Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Recipe for Sandra Day O'Connor

There is nothing that Alex and I love more than a good taco night. I'm not sure whether it's the ability to create your own dinner right there at the table, or the delicious Tex-Mex favors that make it a favorite dinner every time. Last week, we decided to switch it up a little and try our hand a fajitas.

We had some Omaha Steak steak tips buried in the back of our freezer, some oaxaca cheese from a previous recipe, and some chipotle salsa on hand. Tossed together these made one delicious and filling dinner.

Do you have Tex-Mex themed dinners? What's your go to dish?

Classic Beef Fajitas
Makes 2 Servings
  • 2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb sirloin steak tips
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of mild chili powder
  • Pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of ground cumin
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups beef broth
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1 cup of oaxaca cheese, grated
  • 1 cup of chipotle salsa
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1 avocado, diced

Directions

Combine the meat, lime juice, chili powder, paprika, ground cumin, salt, and pepper. Set aside.


In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over high heat. Add the onions and the garlic and sauté until lightly browned and tender. Add the meat and brown on all sides. Turn the temperature down to low and add beef broth.


Simmer until the meat is cooked through. While the meat is cooking, warm the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium heat. Wrap in tin foil or place in a tortilla warmer to keep warm. Set out cheese, salsa, sour cream, and avocado.

When meat is cooked through, transfer to a serving dish using a slotted spoon. Serve with warm tortillas.


Assemble as desired.


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Catie's Favorite Restaurant in Florence

This weekend my parents came to visit Alex and I to see the sights of DC, check out where we live, and spend some time with their second daughter. We went to four museums, spent countless hours on a logiduku puzzle, and had dinner with Alex's parents at Acqua Al 2.

When I moved to DC a few months ago, many of my friends were sweet enough to introduce me to their friends who lived in the District. My friend Catie, was sweet enough to introduce me to Acqua Al 2. 

Catie spent some time during college studying abroad in Italy. When her family visited her, she took them to Acqua Al 2, which quickly became her favorite. When they opened a restaurant in DC, she told me it was a must. I decided to continue the tradition and bring my family when they visited.

Photo borrowed from Bitches Who Brunch

When we arrived, we were greeted by a lovely hostess who had no problem switching our dinner reservation from seven guests to six. We stopped by the bar to grab a drink while everyone arrived. The bartender was sweet, offered great suggestions, and took care of us in a pinch. When our group was assembled we were sat at a cozy table right in front of the open-air kitchen.

Some people don't like being in front of the kitchen, but I do. Not only do you get to see the food being prepared, but you also get to see the staff in action, which for a food blogger can set the stage for either a fantastic or disaster review.

We started with wine, beer, cocktails, the assaggio di formaggio (cheese plate), and three baskets of delicious bread and olive oil. There were two orders of the Cannelloni Ricotta e Spinaci, a spinach and fresh ricotta rolled pasta, baked in a bowl with house-made tomato sauce, topped with béchamel and Parmesan cheese. I tasted most of the dishes ordered and this was truly the best. So rich and creamy, I definitely had order envy. Alex and I shared a steak with arugula and cherry tomatoes and a pasta in a light spinach sauce. All and all the meal was delicious.

The service, was also fantastic. At one point, five of us had received our dinner while my dad's steak was yet to finish. I saw the manager glance our at our table, all of us waiting patiently with our forks down/ He immediately rustled up a prosciutto and  cheese appetizer to serve while my dad's steak was grilled to perfection.

We finished the meal with the lightest cheesecake I've ever had in my life. It was delicious, topped with strawberry sauce that tasted like jam. Heaven.

Catie deserves a huge thanks for the recommendation. We will definitely be back. Next time, probably for a romantic dinner for two.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Always spells Chipotle wrong. At least I don't say it Chi-po-tle.

A few years ago, my best friend Kristina introduced me to the best salsa on the planet, a chipotle pepper based salsa called Sweet and Sassy. Turns out Kristina's company US Biological, who is in the business of suppling antibodies, biochemicals, and biological reagents to laboratories across the world, ships out free salsa with every order. A little creepy, but seriously, this salsa is amazing.

Though I'll never be able to recreate Sweet and Sassy, I decided to take a shot at making chipotle salsa. I got the recipe from Perfect Mexican, a Mexican Cookbook Kristina gave me for my birthday a few years ago. It came out delicious, sweet and sassy in its own right and perfectly paired with salty tortilla chips.


