Friday, April 29, 2011

DC's Best Burger? Maybe...

Though we've been in DC for four months now, Alex and I haven't spent that much time checking out places in our neighborhood. We went on a walking tour one time, and found some cool places, but we never went back. For some reason, we always end up meeting people downtown or in their neighborhoods. We are getting to see lots of neat places around the city, but we also haven't found our neighborhood bar yet making me home sick for the Silhouette, People's Republik, and Bukowski's. Last night we decided it was time. 

Alex and I met our friend Chantal at the Black Squirrel in Adam's Morgan, a bar Alex has had on his list for some time now. In addition to only being a 10 minute walk from our house, we read that they had an extensive beer list and their burgers were some of the best in DC. So far, the Black Squirrel fit our favorite neighborhood bar criteria to a T.

We started with a round of Black Squirrel White Ales. It was both tasty and refreshing, especially with a lemon. Next it was time to order our burgers. 

I went with a classic hamburger with cheddar and homemade pickles and a side salad.

Alex went with a classic hamburger with cheddar and a fried egg and French fries.

To our surprise, Chantal, the vegetarian, went with a class hamburger with sautéed mushrooms and caramelized onions and French fries.

Mmm. Hamburgers.

To be fair, Chantal's reasoning behind vegetarianism stems from eating healthy and eating in a way that is not bad for the world around her. So she asked me to stick in this:

Our burgers are made of hormone-free Hereford beef ground in-house. Hereford beef is an ancient breed of cattle that has not been genetically engineered. The result is a mouth-watering, natural-beef flavor. Hereford is an all-natural, hormone-free beef raised strictly on corn. It is allowed to mature naturally without the use of drugs, which results in a higher price. Those familiar with prime beef prefer Hereford to the more well know Black Angus. Chairman Gene Sohn, The Black Squirrel’s chef, does not trust the ground beef available in stores today, which is why he grinds the Hereford beef used to make our burgers.

The hamburgers were delicious. They were super juicy, super flavorful, and perfectly packed. The bun was soft and toasty and the fries, which I sampled from Alex's plate, were crisp and salty. My salad was fresh and tasty too. Not sure these are the best burgers in the city, but so far, they are leading the pack.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Like an Italian renaissance

Given the hefty price tag that we all pay for food these days, I hate letting anything go to waste. I always try to find some way to incorporate all of my left over ingredients and make something fabulous. It doesn't always work, but I try my best.

Last week, I noticed a half empty container of ricotta in the back of my fridge from the last time I made lasagna. The expiration date was approaching, so I knew I had to find something to make. That's when I spied this delicious looking muffin recipe on We Are Not Martha. I knew if those ladies loved them, they had to be good.

So now, my half empty container of ricotta didn't go to waste, and I've got breakfast for a week.

Tuscan Lemon Muffins (from Cooking Light and We Are Not Martha)
Makes 12 muffins
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.

Using a small bowl, or spoon, make a well in center. Combine ricotta, water, oil, lemon, and egg in the center of the well. 

With a wooden spoon, stir together ingredients till combined.

Place 12 muffin-cup liners in muffin cups or coat with cooking spray. Divide batter among muffin cups. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons sugar over batter. Bake for 16 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 5 minutes in pan on a wire rack.

And enjoy!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Sweet and Wonderful

In my opinion, the easiest dessert in the world is the bar cookie. There is no individual spooning. There is no frosting. There is rolling or kneading. You just whip up a batter, pour it in a baking pan, bake, cool, slice and voilà, you've got a tasty little dessert on your hands.

This weekend, Alex and I visited his mom and dad for Easter Dinner. I wanted to bring along something from the Bon Appetit cookbook that she gave me for my birthday. I looked in my cabinets, checked out the index, and decided on these Lemon-Coconut Bars. They turned out fabulous; crunchy, sweet, tart, and just a little bit savory. I was a little unsure of the flavor pairing, but I definitely will be combining lemon and coconut again. The only improvement I might make to this recipe next time around is doubling the lemon filling. It was so tasty, I just wanted more.

