3/29/11

Happy Birthday, Banana

This is not really food related, but I just wanted to wish Anna, banana, a very happy birthday! And of course since we are twins, it means it's my birthday too!

I can't even tell you how special it is to have a twin: you have a built-in friend, someone who knows you better than anyone else and someone who can (usually) relate to what you are going through. To many happy birthday celebrations together!!!

This is actually the first time in many years that we are spending our true birthday together. NYC and DC in one day :)

(I'm on the right)
(I'm on the left)

All photos are courtesy of Leonid Berman, aka our dad. He took all of our baby photos and developed them himself in a bathroom: such very fond memories. {I just took photos of those photos.}

If you happen to share the same birthday, hope you have a marvelous day!!!!

3/27/11

Lunch at Louisiana Kitchen

Last week Julia emailed to see if I'd want to join her for brunch at Louisiana Kitchen in Bethesda. Guess what I said!? It's been ages since I've seen Julia, and I was looking forward to catching up with her. She offered to come and pick me up (score!!), head out to the Dupont Farmers Market and then have lunch. I was game!

I don't like to wake up early on a weekend, especially after going salsa dancing the night before, but I was ready at 10 am when Julia picked me up. We strolled through Dupont Farmers Market (I bought kale, chocolate milk and apricot blossom branches), took some photos of gorgeous tulips and cherry blossoms, and finally headed out to brunch.

It took us a while to decide what to order. Each time we thought we made up our  minds, we saw something marvelous coming out from the kitchen.

The food ranged from Po' Boys, Salads, Soups and Omelets to Pancakes, Egg Rolls and a few desserts, all with Cajun Creole flavors, of course.

We finally decided to both order Poached Egg “Bayou”: Two poached eggs on spicy, Cajun fried rice cakes, topped with crawfish meat in hollandaise sauce. BUT I had to make one change (of course): instead of the Cajun fried rice, I asked for “slabs” of fried grits. Julia did the same.

Once the food came, the biscuits stayed untouched. Not that they did not look good, but the rest of the food looked so much better. Plus, we also ordered dessert.




The slabs of fried grits were out of this world. Cooked to perfect tenderness on the inside and then crisped up on the outside. Unfortunately my eggs were a little overcooked and the egg yolks did not ooze out as much as I would have liked. Luckily both the potatoes and the crawfish hit the mark!

We were pretty full, but there is always room for dessert, especially when dessert in question is Beignets!!! I first tried beignets when I visited New Orleans with Anna about 6 years ago and fell in love (with beignets that is!): how can you go wrong with fried dough and sugar?

These did not disappoint.




What a fun way to spend a Sunday morning and afternoon: good chat, good food and plenty of time for a nap. {Unfortunately, the nap did not happen.}

3/25/11

Can you eat blue corn tortilla chips for breakfast? Yes, you can!

No one is perfect, right? Sometimes the best ideas don't work out as you hoped they would. But life goes on. Don't worry, nothing major has happened; I just like to be a bit dramatic sometimes: welcome to my world!

A few weekends ago I was staring at my somewhat empty refrigerator and trying to figure out what to make for breakfast that would be satisfying, relatively fast and would be good as leftovers. And then I noticed a bag of blue tortilla chips on my counter and an idea came to me!

You see, my dad makes an awesome dish using matzo crackers soaked in water or milk, which are then mixed with eggs and fried. It's divine, especially since my dad uses quite a bit of oil. I decided to use the blue corn tortilla chips instead of the matzo crackers. I've done something very similar before but with white tortilla chips. This time I decided to add bacon! How can you go wrong with bacon?

Blue corn tortilla chips for breakfast

Ingredients
3 cups blue corn tortilla chips, covered in hot water or milk {DO NOT make the same mistake as I did and cover them for more than a minute: you'll get mush! But it will still work.}
2 bacon strips, chopped
3 eggs
salt & pepper
2 teaspoons light cream (or add milk)
1-2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
optional: tomatoes, sour cream


Directions
1. Cook bacon in a hot cast iron skillet till it's crispy. Remove and let it drain a bit on a paper towel. {Do not throw away the bacon fat!}
2. Whisk together the eggs, light cream, salt & pepper. Add bacon and parsley.


3. Add drained tortilla chips. {Confession: mine looked like a mess because I soaked them for too long. But I decided to go through with the recipe regardless.}


4. Add the mixture to a hot cast iron skillet with remaining bacon fat and cook for about 7 minutes.
5. SUPER carefully, using a plate and pot holders, invert this "pancake" and slid it back into the skillet and cook for another 3-5 minutes so that the other side gets crispy.
6. Slice this concoction (I really don't know what else to call it) into wedges and top off with sour cream, fresh parsley and serve with slices of tomatoes.


