Beet, mozzarella and basil salad

One of my most favorite salads is tomato/mozzarella/basil/olive oil. Unfortunately, tomatoes in the winter time are less than desirable.

So I decided to switch up tomatoes for beets. Beets? Yes, beets. They have a natural sweetness to them, especially when roasted, and have a similar texture to the tomatoes. (Ignore this number please RA4HFJTU2JKP)

fresh mozzarella
fresh basil
olive oil
salt & pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 400. Wash the beets, trim the ends and wrap them individually in foil. Bake for about an hour, or until the beets are tender (a knife should face no resistance).
2. Cool, peel and slice the beets.
3. Slice the fresh mozzarella.
4. Combine beets with mozzarella, basil, olive oil, salt & pepper.

Obviously I stacked my ingredients to make a tower. You can make a circular design or mix them all together. Just keep in mind that beets will color everything pink.

Question for you: what other vegetable would you use instead of tomatoes in the classic tomato/mozzarella/basil salad?


Lunch at Sticky Rice

I feel like lately I've been eating out quite a bit. Not sure if the Restaurant Week is to blame, or the fact that I've been doing freelance cooking and photography for Robyn Webb, leaving less time for me to come up with my own recipes (other perks are awesome though!!!). Regardless, here's another mini review of my lunch at Sticky Rice with Stephanie.

Stephanie and I signed up to take a 4 week intro to digital photography class, and this past Saturday we had a field trip around Union Station. Being huge fans of food, we decided to head out for lunch right after the class. Unfortunately, the place we were planning on checking out, Toscana Cafe, was closed for lunch. We stopped by at a nearby coffee cafe and asked for recommendations. We were told to check out Sticky Rice. I've heard of this place multiple times, and so Stephanie and I headed out to find this restaurant.

Thankfully, the day was sunny and warm and we happily chatted as we walked. A word of caution: I must admit that the neighborhood surrounding Sticky Rice is somewhat sketchy. It's on its way to being hip and popular, but it's not quite there yet. I was definitely happy we were walking there together and during a day light.

Once we found Sticky Rice, we were told there'd be a 25 minute wait. Both of us had a look of surprise on our faces as we clearly could see at least 3 empty booths. Turns out, they only serve food upstairs on Saturdays. Ok, we decided to wait.

Once upstairs, I absolutely LOVED the decor, and was happy to have my Canon Rebel with me so that I could snap a "few" photos.

I find these paintings fascinating! Can you imagine tattooing something like that on your back? I must admit I've been fascinated with tattoos for a long time. But I dislike making decisions and dislike pain-->making getting a tattoo rather difficult.

Ok, let's talk about food now. By the time we were seated, we were both starving. The menu was quite versatile: anything from tuna rolls (the most out-of-the-box combinations) to grits with shrimp. And yet, I decided on a combination of tater tots (haven't had those in ages), eggs, bacon, cheese, scallions and red onions. OMG this was so good! I could have easily taken 1/2 of the portion home, but I was a trooper and finished everything on my plate :)

Stephanie chose a few items from the sushi menu. The presentation was spectacular, and the one I tasted, Sticky balls (tuna, crab, siracha rice in an inari pocket deep fried and topped with scallions, wasabi dressing and eel sauce) was very impressive. I really liked the combination of different textures, flavors and colors.

I really enjoyed brunch at Sticky Rice. Great service, atmosphere and food. If you go, make sure to schedule some time for a nap afterwards.

This Saturday is my last photo class with Stephanie. Luckily, this is not the end of our eating adventures!

Oh, and on the way back from the restaurant I found gorgeous purple Italian yarn. A great day!


Lunch at SEI in DC

I've heard many great things about SEI, and finally decided to try it out last week for lunch. My two lunch companions were Quinn and Jenn C. First of all, the restaurant is gorgeous! The attention to the detail is spectacular, and the use of bright red color as splashes in the midst of white is brilliant. Yes, I was quite impressed.

