Friday, February 29, 2008


I’d never turn down a good cup of coffee for hot chocolate…until now. As I stood at the café bar at ACKC, I was faced with a serious decision – beans? Or beans????
I went with chocolate. The “Lucy”, to be exact. This gorgeous cup of silky chocolate came with a spicy chipotle pepper burn that lingered on my tongue and made me smile – really – after my first sip. This stuff is good.
ACKC was the perfect place to sit and read, and drink chocolate perfection. I brought a bag of their own chocolate covered potato chips home for my husband and they’re already gone.

Elephant Toes

The name is wonderful, and every time I think about these oversized, pungent bulbs of garlic, I crave their spreadable-when-cooked consistency on French baguette.

I picked up a particularly large bunch when I was in Seattle (though they were native to Honey Grove Farm in Oregon)and roasted them in one of these with a little bit of basil infused extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and pepper. The smell of these lovely morsels as they slowly soften and roast is heavenly. I can hardly wait for them to be done so I can rip into a baguette and spread them on top.

As if the experience couldn’t be any more delightful, the bulbs come in a package with a label that offers up “Further Explorations of Elephant Toes” for the curious cook. It reads:

Mince toes and add to scrambled eggs, barbeque sauce, mushrooms, salads, pastas and strews. Be generous – you won’t be overwhelmed, only complimented.
Thinly slice toes, sauté very quickly and serve in stir fries as a vegetable.
For a very special treat, mash baked toes into your baked potatoes.
Intrigue the gourmet at your barbeque by adding half-steamed toes in the shells to the BBQ 20 minutes before serving. Fragrantly enticing!
Jazz up ho-hum roast or chicken by adding peeled toes to the roasting dish 45 minutes before serving. A four star touch
(Here’s my favorite part!) Risk & Daring- invigorate life and meals- Add finely grated minced toes to chocolate – especially truffles. Amaze your guests, astound your friends, build a reputation for courage and taste.

Personally, I’d love a reputation for courage and taste. And if garlic can do that for me, so be it!

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The "Robert Irvine Affair"

For those of you who read this post about Robert Irvine's cook book or are fans of him in general, you may be interested in this story about his resume...or lack thereof...

I found out about this story on Yikes.

Make it Super Simple with G. Garvin

You may have seen one of his guest appearances on late night TV, or caught his show, Turn Up the Heat, on TVOne. He also owns his own restaurant, touts a line of spices and has authored two books. My sweetie pie bought Make it Super Simple with G. Garvin for my Valentine’s Day gift, because “it looked good, and the recipes sounded like the kind of stuff I like you to cook for me.”

I can appreciate ulterior motives, so this weekend I dove into Make it Super Simple with a vengeance.

The first recipe I tried was the easy seafood jambalaya. I had a lot of fun picking out the freshest seafood I could find this time of year and took great pleasure smelling the beautiful seafood notes steaming out of a pot on Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed with the taste of the dish. From a guy with his own spice line, you’d expect a more kicked-up flavor. This dish didn’t deliver. It was beautiful, it smelled great, but it was lacking some essential ingredient to really bring out the flavor of the clams, mussels, salmon, scallops and sea bass. I added red pepper and some salt, and the leftovers were eaten, but I’ll keep my eyes out for a better seafood gumbo.

The next recipe I tried made up for the seafood debacle two-fold. Garvin’s raisin and pecan bread pudding put a smile on everyone’s face that ate it…and there were many of us. This simple, gorgeous bread pudding was perfect, with several small alterations. The pictures do it no justice.

I have wonderful memories of my mom’s bread pudding, dunked in milk, and will no doubt prepare this for her during her next visit. Warm, dense pudding with the crunch of pecans and sweetness of raisins was perfect on our Sunday brunch menu. I took his suggestion of adding a caramel sauce glaze, but opted out of the fruit compote topping. The flavors were satisfying without it.