I'll be the first one to admit this is not the prettiest dish ever, but sometimes you can't judge things by how they look. Although the consistency of this dish wasn't what I was hoping for, it still worked. The little crunchy bacon pieces really stood out and the fresh sour cream and tomatoes gave the dish some needed wake-me-up.


This is something you can easily reheat and have for breakfast the next day or even for lunch with a side of a salad.




Hope you all have a fabulous weekend! I'm off to New York City tomorrow to stay with my friend Jenny. Anna is flying to meet us there and then will come back to DC with me and stay for a week and see my new condo!!! Can't wait! {I just wish it wasn't so brutally cold out!}

And before you ask, we don't have any super major eating plans while in NYC. NO famous/trendy/hard-to-get-into restaurants. Just a few places that Jenny loves in her neighborhood, dim sum, noodles, Korean and what I am sure will be a fabulous dinner cooked by Jenny's boyfriend Chris. Can't wait!

3/22/11

Dinner at Urbana in DC

Last Thursday while some were drinking green beer and celebrating St. Patrick's Day, I had a pleasure of dining at Urbana. In the past, I've visited Urbana for both brunch and dinner, but this was my first time to try the food prepared by Urbana's new chef John Critchley.
Because this was a media dinner, we had our own private room, but there are really no bad tables at Urbana. The bar, lounge and restaurant are gorgeous, and please make sure to walk into the lobby of Kimpton hotel to see the pretty orchids!

First thing first, we ordered the cocktails. I chose Glass Slipper with Ketel one, ice wine, white grape juice, Prosecco and frozen grapes. Not only was the cocktail elegant in its presentation, but it was sparkly, light and not overly sweet. Laetitia ordered a special Cherry Blossom cocktail (sorry, can't find the description). The color was absolutely gorgeous, but the taste wasn't a hit with me. I'm not a fan of "flower-y" flavors in my food.


As far as the food goes, you are free to order from both the dinner menu and the lounge menu. Our table was overflowing with food, so I'll just mention some of my favorites.

You can't go wrong with merguez (house made lamb sausage with chestnut and salsa verde). The sausages were crispy and fatty (in a nice way), and I liked the fresh micro greens and pomegranate seeds on the plate which gave the dish a bit of freshness.



Another favorite was dates stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in serrano ham. Salty, sweet, and crispy: a perfect bite. If you haven't yet, definitely make these for your next party.


Urbana makes its own pickled vegetables: these were superb: crispy, not overly salty, and a nice little snack in between the courses.


The appetizer I ordered was seared scallops with pickled beech mushrooms and black garlic scented salsify puree. What's salsify? It's part of the sunflower family, and its roots are the edible parts.

Scallops are relatively simple to cook, but some restaurants fail at their preparation. Fortunately, Urbana did the dish right: the scallops were cooked all the way through and lacked the watered down texture. They had a nice sear on the outside and did not require a knife to eat.


One of the most popular appetizers was the shellfish: warm stew of calamari, shrimp, clams and mussels in a coconut and citrus broth. This could be a meal in itself. I just wish the lighting was better so that the photographs did the food justice! {On a side note, I absolutely loved the dishes, cutlery and cups at Urbana. Understated, classy and white, the dishes let the food shine: as they should.}

For my entree, on the right, I ordered lamb: seared lamb saddle marinated in dried herbs and flowers, creamy white polenta, rosemary infused peppers and cipolini onions. I was sad that I was pretty full by the time the dish came because it was delicious: the lamb was tender and the polenta was so creamy it almost melted in your mouth. I had the best intentions of eating the leftovers the next day for lunch or dinner, but then ran into a homeless person on the street and thought he would appreciate the food more.


We ordered a variety of desserts to share, but my favorite by far was the apple tart tartin with drunken strawberries, cider glazed vanilla gelato and cider foam. It was like your grandmother's apple tart brought into the 21st century. (Not that there is anything wrong with your grandmother's apple tart.)

This was a fantastic way to try out the new menu at Urbana. We ended the evening with glasses of champagne and a little take away gift of in-house made salsa verde: adorable! I've used the salsa verde while making eggs for breakfast and to spice up a dish of kale and garbanzo beans.

3/21/11

What to do with leftover pie crust? Apple and Dulche de Leche mini tarts

Remember when I made a Bacon & Spinach Tart? Instead of making my own pie crust, I simply purchased rolled pie crust dough from my grocery store. I used one of the pie crusts for the tart and had one left over and sitting in my refrigerator. I wasn't sure what to do with it until my friend Cecilia from One Vanilla Bean gave me a jar of Dulce De Leche.

For some reason I decided to make hand pies and fill them with apples and Dulce De Leche. Hand pies are pretty much identical to empanadas: you take your dough, add the filling, fold it over and bake. How hard could it be?


There really is no precise recipe for this dish. I took a few Empire apples, cut them and sauteed them for 10 minutes in a bit of butter.

