French Toast

Being snowed in last weekend was a real treat! I haven't seen such beautiful snow in the NoVa region in years. I opened up all of my shades, and spent the time making more holiday cookies while watching the snow fall. It was so peaceful and it was actually nice to be "stuck" at home, and not deal with the typical holiday madness. I also took out my homemade brioche from the freezer and made this comforting french toast for breakfast. Brioche makes the best french toast because of it's dense, yet fluffy nature. It soaks up all the yummy custard without becoming soggy like a typical bread would. The french toast recipe is as simple as it gets. This would be a fabulous brunch item if you have overnight guests for the holidays. Happy Holidays everyone!!!

See Recipe!


Brie Puffs

Do you have the daunting task of hosting a holiday party? If so, you'll need some quick, easy apps that pleases a crowd. This one never fails, and it's my savior everytime my head's about to explode. These brie puffs, made with simple ingredients of pepper jelly and brie, make a fun, fancy, and festive canape. And take a look at the same ingredients stuffed into a pastry, transforming it into a gourmet"brie en croute". Personalize it for the holidays by topping it with a cut out like I did :) When you cut into it, the luscious cheese and jelly literally oozes out. It's insanely good! Either one is guaranteed to be gone before you know it. Play it safe and make both! Lucky for me, I'm pretty stress free this year since my sister-in-law is hosting in San Fran :) I've never spent the holidays on the west coast, and am looking forward to it. Perhaps I'll do a cookie day this weekend to take some treats with me. Happy Holidays!


Chai Spiced Snowball Cookies

It's that time of year again! Although the frigid temperatures make me feel like hibernating, I welcome the snow :) This past weekend's snowfall was a beautiful tease, and it got me craving these snowball cookies. I started making them last year and they are now a staple in my holiday cookie assortment. What I love about these is the touch of spice that sets it apart from the typical snowball cookie. It's the perfect holiday treat, curled up on your sofa with a hot cup of tea, and not a single care in the world...that is until you finish the cookie :)


Butternut Squash & Chickpea Salad

I'm a little late posting this week, but wanted to make sure I got this one out before Thanksgiving. The last couple of years we've been trying to make more eclectic Thanksgiving items. The typical mashed potatoes and green bean casserole can be a bore. I came across this seasonal butternut squash/chickpeas salad on the smitten kitchen blog archives. I tested it out on friends last weekend, and it's definitely a winner. Neil is asking me to make this for him on weeknights now. It's so easy to make, and would be a great addition to Thanksgiving as a precursor to the meal or a side. What makes this so good is the tahini dresing. I would put that dressing on any salad. I hope everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Eat well!!!

Btw, my oven is finally working! Although, I was secretly hoping for new appliances, I suppose I can wait.

See Recipe!



I can't believe Thanksgiving is 2 weeks away! I love this holiday because I get to eat the most delicious homemade food made by the fabulous chefs in my fam. Not to mention, there's no stress of gifts. As I posted last year, I typically spend my Thanksgiving in NY. We (the cousins) are actively trying to come up with a Thanksgiving menu, slowly but surely. Since I'm traveling there, I take something small that keeps well. Year after year, my job has been Pecan Pies and Baklava. Not sure how I got stuck with Baklava, considering that it's not really a Thanksgiving staple. I made it one year, and it became a requirement thereafter. I didn't even like baklava all that much in the beginning, but over the years I've developed a taste for it. My previous aversion to baklava can be blamed on the awful baklava at most bakeries/restaurants around here. They tend to be overkill...way too sweet, soggy, and sticky. Homemade is far superior because you have control over those elements. For Thanksgiving, I make pecan/chocolate chip baklava. However, after having delectable pistachio baklava in Turkey (which is nothing like the stuff they call "baklava" here), I made it with pistachios, as pictured. I like both versions, and doing a mixture of nuts also turns out great. I agreed to take up my usual items this year. But, now that I posted the recipe, perhaps someone else will take it over in the future ;)

See Recipe!


Eggs in a Basket

As I previously mentioned, I'm currently without oven :( We had a guy come and take a look at it on Sat. morning. He ended up fixing the oven, so I put it to the test with with these "eggs in a basket" for breakfast. I've timed this recipe to exactly 8 minutes and 30 seconds, which consistently produced the perfect yolk center....not too runny, but just very slightly cooked. Well, the test failed. The yolk was completely runny even after 12 minutes, and I ended up sticking them in the toaster oven. I put a meat thermometer in the oven, and as I suspected, it didn't come to the display temperature. Neil thought that maybe we just needed to clean the oven, so he used the oven cleaner function. Well half way thru the "cleaning", the oven died again. So, now I have a dead oven, which btw is also locked due to the oven clean function! Neil's still determined to get it fixed though and the handy man's coming back this week.

Anyways, these eggs in a basket are awesome in a working oven. I got the recipe from my cousin, and have been making them almost every other weekend. They are insanely simple, and so festive for a brunch party. You can make endless variations for a crowd. I like to make them with jack cheese and scallions. But, you can do basil/tomato/mozzarella, tarragon/brie, thyme/gruyere, bacon/cheddar/chives. etc. The basket is made of two wonton wrappers. You can alternately make the basket with slices of prosciutto, which is also delish. Baking times will depend on how you like your yolks, so just play around with the timings. I pull it out when it jiggles with some consistency.