Chipotle Salsa (from Perfect Mexican)
Makes 2 cups
  • 1 pound of ripe juicy plum tomatoes, diced
  • 3-5 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1-2 teaspoons of adobo marinade from canned chipotle chilies
  • 1/2-1 teaspoon of sugar
  • lime juice, to taste
  • salt
  • pinch of ground cinnamon
  • pinch of ground allspice
  • pinch of ground cumin
Directions

Place tomatoes, garlic, and cilantro in a medium sized mixing bowl, mix together. Add onions, adobo marinade, and sugar. Squeeze in lime juice to taste. Season to taste with salt, then add the cinnamon, all spice, and cumin. Mix together and serve.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I'm not a good tour guide.

Though we have now officially lived in DC for two months, this weekend was the first time that Alex and I have had a chance to get out and do some sightseeing. We decided to make a day of it and see all of the monuments on the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Here are a few photos of our day around town.


Since we have to walk right by it on our way to the mall, we started with the White House. The White House is the official residence and principle work place of the President of the United States of America. Located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, D.C., the house was designed by Irish-born James Hoban, and built between 1792 and 1800. This is where Obama lives and works. There are four main sections of the White House: the Executive Residence, the West Wing, the East Wing and the grounds which include two notable gardens, the Rose Garden and the Kennedy Garden.

This week Alex and I applied for a tour of the White House. It's something I've been dying to do since my grandmother's stories of touring it during the Nixon administration. It sounds like probably the coolest building in, well, America. Hopefully we'll get to see it some day!


Next we walked past the President's Park and the Ellipse and caught our first glimpse of the Washington Monument. At 555 feet 5 and 1/8 inches, you can pretty much see it from anywhere in the city. I've never been to the top, but Alex and I have tickets for June 18, the first weekend day a tour available. It's a pretty popular DC tourist attraction. Lucky for me, the 897 steps to the top are no longer available to the general public. So there won't be any pressure to make the climb. Too they don't serve wine and cheese in the elevator anymore as they did in 1888.


After the Washington Monument, we made our way to the National World War II Memorial. This is the newest completed monument that we visited. It was completed in 2004 and opened two days before Memorial Day. The monument has 56 pillars and a pair of arches surrounding a plaza and fountain. It's a bit showier than the other monuments, but I like fountains and WWII history, so it works for me.


Then we made our way to the Lincoln Memorial. It was completely mobbed with other tourists, but some how managed to surprisingly have one of the cleanest public restrooms I have ever been in. Good stuff. The building is in the form of a Greek Doric temple and contains a large seated sculpture of Abraham Lincoln and inscriptions of two well-known speeches by Lincoln, The Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. 


The sculpture of Lincoln the resides inside the temple is 30 feet high and made of Alabama marble. There are two neat urban legends about the statue. First, some have claimed that the face of General Robert E. Lee was carved onto the back of Lincoln's head, and looks back across the Potomac toward his former home, Arlington House, now within the bounds of Arlington National Cemetery. Another popular legend is that Lincoln is shown using sign language to represent his initials, with his left hand shaped to form an A and his right hand to form an L, the president's initials. The National Park Service denies both stories, but there is some controversy.


Next we visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.  The memorial consists of three separate parts: the Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women's Memorial (pictured below), and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.


The Memorial Wall was designed by Maya Lin. It is made up of two walls that are 246 feet 9 inches long. At the highest point, the walls are 10.1 feet high, and taper to a height of just eight inches tall. The stone for the wall came from Bangalore, Karnataka, India, and was deliberately chosen because of its reflective quality. At different points along the wall, the reflections catch image of visitors as well as other monuments.


The Vietnam Women's Memorial is a memorial dedicated to the women of the United States who served in the Vietnam War, most of whom were nurses. It serves as a reminder of the importance of women in the conflict. It depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. The woman looking up is named Hope, the woman praying is named Faith, and the woman tending to a wounded soldier is named Charity.


Next we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial, which was built in 1992. The memorial is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues. The figures represent a squad on patrol, and includes soldiers from each branch of the armed forces. When reflected on the wall, there appears to be 38 soldiers. This represents the 38th parallel.


Then we followed on our path to the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial. A sprawling, 7.5 acre monument to our 32nd president. Included in the memorial are many quotes from FDR as well as the only statue ever to depict a First Lady, the great Eleanor Roosevelt. Although I couldn't verify this, Alex thought it was probably also the only memorial to include a statue depicting the first dog, Fala Roosevelt.


