms and pops. We went to Buku because it's (probably quite literally) spitting distance from their place, and, well, who doesn't love international street food?!

I have to say that the execution of pretty much all the cooking at Buku was spot on. Conceptually, though, every single dish we ordered had some sort of not-quite-rightness.
Exhibit A, the cilantro chutney. As our waiter had promised, it was very tasty. Unfortunately, it was NOT a chutney. Super-thin, and not a chunk in sight.
Number 2, the cochinita pibil. The pork was tender, the corn tortillas soft but not soggy. However, these tacos could have really used some acidity. Even just a lime wedge on the plate would have done the trick!
The paneer had fantastic flavors, but lacked texture. Soft cheese with mushy caramelized onions and sauteed kale really need something crunchy so didn't all just slurp down.
By contrast, the Chilean sea bass had all sorts of textures and, like everything else, was perfectly cooked. But it was sweet, on top of sweet, on top of sweet. I have a killer sweet tooth, but I don't really like my fish to taste like dessert.
And speaking of dessert, lastly, the tiramisu. Absolutely delicious, and I loved the presentation in a parfait glass with long spoons to boot. But where was the booziness? A tiramisu without liquor is like a fair without a ferris wheel.

If cooking is both an art and a science, Buku has the technique, but lacks the finesse. But I see real potential! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taking a break

Hello readers,

As you have probably figured out, I'm taking a brief hiatus until things settle down and I'm moved into our new house. Once that happens, I promise lots of new recipe reviews, plus highlights from an amazing birthday dinner at Seasonal Pantry and a lovely, new-house celebratory dinner at PS7s. In the meantime...


Sunday, November 13, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Chiles Rellenos

There's this one stand at the farmers market the always has beautiful poblano peppers. I was feeling inspired one weekend (and I had some shredded Mexican cheese that badly needed to be used before it turned), so I decided to try CL's "chiles rellenos made easy." While they were AWESOME, I can't imagine how much effort regular chiles rellenos take, but these were still a total pain to make, not to mention a mess. I would probably only ever make them again for company. That said, damn they were good!

It turned out I had much less leftover Mexican cheese than I thought, so I ended up kind of flipping the Monterey Jack/goat cheese ratios (which P was less than thrilled about, since he's not a huge lover of the latter). I also reduced the overall cheese amount a bit, since goat cheese is so much stronger in flavor.

The end result was crispy and cheesy without actually being calorically indulgent. The sauce was super yummy too. And there was a ton of leftover whipped eggs after I coated all of the chiles, so I cooked up the remaining eggs in a skillet and finished them off in the oven for a fluffy souffle/omelet-type thingy.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Three restaurants you should try in Alexandria, Annandale, and Arlington

This post is brought to you by the letter A and the number 3!

We'll start with Majestic, in Alexandria. This place is run by Chef Armstrong, the same chef that served us such delicious food on Pat's bday, only it's way more casual and affordable--not to mention easier to get a reservation at--and with a Southern bent. We went intending to do Nana's Sunday supper, but ended up each going our own ways with the menu instead...which gave me more opportunities to sample more dishes!

I was feeling adventurous and not really in the mood for meat, so I decided to try the vegetarian sampler dish, which is made up of "surprise" components. Really. The servers won't even tell you if you ask. Basically, it ended up being a bunch of the veg sides they normally serve, plopped into individual mounds on a plate. Although not really appealing to look at, most of it was absolutely delicious. I'm sure it helped that it was cooked with generous helpings of butter and/or heavy cream, but it's okay because it was vegetables, right? :) In any even, the brussels sprouts were fabulous, and I even finished the creamed corn. The rapini was a bit bitter, and I left the mashed potatoes untouched (they were basically flavorless), but I have to say, for a random plate of sides, I was pleasantly impressed.

P got a bouillabaisse that was pretty tasty, and I sampled some of his brother's fried green tomatoes, which were a-ma-zing. The bread at the table was also yummy and plentiful, kind of a fluffy soda bread.

Unfortunately, the service apparently was also Southern-themed and was slooooooow. I seriously think we were at dinner for 3 hours. Apparently Cathal needs to hire a server drill instructor to whip everyone into shape. It's hard to properly enjoy such tasty food when you're so ravenous by the time it gets to you that you wolf it down.

Next up, DaMoim in Annandale. This is a Latin-Korean fusion place out in the burbs that apparently turns into an "nss-nss" type club on Friday nights (as indicated by the DJ setting up as we were finishing our dinners). In any event, the staff is super friendly, and very enthusiastic...they were totally all wearing masks when we dined there the Friday before Halloween. They're also really good at pretending they put in your order and the kitchen is just running slow, when in actuality they totally forgot about you because they were busy serving a lady wearing a gazillion carat diamond ring and her friends.