Lemon-Coconut Bars (From Bon Appetit Desserts)
Makes 16

  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sweetened flake coconut
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 teaspoon unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread a thin layer of coconut flakes on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silpat baking sheet. Place coconut in the oven and toast for 5 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool. Line an 8x8" metal baking pan with aluminum foil, leaving overhang on 2 sides of pan. Butter or spray foil with Pam baking spray and set aside. 

Whisk together flour, sugar, and salt. Add coconut and butter and blend with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles fine meal and begins to clump together. 

Gather dough into a ball. Press dough evenly over bottom of prepared pan. 

Bake crust until golden at edges, about 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, eggs, lemon juice, lemon peel, flour, baking powder, and salt in processor or a blender. Remove crust from oven. Pour filling evenly over hot crust. 

Return to oven and bake until filing begins to brown at edges and is just set and springy to touch in center, about 30 minutes. 

Transfer pan to rack; cool lemon bars completely. Using foil as aid, transfer lemon bars to work surface. Fold down foil sides. Cut into bars. Sift powdered sugar over.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Made in America

Making your own barbecue sauce is super easy and a fun way to add a lot of flavor to any piece of meat. Start with a base of ketchup, add some vinegar, garlic, maybe a little mustard or Worcestershire sauce or honey and heat until bubbly.

The ingredient I think takes barbecue sauce to a whole new level is bourbon. Bourbon is a type of American Whiskey, barrel aged, distilled and - like everything else in America - made mostly from corn. In addition to making barbecue sauce slightly boozy, it also give it a great smoky flavor and a rich molasses taste. Yum.

Bourbon Barbecue Chicken (Inspired by the New York Times)

Makes 1 cup
  • 1 cups ketchup
  • 1/4 cup bourbon (1 nip)
  • 2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons minced onion
  • 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 chicken breasts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients except the chicken in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat. Grill chicken over medium to high heat until slightly charred, about 10 minutes.

Move grill pan to the oven and bake for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, return grill pan to the stove top and grill for five more minutes on high heat, basting chicken with additional barbecue sauce.

Serve with additional barbecue sauce. We also whipped up a corn salad, inspired by A Cambridge Story and some roasted asparagus.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Simply the Best

One of the first restaurants I got to check out when Alex and I moved to DC was Art and Soul. It was restaurant week and I went with a couple of new girlfriends.

Dinner was pretty incredible. We shared a bottle of wine and I had some delicious pork chops. The best part of meal though was the cornbread. In fact, it was the best cornbread I have ever had in my entire life.

For my birthday, my friend Chantal got me Back to the Table by Art Smith, head chef at Art and Soul along with Wes Morton. There was a recipe for cornbread in side, but Chantal could tell it wasn't the one from the restaurant so she sent an email to Art and Soul and they shared their recipe.

I made some this weekend and fell in love all over again. Best corn bread ever.

Chef Art Smith's Cornbread Recipe, Served at Art & Soul
Makes 12
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup corn flour
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a muffin tin, set aside. Combine all dry ingredients in a medium bowl and mix thoroughly. Whisk in melted butter.

In a large mixing bowl, combine egg, sour cream, and milk. Whisk until smooth.

Stir in dry ingredients and mix until smooth. Using a spatula, fold in cheddar cheese.

Pour batter in prepared muffin tin.

Bake for approximately 14 minutes, or until golden brown.

Serve warm with honey butter.

Friday, April 22, 2011

White House Brownies

Like most people, when I cook, I take a lot of liberties with the recipes I use. However, when I bake, I usually follow recipes to a T. But this week, I decided to give it a shot and bake something completely on the fly as a little housewarming snack for my friend Chantal.

