Wednesday, July 27, 2011

I don't care what is written about me so long as it isn't true

I know, I know, it's been forever since I've posted. No, I wasn't on vacation anywhere exotic, nor do I have a good excuse for my absence. I'll admit it, I've just been plain lazy. Summer has gotten the better of me. Cooking has taken a back seat to fresh fruits and vegetables, cool creamy yogurt, nuts, and cheese. I haven't even so much as looked at a cupcake in almost a month. It's a little sad. Also, you deserve better.

Hopefully I can make it up to you with a chewy, buttery, delicious coconut cookie recipe. I promise it won't happen again. I wish I could send each of you a batch, but hopefully the recipe.

Chewy Coconut Cookies (from The Meaning of Pie)
Makes 4 dozen
  • 2 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 Tablespoons coconut milk
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs, lightly stirred
  • 2 cups flaked sweetened coconut
  • Coconut to roll the cookies in

Combine the butter, sugar, and the coconut milk in the bowl of an electric mixer. Mix them together on low for two minutes, then increase the speed of the mixer to medium for another three minutes. Your butter and sugar mixture should be light and fluffy.

In a small bowl, lightly stir the eggs. Add the eggs to your butter and sugar mixture slowly, allowing them to incorporate as you go. Stop the mixer and thoroughly scrape the bowl. Add the vanilla and beat, again on medium, to combine.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Stir it with a whisk to ensure that the salt and baking soda are well incorporated. Add the flour to the batter in three additions, allowing the flour to incorporate after each addition. Add the coconut and mix to just combine. Place the mixing bowl with the dough in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Pour the remaining coconut onto a large plate. Using a spoon or dough scoop, make balls of about 1” diameter. Roll each ball in the coconut and pat the coconut into the ball a little to ensure that it adheres to the dough. Place the dough on a silicone baking sheet set on a cookie sheet. Repeat the process. Bake for approximately 17 minutes or until they are just golden. Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to sit for two minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Tutti Frutti

Lately these days our house is filled with fruit. I mean filled. Not just our fridge, because that is always well stocked with apples, orange, and more berries than you can shake a stick at. And I'm not talking about dried fruit either, because we have plenty of pineapple, apricots, cranberries, and cherries in our pantry too. I mean our counters our over flowing with summer produce. Cherries, nectarines, peaches, plums, lemons, and limes; we have fruit everywhere. It really is fantastic.

With all this fresh fruit, it's hard to think about mixing chunks of it with batter and baking it into some kind of baked good. Why mess with something so perfect. So instead, since it's Friday, I think it's a perfect occasion for a pretty drink that is high in both alcohol and vitamin C.

Frozen Nectarine Margarita 
Serves 3-4
  • 3 nectarines peeled and sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup limoncello
  • 3 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 3 cups ice

Place all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Enjoy.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Volunteering is Good for the Soul

If you read A Nesting Experience regularly, you might remember, a few weeks ago I took a class at CulinAerie as a part of Eat Write Retreat. The class was wonderful, and I knew it wouldn't be my last. When talking to Chef, and CulinAerie Principle, Susan Holt, I learned that the assistants that help in each class are actually volunteers and that they are always looking for more. I signed up immediately. After my first class, I was hooked.

In addition to great cooking classes such as Knife Know How and Couples: Summer Food & Wine Pairing, CulinAerie also hosts private parties and events. This week, I had the opportunity to volunteer for a private event Iron Chef Competition featuring Chef Carla Hall and Chef Rock Harper.

Chef Carla Hall was a finalist in the fifth and eighth seasons of Top Chef. Chef Rock Harper won the third season of Gordon Ramsay's Hell's Kitchen. Both are phenomenal chefs, and I was so excited to meet them!

Each chef had a team of ten students and two assistants. Each were charged with making four plates of three dishes incorporating pork and wine into each. Each had a half an hour to brainstorm and gather ingredients from the CulinAerie pantry. Each had an hour and a half to cook, plate, and present their dishes to the panel of celebrity judges.