I asked for a table nearest to the window because both Quinn and I had our cameras ready for taking pictures of food. That's what we food bloggers do :)

For my first course, I ordered Spicy Tuna spicy miso pickles scallion. First, I was rather impressed by the portion size. Also, the presentation was very pretty. And once I took a bite, I really liked the spiciness of tuna and the fact that it did not overpower the entire dish. I could not decide which photo I liked best, so I'm including both of them.

For the main course I ordered Short Ribs wasabi potatoes miso demi. Lately I've been a great fan of wasabi mashed potatoes. I've also had them at dinner at ZenTan. These were fluffy, but the wasabi wasn't perfectly distributed. After some bites I thought I would cry: you know what happens when you have too much wasabi. The meat was tender and well flavored. Unfortunately, the carrots were slightly undercooked.

And then there was dessert! Chocolate Fondant Tahitian vanilla ice cream cherry jam. I did not realize I was ordering a cake after reading the name of the dessert on the menu. But I wasn't disappointed. This was a warm dense chocolate cake served with ice cream. Again, the presentation was very impressive.

I really enjoyed the food, the atmosphere and of course my dining companions!


Lemony Persimmon Muffins

If you follow me on Twitter, you've heard about these Lemony Persimmon Muffins multiple times. If you don't, here's the story:

Last week my friend Cindy called and asked if I'd like some persimmons. She bought a bag of persimmons at the market, but they had very tough skin and weren't super sweet despite being completely ripe. I said as long as she was sure she did not want them, I'll take them and figure out what to do with them. That's how I inherited ten persimmons.

Typically, I love persimmons: I have memories of eating them when I was a little girl in Russia. But these were definitely not the prettiest or tastiest persimmons I've seen. I decided to bake with them. That's how I found a recipe for Persimmon Bread on Cooking Books blog.

Of course I had to make a few changes: that's just how I roll :) First, I made the bread recipe into muffins; I also added lemon yogurt and a bit of sour cream instead of plain yogurt, took out cinnamon and added some lemon zest. My recipe is below.

1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of one lemon
3/4 cups lemon chiffon yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
3 persimmons, peeled, pureed
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat the oven to 350.
2. Line a muffin tin with muffin liners.
3. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and lemon zest.
4. In a separate bowl combine yogurt, sour cream, pureed persimmons, oil, egg and vanilla.
5. Incorporate the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fill your muffins tins.
6. Bake for 25 minutes. Let the muffins cool before serving.

These muffins smelled amazing! They also rose quite beautifully in the oven, but "fell" as soon as I took them out. Le sigh.

As for the taste: you could definitely taste the lemon zest. The persimmon flavor wasn't strong: not sure if it's because of the persimmons themselves, or because the lemon was a bit overwhelming. Next time I'd definitely add some cubed persimmons into the mix for an added texture element.

Overall, this is a great treat for breakfast, brunch or as a snack.

Other than the typical banana bread, what do you bake with over-ripe fruit?


Grilled calamari salad with oranges and black beans

After dinner at Kellari, I had quite a few grilled calamari left. My personal trainer told me I'm not allowed to have carbs after 6 pm, so I made the following salad a few nights ago for dinner.

There are no exact measurements (as is very typical when I cook).

grilled calamari
lettuce mix
black canned beans, drained, rinsed
red onions, thinly sliced
segmented orange (see how to video here)
olive oil
salt & pepper

1. In a bowl combine all ingredients. Mix. Enjoy.

Other variations: if you happen to have leftover grilled calamari, you can also make a salad from it with tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and feta--a more of Greek feel.