At first I wasn't sure how I felt about these, but once they cooled, the flavors really developed they became a favorite. As you may know, I love all things cherry. Chocolate covered cherries are my favorite candy. Cherry vanilla ice cream is my favorite ice cream. Chocolate cherry cupcakes are my favorite cupcakes. And now...chocolate cherry brownies are my new favorite brownie.

Chocolate Cherry Brownies
Makes 12
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) of butter, room temperature
  • 2/3 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pureed maraschino cherries
  • 2/3 cups flour

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter and flour a 9x9" baking pan and set aside. Beat butter and both sugars in a large bowl until fluffy.

Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Stir in cocoa, salt, and maraschino cherries.

Add flour, stir just to blend. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Some Very Potentially Tasty Birthday Treats

This weekend was the thirtieth anniversary of me. Though it didn't go quiet as planned, and it wasn't quite the celebration I had hoped for, I did get some truly exciting birthday gifts.

It all started last Monday when I got a huge package in the mail from Alex's mom. I was intrigued, but not sure if I had to wait to open it till Saturday. Once I got the okay from Alex, I ripped open the box and discovered the cookbook for all things sweet and wonderful, Bon Appetit Desserts by Barbara Fairchild.

A few days later, I came home to a birthday bag on the couch with my name on it. I opened it up and was thrilled to find that Alex had gotten me The Essential New York Times Cookbook by Amanda Hesser. I spent the entire evening leafing through it marking pages upon pages of recipes I have to try.

Then last night, I went to visit my friend Chantal in the suburbs. One of the first nights I hung out with Chantal we had dinner at Art and Soul, Chef Art Smith's DC eatery. I feel madly in love with their cornbread and immediately put Back to the Table: The Reunion of Food and Family by Art Smith in my Amazon shopping cart. I never buy anything, so it is still sitting there today. But now I'll have to delete it because Chantal surprised me with it for my birthday! Not to mention, she emailed the restaurant to get me their cornbread recipe, which doesn't happen to be in the book. She is an amazing girl and such a good friend!

Such great birthday gifts. I'm so excited to add each to my collection of cookbooks!

What are your favorite cookbooks? Do you have any favorite recipes from Bon Appetit Desserts, The Essential New York Times Cookbook, or Back to the Table?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

For Whom the Bell Tolls

A couple of weeks ago, Alex and I had our friends Richard and Chantal over for a little double date dinner party. It was the first of hopefully many more to come in our new DC apartment. I addition to getting to test out a few new recipes on my unsuspecting guests, I also got the chance to try out my new Chicago Metallic Lasagna Pan.

I don't make a ton of lasagna, so maybe this purchase was a little silly, but this pan is pretty sweet. It's got individual rows, the exact size of a lasagna noodle. Not only is it great because you can make three different kinds of lasagna, but it is also easy to cut and serve as it comes with it's own handy, lasagna size spatula. Additionally, like cupcakes to cake, you can choose to make only a small lasagna, rather than a whole pan.

I'm totally a fan. Oh and here is the recipe for the white, vegetarian lasagna I made for Chantal, me, and our weak stomachs

Spinach, Pesto, and Fontina Lasagna (from Bon Appétit)
Serves 8

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots
  • 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 3 6-ounce packages baby spinach
  • 18 lasagna noodles
  • 3 1/2 cups fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 cups coarsely grated Italian Fontina cheese (8 ounces), divided
  • Herb Pesto

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and whisk 1 minute. Add milk and wine and whisk until smooth. Cook until sauce thickens and comes to boil, whisking constantly, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Whisk in Parmesan cheese and salt. Season sauce to taste with pepper.

Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until shallots soften, about 2 minutes.

Add all spinach. Cook spinach until wilted but still bright green, tossing often, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, transfer spinach to large sieve set over bowl; reserve pot. Press out excess liquid from spinach. Drain 10 to 15 minutes longer. Return drained liquid from spinach to reserved pot. Boil until liquid is reduced to glaze. Return spinach to pot and toss 1 minute. Remove spinach from heat. Mix in 1 1/2 cups sauce. Season spinach to taste with pepper.

