Monday, February 21, 2011

Birch and Barley

We had a lovely double date this weekend with Audrey and Jon, our fellow foodie/bloggers at Birch and Barley. This was inspired mostly by a promise from one of the chefs there (who Audrey and Jon are acquainted with) to treat us to something special when we went.

Highlights (besides spending time with A&J) were seeing Greg Engert do his thing, pigs headcheese (yes, I really said that), pork belly, and dessert. Overall, though, we were fairly disappointed by the restaurant--I'd give it a 6/10, max.

We kind of ordered all over the menu:
*Charcuterie board -- a little stingy with the bread, I didn't really partake except to try the terrine and the pigs headcheese, the latter of which was really very good, provided you don't think about what's in it.
*Pork belly app -- the pork belly itself was delicious, if slightly chewy, but the scallion pancake was hard and dry. The slaw was dressed nicely with some sesame oil, but overall underwhelming.
* Arctic char tartare -- this was way more fun to say than it was to eat. A bit tart and missing something, and weird that it tasted like a sour cream and onion potato chip--heavy on the chive, for sure.
* Polenta with mushrooms -- not bad, and I liked the use of more unusual mushroom varieties, but the dish really lacked acid.
* Beet risotto with goat cheese whip -- we didn't get this dish at all. The colors were unappealing and it was almost entirely flavorless.
*A&J got the brat burger and the trout. I didn't try either, but the brat burger was huge and looked yummy. J said the trout was a bit buttery, but pretty good overall.
*Fig, gorgonzola and prosciutto flatbread -- this was a treat from the chef. Not bad, actually better than a lot of our dishes, but the dough was a bit fluffy, bland, and white for my taste. I think the others liked it better.

Dessert stole the show. We shared the sampler, which was super yummy and creative, and were treated to a citrus-y panna cotta-type dish which was also delicious.

Overall, I'd say save your money. You're actually better off at Rustico, if you're willing to go to Arlington or Alexandria for good food and moderately upscale American fare. And I'm not just saying that because I heart Rustico. :) (portions x-posted to

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dinner tonight: Thyme Scented White Bean Cassoulet

So I know I rarely make the same recipe twice. Even when I do, it's usually just that--twice. Thyme-scented white bean cassoulet, however, I make about once a year. I just think it's such a delicious, comforting recipe when it's cold out, and since it uses the slow cooker it's great for day I don't want to have to come home and cook. And I heart cassoulet!

Ordinarily, I make this as-is, but sans the sausage. I fully intended to this time as well, but I had a little snafu with the vegetable broth. I had some in my freezer that I didn't remember to take out until the night before. I did and put it on the counter to defrost, planning on moving to the fridge before I went to bed. Of course, I forgot, so when I woke up the next morning the carton was sitting on the counter, probably full of nascent little microscopic nasties. So, I tossed the broth and used water instead, using 2 bay leaves instead of one to compensate. Honestly, you couldn't tell the difference. And P and I were saved a possible night of misery.

If you're looking for a hearty-yet-healthy slow cooker recipe, definitely make this. SO good. And it has so many vegetables and is so satisfying, it's really a one-pot dish.

1000 HITS!!

You guys. This is very exciting. Probably not for you, but for me. We've officially reached 1000 hits to my silly little blog! Thanks so much for checking in and reading reviews, and esp to Shenan and Pat for commenting so regularly! You will all be richly rewarded next week when I share the highly coveted mini-lamb burger recipe I created last summer. But before that, we have several new blog posts in the making for this weekend--a weekeday dinner, Birch and Barley, and a Moroccan feast!

Thanks everyone. This totally made my day!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The More You Know: Graham Crackers

So I just learned an interesting food-related factoid. I always thought that graham crackers were just made with a particular recipe, like Ritz crackers or water crackers. TURNS OUT, they are actually made with graham flour. I also had no idea what graham flour was, so I did what all well-educated researchers do and went to wikipedia ( It's actually a bastardized version of wheat flour, where they grind all the parts of the wheat separately and then mix them all together again...why, I have no idea, unless the grinder is getting paid by the hour or something.

In any event, there you have it. Graham crackers come from graham flour, which does not, however, come from the graham plant.

You're welcome. :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dinner Tonight: Haddock with Romesco Sauce and Spinach-Asiago Ramekins

So, I'm not even going to pretend that I "modified" the recipes used for last night's dinner. Really, I just kind of used Sauteed Halibut with Romesco Sauce and Individual Spinach-Asiago Gratins as guides.

