Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Dinner with the girls...and new additions!

Every Christmas, myself and my girlfriends of 15 years, Erin, Diana and Ashley, and their sig others take turns hosting a holiday dinner at each other's homes. This year it was Erin's turn, but we had two new additions - baby Chloe and baby Payton! Payton is 3.5 months, and Chloe is almost 2 months.

Having babies around certainly added a new dimension to our happy crew. Good friends can always go with the flow though, and Chloe and Payton were passed around, coddled, fed and changed by every single one of us at some point throughout the night. As the 7 of us (Joe couldn't come) took turns on baby duty, I couldn't help but notice the truth behind the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child." Holy handful. It would be a lot easier if Chloe and Payton had five "moms" instead of one and they all lived in one giant hut.

Erin and hubby, Grant, had anticipated the chaos, though, and as former servers at the esteemed Boar's Head Inn in Charlottesville, they broke out some old tricks to make dinner easier. The day before Erin had plated the tossed salad and wrapped each individual plate in saran wrap so it was ready to pull out and serve at meal time. She'd also pre-made a delicious Apple Balsamic Vinaigrette, which was the perfect winter dressing.

Grant prepared two types of creamy risotto - one with shrimp and one with sausage. He garnished each risotto with vegetables julienne to add simple color.

Dessert was peppermint sundaes served in Christmas mugs and topped with crushed candy canes and homemade glazed sugar cookies! Charming presentation, and a delicious, festive taste.

Kudos to the McElwains for pulling off a wonderful dinner and night of friendship while juggling baby Chloe. If I'm ever in their shoes, I can only hope to be as graceful!

Anniversary in Roanoke

On Dec. 16, my parents celebrated 30 years of marriage. Their wedding reception had been held at the gorgeous Hotel Roanoke, and mom's anniversary wish was for our entire family to have dinner there on Christmas Eve to celebrate.

I'd been to the Hotel many times since it's close to Virginia Tech. We spent the day walking around Roanoke's downtown square, and grabbed lunch at Trio Bistro Bar Bottle off the main square. We sat in the bar, which was bright and airy with floor-to-ceiling windows on two walls. Trio had several dishes with fried green tomatoes! Ah! A fried green tomato BLT, Caribbean spiced green tomato soup, and fried green tomatoes as appetizers. Yep, I was officially back in the South. And loving it.

Back at the Hotel, we took a bunch of family pictures in front of the massive Christmas tree before we were seated for dinner. My brother, sister and I had given our parents a night's stay at the Hotel the night before, so they'd already staked out the good photo opps.

The Regency Room did not disappoint. For Christmas Eve, the chefs had prepared a gourmet buffet that was truly a feast for the eyes. Our family shared a bottle of wine and must have done at least three toasts over the course of our meal. The most famous dish, though, is the Hotel Roanoke's signature Virginia Peanut Soup. For those who've never had Peanut Soup, it is truly a Southern dish and is best made from Virginia peanuts. It tastes like pureed peanut butter. It's kind of a rite of passage for Virginia guests and hosts.

A pianist entertained us throughout the evening before we rolled ourselves out of the Hotel for the two-hour drive home. It was a beautiful afternoon and evening in celebration of our wonderful parents! Here's to another 30, mom and dad!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Monkey Bread dreams

When I was in 6th grade, we rotated through various "exploratory" classes, such as home economics, agriculture, tech shop, drama, etc., for six weeks at a time to help us identify possible interests or future trades. All fall semester I had been looking forward to Home Ec because I saw all my friends making Monkey Bread during their six-week rotation. I remember smelling Monkey Bread wafting from Mrs. Lambert's Home Ec suite of rooms as I sat across the hall in computer class, and then my friends proudly guarding their final product so that the rest of us wouldn't ruin it before they got to take it home and show their moms.

Finally, December came, and I left my agriculture rotation and moved into Home Ec. Woo hoo! And wouldn't you know it, the week we were supposed to bake Monkey Bread, we got the biggest snow storm in five years and missed an entire week of school. We never got that time back in Home Ec, and my shot at a batch of Monkey Bread of my very own was lost.

Until this Christmas! My mom, never forgetting my disappointment and subsequent longing for Monkey Bread, bought me a Monkey Bread baking mold so I could make my own. I tackled it tonight.

Please note, the baking mold came with two recipes: one for the "Working Woman", which was meant to be quicker and simpler, and the "Gourmet Chef's" recipe. I had all the ingredients for the latter, so I thought I was up to the challenge.

Well. After four hours of mixing, rising, kneading, rising, rolling, rising, and finally baking, I finally got to taste my very own Monkey Bread. While my final product looks nothing like the delectable photo on the box, it does taste good. Simply put, Monkey Bread is sweetened bread dough rolled into 1/2 inch balls, stacked and caramelized with brown sugar, cinnamon and chopped pecans. You cook the stacked dough balls in a sort of bundt cake pan, so it should form a tower that you can invert onto a plate when it's done baking. Mine just fell apart when I tipped the mold upside down to dump out the dough.

Next time I'll use the "Working Woman's" recipe, which calls for refrigerated biscuits instead of made-from-scratch dough and should save me about three hours. But today, with nothing but a collection of Gregory Peck classics and the smell of 6th grade memories, I owed it to my 11-year old self to start at the beginning.

Working Woman's Recipe (from Tumbleweed Pottery):

  • 4 cans of 8 buttermilk refrigerated biscuits
  • 1.5 cups light brown sugar
  • 1.5 sticks butter, melted
  • 1.5 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup pecans, chopped

On low heat mix butter, brown sugar, cinnamon and nuts together until sugar is dissolved. Spray Monkey Bread Pan (or 9-inch tube cake pan) with non-stick cooking spray. Quarter biscuits and dip in sugar mixture until well coated. Place biscuits in pan and pour remaining sugar mixture over biscuits. Place in cold oven and turn to 350 degrees. Bake 45 minutes. After removing from oven, carefully release edges and center with a knife. Invert onto a serving platter and serve warm.

A cook's Christmas

My mom always told us that kitchen gadgets/appliances are not acceptable gifts for birthdays or Christmas (too Betty Crocker/1950s housewife), but this year apparently was an exception. I got several much needed kitchen tools and gadgets, including a hand mixer (so I don't feel like I'm churning butter in 1827), salad spinner (which I'd stalked at the culinary class with mom and sis), a Monkey Bread baking mold, and four French presses. I have this vision of serving my guests coffee from their own little individual French press. It's very bed and breakfast of me, and slightly redundant to have four, I know. But they're so cute!

Along with a beautiful vintage pearl and diamond ring that has nothing to do with food (incredible!), Joe furthered my culinary promise with a subscription to Wine Spectator, and the 75th anniversary edition of "The Joy of Cooking", which he deems the true marker of any respectable cook. Guess that means he thinks I've got potential ;) I can't wait to get to know sweet cicely, irish moss, epazote, and more!

Since I had the whole day to myself, I decided to try out all my new gadgets without anyone around. Hand mixer - can I just say, what an upgrade. I treated myself to an after dinner coffee from my personal French press, which was as charming as I'd hoped it would be.

I currently am on the third and final rising stage of the Monkey Bread, but I'll do a separate post on that. There's a gourmet cooking store in Charlottesville that I like called The Happy Cook, and that's exactly how I feel! Cheers to cooking and wining in 2009!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Party 2008

True to form, Joe and I sent out an invitation on Wednesday for a holiday part for Friday - two days notice. Our friends must think we're insane. But God bless them, they take us with a grain of salt.

Long story short, our attendance was more "compact", shall we say, than last year, but we love all our wonderful friends who remained flexible in their schedules and were able to attend. Mostly, we have a holiday part to show off our tree, courtesty of Whole Foods. How yuppie white-bread is that? Yikers. But it's easy to get to downtown.

This year Joe made a carrot and strawberry tart, topped with goat cheese and plum chutney. I made turnip fries (which I'm always struggling to perfect), assorted cheeses and olives, prosciutto and cantaloupe, french bread and olives, and endless rounds of champagne. As if that's a surprise.