Dinner at Kellari

This past Sunday night was my first time dining at Kellari. My friend Lisa asked me to join her for the Restaurant Week dinner, but unfortunately had to cancel. Luckily, my friend Jenn was able to come. At 6 pm the dining room was mostly empty, but people started trickling in by the time we were half-way done with dinner. Known for their fresh seafood, Kellari had an ice display with several varieties of fish and lobster: impressive! {Unfortunately, this is the only photograph that came out decent from the dinner. Sorry.}

Both Jenn and I decided to try out Kellari’s Restaurant Week menu. After making our choices, the waiter brought us freshly grilled bread, chunks of hard cheese, olives and hummus: a great way to start our experience.

For the appetizer I ordered Calamari- Grilled squid with olive oil and lemon emulsion. First, I was shocked by how large the portion was, and in fact took more than a half of it home. The calamari had a lovely grilled flavor and grilled marks, and were tender. The chef, however, used a bit too much salt. Jenn ordered Spanakopita- Fillo pies filled with spinach, leeks and feta cheese. The dough was flaky, but the filling was slightly underseasoned. Our waiter came over to see if we were enjoying our meal and if everything “was wonderful.” He asked us the same question throughout the meal.

For my entrĂ©e I ordered Paidakia- Grilled lamb chops with oregano potatoes. The lamb was cooked perfectly to my specification—medium rare. Again, the portion was very generous, but my potatoes were incredibly salty. Perhaps I should have sent them back. Jenn absolutely loved her choice: Chilean Sea Bass- Wrapped in grape leaves and slowly baked, served over Gigantes beans. The white fleshy fish melted in your mouth, and the white beans were a nice change on a typical side of mashed potatoes or rice.

We decided to share dessert and ordered Sokolata- Warm chocolate flourless cake with hazelnut gelato and Yiaourti meli- Goat’s milk yogurt with sour cherries and toasted walnuts. The presentation was gorgeous for both desserts. I think the chocolate flourless cake was my favorite part of the meal: it was not overly sweet and contained a center of gooey chocolate goodness. The yogurt dessert was slightly disappointing. Instead of being sour, the cherries were candied. Also, Jenn did not think there was enough honey syrup to contrast the sourness of the yogurt.

Will I go back to Kellari? Unlikely. There are many other restaurants I haven’t tried in the city, and they would hold precedent.


Blood oranges & How to segment citrus

Lately, I've seen abundance of blood oranges in several grocery stores. I wonder if the popularity of vampire movies, books, and TV shows has anything to do with it!? Regardless, I've always loved the bright red interior of blood oranges and the sligthly sour taste they have.

What's the deal with blood oranges? According to Wikipedia, they get their red color from "the presence of anthocyanin, a pigment common to many flowers and fruit, but uncommon in citrus fruits."

And what should you do with blood oranges? Well, I think you can use them in the same way you'd use the regular oranges or grapefruits.

Here are a few of my favorite recipes:
Beet, endive, grapefruit and blue cheese salad
Duck sausage salad with apples and oranges
Beet & orange salad with blue cheese and pecans

And finally, I thought I'd include a video of how to segment any citrus fruit. I made this video about 1.5 years ago with the help of my friends Jenn and Paige. Hope you like it!

What are your favorite varieties of oranges or citrus in general? How do you incorporate oranges into your menu planning?


Curry butternut squash soup with coconut milk

I woke up at 11 am today after a late night of dancing to a gray and rainy morning. Good thing I had some roasted butternut squash in my refrigerator to make a warm, spicy, and sunny-looking Curry butternut squash soup with coconut milk. I was inspired to come up with this recipe by a few ingredients I had leftover from various other cooking projects.

1/2 butternut squash
1 cup coconut milk
2 cups chicken broth
1 inch ginger, smashed
salt & pepper to taste
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
chopped pistachio nuts for garnish

1. Scoop out the seeds from 1/2 butternut squash and roast at 400 degrees for an hour.
2. Meanwhile, simmer the chicken broth with ginger--that will infuse the ginger flavor into the broth.
3. Once the butternut squash is tender, scoop it out from the skin and drop it into a blender.
4. Add coconut milk and strained chicken broth to the blender. Season with spices, salt & pepper. Pure.
5. Adjust the seasonings, pour the soup back into the pot and gently reheat.
6. Garnish each soup bowl with chopped pistachios.