And yet, there was a third. You could say we saved the best for last. You know how Sunday nights can be bittersweet? The promise of the work week looms over your head? Our weekly let down was diminished with macaroni and cheese with truffle oil and prosciutto. I was waiting for the perfect opportunity to use the truffle oil I purchased last week at the Pike Place Market in Seattle – this weekend I found it. With the subtle earthiness of the truffle oil, the prosciutto provided a perfect saltiness, which in turn complements the creamy mixture of cheese, cream and onions. This dish could stand on its own, but I served it with Garvin’s lamb chop recipe, a perfect, mild tasting chop that lent a nice mild base to the rich macaroni dish.

And no, I did not include a green vegetable. It’s Sunday night! I’m trying to put us in a good mood for the week, remember? I’ll save green veggies for a Friday.

The lesson I learned- don’t let one bad apple spoil the bunch. I’m glad the seafood gumbo recipe didn’t deter me from digging into Garvin’s other masterpieces; we would have missed out on some big flavors this weekend.

Pecan and Raisin Bread Pudding, adapted from Make it Super Simple with G. Garvin:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 package of mini potato rolls (package of 24)
1 cup raisins, soaked in water for approx. 20 minutes and drained
1 cup pecans
8 eggs
2 cups milk
1 can, 14 oz. condensed sweetened milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
Pinch ground nutmeg
Caramel sauce (I purchase a bottle)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter 13x9x2 inch baking pan.
Cut rolls in half, set bottoms of rolls in pan. Sprinkle bottoms with half of the raisins and pecans
Beat eggs well. Stir in milk, sweetened condensed milk, cream, vanilla, mix well.
Stir in sugar and nutmeg until sugar is dissolved. Pour half of this mixture over the contents in the baking pan.
Put tops of rolls in pan (on top of the roll bottoms, raisins, pecans and liquid. Put remaining raisins, pecans and liquid over top.
Bake approx. 30 minutes or until pudding springs back when touched.
Drizzle the pudding with caramel sauce.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Baseball Fare

While this girl loves a gourmet meal, nothing can beat a juicy hotdog, cold beer and a ballgame on hot summer night.

If you're excited about the Nats new stadium, you may be excited to know about the new food selections, too. The Washington Business Journal is reporting possible deals for chili from Hard Times cafe, Five Guys burgers and fries, and a few classics from Ben's Chili Bowl. Read more...

Bottoms Up

It's only Monday (and also far too early for a drink, right?) but I'm already thinking about the weekend!

If you love wine, you may want to check out the Washington DC International Wine and Food Festival. Food, wine, seminars, famous chefs, what more can you ask for?

And hopefully you've already purchased your tickets for Francophonie, because they're already sold out of tickets.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Party Basics for New Nesters

While I may not technically be considered a “new nester” anymore (I’ve been married for about a year and a half) I found there was still much to learn as I flipped through the yet-to-be-released Party Basics for New Nesters (thanks to my new friend, Julia.) A scrapbook of sorts, filled with practical tips and sparkly ones too, Maria McBride details the perfect plans for just about any event.
Anyone can throw a party (or entice a loved one with breakfast in bed, have a close couple over for dinner, etc.) but simple, thoughtful details can make memorable moments, and this book is full of these sorts of memory makers. While the book is structured for a year full of holidays, McBride’s tips are versatile- I can see her Cinco de Mayo drinks and décor working perfectly for a bachelorette party, and her “spring fling” flower cubes and mini cupcakes would be beautiful at an upcoming bridal shower.
What’s most charming about the book isn’t the gorgeous pictures or fresh ideas- it’s the love story that lies beneath. McBride, whose been married to her college sweetheart for many years, recalls her own stories from early in her marriage, weaving them flawlessly into the grander scheme of the book- making events memorable.
What might be missing are more recipes (but maybe that’s because I feel that food is an integral part of any gathering.) Although her butternut squash soup and stuffed shrimp are seemingly perfect selections for the book. And I applaud the final pages, where McBride lists resources for all of the items used in her book. How many times have you flipped through a magazine and thought, I could make that, if only I knew where to pick up red gingham ribbon and Joss paper? McBride leaves no mystery to her readers- if you see it here, and you’re inspired to make it, you can find the supplies.
If you’re in need of a winter pick me up, something to help you spice up your next dinner party, or a gift for a bride to be, I recommend this book.