It was an intimate group, but Joe and I always love to entertain our dearest friends and show them a good time. We thank all for coming, and since Joe is passed out on the sofa (post call and too much champagne), I'll thank all our guests for making our holiday special once again. Happy holidays to all from #105!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hampden Hon

Saturday night we drove to Hampden to see the lights on 34th St., but first we stopped for dinner at Rocket to Venus. This place is on the corner of 34th and Chestnut, directly across from the block of lighted homes. I didn't want to see the block of lights until after dinner, so I turned my head and shielded my eyes so I'd see it for the first time when we came out after dinner.

Rocket was awesome. It was nothing like I'd pictured. I had this kind of tried and true Hampden-style dive bar in my head, but the interior was very modern, and the ceiling reminded me of outer space. Fitting, I guess, if you're rocketing to Venus. According to the insert in the menu, in 1928, these three buddies built a machine that would launch them into outer space and, subsequently, Venus. The machine had 50 gallons of gasoline and no steering ability. Needless to say, they didn't get very far but showed plenty of bravado in their attempt.

The menu was a real hodge podge of cuisine, from southern style fried pickles (which we got) to gnocchi and olives (which we also got). I tried the Jo-fu, a Sloppy Jo made with tofu instead of beef. The sandwich was HUGE and came with fries. Way too much for one person to eat, but very good. Per our server's warning, the Jo-fu sauce was very sweet, but that's what I think Sloppy Jo's should taste like. 

Although I didn't order one, I was was extremely tempted by their selection of warm drinks, like the flavored coffees with liquor. Note - great place for a hot tottie after walking 34th Street.

By the time we came out of dinner, they'd turned off the lights on 34th Street. I'd miss the whole thing! My girlfriend reminded me last night what a good example that is of how we should enjoy life as it happens and not try to hold on to something for a better time. My desire to "delay" the 34th Street revelation had resulted in me missing it entirely.

So we moseyed up Chestnut to the new location of Dangerously Delicious Pies. We heard music coming from inside, so we invited ourselves in. This duo was playing ridiculously awesome music - the kind of music that you know is going to launch them in only a matter of time - and then the store owner rocked out a few soulful tunes. A man dressed as Santa was sitting on the bench next to Joe, and the other guests looked like Hampden-lifers and punk 20-somethings. Beautiful mix of the people who make Hampden fun.

On our drive down 36th Ave. to go home, we saw a band playing at Golden West, so we hopped out to see what they were all about. Three folksy groups were on the board, and we caught the tail end of the first guy. Next up was Kira Kira, an Icelandic chick and her electronic band. She played the glockenspiel, ok? And a ton of other crazy instruments we'd never seen before! Her music was extremely Bjork meets The Postal Service. We went home and Googled her right away. (I had joked when she first came on that she was going to sound just like Bjork, and surprisingly, her middle name is actually Bjork!) Neither Joe nor I had ever witnessed electronic music like that performed live. It was sick. So refreshing.  

Friday, December 12, 2008

Celebration dinner for little sis

My sister, Erika, moved to northern VA yesterday - her first foray out into the real world on her own! She decided 21 years in Harrisonburg was enough, so she found her own place, a good job, and transferred schools so she can keep rolling. She doesn't really know anyone in NOVA, but that didn't faze her. I'm so proud of her smart choices and newfound independence! 

My brother helped her move in yesterday, and I happened to be in DC for a client meeting, so the three of us were able to get together for a celebration dinner! Woo hoo! As the unofficial "halfway" point between Baltimore and Harrisonburg, Erika is so excited to do just what we did last night - get us all together in one meeting point, her place :)

She had a gift certificate to Carrabas, which she'd earned as Employee of the Month for Outback, a sister restaurant, and she very sweetly offered to pay for our dinner. I'd never eaten at a Carrabas before, but now I can see why one in three Americans is overweight or obese. The amount of food they served with each entree was ridiculous. Plus the bread before the meal and an 

We had a great time together, and we were so happy to hopefully get Erika's new lifestyle off to a great start! She managed to survive NOVA rush hour traffic after dark and in the rain without having a clue where she was going. Major kudos for that, E!

Can't wait to have her show me around her little part of the world in a few more weeks.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My first potato leek soup

Did anyone else ever thinks leeks were some sort of legume?  I was shocked when a farmer recently handed me a bunch of leeks, and they looked like thick scallions. The word "leeks", to me, sounds like a bean. Apparently the rest of the world does not agree.

So I bought these beautiful leeks and Joe refused to let me use them for anything else besides potato leek soup. Soups aren't really my thing, but it's such a classic recipe that I decided to give it a shot. 

I realized, during my two hours of mindless slicing, dicing and peeling, how therapeutic this part of cooking really is. When you've got the time and you've got good music, I could dice and peel all day. Now, for some reason I felt like being an overachiever and decided to make a double batch on my first try, so everything below got doubled. (Totally useless when you're only cooking for 2 people. We now need a small army to come slurp the gallons of soup out of our fridge).

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 leeks, white and light green parts washed and sliced into 1/4 in. slices
2 c chopped yellow onion
1/2 tsp sea salt
3 cloves garlic, minced (I cheated and pulled from a giant tub of garlic in our fridge)
2 large Yukon gold potatoes (1 lb.), peeled and cubed into 1/2 in. cubes (Note: it is IMPORTANT to actually peel the potatoes. I was dealing with little Yukons and didn't peel them, and their skins kept getting caught in my blender).
2 c vegetable stock
2 c chicken stock
2-3 tsp fresh rosemary leaves

1. Heat soup pot over medium and add oil.
2. Add leeks, onion and sea salt. Saute for 5 minutes until onion turns translucent.
3. Add garlic and stir well. Cook for 1 more minute.
4. Add potatoes and stock, cover and boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Cook 20 minutes.
5. Remove from heat. Blend soup with rosemary leaves until smooth.

I recommend serving warm with a hard, crusty bread, like a day-old French baguette.

Free happy hour at three restaurant on Sunday

I went to three, the restaurant on the corner of Baltimore and Patterson Park last night, and our server filled us in on a free upcoming event. This Sunday, 12/14, from 1-4pm, three will be holding a happy hour with a free buffet from 4-8pm to thank all its customers for their support over the past year. They want to fill the place up, so stop by and watch the game and enjoy good food and fun! Parking is free and ample on the street.

Check it out:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Ladies' night for Erin

Saturday night was a single lady's grand finale for my girlfriend, Erin, who's getting married this Friday. Her closest Baltimore gals met at Pazo and concentrated on inhaling plenty of carbs in anticipation of the night ahead. We were eating Fougasse, which I typically try to avoid because it fills you up, but it's this delicious pretzel-looking bread with sea salt and olive oil. Couple of the girls got beef tartare and mushrooms and pizzas. I pretty much stuck with the champagne.

Few new things about Pazo, which I was glad to hear help maintain the integrity of the place: no penis paraphernalia allowed, and no shots. (Whew! This was a bachelorette party I could handle). Way to stand your ground, Pazo.

We moved on to Meli where Erin let me try her signature Melitini - a honey-infused martini. They'd made hers extra strong in honor of her big night, so I didn't get an honest assessment. I'd try it again, though.

We ended the night at Slainte and discovered a new bar I didn't even know existed on the 2nd floor! It was gorgeous - dark wood, deep reds, Christmas decorations, views overlooking the Harbor. Loved it! 

It wasn't a night of anything crazy, but the bride had a great time and we got all our girl talk in. Mission accomplished. Now on to the wedding Friday night at the Cloisters where Will Smith and Jada Pinkett got married. Can't wait to see it! Good luck Erin and Christos!

Getting in the spirit at the BSO

Friday night we had tickets to see Handel's Messiah performed at the BSO to kick off the holiday season! Our tickets were in row G on the orchestra level, so we had a beautiful, undisturbed view of the upright bass section. We arrived at the last minute, and the show was sold out, so we didn't get a program, or I'd have lots more to tell you about the guest conductor and the choir. 

Long story short, the performance was two hours long, and Joe made a great observation. Sitting through a music performance of that length reminds you of how it must have been not too long ago before radio and TV, when everything centered around live entertainment or the debut of a new painting at a salon. The fine arts were the crux of society, and opening night of a new performance was THE event of the season. 