The celebrity judges included: Rj Cooper head chef of Vidalia, who is in the process of opening Rogue 24, a modern day speakeasy set to open at the end of this month; Mary Beth Albright from Food Network Star; 

and Anna Spiegle, food writer for the Washingtonian.

Both teams did a fantastic job whipping up caprese salad, risotto, potato and bacon chowder, pork tenderloin, and bacon bread pudding. I even got to taste a few of the dishes and let me say, Chef Carla's potato bacon chowder and Chef Rock's bread pudding were not to be messed.

At the end of the night, team Black Garlic Microplane, Chef Carla Hall's team, took home the gold.

The event couldn't have been more fun and the perfect example of what a fun night at CulinAerie entails.

If you haven't taken a class there yet, definitely check them out. If you like food, wine, and great people and are looking for a fun place to volunteer, I highly recommend signing up.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ardeo Bardeo Schmardeo. It's just fun to say.

Since I moved to DC I've been hearing all sorts of things about a little modern American bistro and wine bar  in Cleveland Park called Ardeo + Bardeo. Good or bad, everyone seems to have been there and to have an opinion. Their website even boasts a steady stream of famous clientele, including Madeleine Albright, Jim Lehrer, Alan Greenspan and the former first family, the Clintons. Needless to say, I wanted to see what all the fuss was about for myself.

Of all the neighborhoods I have been getting to know in DC, I have become a big fan of Cleveland Park. Somewhat quieter than other neighborhoods in DC, Cleveland Park has lots of cute shops and eateries interspersed between 19th century homes and large fancy apartment buildings. It seems like it would be a super cute neighborhood to live in, away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, but still hip enough to satisfy any shopping or dining whim.

Ardeo+Bardeo sits smack in the middle of Cleveland Park's commercial corridor, making the location easy to get to by Metro or bus.

When we arrived we were greeted by a pleasant host and seated right away in a prime spot by the window. Our waitress was courteous and professional, offering us drinks from their super extensive wine list. Because, at the time, I was on antibiotics, I was unable to partake, but Alex got a delicious gin and tonic.

We decided to start with a Flatbread of sun dried cherries and roasted garlic. It was hot, chewy, and bursting with tart dried cherries which paired well with the goat cheese and olive oil topping.

For dinner, Alex ordered the Steak & Eggs which included a barrel cut ribeye, yukon gold puree, roasted royal trumpets, and a one eyed Susan. He loved every bit of his meal.

For dinner I ordered a side of the Crispy Brussels sprouts with pistachios, apricots, yogurt and the Lamb Ravioli with goat cheese, mushrooms, English peas and radishes. I was not as much as fan of my dinner as Alex was. Both dishes were under cooked and overly oiled.

 They both looked so delicious on the menu, but the Brussels sprouts were much more crunchy than crispy, leaving them quite bitter and difficult to chew. My ravioli was overly al dente, and my peas were clearly not given the proper amount of time to rehydrate before being added to the dish.

For dessert we shared a deliciously decadent Chocolate Tart with pistachios, milk chocolate, and salted caramel. It was super rich and creamy and did a good job making up for my under cooked dinner.

All and all, my feelings about Ardeo+Bardeo were mixed. Maybe if I had been able to have a glass or two of wine. Maybe if I ordered something different. Maybe if we had stuck to snacks and drinks or dessert and drinks only. I'm not sure. Although with the myriad of other great restaurants around the city, I'm not sure I'll be back for dinner anytime soon.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Yer darn tootin', I like Fig Newtons

When I was a little kid, we used to watch Saturday morning cartoons every week. With these cartoons came lots of commercials specifically geared to my young and impressionable consumer sensibilities. One of my favorites was for Fig Newtons: "A cookie is just a cookie, but a Newton is fruit and cake."

Even as a little kid, I thought Fig Newtons were neat. A bit pretentious, yes. But ultimately, the overly exaggerated fancy-pants British kid in knickers made me believe that Fig Newtons were downright pretty awesome.

Until my mom bought me the Flour cookbook, I never thought about making my own Fig Newtons. Sure they've been around since early Egyptians preserved figs by wrapping them in a flour based dough, but could I really make these fancy fruit and cake treats named after a town in Massachusetts? The answer is, yes.