Kitchen Confidential

So, I’m a little intimidated by Anthony Bourdain, and maybe he likes it that way. Or maybe in all the arrogance, wittiness and debauchery unleashed in Kitchen Confidential, he’s really just making fun of himself. You be the judge.
I will tell you that the book captivated me from the minute I picked it up last week. Bourdain shares horrific and hilarious stories from the kitchen that makes would be chefs (ahem…me) ask, could I hack it? Does a life in the culinary arts sound better, or worse after this?
As the proclaimed lover of chaos, conspiracy and the dark side of human nature, Bourdain satisfies his readers with these fantastic stories, advice, and tips of the trade. For example, I now know where to get a good hot dog in New York, the importance of a good food runner, and how to react if I were to ever walk into a kitchen full of automatic weapons (read the book.)
But there’s a shade of doubt for me that lies in his description of the vulgarity that he claims adheres to kitchens, that makes up the majority of restaurant talk. As I spent some time as a hostess, waitress and food runner in a gritty Irish pub, I’ve heard my fair share of the stuff he’s talking about, but I gotta tell you, I don’t find it any worse than the talk I hear working at a boutique commercial real estate firm in Washington, DC. I’d venture to say that most industries have their own foul-mouth secret language; that it flourishes whether working amongst mostly men (which I do) or in your upscale kitchen supply shop with a bunch of middle aged women (which I have.)
Maybe he’s just proud to be the king of the new foodie cult. And that’s fine. I’ll keep reading his books, watching his travel show and planning a trip up to NY to sample the cuisine at Les Halles. And now I know not to order fish on Mondays.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Most people don’t believe me when I say that I started drinking coffee at the tender age of five.

It’s completely true, though. In typical oldest child, “I want to be an adult before I even wear real underwear” fashion, I made it known to my grandparents that I’d be happier if they basically let me do everything they were doing. And in typical grandparent fashion, they let me. This included not going to school, watching the news, and drinking coffee.

My first memory of drinking coffee took place in Sea Isle City, NJ, in a trailer at a beach campground. I remember drinking out of a plastic mug, crossing my legs much like my grandmother and staring out the window, trying ever so quietly to catch a glimpse of the hummingbirds my grandfather was trying to attract in some sort of homemade feeder.

While I saw only a few hummingbirds, I was a very happy camper. Starting my day with two people I adored, drinking a sweet, hot beverage, feeling like I was one of the big kids. To me, it was the perfect summer vacation. And I did it with two long braids falling down my back, underneath my Good N’ Plenty conductor’s hat.

When I visit my parents, I wake to the smell of coffee brewing. I leave my husband asleep in bed and mosey downstairs to the family room, or if the weather’s nice, to the pond in the backyard, and we sit and drink coffee, talk about life, work and (gulp) grandchildren.

I have my coffee of choice. Steaming hot, strong Cuban coffee from my Bialetti is so classic, so intense. And as I type, my mind is drifting back to the first latte I had in Paris in a café with my husband – the taste of which made up for the horrible service and overpriced croissant.

Gourmet as I am (or at least, claim to be) nothing beats a hot cup of coffee from my mother or grandmother’s coffee pot, preferably served in a familiar mug with a large side of conversation.

Coffee is a tie that binds my family.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

To Do

It’s Thursday and I’ll be spending this weekend here in DC- so it’s about time I start making my list of things to cook, things to read, things to eat (and serve)

Finish Kitchen Confidential. This is one quick, witty, true-to-kitchen-life read. I picked it up on Sunday and gave myself a headache on the plane, because I read it for five hours, straight. I’ve been swallowing bits of it since then, but hope to indulge myself one more time in an hour or two of purely cynical fun.

Take a walk to ACKC. I’ve walked by a few times, read several reviews, and visited their web site. Each of these things leaves me yearning for a rich, potent cup of hot cocoa.