But more importantly, the food! It was soo good. No vegetables to speak of, but that was okay. We started with pork belly sliders, which were served on bao bread with some fixings, including julienned apple, and a hoisin sauce. They were really creative and would have been phenomenal, I think, had the pork belly not been cold. The summer rolls were incredibly fresh (and we loved the addition of cilantro and mango), and the skewers came in an addictively tasty sauce. But what really stole the show were the tacos. We got two kinds, the galbi (beef) and the spicy pork. The latter was definitely greasier; both were seriously phenomenal. They are worth a trip all by themselves.

Finally, BGR in Arlington. I know there are a few of these in the area, but we had never been...I'm rarely in the mood for a restaurant burger, and if I am, I want to go all-in with a Hell-Burger. But, I got a coupon for a free burger from BGR in the mail for my birthday, and you all know how much I love freebies, so I couldn't resist! Outside of the nightmare of trying to find a parking spot in Clarendon, the whole take-out pick-up experience was wonderful. Everyone is super-friendly and accommodating, and when I presented my coupon, I was given a free burger AND a free brownie!!! It's like they know me.

P and I split a Wellington (which, contrary to the name, is not wrapped in puffed pastry, but is smothered in a goopy combo of caramelized onions, mushrooms, truffle and foie (or so the menu claims)) and a regular burger, a ginormous lunchbag of fries seasoned with whole roasted garlic cloves, rosemary, and parm, and the brownie. The former burger was deliciously earthy and tasted much better than it looked (seriously, the Wellington sauce kind of looks like slop). Both burgers were cooked to perfection, flavorful, juicy, and sizable. The fries were so good they didn't even need ketchup. I totally ended up eating the equivalent of an entire burger and nineteen servings of fries, but I couldn't stop myself, and I most certainly wasn't letting any of that goodness go to waste! BGR, my burger cravings may be few and far between, but when they return, I will be back!

(portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dinner tonight: Pear and Prosciutto Pizza

Fridays are take-out-and-a-bottle-of-wine night, but I had a can of thin crust pizza crust in the fridge and a pear on the verge of turning to mush, so we turned in into fake-out night (like that?! totally just made that up) and had pear and prosciutto pizza.

Since I used refrigerated crust instead of pre-baked, I pre-baked according to the directions on the crust can. Can? Is that right word for those aluminum twisty things that Pillsbury uses? To lower the stats (so we could eat more slices and/or cookies!), I used part-skim provolone and omitted the walnuts. The thin crust was also lower in calories that regular crust would be.

Yum!!! This was WAY better than a chain delivery pizza, and almost up to par with some of the fancier joints. It takes about as much time as it would take for a delivery pizza to get to you, and, besides a bit of slicing up front, not too much more effort. Next time you think of picking up the phone for dinner, try this instead!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dinner tonight: Trout with Warm Pine-Nut Dressing and Fennel Puree

On a Tuesday now long past (wedding planning/house buying/school/job have gotten the best of me and I am WAY behind on my blogging--there are seriously a *stack* of recipes sitting on my desk waiting to be reviewed), P and I had trout with warm pine-nut dressing and fennel puree. As a F&W recipe, I realize that this was incredibly ambitious for a weeknight, but I guess I felt like I needed a challenge, or am a masochist (see opening sentence above).

In any event, I'm glad I did, because this was freaking awesome. As usual, I made some changes: flounder in place of the trout (mistake--use trout, or at least something with skin, and use a non-stick pan. I totally massacred the fish trying to get it out of the pan, hence no picture.), slivered almonds in place of pine nuts (which are offensively expensive these days), cut WAY down on the oil, and no mesclun. I think I paired this with a spinach salad, but I honestly don't remember. It could have been green beans too. Both green and nutritious, so whatevs.

Granted, this dish was a pain in the rear to make. There are only 4 steps, but as you will see from the recipe, each of those steps is practically a novella. BUT. It was worth it. In fact, I've been actively trying to think of other things I can do with the fennel puree. And, with the major reduction in the oil you use, this is a downright healthy and low-cal dish, which can be rare for the borderline-gluttonous F&W peeps.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Restaurant Eve Tasting Room

This year we celebrated Pat's birthday at the Restaurant Eve tasting room, and it was a pretty phenomenal way to ring in year 36! We did the 5 course option, which actually ended up being 8 when you count the canapes, amuse buche, AND check-accompanying cookies. (There are also 7 and 9 courses, but I'm pretty sure you'd have to find an extra stomach or spend all day there to be able to eat all of that.) There was an option of the chef surprising you with selections for each course, but we decided to chose our own since his choices would have come from the same menu anyway.

Pretty much everything was fantastically delicious. Favorites were a puffed pastry filled with cipollini onions, oysters, and a cream sauce, topped with a very generous spoonful of osetra caviar (the "OOO"); the antelope, which surprisingly tasted nothing like venison and was absolutely beautifully cooked; and the wine pairings, which were just out of this world. Usually we are very disappointed with wine pairings and kicking ourselves for not having ordered something we knew we'd like. But if there's a place to do the pairings, it is Eve. Todd Thrasher is a genius.