We headed across the street to Abacrombie for drinks and dessert after the show. We hadn't been since the renovation and appointment of a new head chef. We sat in the bar, which is below street level. Joe had escargot served in a small crock, baked in a puff pastry. Beautiful presentation. We shared a cheese plate of two cow's milk and one sheep's milk cheese from Italy and Spain. I had a glass of the Montrasell, and Joe had a Cab. 

The service was great. Our server took a liking to us and brought us samples of one of their finest ports (and talked about chick flicks with me!) to sip on while we hung out.

Note to drivers. The University of Baltimore parking lot across the street from Abacrombie closes at 11:00pm on BSO show nights, 8:00pm other nights. Do NOT pull a Meghan and get your car stuck in there overnight. In addition to our tasty Abacrombie experience, I also accrued a $36 parking fee, plus an $8 cab ride to get my car out the next morning. Good times.

But thumbs up to the new Abacrombie!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wine tasting at Silo Point

Ok, I'll admit it. I'm stalking Silo Point. I WILL live in that building. We'd already taken an official sales tour of model units, but when a friend told me about a wine tasting party in the Sky Lounge, I pounced.

Last night, Joe and I and 49 other guests visited the Sky Lounge for a wine tasting party, co-hosted by Silo Point and Baltimore Style, with tastings courtesy of the Wine Market and proceeds benefiting the Maryland SPCA. (Was that thorough enough?). Our friends Ben and Adriana were there as well, which shouldn't have surprised us since they're as obsessed with Baltimore happenings as we are. 

Silo Point is the country's oldest grain elevator, which they've just finished renovating into luxury condos with THE best views in town. Love it. Views from the lounge were ridiculous, and the wine was wonderful. I'm going to make another shameless plug for the Wine Market since I'm such a fan. I learned they actually prepare custom wine tasting dinners for you! Get a group together, contact the Wine Market a few days in advance, and they'll put together a menu and wines for your group! Can be 5, 6, or 7 courses, starting at $29 a person. Great deal on something new to do with friends.

And, shocker. We left Silo Point and went to dinner down the street at the Wine Market. It was inevitable. 

Apparently some of my Twitter friends were there too, but a little Avatar does not do a real life person justice, and I couldn't match faces with icons. Doh! Here are some photos from @600Block, a Baltimore "scene" site. Catch me on Twitter at @sunnye03.

Butternut squash and spaghetti squash patties

This recipe was ridiculous, and unfortunately I can't take credit for it. I spent Sunday afternoon baking all kinds of vegetables from the market so they'd be recipe-ready later in the week. I literally used up all our Tupperware storing prepped vegetables. 

Joe took the flesh from the baked spaghetti squash and the baked butternut squash, mixed them with one egg and some oats, and formed six little patties. He fried each patty until they were lightly browned on each side. 

Then he made a red wine sauce with a touch of cloves and flour to thicken the consistency. He drizzled this sauce over each little patty, and added a fresh mint leaf from our mint plant for color. 

Voila! It was, hands down, one of the BEST things he's ever made. It was a great new way to prepare spaghetti and butternut squashes, which we usually serve as a pasta-substitute and soup, respectively. And the patties were the perfect snack size for later. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Out with the bro

So like I said, my brother was in town this weekend, so I always like to take him places he doesn't have access to in Harrisonburg, which is basically everything.

I saw How the Grinch Stole Christmas - The Musical at the Hippodrome with my best buddy, Ginny, on Saturday afternoon, and Timothy was at my house when I got home. He and I headed to Pazo so he could people watch. And let's be honest, so could I. The place was packed, which I always like to see. 

I remembered the bar at Oceanaire in Harbor East serves one of my favorites wines, Cat Amongst the Pigeons Shiraz, so we went there for rounds two and three. I have no desire to eat at Oceanaire, but the bar is always pleasant and the bartenders are super cool. By midnight, I was done, so we headed home.

Sunday morning we sprinted through the last 30 minutes of the farmer's market gathering odds and ends for the short week. Brunch was at Golden West in Hampden so Timothy could enjoy the visual stimulation. I could eat an entire meal there without saying a word. There's so much crazy stuff to look at on the walls and on people! I love it! Food was pretty despicable on Sunday, though, which has never happened before. Golden West consistently ranks as one of Baltimore's best brunches. Oh well. For us, it was all about atmosphere.

Spent the rest of the day showing the bro around Harbor East and letting him salivate his way down each aisle at Whole Foods. I can't blame him, though. We're regulars, and we still get excited about walking in there.

Dinner was at Lebanese Taverna in Harbor East. Cinghiale was on a Sunday prix fixe menu and Charleston was closed, so that's how we ended up there. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, I'd give the interior a 7, the food a 6, and the service a 4. It was a pretty forgettable dinner except for my wonderful company! Thanks for coming to visit, Dude!

Attempts at baking

I didn't want to brave the outside on Saturday, so I stocked up on supplies and decided to tackle some easy baking recipes. My friend and cookbook author, Kerry Dunnington, had given me her latest book called This Book Cooks, so I dog-eared a few good pages, popped in "Love Actually", and got to town. 

We had a large bowl full of "seconds" apples from the market (the tasty-but-not-so-pretty apples), which are great for using in recipes. My brother was arriving in town on Saturday, so I thought I could make some sort of coffee cake for us. I used these apples to bake an Autumn Apple Crisp, which turned out ok. I went a little heavy on the crisp instead of the apples, so it tasted more like a dessert than a breakfast cake.

I also made Kerry's Mango Cake with Cardamom. Yum! I fell in love with cardamom as a child when my mom would bake this beautiful braided cardamom bread. It's a seasoning that tastes like no other!

The mango cake called for fresh mangos and raspberry cherry juice, which I forgot to pick up. I used leftover Pom juice instead, and it worked just fine! Once again though, little heavy on the dough instead of the fruit.

I made these both on Saturday, and I still have leftovers in the fridge despite having two hungry guys in the house this weekend. Lesson learned. Baking is only necessary in my house if I plan to give it away, because otherwise it doesn't get eaten. Or should I take it as a sign that my baking wasn't as good as I thought?!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cooking class with mom

For our mom's birthday this past August, my sister and I signed the three of us girls up for a cooking class at The Seasonal Cook in Charlottesville. (We picked C'ville because it's just over the mountain from where my parents live). The theme for our cooking class was Fall Apple Harvest.

Our instructor was Ingrid Bergen, a renowned local cook and private chef. (She used to work for the Kluge family, if any of you are familiar with their wines).

The class was limited to 12 guests, and from 6-10pm, we enjoyed watching Ingrid prepare a gorgeous meal for us centered around Virginia heirloom apples, like the Black Twig, that she'd picked up at the Virginia Apple Festival the week before. So bummed I missed that, but it's on my radar for next year!

Apple and fennel salad with chives. So light and fresh!

Porkchop with apple mash and greens.
Apple crepe with creme fraiche. My wonderful sis, Erika.

Wines were from local Virginia vineyard, Rappahannock Cellars. We had a great girl time and even learned a few things in between chatter! The group instruction was a great setting for going out with groups of friends. Everyone was super friendly and seemed to be regulars. I guess The Seasonal Cook is on to something good!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fall market menu

We were finally able to make it to the market yesterday for the first time in many weeks, and boy were we shocked at what we saw! The selection was incredible, and we agreed that we were more impressed by this mid-November selection than a mid-July harvest. Maybe because the fall market had so many novelty vegetables that we aren't used to seeing. We asked a million questions of the market vendors, and bless their hearts, despite the blustery wind and chilly temps, they kindly answered all our silly questions. I guess we had them captive at least for a few hours.

So we stocked up on produce and once again spent ALL our cash in 30 minutes. Even though we always spend way too much money, we leave feeling giddy with our recyclable bags and sore shoulders. We cooked from 12:30-7:30pm.