Cook up a meal from Make it Super Simple with G. Garvin. You know you’ve got it good when your sweetie pie gets you the perfect gift without even asking what you want- in my case, a cookbook. This was my Valentine’s Day gift, and I think it’s about time I sent a thank you note in the form of a fabulous meal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

To Market, to Market

I finished My Life in France, by Julia Child, on the plane ride to Seattle. I could say so many positive things about the book, but what I’d like to think is most evident throughout is Julia’s ability to love tirelessly, and with great excitement, the things that mattered most in her life- one of which was her husband, Paul. From beginning to end, Julia gives a sense of their devout friendship, wonderful partnership, and commitment to one another’s dreams. If not her biggest fan, Paul was her biggest help in becoming the Julia Child we all watched on TV and still call on for inspiration in making French food. Theirs truly was a love story.

It’s also no secret Julia loved French cuisine, culture and markets (she refers to “marketing” throughout the book, and I chuckle at the term, which, these days, means something completely different. As a Director of Marketing during the day, I certainly wish I made a living doing the type of marketing she wrote about.)

This was the perfect book to read on my way to Seattle, as Emily and I spent a fair amount of time navigating Seattle’s own markets. What vacation would be complete without a visit to the Pike Place Market? It seemed the theme is oversized everything- the fish, the peroshkies (Russian for stuffed pastry), the vegetables- everything was giant-sized. And I bought my fair share of these large, local specialties.

The only small item I saw (and bought) all day was a bottle of white truffle oil, which I can’t wait to dribble over mashed potatoes, leek soup and maybe even some macaroni and cheese.

And yes, I posed with a fish guy.

On Sunday we stumbled over to the Fremont Market. I use the word stumble because I was mostly stuffed from the previous night’s generous seafood and wine consumption at Ray’s Café (or maybe it was the jet lag? Nevermind.) I’m glad we made it- two elderly gentlemen charmed us at their booth with generous samples of fresh bread, pomegranate vinaigrette and basil-infused olive oil. Gary and his sweet old friend, of Olympic Olive Oil Company displayed a variety of homemade oils and vinegars that they hope will one day become their full time job. Judging from their charisma and the taste of that basil-infused olive oil, they have a good shot at it. I sure bought some.

Seattle's Salumi

I unpacked my suitcase and the smells of Seattle come rushing towards me. No, not the salty sea and fresh mountain air – more like salami, fish, garlic and oil. That’s right, I went all the way to Seattle and all I got was some stinkin’ food stuffs.
Actually, I got a lot more than just stinkin’ food stuffs. I got 3 days with my best friend in the world; 3 days full of girl talk, good food, lattes on lawn chairs and beautiful mountain views.
But since this is a food blog, I’ll stick to the food. Emily and I started our adventures at Salumi, a neighborhood deli with big tastes and an even bigger reputation. Started by Armandino Batali (Mario Batali’s father) Salumi claims they draw inspiration from the traditional Italian Salumeria. After standing in line, waiting out Seattle’s blustery winter weather for half an hour, we huddled inside the door and waited another 15 minutes with half of Seattle’s local and tourist populations. Why the wait?
Slow, personal service may be the reason- and I’m not complaining. As the line nears the deli counter, patrons are offered free samples from friendly staff with helpful suggestions. I bonded with my server over rosemary salami (which she recommended, and I brought a stick home) and her upcoming visit to DC. I gave her a few restaurant recommendations (naturally.)
We settled on the cold meat platter with cheese, olives and bread and help-yourself-red wine. No sooner had we found a seat next to two gentlemen (they looked like father and son) at a communal table, when two men carrying photography equipment entered the room. It seems our well known hole-in-the-wall was being recognized as one of America’s best sandwich makers by Esquire Magazine. So, we freshened up our lip gloss, put on our best sandwich eating faces, and tried to get in the pictures. We haven’t made the cut on the web site yet, but here’s hoping for the magazine.
For the record, if the sandwiches are anything like the meat platter, the service or the authenticity of the mozzarella, then they are worthy of being recognized as the best sandwiches in America. And they're definitely worthy of our humble trip- my first meal in Seattle.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Rocco's Real Life Recipes-Preview

In anticipation of this season's Top Chef, I was messing around on the Bravo Web site and discovered this. Click here to check out a preview of Rocco's Real Life Recipes. The 27 page preview includes pictures, tips, stories and....RECIPES!