Onion Tart

This past Saturday, I got to visit my friend's family farm out in Shenandoah. It was a mini reunion of sorts, since she invited some of my best girls from VT. We were all thrown together at Shanks Hall freshman year, and have remained best buds ever since. We've come a long way from the awkward, overly eager freshman girls we once were...priceless memories. The farm was the perfect setting for our gathering. This isn't your typical farm. It's the wonderland of farms complete with fun farm animals, pumpkin patch, fire pits, an absolutely gorgeous house (w/ my DREAM kitchen), and random nooks/crannies throughout the land. The addition of fall foliage to the inherent beauty, made it all surreal. My description doesn't do it justice. We had a wonderful lunch out there, and walked over to the firepit for smores, petting the goats and donkeys along the way. I told Neil I want to retire on a farm until he reminded this "city girl" of farm duties. I suppose I'm better suited as a guest :)

To thank them for being invited, I made my holiday tart that I posted last year. Consisting of butternut squash, turnips, and parsnips, I thought it was perfect for this event and time of year. Well, making this tart turned into a bit of a fiasco. My oven died on me!!! I mean, it's completely shot...dead. I was able to bake my crust, and right after I pulled it out, it was over. The oven has been doing this periodically the last few weeks, so I knew something was wrong, but it usually turns right back on after 10 minutes. Well, it's Monday now, and it's still dead. Neil's desperately trying to do whatever he can to get it fixed. He knows that if we have to replace the oven, I'm going to coerce him into replacing other old appliances in the kitchen too....I've been dying for a 5 top burner. Hey, you always get a better deal if you buy more, right? That's what I'm trying to tell Neil :)

Anyways, I improvised and cooked the vegetables for the tart in a dutch oven versus roasting them in the oven. Then, I drove over to my mother in law's house to bake the assembled tart. I finally made it to the farm, tart in hand, only an hour late.

I had some leftover crust, so on Sunday, I made mini onion tarts in my toaster oven of all things! This tart, as pictured, consisted of a thick layer of caramelized onions, gruyere, and prosciutto. The recipe is very similar to the holiday tart, so if you follow those instructions, swap out the vegetables for more caramelized onions, and add prosciutto, you'll be set. If you're vegetarian, leave out the prosciutto and you won't miss a thing.

Ugh...I can't even make Halloween cupcakes without an oven. All of a sudden everything I want to make involves an oven :(


Puerto Vallarta

I just spent the last week relaxing in Puerto Vallarta (PV), Mexico. It was a rather last minute vacation. Our last major vacation was back in March (Bali). We had little mini trips throughout the summer to NY, Miami, New Orleans, etc, but I was just itching for a week long trip somewhere...anywhere warm! Given the state of the economy, swine flu scares, and "current events" in Mexico, we ended up getting an amazing deal at a Westin timeshare in PV. I don't get scared off too easily from traveling :)

This is the first trip where we didn't plan out anything or do activities. We literally just lounged by the pool all day, got up to grab lunch, late afternoon 2 for 1 margaritas, lounged some more, then got up again for dinner :) Not really my style of vacation, since I love exploring and having constant activity, but we just decided to try something new. It was a welcomed change, and Neil was happy not to be dragged around everywhere. But, if you are an activity person, there's still tons to do in PV. They have several canopy tours to choose from along with typical ATV, snorkeling, diving activities, sunset cruises, etc. You can make it as relaxing or active as you desire.

The weather was fabulous for me, but scorching for Neil...about low 90s everyday. You won't find me complaining in the warmth :) The town was fairly quiet. Besides people's weariness to fly to Mexico right now, it is low season, and the town was primarily populated with Mexican tourists. They like to come out before the town is bombarded with American tourists.

We got to eat some great food, see fabulous sunsets, and always got prime spots at the pool. Besides the pool, we mostly hung out at the Malecon area in PV. This is a pedestrian friendly zone at the beach, with several restaurants, bars, and nightlife. There's also some live shows along the bridge that occur at night. Another area is the Marina, also abundant with restaurants. Our resort was right next to the Marina. Due to the low season, most tourists were in the Malecon versus the Marina. The Marina is about a 15 minute drive from downtown (Malecon), so we rented a car for the week. However, there's a convenient bus service as well. Below, I listed some places that we went to and others that were recommended to us.

It was the perfect little getaway, and should keep me put for the time being. Anyways, the holidays are right around the corner!

Le Bodeguita del Medio- Malecon area; the food was very average and lacked flavor, but the place is always packed. The have a live band and very active salsa dancing. You have to go after hours just to see the locals do salsa. They are amazing.
Barcelona Tapas- Malecon area; excellent for sunsets and fun spanish tapas. Need a reservation.
Si Senor- Malecon area; Mexican restaurant with fabulous mole sauces.
Las Palapas- Malecon- at beach; Ecclectic with mexican influence; outdoors; nice view of beach and sunset. Reservation recommended for beach front.
El Fogon- Marina area- fun Mexican food; great fish tacos
Caio- Malecon area; highly recommended; Mexican fusion
Astair- Malecon area; highly recommended, high-end French fusion
PiPi's- Malecon area; Mexican/Tex Mex; frequented by a lot of locals; very casual
El Aryan- Malecon area; Modern mexican
Pepes- Malecon area; good for tacos; very casual

El Coleguita- Marina area- fresh seafood; good for lunch because they close around 7pm once they run out of fresh seafood
Marismos- Malecon area has a taco stand, but Marina has a restaurant- best fish and shrimp tacos in PV; it's a dive, so better for lunch
8 Tostadas- Marina area; frequented by a lot of locals
Coffee Cup- Marina and Malecon areas- great coffees, pastries, and sandwiches if you want something light; good for breakfast and lunch

Punto V- Malecon area; This place was our favorite after hours place. They played great 80s and 90s music. On nights when they have a Mexican crowd, they play a lot of spanish music. We had a blast on all nights. They serve a decent lunch as well with a nice view of the beach.
Malecon Beach Bars- you'll find random beach bars along the Malecon beach serving drinks, barbeque, and mexican food. I enjoyed sitting at the beach during the afternoon for a drink and chips/guac.