We invited our friends Dex and Lisa over for dinner in repayment for two lovely dinners they've served us. We used them as our official testers for our upcoming holiday party (date TBD) menu. Check it out:
  • Cheese and pate plate with Sicilian olives
  • Marilyn Monroe cocktails (champagne, sherry and grenadine)
  • Sweet potato and apple bisque (inspired by a soup I recently had at the Wine Market)
  • One slice of fried green tomato served in the hollow of a red cabbage leaf, drizzled with a chive, dill and yogurt sauce, with turnip fries on the side
  • Portabello mushrooms sauteed in red wine
  • Red grape salad with fresh citronelle, red onion and olive oil
  • Single link of pork apple sausage served over sweet and sour red cabbage
  • Mulled raspberry wine and Glarus chocolates for dessert

Servings were small so we could enjoy a little bit of everything. My two favorites were the sweet potato and apple bisque (which I ate chilled for dinner tonight as leftovers. Yum!), and the sweet and sour cabbage.

I'd never cooked red cabbage before, but I couldn't walk away from this beautiful head at the market. I found a super simple recipe that called for vinegar (I used cider vinegar), melted butter, and a few tablespoons of sugar simmered with 12 cups of shredded cabbage. So delicious. My German grandmother would be proud of this near-kraut concoction ;)

We'll see what makes the cut for the holiday party, though. Food needs to be easily served and passed without utensils and lots of mess. I think that means the cabbage is out.

The night ended with a challenge: the guys had to cook the girls dinner, and then girls cook the guys dinner. We huddles separately and chose themes for each other, and Lisa and I decided the boys had to make us a dinner that is entirely blue WITHOUT using food coloring. And the boys had decided we had to make them an entirely RED Christmas dinner. Seriously guys? At least try to make it challenging for us! Ha!

Game on. But more to come on that as we start plotting.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Life has been insane these past two weeks since my last post. Work piling up, babies being born, out-of-town guests, engagements, and so on. All these festivities have been accompanied by great dining opportunities, and I will eventually get around to sharing them all.

For now, I have to dish about Corks in Federal Hill. Corks recently got both an interior and a menu facelift. I never went to the old Corks, so I can't make a comparison, but I was very impressed with the new and improved Corks. The interior was designed by Baltimore designer, Patrick Sutton, who also designed Cindy Wolf's Charleston. Exposed brick walls, warm orange tones and dark wood with tall ceilings in the first dining room to make it feel larger than it really is. 

Corks, as you can imagine, has an extensive wine list that focuses on small vineyards you've probably never heard of. Since we couldn't agree on a bottle, the five of us got glasses of our choice. I ordered the Hendry Pinot Noir, recommended by our server to complement the House Blend of cheese fondue that we all split with sauteed mushrooms, bison meatballs, bread, and apples. Both the wine and the fondue were delicious, and I think if no one had been watching, one of us would have tipped the fondue back and licked out the remaining cheese! SO good!

For dinner I had the salmon with shrimp and couscous. The plate was very simple, but nicely arranged and seasoned perfectly. Joe had the sweetbreads, which he insists were pancreas. Well, he should know. Friends got vegetable strudel, the grilled pleasant ridge (tomato confit and basil on wheat berry bread) and a beef dish with sweet potatoes and green beans. 

I sampled the vegetable strudel and really liked it. It was quinoa, goat cheese and veggies wrapped in phyllo dough. We all took turns tasting each other's desserts. Chocolate mousse was too rich to eat much, pumpkin gelato was refreshing, but a little heavy on the serving size, and the PB&J with nutella was the clear winner. (Unfortunately it wasn't mine, so I couldn't go crazy).

The wine selection is interesting but very pricey. I would recommend taking advantage of their selection by ordering by the glass so you can sample more than one wine. Also to note - beyond the front dining room is a great bar in the back room. The interior is darker, but it looked like a great place to hide away.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cheesin' over Breeze'n

Oh my gosh, stop me now. The title of this post alone is too much. I completely cheese out when I find an opportunity to go to Bahama Breeze. I know it's a nondescript restaurant chain, but ever since my first Breeze revelation in Orlando, FL in 1997, I haven't been able to resist a dinner here.

So tonight, when my girlfriend and I were discussing where to meet to catch up between Owings Mills and Sparks, I volunteered Bahama Breeze in Towson. God bless her, she agreed. We ate "outside" on the enclosed porch with heat lamps and palm trees. (Mind you, this tropical oasis sits on top of a concrete parking garage adjacent to Towson Town Center. Not quite the white sand you would picture.) Outside you can listen to the reggae soloist croon away with his synthesizer and dreadlocks. Very island-y. Uh huh, right.

I've eaten at Bahama Breeze a blajillion times, but I still look forward to going. It's the perfect atmosphere for a cold winter night. I usually get the Roasted Cuban bread (tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, basil and cilantro) with the Breeze salad. Simple and light, but it's all about the atmosphere. 

Need to warm up? Go here. But be ready for excessive cheesiness. It's great.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beet salad for a farm day

I spent all day Sunday at my clients' farm, hosting a foodies event for TasteDC. My client is a local high-end beef producer, so to emphasize the benefits of eating locally sourced foods, I volunteered to prepare a beet salad and fresh garden salad for 20 people, using only produce from the farmers market.

Saturday morning I schlepped down to the Waverly market in baseball cap and pajamas and gathered as many beets as I could find to make a new recipe from The New York Times food blog. I also loaded up on 6 heads of GORGEOUS Boston lettuce, grown hydroponically on the Eastern Shore. The farmer's table was nothing but Boston lettuce, and each head looked like a rose. It sounds totally cheesy, but the lettuce looked almost floral - like a table of green flower petals. I was entranced.

I spent the next 3 hours at home peeling beets in a white apron, and by the time I was done, I looked like a serial killer. My hands were stained red, and I had bright red smears all over my apron. Plus I was yielding a knife with much less respect than it deserved.

We served the beet salad and the garden salad on Sunday, along with copious amounts of gourmet beef, and the guests really seemed to enjoy it! I was anxious for feedback since this recipe calls for raw beets, and I always cook my beets before serving. I'll make it again, but on a smaller scale!

Champagne and lima beans. And brussel sprouts?

Yes, we had them all last night. In an effort to consume existing groceries, we made lima beans with fake butter and Parmesan cheese, and brussel sprouts with peanut sauce. However, Joe couldn't resist a stop in Bin 604, so while I pulled the car around, he snuck in and grabbed a bottle of Cava and two bottles of red. Oh darn.

Apparently Bin 604 staff had never been asked for Champagnes that complement lima beans. No way! They seemed to find it shocking that someone would serve Champagne with JUST lima beans, so we shook it up a little and added brussel sprouts, just for kicks.

It was an odd dinner, candles and Cava with two of the most loathed vegetables out there, but we LOVE them, and I think Joe is considering being reincarnated as a lima bean. But only if he can swim around in fake butter and Parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Football in Annapolis

My girlfriend, Kelly, her hubby and I were going to scalp tickets for the Navy game on Saturday, but the pouring rain killed that idea. Instead, we went to a hole in the wall bar in Annapolis called Heroes, a favorite of Kelly's and the site of many a wild night for us.

It was almost 4:00, and I hadn't eaten all day, so I housed the West Annapolis Turkey Reuben - sliced turkey covered with melted swiss cheese, cole slaw and Russian dressing on rye bread. Plus fries. I don't know what got into me, but frankly I don't care. It was ridiculously good, and seemed to be the only bright spot as I watched my beloved Hokies tank against Florida State. Got me thinking about my freshman year watching Michael Vick (pre-dog killer) and the Hokies take on the stinking Seminoles in the Sugar Bowl...time does fly.

All afternoon I was sipping on Woodchuck Pear and Apple Draft Cider. For a non-beer drinker like me, this was an excellent compromise. Probably because it tasted like juice and not beer. Oh well, I'm a wine snob. At least I'm honest.

Best Buddies Halloween with a champagne finish

Friday night I went to a Best Buddies party in Columbia with my buddy Ginny. Ginny was dressed as Harry Potter (for the third year in a row. Think she's a fan?), and I went as a surgeon, courtesy of the University of Maryland. 

Best Buddies is a volunteer program that matches adult citizens, like myself, with intellectually, and sometimes physically, impaired adults. Think Special Olympics without the sports. 

This was the third Halloween for Ginny and I, and buddy pair Jill and Amanda threw a great party! The house was TOTALLY decked out with ceilings full of balloons, an electric clown that decapitated itself, vampires, moving picture frames, the WORKS!