Homemade Fig Newtons (from Flour by Joanne Chang)
Makes 12 Newtons

Fig Jam Filling
  • 2 pints (680 grams) ripe black mission figs (about 30 figs)
  • 1 orange, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Shortbread dough
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 6 tablespoons (75 grams) granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (140 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (120 grams) cake flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt


To make the filling: Remove any stems on figs, then cut them into quarters, and place in a medium non-reactive saucepan. Add the orange, brown sugar, lemon zest, and salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Reduce teh heat to medium-low and simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally for about 40 minutes, or until the figs have softened and lost their shape and the filling jam-like. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool for 1-2 hours, or to room temperature (if the jam is too watery, drain a little excess liquid before using as filling). This can be made in advance up to three 3 days ahead.

To make the shortbread dough: Using a stand mixer fitted with a the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and confectioners' sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle to release any clinging butter or sugar. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla on medium speed for 2-3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle to make sure the egg is thoroughly incorporated.

In a small bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cake flour, baking powder and salt. On low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix for about 15 seconds, or until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed. Stop the mixer and scrape the bowl again to make sure all of the flour is thoroughly incorporated.

Scrape the dough onto a sheet of plastic wrap and wrap entirely, pressing down to form a disk about 6-inches in diameter and 1-inch thick. Refrigerate the dough for about 30  minutes, or until it has firmed up but is still somewhat pliable.

Position a rack in the center of the oven, heat to 350F.

Place the dough disk on a large sheet of parchment paper. Liberally flour the dough on all surfaces, then roll out into a rectangle about 16 x 9 inches and 1/4 inch thick. Don't let the dough stick to the parchment or the rolling pin by adding a little flour as you gently roll the dough out.

Position the rectangle with a long side facing you. Spoon the cooled filling lengthwise along the center of the rectangle. In a strip of about 2 1/2 inches wide. Lifting the edge of the parchment farthest from you, drape the top of the dough rectangle over the jam, covering the top half of it. Gently peel the parchment away from the dough. Repeat wit the bottom edge of the parchment, draping the bottom of the dough over the jam. The edges of the dough rectangle should meet in the middle. Gently pinch the edges of the dough together, and then turn the rectangle over, so it is facing seam-side-down. Using a pastry brush or your hands to brush any excess flour off the parchment.

Bake for 65-70 minutes, or until the short bread is entirely golden brown. A little fig juice make leak out the sides, but it's fine. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 2 hours, or until completely cool. Using a chef's knife, cut on the diagonal into strips about 5 inches long and 1 inch wide.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

You say Tomato. I say Tomato.

For sure, my favorite thing about summer is the food. I love when the weather is warm and the farmers markets are packed with fresh, ripe, delicious locally grown fruits and vegetables. It is the best. For a few weeks now, Alex and I have been trying to get over to the Columbia Heights Farmers Market. It's held on Saturdays from 9-2 in Tivoli Square. You'd think, with such convenient hours we would have made it over there before this weekend, but some how we've been traveling or too lazy to get over there before this weekend.

When we arrived we were pleasantly surprised to see so many local farms selling their freshly grown produce, flowers, and meat. Vendors featured fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, bread, and even freshly sheared, spun, and dyed textiles. We picked up some cherries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, and rainbow chard with a few specific dishes in mind.

The first, was this month's Food Network Magazine cover recipe for Heirloom Tomato Pie. Though it didn't come out quite as pretty with the cover, since we only found red tomatoes and not yellow, orange, and green; I'm quite sure it came out just as fresh and tasty.

Heirloom Tomato Pie (from Food Network Magazine)
Serves 6
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine salt
  • 1 stick cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons shredded manchego cheese
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 1/4 pounds mixed heirloom tomatoes
  • Kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground pepper


Make the crust: Pulse the flour, cornmeal and fine salt in a food processor to combine. Add the butter and 3 tablespoons manchego; pulse until the mixture looks like coarse meal with pea-size bits of butter. Drizzle in 4 tablespoons ice water and pulse until the dough comes together; add 1 more tablespoon ice water if necessary. Turn out onto a sheet of plastic wrap and pat into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 45 minutes.