I then rolled out the pie crust and cut out circles from it using a biscuit cutter.


However, after topping each circle with some of the apple mixture and a dollop of Dulce De Leche, I realized there was no way I'd be able to close them up.

And then I panicked.

And then I came to my senses and decided to make mini tarts instead! I simply pinched the dough around the apple mixture. And voila! Mini tarts! {It helps to wash the edges of the dough with an egg wash (1 egg + a bit of water) so that they don't come unglued during baking.} Special thanks to my friend Jenna of Modern Domestic for walking me through how to make hand pies: I'll have to follow her advice soon.


I baked the tarts at 375 for 17 minutes.
Here they are:


The pie crust turned a bit golden brown, the apples caramelized, and Dulce De Leche got oozy, which is a good thing.


Although this was not my original plan for using the pie crust, the final result turned out rather well!


What do you do with leftover pie crust?
What should I make with leftover Dulce De Leche (other than eat it with a spoon)?

3/18/11

What are Hamentashen? Purim cookies with fig and apricot jams.

Tomorrow is Purim. What's Purim? It's a Jewish holiday celebrating the victory of Jewish people from Haman. Haman planned to kill all the Jews, but his plan was stopped by Mordechai and Queen Esther. You can find more information here, but being more of a cultural Jew, what I care most about when it comes to this holiday are hamentashen!

What are hamentashen? They are triangular shaped cookies (because the evil Haman wore a triangular hat) filled with jams, poppy seed spread or chocolate. I've made them several times before with less than stellar results. This year I decided to try a recipe from Jewish Women International Magazine. This recipe used butter, flour, sugar, egg and a few extra ingredients. I followed the directions closely, but instead of molding the cookies by hand, rolled them out. The dough held together pretty well, and provided the best results by far compared to the other recipes I've used. But it still wasn't 100% fool proof. Maybe 100% fool proof recipes just don't exist?

For the filling I used organic fig spread I received from Jenny of Gusto: Eating with Pleasure and also a store-bought apricot jam.



I rolled the dough in between two sheets of wax paper and used a biscuit cutter to make the round shapes for the hamentashen.


Make sure not to overfill these cookies! Just put approximately a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each round.


Then form the dough into a triangle shape. The recipe that I linked to in the beginning of the post has more directions, but it's really not that hard. Just make sure to pinch the sides together so that they don't come apart while baking (some of mine did!).



Here are the results:


The saucer below is a gift from my friend Era: love it's delicate gold edges.




A few of my friends who got to try these liked them. I was pretty pleased with them too. Will try to improve on the recipe or attempt a new one next year.


And now a question for you: What's YOUR favorite filling for the hamentashen?

3/16/11

Ted's Bulletin in Washington DC

There are so many restaurants in DC area. Being an avid Twitter user, having many food-loving friends, and receiving countless PR pitches, I hear about the latest greatest restaurants all the time. And when I do, the hype and praise gets to me. And I form high expectations. That's just how I am {regardless of whether it comes to restaurants, dates, movies, books, etc.}.

The latest buzz has been about Ted's Bulletin located minutes away from Eastern Market. In fact, I've tried to eat at Ted's Bulletin a few weeks ago, but the line was too long. This past Saturday, however, I got together with my friends Sarah and Christina, with whom I completed the Avon 2 Day Walk in 2009, and decided to have brunch at Ted's Bulletin.

First, the restaurant doesn't take reservations--that is they don't take reservations unless you want to eat there from 7:00 to 8:30 in the morning. I just don't understand that. I suppose they are popular enough to do as they please.

When we showed up at Ted's Bulletin at 11:30 on a Saturday, the wait was 50 minutes. We decided to wait. Although the inside of the restaurant is absolutely stunning (check out the gallery), there were too many people (including kids) waiting inside, so we made our way outside and enjoyed the unusually sunny day. We also got to see how Ted's Bulletin makes their own pop tarts.



Finally, our names were called and we were ready to eat! I really liked the menu: creative, quirky and old fashioned.


To start, Christina ordered one of Ted's Bulletin's milkshakes: Peanut Butter, Chocolate & Banana. She loved it! Not being a huge fan of peanut butter or bananas, I still decided to give this milk shake a try: after all, look how amazing it looked! My impression? It completely lived up to its name.


For some reason none of the breakfast dishes on the menu screamed my name. Perhaps it was because by the time we sat down it was nearly 12:30. I decided to get a burger. My decision wasn't easy as there were many tantalizing options. I settled on the Southwest (West Virginia) Burger. It was served on a sesame seed bun with avocado, roasted red peppers, green chile sauce and white cheddar. It looked amazing!


But what is more important is how it tasted, right? Sorry to disappoint y'all. The burger was a bit dry. But the bun and the toppings were good. As were the fries. Not much to add here.


Sarah ordered biscuits and gravy and said this was the best version of the dish she's ever had in her life. That's some high praise!


