Sunday, March 29, 2009

Mom's (chickenless) chicken casserole and biscotti

Erika came up for the day for some cooking and girlie movies. Since she's such a coffee-lover, I thought we could try our hand at homemade of biscotti along with mom's famous chicken casserole.

The biscotti dough requires an hour of chilling in the fridge, so after we made the dough, E and I walked a couple miles down around the Inner Harbor and along the Ritz Carlton boardwalk. That was my first time strolling along that brick boardwalk, and it was just gorgeous. It's incredible to see so many of those gorgeous townhomes and condos uninhabited. Hello Ritz - I'll take one off your hands.

We popped the biscotti dough in the oven for 8 minutes, but they came out looking funny. And now, as I read over the directions for the first time, I see why. Erika, we were supposed to turn them over repeatedly so they lightly browned on each side and dried out. Whoops. At least we nailed the taste.

Mom's famous chicken casserole has been my brother's, sister's and my favorite dish since we were little kids. Now that we're in charge of our own cooking, I decided to omit the chicken from the chicken casserole. Per Erika, she didn't miss it at all, and neither did I. So I guess that makes it just mom's plain casserole.

  • 1 c fat-free mayo
  • 1 1/2 T lemon juice
  • 2 cans diced water chestnuts
  • 1/4 small onion, diced small
  • 1 t. salt
  • 2 cups white rice, cooked
  • 2 cans cream of chicken soup, undiluted
  • 4 hard boiled eggs, diced, no yolks
  • 2 c corn flakes
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1/2 - 1 c sliced almonds

Mix all together in large bowl and put in greased long casserole dish. Top with melted margarine, corn flakes and almonds. Mix together and top casserole. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. Freezes well uncooked. Leave off topping to freeze.

It was SO nice to make this dish on my own instead of begging mom to make it when I go home. Such a comfort food. Tons for leftovers, so Joe can nosh when he gets home from work tomorrow.

Erika brought "Nights in Rodanthe" for us to watch while we cooked. Holy sob session! Note to little sis - do not bring movies that will make Meghan cry UNLESS they are happy tears. Otherwise, thanks for spending your Sunday with me :)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Oh Little Town of Occoquan

My parents and I drove to Woodbridge, VA on Sunday to spend the day with my sister. She recently moved out of my parents' house in Harrisonburg and has created the beginnings of a great life for herself in NOVA. Go Erika!

She was totally the hostess with the mostest on Sunday :) After treating us to lunch at her place, she threw us in the car, and off we went to a local vineyard she'd been stalking called Potomac Point. Northern Virginia is chock full of wineries, but this one had caught her eye for its romantic Italian architecture. (This photo page may take a minute to upload, but skip over the wedding photos and scroll to the bottom for best winery photos).

It was a remarkable building. Huge inside with a tasting bar in the center of the main room so that guests can be served from all four sides. Lounge with a formal fireplace and oversized couches for sipping a glass. We purchased the Premier wine tasting for $10 each, and from that we were able to sample about 10 wines. None of them bowled us over, so we didn't feel compelled to buy anything. But my family loves hunting down new wineries and tasting the day away.

In addition to wine, they sold flavored olive oils by Stella Cadente, winner of the Best in Show at the Oils of the World Competition. (I volunteer to be a judge there!). They serve the oils in huge steel canteens, the equivalent of a Gatorade cooler except for olive oil. Mom and dad treated E and I to a 4-oz olive oil of our choice, so I chose the Blood Orange olive oil. It reminded me of my first blood orange at the farmers market in Mission Bay, San Diego four years ago on a trip with my sister.

We moved from Potomac Point to the waterfront town of Occoquan, a place Erika had encountered during a search for a local post office. Oddly enough, mom had seen an article about this town in Southern Living six years ago when I first moved to Baltimore, and she tore it out and gave it to me for a day trip suggestion. And here we were!

We rolled into town at 3:30pm on a rainy Sunday, so the stores that were still open weren't exactly busy. But the town is precious. It's basically one main street that sits smack dab on top of the Potomac River. Houses are all clapboard and look like water homes. I had taken a post-wine nap on the 10-minute ride from the vineyard to Occoquan, so we caffeinated ourselves at The Coffee Shop of Occoquan. Besides an eager Irishman dressed in a plaid kilt two days before St. Patrick's Day, the place was normal.

Across the street, Mom's Apple Pie Company was calling our name. This place is so charming! It's got a great big welcoming porch and screen doors that were open. Can I digress and tell you how much I love screen doors? I've told Joe that no matter how modern our house is, it must have at least one screen door, preferably in the kitchen, that can slam as people run in and out. The sound of a screen door slamming brings back so many childhood memories in South Carolina. People behind a screen door are approachable - it means you don't need a solid barrier between yourself and the rest of the world. Just something to keep the mosquitoes out.

