Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Choose Our Own Adventure

My parents are coming the week before Christmas to see their grandson, which conveniently happens to fall on our anniversary. As you know, we've already celebrated in style. Given the availability of child care, we are looking for a low-key (and budget-friendly) activity to spend our day or evening. Two options presented themselves - one a little more physically ambitious than the other.

One of the most fun couples activities that C and I have enjoyed recently was my hometown's Thanksgiving morning Turkey Trot. We weren't, by any means, running competitively in the 5K, so it was nice time to just enjoy a relaxed run together. Plus, our threesome of awesome babysitters had Baby H on hand to cheer us on as we completed the race. Thus, with the idea of a joint workout in mind, option one is a day of snowboarding at nearby (and conservatively-hilled) Bryce Resort, perhaps with a stop at my favorite convenience store, Sheetz, for breakfast sandwiches and hot chocolate to burn off.

Option two is a little more refined and seasonal. The Little Theatre of Alexandria is presenting, for $15 a person, Mrs. Bob Cratchit's Wild Christmas Binge. The warmth of a packed house often puts me to sleep during A Christmas Carol, so I'm thinking this might be an attention-keeping alternative. Plus, we have a gift certificate for Brabo for maximum value-added.

So, I pose it to you - what do you all think? I invite you to choose our adventure for us. Please vote in the comment section.

Thanksgiving Leftovers

I hope you all had a very happy holiday, and are recovering accordingly! This is less than seasonal, now that my full attention should be devoted to peppermint bark and eggnog. But, if you are like me, you still have a pumpkin or two (or butternut squash, or yams, all of which tend to be interchangeable to a degree) left in the house to cook up. For that purpose, let my experience in whipping up recipes for a "lil' pumpkin"-themed baby shower assist you in your endeavors.

For the favors, which inexplicably turned out to be the most labor intensive recipe, by far, I made Pumpkin Cake Pops. My lesson learned in this experience? Take Pioneer Woman's advice and limit the amount of frosting. Firm balls (okay, just ignore that one and move on) make for much better chocolate dipping.

Melting the orange candy melts, which are an incredible invention, by the way!

Prepare to dip...

Admittedly, I'm "borrowing" this shot from Java Cupcake, but really, mine did look the same. I just got busy and forgot to take a pic of the finished product. Ask C how much I was stressing out as the shower approached.

The other recipes, much easier, and equally as delicious, filled out the menu with pumpkin goodness.



We had this lovely Warm Pumpkin and Polenta Salad from epicurious, which had the convenient combination of deliciousness and healthiness. Woot!

Why I snapped the pic while tossing, I don't know. It fails to highlight my lovely C&B serving dish.

Next up, Pumpkin Seed Pesto. So, laughably, I (or C, as it were, who has not entirely forgiven me for his assigned task) first tried to harvest the seeds because they were not yet in season at Harris Teeter and Safeway. After this debacle, a trip to Whole Foods was in order.

Do you like my self-made serving dish? Well, I felt creative for a minute. (Also, notice the much more attractive salad serving apparatus in the background.)

The next course involves an admission - I don't like pumpkin pie. I just don't, and yes, I understand that means that I'm un-American. This recipe, however, for Crockpot Pumpkin Pie Pudding (or souffle, as I would call it) is scrumptious, and cooking literally involves mixing ingredients together and then letting them sit for 6-7 hours.

In the spirit of Laziness Maximus, I served this with Cool Whip, rather than whipped cream. Who wants to add work to a dish that requires none?

And finally, I don't know how I can ever express my appreciation to Ms. KD for baking up (and delivering, lest my clumsiness lead to a disaster) this amazing pumpkin cake, for which I am unable to provide a recipe, but merely a reference to one incredible baker. First, my family and everyone I know still have remnants in our respective freezers, and second, look at this piece of art. My friend, you may not want to be in cake-decorating business, but you are a very talented lady and you should consider it.