Halibut is disgustingly expensive--$16/lb at the HT! So I chose to use haddock instead, at $9/lb. Because haddock is a pretty delicate fish, and because I don't use non-stick skillets or a ton of butter/oil (so when I pan-cook fish half of it ends up fused to the pan :( ), I chose to broil instead. 6 min on a foil-lined baking sheet.

The fish was nice and light, and the romesco sauce (which I did make according to the recipe--except subbed ~1/4 tsp ancho chile powder for an actual chile and made 3/4 the amount) was freaking fantastic. I want to put this sauce on everything. Seriously, if it wasn't for the fact that it gives you major raw garlic breath, I might eat this stuff every day. You MUST try it!

We had the fish and romesco over whole wheat couscous, and accompanied by a spinach-asiago side. I followed the first part of the gratin recipe, up to the wilted spinach (I just used leftover baby spinach). Then I just mixed in S&P, a dash of nutmeg, and some finely chopped asiago (also leftover from other recipes), put in ramekins, topped with a tiny bit of panko, and broiled for two min. This was good, something a little different from regular sauteed spinach. The only bummer was that the spinach cooked way down and we ended up with pretty stingy veg portions. Which is sad, because we know how much I love vegetables.

Bottom-line assessment is that dinner was a reasonable success, even if I did not follow instructions! Also: make the romesco. Yuuuu-uuuuum.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


I had a groupon and we love fish, so P and I celebrated Valentine's Day at Kinkead's. Although the ambiance was a bit stifled (no background music!) and the kitchen was slooooow, the food was absolutely delicious.

We were seated at 8 and ordered shortly after, but our dinners didn't arrive until over an hour later. Fortunately, there was some pretty fantastic bread to snack on--the soda bread, which was slightly sweet and studded with rye, was dense without being heavy and so freaking yummy. It's a good thing we only got two pieces of it, because otherwise I definitely would have spoiled my dinner. Pat liked the cornbread too, but the rustic wheat was just okay. A little salty.

Pat started with some Northumberland oysters which he said were very fresh, and conveniently pre-separated from the shell. For entrees, he had the mahi mahi with pesto, I had the pepita-crusted salmon, and we split some garlic sauteed spinach. The presentation was beautiful, and the portions were really generous. Overall, the food wasn't very refined, but it was really very good. The salmon, in particular, was delicious, if just slightly overdone and a tad salty for my taste. It tasted like New Mexico, and all of the components just worked beautifully. Actually, it was surprisingly innovative for being a staple entree at a rather old-school restaurant. I ended up eating the just-okay rustic bread anyways, because I needed something to sop up the sauce left on my plate! Pat was happy with his mahi too, although we really didn't think the addition of gigantes made sense, and my dish was definitely the winner.

Dessert was also a win. Out of character, we each ordered our own dessert (probably because Pat actually wanted to have a chance to have more than one bite before I devoured the whole thing :) ). I got the carrot cake, which was served as pinwheels with a boozy but super-yummy rum raisin ice cream. Pat got a chocolate espresso mousse pyramid with a brownie base. Again, we cleaned our plates.

I think I would say that Kinkead's is probably a good starter restaurant for new foodies. They put out some delicious, higher-end food, but plates that are still generous, approachable, and well-executed. (portions x-posted to

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Dinner tonight: Kale and Apple Salad with Pancetta and Candied Pecans

The Sterretts had us over for dinner last night; Lee made an awesome sausage, spinach, white bean, and pasta soup (which he says he got from Rachel Ray, amazingly), we were responsible for the salad.

I made Food and Wine's kale and apple salad with pancetta and candied pecans, minus the pancetta (since we were having meat in the soup, I thought it was not really necessary)...and the tarragon, because I thought I had some in my spice rack but I didn't. Also...I made just a fraction of the pecans, using what I had on hand.

This was a really great winter salad, if you're okay eating raw kale (which, when you slice it small, is not that bad). It takes quite a bit of prep, including lots of chopping--even if you do have a mandoline. That said, I think it's totally worth the effort. Nice crunch and balance of sweet, vinegary, salty. The dressing seems really weird from the list of ingredients, but somehow it works really well (even without the pancetta grease). I cut back on the oil a bit to save calories.

No pic, but trust me, it actually looks just like the photo online. Excellent salad for winter entertaining!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinner tonight: Beef with Spicy Cocoa Gravy; Autumn Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

P was out of town this week and I realized with my travel I hadn't seen the girls in nearly a month, so I had Ashleigh and Mandy over for dinner. I rarely make red meat (mostly because I don't want to be eating beef leftovers for the next three days), but I have a ton of beef recipes in my little accordion folder, so I figured this would be a good chance to use one! We had beef with spicy cocoa gravy, served over brown rice, and autumn salad with red wine vinaigrette (which I called winter salad because, well, it's winter).

