Wednesday, March 31, 2010

March Favorites

I thought I'd bid adieu to March with a post on some of my favorite discoveries in the past 31 days.

First, CF Folks. Do you guys know about this place? It's been around forever, next the Palm on 19th Street. It's a teeny, down-home lunch counter (complete with a salty owner & sweet servers) that served a perfectly grilled duck breast the day I went, from a former Oval Room chef. I've only been once so far, but I'm nevertheless convinced it's heaven on Earth. Actually, I lie. Stay away.

Dolci Gelati. When Galileo closed for renovations a couple years ago, pastry chef Gianluigi Dellaccio started his own local gelato factory. The result—Dolci Gelati—is f*cking divine. Go grab a pint at Whole Foods, Yes!, Taylor's, Dean & Deluca, or have a cone from the gelato cart at the Zoo. Especially recommended: bacio, strawberry lavender, and creme brulee.

Meatballs in tomato sauce over polenta. Our friend Kate made this for us at the end of February, and as soon as I no longer felt too stuffed to move, I was already craving more. So I made my own, sort of, using Whole Foods meatballs (I know! But they were nearly the same (overly expensive) price as the ground beef!), and Fresh 365's "Grandma's Gravy" recipe, which is my new go-to tomato sauce. It rocks in its simplicity and flavor.

The wine bar at ACKC. Yeah. They've opened one and stocked it with wines that will pair well with their lovely chocolates. Some things in life are better than sipping champagne and eating rose-infused chocolates at a table on their sidewalk on a spring day, but are there many? I'm not so sure.

Grilled fish of the day and a Sam Smith Organic Lager at CommonWealth. The perfect meal for a weekday date night. Bonus: once you walk into CommonWealth, you'll forget you're in the Suburbs-in-the-City hell that is 14th and Irving.

This weekend, Husband and I are off to L'Auberge Provencal in Shenandoah for hiking, wining, and dining. I also visit Mashka (smooch) in New York and Danni (damn, gina!) in LA/Santa Barbara, AND host my parents (bless you) this month, so April will be adventurous.

What else should I get into?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Royal Order

In the fall, I was inducted into a royal order of princesses, presided over by two sisters: my mother-in-law Princess Madonna and the Queen Mum, aka Aunt Mickey. To give you an idea of the sassy spirit of these ladies, HRH (Her Royal Highness) Madonna got her name after she was hypnotized on a cruise ship and performed a certain non-kosher Madonna song in front of a crowd of hundreds.

Next to sisterhood and high-seas adventures, one of the best things about the Royal Order is its official cocktail, the Toasted Almond Martini. The Queen Mum introduced me to this frothy, sweet, addictive concoction earlier this month, when we were down in Birmingham celebrating Husband's grandfather's 90th birthday. Talk about a hostess with the mostess.

At the risk of spilling family secrets, I'm going to share the recipe with you. Offer your guests a few of these, and they'll feel like royalty.

Toasted Almond Martini

1/2 shot vodka
1/2 shot Kahlua
1/2 Amaretto
2 shots half-and-half

Shake with cubed ice. Strain. Pour and dust with freshly grated nutmeg.

What are your favorite cocktail recipes?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lunching at the White House

There I was. Palms sweaty, heart beating a little faster than normal, and the constant reminder to myself to use my inside voice. I was not just anywhere. I was in the White House.

Wait, back up. How did I get there? It started a few weeks ago when I got an email from Joe: Can we treat you to lunch on the 15th at the White House Mess? Why, I asked. Um, because it's your birthday and you're turning 30 and it's the White House so you don't ask why. Stage 1: disbelief.

Then came Stage 2: bragging. Everyone that I knew would actually care found out that I was going to the White House. And that I might see someone famous.

Stage 3: anxiety. What does one wear to lunch at the White House? What if I talk to loudly? What if I run into someone famous but I can't remember who they are and I just stare? Surely they're used to people staring.

Stage 4: chaos. I'm supposed to be there in 30 minutes. How do I even get IN to the White House? Which entrance? Will it take long? What if I walk in the wrong door? What if I get tackled by the secret service? Joe's going to be REALLY embarrassed.

Stage 5: relief. Sarah's going to pick me up on the way. If anything goes wrong I blame it on her.