Plus, for no satisfactory reason, I'm including this quintessential fall photo of Arlington (which just seemed to fit in the theme) to brighten your Wednesday...After all, even if the Christmas madness is descending, the solstice tells us we still have three good weeks of Fall left.
via ArlNow.com - 11.22.10 Morning Notes

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roasted Eggplant & Chicken Sausage Parmigiana

I'm going to take almost full credit for this one, as I was actually capable of conceiving my own recipe idea rather than adapting from another. Though, I do have to point out that my recent roasted vegetable kick is attributable to inspiration from FoodWanderings. I love this dish because the smokey flavors of the roasted eggplant are so perfectly complimented by the spice of the chicken sausage. That, and it's a good way to sneak in some veggies for the carnivore....Oh, and that you don't have to fry individual layers of eggplant, or fry at all for that matter. (Okay, there are a lot of things that I love about this dish!)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 sprigs thyme, removed from sprigs
10 basil leaves
1 tbsp. dry italian seasonings
2 medium eggplants
1 to 1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (either this arrabbiata sauce, or Trader Joe's marinara - it's fabulous for a canned sauce)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated or shredded
2 eggs, beaten
2 mild Italian chicken sausages, casings removed - I like the Whole Food's version; one of their more reasonably priced items
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

TIP: Roast eggplant the night before - Preheat oven to 225 degrees. Dice eggplants, skins on, into 1-inch cubes. Toss in bowl with olive oil, thyme, salt, and pepper. Spread in one layer over a parchment-lined hotel pan. Spread basil leaves evenly across eggplant. Roast for three hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brown sausage into medium chunks. Mix with parmesan, tomato sauce, eggs, italian seasonings, and eggplant, and spread into loaf pan. Top with mozzarella. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until browned.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Lunch Liaisons: 701

(Lunch liaisons is a regular segment wherein C and I meet for weekday lunch dates. The associated posts are not nearly as cloak-and-dagger as they may sound, but instead are reviews consistent with the quick and painless lunch hour theme). 

I can make this one particularly simple: order the pasta - anything else will be at least a little disappointing. At 701, my orecchiette, served with acorn squash, brown butter, fried sage, and walnuts, and just a hint of ricotta salata, was perfectly seasonal and scrumptious on a rainy day. (Tom Sietsema also has good things to say about the pasta, particularly the ham and cheese ravioli, which I really want now). My fig and arugula salad met the promised description, but did not excite me. C enjoyed his veal meatball appetizer, served with linguine (the texture was off to me, but to each his own), but C's entree, the special, a pork shoulder steak, was ribboned with grisly fat, and cooked until it was dry. He described it as terrifically bad. We finished, or rather started, with the hot buttered apple cider (without the rum, this was a lunch liaison). It was bit a rich, but on the other hand, substituted for dessert.

Friday, November 5, 2010

What I Meant to Say...

(In other words, this is a compilation of recent posts that were supposed to be, but never quite were.)

Where I've been...

Getting injured by an attempt at this recipe for kettle corn: Seriously, I took a kernel in the eye. I'm thinking Metrocurean's spicy caramel corn may be less dangerous.

In and out of Denver in 36 hours, with a wedding in between: The foodie highlights of the trip were definitely the pair of restaurants helmed by a pair of chicas. (Go Denver Girl Power). At Rioja, on a Friday evening, my friend M and I grabbed dinner and wine. We shared some artichoke ravioli, delicately laced with goat cheese, and the seared scallops with vanilla brown butter - actually, it was more like I ate my dish, and then a good part of M's too. Both were so incredible, I don't remember who ordered what, but I do remember regrettably leaving behind other menu selections, including artisan buffalo milk cheese, and beignets stuffed with goat cheese and figs. The next day, after a morning spent watching College GameDay in my hotel bed, and then working out (yes, this is exactly what a mama does when she gets a day off - balances the need to relax with the need to accomplish), I treated myself to a platter of poutine (and salad, to get my veggies) at Euclid Hall, run by the same duo of awesome ladies. The crunchy apply cabbage slaw (from the "roughage" category of the menu) was a perfect balance to the rich Poutine of hangar steak, short ribs, bordeaux gravy, and cheddar cheese curds I enjoyed (pic below). Poutine, by the way, is an entire menu category at Euclid Hall, as are Schnitzels. Gotta love this concept, and the 1883 building housing the joint (see the website for a very interesting history lesson). While in town, the crew also made a point of hitting up the Peaks Lounge rooftop bar (a little chach-ish for our collective tastes - we were in and out quickly), Pinkberry - it really is sooo good, and got happy hour soup and beer (my self-determined antidote for altitude sickness) at the Ship Tavern in the fancified Brown Palace Hotel - I was staying in the not-as-classy Comfort Inn across the street.