Two complaints for what was otherwise an amazing experience. The reduction on my rabbit dish was a little off, and the service was very mediocre. I think we must have sat at our table for 45 minutes before we were served a lick of food (and mind you, our seating wasn't even until 8:45 pm), there were lip marks on my water glass, and the waitstaff were overall pretty ineffectual. It was really a shame, and in general, poor service really ruins a meal for me. Fortunately, it was a celebration, I was with the man I love, and the food itself was extraordinary good, so our evening still was an incredible one.

PS - Even with the smallest number of courses, we barely touched the bread and had to take the cookies home in a box. And I still didn't eat until lunch the next day! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Dinner tonight: Spicy North African Pork Tenderloin

Pork tenderloins were half off at the Teets a couple weeks ago, so I decided to try a recipe for spicy North African pork tenderloin.

Yum, yum, yum!!! I made this dish nearly exactly as-is, except used roasted bell peppers from the grocery store olive bar rather than from a bottle. This was quite possible one of the most flavorful pork dishes I have either made or had at a restaurant, with super unique flavors to boot.

A few quibbles with the way the recipe is written though:
1. This ends up making way more harissa than you can actually brush onto the pork. I recommend either dividing the recipe in half, or after you make it, setting aside half for another use (before you dip a brush coated with raw piggy juices into it), because its really delicious and would be good on practically anything.
2. It also makes way too much yogurt sauce. The yogurt sauce is great in taming the heat from the pork and gives it some balance, but on its own is pretty blah, and not worth having extra around. Save your Greek yogurt for breakfast and make half or even a third of the called-for amount.
3. Yeah, there is no way in hell your pork will cook through in 11 minutes. Even at 18 min, and after the thermometer registered the correct temperature and the pork sat, the meat was way, way too pink for my comfort level. I ended up nuking the snouts out of it after I sliced.

I served this with some simply roasted cauliflower, seasoned with only s&p. Definitely recommend this dish for a weeknight or entertaining!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dinner tonight: Chopped Kale and Chickpeas with Hot Pepper Vinegar

So, I had this for dinner more like "several weeks ago" than "tonight," but, oh well. I bought some green, leafy kale and moderately spicy peppers (something that started with a p) from the farmers market and decided to make a Richard Blais (of Top Chef and inappropriately-spiky-hair-for-his-age fame) recipe: chopped kale with hot pepper vinegar. Since this was going to be an entree, I added a can of chickpeas to the mix for protein.
Yum, yum, yum! The vinegar is just delicious, and I've used it for a variety of purposes since making this recipe. The whole dish is yummy, and the chickpeas worked out nicely (I added them at the same time as the kale). Toasting them ahead of time would probably make them even better.

The recipe was a nice blend of textures, not too vinegary, and a great guilt-free veggie meal. Definitely try this one!

Also, plug for farmers market shopping:
In addition to buying the kale and peppers, I bought this totally cool multicolored assortment of sweet peppers:
These I sliced up and sauteed with onions, s&p, boca crumbles, and laughing cow light swiss cheese for a cheesesteak-type dish. So much fun with all the colors!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Dinner tonight: Bulgolgi-ish eggplant

A few weeks ago my friend Mary shared a bunch of really adorable baby Japanese eggplant with me--her CSA had been filled with them and she was a bit eggplanted out.

I was trying to think of something that would do these cute veggies justice, and decided to go with a bulgolgi-type marinade. I started with a CL recipe for Korean barbecue wet rub, but used about half the oil and added a few splashes of mirin and a few splashes of water (to make sure there was enough to coat everything). I sliced the eggplants in half lengthwise and marinated everything together in a plastic bad overnight. The next day I roasted the eggplant (threw out remaining marinade) until it was, well, roasty...I think about 40 min at 425.

I'm happy to report that the end result was a tasty success, albeit a tiny bit too sweet. I think next time I would use a bit less brown sugar, a bit more soy, and maybe throw in some ground red pepper for kick. But otherwise, a win! And since it's totally okay to binge on vegetables, I ate nearly all of them in one sitting.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Shame on you, Rustico

A couple months ago I raved about Rustico's new fried green tomato pizza, and my love for the restaurant was reaffirmed. This week, I started to second-guess my feelings, thanks to what was probably one of the worst salads I had ever had.

I have a lot of social events oriented around food this weekend, so I was trying to go light with a panzanella, topped with grilled shrimp. What arrived was anemic and unappealing, if I'm being generous. It looked like something I would get at Applebee's, but cost about twice the price. No hunks of bread (just weird little flakes) and four sad shrimp, all piled with diced tomatoes, cucumbers, and entirely flavorless mozzarella, and COVERED in shredded cheese (which was NOT listed on the menu). Honestly, I could make a better shrimp panzanella at home; come to think of it, I have!

Just because you have a steady stream of business from Arlington yuppies does not, in my opinion, mean that you can start phoning it in. Let's hope this was just a bump in the road and not an end to my Rustico love affair. Shame on you, Rustico!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Dinner tonight: Herbed Ricotta Tart

I wanted something veg and a little carby, so earlier this week I made an herbed ricotta tart.

