Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Matchbox DC: Vintage Pizza Bistro

I love Tuesdays. Weird right? Well, I don't work on Tuesdays. During the school year I stock it full of three hour classes, but in the summer, it's the day I get everything done that I would like to do in other moments but lose the chance.

Yesterday was no exception. I've made a new friend! How exciting is that, right? He's a musician who lives in my area and we met and hit it off and now we best friends forever. Actually, yesterday we had a conversation about airing your personal life on the Internet but c'mon, I'm a blogger! Plus I'm promoting him, so it's all good.

Anyway, yesterday we took an impromptu trip into D.C. because we're both sick of the burbs. I loveeee DC Not only is it the nation's capitol (woo hoo, America!) but it's also a diverse metropolis filled with different ethnic areas, fabulous restaurants and free museums. You can't beat that. Now, as much as I say I love DC, I don't often get into the city. When Chris suggested it though, I was all for it.

Our first of two stops was the Spy Museum, which is awesome and perfect if you have little kids or immature adults like myself. It's a good mix of informative and interactive so it hits the spot for most people. If I were an activities blogger I'd tell you all about that but I know you're way more interested in the FOOD.

So, the Spy Museum is conveniently located next to Chinatown, which alongside Chinese food (of which is plentiful) has tons of other cuisine to offer. Chris suggested Matchbox DC, which is a vintage pizza bistro in a little brick building that used to be a Chinese grocery store. It was totally worth the 30 minute wait. Although you could order something fancy on the menu like their salmon or pork chops, Chris and I went in the opposite direction and ordered something (as Lauren would say) humble and perfect.

To start, we got mini burgers. Not your average plate, right? Now, I'm not a huge fan of fried onion, but I had a few bites of these crunchy little straws and they were pretty good. The hand-pattied certified Angus beef burgers were served on toasted brioche with mozzarella and pickles. They were tiny but so satisfying that I stopped at one. Plus, we all know I love little versions of big food!
Then, then we got the pizza. There were so many choices. I had a hard time choosing from the Veggie (cremini mushrooms / spanish onions / roasted poblano peppers / roasted garlic / mozzarella / fresh herbs / fingerling potato crisps) the Q Special (grilled marinated chicken / portabella mushrooms / roasted red peppers / zesty tomato sauce / mozzarella) and several others. We came to the decision to get two and swap. I got the Serrano Spanish Ham & Pecorino Romano (roasted garlic / ricotta / buffalo mozzarella / oven-dried tomato) and Chris got the Chicken Pesto (grilled marinated chicken / house-made pesto sauce / mozzarella). Mine was good (and something I randomly chose because I wanted something different) but Chris' was great. The pesto was so flavorful and perfectly complemented the chicken and mozz. Mmm Mmm Mmm...he even shared his leftovers with me so I get it for dinner tonight!

We must have looked like a charming young couple or something, because compliments of the chef we were served mini cinnamon donuts with chocolate and caramel sauce. The caramel one was better, and we all know how much I love chocolate.

The food was truly wonderful. The only complaint I have was that one of the servers walked by me several times and made some borderl ine inappropriate comments. He also called me Sugar. How charming! Chris said he'd beat him up but it's better not to cause a scene, right?

Anyway, next time you're in DC and looking for a great bite, check out Matchbox, located on H Street in Chinatown!


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Midnight Coffee Cake

Okay picture this.

It's 11:30 p.m. and your long distance boyfriend (or girlfriend!) has gone to bed, leaving you to your own devices. You're trying to sleep. Really trying. You're in bed. The lights are off. A faint buzz of the fan usually hums you to sleep. It starts with one little toss. One little turn. Then you start thinking "why am I not sleeping yet?" So then your mind starts to wander. If you're a sports fan, maybe to the World Cup. A politics junkie...maybe the economy. But, let me tell you where your mind goes if you're a foodie.

Cakes, pies, breads, dishes you've been dying to try. Old favorites. Flavors and textures. Ideas for new twists. This happened to me last night, and out of nowhere, coffee cake popped into my head. I had to make it, and after being encouraged by a handful of other foodies who told me impulse baking was totally normal, I went for it because I knew it was a battle that my cravings would win. Touche, taste buds.
I sauntered downstairs in my oversized tee shirt and undies (sorry, it's true) and without contacts, I stumbled through the dark hallway into the kitchen, trying not to be loud (failing). Within an hour, the whole house smelled like breakfast. Yum. If you get a late night craving, make sure it smells delicious.My sour cream coffee cake certainly did. (adapted and altered from Cooking Light)

What ya need:
3/4 cup of any type of oats you had, divided (I used apples and cinnamon oatmeal)
Cooking spray
4.5 ounces AP flour --that's about a cup (weigh this if you can!)
1 ounce whole wheat flour --that's about 1/4 cup (for healthy goodness, of course)
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar (divided)
1/3 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
8 oz of light sour cream (or maybe greek yogurt?)
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp chilled butter, cut into small pieces