"The easiest way to get someone to fall in love with you is to feed them."
-Rocco DiSpirito

What a Foodie Wants

It’s the day before Valentine’s Day- you may be scrambling to remember your significant other’s signature perfume or ring size, favorite rock band or restaurant they said they’ve always wanted to try.
I’m keeping it real.
We’re staying in – we both have big trips to take on Friday. My husband is heading to New Jersey (with a tray of frozen ziti, baked and frozen by you-know-who) to help his dad recover from surgery. I am heading to Seattle to spend a few days with my best friend. So we’ll both be far away from each other, but with people we love.
So what do I want for Valentine’s Day? I’d take one of these, but I already have the most important thing – a caring, loving husband, who encourages me to keep writing, keep cooking, keep dreaming, and will eat whatever I put in front of him with a smile on his face.
As for tomorrow, I’ve got the perfect card picked out, and am almost certain of tomorrow night’s menu (to include medium rare steak in a red wine reduction, asparagus, potatoes of some sort and chocolate mousse…I think.)
If you’re thinking about laying low this year, here’s a list of a few great menus from some of my favorite people:

It's worth posting again- Eric Ripert

Monday, February 11, 2008

Free Access to Robert Irvine's Cookbook

I just read that starting Monday, Harper Collins will be releasing several online editions of books for free, including Robert Irvine's "Mission: Cook! My Life, My Recipes and Making the Impossible Easy”. The book will be available for a month. Here's an article in the Times about this cool new venture.

Short Ribs by Mario, or (insert your Italian grandmother's name here)

This weekend I ventured into the masterpiece that is Molto Italiano. These are quite literally the recipes I wish my great grandmother would have written down. There’s still hope for my grandmother!
Let me preface by saying this is one of those cookbooks that usually come off my shelf at about 6:30 a.m. on a Saturday or Sunday morning, when I can’t sleep and all I can think about is, what am I going to cook on Sunday?
This has become a bit of a winter tradition for me – this notion of waking up early to meticulous planning, and spending the whole day grocery shopping, prep, slow cooking and simmering, set to the tempo of Love, Actually, The Godfather or Top Chef marathons (you can tell I don’t have kids, right?)
I dabble in Batali on weeknights, but I feel better about it when I get to really concentrate on doing it right – and that happens on weekends.
So I picked Balsamic Onions and Short Ribs in Barolo. I also planned on making his Eggplant Caponata, but really just ran out of time. I pictured slurping up the leftovers of each dish on a crusty chunk of bread, but I’ll save the eggplant for another time.
So the onions cooked quite beautifully in the combination of balsamic vinegar and sugar. And the smell was even more beautiful. Pair that with the scent of short ribs slow cooking in a combination of tomato sauce, red wine, pancetta and vegetables, and you get a classic whiff of my grandmother’s house on Sunday…without the raucous conversation, that is.
I wanted to stick my finger in the sauce at every step of the game – the flavor was smooth when fully cooked and together but each ingredient brought its own tasty essence to the mix. I used a Pinot Noir instead of the Barolo (I opened a bottle the night before and wasn’t too happy with it, so I took a gamble and used it for the sauce – it paid off.)
There are nights when, I’ll admit, I open a jar and throw it’s contents on top of sausage, pasta, maybe some bell pepper and onion, and I feel okay about it. But nothing can compare to the taste of slow cooked, well loved Italian food.
When we sat down to eat I was proud to serve that same hearty, Sunday meal that my family has served for generations, but I was preoccupied with just one thing- would there be enough sauce left over for the next night? I certainly wanted to stretch this meal out, use that sauce and and tender meat in yet another meal.

Lucky for me, there was.