Score another yum for CL! This was super easy to make, had a ton of flavor, and was very satiating. I forgot to pick up chives and ended up not buying nearly enough green onions, so I used 1/4 cup of grated onion in place of the aforementioned, sauteed up with the scallions. Used fat free ricotta, since I think it makes absolutely no difference in this type of cooking. (Eating-wise, there's a huge difference in consistency, although I mix it with soy milk for breakfast which ends up evening everything up, and you save half the calories with the fat free version.) Ended up taking about 45 minutes to cook all the way through.

Besides being perhaps a bit heavy on the dill, the tart was absolutely delightful. Good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; we paired it with a simple spinach and celery salad.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dinner tonight: Chicken Verde Stew with Hominy

Sunday I was totally craving Mexican food, but, after a weekend of binge drinking and eating in honor of the Hahn-Prestwich union (YAY!!!), I really could not justify eating something cheesy and greasy. Instead, I made chicken verde stew with hominy.

Also, I totally cheated. Rather than go through the time-consuming steps of roasting and pureeing my own tomatillos, I decided to let the international foods aisle of HT do the work and bought a bottle of salsa verde. Now, this was not an exact substitute: the salsa is essentially tomatillos, chiles, salt and a little liquid. So I still added the cilantro, cumin, and oregano; I just added them during step 4.

Other mods:
Because I was using prepared salsa, I used 1.5 cups broth and 2/3 cup salsa. This came out pretty thick, so if you're looking for something a little looser or voluminous, I'd add some extra broth.
To keep the calorie stats a bit lower, I used chicken breast instead of thighs (honestly, they came out just as tender after stewing for 45 min). Also, no sour cream, for the same reason.
No S&P at the end, it was entirely unnecessary.

WOW did this satisfy my Mexican craving! It was thick, salsa-y, and had that unmistakably Mexican corn-y flavor from the hominy (which is, incidentally, definitely on my death row meal list). The stew also had a fantastic blend of textures: chewy from the hominy, creamy from the base, and crunchy from the celery, which was still al dente after the full simmer time. It also made a lot of servings, so I rate this one an all our win from our friends at CL!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Cava Mezze Clarendon

After an exhausting afternoon of wedding registries, P and I decided to try out the new Cava Mezze location in Clarendon. Overall, it was solid, especially for Clarendon. Highs were the service (our waiter Devon gave us just the right amount of attention without being annoying) and the wine selection (surprisingly good).

Food-wise, Cava was overall unoffensive, with a few good notes, some blahs and some blechs. The olive oil and sun-dried tomatoes to accompany tableside pita were a waste of calories. I *cook* with more flavorful olive oil than they served for dipping, and the tomatoes were way too spicy and kind of pizza-y tasting. The mezze were somewhat better. Grilled haloumi was fantastic. Of course, it's hard to screw up a dish where all you do is unwrap the cheese and throw it on a grill, but still, yum! We also ordered some sort of melange of eggplant, zucchini, onions, and tomatoes. This was not bad, but neither here nor there really. Stewed lamb was incredibly tender and flavorful, but the accompanying risotto was too grainy and like something Uncle Ben's would make for the microwave.

If this was in DC, I definitely wouldn't return. But, compared with some other restos in the area, Cava is a reasonable option for a Clarendon dinner. Given that we had 3 glasses of wine between us and 3 sizable dishes, the bill was also quite reasonable! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Three so-so recipes and one delicious one

Since I have once again been remiss in my blogging and because three of these recipes really don't warrant their own posts, I'm treating you, readers, to another massive marathon recipe review!

The final meal in P's and my week of delicious dinners was pork chops with Carolina rub. I left out the onion powder since I didn't have any, and ran out of paprika about 1/2 tsp in. For the bbq sauce I used that same awesome mustard bbq sauce I used with Lloyd's pork in an earlier post. Paired the chops with some broccoli slaw tossed with Newman's Own light honey mustard dressing (so good!!) and a hunk of store-bought corn bread from Whole Foods (which was okay, but not stellar). Overall, an awesome meal and actually pretty easy, even though P said, "wow, this is pretty major for a weekday meal!" Win.

The next week P was out of town, which is probably good because it meant I didn't have to serve these next three dishes to anyone but myself. They weren't bad at all, they just were ho-hum with a side of blah. To wit:

Black bean-tomato soup with cilantro-lime cream was easy and not bad, and tasted better the second day. But not amazing and there was way too much lime in the cream (I used non-fat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream).

Halibut with lemon-fennel salad. Used mahi instead of halibut and shallots instead of red onion. (I thought I had a half a red onion in the fridge but it turned out to be shallots.) Paired with a take-and-bake wheat dinner roll. Eh.

Asian chicken slaw. Cut back on the chicken a bit since I had a 7oz (versus 16) breast in the freezer that I needed to use, no bell pepper, 3-color slaw instead of just green cabbage, used half rice vinegar and half white wine vinegar in place of rice wine vinegar. Also no almonds or sesame seeds. The nice thing about this dish was that it had a lot of volume for not a lot of calories--I generally ate ~2.5 cups at a time, for somewhere around 225 calories! The bad thing is that it made so much that I was really sick of it before I finished it all. Ended up topping with a peanut sauce the last time just to change the flavor!

