Calphalon Panini Grill: Caprese Panini

Guess what I won at the Eat Write Retreat? A Calphalon Panini Grill!!! I was thrilled. It took me about a week to open the box, and I decided to start with something simple: Caprese Panini.

I did not want to make just a simple Caprese Panini though: that would be boring. I remembered that I had a bottle of Chimichurri steak sauce in the refrigerator left over from one of the recipes I made for Robyn Webb's blog.

I decided to use the sauce to marinade fresh mozzarella in order to infuse it with the flavor of herbs and garlic. Simply cut a mozzarella ball into slices, pour chimichurri sauce on top, mix everything together and leave in the refrigerator over night.

You will also need French bread (I used a loaf of bread I had in the freezer from my Paul Bakery baking adventure), slices of fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, thinly sliced red onion, and a drizzle of olive oil. Of course don't forget salt for tomatoes!

What I like about this panini grill is that it has temperature control AND allows you to adjust the height of the top panel: this way your food is not going to be completely squeezed. What I wish this grill had are the following two features: the ability to remove the grilling plates and the ability to make the top plate unfold completely. These features, however, are only available for the larger models.

To build my panini, I drizzled each piece of bread with olive oil and put sliced mozzarella, tomatoes, red onions and fresh basil in between the slices. It only took 5 minutes on medium heat to get the results I wanted.

The bread was crispy and golden brown with beautiful grill marks. The cheese just started to ooze out, while the tomatoes still retained their texture.

I was really happy with my first attempt and can't wait to come up with more creative uses for this panini grill. In fact, I was tempted to grill some peaches, but alas had no ice cream to accompany them.

Have you made paninis at home? What's your favorite combination?


What's the Deal with Shake Shack?

I love meat. Quite a bit. I can't imagine being a vegetarian. When I heard that Shake Shack was opening a location in DC, I got excited: shakes, burgers, and fries: sounds like a fun idea to me. There was a lot of buzz all over twitter and Internet about the new burger establishment in DC, but I decided to wait a few weeks before trying out this new-to-me burger place.

Last week I met up with Amy, and happened to run into Lindelle, for lunch at Shake Shack. I'll admit, despite my best intentions, my expectations were high.

Shake Shack is located in Dupont Circle in the old Fuddruckers location. You know what? I was a fan of Fuddruckers. I discovered it first almost 10 years ago when I visited Anna in Dallas, and became a fan of their kids meal: burger, fries, soda and a cookie. Speaking of kids, if you are a fan of burgers and happen to have little kids, Shake Shack has you covered:

The menu is pretty short, which is not a bad thing. I decided on a cheeseburger, fries, soda and could not leave without also ordering a Fromage Blanc Raspberry Swirl custard.

We waited about 15 minutes before finally getting our orders. Here's mine:

Here's Amy's: she got a shake and cheesy fries:

My thoughts:
1) love the decor of the place
2) the fries reminded me of the frozen ones you'd get at the grocery store and make at home
3) the burger was pretty basic: bun, cheese, pickles, onions, tomatoes and lettuce. It was fresh, filling, and did not fall apart, but it reminded me of a very well made Burger King whopper. You make your own conclusions.

This wasn't a bad lunch by far, but I was slightly disappointed. With many other burger restaurants available in DC area, I don't think I'll be coming back to Shake Shack any time soon.

The custard, however, was a great treat! Not overly sweet, with a tang, and oh so pretty! I even dipped some fries in it: how very American of me :)

Where WOULD I go for burgers?
Bourbon Steak
Ray's Hell Burger Too

Questions for you: 1) Have you been at Shake Shack? What did you think? 2) If you live in DC, what's YOUR favorite burger place?


#EWR11: Behind the scenes look at the first night

I first met Robyn Webb more than 7 years ago when I broke up with a boyfriend, needed to fill up my time and started assisting at the culinary program at a local Sur La Table. Robyn was one of the most organized instructors, and actually taught instead of just letting the students follow the printed out recipes. It's her voice I hear in my head when I teach private knife skills classes.

In the last 7+ years, I have tested Robyn's magazine recipe, recipes for her cookbooks, and am now the official editor, cook and photographer for her blog. However, when Robyn asked me last October if I'd like to be the official photographer for a food blogging conference in DC she was organizing with Casey Benedict, I was a bit apprehensive. Did I want so much responsibility? Would I be good at it? Would it be worth my time? These questions ran in my head for months, and by the time the weekend of the conference came, I was scared, nervous and not sure what I got myself into.