Put the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll into a 13-inch round. Transfer the dough to a 9 1/2-inch deep-dish pie plate. Fold the overhang under itself and crimp the edges. Pierce the bottom of the crust all over with a fork. Refrigerate until firm, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Line the crust with foil, then fill with dried beans. Bake until the edges are golden, about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and continue baking until golden all over, 10 to 15 more minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.

Make the filling: Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Meanwhile, thinly slice the tomatoes; toss with 1 teaspoon kosher salt in a colander. Let drain, gently tossing occasionally, about 30 minutes.

Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees F. Combine the remaining 3/4 cup manchego, the mozzarella, mayonnaise, breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons each chives and parsley, the thyme, 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper, and the sauteed onion in a bowl. Spread in the crust. Arrange the tomatoes on top. Drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with pepper. Bake until the tomatoes are browned, about 50 minutes. Top with the remaining 1 tablespoon each chives and parsley.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Top Chef, Top Restaurant

There have been months of anticipation. Ever since Mike Isabella returned to DC after coming in second place in the Top Chef All Stars, foodies living in our nation's capital have been waiting for Graffiato to open. When he announced to his twitterazzi that reservations were now available on Open Table, I jumped at the chance to check it out during it's first few days open.

We arrived a few minutes early and were greeted by three nice, but nervous looking hostesses. Our table wasn't quite ready yet, so we started out by grabbing drinks at the crowded bar. I started with a Brooklyn Summer Ale and Alex had a teeny, tiny Gin and Tonic. The scale is difficult to judge here, because the can in the picture is also teeny tiny, the kind that tomato paste or pineapple juice come in. 

We were seated right on time and presented our menus by a very, very nice waiter who looked strangely similar to Peter Sarsgaard. We opened our menus, and were totally not sure what to try first. Should we get the Chicken Thighs and Pepperoni Sauce, didn't we have to get Roasted Potato Gnocchi, why does every pizza look so amazing? We decided to just dive in and try practically everything.

We started with a bread basket filled with focaccia, raisin walnut, and polenta breads accompanied by bowls of ricotta and olive oil jam. Each bread was incredible tasty in its own right, and it was fun to mix and match them with the three cheese plate we ordered.

We got Gorgonzola Dolce, Green Hill Camembert, and Cracked Pepper Piedmont which were accompanied by a hefty dollop of garlic butter. Though we hadn't originally ordered the Gorgonzola, we chose to keep it and were happy we did as soon as we discovered how wonderful it tasted on the raisin walnut bread. It was nice that the waiter noticed the mistake too and offered to fix it, but it's cheese and we aren't that picky.

In addition to the cheese plate, we also ordered 3 hams, Wolftown Ham, Benton’s Smoked Country Ham, and Biellese Culatello prosciutto. Each were salty and delicious, piled on over a healthy drizzling of honey.

Next, we moved on to the Marinated Broccoli with radish, chili, and balsamic. It was tender and well seasoned, but not a favorite of mine. Not that it was bad, I'm just not a fan of cooked, but chilled, broccoli. Alex ate the entire bowl, happy that I wasn't interested in fighting him for half.

However, when the Roasted Potato Gnocchi with braised pork shank, and burrata came out, he was lucky to even get a bite. You must go there and have this heavenly dish. The gnocchi was pillowy, the pork shank braised to perfection, and the burrata was creamy and delicious. It was so good.

Last, Alex and I shared the Classic pizza with melted cherry tomatoes, sicilian oregano, and garlic. The pizza was tasty, and packed a punch of tomato and garlic. However, I was excited to take home leftovers and add a layer of fresh mozzarella, next time, we'll be sure to add that as a topping.

For dessert we shared a slice of Chocolate Tart with a side of sea salt gelato. It was the perfect end to a delicious meal.

Dinner at Graffiato was a wonderful experience. Our waiter was super nice, the food was tremendously good, and the minor kinks we experienced are sure to be worked out as soon as they get through their first week of service. We will definitely be back!