I'll post pictures soon so you can see for yourself, but the buddies thought I was a dentist, not a surgeon. Guess that's good that they aren't too familiar with surgeons!

After the party, Joe asked me to meet him at Pazo. I raced home to boost my flattened surgeon hair and lose the scrubs. He met me at the entrance to Pazo with two glasses of champagne in hand. Sigh. The hostess lead us upstairs to the best table overlooking the main floor, and there was a pink rose, a cheese plate, and blueberries for the champagne waiting for us. I'm going to spare you the mushy love talk, and I'll just say I'm such a lucky girl. What a great Friday night.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Joe Squared

Last night a couple girlfriends and I went to hear Joe's band, the Aeroport Rocking Chairs, play at Joe Squared on North Ave. I think I've written about Joe Squared before, but this is the first time I've been since they installed the new coal-fired oven

The new oven claims to cook pizza in 3.5 minutes, but it definitely took longer than that from the time we ordered til the time it arrived. Who's to say when they actually starting making my pizza though.

Regardless of timing, the end result was delicious. The menu is overwhelmingly long, so we took turns yelling new options for customizing orders as we read the menu over and over. I ordered a 10" pizza, which they recommend for one person, with rosemary baked INTO THE DOUGH! I wish you could have smelled it. Add tons of tomatoes, black olives and vidalia onions, and I had dinner!

My friend got the Irish pizza, but instead of corned beef, she substituted mushrooms to go with the potatoes and onions. Potatoes on pizza? Odd, but it tasted great! Pack on the carbs!

Be warned, though. This is no cheap pizza place. You pay for customization. My pizza plus two $5 glasses of wine came to $28, before tip! Yikers! It was good pizza, but I think I'll space out my visits and rely on Maria D's to get me through the hard times ;)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Pesto salmon

Whole Foods kidnapped us after the gym last night. When will we stop being such suckers and develop the willpower to just keep walking past it? The MAC is becoming an expensive lifestyle.

Whenever I'm in Whole Foods, I catch my mouth hanging open, like a kid gawking in a candy store. I'm pathetic, I admit. How come I never see anyone else with their mouths hanging open?

We filled up a basket and had more fun than two sane people should at the self-checkout counter. (If surgery doesn't work out for Joe, I think he has a promising career as a supermarket cashier, and I make a mean bagger).

I have a philosophical issue with eating big meals after burning major calories, so we kept portion sizes super small and made the following:
  • Sauteed onions, snap peas and mushrooms, seasoned with minced garlic and soy sauce (very Asian)
  • Olives stuffed with sundried tomatoes (not so Asian)
  • Fresh salmon seared in butter and seasoned with pepper (Note - as Joe was walking out the door this morning at 5:30, he stuck his head back in to tell Sleeping Beauty that if I blogged about this recipe, I must clarify that it's important to mix the pepper into the butter first before pouring over the fish. Done, honey).
  • Homemade pesto made with soynuts instead of pine nuts, served over the salmon, plus a dallop directly on the plate for color

Our friends recently pointed out to us that our veggie-heavy diet probably doesn't provide enough protein, and we've been paranoid protein scavengers ever since. The soynuts provided DOUBLE the protein at HALF the calories, and were a THIRD of the price of pine nuts. Great alternative.

We popped a bottle of Marques de Riscal Tempranillo, 2004, which had an initial buttery flavor, followed by a peppery finish. This was the first of two Tempranillos we got at the Wine Market for a taste test. I loved this one, so I hope the Tierra de Vientos can live up to it!

Monday, October 20, 2008

J'aime Petit Louis!

Last night we went to Petit Louis for a much overdue "real" dinner. We've been trying to be super conscientious about eating what we have at home instead of going out, but it's so tempting! Joe suggested Petit Louis, and who am I to argue? Fine, twist my arm...

He took care of ordering the wine (a beautiful Chateau Cordet Margaux, 2004), and I manned the menu. There were so many gorgeous items to choose from, so I ordered a selection of small plates instead of entrees. (We were both hoping to be inspired for our own home cooking!)

We weren't disappointed. We shared the following (partially taken from the Petit Louis menu):
  • Pommes Frites (French fries served in a triangular basket. I saw them on someone else's table and couldn't say no).
  • Aubergines Croquantes (Crispy Eggplant Napoléon, Tomato, Chèvre)
  • Terrine à la mode Landaise (Foie Gras Terrine, Toast Points)
  • Salade de Betteraves (Beets, Chèvre, Mâche, Raspberry Dijon Vinaigrette)
  • Local salad special (Local lettuces and herbs, tossed in a house dressing)
  • Seared scallop special (No idea what was in this, but it was divine. None of the usual "fishy" smells that scallops often have).
We had one of our first dates at Petit Louis, and we've celebrated other events there too, but it was nice to be there on an average, nothing special kind of Sunday. The place was packed, so clearly the economy hasn't put a damper on high-end dining. Thank goodness!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Brilliant radishes

Several weeks ago, Joe and I were tooling around in Middleburg, VA, the epitome of horse country/yuppie-ville just outside of NOVA. We stopped for lunch in a beautiful little restaurant behind Main St. called The French Hound. Sounded right up our alley!

It was. We had a champagne "snack" with our lunch. As charming as it was, sitting in the renovated sun room of that antebellum home, admiring the worn brick floors and original fireplaces, my favorite part was the small plate of Radis & Sel - or radishes and sea salt.

Radishes are another one of those root vegetables that I never know what to do with. But at The French Hound, they served up miniature, imperfect, clearly homegrown radishes in a tiny bowl filled with sea salt. The radishes were picked fresh and served uncooked so you just dip them in the salt. I must have said to Joe 5 times, they taste "of the earth". You know how mushrooms have a very earthen taste, almost like you can taste the soil? That's how these tasted. Pure vegetable.

I was ecstatic to see an elegant way to serve these colorful vegetables. I've conquered another root! Last Sunday I was so excited to pick up a bag of radishes at the store and actually have something to do with them! And they were my post-workout treat last night.

They'll be on our holiday entertaining menu this season.

Lucy's in west Baltimore

Even though we have a huge apartment, I sometimes feel claustrophobic because it's a studio and we don't have any outdoor space. I was feeling the need to be around people, so we headed to Lucy's on Eutaw for a beer and some intentionally not-so-healthy food. (Sometimes you just need grease!)

Lucy's, formerly known as Maggie Moore's, is on the same block as the Hippodrome Theater. It's a solid Irish pub, and often attracts the before/after theater crowd. Joe's band used to play there a lot, and apparently it's a staple for UMD med students.

Lucy's has more than your typical bar food. Case in point, I got the fried green tomatoes with lump crab meat. Beats your average nachos. Joe got the crab dip with a French baguette and crudites. (It's addictive!)

Blue Moon on tap, and I was good to go with baseball playoffs showing behind the bar. (Not that I have any clue where we are in the series, but hey, it's all about the atmosphere).

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bucks County weekend

Joe and I were finally able to get out of Baltimore for some R&R in Bucks County, PA this weekend where his uncle was gracious enough to let us stay at his gorgeous home. We were in charge of dinner for his uncle and the two of us Friday night, so we decided to show off a little ;)

We took a bottle of one our favorite wines, Cat Amongst the Pigeons 2006 Shiraz, and we made homemade gnocchi with our own butternut squash sauce, served with steamed brussel sprouts and fresh apple chutney. It was a hit!

Saturday I went for a run on gorgeous back country roads while Joe had coffee and read on the porch. We headed into New Hope, a quaint little town on the PA/NJ border with a main street of boutique art galleries and commercial shops, and had lunch on a deck overlooking the Delaware river. The restaurant was Martine's, and it was nice for a simple lunch with great views. I had the pumpkin soup, and Joe got the crab cake with fries. The weather was perfect, so we took our time and honestly weren't too concerned with the actual food on our plates.

Saturday night we lit a fire, and Joe made champagne cocktails. Yummy! I'm no mixologist, but he made a to-die-for French 75, which is what Humphrey Bogart used to drink. (Yes, my Casablanca-loving boyfriend knew that). It's a mix of champagne, gin and lemon.

Dinner was homemade pesto tossed with noodles, and a fresh salad. Two of Don's friends joined us and brought a perfect fall dessert - fresh apple crisp with cranberries. To say we were stuffed is an understatement! I disappeared from the after dinner chatter to pass out from food coma!