What's your favorite quick and warm meal to prepare on a gray rainy day?


Judy's Noodle Kugel

This past Sunday was my friend Cindy's birthday. Instead of figuring out what to buy as a gift or making some jewelry, I decided to bake her a noodle kugel. Cindy loves kugel (a combination of noodles, cottage cheese, eggs, sugar, etc.), but no one in her family is a fan, so it doesn't make a lot of sense for her to make kugel. Here's where I come in :)

In fact, I made Cindy kugel last year, but according to Anna (my twin), it wasn't very good. I decided to ask for help on Twitter, and was so glad when my friend Elyssa shared with me her grandmother Judy's Noodle Kugel recipe (and allowed me to share it with all of you!).

Ingredients (Of course if you know me, you know I always make changes to the recipe: mine are in green)

2 fresh, peeled, and sliced apples (I used 1 Granny Smith apple, which I did not peel, and I chopped it)
8 ounce package of broad noodles
1 cup sour cream
4 eggs, well beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
5 Tbsp. butter, melted
½ cup sugar (I realized I probably did not have quite enough, but mine was vanilla flavored)
1 tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 hand full golden raisins


1. Cook noodles as directed. Combine sour cream with eggs, cottage cheese, butter, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla extract, and salt. Mix well. Fold in noodles, apples and raisins.

2. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter or Spray your baking dish. {I used 3 small meatloaf pans.} Pour the kugel mixture into a 6 cup capacity baking dish.

3. Bake for 45 minutes.

5. You can eat this kugel either hot, at room temperature or even cold. Elyssa also said it freezes well.

I just had this for breakfast (cold) and really liked it! It wasn't overly sweet, and the texture was smooth with bits of apples and raisins for some interest. And those brown pasta bits are great!

Note: I took the photos with my new camera at 10:30 pm last night, and I'm so impressed that they came out so well given I used kitchen overhead light (point and shoot would have never been able to do this!!!)

And here's Cindy's reaction after receiving and tasting the kugel: That was the second-best gift I received for my birthday this year! (Sorry, Laila still beat you out with her babysitting coupons.)

Have you ever made a kugel? If so, what do you like to add to yours?


Daring Cooks: Tofu Satay

The January 2010 DC challenge was hosted by Cuppy of Cuppylicious and she chose a delicious Thai-inspired recipe for Pork Satay from the book 1000 Recipes by Martha Day.

I was excited about this challenge because it looked simple enough, and yet involved doing things that I normally would not think of :) I decided to go with tofu instead of pork or chicken or beef.

Satay Marinade
1/2 small onion
2 garlic cloves
2 cm piece of ginger
2 T lemon juice
1 T soy sauce
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1. Puree all ingredients in the food processor (how easy is that?).
2. Marinade cubed tofu covered for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
3. Saute the tofu on all sides till golden brown (I used avocado oil).

Peanut Sauce
3/4 cup coconut milk (6 oz or 180 mls)
4 Tbsp peanut butter (2 oz or 60 mls)
1 Tbsp lemon juice (0.5 oz or 15 mls)
1 Tbsp soy sauce (0.5 oz or 15 mls)1 tsp brown sugar (5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground cumin (2.5 mls)
1/2 tsp ground coriander (2.5 mls)
1-2 dried red chilies, chopped (keep the seeds for heat) {I used a pinch of cayenne instead}

1. Mix dry ingredients in a small bowl. Add soy sauce and lemon, mix well.
2. Over low heat, combine coconut milk, peanut butter and your soy-lemon-seasoning mix. Mix well, stir often.

3. All you’re doing is melting the peanut butter, so make your peanut sauce after you’ve made everything else in your meal, or make ahead of time and reheat.