So, now we are all caught up on recipe reviews. At least until dinner tonight...

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Dinner tonight: Szechuan Shrimp with Spinach

P and I ate very well this week. Our second delicious recipe of the week was Szechuan shrimp with spinach, which I made with some gorgeous whole, gigantic Gulf shrimp and served over brown rice.

I used fresh minced garlic instead of bottled, cut back on the chile garlic sauce a bit, and obviously did not use peeled, deveined shrimp, but other than that cooked as written and we were very happy with the results! The whole shrimp resulted in some messy fingers, but was just so fun and pretty. The dish tasted a lot like Chinese takeout, but without the guilt and the grease (of course, this also meant it was sans fortune cookie :( ).

Another super-easy recipe for anyone new to cooking, although you may want to stick with the less-intimidating peeled shrimp.

A note: we ended up throwing out two of the shrimp, which was a shame, because they had this horrific, orangey-pink vein running along the shrimp's back (where you ordinarily find the "sand vein") with a big poofy area near the head. It looked kind of diseased, although after some internet searching it appears the pink stuff was just eggs. But it was still gross, so this may be another reason to stick with the sanitized shrimp for the squeamish!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dinner tonight: Sauteed Salmon and Arugula Salad with Tomato Vinaigrette

P and I ended this past weekend with a Sunday dinner of sauteed salmon and arugula salad with tomato vinaigrette. (the recipe says arctic char, but they are fairly interchangeable and salmon is much easier to find!)

What a tasty and easy recipe! I very much recommend this for any new chefs or anyone scared of cooking fish. I left out the pine nuts because I couldn't buy them in a small quantity (no one needs $10 worth of pine nuts!), but other than that, cooked as-is and served with take-and-bake whole wheat dinner rolls.

This dish was fresh and summery, healthy, and easy peasy--a triple win!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Madame Chou Chou (Santa Monica)

Wow. Thanks to yelp for helping us find this amazing restaurant!

All week, my boss and I had been suffering through breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the Mojave Desert, where good food is pretty much impossible to find. We had a redeye out of LA, so decided to putz around Santa Monica for a bit in the afternoon. In the hopes of having at least one good meal on per diem, we searched yelp for someplace delicious and nearby, and came across Madame Chou Chou.

This place is about a mile from the pier, and looks a little trashy from the outside. The inside is a bit classier, and the patio out back, where we sat, is just adorable and somewhat romantic (and therefore a little awkward for a work dinner, but, whatevs).

The dinner is officially ranked in my top ten best ever. I had two apps as my entree: the first was a salad of butter lettuce, shaved brussels sprouts, and corn. It was simultaneously nutty, creamy, crunchy, and refreshing.
My second app was bone marrow, accompanied by toasts with duxelles. The half a shank had been roasted and then either finished under the broiler or with a blowtorch--the result was like a savory creme brulee of fatty stem cell goodness. This was amazing, particularly when it topped the garlicky duxelles crostini. Holy freaking cow it was good.
Boss got the lamb with foie, polenta, and fennel that also looked incredible and that he seemed very happy with.

Considering the amazingness of the food here, the prices were beyond reasonable. Without wine but including tax and tip, we each paid just over $30. Honestly, this was a steal. It's got to be just a matter of time before this chef gets discovered and makes it big--I just hope it doesn't happen until after we get a chance to return for another taste! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pesce

We were wandering around Dupont Circle last weekend and came across Pesce, a gem of a fish restaurant! The interior is a little bright and austere, but the food showed much more taste.

When you sit down they bring you a chalkboard menu tableside...this was a good omen because it brought us back to a similar restaurant experience in Paris, and that was a fantastically good meal!

We started with the grilled calamari with squid ink, which was cooked with just the right amount of char, and was tender and very flavorful. It's hard to find calamari not fried until unrecognizable, so this was a pleasant treat! For my entree I combined the garden salad and Pesce trio apps. The salad felt like an afterthought, and I didn't even finish it. The trio, though, was so good--portions of chunky, oniony guacamole, tuna tartare dressed with only the tiniest bit too much soy and topped with what I swear were shards of Pringles, and an eggplant dip that was heavy on the tahini (in a good way) and honestly tasted more like hummus than baba ghanouj. P couldn't get enough of the eggplant, and I have to agree that it was delicious. Creamy, garlicky, almost unctuous. P got the corvina with pureed potatoes and a gumbo sauce. The fish was cooked well and the dish overall had really bold but nice, complementary flavors.

The portions were pretty sizable, so we were stuffed after dinner and for the rest of the night. My only hope is that we managed to burn at least a couple of those calories mawing the really, REALLY chewy bread that accompanied our meal...(x-posted to yelp.com)

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Another DC cupcake FAIL

This past Friday, I was actually in Ballston during the lunch/late afternoon hours; it was amazing to see how fun and exciting work lunch can be when you aren't in a dining purgatory like the Mark Center. What I was most excited about, though, was a chance to finally try SweetFleet cupcakes, an Arlington food truck I had been following on Facebook and pining over for weeks.