Stage 6: starstruck. So here we are again. Palms sweaty, heart beating faster. David Axelrod just walked by. There's wood paneling everywhere, flowers on every desk. Digital pictures of Obama yawning in the garden. And everyone is so quiet. Must use inside voice. Must use inside voice.

Stage 7: delight. The food. It was good. Sarah got the seared tuna salad. Joe and I got the jerk crusted sea bass. They were served on the biggest plates I'd ever seen, the sea bass perched lightly on top of a bed of lemon scented rice with some baby zucchini on the side. Joe had the good sense to order chocolate decadence for dessert, with vanilla ice cream. Aside from Joe's slight embarrassment that Sarah and I added a little lavender sugar that she gave me to the dessert, I managed to make it through lunch without any major incident. The room was smaller than I imagined, adding to the appeal of the place. Perfect to bump into a high level white house advisor. Only Special Assistants and above have "privileges" there, you know.

(The menu of the day and a box of presidential M&M's)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Happy birthday, Virginia!!

May it be filled with flaming communal punch bowls.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Can Salad Be Decadent?

Yes, yes it can.

In my version, the green beans and radishes are optional; avocado is (always) mandatory. I served this salad last night with an Alsatian tart from Trader Joe's, along with TJ's brilliant $3.99 Vinho Verde. Very Spring Is in the Air.

Some of you may find it noteworthy that this recipe urged at least one woman to jump into the lap of the chef and declare her love.

Balthazar salad with lemon truffle vinaigrette, via Orangette.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Perfect Crispy Pot Stickers

When I was a kid my family knew the owners of this awesome Chinese restaurant. There's a pretty big Chinese population in Korea, and my grandfather was the doctor of a famous family of Chinese chefs. When the son decided to move to the US, he contacted my grandfather and moved to St. Louis to set up shop. The son used to test recipes on my grandmother and her friends at lunch parties, and our family always went there for big dinners for years. They always had our favorites: crispy sweet and sour beef, happy family, home made kim chee (which was the real reason we went there), and pot stickers. They had the best pot stickers of all Chinese restaurants in the area. The recipe had been passed down from first son to first son for five generations. They would bring out a huge plate of sizzling pot stickers and ceremoniously pour over a bit of soy sauce and a bit of vinegar. The combination just made the whole dish pop, and when the pot stickers were all gone I'd pour the soy-vinegar mixture over my rice. Mmmmm.

When I was a little older, in high school but before we had cars, my friends and I would end up back at my house a lot of weekend nights. I think I was the least embarrassed by my parents and, more importantly, my mom would make pot stickers. She'd steam them, but serve them with the soy-vinegar mixture. To this day my friends still talk about how great that was at the end of a night "out."

But man those things are hard to make from scratch. SO time consuming. The women in my family would sit around the table and make them together and gossip all afternoon, but I just don't have the time these days. But luckily there are some pretty good frozen brands. Safeway carries a good one with pork and chicken. But the trick is all in how you make them. I believe I have perfected the process of the frozen pot sticker, and I'm going to spill the beans.

First, use a non-stick pan that has a tight lid. Very important. Then, using a mild or unflavored oil (like vegetable oil).

1) Heat two tablespoons in the pan on medium high.
2) Place about 6 frozen pot stickers directly in the oil, or however many fit on the bottom of the pan. Cook for about 2 mins.
3) Then add in 6 tablespoons of water all at once and quickly cover the pan. Let the pot stickers steam in the water for 6 minutes.
4) Then take the lid off the pan and continue to cook until all the water evaporates from the pan and the bottom of the pot stickers are browned and crispy.
5) Serve with a mixture of half soy sauce and half vinegar with chopped scallions.

The perfect little late night snack, and easier to make than it looks. I hope you try it and when you bite into that first pot sticker that's perfectly steamed through but crispy on the bottom, you'll know what I'm talking about.

Next-Day Sorbet

Four months into marriage, I'm finding a boatload of advantages. Somewhere between Husband doing the taxes (theoretically? please? because you're the numbers guy?) and honeymoon sex is a kitchen full of fun new gadgets. The slow cooker flexed its muscles during a snowy, dreary winter. The mini-chopper has saved many tears over onions. The mandoline, I still haven't figured out, but Husband is a whiz at it. And I was thrilled when Virginia, Patron Saint of Sunday Suppers, suggested we bring sorbet to her most recent dinner party, giving us a chance to bust out the ice-cream maker.*

The menu was Asian themed, including pot stickers, E's delicious soy-saucy kale (recipe, please?), an insane Swedish-Chinese-American pork tenderloin that I hope Virginia will share with us, and DIY summer rolls. Husband and I put our heads together: I thought of fruit; he one-upped me with chocolate; we both thought of ginger. And thus we went about making a dark chocolate ginger sorbet.