Our last monument of the day was the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. The current site of the Memorial was originally a landfill dredged from the Potomac River in the late 19th century. Lovely. It became a popular bathing beach for Washingtonians and other locals, however they ousted when it became apparent that the site was well suited for another high-profile memorial since it sat directly south of the White House.


Inside the memorial includes a 19 foot tall bronze status of President Jefferson and the walls are engraved with passages from Jefferson's writings. It's one of the prettier monuments with the contrasting bronze and marble.



After walking for hours and hours touring all of the monuments, we decided that nothing would round out our day quite like a quick paddle boat tour of the Tidal Basin.


 So we grabbed a pair of life vests and set out across the Tidal Basin to catch a glimpse of the incomplete Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial.


Though the statue of Martin Luther King Jr. was completed last year, the park is not set for completion until August 28, 2011. The park will portray three underlying themes: justice, democracy and hope.


To end the day we walked back across the mall, up 14th street, and over to U street where we had a few drinks at the Cafe Saint-Ex, an adorable aviation themed restaurant and bar. Though we were a bit disappointed that they did not have Unibrouque Maudite on tap as their menu promised, we did get to listen to some great tunes and wind down with a few strong beers.

All and all, what a great day touring our nation's capital.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Has anyone in this family ever even seen a chicken?

For some reason, most of the recipes I choose to make don't come from cookbooks. I'm trying very hard to get better at going to them first. Leafing through them, I know that the recipes are tried and true, tested over and over, printed and published. Some how though, the internet always seems like a better repository. Readily available, easily searchable, thousands and thousands of recipes available at your fingertips.

One cookbook, however, I love and always seem to choose first off the shelf. It could be because it is my favorite New England restaurant. It could be because the recipes are simple and delicious. Who knows, but I love Fresh and Honest by Peter Davis of Henrietta's Table.

I have been wanting to try this recipe for a long time. I've known since I read it, that I would love it. I've never seen it on th menu at Henrietta's Table, but I suspect it's probably a fall menu item. Definitely will have to make a visit when the weather turns crisp and cool and the leaves start turning red and gold.

Grilled Chicken Breast with Apple Cider Reduction (Fresh and Honest by Peter Davis)
Makes 4
4 chicken breasts
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh marjoram, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1/4 tablespoons of sage, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 cups apple cider
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 pieces whole allspice
  • 1 clove
  • 1/2 orange
Directions

Place the chicken in a bowl with the herbs, garlic, and half of the oil and marinate over night. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. In a saucepan, place cider, star anise, allspice, cloves, and orange and bring to a boil.


Reduce by two-thirds and strain. Keep at room temperature.

In a skillet, heat the remaining oil and sear the chicken over medium-high heat, until crispy and golden brown. Flip the chicken and repeat. Remove the chicken from the skillet and place on a rack in the oven and cook to an internal temperature of 165 degrees. Approximately 20-25 minutes.


Friday, March 18, 2011

Hot potato, hot potato, hot potato, hot potato

Potatoes are a wonder food. They are a starch, but also a vegetable. They can be made in a million different ways. They also pair well with hundreds of other foods. They are truly amazing.

Growing up, my favorite food in the whole world was mashed potatoes. My Nana used to make them every night. It was always a treat to visit her and have dinner at her house. They were classic comfort food and went with any meal she was making.

A few weeks ago I bought a container of mascarpone, an Italian triple-cream cheese made from crème fraîche. I used more than half of the container in another recipe and wasn't quite sure what to do with the leftovers. Then, I found this great recipe for Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Mascarpone Cheese. I happened to have all of the ingredients on hand, so it was kismet.

This potatoes came out creamy, delicious, with the perfect flavorings of sweet garlic and creamy cheese.

Mashed Potatoes with Roasted Garlic and Mascarpone Cheese (from Bobby Flay)
Serves 4
  • 3 pounds Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 6 cloves roasted garlic cloves, pureed
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter
  • 8 ounces mascarpone cheese
  • Freshly ground black pepper
Directions

Place potatoes in a large saucepan, add cold water just to cover and 1 tablespoon of salt. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until tender.


While the potatoes are cooking, melt butter in a small sauce pan and whisk together with garlic puree.


Add milk and bring to a simmer over low heat. When the potatoes are tender, drain well and run through a food mill or whip with a hand mixer. Stir the milk mixture into the potatoes until combined. Fold in the mascarpone and season well with salt and pepper.


Keep warm over a double boiler until serving.


Thursday, March 17, 2011

Finding Farmers in Washington DC

It sounds totally cliché, but I love double dating. It really is so much fun. The guys can talk about robots, or whatever it is that they talk about when I'm not listening. That leaves the girls to talk about the food and get updates on each others lives, which is much more interesting to me that computer code. It works out pretty well for everyone at the table.