Short Ribs in Barolo, from Molto Italiano
6 tablespoons extra-virgin OLIVE OIL
2 pounds boneless BEEF SHORT RIBS, cut into 3-inch cubes
SALT and freshly ground BLACK PEPPER
2 large Spanish ONIONS, cut into 1/2-inch dice1 medium
CARROT, sliced into 1/2-inch-thick rounds
2 ribs CELERY, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices
4 ounces PANCETTA, cut into 1/4-inch dice (I've tried it with bacon and it works)
2 cups Barolo or other HEARTY RED WINE (I used Pinot Noir)
2 cups Basic Tomato Sauce (try his recipe)

In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Season the meat liberally with salt and pepper. Working in batches to avoid overcrowding the pot, brown the meat all over, turning frequently, until dark golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter and set aside.
Pour the excess oil out of the pot. Add the onions, carrot, celery, and pancetta and cook until the vegetables are light brown and starting to soften, about 8 minutes. Add the wine and tomato sauce and bring to a boil.
Add the meat and bring back to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until the meat is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Transfer the meat to a festive platter.
Bring the cooking liquid to a boil and reduce to 2 1/2 cups. Season with salt and pepper, pour over the meat, and serve immediately.
Serves 4

Fun with Silicone-my muffins like it!

I’ve collected a variety of Wilton silicone baking tools, such as muffin pans, cake pans, a vegetable steamer and a pot holder over the past year but I must admit, I’ve been hesitant to use them.

While silicone is incredible at withstanding high heat, it’s also very pliable. And while that bendiness may come in handy in some cases, it can also be a curse. I was nervous about the cake pan, for example. You pour in the batter, and then you have to somehow keep the bottom flat while you get the pan into the oven- I could see an accident waiting to happen. So I’ve stayed away from the lot of them.

But this was a weekend that called for muffins. Warm, fluffy muffins on Sunday morning. I decided to skip my usual muffin pan and opt for the silicone one, calling out to me from the depths of a cabinet. Why not? I opted for a simple corn muffin recipe. If there were leftovers, they’d go well with the dinner I was planning.

Ladies and gents, I think I’m a convert. While it was a little more difficult to get the muffin pan into the oven, even someone with questionable coordination and a regular case of clumsiness (i.e., me) could maneuver it. I didn’t have to grease the pan before I cooked the muffins, and the ease at which the muffins came out of the pan after they were cooked was a huge selling point. They baked beautifully, tasted great, and were easy to make. The pan was also extremely easy to clean, which is a nice change from the scrubbing that ensues from the occasional crusty muffin leftovers that stick to a metal pan.

Get ready, cake pan- you’re next!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Busboys and Poets

Since I’ve tried approximately half of their menu, (met half their wait staff, enjoyed a number of cocktails) I’d say it’s high time I wrote about Busboys and Poets.
When you walk in the door, you know you’re entering a real neighborhood hang out with a serious local appeal. Posters, postcards and papers line the entrance way, advertising community events, speakers, political movements. A few steps farther and you’re in a reader and eaters paradise. To the left- large tables to accommodate group meetings. To the right- a well-stocked bar ( I recommend a Bloody Mary), couches and chairs for regulars to peruse the net and enjoy a coffee, and casual seating for unfussy meals over conversation.
And straight ahead- books.
Because of their growing popularity, you’ll probably have a small wait before you’re seated, but it’s more of a blessing than a curse. On their web site, they claim they stock “progressive books to activate your mind and community.” I think their selection is so much more, and every time I look around I’m impressed with the collection of popular titles, unknown authors and historic pieces that really do the history of U Street (and other areas of DC) justice. Yesterday I flipped through a book concerning Blackwater, a magazine on organic food and a how-to about creating your own social change organization.
So when you’ve made your way around the bookstore and find yourself seated at either a couch, an old chair that will remind you of your mother’s living room or a more traditional table, you’ll enjoy simple food with smart ingredients. My favorite sandwich is the grilled brie panini, which combines the smooth cheese with caramelized onion and baby spinach. If you’re really in the mood for fries, go for it, but I’ve always thought the side salad is a better bet- it’s always a fresh combination of seasonal greens (and reds!) with a light, tangy dressing.
Other favorites include the bagel with lox, frittata with veggies, wild mushroom and gorgonzola burger, and the nachos (but you’re going to need a friend to help you with those.)
Maybe it would be difficult, by my nature, to dislike any place that combines food and books, but I’d rather just celebrate the fact that my community has a place where friends can share food, great ideas and comfortable surroundings. On occasion, poetry readings, local musicians, nationally recognized speakers and films, as well.
Here’s hoping your neighborhood has a place like Busboys and Poets!