FoodBuzz Publisher Community Launches!

I'm a Featured Publisher on this awesome social network (hence the beautiful artwork on myright navigation bar!), and we officially launched the FoodBuzz Publisher Community today! Read the press release below to learn more:

Contact:  Allison Costello



Doug Collister






San Francisco – October 13, 2008:   Foodbuzz, Inc., officially inaugurates its food blogger community with more than 1,000 blog partners, a global food blogging event and an online platform that captures the real-people, real-time power of food publishing in every corner of the world.  At launch, the Foodbuzz community ranks as one of the top-10 Internet destinations for food and dining (Quantcast), with bloggers based in 45 countries and 863 cities serving up daily food content.  

“Food bloggers are at the forefront of reality publishing and the dramatic growth of new media has redefined how food enthusiasts access tasty content,” said Doug Collister, Executive Vice President of Foodbuzz, Inc.  “Food bloggers are the new breed of local food experts and at any minute of the day, Foodbuzz is there to help capture the immediacy of their hands-on experiences, be it a memorable restaurant meal, a trip to the farmers market, or a special home-cooked meal.”    

Foodbuzz is the only online community with content created exclusively by food bloggers and rated by foodies. The site offers more than 20,000 pieces of new food and dining content weekly, including recipes, photos, blog posts, videos and restaurant reviews.   Members decide the “tastiness” of each piece of content by voting and “buzz” the most popular posts to the top of the daily menu of submissions.  Foodbuzz currently logs over 13 million monthly page views and over three million monthly unique visitors.       

“Our goal is to be the number-one online source of quality food and dining content by promoting the talent, enthusiasm and knowledge of food bloggers around the globe,” said Ben Dehan, founder and CEO of Foodbuzz, Inc.  

The Foodbuzz blogger community is growing at a rate of 40 percent per month driven by strong growth in existing partner blogs and the addition of over 100 new blogs per month.   “The Web site is like the stock of a great soup.  The Web site provides the base or backbone for bloggers to interact as a community, contribute content, and have that content buzzed by their peers,” said Mr. Dehan.  

Global Blogging Event

Demonstrating the talent and scope of the Foodbuzz community, 24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs offered online food enthusiasts an international, virtual street festival of food and diversity.  The new feature showcased blog posts from 24 Foodbuzz partner bloggers chronicling events occurring around the globe during a 24 hour period and included:

·         Mid-Autumn Festival Banquest (New York, NY)

·         The "Found on Foodbuzz" 24-Item Tasting Menu (San Francisco, CA)

·         Aussie BBQ Bonanza – Celebrating Diversity (Sydney, Australia)

·         The Four Corners of Carolina BBQ Road Trip (Charleston, SC)

·         Criminal Tastes – An Illegal Supper (Crested Butte, CO)

·         From Matambre to Empanadas: An Argentine Dinner (Buenos Aires, Argentina)

·         A Sweet Trompe l’oeil (Seattle, WA)

            24 Meals, 24 Hours, 24 Blogs” captures the quality and unique local perspective of our food bloggers and shared it with the world,” said Ryan Stern, Director of the Foodbuzz Publisher Community.  “It illustrates exactly what the future of food publishing is all about – real food, experienced by real people, shared real-time.”                

About Foodbuzz, Inc.      

Based in San Francisco, Foodbuzz, Inc., launched its beta Web site,, in 2007.  In less than a year, and its community of over 1,000 exclusive partner food blogs have grown into an extended online property that reaches more than three million users.   


#     #     #

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Picture this before you snack

I just saw this super cool website in the Washington Post Lean & Fit newsletter. We've all heard that your lean protein (like a chicken breast or fish filet) should be the size of your palm, but here are some other mental images to help control portion sizes for foods that are often indulgent. (I'm terrible on the cheese portions).

A dinner to come home to

I came home from work yesterday to the most delicious smells! Joe was post-call and in his own little world cooking a feast since we hadn't seen each other in 4 days. If they would only let him leave the hospital more... :)

He greeted me at the door with Gerbera daisies and then made us:
  • Steamed brussel sprouts with fresh apple chutney made with allspice, salt, pepper and cinnamon
  • Baked eggplant drizzled with soy sauce, ginger and baked sesame seeds
  • Baked swordfish with an onion, butter and dijon mustard sauce
  • A bottle of Sangiovese (just because we like saying it)
The food was divine, and as usual, his presentation was flawless. The eggplant was skinned and cubed, so it didn't take as long to bake since it was in small pieces. Both the swordfish and the eggplant were neutral foundations that allowed their respective sauces to shine.

Seriously, how lucky am I? We had our huge window open, so there was fresh, crisp air, and we lit all our candles. Bliss.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Taste of Thai

I went to Harrisonburg this weekend for what was supposed to be a final "girls only" weekend with D, Erin and Ashley to hang out before Erin's little baby girl arrives next month. But, thanks to the wonder of adoption, D's brand new baby boy, Payton, crashed our party. (I guess we'll cut him some slack this time since he's only 3 weeks old). We were up to our ears in baby talk all weekend, but it was wonderful to see my friends in their new (D) and almost new (Erin) mom roles. (Surreal, but great).

Friday I drove straight from B'more after work to Taste of Thai in Harrisonburg to meet them. It was a looong drive, but the girls had saved me a garden roll, which was divine! We inhaled various versions of Pad Thai, (I had tofu and veggies), and then we split dessert.

It was JMU's parents' weekend, so the place was packed. I was glad to see people flocking there with their out-of-town guests. That says a lot about a place when locals (do JMU students qualify?) want to bring their guests there for a little something different.

Taste of Thai is a local hit for the cuisine, but if you're looking for an authentic Thai atmosphere, this it is not. The decor is very strip mall-y, with basic wallpaper and bad artwork. The servers are all eastern European, and the desserts are calorie-loaded American sugar bombs. But it's not a chain, therefore we love it.

Our server was trying to hustle us out the door since we were talking our faces off long after the bill arrived, but no hard feelings. When in town again, we'll undoubtedly return for a change from Applebee's nation.

More to come on the weekend.

Friday, October 3, 2008

October nights in Mt. Vernon

I'm so happy to be in sweaters and jeans at night now! We went to the final First Thursdays of the year last night in Mt. Vernon, and it was just cool enough for a turtleneck and jeans. And a little Starbucks Pumpkin Spice latte.

We went to Brewer's Art for dinner after about an hour at First Thursdays. Something about body-hugging jeans season takes away my urge for a big meal, know what I mean? So I settled for the tomato soup and salad, Joe had the calamari and salmon flatbread with capers. And of course a bottle of wine - the Chateau Haut Surget 2003 Lalande-de-Pomerol, described as "an elegant alternative to your run of the mill Merlot." It was pleasant, but a little too dry for me to choose again.

We noticed something sad on our way up Charles Street to Mt. Vernon Square. There were hardly any diners in the restaurants between Fayette and Saratoga. We counted one couple in each restaurant on that block, and it was really unsettling. Is it the economy, or is that secluded block of Charles Street struggling on its own? Our friends had warned us a few weeks ago that no one was dining out there, but it was sad to see it first-hand.

However, at Brewer's Art, the only people there were students! Student loans are invincible in a failing economy :) Jealous.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

BBQ by Andy Nelson's

After a meeting yesterday out in Baltimore County, my client suggested a great local dive for BBQ - Andy Nelson's. So my colleague, Nick, and I headed there for a late lunch. It sits right on York Rd. just south of the Shawan Rd. intersection with the Wegmans.

Nick and I were in for a real treat. It looked like a hole in the wall when we pulled up, but aren't those always the best places? We each ordered the Express - a pulled pork sandwich with slaw, two sides and a drink. I got the potato fingers and a dill pickle, Nick got cornbread.

We took our trays outside and sat in this detached building, which looks like a former garage, that was filled with picnic tables and stocked with condiments. They were setting up for a dinner party, but graciously let us sit outside. What a great place for a party! You could probably fit 50 people in this outdoor dining area, and the walls opened on both sides for plenty of fresh air and natural light.