This weekend, Alex and I went on a double date with our friends, and former roommates, Andy and Kim. Kim suggested Founding Farmers a modern American, comfort food restaurant, located just 3 blocks west of the White House. The menu was intriguing and very similar to my favorite restaurant in New England, Henrietta's Table.

Pretty photo borrowed from Nourished Kitchen

When we arrived at Founding Farmers we were immediately greeted by a lovely hostess who whisked us to our table upstairs and got us seated in no time flat. I love the ability to make a reservation, because the entrance to Founding Farmers was packed, bustling multiple groups hoping to get a table sometime that evening.

The restaurant is absolutely gorgeous. Decorated in rustic but elegant furnishings to make the environmentally friendly building look like a cross between a farm house and a loft apartment. The soft leather booths and the cotton covered light fixtures gave a great juxtaposition between urban and rural. My only one complaint was the large wooden chairs could have used some cushioning if you are planning to take your time eating and drinking the night away.

We grabbed our seats and picked cocktails from the sprawling drink menu, which included Prohibition Era cocktail like a Dark and Stormy and Famers Favorites like Grandma's Black Berry Sour. Though the drinks took longer to arrive at our table than the appetizers, they were delicious and so strong that some of us couldn't finish our picks. But I'm not pointing fingers, Alex.

Gorgeous photo borrowed from DC-Wrapped Dates

Of the meal, the appetizers were totally the star. We started with an order of Fried Green Tomatoes which came with a side of herbed goat cheese and thick, creamy green goddess dressing. In a word, Yum.

Beautiful photo borrowed from Founding Farmers

Then we moved on to the cornbread. Truly delicious, especially slathered in sweet honey butter. Alex couldn't get enough. 

Beautiful photo borrowed from Founding Farmers

Lastly, we shared a prosciutto, fig, and marscapone flat bread which was buttery and delicious.

Beautiful photo borrowed from Founding Farmers

For our meals, Kim got the extremely tasty looking Southern Pan-Fried Chicken which came with gravy, waffles, and macaroni and cheese. Andy got the Frisco burger, smothered in white cheddar, avocado, bacon, and Louie Dressing. Alex got the Long Roasted Pork Prime Rib Chop. And, I got the Yankee Pot Roast. As stuffed as I was off of the appetizers, I didn't taste any of the other meals, so I can only provide an opinion on my own. 

The mashed potatoes were delicious. The gravy was perfectly paired for the pot roast and the potatoes. The pot roast was fork-tender, but a little rich and fatty for my liking. The root vegetables, which I was denied the opportunity to switch out for the Maple Whiskey Brussels Sprouts, were not fully cooked. They were still pretty crunchy and could have used another 20 minutes in the oven. Not to mention, root vegetables and mashed potatoes are a lot of starch for one plate. Lastly, speaking of the composition of the plate, I now understand what Tom Colicchio means when he tells chefs that there is way too much going on with their dishes. My dish was about 8 inches tall and completely covered in mounds of fried onions. All and all the meal was satisfying, but could use a few nips and tucks to make it perfection.

Would I go back, definitely. Will I be getting the pot roast again, probably not, because I hear really great things about their Chicken Pot Pie. Next time!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

With a little help from my friends

Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being offered a spot guest posting on a totally fantastic blog called Cooking Whims. In exchange, I asked Megan if she would come up with something to post here on A Nesting Experience. I've never made chocolate chip muffins before. And, just like all of Megan's other recipes, these look super delicious. Please enjoy and don't forget to check out Cooking Whims for more tasty recipes and treats!


Baking to me is like coloring to a kid. There's something incredibly soothing about blending the right ingredients together that turns into something colorful and beautiful in the end. And my favorite kind of baking usually occurs on a whim when there are no parties to worry about, no decorations to fuss about, and no snarky comments from nibblers/inhalers of my sweets. (If you don't like raisins, why did you even take a bite of my oatmeal raisin cookies?)

Last Friday night I was vegging out on the couch after a long week of work and decided that instead of losing more brain cells watching TV, I should bake something. So I grabbed a cookbook on the shelf and leafed through it until something caught my eye. I was in the mood for something simple yet classic. And once the page fell on these chocolate chip muffins I knew I hit the jackpot.