This past weekend I had the honor of co-hosting a baby shower for one of my closest friends. Since I was in charge of the food, I volunteered my place. I cooked for a total of about 20 people. I've cooked for large groups before, but this was a little different because I wanted to make "dainty" food which means a bunch of individual finger food items. These are usually tedious in nature and more time consuming than making a meal. It was a little overwhelming at first, but I'm a stressball by nature. Once I detailed everything out from grocery lists, prep work to the order of execution, my mind was at ease. I'm all about lists! The shower turned out wonderful, and all the food was very well received. The thrill of accomplishing it was priceless. I would definitely love to cater full time one day, but until then events like this are great practice and keeps my passion alive.

So, today's recipe is the "pizzettes" that I made for the shower. Don't you love words that end in "ette"...croquette, flowerette, toilette, etc...it just makes it sound prettier :) Anyways, these pizzettes are always a hit, and you can do any variation of toppings you want. The variation I made for the shower uses a homemade crust, roasted garlic spread, caramelized onions, sauteed shitake mushrooms, fontina cheese, thyme, and finally a light drizzle of truffle oil. I've posted the recipe to my pizza crust, which was a previous post on this blog. The pizza crust recipe will make about 40-50 pizzettes depending on how thin you make them. I definitely prefer a homemade crust for this. I'm convinced that the crust is the key to a good pizza, and a bad crust completely ruins a pizza. If you don't have the time to make your own crust, call up your favorite pizza place and see if they'll sell you a ball of dough. As for the toppings and method, here's a brief how to:

Roasted Garlic- I used about 4 heads of garlic for this recipe. Peel all cloves of garlic, and place in a saucepan. Pour olive oil over the garlic until almost fully submerged (about 3/4 way). Place on the stove on very low heat. Roast the garlic until it is soft. Be sure to keep checking on it to ensure the garlic isn't burning, and adjust the heat accordingly. It could take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. Just keep an eye on it periodically. Once it's done, remove the garlic cloves to a bowl and mash with a fork until you have a paste. Save the leftover garlic oil to sautee your mushrooms.

Caramelized Onions- I used 3 large spanish onions for this recipe. Peel and thinly slice your onions. Heat a large skillet on the stove over medium heat and add about a tablespoon each of butter and olive oil. Add the onions and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar. Sautee on medium heat for a few minutes, and then reduce the heat to low. Season with kosher salt/pepper. Stir in some fresh thyme. Stir every so often until the onions have gotten soft, and golden/caramel colored. This will take about an hour. Taste for seasonings and add sugar/salt/pepper as needed.

Shitake Mushrooms- I used 1.5 pounds of mushrooms for this recipe. You can use a mix of shitake, oyster, and baby bellas too, but I prefer all shitake. In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt olive oil and butter. Add your shitake mushrooms and sautee until caramelized. You should do this over med-high to high heat to develop the flavor of the shitake. Season with fresh thyme, salt, and pepper. Increase the heat if the mushrooms aren't caremlizing. Add more butter/oil as needed. You will need to sautee the mushrooms in multiple batches. When cooking mushrooms you never want to overcrowd the pan, because it will prevent the mushrooms form caramelizing and developing it's potential in flavor. Each batch will take about 5-10 minutes to sautee.

Once your pizza dough has risen, you want to roll it out very thin on a floured surface, approx 1/8 of an inch. You can then proceed to cut out circles with a cookie cutter. Note that once the circles are cut, there will be some shrinkage. So, I actually roll out each individual circle again. You then line them up on a greased cookie sheet and bake them in a 400 degrees oven for about 10 minutes. The reason they are half pre-baked is so it's easier to spread the roasted garlic on. Once half baked, let cool. Proceed with spreading roasted garlic. Top with caramelized onions. Top with sauteed shitake mushrooms. Sprinkle with fontina. Sprinkle some thyme. Bake pizzettes in a 425 degrees oven until the cheese has melted. Once baked, removed from the oven, you can drizzle with truffle oil.

This one is pretty time consuming, but the end result is well worth it. It's the perfect item for a party in presentation and taste!

See Pizza Crust Recipe!


Jerk Chicken

Once a year I convince Neil to make something for dinner. Last year it was the beer can chicken, which was a hit. This year he made me jerk chicken, and I was very pleasantly surprised. Actually, he made it for his VT tailgate in Blacksburg first. It was a success there, so he offered to make it for me. He made it all by himself too! Although, I did have to educate him a bit on the spices. He spent a good deal of time looking through my spice cabinet for nutmeg :) Then finding allspice was another ordeal. Oh, and he started grating the ginger without peeling the skin. He's learning :)...and he's so going to kill me when he reads this.

Anyways, this chicken is very flavorful, and very spicy. I think the use of real habaneros versus all dry spices sets this apart from other jerk recipes I've tried. I experimented long ago, after having become obsessed with it in Jamaica, but nothing came close. Neil came across this recipe when he was planning his tailgate. I admit that he has a really good "eye" when it comes to finding recipes. This recipe is a keeper and will be our "go to" for jerk chicken. It packs intense flavor and heat in every bite. Make a lot, b/c leftover chicken salad with this is awesome.
I served it with chipotle pumpking polenta. But, if you need something to offset the spice, a savory/sweet fruit salad would be good.

See Recipe!



Brioche is a delectable French bread. But unlike most French breads, it's extremely rich, a little sweet, and very "pastry-like". This is due to the high butter and egg content. It's absolutely heavenly, and my bread of choice for making bread pudding or french toast...although it tastes great plain. You can find it sold at any bakery and most grocery stores. I most often just buy it, but I took on the challenge of making it from scratch. It's not difficult, but it is a fairly long process because you have to let the dough rise multiple times before you can bake it. I've always loved working with dough, so the process wasn't a chore to me. I also believe that anything made at home with your own hands is rewarding and therapeutic. That's a feeling that you can't buy. If you don't care about those aspects, I don't see an advantage to homemade brioche versus store bought. I usually find homemade goods far superior, but in this case the taste/texture is essentially the same. However, you can't tell people that you slaved away and made it yourself :) Like any other bread, it freezes really well. I have half the loaf frozen in my freezer right now so I can use it for weekend French toast.