But back to the food. I haven't had a pork BBQ sandwich in a long time, and man, was it good! The potato fingers were a little dried out, but since we got there at 2:30, I think we caught all the leftover lunch fixings. I snarfed down that sandwich in no time.

My client, M, recommends Andy's ribs, ordered "dry", and then trying Andy's different sauces. M said most other ribs in the area have been boiled for hours, then baked with sauce on them. Apparently, Andy's is the only place in Maryland he will order BBQ since they slow smoke.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Turnip fries

Now that fall is officially here, roots and tubers are turning up everywhere at markets. I HAD to find something to do with turnips. No one ever uses them, but they're a vegetable, so how bad can they be?

Try this for a quick, healthy finger food:
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  • Line cookie sheet with aluminum foil
  • Peel turnips and slice like French fries
  • Toss in a large bowl with olive oil
  • Put fries in a one-gallon freezer Ziploc and generously sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and dill (salt to your liking)
  • Bake for 20-30 minutes until crispy
WARNING! These turnip fries are addicting, so they're best shared with friends.

Or maybe I'll make some tonight as I indulge in my just-purchased Sex and the City movie...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Love was in the air

Saturday my best friend surprised her parents with a 30th anniversary party and recommitment ceremony, so I went home to Virginia to help out. I was a little nervous about how they were going to react to the surprise nuptials, but everything turned out beautifully in the end. I'd never witnessed a vow renewal ceremony, and I was very touched by the celebration of two people who have actively lived their marital vows for 30 years. This wasn't doe-eyed romance - this was the product of for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, two kids and everything else in between. Very inspirational.

Saturday night I trained up to NYC for a Sunday wedding in Westchester, about an hour north of the city. Our Baltimore friends tied the knot at a gorgeous (albeit HOT) ceremony at a Japanese garden that you'd never know was there. The entire wedding was themed Asian with Chinese lanterns, a themed cake and bamboo everywhere.

These two are big foodies, too, and we knew they'd put a lot of thought into their wedding menu. Everything was delicious and chosen with such care, including a wide array of vegetarian options (!), but our favorite passed hors d'oeuvres were the zucchini patties with dill and the artichoke bruschetta. Dinner was stations of Caesar and Asian salads, pesto or butternut squash pasta, and steamed vegetables, potatoes and salmon, I believe. (Correct me if I'm wrong, lovebirds!)

But the star of the afternoon, after the bride of course, was the cake. Their good friend is a reknowned cake designer and created the most beautiful cake I've ever seen or, more importantly, tasted. The cake was decorated to look like a purple kimono to fit with the Asian theme. I had the raspberry creme layer, and it was heavenly. Apparently there was a chocolate peanut butter layer, too, and possibly others.

After the wedding, Joe and I headed back to NYC and had dinner at a Thai-French fusion restaurant in Hell's Kitchen. The sheer selection of restaurants in New York is enough to make you want to pack up and relocate on the spot. But we didn't. Back to Baltimore we went.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Home cooking

Finally got to be home all night and just unwind and cook. I found an entire bin in the fridge FULL of tomatoes. Again. And they needed to be used. So I made homemade marinara with eggplant, scallions and garlic. It was just ok.

Something I enjoyed more was taking baked sweet potatoes, mashing them and topping them with chopped peaches and tomatoes. Delicious! The warm mash with the cold, sweet fruit was just what I needed.

Joe also sauteed onion layers in balsamic vinaigrette and Herbs de Provence. Great for nibbling while you're stirring an endless pot of tomatoes :)

We made do with the random produce left in the fridge. We were totally out of olive oil, and I felt paralyzed! I had no idea how much we relied on olive oil to sauteed stuff or thin it out. Never again! I'm going to the store tonight!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

New fall menu at Wine Market

Got together with a few girlfriends last night at Lime, the tequila bar on Fort Ave. Unlike my friend who drinks tequila like water, I'm not a fan. Tuesdays are 2-for-1 night on all drinks, if anyone's interested. They had one Chardonnay, which worked for me.

Joe met us at the bar later in the evening, and he and I headed down the block to the Wine Market. For once, we weren't at the Wine Market on a Monday night!

We immediately noticed a menu overhaul - much more fall-ish recipes. For example, I had a cup of the sweet potato and apple bisque. It was deliciously simple, and I immediately starting thinking about how we could re-create this at home. I had the vegetarian special, which was spaetzle with spinach and melted goat cheese. Good, but nothing to write home about. Joe got the mushroom omelette with truffle oil, which smelled almost as good as it tasted. Truffle oil on anything is guaranteed to be fantastic.

We ordered the monthly flight of wines, three 3-oz glasses for $11.75. The featured flight was Rhone Reds, a blend of Syrahs, Grenaches and Mourvedres. Very good, but overall a little peppery for my tastes. The flights are a great deal if you want to try multiple wines.

The Wine Market menu hasn't been updated on the website yet, but I'm looking forward to working with a new selection on our next undoubtedly Monday night visit.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Bicycle and a farewell

For the second time this week, we got together with our Italian stallion friend (ha!) and his lovely wife to say bon voyage to a UMMS attending who's leaving for a new hospital. After being little Betty Crocker inside all day, I was ready to do something civilized.

The five of us met at the Bicycle and were, I'm sure, the bain of our server's existence for the night. We were THAT table that, no matter how many times she came to take our order we were never ready, we returned the first bottle of wine because it wasn't what we thought, we never shut up long enough for her to offer us fresh pepper, and so on. However, I have no doubt her tip was good.

I got the chilled melon soup to start, and Joe got the sashimi tuna and avocado tartare. I know better than this! I should have gotten that too. It's the most incredible thing on the menu, hands down. We both got salads as our entrees, and before we knew it, two bottles of wine were down the hatch between the five of us.

Two things the Bicycle doesn't have: 1) mixed drinks and 2) espresso. For our Mexican friend, these were both travesties.

So dessert and coffee moved to our friends' house two blocks away. After two mottled attempts, we gave up on the vintage espresso machine and settled for multiple cups of coffee. Our friend opened this beautiful bottle of 10-year old Portugese Port. Very smooth.

Bonus! They had ripe figs growing on a tree in the back yard, so we did a little picking and had fresh figs and Port for dessert. That was my first fresh fig experience. What a gorgeous fruit - green on the outside and fleshy pink on the inside. Of course the Italian would have a fig tree in Baltimore. It's all or nothing, baby.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Stocking up for winter

The Ravens traffic around our house today reminded me that I'm not going to be able to enjoy fresh summer produce much longer. We hit the market this morning, and I came home with a plan to start preserving stuff to freeze.

After much Googling, I learned you apparently can't just throw stuff in the freezer and expect it to come out tasting good in December. That worked for the mint leaves, but not the corn or peaches.

If anyone's interested in a little summer preservation, is a great site that gives directions for how to freeze pretty much any type of produce.

We also bought our first Canary (aka, Juan Canary) melon today. The bold yellow color was too appealing to walk away from. According to the farmer I spoke with, this melon is almost a hybrid between a cantaloupe and a honeydew melon. I wasn't able to find too many recipes for using it, but fresh chunks are always a winner (maybe with a touch of cinnamon on top), or chilled soup.

Red Canoe - coffee and books in Lauraville

I've been reading a ton about restaurants popping up in the Hamilton/Lauraville neighborhoods, but I had no idea where they were. So this morning, after referencing the September issue of Baltimore magazine, I jotted down directions to Clementine, and we hit the road seeking breakfast.

Long story short, I got distracted from my end goal when I saw Chameleon Cafe (another new restaurant I've heard tons about), so I parked and got out, only to find that they're closed on Sundays. Whoops. Fortunately, a bookstore and coffee shop called Red Canoe was next door and looked inviting.

Great find! The interior is super cozy, just like you'd imagine a bookstore and cafe to be. We decided to stay once we saw they had 1) breakfast burritos and 2) outdoor seating on a back deck. We pretty much had the back yard to ourselves, and we were happy to enjoy our accidental find. I would highly recommend the breakfast burrito with basil pesto. It gave a new flavor to a regular menu item.