Before we finished chatting, said our good byes and went on with our days, Sarah and I decided to order a pop tart. The flavor we chose was cherry and omg it was oh so good! The pastry was sweet and crumbly, the filling was piping hot and it was so pretty to look at. The only thing I would have changed was the addition of sprinkles. I'm just not a fan of them.


All in all, we had a good time at Ted's Bulletin, but my hyped up expectations weren't entirely met. This, however, is most likely my fault.

If you live in DC and have been to Ted's Bulletin, what did you order?

3/14/11

Recipe for Russian Stuffed Cabbage (Golubtsi)

Sit down and get comfortable, because this is going to be a longer than usual introduction.

Let me start by saying that I'm pretty handy. Maybe it comes from being brought up by two engineers and living with a grandmother who was capable of using a hammer. But ever since I was little, I was fine building things, changing light bulbs, etc. Not surprisingly, when I moved into my new condominium, I had no problem attaching a curtain rod for my bedroom window, building an over-the-toilet cabinet (which had to be screwed into the wall! LOVE my drill) and hanging a mirror in my front entry way.

I've also finally hung a metal strip in my kitchen which now holds my knives.

But there was one project that I was frightened to complete: you see, my new bedroom set came along with a huge mirror that was supposed to be attached to the dresser. But I did not want to have a mirror attached to the dresser. I wanted it to be hanging on the wall. Simple enough? Maybe so. But I had mild panic attacks visualizing dropping the 25 pound mirror or drilling huge holes in my wall. And of course, like anything else, I was quite vocal about those mild panic attacks.

That's when Mary stepped in and pimped out her husband Marcus! We decided to barter: I would cook a meal for Mary and Marcus, and Marcus would hang my mirror. Sounded like a win/win situation (and I'm not talking about the "winning" that Charlie Sheen is so proud of).

I asked Marcus what he wanted for dinner and he said stuffed cabbage. But it could not be stuffed cabbage with cous cous or lazy stuffed cabbage. It had to be the real deal. And I was happy to oblige.

Before you go ahead and read the recipe, I just want to let you know that the mirror is hanging on the wall (I also got Marcus to add extra wire to my other mirror so I can now hang it both horizontally or vertically because I like options), the dinner was a success, it was lovely to hang out with Mary and Marcus, and all the photos other than of the final dish I took at night on "auto" setting...so just be aware of that.

Russian Stuffed Cabbage (Golubtsi)
Printable Recipe

Ingredients
2 heads of cabbage, or one large cabbage
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 carrots, peeled, shredded
1 onion, shredded
2 garlic cloves, shredded {Note: I shredded all the carrots, onion and garlic cloves in a food processor. If you want to have more texture and have more time, you can chop/dice them instead.}
salt & pepper
1 pound ground beef
3/4 cups Basmati rice, cooked halfway through
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
28 ounces crushed tomatoes {Note: I used crushed tomatoes that came with basil and other spices, but recommend you buy just plain tomatoes and add in your own spices. Also, I ended up adding a bit of sugar to mine.}
28 ounces water or vegetable broth or cabbage cooking water
optional: sour cream, cheese, parsley, salsa

This is what my kitchen looks like when I cook: a flipping mess!


Directions
1. Using your largest soup pot, bring enough water to boil that will cover your cabbage. Remove the core from the cabbage (be incredibly careful) and add the cabbage to the water for 5 minutes. You want the leaves to soften up.


2. Remove the cabbage from the water (again, be incredibly careful not to spill boiling water on yourself) and let it drain and cool. {I used the awesome over the sink colander I have from freelancing for Robyn.}


3. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a skillet. Add carrots, onions, garlic and salt & pepper and saute for about 10 minutes. Let the mixture cool and add rice, ground beef and parsley. Mix well. {Note: at this point it'd be great to make a mini meatball and fry it up to check if your seasoning is dead on. Or you can just hope for the best and let your guests add more salt if they want.}


4. Carefully peel back the cabbage leaves and place them side by side. Creating an assembly line is the best when it comes to making this recipe. If you have helpers, that'd be even better! Using an ice cream scoop, add about 2-3 tablespoons of the mixture to each cabbage leaf (it all depends on how large the cabbage leaves are).


5. Roll them up like burritos.


6. Add your crushed tomatoes and the same amount of water to a large soup pot and bring to a simmer. Carefully add stuffed cabbage leaves (I ended up making 22) to the tomatoes. Bring back to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.


7. Make sure to test one of the stuffed cabbage leaves to make sure the ground beef is cooked all the way through. Serve with sour cream and parsley. Or/and shredded cheese and salsa.


As this recipe makes quite a bit, feel free to freeze some or give it away to friends.


You can also bake stuffed cabbage without the tomato sauce or cook the rolls in a bit of water and then pan fry them. There are so many options!