On another note, I finally checked out Eventide Restaurant in Clarendon this past weekend. The ambiance, food, and service were all very impressive. I had an excellent homemade pappardelle with crab meat, shrimp, mussels, and pancetta. The chef also gave us a complimentary treat of mini risotto fritters. The restaurant has a lounge menu/bar on the main floor, main dining upstairs, and a fabulous rooftop with lite "cold food" dining and a full bar. It's a great use of space and surprisingly large. They said the rooftop should remain open for a couple more weeks if the weather cooperates, so check it out while you can.

Btw, summer seems to be hanging around this week :)

See Recipe!


Pork Tenderloin Medallions with Manouri Cheese and Fig Sauce

Before I go into the recipe, I wanted to blog about my recent experience at Restaurant Eve. This past weekend Neil and I celebrated our wedding anniversary of 6 years!!! I can't believe how fast the time has flown by. He took me to Restaurant Eve on Saturday night. It was my first time there and it was a very memorable 3 hour experience. The restaurant is a lot larger than I envisioned and very tastefully decorated with gorgeous paintings throughout. The decor very much reminded me of Bayona in New Orleans. It's very intimate and quaint. It definitely sets the mood and ambiance for a "special occasion".

We had a 9pm reservation but went early to try some drinks from the bar of famous, local mixologist Todd Thrasher. The drinks are phenomenal and by far the best I've ever had. He even makes his own tonic! There's a separate room for the bar that's very lively and staffed with friendly bartenders that will guide you through the difficult task of choosing a drink. A lite food menu is also served there. If you wish to have drinks alone, you can try Todd Thrasher's creations at the after hours "speak easy" PX in Old Town. I've been and it's a fun experience.

Chef Cathal Armstrong's restaurant has an Irish influence. By no means is this typical Irish fare, but you can see highlights. The tasting room offers a 5, 7 and 9 course tasting. You can choose your own courses, or allow the chef to surprise you. We opted for the 5 course "choose your own" tasting, but with several little additional surprise samplings from the chef, it's definitely more than 5 courses. They offer a wine pairing as well, but after already having a potent drink at the bar, I just got a couple glasses of wine. Portions of the courses were small, but by the end we were both happily stuffed. Everything we ate was delicious. But, I have to admit that nothing blew me away. I always look for that ‘wow’ factor when dining in a high end restaurant. That said, I just want to emphasize again that everything was consistently delicious, and maybe I set my expectations too high. I've been reading up on Chef Cathal Armstrong for years now, and God only knows what my mind conjured up. In any case, the overall experience was wonderful. We particularly enjoyed the butternut squash gnocchi and quail breast over a quail mousseline. Oh, and surprise courses from the chef of crab bisque and mini canapes were delectible. Service left a little to be desired. Our waiter was a little bland/rehearsed, but that's just the luck of the draw. He did everything right...just a little boring. They did acknowledge our anniversary by noting it on our menus and giving us a take home gift bag of Kerrygold butter, scone mix, and coffee beans. Btw, the butter is insanely good, and the waiter told us that it's sold at Whole Foods! This might become my new staple.

Btw, if you plan to venture to Restaurant Eve for the tasting room, try to make the reservation 2 months in advance. They were booked solid when Neil tried last month, and only a 9 pm was available. Restaurant Eve also has a "bistro" room which offers a more casual dining experience with an a la carte menu. If you work near Eve, then you must also try the Lickety-Split lunch special which offers two courses for only $13.50 during the week. Maybe I'll make my way there on a "sick day".

Now, on to the recipe. A while ago I blogged about a delicious pork dish that I tasted at Mourayo. It was pork loin medallions served with Greek cheese, fig sauce and honey. I did recreate this one at home and was very happy with the results. I used a pork tenderloin and cut it into 1 1/2 inch thick circles. I seasoned the medallions liberally with salt and pepper and seared them to medium rare temperature on a hot, greased iron skillet. I placed the pork on top of a honey almond sauce. I made this sauce by simmering and reducing 1/4 cup honey with equal part chicken stock. Add more/less honey and stock to suit your taste. Towards the end, I added slivered almonds to the sauce. I topped the pork with seared manouri cheese which can be found at your local greek market. Cut the slices thick because when you sear the cheese slices it will shrink in size. Sear them on a skillet until golden brown on both sides. Btw, Manouri cheese is a mild goat cheese and Neil didn't even notice!! Hopefully he doesn't read this blog too often :) Finally, I topped the seared cheese with a fresh fig sauce. It looks beautiful and the taste lives up to the presentation.


Heirloom Tomato Tart

Last week started off a little shaky with football and colder weather attacking me all at once, but the holiday weekend turned it around. I stayed in town and enjoyed the amazing weather, which btw, is the nicest weekend we've had all summer. I went to some wineries on Saturday, and ended the day watching the first VT game of the season. Even though I'm not a football fan, I can't help but root for my Hokies. Neil actually went to Atlanta to witness the disappointing loss :( Sunday, I spent time at the Georgetown waterfront, which I haven't done all summer. I'm trying to pack in all I can outdoors with the short time left!!

I've been frequenting the farmer's markets too, and the heirloom tomatoes have been calling to me. They come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. It's very confusing picking them out. I bought 3 different kinds from 3 different vendors. I don't even know the varietals I bought, but they were so pretty, and all tasty. I used them to make a tart, but these taste fantastic eaten plain with just salt and pepper.