Classic Chocolate Chip Muffins (from The Cookie and Biscuit Bible)
Makes 10 muffins
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tbsp dark brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
Directions
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease or line 10 muffin tins with paper liners.
  2. Cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft. Add both the granulated sugar and the dark brown sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  3. Sift together the flour and baking powder in a separate bowl. Alternately beat in the flour and the milk into the butter mixture. 
  4. Fold the chocolate chips into the batter, and then divide the mixture among the muffin tins.
  5. Bake for 25 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand 5 minutes before removing from tins and transferring to a wire rack to cool.

My Two Cents: Minus the chocolate chips, this is your basic muffin recipe, and because of that, it's also very versatile. Instead of the chocolate chips, try blueberries, cranberries, or half chocolate chips and half walnuts. I'm a huge chocolate chip fan, so I stuck with the chocolate chips.

It also makes the perfect amount of muffins for a quick breakfast in the morning with your family or friends. I recommend doubling the recipe if you have a larger crowd or want to freeze a batch of muffins. These freeze well if you freeze them that same day. To reheat: Place in the microwave on defrost for 30 seconds or until warm.


Enjoy! I certainly did

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Home Sweet Home: Update

In the last couple of weeks I've started getting a few questions from family and friends. They keep wondering when we are going to post pictures of our DC apartment since we moved in. Though we aren't quite finished with all of the decorating, we are at least somewhat ready to show the world.

So, this is where we live.


When you come into our apartment you are in the front hallway. On the way to the bedroom, you pass our very official looking mail center. Notice the hundreds of pens neatly organized in our orange Erin and Alexander cups. Very professional. We've also got some beautiful art, my favorite piece designed by Allison of Fraske Designs hanging on our wall.

Just past the mail center is our bathroom. It is newly painted in celery sticks green and colorfully decorated in an attempt to mask it's true locker room identity. 

Next up is our bedroom where I have a lovely view from my sewing corner.

And here's our bedroom from the other side. Notice the two teddy bears in the bottom right hand corner of the TV cart. Yep, those are Alex and my first stuffed animals. Also notice our ancient TV that we don't use. It's pretty much just there for decoration.

Head back down the hallway in the other direction and you'll be standing in our living room and dining room. Other than quite a few lamps, the only big purchase we've made in our new apartment was a hutch for all of our fun Fiestaware.

Next to the dinning room is our newly decorated and painted kitchen.

We painted the insides of all of the cabinets white, added new silver knobs to the outsides, and this weekend, Alex painted the room Feather Gold and Moondance while I watched Burlesque and organized recipes.

Hope you enjoyed your tour! Please feel free to plan your visit to come see it in person.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Fresh and Honest Chicken Pot Pie

One of my favorite foods growing up was chicken pot pie. Thinking back, I don't remember whether it was homemade or store-bought, but I remember loving it. However, it's something I've never made myself.

This weekend Alex and I went to Founding Fathers, more on this later, but it gave me a huge craving for my favorite restaurant back home, Henrietta's Table. Fresh, honest, and totally delicious, Henrietta's Table prides itself on locally grown, wholesome comfort fare. It's unbelievably tasty. 

As soon as I got home, I grabbed the cookbook Alex bought me on our last anniversary and started plotting our Sunday dinner. It was finally time to try my hand at making chicken pot pie using Chef Peter Davis' classic recipe. Yum.

We ended the meal with a sugary sweet Chocolate Blackberry Sandwich Cookie posted today on Cooking Whims. Megan was nice enough to let me contribute a post to her awesome blog. Thanks Megan!

Henrietta’s Table Pot Pie (Fresh and Honest by Peter Davis)
Serves 6
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 2 cups cold chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup pearl onions, peeled
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 1 cup carrot, diced
  • 1/2 cup peas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound cooked chicken meat
  • 8 ounces of pie dough (either homemade or pre-made)
  • 1 egg

Directions


Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. Heat butter over low heat. Once melted, stir in flour. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring to prevent burning. Whisk in the cold chicken stock and bring to a boil.


Add onions, celery, and carrots (I also added parsnips), and cook at a low simmer until the vegetables are tender. Once the vegetables are cooked, add the peas and heat through. Season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Layer the chicken into 1 1/2 quart casserole dish.


Cover with vegetable filling.


Set aside dish, make some space, and roll your pie dough flat. Cover the top of the casserole dish and fold around the edges. Trim edges and cut a small vent on top.


Beat the egg. Apply to the top of the crust with a pastry brush. Bake for 45 minutes, or until internal temperature is 165 degrees.


Serve hot. 

Follow it up with a tasty dessert. For the recipe, click here.