Cooking up this Tyler Florence Ultimate Veal Piccata with the i flip for food crew before they skipped town: By the way, Tyler's recipe for arrabbiata sauce is so versatile and so seriously delicious - I use it constantly for almost any tomato sauce need. A couple of recipe edits - I could not stomach the idea of adding a half stick of butter to the noodles, so I tossed in about a tablespoon (along with about a tablespoon of parmesan, salt and pepper). It was enough, highlighting the spaghetti with the right amount of flavor and richness. Also, I forgot sauce the veal with the butter, capers, and parsley, instead just squeezing a half lemon over the top. It turns out the sauce was not necessary at all - the lemon and a little of the leftover arrabbiata sauce were perfect accompaniments. Finally, the calamari was delicious, but my frying technique still needs work - I guess not being able to deep fry properly is more of a blessing than a curse. I also notched up the cannoli with pistachio infused oil, which made the flavor all the more sublime. If you have a bit of time on your hands, including the time to make a run to the butcher and upscale market, I definitely would recommend this meal - and share your own edits - I love to hear each cook's take.



Failing to find anything noteworthy to say about Restaurant Week at WestEnd Bistro: The steak frites were acceptably good, and my tomato "soup" of ripened heirloom grape tomatoes and tomato water was refreshing, but the cream puffs were chewy and topped with what appeared to be Hershey's syrup, C found his steak tartare to be unoriginal, and the experience as a whole was rather blah. Not quite the superlative meal as our other restaurant week choice. I thought it best not to write about an experience about which I didn't have much to say; these posts have been less than stellar in the past.


Coming up with my own take on Bacon Week: C really wanted to make it out to Restaurant 3, but with childcare and available free evenings severely limiting our opportunities to dine out these days, we end up, on average, about one dinner out per month (including those with additional babysitters in tow). So, we have to properly consider our choices. I checked out the Restaurant 3 menu in advance, which included, amongst other items, a bacon-wrapped cornbread-stuffed pork chop, BLT wedge salad, and baked potato soup. No offense to the chefs, but I thought, "I can do that", and as it turns out, I could. While C entertained Baby H and watched the Redskins, I prepared a feast of pork. I did not follow any recipes, just the general ideas from the menu. It was a liberating culinary experience to cook specifically with a plan leading to a carniverous delight for C, yet not being held back by the restraints of any specific recipe construction.

Fending off the mobs at the Rally to Restore Sanity: It was really rather disappointing, from my perspective. I'm pretty sure the message of reasonableness got lost in the craziness of 200K people protesting, rallying, or just wearing the most attention-grabbing Halloween costume they could imagine. With the crowds, it was difficult to see and hear, and though other people evidently found fun signs, probably the best I saw was "Remember to check your signs for spelling and grammatical errors". The sanity concept was definitely bastardized by those with their own versions, mostly on the left, but a few overly right leaners too. Something to see, but really no inspiration to be drawn. Alas, just when I find myself disenchanted by all things political (don't worry - I will still take every advantage of my suffrage - I voted Tuesday) and thinking that my ideals are dead and I can no longer be inspired, along comes a quietly victorious (by a more than comfortable margin) Governor-elect with simple yet fundamentally smart plans for limiting government spending while still creating sustainable jobs, providing real health care (and a candidate who broaches the subject of personal responsibility in our health care - how awesome is that?!), being an environmental steward, and restoring hope and pride to a State that so severely lacks those attributes.

Where I'll be....

Enjoying a lunch liaison with C at 701; trying new spots in my hood (assuming takeout is an option), including Rustico, a bricks and mortar District Taco, and Chez Manelle (evidently the only Tunisian restaurant in the country - well, given that I now know what Tunisian cuisine is, that's clearly a must).


With the exception of those choices listed above, cooking at home: This weekend, I'm doing a Nigella recipe for braised beef shank from an episode of the Today Show. In true fashion, I don't plan to follow the recipe precisely. I'll be adding a mirepoix instead of just onions and a little less pancetta. Alongside, I'll probably do the NYTimes spaghetti squash gratin. Tonight, chicken sausage and roasted eggplant parmesan (I'm still inventing in my head - if it turns out, I'll share), served with ricotta gnocchi, also a NYTimes recipe. Probably a take on brussel sprouts too - the one veggie my parents never even tried to entice me to eat - having tried Zatinya's version, I have a wholly enlightened perspective on what I thought could only be stinky and soggy nastiness.

Whipping up recipes for a pumpkin-themed baby shower, cookie monster cupcakes for my little lion (I have policy of not posting pics of him to the blog, but let me just say he was the cutest Halloween baby ever) who turns one - yes, one year old - this month, and probably also Food Wandering's sweet potato rolls for Thanksgiving.

Blogging more on what I want to write and not what I feel like someone might want to read: If I expect politicians and media figures to hold themselves accountable for their need for attention, I can't go falling into that trap myself, now can I?! Besides, with recent posts, it's difficult to pretend this blog doesn't at least partially serve the function of an online journal.