I kept the tart simple, by layering tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, drizzles of pesto, and salt/pepper. I used my basic Pate Brisee "Flaky Pie Crust" recipe. I fully baked the crust, let it cool, and brushed a light layer of pesto. I then layered the cheese, sliced tomatoes, salt/pepper, and repeated the process. You could serve it immediately, or bake it in a 400 degrees oven for about 10-15 minutes. I decided to bake mine. Do keep in mind that the tomatoes are going to give off a decent amount of moisture which will keep the bottom crust from being perfectly crispy, but it's still delicious, so don't fret. Brushing with the pesto first helped. Another option is to roast the tomato slices separately first, and then add them to the baked crust. I didn't use any herb garnishes on this because I really wanted the tomatoes to dominate. Also, pesto already has basil. This tart was incredible! And just look at how gorgeous the tomatoes are! The markets are still selling them, so if you haven't experienced these yet, it's a must. Gotta end summer on a tasty note :) Go Hokies!!!


Barbeque Chicken with Grilled Pineapple

My August wedding tour is over and I'm back :) It's been a crazy, fun and festive month. We had two huge family weddings...one for Neil's sister and the other, my cousin. The weddings were beautiful, and it was great to be able to spend quality time with both sides of the family. We had so much fun celebrating, I barely realized that summer is winding down, and it's hitting me now. I'm NOWHERE near ready to let it go yet! We still have a few more weeks of warm weather, I hope. I'll shed my first tear the day I'm forced to squeeze into a pair of jeans...ugh. Until then, I'm staying calm. Also, to make the transition somewhat easier, we booked a trip to Puerto Vallarta in October! That might work to my detriment...we'll see :)

I plan to spend the warm days we have left, grilling. This recipe I came across online is a delicious dish that I love to make this time of year. It's a simple chicken breast, rubbed with an interesting spice mixture, served along side a refreshing pineapple salsa. I really like the spice rub on the chicken and the pineapple salsa offsets it perfectly. It's also served with a unique pumpkin polenta, which gives a teaser of the change of season ahead. Hey, at least I have food to look forward to in the Fall...


Snapper Veracruz

Out of all the fish dishes I make, this is Neil's absolute favorite. It's spicy, tangy, and a touch of sweet all in one. I've played around with the traditional veracruz sauce and made it to suit my taste. You don't have to use snapper either. Any firm, white fish will do for this. I'm really too tired to write anymore. This lazy Sunday is literally "lazy". We had a friend's wedding on Saturday...bit too much partying for me and no sleep! I'm paying for it now.
Have a great week, and make this. It's surprisingly a pretty quick fix for a weeknight meal.

See Recipe!



I thought it fitting to post this moussaka recipe, after Neil and I went to the Greek restaurant, Mourayo in DC this past weekend. It's been open for a few years, but we never got around to checking it out. But last week, Neil came across an awesome deal from Groupon. If you haven't signed up for this, you really should. The deals come in daily and signing up is free. He basically paid $20 for a $40 coupon to Mourayo .

We enjoyed Mourayo overall. They serve traditional greek cuisine as well as some interesting twists. For example, the moussaka is made with ground duck in stead of lamb. We ordered the dip assortment, "Symposium" as an appetizer. It had about 5 dips...all tasty except for the hummus, which was dry and bland. The pita isn't freshly made , but it's served herbed and warm. For main course, I got the duck moussaka, which was tasty, although the flavor of duck was masked by the spices. I wouldn't have even known it was duck if I didn't read it on the menu. Neil got the winner of the evening, which was pork loin medallions served with Greek cheese, fig sauce and honey. It was a perfect marriage of flavors, and I ended up eating half his plate! I'm definitely going to try to replicate this one at home. The wines offered are all Greek. I'm not a fan of Greek wine, but we ordered a Cab/Syrah mix that wasn't bad.

Other dishes that are suppose to be popular are the crab/cheese in phyllo app, ground lamb and feta in phyllo entree, and the salt encrusted whole, fresh fish.

The restaurant is small and intimate. There is a little bit of a "cheese" element in that the waiters are dressed as sailors, and the restaurant has "portholes" on the walls. But, service was attentive and our waiter was knowledgeable too.

Would I return again? Probably not for a while, but if we get another groupon, it's a sure thing!

Anyways, I really do love a traditional moussaka, and this recipe is great. I never posted it before because the pictures are horrible. I was so hungry that night that I didn't have the patience to let it set or get a decent shot. But, trust me, if you like moussaka, this recipe is a keeper.

See Recipe!


Spinach & Potato Gnocchi

I relish the lazy Sundays where I can do whatever I please. Usually, my days are so routine and scheduled...get up at 6:30 am, exercise at 6:35 am, shower at 6:55 am, eat cereal at 7:30 am, go to work at 7:40 am, tea and muffin at 10 am, ...and the robotic routine goes on. It's my own fault, because I'm a creature of routine. But, when I get a "lazy Sunday" opportunity, I wake up whenever, and don't even bother to shower...which is pure freedom in itself! I put on some loud 80's music, an apron, and get to work on a fun recipe. It's my own little world where I forget about everything but the task at hand.

Making gnocchi is perfect for a Sunday! Gnocchi is one Italian pasta that I've had the most difficulty mastering at home. The ingredients are so simple (potato, flour, egg), but the technique is so tricky. In fact, majority of restaurants haven't gotten it right either. Most I've had are too heavy, gummy, or chewy. Gnocchi should be tender, light, fluffy pillows that melt in your mouth. You'll find various recipes out there with completely different proportions of potato/flour/egg. This recipe is the closest I've gotten, but I'm still in the practicing stage.

I sauteed the gnocchi in butter/oil, and served it with a truffled mornay sauce and the slow roasted tomatoes from last week. See, I told you those tomatoes were versatile! Truffled mornay sauce is just a fancy title for bechamel sauce that has been transformed into a "mornay" by melting/mixing in cheese at the end...in this case, a truffle cheese. Anyways, the dish shows so beautifully and the combination of flavors was pure bliss.