I was pretty happy with how this dish turned out. I'm not used to a warm peanut sauce, so next time I'd go with the cold one, but overall, it was good. I had leftover tofu for breakfast the next day: not the best idea at work --> too garlicky :)


Pickled watermelon radishes


Meet my new friend: Canon Rebel!!! I finally bought a digital SLR. Many of you have commented that you could not believe all of my photos were done with a simple point and shoot, but it's true. From now on, I will be posting photos that I take manually (Stephanie and I are taking a class at the Washington School of Photography to learn all the ins and outs of digital photography).

And now to the pickled watermelon radishes. I bought a few watermelon radishes more than a month ago at the Dupont Farmers market. I ate a few of them, and had 2 more sitting in my refrigerator. I got really, really tired of looking at them. I then stumbled on a very easy pickling recipe on shesimmers.com and decided to make pickled radishes!


1/4 cup Japanese rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt


1. Since I was using the large watermelon radishes, I peeled them and cut them into wedges.

2. Combine the sugar, salt and rice vinegar till the sugar and salt are dissolved.

3. Place the radishes in a small jar and top with the pickling solution. Close the jar and leave in the refrigerator for at least a day.

I've been snacking on these radishes for a week: they are delicious! The flavor is sweet and spicy at the same time, and I love the color the pickling liquid turned--bright pink!

I'm sure you can use the same pickling solution for other vegetables: carrots, cucumbers, cabbage.

Have you ever pickled? If so, what vegetables did you pickle and how did you use them?


Chocolate Covered Macaroons

Remember a few months ago I wrote about making vanilla extract at home? It is time to let you all know what happened with my little experiment.

The experiment worked fantastically (is that a word?). This past Wednesday there was a potluck for DC food bloggers, and I decided to bring dessert. Instead of making my famous flourless chocolate cake, I decided to make macaroons and used my home-made vanilla extract.

The vanilla extract smelled amazing! And it tasted even better. Here are the macaroons right out of the oven:

But they did not look impressive and fun enough. I decided to dip them in chocolate. Since the macaroons are naturally sweet, I decided to melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips with a bit of butter. Instead of doing this process in a double boiler, I decided to cheat a bit and microwave the mixture at 30 second intervals. At first everything was going well, but then the chocolate turned into a paste! I panicked and thought about trashing the chocolate and using some extra chocolate chips. But, after the melted chocolate sat for a bit and I stirred it again, it magically looked fine!

I put the melted chocolate into a Ziploc bag, snipped a little piece of the corner and "drizzled" the chocolate over the macaroons: ta da!

The potluck was very fun, and my macaroons were a success: happiness all around.

Question for you: do you ever add anything to your macaroons? I was thinking about adding citrus zest or dried cranberries, but Anna thought it sounded gross :) You be the judge!


Roasted Broccoli with Olives

In the past I've roasted Brussels sprouts, carrots, acorn squash, and brunch potatoes. You can also roast cauliflower, sweet potatoes, and red peppers: you get the idea.

Over the weekend I decided to roast broccoli. Why? Because I've had two heads of broccoli sitting in my refrigerator for several weeks, and I was tired of looking at them and did not want them to go to waste. Roasting is so simple! All you do is cut up your vegetables into the same size chunks, drizzle them with olive oil, sprinkle with some salt & pepper and spices and let them hang out in 450 degree oven from 30 to 60 minutes. How can you go wrong with it?

I decided to also use some jarred marinated olives and garlic that I had on hand and a lemon.

Roasted Broccoli with Olives

2 cups broccoli florettes
1 cup marinated olives and garlic
drizzle of olive oil
a few pinches of red pepper flakes
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a bowl combine all ingredients. Spread everything in one layer on an aluminum foil lined cookie sheet and roast for about 30 minutes.
3. Enjoy straight out of the oven, at room temperature or even cold!

P.S. What to do with leftover broccoli stems? Try my broccoli pancakes.