What ya do:
2. Spread oats in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350° for 6 minutes or until oats are barely fragrant and light brown.
3. Coat a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray; set aside.
4. Reserve 1/4 cup oats; set aside. Place remaining oats in a food processor; process 4 seconds or until finely ground. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine processed oats, flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir with a whisk.
5. Place granulated sugar, 1/4 cup brown sugar, and 1/3 cup butter in a large bowl. Beat with a mixer at medium speed for 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. (Batter will be slightly lumpy because of oats.) Spoon batter into prepared pan; spread evenly.
6. Combine remaining 1/4 cup oats, remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, and cinnamon in a bowl. Cut in 1 tablespoon butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until well blended. Sprinkle top of batter evenly with nut mixture. Bake at 350° for 38 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, top is golden, and cake begins to pull away from sides of pan. Cool cake in pan for 10 minutes; remove from pan.

38 minutes into the process, I'm getting a little sleepy. The warm aroma from the oven keeps me going. Breakfast will be is much better with coffeecake, as you may know. This really hit the spot, and is moist, delicious, and keeps well. 

So tell me, what have you made in the middle of the night to satisfy your cravings?

***PS: I forgot to tell you...This rich sweet cake has protein and fiber from the whole wheat flour and oatmeal and only 260 calories a slice (if you cut it into 10 pieces that is)! So indulge!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

My Favorite Lasagna

Everyone has had a T.V. dinner before, right? 

The plasticky film on top of strangely textured chicken nuggets? Bland creamy sauce over rubbery vegetables? Anyone else salivating? 

I didn't think so. As I've grown up, I've realized that cooking does involve more than just tossing ingredients into a pot, stirring and baking. It requires patience, creativity, and a little bit of humility. But, without a doubt, and forgive this lame cliche, but you have to cook with LIKE. I didn't want to say love. It's overused. So, as you're tossing in a sprinkle of salt and a dash of pepper, throw in a little like (or love, you over achiever, you.) to make your dish special.

That's exactly what I did. As you all know (well, you avid readers) I have a hungry boyfriend. As you also may know, my hungry boyfriend is only a blossoming chef. He hasn't quite reached his total potential. He's mastered sloppy joe's, BLTs, my signature chicken dish and hard boiled eggs, but I really feel like he's just skimming the surface. None the less, I don't want him to starve, or survive on prepackaged goodies. That being said, I wanted to create him (well, and me) something that would be just as delicious a third and fourth time as it was the first. I wanted to create him a T.V. dinner! Minus all the gross stuff and plus all the good. 

What better than lasagna? It's cut into blocks, freezes well, and always hits the spot. Yes, I know it was 90+ degrees all over the country but that didn't stop me. Oh, and it was awesome. 

For this recipe, you can save fat and calories and all that good stuff if you use part skim ricotta, whole wheat noodles (not my fave, but you could), lean ground beef/turkey, etc. Or, if you want to go nuts, have regular ricotta and high blood sugar causing white noodles, yum! So, here's the masterpiece. Way better than any Lean Cuisine or Stouffer's... (adapted from AllRecipes and serves 9)

What ya need:
1 pound lean ground beef
1 onion, chopped
2 (6 oz) cans tomato paste
1 (14.5 oz) can crushed tomatoes
2 cups water
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tbsp white sugar
12 oz ricotta (part skim, if you please)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 egg
9 lasagna noodles
1 pound shredded mozzarella

What ya do:
1. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook beef until brown. Drain. In another skillet over medium heat, cook onion until translucent. Combine beef and onion in a large saucepan with tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, water, oregano, garlic powder, salt, pepper and sugar. Cook over medium heat until mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer 1 hour.
2. While sauce is simmering, blend ricotta cheese, Parmesan and egg until smooth. Set aside.
3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
5. Spread 1 cup of sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Cover sauce with 3 noodles. 6. Cover noodles with one-third of remaining sauce. Top with half the mozzarella. Place another layer of noodles and one of sauce over the mozzarella; top that with the ricotta cheese mixture. Top with remaining 3 noodles and remaining sauce.
7. Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes. Sprinkle remaining mozzarella on top and bake 15 minutes more, until golden and bubbly.

Now, as mentioned earlier, they have NO cooking utensils. I'm talking no pots for boiling water. You should have seen my creativity. I used a pocket knife for a can opener and cooked the sauce in two skillets at one point. I eye balled a lot of the numbers and relied on my taste buds to know right from wrong... success!! Check out the pictures below to see what I was (or was not) working with!

My first attempt without the can opener was both ineffective and unsafe.
Then I mastered it! Pop Pop would be proud of me!
See this cupboard? It's barren.
No tablespoons in this drawer...but an egg slicer?
Well, that's all for now folks. I was supposed to be doing homework.. Well, I was multi tasking, at least. Ta Ta!