Sadly, the anticipation was so much more delicious than the actual cupcakes. They are small by storefront cupcake standards...about the size of a homemade muffin and ~2/3 the size of a GTown cupcake, and therefore steeply, steeply priced at $3 each. There were four flavor options the day I visited: blueberry lemonade, red velvet, apple caramel, and mint brownie. I wanted to try one of each, but thought I should start small, so ordered a red velvet (for P) and a blueberry lemonade (for me). Then I rushed home so we could sample our goodies!

You know how I said these cupcakes were small? There were, maybe, 4 or 5 bites worth in each, and still neither of us finished ours. The frosting (mine had buttercream, P's had cream cheese) had just about no sugar, and the cupcakes themselves tasted like nothing. Seriously, I think saltine crackers have more flavor than these cupcakes did. Their one redeeming quality was that they were not, like so many other DC-sold cupcakes, dry. But this was not enough to keep SweetFleet from being an epic fail. I actually opted for a 90-calorie FiberOne brownie instead of finishing. I KNOW.

This, then, got me thinking: WHY is it so freaking hard for these people to make a good cupcake? Safeway can do it. My coworkers and friends can do it. Even I can do it, and I suck at baking! Why can't most of the people who are purportedly staking their financial futures on making a good cupcake manage to succeed? It is a sad, sad, mystery that has gotten me further entrenched in my love for GTown. Although I'm still holding out hopes for Baked and Wired...

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Wining and Dining to Excess, Italian-style

This past weekend, P and I hosted our first, hopefully of many, serious wine-pairing dinner party. I chose an Italian theme, predominantly because of the meyer lemon olive oil cake I wanted to make for dessert (more on that later). Although things got a little out of hand (see picture below, which does not include the half bottle of scotch nor half bottle of espresso vodka), and the party went way, way, WAY past my bedtime, it was a resounding success!


We started the night with some simple antipasti, which I chose to go with Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin brut champagne: crusty Italian bread with good olive oil and black sea salt, roasted asparagus spears, and roasted almonds.

Then, it was on to the table for the meal!

Primo was a trio of farmers market squash and ricotta: cold squash napoleon, stuffed squash blossom, and zucchini-ricotta fritters. The napoleon was made up of alternating layers of roasted squash/zucchini and ricotta (seasoned with salt and lemon zest), drizzled with meyer lemon olive oil and sprinkled with kosher salt. The blossom I stuffed with a mixture of half minced roasted squash (same used in the napoleon), ricotta, S&P, and herbs de provence, baked at 350 for 15 min. The fritters were a Mario Batali recipe from F&W. Each element was yummier than the last! (I thought the fritters were particularly fantastic.)

We paired this with a Horton Viognier from Virginia, which has a light, floral and honey quality that worked nicely with the squash.

Secondo was a mustard and herb (rosemary, as is clear from the--pre-cooked--pic!) eye of roast (grass-fed, locally raised) beef tenderloin with taleggio-stuffed polenta and marinated heirloom tomatoes. The beef was an obvious pairing with an Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero 2006 (which we discovered in Barcelona), as was the taleggio. I know it's weird, but the wine has some sort of stinky cheese note in the nose (in a good way?)!

This course did not go as well as the last. I don't cook red meat very often, and this was obvious--it took much longer than it should have, and although we let the meat sit for 15 minutes, it still bled out everywhere when we sliced it (and honestly didn't look medium-rare, even though it was only 130 degrees internally). It was also, sadly, chewy (I think this was due to the cut) although the flavor was good! I prepared this by rubbing the beef with S&P, searing each side 3ish min, brushing with whole grain mustard, sticking in some rosemary, and baking at 350 for what seemed like forever (until internal temp reached 120).
I made the polenta by simply stirring 1 part cornmeal and 2.5 parts water, plus ~1 tsp salt over medium heat with a whisk about 15 min. Then I spread half the polenta in the bottom of a square baking dish, layered on slices of taleggio, topped with remaining polenta, and baked 25ish min at 350. This would have turned out wonderfully if the cornmeal didn't have a funny taste to it, kind of baking soda-ish--a friend suggested that may have been a result of the liming process of the corn.
The tomatoes, however, were delish! I riffed this from a F&W grilled bread and marinated tomato salad, doing only the first step and not using nearly that much olive oil. I used big, pink, mortgage lifters, red tomatoes from my boss's garden, and some sort of low-acid, sweet yellow variety.

Dolci was the aforementioned meyer lemon olive oil cake, which I used with some beautiful olive oil my mom bought us from California and using this CL recipe. I cut back on the lemon juice a bit (and replaced with water) to make sure the olive oil got to shine. It was dense and yet airy, kind of like a pound cake with air bubbles. And lots of lemon flavor! We had this with an orange and apricot compote (supremed orange, orange juice, chopped dried apricots, some apricot preserves, and a touch of water, all mixed together and nuked for 30 sec) and a Ricossa Antica Casa muscato d'asti--a yummy, sweet and bubbly white perfect for dessert!