I nearly swooned when I tasted our rich, feisty, fiery concoction—only it was 4:30 pm, the day after the party. Because an hour before we were due at Virginia's, I took the ice cream maker out of the cupboard and realized I needed to freeze the FREEZER BOWL (he-llo) for 6–22 hours. Lesson learned, again: Always read the full recipe, including operating instructions for any new appliance you're using. Luckily, my raging bad mood was cured by a delicious dinner with friends, capped by Häagen-Dazs passion fruit ice cream, a kick-ass accidental discovery. Not that it beats our sorbet, which is for days when you want to just to become one with chocolate.

Dark Chocolate Ginger Sorbet

Makes 7 cups

4 cups water
1 1/2 cups pure cane sugar
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2–3 tablespoons crystallized ginger, minced
1 tablespoon vanilla extract.

Combine water and sugars in saucepan and dissolve sugar over medium heat. Whisk in the cocoa. Stir in 2 tablespoons ginger, taste, and add another tablespoon if you like. Bring mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, and transfer to a medium bowl. Stir in vanilla extract. Chill for 2 hours.

Stir chilled mixture, and freeze it in the ice-cream maker, following manufacturer's directions (ahem). Mine was ready to eat in 25 minutes and stored well in an air-tight container in the freezer.

*Appropriately given to us by my mom & dad, who eat ice cream every night and have cholesterol levels lower than my bowling score. (No, you're right, not that low.)

Photo via Trisha | The Zest: Cooking Like I Mean It

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Snow shmow.

I was stuck inside a lot this winter. Snowmaggedon, Snowpacolypse, and Snoverkill. Yes, DC got a record number of FEET of snow. Luckily, I live above a grocery store that not only cleared the sidewalks for me, but continued to restock throughout the storms. So when others couldn't venture out much less get to the store, it was like winter wonderland for me. The aisles were clear, the shelves were stocked, and there were no lines.

During one of these surreal experiences I decided to make an oldie but a goodie. Something my grandmother would make so when I walked in the door my tongue would melt into the back of my mouth in anticipation. Something my brother taught me to make during those few months that I crashed on his couch after moving to DC. Something some would call boring, but I call heaven.

Pot roast.

I didn't really use a recipe, I just threw some things together hoping to channel grandma's instinctual knowledge of the roast. I browned the roast after dredging with salt, italian seasoning, and a good helping of black pepper. I simmered some onions and garlic in a bit of red wine, and then put the roast back in the pot for a few hours, and let the aroma waft through the apartment. I didn't use that much wine. The roast lets off enough liquid to make a pretty substantial sauce.

About 3 hours in I added a bunch of chopped carrots. I waited until later to add them because I didn't want them to get so mushy they'd fall apart. But see how much liquid came from the roast? I cooked it down for another hour or so, and the meat was literally falling apart. Mmmmmm.

All in all, a success. Paired it with horseradish mashed potatoes and a salad. Perfect meat and potatoes meal for this little midwestern girl! And so perfect for my first food post here. I'll have to make it for Grandma the next time I'm in St. Louis and see if it makes her proud!

Like we need a reason.

This past winter in DC was phenomenal. Not only did we have a TON of snow (record-breaking, and much more than those wussies up north), but I had dinner parties galore. After each one my poor friends had to endure my endless descriptions of the perfect menu connectedness, the amazing harissa we made, or the absolute perfect little raviolo with the egg yoke oozing out. I finally realized that glazed-over eyes probably means I should share my obsession with food in a more self-selecting way. And give my equally-obsessed partners in crime a place to share their adventures as well.

I also have many friends who fancy themselves food critics. I hope you'll share your notes here on what venues proved true to the hype, which ones fell flat, and which ones are bound to be a hit so we better get in while the gettin's good.

So please, blog away. I'll share some things, I hope you'll share some things, and in the process we'll feed our obsession.