I showed up last Friday at the gorgeous Madison hotel in DC and joined Robyn and Casey as well as the other four volunteers (Nikki, Daphne, Rella and Allie) to put the final touches on Eat Write Retreat. We had almost 90 gift bags to assemble, registration table to set up, dining room tables to decorate, all the while looking forward to meeting great bloggers from all over US and Canada, getting to know the sponsors of the conference and anticipating how much we'll learn from different workshops and panels.

This was my second food blogging conference {I attended Foodbuzz two years ago}, but the first one in which I served as staff/volunteer/photographer.

Let me tell you: there is SO much work that goes into this. I can't even imagine how many hours Robyn and Casey put into making this conference run smoothly, making sure that everyone's dietary restrictions were met, getting interesting speakers and industry professionals, and making sure {to their best ability} that this would be an inclusive weekend free of any High School drama, cliques, and that everyone would leave satisfied and eager to come back next year!

I'm pretty confident they've achieved their goals.

As for me, I'm happy to report that all of my anxieties and most of my worries were unwarranted. Yes, this was a lot of work; yes, my body ached from the physical labor, but I also got to meet many friends I've known only on Twitter, stay in a lovely hotel room, and learn about writing, photography and styling (more on this in the coming posts).

One of the fun things I got to do with the other volunteers was to decorate the tables for Friday night dinner. Instead of numbering the tables, Robyn and Casey decided to organize them by vegetable or fruit. Of course I was at the tomato table ;) This would be a fun idea for a casual wedding.

While the participants were finishing up the dinner, we went to an adjoining room to help Gina Chersevani and Chef Peter Smith from PS7 plate, pour and serve desserts morphed into cocktails and cocktails re-imagined as desserts.

Let me just tell you this: I really wish I haven't had two glasses of wine with dinner. My balance was a little off, but I managed to spill only two glasses out of dozens that I carried with the other volunteers. I definitely hope I'll never have to be a waitress or a caterer: it's such a hard job! Below are some of the photos of the cocktails and desserts. Thanks to Eat. Drink. Smile. for having the full descriptions of each dish.

Chocolate Zinfandel Granita made with coconut milk, Strawberry Rose Granita, Chardonnay Vanilla Granita {the chocolate was definitely my favorite: not surprising}

Rice Pudding
St. Elizabeth’s All Spice, Catoctin Creek Whiskey, Jasmine Rice, Cream, Vanilla {not my favorite, but absolutely creative}

Baked Alaska

Godiva Chocolate Vodka, Vanilla Ice Cream topped with Lemon Espuma
{if you like bananas, this is SO your type of a drink}

Don’t Mess with my Tutu

Cherry Mousse in a pastry shell with Cotton Candy
{not only did I LOVE the name, but I really enjoyed the flavors, the presentation and the made in house sour cherries. Just a gorgeous dessert}

Hibiscus Margarita
Dessert Soup with Hibiscus Granita
{I would take this over a regular margarita any day!}

I want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who took a second to thank the volunteers, Robyn and Casey as well as the sponsors and panelists. You have made our day by letting us know your appreciation.

A special THANK YOU to Lauren for teaching me how to set a customized white balance on my camera: I can't even tell y'all how much difference it made for taking photos in dark restaurants and in conference roms!

Stay tuned for two more posts about Eat Write Retreat: the food (of course!) and the panels/workshops.


Can you make a salad without lettuce? Yes, you can!

First, THANK YOU everyone for your lovely comments on my anniversary post. I'm so lucky to have such supportive, kind, and fun readers!

If you haven't heard, I've spent this past weekend photographing Eat Write Retreat in exchange for attending the workshops, staying at Madison hotel, meeting amazing people, acquiring new blogging skills, bringing quite a bit of swag into my kitchen and of course eating! There was oh so very much food and drinks involved. I'll be posting a few recaps about Eat Write Retreat in the coming days, but for now I want to share with you this salad, in which no lettuce was harmed.

After a weekend of being fed breakfast, lunch and dinner (and many snacks in between), I came back to my condo and to a rather empty refrigerator. Still, I needed to make something quick for dinner. One of the ingredients I always have on hand are eggs: there are just so many different quick meals you can make with them.