Uncooked gnocchi also freezes great. I think it's time I buy a separate freezer for all these Sunday experiments. If freezing, make sure you freeze them on a tray first, and then after they are frozen, you can transfer them to a freezer bag. They can go straight into boiling water from the freezer.

Here are some tips to perfecting gnocchi at home:

- Use Yukon Gold or Idaho potatoes
- Bake your potatoes versus boiling them. This is so you don't have any water in the dough, which will completely ruin it, contributing to the gummy/chewy texture. You can also bake them on a bed of coarse salt to draw out even more moisture.
- Always rice your potatoes using a potato ricer. This will result in a fluffier, lighter gnocchi. Mashing the gnocchi can result in a gummy texture.
- Don't use ricotta in your gnocchi unless you have completely drained it of any water. You should drain your ricotta in a cheese cloth overnight.

Cheers to Sundays :)

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Slow Roasted Tomato Crostini

We're in the heart of tomato season, so I thought it was appropriate to post this delectable, summer bite. What makes these so tasty are the slow roasted tomatoes. These are so much better than store bought sundried tomatoes. Store bought ones have the the texture of beef jerkey and completely mask the true taste of tomatoes. Tomatoes scream "fresh" to me, and slow roasting them takes the inherent freshness to another level. After discovering how easy homemade slow roasted tomatoes are, I've sworn off sun dried tomatoes. The flavor concentrates, popping in your mouth, and the texture is so soft and delicate. I don't know how else to describe it. These are very versatile too. I have them pictured on crostini, but I've also used it in sauces, pasta, and pizza. Or you could do what Neil does, and just pop them in your mouth :) A hummus made with these tomatoes would also be fantastic. Make these by the trays and freeze them for the cold months. Ugh, I hate thinking that far ahead! We still have a good while to bake in the summer sun, right?

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June flew by so incredibly fast and it’s already July 4th!! I feel like I’ve barely had enough time to enjoy summer, and it’s just passing me by. At least the rain is slowly, but surely decreasing. Hopefully, the trend continues into the holiday weekend. The perfect drink to celebrate the holiday, is this refreshing Sangria. I got the recipe from my cousin who makes some delicious libations. We have her make jugs of this at all of our family gatherings. I’m visiting her sister for July 4, so hopefully she makes this for me! Did you catch that, Sonia???

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So, I kinda lied when I said I haven’t had time to enjoy the summer. I just want more time to explore…a lot more time! We have been taking advantage of the nice days and trying out restaurants in the city, specifically Capitol Hill. You might have noticed that I haven’t blogged much about any new restaurants lately, nor have I updated any that I have posted on. That’s because I hate writing, and I’m just not that good at really expressing myself. The hardest part about keeping up with this blog is the blogging! It would be so much easier to just post a recipe and picture, but I suppose that's cheating. Anyways, I have to come out of hiding because I'm so excited about some restaurants on Capitol Hill that are sure bets. We’ve been frequenting this area a lot this summer, and it’s quickly becoming one of my favorite city spots. Most of their venues also have outdoor seating, which I think is lacking in most parts of the city. Also, the Eastern Market on the weekends is such a fun summer treat. Btw, I’ve noticed that the Hill doesn’t have heavy markups on their wine like most DC restaurants. Overall, they are much more affordable for food and alcohol, and provide a casual, unpretentious environment. I haven’t made my way to all the restaurants on the Hill, but here’s a few that I’ve enjoyed recently.

Sonoma - This is a very cute, little wine bar. It’s sister restaurant is Mendocino Grill in Georgetown. The menu is very small, but the offerings are very good, and simple. Portions are small, so don’t expect to get full. I think this is more of a lunch/afternoon spot for a light meal with a glass of wine. I had the pasta with confit of chicken, which was divine. The flavors and seasonings were perfect, and the chicken melted in my mouth. Neil had a pizza, which was very small, yet tasty. It’s no 2 Amys, but it hit the spot. Oh, and you get some very plump, delicious olives to start with. A large part of the menu consists of cheese and charcuterie which is the common theme amongst wine bars. We sat outside, so I only got a little glimpse of the inside. It’s narrow and very small, with simple décor. Sitting outside was fun to people watch :)

Cava- This restaurant is also in Rockville, but recently opened up on the Hill…..and what a fabulous addition!! The cuisine is Greek, and it’s mezze style… similar to Zaytinya in Penn Quarter. All night, our group was comparing them, and the general consensus was that Cava is the better of the two. The only thing that gave Zaytinya the edge was their fresh pita. Cava provides pita, but it definitely isn’t freshly made. However, they provide an excellent spicy dip and olives along with their pita. Pitas aside, the mezze menu is very vast for meat eaters and vegetarians…a lot larger than Zaytinya, and between the 7 of us, we thoroughly enjoyed everything we ordered. The lamb sliders are an absolute must!! You can’t really go wrong with this menu. The restaurant itself is also very trendy and dimly lit. It has outdoor seating with a rooftop lounge as well. As far as drinks go, it has excellent cocktails on the menu, and very inexpensive, decent wines. You definitely want to take a group to this restaurant, so you can try more items. Service was very attentive too, especially given how packed the restaurant was.

Café 8- This is the closest thing I’ve had to authentic Turkish food in DC, and I have been to Turkey. They even sell the spicy Turkish dip, Muhammara, which I haven’t seen on other Turkish menus in the area. It was excellent, as was the Adana kebab and Pides (turkish "calzone"). Even the chicken kebab was delicious....I'm use to dry chicen kebabs at most places. The dough they use for the Pide is very soft and tasty, and as far as I can tell, authentic. This restaurant is such a nice treat, and it really took me back to Turkey for an evening. The restaurant itself is casual, and nicely decorated. They also have two outdoor sections, one in the front, and a small garden in the back. The wine list isn’t so great, but I was fine with the offerings. I suppose it’s not for the wine connoisseurs of the world. Just stay away from the Turkish wines. The food more than made up for the lacking wine list, and it is very affordable too! This is another restaurant good for a group, so you can try everything.