We ventured down Main St. to yet another wine tasting - oh darn! - at Tastefully Yours gourmet foods. An Italian winemaker fron northern Italy, Walter Lodali, was in the store greeting tasters as they sampled his wines. His halting English sounded fabulous, and when I asked him to take me back to Italy with him after his U.S. tour, he stuck out his elbow and escorted me right out the front door! See ya! The store owner shouted after me, "They don't have any heirs to the vineyard, so he does need a wife!" Hmm, Italian wine heir. What to do, what to do. Joe would understand if I fell for his brethren. Right? I'm telling you, when I get to Italy, there's a very strong change I may not be returning.

Erika, dad and I each left the store with at least one bottle of the Lodali wine. After sampling Virginia wines and then Italian wines within two hours of each other, the difference in quality was absolutely incredible. I won't even begin to try to put words to it. It was a joke, really.

Great planning, sis! When can we do it again?

Baltimore Pho Vietnamese restaurant

One day recently when Joe was post-call, I whisked him up off the sidewalk on his walk home and took us to Baltimore Pho, the hot Vietnamese restaurant on Hollins St. across from the Hollins Market.

I'd been reading reviews all over the place from the Sun and Baltimore STYLE, and I was tired of not seeing for myself. First of all, we made mental notes to ourselves to come back to visit the Hollins Market. I've heard great things about its history (built in 1838 and is "Baltimore's oldest home to food merchants"). According to this website, Civil War soldiers stationed nearby used to stop at Hollins Market while supplies were shipped to Washington for Union soldiers in the field.

The decor is great. Exposed brick walls, tin ceilings, walls laden with archways to provide division without making rooms feel separate, and a great bar with lots of colored lighting and two flatscreen TVs. The restaurant only has 26 tables, so it feels intimate, which we always love. Boutique restaurants tend to take better care of their customers.

This lunch day was slow, so we were rewarded with a very attentive, informative waiter. The restaurant owner served in Vietnam and fell in love with the country, going so far as to adopt four Vietnamese boys! He explained the signature menu item - Pho, pronounced "fuh." (Imagine Joe sitting there saying, "What the fuh?" I reminded him why he's not in marketing). The Vietnamese typically eat it for breakfast, but I can't see Americans slurping down broth and whole vegetables at 8:00am.

We got two bowls of Vegetarian Pho with Tofu. Each bowl is more than enough for one person. The broth takes hours to prepare, which is one of the main reasons it's so delicious. The flavors steep together for more than a day. Our tofu broth was poured over rice noodles, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower. Pho is served with bean sprouts, hoi sin sauce (sweet sauce), a hot sauce that I can't pronounce, lime, and a couple other flavorful leaves that you're supposed to rub between your fingers and place in the soup to let the flavor seep out. Drop a dollop of the hoi sin sauce into your pho and stir it around until it blends in.

We tackled the soup with chopsticks and managed to splash broth all over our chins. Mmm, sexy. All in good taste! It was delicious, and we had a great view of the foot traffic across the street at Hollins Market.

Baltimore Pho is in a tough spot with really no other major commercial draws, but according to the manager, Pho's owner owns every single property around the Market and has plans to develop it into other retail properties as soon as the economy picks up. In the meantime, keep the place alive and go slurp down some Pho!

St. Patrick's Day in Annapolis

Yesterday after work I met up with my girlfriend, Lyndsey, and we drove down to Annapolis to celebrate St. Patrick's Day with our great friends, Devin and Kelly. St. Patrick's Day is THE biggest day of the year for Devin's family, and Kelly had given us a heads up on his giddiness. He couldn't WAIT to get to the bar. Every year his family marches in the Albany, NY St. Patty's Day parade. They don't have a float or anything. They just walk and wave and wear green. It's a requirement that they all attend :) I love that spirit.

So anyway, we met at Sly Fox off Church Circle. A few years ago, I was a regular with Kelly in Annapolis, and Sly Fox was our favorite outdoor bar. She taught me a few good tricks there ;)

The best part about Sly Fox is the outdoor patio behind the original building. Last night they had covered half of the brick patio with a white tent and had a live band. The rest of the patio had heat lamps spaced out all over it, and the bar was hopping. I roasted myself under a heat lamp for a few hours while we talked our faces off. Poor Devin had to step in for conversation control when we got too work-centric. (Lynds, Kelly and I used to work together and love swapping stories).

We eventually migrated to the downstairs pub in the basement of the Sly Fox restaurant. In typical Annapolis fashion, the hallways sloped and tilted from hundreds of years of settlement. The floors are completely brick, the ceilings are low, and the walls are whitewashed plaster. It feels like you're stepping back in time. Huge indentations are carved out of the walls where fireplaces used to be scattered around the room.

I don't know who was in our company, but it seemed like all of the Annapolis politicians were out and about. Drunk networking is so much fun to watch. I have to agree that it makes it less painful!

We all left the bar around midnight. I can't WAIT until it warms up so I can go out in Annapolis and crash at Kelly's. I love the change of scenery - the crowds, the bars, being in a water community with water good. Sly Fox, I've missed you!