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

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


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

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

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 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.