Next up on Capitol Hill is Belga Cafe! Happy eating and July 4 :)


Ahi Tuna Salad

Ahi Tuna is one of my favorite fish. It's very meaty, and holds up beautifully on the grill. This is the perfect meal for a hot, summer day. It's refreshing, healthy, and delicious. And doesn't it just look like summer? I like to serve it with couscous, but the dish stands up well all on it's own, making a wonderful treat for those that are low-carbing it. I'm a sucker for carbs, and don't feel complete without my daily dose, hence the couscous :) This recipe is also extremely fast and easy, so I've been preparing this almost every other week. Be sure to buy high quality fish, because the freshness and quality of your tuna will make a huge difference with this dish.

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Szechwan Eggplant

I thought that I had Pittsburgh sports in hibernation until football season, but I was oh so wrong. I totally forgot about hockey, and had to spend this last Friday night watching the Stanley Cup finals. The Penguins made it all the way to game 7, ended up winning the cup, and made Neil a happy camper. We watched the game at the Poorhouse , which is the Pittsburgh bar of DC. I had no idea that one existed, but it was a mad house, and very entertaining. There were multiple lifesize, homemade replicas of the Stanley Cup. Pitt fans are on the verge of insanity, and they are proud of it. Anyways, I decided that I'm a fan of Sidney Crosby, and Neil was so ecstatic about my preference that he agreed to "let" me have him in my top 5. Crosby definitely keeps hockey interesting :) I got through football and hockey, and Pitt is majorly sucking at baseball, so I think I'm in the clear for a short while. None of this has anything to do with the eggplant recipe, but I just felt like venting.

If you like eggplant, you have to try this recipe. It's made with Asian eggplant which takes on incredible flavors when seared and caramelized. My mom is vegetarian, so every time we go out for Asian food, she orders the eggplant stir fry. All of us carnivores mooch off her plate. This recipe comes pretty close to what she orders, and it only takes about 10 minutes to make. It makes a delicious addition to an Asian themed meal. I don't know about you, but when I eat Asian food, I like to have variety. I made this with pad thai and red curry. Try it!

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I've had some really bad imitations of bellinis in restaurants here. Most just use peach juice with champagne, which tastes awful. But, I had my first real bellini in Venice, and it was a frothy delight! Ever since then, we've been making it at home during the summer months. It's a refreshing and relaxing treat. A traditional bellini consists of pureed peaches and prosecco (sparkling wine). Make a "Bellini Bar" with different fruit purees to mix with the prosecco! It's a great idea if you're hosting a brunch, shower, etc.

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Caramel Sauce

This past week/weekend we celebrated my birthday...I use my birthday as an excuse to get Neil to do the things that I like to do :) We started last Thursday in DC. I dragged Neil to the Penn Quarter Farmers Market. Then we, headed over to the happy hour at Vinoteca and after that made it to the happy hour at Oya. Both were a lot of fun, and great options for food and drink. Vinoteca has several glasses of wine priced at only $5. Oya does a great job on eclectic/modern sushi rolls, several of which are offered at happy hour prices. Btw, Oya's happy hour ends at 8 pm which is why we were able to make both. I don't know of many venues that have happy hour that late into the evening.

Friday night, I had a small birthday dinner with friends/family at Blue Duck Tavern and went out dancing at Tattoo Bar. It's literally my once a year outing. The last time I went out dancing in DC was my last birthday. I think Friday night was enough to last me another year :) Saturday turned out to be beautiful and sunny, so we went to some Virgina vineyards with a couple friends. We took some fun picnic food, and just took in the amazing weather. It's a beautiful drive as well this time of year. So, that's that...another year gone!

I didn't know what recipe to post today, since I'm a little drained. We got back from New Orleans recently, and I wanted to post the Muffelettas that Neil made for our winery outing, but I don't have those pictures uploaded yet :( I'll try to get it up soon.

I decided it would be a good time to post this caramel recipe. Ice cream season is here, and caramel is my favorite topping. Caramel is another one of those items that is actually really easy to make, but equally easy to royally screw up. Working with sugar can get tricky. With caramel, just when you think it's ruined, it's actually perfect. You'll understand what I mean when you try making it. This caramel is wonderful to have around to drizzle whenever you get that ice cream craving. For me, the ice cream craving is nightly these days. I try to stick with half a scoop on the weeknights though...I'm getting a tad better with self control. Sundays are double scoop day :) Sorry for the scattered post. It's hard getting back into the swing of things after such a crazy weekend! I'm gettin' old!


Catfish Fingers- Po boys

I spent the Memorial long weekend eating my little behind off in New Orleans. This is still one of my favorite dining destinations in the US, and it never fails us. I've been once before Katrina, and twice after. The city is as alive as ever, sprawling with tourists, and we had a blast. To get in the spirit of 'the big easy', I made some fried catfish fingers and Po Boys last week. The Po Boys were almost as good as what we had over the weekend.
For those that have never had a Po Boy, it's simplicity at it's best...a french bread sandwich with some type of meat inside. I like it best stuffed with fried seafood. I "wiki'd" the term and found this:

"The traditional versions are served hot and include fried shrimp and oysters, catfish, crawfish, etc. You may be asked if you would like your po' boy "dressed". A "dressed" po' boy has lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise."