Do you like roasting? What's some of the non-typical things you've roasted in your kitchen?


Guess the ingredient in this not-your-average salad

Growing up in Russia, when we said we were going to have a salad, we did not mean iceberg lettuce. Salad to us was a combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, onions and sunflower oil or cucumbers, radishes, sour cream and dill. You see, to this day, I rarely include lettuce in my salads: to me, it's more fun to use a variety of vegetables with a bite to them instead of greens that mostly just contain water.

Years ago I was visiting my friend Cindy and her family, and her dinner salad included something I've never seen before. Take a look below: do you recognize this vegetable? (I'll tell you what it is after the photograph)

The photograph above is of hearts of palm. According to Wikipedia, heart of palm is "a vegetable harvested from the inner core and growing bud of certain palm trees. It is costly because harvesting in the wild kills the tree. Heart of palm is often eaten in a salad, sometimes called 'millionaire's salad'."
I guess this would explain why a can of marinated hearts of palm costs around $3.50 in a store. But they are worth it. The texture and taste reminds me of marinated white asparagus.
Here is the Not-Your-Average salad I made with hearts of palm:
hard-boiled egg, cut into wedges
tomato, cut into wedges
red pepper, cut into strips
hearts of palm, cut lengthwise
olive oil
salt & pepper

You can either mix all the ingredients together or make a composed salad that shows off each ingredient. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Don't you agree that this looks more fun than a plate of lettuce with a few random slices of cucumbers and tomatoes tossed in?
What ingredients do you add to your salads to make them stand out?


Lunch at Ping Pong

A few weeks ago I joined a few local food bloggers (Tammy, Bryan and Stephanie) for lunch at Ping Pong. Ping Pong is an Asian restaurant in Chinatown/Gallery Place area in Washington DC that serves dim sum (and other Asian fair). How cool is it to be able to eat dim sum during the day and not just on a Sunday afternoon?

When I think about dim sum, I think barbeque rolls, sauteed broccoli rabe, spicy eggplant, and little packages of shrimp, pork, chicken and beef wrapped into light dough. I also think about ladies rolling around carts offering you different options to try. And one of the things I love about dim sum: it's super cheap.

Well, I got none of it in Ping Pong. Instead, I was greeted by a gorgeous space decorated with dark browns and blues. It looked more like a fancy lounge/restaurant than a low-key casual dim sum place. The menu was quite extensive, so each one of us chose a set menu for lunch to make things easier. I decided to try Seafood lunch and also ordered a kumquat mojito.

Let's start with the service: three times we were brought dishes that we did not order. At first, we thought maybe it was a little "welcome/surprise" from the kitchen: wrong. The dishes were taken away after we explained we did not order them.

When the right dishes were brought to our table, nothing was explained. We were left guessing what it was we were putting into our mouths and had to play a matching game between our dishes and the descriptions on the menu. Oh, and both Stephanie and Bryan received shrimp dishes when they never ordered them: imagine if they were 1) allergic to shellfish 2) kept Kosher! Disaster.

The kumquat mojito was amazing: highly recommend!

First to arrive were two baked vegetable puffs: they were enormous! The puff dough was flaky and the filling inside was flavorful.

Then I received fried crispy prawn ball, prawn toast, and fried vegetable spring roll. LOVE fried food, and it did not taste overly greasy.

And last, but not least, the steamed portion of my lunch: chives, coriander, scallop and shitake, seafood, seafood sticky rice and har gan dumplings.

At the end I decided to order dessert: Pineapple and mango puff (Pineapple and mango with cinnamon puff served with a scoop of coconut ice cream). Together with the kumquat mojito, this was my favorite part of the meal.

Overall thoughts: give this place a few more months to iron out the service issue, but in the meantime, check it out for drinks, dessert, and a very cool atmosphere.

What are your favorite places for dim sum? What's your favorite dish to order when you go out for dim sum?