I never did find Clementine, or Hamilton Tavern for that matter. But Red Canoe is worth a try. As we ordered, I could hear kids upstairs rehearsing music, and later a little ballerina came in for classes. Someone's making good use of all the floors of this rowhome.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Duel of the Italian stallions

Last night we went over to our newly married friends' house to do some long overdue catching up. I love these two, but I must say that whenever the new groom and Joe get together, I feel like I'm witnessing the battle of the Italion stallions. It's hysterical watching them challenge each other to see who knows the most Italian card games, who can pick the best wine, who can make the best Italian dish, etc, etc. They take themselves so seriously, but I was laughing to myself the entire time.

So not to be outdone, our friends made homemade ravioli with a mushroom sauce for dinner. The ravioli was completely from scratch and tasted just gorgeous. (I was supposed to be on recipe watch for my brother who wants to make homemade ravioli, but it was already done when we got there so I don't have any tricks to share. Sorry dude). To start us off though, they had a spread of olives, homemade red pepper hummus, baba ganoush and fresh pita bread. Joe was battling food coma before the real dinner was even served!

We were in charge of bringing wine and dessert, so we picked up four bottles on the way, including a 2006 Santa Margherita Chianti Classico that managed to survive our bottomless glasses and came home with us to enjoy tomorrow. During our last-minute scramble to come up with our end of the bargain (plan in advance? please!), we found a new bakery and cafe on Light Street named DeDe's across from Dangerously Delicious Pies. While I circled the block, Joe ran in and got four BEAUTIFUL individual desserts - a mango cake, traditional cream puff, strawberry shortcake and a chocolate mousse pie. The four of us took turns sampling. They weren't too sweet, so it didn't feel like dessert overload.

We wrapped up with a couple friendly hands of Spades and then went home. I will say, this round of the Italian stallion showdown had to go to our friend. But dinner's at our place next time.

Friday, September 5, 2008

My first First Thursdays

My friends have been buzzing about First Thursdays in Mt. Vernon all summer, and last night I finally made it!

First Thursdays takes place the first Thursday of every month (surprise!) in Mt. Vernon Square from 5:30pm til whenever the crowd fades out. Although I didn't indulge last night, I hear that Brewer's Art supplies the booze, and different up-and-coming artists perform each month. 

Last night I was intrigued to hear, or get a look at, more honestly, singer/songwriter Ben Taylor, son of James Taylor and Carly Simon. Sadly, despite all my Andretti moves on the beltway coming home, I missed dear Ben in his opening act. However, the guy that followed him sounded JUST like Ben's dad. So much so that I kept wondering when the second act was going to come on so they would stop looping James Taylor. Whoops! The guy had a great sound, although obviously it was not terribly original.

First Thursdays faux pas: I showed up empty-handed! I planned on just grabbing a glass of wine and food from a vendor on-site, but the entire square was packed with people who'd thought more ahead and packed food - including my friends! 

Must-have list for First Thursdays (and probably any outdoor music festival):
  • Blanket or chair to sit on
  • Finger foods that are immune to grass from dogs digging nearby
  • Multiple bottles of wine
Like the dork that I am, I'd packed The Omnivore's Dilemma, thinking I could conquer a few pages to the soothing sounds of some folk music. Um, no. Clearly I live in some dream world where it's appropriate to read books in any setting. For instance, at picnics with your friends, or at a bar. That's right, Joe. A bar! 

Maybe I should work on my social etiquette a bit more.

Last First Thursdays is October 2. Be there!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Going French

After a quick workout last night, I convinced Joe that we had enough ingredients at home to bypass an expensive dinner splurge at Whole Foods. (Poor guy. I could see him salivating just thinking about fresh salmon).

Turns out, I think we did QUITE well for creating an ad hoc menu with random produce leftover from Sunday's farmer's market. For starters, I took our four-day old baguette and sliced in half lengthwise. I set the oven to Broil and then sliced up red peppers, tomatoes, white onions and eggplant. I layered each vegetable across the baguette halves and drizzled olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, basil and parmesan cheese. I put these bad boys on a cookie sheet and broiled for 8 minutes - just enough to soften the crunchy bread and blacken the tops of the veggies.

Meanwhile, Joe was manning the stovetop. He broke down whole yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant into a hearty soup seasoned with salt and fresh tarragon. Now here comes the French part. He served the soup in small bowls and placed one fried egg on top of each soup. The yolks were slightly undercooked, so they oozed when we cut into the egg. A really interesting combination of textures - pureed vegetable soup and chewy egg whites.

On a side note, I'd never paid close attention to how tarragon tastes independent of other flavors. To me, it was like eating licorice! I looked up how to make licorice in countries all over the world, but tarragon is no where to be found. I thought for sure they had to be cousins.

For a hastily compiled meal of straggling market produce, we were quite pleased with the results. Granted, we didn't start eating until 10pm, but isn't that what the French do anyway?

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Zucchini steaks and homemade gnocchi

Joe had several hours to himself yesterday before I returned from my weekend away, and he whipped up a fabulous dinner to greet my return :)

True to our local passion, he used ONLY ingredients from the farmer's market. I love that he's embraced the local movement as much as I have.

We started with zucchini steaks (chunked zucchini that was breaded and fried), topped with a tomato and hot pepper salsa and drizzled with freshly squeezed lime juice.

Next was homemade gnocchi from Yukon Gold potatoes. (According to our friend Dex, these are the best for gnocchi. Makes for a sweeter taste). Joe had boiled fresh tomatoes and eggplant down to a thick sauce, and he topped the gnocchi with this.

It was amazing! Do I really get to eat like this all the time? We bookended the meal with a nameless Cabernet Sauvignon and Pink, a special rose that my brother chose for me from Sullivan Vineyards when he was in California. A delightful wine that added a sweet ending to our dinner. We'd been saving it for a significant meal, and last night was perfect.

Labor Day in the Valley

I went to my parents' house in McGaheysville, VA, the heart of the Shenandoah Valley, for Labor Day weekend, knowing I'd feel a million miles away from Baltimore. And I did.

I met the fam for lunch Saturday at Earth and Tea Cafe in downtown Harrisonburg. I'm proud of conservative H'burg for supporting even this mildly exotic restaurant. (My home county is not the most "progressive", shall we say). The menu ranges from middle eastern dishes to South American  and African bites. I started with the East African soup of the day and the chicken curried salad. The best part, though, is the tea menu. I had the Chinese Fine Ti Kuan Yin, which, according to the menu description translates as the "Iron Goddess of Mercy" with a mild, orchid-like flavor. A small pot gets you three cups of tea. The decor feels like an Indian lounge. Lots of warm colors and tapestries. There's even a corner bed with curtains to curl up and read on in one corner. The dining tables are framed by pawn shop chairs and vintage couches. Disheveled but totally inviting. Perfect place to go on a chilly day with a good book.

I guess we were feeling a bit nostalgic because after lunch we walked down the street to the Rockingham County Library to check out our favorite childhood stories and see if they're still as good as they were way back when. We had this specific collection of ghost stories in mind, but I wanted to find all my Beverly Cleary books. Anyone else a fan of Ramona Quimby? Ramona the Pest? Beezus and Ramona? I can vividly remember my second grade teacher, Mrs. Burner, reading Ramona the Pest to us as we sat on the carpet at her feet. The book's threadbare cover was mauve, and I can see Mrs. Burner's gnarly knuckles supporting its broken spine. She would turn the book around to show us pictures of the characters running through our imaginations. My Ramona! I found her!

From the library, we crossed the street to the weekly farmer's market, which was all but packed up.  A Mennonite family had the most beautiful display of produce. Rockingham County is blessed to have a heavy traditional Mennonite population who take such pride in all their belongings. The produce was stalked perfectly by item so that no two types of produce were touching. I couldn't stop asking the farmer question after question about his gorgeous selection. We bought a patty pan squash and a carnival squash, neither of which I'd ever seen before but I had to have. And there's no rush to prepare them. These squash can hang around for months and still be good! (I like low maintenance vegetables like this!)

We had a hodge podge dinner on our back porch - ravioli with vodka sauce and portabello sausage for Timothy, fried okra for me, and canned corn for Erika. Maybe a nasty combination, but all comfort foods prepared with love. We took turns reading our long lost children's books out loud at the table. And yes, I still jumped at the scary stories as my brother read them.