Raspberry Swirl Cheesecake

Hi hi hi! It's been a whole weekend. Did you miss me? I bet you did. I've been away (as mentioned) but now I'm back in action! Aren't you excited to read about this:
I had a lovely weekend in New Jersey where I visited my boyfriend and two of my friends from Penn State. One was hosting a fundraiser/benefit for an organization called Empower the Children of which she worked for in India this year. It's a really really really cool organization... you should check it out.
Mary Ellen, Amanda (organizer), Myself and Zoey, empowering our lives away.

Anyway, before I spent time with the ladies I was in New Brunswick, where Alex is for the summer. He had to work all day (lame!) so I was left to my own devices. I knew that I wanted to bake cheesecake, but I had no pan. Hello K-Mart! Cha-Ching. Problem solved. I knew that he didn't have a mixer. Let me tell you, cheesecake is not the easiest dessert to make without a mixer. Endless churning, people. Endless.
The cabinets were bare apart from some hamburger helper, peanut butter jars and uncooked pasta. The drawers had no teaspoons or tablespoons in sight. This, my friends, was a challenge, and I was up for it.

After my trip to K-Mart and the Stop & Shop...and several trips around the roundabouts (I'm directionally challenged) I made it back to the little apartment, stocked with vanilla extract, cream cheese, and a mission.

I decided to do a pre-made crust, because well, I was trying not to spend too much money and I knew the boys wouldn't use an entire box of graham cracker crumbles, but everything else was done in that tiny little kitchen without measuring spoons. 

The recipe turned out wonderfully, and would you be mad if I told you I substituted 1 package of full-fat cream cheese out and traded it for a 1/3 less fat? I knew you wouldn't be! It doesn't have a hint of "light," people. Not a hint! And Alex had no clue, so I didn't tell him. Anyway, here's what went down.

What ya need:
1 (8 oz) package of full fat cream cheese, softened
1 (8 oz) package of reduced fat cream cheese, softened (I'm not responsible for results if you use fat free..yuck)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
1 oreo pie crust 
1/4 cup raspberry pie filling (or raspberry preserves)
Container of Cool Whip (or your favorite whipped topping)
Fresh raspberries

What ya do:
Preheat your tiny little oven to 350. Beat (preferably not by hand!) the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well mixed. Add eggs and continue to mix until just blended.
Pour into crust and dot the batter with small spoonfuls of raspberry pie filling. Cut through batter with knife for professional marbled effect (take that, Cheesecake Factory!)
Bake for 40 minutes or until center is almost set. Cheesecake is tricky because it never looks done until it's too late...don't overbake it, please. Cool and refrigerate for several hours. When ready to serve, spread a layer of cool whip over top, and garnish with raspberries.

Store it in the fridge! Or eat it all at once, your choice! I'm a huge cheesecake fan and I'm loving how easy it is to make. Try this one for an easy but impressive dessert. You'll be glad you did.

Coming tomorrow is a delicious lasagna recipe. Take care!

Friday, June 25, 2010

New Jersey: Only the Strong Survive

I've always associated New Jersey with... well... Guidos. You've heard of the Jersey Shore reality show on MTV maybe? Yes, that. The fact that that show was a guilty pleasure of mine is another story (and secret, until now) but like I said, that's what I picture when I think of the dirty dirty. I've had many friends from New Jersey. Tara from Cape May, Kaleen (who claims Philly but we all know she's from Trenton), Krash, Kate, the list goes on. Oh and Dabba aka Snookie.

The point is, I've long been a bit weary about the Garden State, and lo and behold, Alex gets an internship here for the summer. I dreamed about visiting him in Boston, Chicago, or maybe having him in D.C., but no, here I am in a Rutgers sublet, sitting in the AC, wondering what to do.

So, I explored a little bit, and between the busy sidewalks, the one way streets, the potholes and the closed roads, I managed to find some very cool places. Take The Rafferty Gourmet, which enticed me from the outside because of their extensive cake and catering menu. Sorry, no pictures. Or, Legal Grounds Cafe, which has a mean ice coffee. And just when I was cursing the streets of New Brunswick and a dollar short for my order, a very masculine but generous female cop eating a doughnut (this is not a joke) spotted me. How I love this state!

But, when all else fails, and I run out of things to do, I bake. You can imagine baking in a boys apartment that is a sublet from other boys who probably never baked a thing in their life. The cabinets are almost barren, and NO there is no KitchenAid Stand mixer. Or any mixer. And yet, I took on the request of a raspberry swirl cheesecake from Alex, and I think I nailed it (recipe and pictures coming Monday). Tonight, I'll take on lasagna, and tomorrow I'm off to Asbury Park to visit two of my best friends from Penn State.

Anyway, I thought I would catch you up a little and let you know I'm thinking of you all! Anyway, that's all... it's about time I do something productive. Ta Ta!