That was end to the dining portion of the night, although, obviously, there was significantly more wine and liquor, not to mention some Dougie-learning and heart-to-hearts, to follow. I think our next wine dinner will be Spanish-themed. And hopefully slightly less boozy....

Monday, August 8, 2011

Dinner tonight: Tomato Panzanella with Shrimp and Basil


My boss grows so many tomatoes in his garden that he and his wife can't eat them fast enough--this is good for me, because every summer I get paper bag deliveries of the sweetest, most delicious tomatoes!

With my first tomato installment, I decided to try a tomato panzanella with shrimp and basil. Panzanellas are awesome because they combine two things I love: bread and salad! Better yet, the bread gets a little soggy from the dressing, and I'm a total sucker for soggy food. True story: I add milk to my cereal long before I plan to eat it so it gets nice and milk-logged and not at all crunchy. I know it's weird, but at least I will be well-practiced when I'm old and have lost all my teeth and can't remember where I put my dentures!

In any event, I actually, no kidding, made this dish exactly as directed. No subs or modifications! It was super eat and very good. Refreshing on a 100+ degree day, and surprisingly filling. It worked nicely as cold leftovers too, as long as you don't mind a bit more sogginess. The recipe is a win for homegrown tomatoes!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Central Kitchen (Cambridge, MA)

I love, love, love the ambiance of Central Kitchen. It's chic and fairly minimalist in an otherwise less savory part of Cambridge. We got into town rather late, so sat at the bar for a mini-dinner of small plates.

First, props to the bartender, who was patient enough to give me tastes of 3 different wines and 2 tastes for P before we settled on glasses. When he took our order, he wrote it in chalk on a piece of slate on the bar in front of us, which was a fun touch! And the bread. Talk about generous! Two types, including a giant hunk of fluffy white boule, and a large bowl of hummus (which I suspect had some anchovy in it), all gratis.

For the dishes we actually paid for, we chose the seared haloumi, grilled octopus, and mussels. The cheese was fantastic, although I didn't really get a full appreciation for the dish since I scraped off the olive tapenade (hate olives...). The octopus was nice and scorched on the outside, tender on the inside. Underseasoned (or maybe not at all?) if you don't make sure to swipe a bite through the harissa sauce first (in which case it's delicious!). And the mussels were tender and plump, if pedestrian, although the remaining sauce, which I ordinarily relish in sopping up with bread, was way, way too salty.

A total find for Cambridge, especially considering your other options are Wendy's or the Cambridgeport Saloon. And honestly, where the food may fall a little short, the restaurant vibe makes up in spades! (x-posted to yelp.com)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Dinner tonight: Pork Tenderloin with Red and Yellow Peppers

I also brought back from the farmers market a couple weekends ago some beautiful cubano (I think) peppers. Really mild and sweet and crisp, in variegated shades of green and red and yellow. These I decided to prepare as pork tenderloin with red and yellow bell peppers because the photo looked delish, I love anchovies, *and* I just happened to have a pork tenderloin in the freezer.

Other than using cubano peppers in place of bell peppers, the only changes I made were adding some sliced Vidalia onion (left over from the last recipe) and using dried rosemary instead of fresh.

My pork did not turn out nearly as beautifully caramelized as the meat on the CL website. How could it when the pan is only heated to medium?! Instead, it was a really unappealing gray color. (Incidentally, I hate when the picture doesn't look like what the recipe would look like when you prepare it exactly...like when the recipe says diced and in the picture something is clearly sliced into strips. >:( Hate that.)

Other than looking kind of gross (hence, no picture), this was fine, at best. It certainly did not do those beautiful peppers justice.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Dinner tonight: Creole Flouder and Stewed Okra with Tomatoes

I bit the bullet and bought okra again at the farmer's market last week. Last time we had some delicious, Indian-spiced okra, but I ended up with sore fingers from all the okra pricklies. This time I tried to stay away from the really big pods, so the spiky little hairs were smaller and I fared much better.

Since okra was the feature of dinner, I put the most effort into our side dish: stewed okra with tomatoes. I changed this recipe slightly: omitted the bacon and used canned, stewed, no sodium tomatoes instead of fresh. Overall, it was okay, although WAY too sweet and needed more hot sauce. We thought it was strange that a dish with no sugar could be so sweet, but I guess it was the combo of the Vidalia and the stewed tomatoes. Maybe sub a regular, yellow onion instead. However, this would probably be a great veg dish for kids, if you convince them to taste it in the first place! I served P's okra over some leftover rice from takeout a couple days prior--no food goes to waste in the Daly household!

The flounder was really an afterthought: I just sprinkled it with a Creole spice mix and baked it at 425 for ~18-20 min.
Eh. Not a bad okra dish. But I'd recommend the Indian spiced recipe over this one any day. (do a search on the right if you want to find it!)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Seedy Underbelly of Citrus

Friends, I'd like to take a moment away from our usual recipe and restaurant reviews to make a public service announcement.