Prepare noodles as directed on package. Place large sheet of parchment paper on work surface. Transfer noodles to parchment in single layer, shaking off excess water.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 13x9 inch glass baking dish or lasagna plan.

Mix ricotta, Parmesan, and lemon peel in medium bowl. Season with salt. Mix in egg.

Spread 1/2 cup sauce thinly over bottom of prepared dish. Top with 3 noodles, arranged side by side and covering most of bottom of dish. Spread half of spinach mixture over, about 1 1/2 cups. Sprinkle with 1/3 cup Fontina. Top with 3 noodles and half of ricotta mixture, a generous 1 3/4 cups. Drop half of pesto over by teaspoonfuls, spacing drops evenly apart. Continue layering with 3 noodles, remaining spinach mixture, 1/3 cup Fontina, 3 more noodles, remaining ricotta mixture, then remaining pesto. Top with last 3 noodles. Spread remaining sauce over; sprinkle with remaining Fontina.

Cover dish with buttered foil. Bake lasagna until heated through and bubbling at edges, 50 to 55 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove foil from dish. Preheat broiler. Broil lasagna until top is browned in spots, turning dish occasionally for even browning, about 4 minutes. Let stand 15 minutes to set up.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sweet and Tangy, Just Like You

If I had to choose only one meat for the rest of my life, I'm pretty sure it would be pork. It's so versatile. Grilled, fried, baked, pulled, there are just so many ways to make it. I also love that it tastes great savory or sweet, tangy or simply broiled with a little bit of salt and pepper. It's a pretty great meat and we make it a lot.

Though I haven't quite mastered the timing on pork chops yet, they still manage to always taste pretty good. Not to mention, you can't go wrong pairing pork and apples. Simply delicious.

Sweet and Tangy Pork Chops with Apples and Shallots (inspired by The Neelys and Pink of Perfection)
Serves 2

Pork Chops
  • 1 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 tablespoon onion powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon celery seed
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • dash of smoked paprika
  • 2 center cut bone in pork chops
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 1/4 tablespoon real maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 dash Worcestershire sauce

Apples and Shallots
Serves 2
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3 medium shallots, quartered and sliced lengthwise
  • 1 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced into 8-12 pieces
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme

Preheat the grill or a grill pan to medium-high heat. Whisk together salt, onion powder, black pepper, garlic powder, celery seed, cayenne pepper, and paprika.

Season the pork chops lightly on both sides with the seasoning salt.

Grill the chops for 5 to 7 minutes per side. While the chops are grilling, whisk together vinegar, maple syrup, ketchup, Dijon mustard, Worcestershire sauce.

Brush the chops with the glaze grill for 5 minutes on each side of grilling. Internal temperature should register 145 degrees. Remove the chops from the grill to a serving platter and allow them to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

While the pork chops are grilling, melt butter over medium-high in a large skillet. Add shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Cover pan and reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes more. Add apples, wine, and thyme, cover, and cook until apples are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes.

Uncover and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and apples are tender, 2 to 4 minutes more. Spoon apples over pork or serve on the side.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Potatoes served in the French manner

Burgers and fries make a pretty great meal. Probably one of the best in my opinion. Unfortunately, we don't make them at home very much. While burgers are fairly easy, I find French fries particularly difficult to perfect in the oven. We could purchase a deep fryer, but that is a very dangerous, slippery slope for our collective health. 

In search of the perfect technique, I found out the easiest trick to getting a crispy oven fry is simply giving them a good soaking in water. Soaking potatoes in water releases some of the heavy starch, which can weight potatoes down and make them soggy. These oven fries came out pretty perfect. Not as great as the fries you'll get at your local diner, but maybe a wee bit healthier.

Crispy, Baked French Fries
  • 4 Idaho potatoes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Peel and rinse your potatoes.

Slice potatoes length wise, then again into long thin strips about a quarter of an inch thick.