This time around I decided to make a salad. But this is not your typical lettuce, cucumber, tomato salad. No! In fact, this salad has no lettuce whatsoever.

2 endives, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, chopped
2 radishes, chopped
1 scallion, thinly sliced
salt & pepper
olive oil
just a tiny spoon of mayonnaise
hand full of cilantro, chopped
5-10 pickled beans, chopped
2 hard boiled eggs, quartered

1. Combine all ingredients, but eggs.
2. Spoon your salad into a plate and top with the eggs. Serve.

This was such a refreshing, filling, and in my opinion pretty salad. This is definitely one of those salads that is a full meal. You could also add a thick slice of French or Italian bread, or even some grilled chicken of fish. But I thought it was good on its own.

A special shout out to Phickles Pickles. Loved their pickled beans, and can't wait to try their pickled okra.


How to make candy & my THREE year anniversary

My parents LOVE telling stories of when my twin, Anna, and I were little. They like telling us those stories a lot. Some of the stories have become a permanent part of my childhood memories, and I can't even tell if I remember those things happening or I just remember the stories. I guess at this point it doesn't really matter.

Some of the stories involve me coming up with my own foreign language and singing songs in that language; others are about the time I took a mini toy tea kettle and hit Anna in the eye because she was stealing my toys; yet others are about food. Shocking.

Apparently, when I was just three years old, I invented a recipe for making candy. This is how that recipe went (try to imagine me at 3, same facial expressions, same curly hair and round face, but speaking in Russian with a slightly exaggerated intonation):

Take water. Mix, mix, mix, mix, continue to mix, and you'll end up with milk candy.

I'm guessing this is about the right age. I'm on the right. Photo credit: Leonid Berman (my dad).

I had to call my mom yesterday to get the details of this story straight. Yep. Just water. And mix. And you'll get milk candy. My mom said that my "milk candy" supposedly resembled the butterscotch candy you  have in the US.

One day, my mom was taking Anna and me on a crowded public bus in Moscow to our kindergarten. I was sitting in one of the seats and quite loudly  (shocker!) was describing my how to make candy recipe to everyone on the bus...or whoever was willing to listen. Turns out, a woman sitting next to me looked up and asked my mom with complete and utter seriousness whether the candy was really good. I'm so not making this up!

Perhaps that's when my love of creating recipes was born. Luckily, the recipes you see on this blog are made with more than water. Some of you have replicated them and have let me know that they work. I can't be happier.

Fast forward about 4 years, and Anna and I started presenting my parents with what we called little suppers. We were only seven years old. Those were the days in Russia where typical sandwiches consisted of bread, butter and maybe cheese or salami. That was too boring for Anna and me. We included tomatoes, cucumbers, herbs and whatever else my parents had in the refrigerator. Then we would cut the sandwiches into little triangles or squares and proudly present them to our parents on a large cutting board: little supper. I'm pretty sure this was the beginning of our love affair with tapas. {Thank you to my mom and dad for cleaning up the kitchen mess for us!}

Years later I taught English at a children's summer camp in Israel and stayed with a host family. My host father was a professional tomato grower and also grew mango trees behind his family's house. I was happy beyond words.

Am I rambling? Perhaps. Somehow all these experiences (and oh so many more!) have made me who I am and have contributed to my love of food. And that love of food helped me create and sustain Mango & Tomato for the last three years! Happy birthday to my little blog :)

The photos below are from 2007 and were taken by one of my family members. Also, thank you Nikki for taking a photo of me holding tomatoes at the Eat Write Retreat this weekend.

And now a big THANK YOU to everyone who has read my recipes, replicated them in their kitchens, commented, asked me questions and provided advice, criticism and encouragement. I could not have done it without all of you.

I have a BIG favor to ask. During one of the panels at Eat Write Retret I attended/photographed this weekend, Jennifer Perillo said how important it is to know who your audince is and what they want. So PLEASE, if you are reading this, leave me a comment, tell me who you are and let me know what you'd like to see on Mango & Tomato in the next year. I would love to hear from you!!!


Visit to Eataly in New York City

People have Wordless Wednesdays, but I don't always follow the rules. So I'll post this today: Friday! Here are photos from Eataly: I visited it in March with Anna and Jenny during my little NYC birthday celebration. We only bought coffee, but did some browsing. Next time I'm in NYC, I will definitely come back for a meal.

Jenny and Anna: they were dressed like twins!!! I was the odd woman out.