Generally, I encourage consumption of all fruits and vegetables--the more, the better! They're chock full of vitamins, nutrients, antioxidants, fiber, and all other sorts of good stuff, and as they say, you're unlikely to binge on apples. HOWEVER. There can be a nefarious side to fruit. For limes, this is phytophotodermatitis, "a cutaneous phototoxic inflammatory eruption resulting from contact with light-sensitizing botanical substances and long-wave ultraviolet (UV-A 320-380 nm) radiation." Translation: limes + sun = badness.

I learned this recently after making lime pie ice pops for July 4th dinner at the beach. After squeezing a gazillion limes (and yes, washing my hands), we went down to the beach. And what I initally thought was a sunburn turned out to be much itchier and long-lasting! (Don't worry, after diagnosis, my prognosis looks promising. :) )

So, let this be a lesson to you all. Squeezing and sunning do not mix! The next time you decide to enjoy a margarita pool side, be careful not to spill...you have been warned.

(Incidentally, the pops were AMAZING. The only problem is that they didn't exactly want to come out of the molds. I suggest making this recipe in frozen pie form, miniature or regular-sized crust.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Cafe Milano

This past weekend we went to Cafe Milano in Georgetown to celebrate Diana's birthday. And you know, I was pleasantly surprised! Perhaps it was the perception-expectation gap, but I thought it was a downright solid meal. I hate to make yet another comparison to Kinkead's, but CM was to Italian was Kinkead's was to seafood. (See my earlier review if this doesn't make sense! :) )

They put us in a weird spot in the center of the restaurant, which was kind of awkward and super noisy. Our waiter swung between being very attentive and not, but overall did alright by us.

Of course, most important is the food. The bread--I had read a couple yelp reviews that said the bread was amazing. I thought it was fine. A little heavy, but overall not bad. The olive oil was totally pedestrian, which was a bit of a disappointment for such a well-known Italian resto. There are SO many good oils out there, this should not have been hard to do well.

Things looked up from there. P and I split the baby artichoke salad, and they divided it between two plates (which is not done often but which I sincerely appreciate). The salad was a bit aggressively dressed, but not offensively so, and the flavors were simple and clean. My entree was the whole wheat tagliatelle with asparagus, oven-roasted tomatoes, and ricotta; the pasta is made in house and was cooked to perfection: on the chewier side of al dente. They were also generous with the vegetables, which was certainly a welcome change from the usual vegetarian pasta dish. P got a special for the evening, the roasted sea bass with peppers, which was super flavorful, if a teensy bit overcooked. (We think both dishes sat under the heat lamp for a while--my pasta was so hot when I got it I nearly burned my tongue). The portions were a decent size too: enough so you could clean your plate and not feel like a pig but also not go home hungry.

A few folks ordered dessert, and they brought Diana a gratis bday pound cake. These I was totally underwhelmed by, but these days I expect to by disappointed by restaurant desserts. So, no damage done there.

Definitely better than Dino! (portions x-posted to yelp.com)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Dinner tonight: Pancetta with swiss chard and soft polenta

I finally, *finally* made it to the farmers market last weekend--after a long hiatus--and did major damage: a ton of peaches, golden plums, blueberries, flax bread, pattypan squash, and rainbow chard. The chard was the focus of last night's dinner, which I prepared as pancetta with swiss chard and soft polenta.



Yummyyumyumyumyum
! This was a total CL win--super delicious, easy, and just slightly over 300 calories a serving. Of course, one of the ways CL manages to keep its stats so low is with portion control...and trust me, it is VERY difficult to control your portions on this yummy dish! Fortunately, the polenta is very filling.

It's easy to make the polenta and topping simultaneously (which really you need to do so the polenta doesn't get hard and gross), as long as you make sure to prep and stage everything ahead of time (mis en place, for you cooking snobs) . I ended up using way more liquid than the polenta recipe called for, adding little by little as time went on. Use your judgement with this one--the polenta should be similar to risotto in viscosity--spreads out somewhat on the plate while still holding its shape.

Also, I generally hate bacon in my food, but you absolutely cannot leave out the pancetta in this dish: the salty and crispy complement the slight bitterness and goopiness of the greens.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Freaking Delicious Frozen Dinner

So, on a whim the other day, I picked up a Cedarlane Pesto and Four Cheese Baked Eggplant Stack from the frozen meals section. It had great stats (280 calories) and all natural. I was intrigued since I'd never seen it before, so I thought I'd give it a whirl (even though it was pretty pricey for frozen food at $5).

Wowowowow. This was AMAZING. I had to keep checking the side of the box, because I just couldn't believe it had less than 300 calories. Delicious, satisfying, almost indulgent. I know this pic looks messy but, c'mon, it's a frozen meal! It tastes so very much better than it looks.


I recommend pairing this with a veg or a salad, since there's not a ton of green veggies, but you certainly don't need them to feel full.

Totally go out and get some of these fantastic stacks...just leave some for me!!