Friday, February 8, 2008

The Rainy City?

It has many names, I'm sure. I'm most excited about visiting it's many restaraunts, coffee houses, fish markets and lunch spots (including Salumi)with my best friend, Emily next week.

That's right- it's ladies weekend in Seattle!

I'm so thrilled to explore the city (and new home to my bestest friend) next weekend. If you've been (or are there, now!) and have recomendations, I'd love to hear them!

All kindsa Eric Ripert

I was thinking about what to make for dinner on Valentine's Day and came across these suggestions by one of my favorite chefs (and Top Chef guest judges) Eric Ripert. I'm eager to check out his DC restaraunt, Westend Bistro. I've read in several reviews (here's one from the Washington Post) that the bistro hamburger is excellent, but I think if I make it over the Westend, I'll save that for my husband. I'm more interested in the blue bay mussels and skate with brown sugar and endive. Yum.

"A cook and a chef are different entities. 'Chef' is a title. But when you are a cook, that is who you are. It's your spine and your soul."

-Eric Ripert

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Lunch in Downtown DC

While I’ll admit that I’ve dreamt many times about staying at home all day, cooking, reading, reading about cooking, cooking what I’m reading about (you can see where this is going) I must admit that working downtown does have its advantages. Namely- I get to have lunch at some pretty fantastic spots.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what tasty (and not-so-hot) haunts exist in the CBD (central business district,) and if I didn’t work near them I might miss them (as I don’t venture down here on the weekends too often.) Here are a few of my favorite lunch spots in the Dupont-Farragut area:

Couscous Café (1195 19th St. NW) I’ve written about this spot before, but it’s always worth mentioning again. Nothing’s more comforting on a cold, winter day than a bright restaurant, with lovely music, lovely service and beautiful Mediterranean food. You get more than your money’s worth of couscous, roasted chicken, vegetables, hummus and tabouleh. This is a perfect place for takeout but an even better place to sit, take in the relaxing vibe and enjoy a warm meal. And whoever the sweet old lady is that pours free tea, she’s welcome to come stay with me. Love her.

Naan and Beyond (1710 L St. NW) While some may argue their food is fairly mundane Indian cuisine, I’d argue that their choices are perfect and their flavors are strong. My friend Angela and I meet here every so often to talk about life. I usually stick with the tikka family – chicken and lamb are my picks – but their rice is not to be missed. And make sure to get both the mango and mint sauces to top your selection.

California Grill (1720 M St. NW) I’m not saying I like everything they have to offer, but I AM saying they have the best turkey melt around. Not to mention that one of the men behind the counter calls me “Love” and told me that if there is ever anything he can get for me, to just ask. Well, let me say all I will ever ask of him is that he keeps making that fabulous turkey melt, piled high with thick cut meat and oozing cheese on toasted wheat bread. Now that’s love.

Mackey’s (1823 L St. NW) I usually get a salad when I go to Mackey’s (Salmon, if they have it) but ever since I had their fish and chips I’ve wanted more. While I can’t proclaim it’s the best fish and chips I’ve ever had, I can say that I’ve never had a problem finding a table at lunch. And there’s a lot to be said for that around here. When it’s nice out, there’s outdoor seating as well. And as long as there’ not a union protest going on across the street, that’s pretty pleasant.