Soak potatoes in water for five minutes. This will rinse away some of the starch, leaving you with a crispier French fry in the end.

Place potato strips in a large mixing bowl. Using tongs, toss potato strips with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer potato strips to a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a baking mat and spread to a single layer. Bake French fries for 20 minutes.

Remove from oven and toss French fries so they can get crispy on all sides. Turn the oven to up to 450 degrees and bake for another 10-15 minutes, until golden brown on all sides.

Sprinkle with salt to taste and serve!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Enter as Strangers, Leave as Friends

A few months ago I remember reading a glowing review of Kellari Taverna in New York City from Just Add Cheese. Their food looked delicious and authentic. I was super excited to check out their DC location once we settled into the city.

Alex and I decided to stop in one Saturday afternoon and check out their brunch specials. We decided to order from the mezedes menu, since I'm not a huge fan of breakfast food, or rather eggs. We had a hard time deciding between the many delicious looking menu options such as crispy eggplant and zucchini chips with tzatziki or beef and lamb keftedes.

We started with two glasses of Assyrtiko, toasted bread and olive oil, radishes, hummus, and olives. A tasty snack to hold us over until our mezedes arrived at our table. The hummus and olives were our favorites but the radishes were a nice touch. The bread, was well bread. A little bland and made me wish we had been given soft, chewy pita.

The first dish that arrived at our table was the spanikopita, filo pies with spinach, leeks, and feta. They were crispy and flaky with just the right mix of spinach and filo.

Next we shared a Greek Salad, with tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, peppers, and feta. It was fresh and served exactly as they would in Greece.

Lastly, the katsikisio arrived at our table. A warm skillet of baked goat cheese apricots, almonds, and Greek honey. It was heaven. Sweet, cheesy, crunchy, it doesn't get much better than this. It was filling and left no cravings for dessert.

Kellari Taverna was tasty and sharing lunch was romantic and fun. There was one major downside though, the price. I don't usually comment on the price of meals that I review. I understand that fancy, delicious food comes with a price and I am more than happy to pay it. I love eating, no matter the cost. However, our lunch at Kellari Taverna cost over $70 for three small plates and two glasses of the house white wine. Though the food was tasty, the price was prohibitive, so we probably won't return when there are so many other fantastic Greek restaurants in the city.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

We're number one!

When I was in college I worked as a waitress at UNOs in Faneuil Hall. It was one of the best jobs I ever had. It was hard work, but so much fun. I loved getting to meet people everyday and the money was no joke while I was in school. Taking home a hundred bucks a night kept me in plenty of books, CDs, and good memories of nights out with friends.

The other wonderful thing about waitressing, was the free snacks. Sure, if you wanted the Chicken Spinocoli pasta you had to cough up the cash, but hitting the salad bar on break was not heavily monitored. My favorite munchie by far was snacking on the fresh baked croutons. Hot out of the oven, these little chunks of buttery, salty bread could not be beat.

I had never made croutons myself before, but with an entire leftover loaf of Italian Bread staring me in the face this weekend, I knew my time had come. They came out salty and delicious. Great on salad, but I would say I ate more than my fair share right off the baking sheet.

Seasoned Croutons (Inspired by Savory Sweet Life)
Makes 8 servings
  • 2 cups day-old bread
  • 1 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon onion flakes
  • 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper 

Slice bread into 1 1/2 inch cubes.

Preheat over to 300 degrees. Mix butter, Parmesan cheese, garlic salt, onion flakes, and parsley flakes until garlic powder is dissolved and mixture is clump free.

Toss butter mixture with cubed bread in a medium bowl until cubes are evenly coated.

Spread coated bread cubes on a cookie sheet in a single layer.

Bake for 15 minutes and check to see if they are dry, crispy, and golden brown.  Stir the croutons around and bake for an additional 15 minutes until done.

Eat immediately or store croutons in air-tight container or ziplock bag.