The beef was not bad. I left out the green bell pepper because it didn't seem like it fit to me, but otherwise cooked it as it. The sauce thickened nicely, especially if you leave it uncovered for the last 15 min. However, as the other reviewers on the CL website pointed out, the cut of meat was a little too lean to get "tender" was a bit chewy. Also, although there are lots of spices, the sauce was a far cry from being spicy. If you want it spicy, I'd recommend you throw in some ground red pepper, or maybe a bird chile.

The salad was simple, but a nice contrast to the heavy, dark meat dish. I made half the recipe, so only used 1 apple and the romaine (omitting the salad greens and Asian pear). Not a stunner, but a solid salad.

Bonus factoid: When I went to buy top round at HT, I couldn't find a big enough piece on the shelves. When I asked if they had any bigger pieces, the butcher said, "Yeah. They're called London broil." Apparently it's the same cut, just thicker.
You're welcome. :)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Fire Works

We went to Fire Works last weekend for a relatively low-key dinner...Pat had heard good reviews of the one out in the 'burbs, and we thought the new one in Courthouse was a good chance for us to try it out for ourselves!

It was crowded and noisy when we got there at 8:30 on a Friday...kind of like the new Rustico in Ballston, but a bit less pricey. Overall it wasn't bad...I'd give it 3.5 stars for food, 4 for service.

Pat started with the fire roasted olives, which came with very strong reviews from a foodie friend of his, and honestly were the reason we went here in the first place. He like them (he ate the whole dish worth of olives), so they couldn't have been bad, but they failed to live up to the hype. I chose not to partake because olives are one of, if not the top ranked, item in my trinity of hated foods, so I can't personally confirm. We ordered a Mediterranean pizza to split, with red onion, spinach, feta, and lamb sausage (red sauce and mozz as well). I'm not a huge fan of meat on my pizza in general, but I have to say that this was pretty good! Pat got his half without feta, and was underwhelmed until he tried a bite with it. It was definitely one of those things where, when you got a bite that had a little bit of all the components, it worked. The pizza was overall solid, but did not blow me away (like, say, Pupatella, or the now extinct duck-brie-and-cracklin' at the aforementioned Rustico). The crust had a nice flavor and thickness, although it was the tiniest bit undercooked.

Wine selection was decent for a restaurant that prides itself on its beers. And our waitress was a doll, I don't think either of us ever had an empty glass, or felt either rushed or impatient. I'd definitely still chose Rustico over Fire Works, but if you live closer to the latter, this is not a bad option (and you'll walk away with a smaller tab, for sure)! (portions x-posted to yelp)

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Dinner tonight: Rice Congee Soup (Jook)

Oh you guys. Despite the gross-sounding name (it kind of sounds like a Chinese word for gruel), this jook was SO GOOD. Pat said, "I could eat this every day."

I had had congee before, and I may have even made this exact recipe years ago, but I'm pretty sure I omitted the meat last time. This is a great, great comforting dish for cold rainy/snowy/freezing-death-rain weather like we've been having lately. I also think it's a nice sub for chicken noodle soup, which, judging from all the sniffling I've heard in class and at work lately, would probably come in handy too.

Some notes on execution:
1. I used brown rice (still long grain) because I prefer using whole grains whenever possible. I wasn't sure it was going to work did, but it took about an hour longer. I also increased the heat a bit and every so often mashed around in the soup to break down the rice and thicken it up. I also cooked it for the last half hour uncovered.
2. HT didn't have "fresh turkey wing," so I used a smoked one. Can I just say that if I ever need to feed a family with pennies a day, they will be eating nothing but turkey wings. This thing was bigger than my head and cost, I kid you not, 68 cents. However, if you use a smoked wing like I did, omit the salt completely. I used half the amount in the recipe, and it still came out pretty salty--which means you can't top with soy sauce, which I like to do with congee. I took the turkey wing out after 1.5 hours, shredded up the meat, and then threw it back into the soup for the remaining cook-time.
3. I wanted some greens, and I saw Chinese celery in the store which I had never seen before buy thought was worth a try. Put in a little less than half the bunch, leaves to stems, chopped into 1-inch-sized pieces. I bet this would be a great way to get people who don't like veggies to eat them, because after 2.5 hrs the celery had essentially disintegrated into the soup and, aside from some green color, was totally indistinguishable.
4. Didn't even bother with all the fixin's.

Served this with some frozen stir fry veggies, dressed with a rice vinegar/soy/honey sauce.

Highly, highly recommend you make this while it's still butt-ass cold outside. It might even improve your spirits--Pat said leftovers for lunch were the highlight of his day. Which is both awesome and sad at the same time.