Vapiano (1800 M St. NW) Vapiano is becoming one of my favorite places to eat lunch in solitude, with a good book (about food) or a good (food) magazine. I try to get there right at noon and have never had a problem getting fast food and a seat. However, I’ve walked by around 12:30 or 1 and noticed that the place is packed. If you’re going to try Vapiano’s (and if you’re going to park it at one of their high tables) get there early. My favorite lunch- insalada mista with shrimp, sautéed with garlic and chili. I’ve tried the pasta and pizza, and while they’re tasty and fresh, they’re a little heavy for lunch.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

What's Cooking?

-What's better than attending a culinary festival in Scottsdale? Attending a culinary festival in Scottsdale for FREE. Enter here to win a trip to the festival , held April 8-13. You better believe I'm entering!

-You may have already heard, but it's worth repeating- Whole Foods will eliminate using new, plastic bags at their stores. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own bags or purchase 80% recycled bags at the store. As if I needed another reason to love Whole more here.

-Cork is open! Add Cork to the list of new, hip wine bars in DC. Looks like the had a great turnout for their opening weekend. Here's a link to the Washingtonian's review. I plan on visiting soon!

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sour Cream-Banana Bread

I got the cooking bug yesterday when I was watching the Top Chef marathon (go figure) and started tooling around on one of my favorite food recipe and chat sites, (also
A featured recipe was Sour Cream-Banana Bread, and with 4 over-ripe bananas sitting on my kitchen counter, I knew this was the recipe for me.
Bananas remind me of my brother...yes, he's bananas (like, crazy) but he was also dressed as Curious George one Halloween. I have this great picture in my mind of him in the monkey suit, carrying a banana, one his favorite snacks as a kid. (by the way, I was Rainbow Bright that year.)
Let me say that I think it's hard to find a bad banana bread recipe. I've even bought banana bread mix from time to time (gasp!) and I think that a banana's natural flavors, oil and consistency lend themselves so well to any baked treat.
That said, this is one, dense, rich, beautiful bread. It took about 30 minutes longer to cook than the recipe claimed, but this may be because I substituted butter for the oil (forgive me, won't you? I was out of oil.) The top of the bread had a beautiful cracked, glazed finish, sort of like a sour cream donut. I think the sour cream really enhanced the bread's sweetness with balance.
When I make this again I'll add walnuts and serve it with a fig jam. And I will definetely make this bread again.

Sour-Cream Banana Bread, as found on

2 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 very ripe medium bananas, mashed (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 cup sour cream

Heat the oven to 350°F and arrange the rack in the middle. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan and dust it with flour, tapping out excess. Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl to aerate and break up any lumps.
Combine sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes. Add bananas and sour cream, and mix until just combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add flour mixture, and mix until just combined.
Turn batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, the top is golden brown, and the bread is pulling away from the sides of the pan, about 1 hour.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Slide a knife around the perimeter of the pan, invert to release the bread, and cool completely on the wire rack before serving.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Gods Are Smiling Down On Me...

TOP CHEF MARATHON!!! (looks like it's on until 2 pm today.) Bravo's making me a happy lady! If you're awake and drinking your first cup (like me) turn it on, sit back and enjoy!

And get ready for Chicago!! Starts soon!!
(wow, I just used WAY too many exclamation points. Sheesh.)

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rainy days

Just a rainy Friday afternoon, and I’m sure many of us are wishing for the same thing- sweatpants, hot tea, our own couch and Love Actually (or Bridget Jones, or Steel Magnolias, or Rocky, or Devil Wears Prada, or- you get the picture.)
So the perfect rainy day meal…for me, grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Follow it up with a cat nap on the couch and I’m in pure heaven. Heck, I’d go for a cold cheese sandwich right now if it meant I could eat it at home.
I have Jarlsberg and mild cheddar cheese at home. I think either tastes fantastic between two hot, buttery pieces of toasted bread. But then I saw this. And THEN I saw this. And then, I figured his highness, Mario Batali just had to have a grilled cheese recipe, so I googled it, and found THIS.
My question- when did grilled cheese go gourmet? Do you think it’s better that way? Is it more about the nostalgia of childhood grilled cheese that makes it comfortable and delicious, or does fancy grilled cheese really got something going?