Instead of mayo, I made a remoulade sauce to go with the fried catfish fingers. I also used a store bought french bread, but the bread doesn't come close to that in NOLA. The crust of Louisiana French bread is very crispy, so much so that it is difficult to eat without leaving crumbs. But the interior is very light and airy. We ate our Po Boys at Acme Oyster House in the French Quarter. It's a touristy spot, but you'll find the locals there too. They put a twist on their Po Boy that includes a tabasco infused mayo dressing. We get the "Peacemaker", which is a combo of fried oysters and shrimp. I've never had so much fried food over the course of a few days:) I need some major detoxing this week! Only problem is that my bday is on Thursday, so that just means more celebrating...but, I'm not complaining.

If any of you plan to go to NOLA, feel free to contact me for additional restaurant recs.

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Red Velvet Cake

A while ago, I mentioned that I planned to experiment with red velvet cake. It's one of my favorite cakes as of late. I haven't figured out exactly why I like red velvet so much, but I think it's the sinful red color, mild chocolate flavor, and most importantly, the icing....combined, it's the perfection in a cake. Oh, and the brown sugar cream cheese icing in this recipe is the "icing on the cake".

So, I experimented by making different variations of the cake...one using just butter, one with a combo of oil/butter, and another with shortening. I thought the one with shortening had the best overall texture, so that's the recipe I'll provide. The best flavor was yielded by using all butter, but you are sacrificing some texture. The one with combo oil/butter was a little too fluffy for my taste. Whatever method you choose, as long as you make the cream cheese icing, you're set :) There are some who don't like the cream cheese flavor in icing, but I think it makes this cake.

After I narrowed down the best recipe, I made it for Neil's graduation. He recently got his MBA from GW in December, and got to walk this past weekend (May 15). He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the final graduation cake and all the cupcakes from my "experiments".


Belgian Waffles

When I was packing up to move to a new house a couple years ago, I came across a waffle iron. I had no idea I even had one, or how it got there. Apparently, it was one of the few items that came with Neil when we got married. He never even used it, and I have no idea why he bought it. Maybe he thought his "future wife" would one day make him waffles :) Well, of course I put it to use. Making waffles on a Sunday morning is so much fun. It takes me back my college days at VT, when my hall mates and I went to Sunday brunch at the dining hall. We always got made to order waffles, topped with tons of whipped cream and strawberries. How I miss those days!


Red Curry

Here's another asian dish that I was inspired to make after returning from Bali. I'm starting out basic, and maybe I'll expand later. This is just a simple beef red curry that you can make with virtually any meat and/or vegetable. My mom bought me a new wok over christmas that came in handy with this. It allows you to saute the veggies and meat super fast. This dish is incredibly easy and very quick to make on a weeknight after work.

Hope everyone's enjoying the scorching HOT weather...I for one love it!!!

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Steak Au Poivre with Potatoes Gratin

I love steak, but I loathe steakhouses. They are stuffy, pretentious, and just boring. Ray's the Steaks is the only steakhouse I enjoy, due largely to the laid back attitude there. I believe that good food is meant to be eaten in a fun, relaxing environment. So, I equally enjoy making steaks at home. Steak au poivre with mushrooms is my favorite and so incredibly easy. Just be careful not to overcook it, and bring the steaks to room temperature before it hits the hot skillet. Also, be sure to develop a nice char on both sides through high heat. Doing so will be the difference between a great steak and a mediocre one. Neil wanted me to point out that this charring is called "Pittsburgh Style" (his hometown), although I haven't confirmed the truth in that :)
A lot of grocery stores now sell prime grade steaks. The steak pictured is an Omaha steak that my cousin sent to us for Christmas. We were so surprised when we got a huge delivery of filet mignons, ribeyes, NY strips, burgers etc. Very cool gift!! The steaks from Omaha are very consistent, and the variety works out for us, because I like filet mignons while Neil likes ribeyes and NY strip.
Anyways, I served the filet pictured with potato gratin and creamed spinach. I posted the potato recipe, but the creamed spinach doesn't really have a recipe. I just use whatever creaming agents I have on hand. I believe for the one pictured, I had mascarpone lying around, so I creamed wilted spinach, garlic and shallots with mascarpone, milk, and parmesan. Cream cheese, heavy cream, evaporated milk, etc all work great for creamed spinach too.
Anyways, I hope you use this recipe to enjoy a fancy steak night at home.


Goat Cheese Tart

I love tarts and I love goat cheese! I rarely ever get to make this because of Neil's strong aversion to goat cheese. It's all in his head! I've snuck in goat cheese on occasion, and he never noticed. Little by little I'm weening him in. But, he's not ready for this tart yet. Anyways, when I was asked to bring an item to my friend's party, I jumped at the opportunity. This is incredible for goat cheese lovers, and the presentation is really pretty for a spring party. Speaking of, the winter is still lingering way longer than it should be :( I had to bust out my winter gloves last week!

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Asian Corn Fritters

Going to Bali has got me craving Asian food. It's not my favorite cuisine, but Bali has given me a fresh, new perspective. I think the exotic ingredients and the fusion of Asian cuisine there is the what made it so incredible...far superior than anything we get here. Anyways, I'm willing to start experimenting some. We had these delicious corn fritters in Bali. I was searching through my Thai cookbook when I came back, and actually found a corn fritter recipe in it. I added a few extra ingredients based on what I remember in Bali. These are an excellent appetizer. Double the recipe, because they go quick. I easily eat 3-4 without even knowing it.


Muhammara Dip- Spicy Turkish Nut Dip

We had a blast this past weekend with my cousins visiting from NY. The first day of Spring proved to be a beautiful beginning to a great weekend....sunshine all around, and noticeably warmer temperatures!! In celebration, we thought it would be the perfect time to fire up the grill. On Saturday evening, we treated them to the Turkish feast that we've been enjoying since our return from Turkey last July. So, I'm posting this Turkish nut dip, Muhammara, that I became obsessed with in Turkey. This recipe comes the closest to what I had there. It's great with pita wedges, and even better slathered on grilled meats. Happy Spring!!

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