Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Foodie Weekend

Summer is over. There. I said it. 

Though I can appreciate long and lazy days, as August comes to an end, I am ready for the fall. Ready for new notebooks and light sweaters. Ready for crisp mornings and caramel apples. Bring it on.

The summer does have many redeeming qualities, and I certainly had a great one. 

I traveled to New Jersey and Texas and Maine and Boston and Pennsylvania and Ohio.

I saw my Dad retire. 

I went out to great dinners in DC, Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax. 

I baked up a storm for my friends and family.

I’m exhausted! Aren’t you supposed to be well rested at the end of the summer?

Yesterday marked the first day of my last year in grad school. 

It also marked the first day that full time job meets full time school. 

My social life is going to struggle, but my friends will understand. As loyal readers I regret to inform you that my blogging life (oxymoron?) may suffer too, but I will try my darndest to update as much as possible. I hope you’ll forgive me.

Please, say you will!

To cap off my wonderful summer was this weekend. It was chock full of food, friends and fun. Cliché as that may sound, it’s true. From Friday to Sunday, I was in a constant whirl of girlfriends, awesome food, and uh, wine.

With the end of summer in DC comes one magical thing: restaurant week. I’m talking deals. Big deals. Big expensive dinners for not big expensive dollars. In other words, complete bliss for a foodie. Along with DC restaurant week comes Old Town Alexandria’s, and it is just as exciting.

Think DC, but a little quainter and a little quieter. On Friday, Amie and I ventured downtown to a restaurant called Southside 815. It’s not on Old Town’s King Street, which is definitely the most hoppin', but it was still busy and bustling so it met the needs of two twenty-something gals looking for a good night. 

Southside definitively has its roots in southern country cooking. The menu has classics like meatloaf, fried chicken and biscuits with gravy. It also had paintings of large women, which Amie seemed to appreciate. She’s weird.

The deal was $35.00 for one appetizer, two entrees and a dessert. Um, awesome? Especially considering that our entire bill should have been $80.00. Not a bad deal. 
To start, we went with spinach and artichoke dip. Look at the size of those chips. 

Damn. It was pretty good which made it hard to save room for my entrée.
Good thing I did because I decided to order the huge strip steak marinated in Jack Daniels and topped with a gouda and crab gratin. What a boy I am. It was ginormous. I think 14 ounces. And it came with green beans and taters. It was delightful and definitely a treat. But this whole weekend was, just keep reading.
Amie got a fried chicken pasta with sun dried tomatoes and asparagus in a cream sauce. The sun dried matos and asparagus make it healthy, right? Oh, it was good. 
Lastly, we split the brownie sundae dessert. I’d be lying if I said I loved it. Definitely not as exciting as the meal but hey! It was still edible. I mean, I ate my half…

After dinner we loosened our metaphorical belts and rolled home, literally—so full.
After an hour or two of Say Yes to the Dress, it was time to go home and prepare for Saturday’s festivities. 

On Saturday night, a big group of girls got together for my kind of party- appetizer, dessert and wine only. There were 9 of us, which yes, you guessed it, meant 9 bottles of wine and 9 different dishes. Needless to say, we were well taken care of.
I’ll give you a run-down of all the bites.

Amie brought two dishes. The first was a crispy phyllo shell filled with feta, cucumber, onion and tomato. This was certainly one of the healthier choices, you’ll see.
She also brought a shrimp dip recipe which combines everyone’s favorites: cream cheese, sour cream, baby shrimp and some spice mixture. So good on Fritos, and I hate Fritos. 
 Rachel brought a dish I’d never tried before. There were three major ingredients: wonder bread, cream cheese and bacon. We’re definitely watching our waistlines in this group! Hello delicious. The bacon was baked, to be fair!
Laura (our hostess) made a really nice cracker dip that had cream cheese, chutney and pecans (I think). It was a little sweet, a little savory, and perfect on a Triscut, of which I had many.
Kelly made this awesome salsa with a bunch of chopped veggies. I’m a salsa fiend, especially when it contains black beans, so you can imagine I had several scoopfuls.
 Dabba, the new little housewife (just kidding) brought my favorite: a bruchetta-type munchie. She had little pieces of sliced bread topped with tomato, basil and mozzarella. TBM to me. Love TBM. Love love.
 Hayley brought yummy yellow cupcakes with chocolate frosting. Can you go wrong with this? The answer is no.
 Liz brought these self-proclaimed “cups of frosting.” They were actually more like a rich mousse; she didn’t give herself enough credit!

 Melanie brought chocolate covered strawberries. Fruit covered in chocolate. Sweet, awesome fruit. Chocolate. Do the math.

 Last but not least, I brought chocolate cake balls! I’ve wanted to make these forever. I’ve seen them so many places! The recipe is coming tomorrow, promise! I made one bath of red velvet and one batch of yellow cake with chocolate frosting. They were awesome, if you have good taste.
Lastly, we all brought wine. Look at it! This isn’t even all of it. Guess which one is mine? Yep, the only white one. Well, Amie’s was too, but was already gone by this point. Oops.
We wined, dined, and then hit the town. Love me some girls’ nights! 

Well, all the appetizers and desserts must have not done the trick, because when I got home late at night, I scarfed down some Papa John’s pizza. Or. I mean. Okay, it’s out there.

Sunday morning, I woke up at the crack of dawn. I hate that considering I never get to sleep in. What a drag. O took the day off of exercise and just mosied around the house, killing time, you know.

Killing time for what, you ask? Oh I’ll tell you.

My friend Melanie loves me sooo much that she bought a Groupon for me! Well, for us. And she got it as an early birthday gift. For me! Woo! And do you know what that Groupon was?

A mega deal from The Melting Pot, my favorite restaurant to date. 

Have you been there? If you have, what’s your favorite dish?

If you haven’t: go. Right now. Get off your chair and go. Well, maybe get a light jog in first, because you are bound to eat your face off… in the classiest way, of course.

The Melting Pot is a fondue restaurant. This translates to good food made better by dipping it in cheese and chocolate. Can you believe it? 

Melanie and I have been going to The Melting Pot since we got our driver’s licenses. 

It’s always been our little thing. It’s definitely a treat because it can get very expensive, but like I said, we had a Groupon, so it kind of felt like we were eating for free!

 We both got salads.
 Justttt kidding. Well sort of. We got salads but we also got the Wisconsin Trio, a blend of fontina, butterkase and buttermilk bleu cheese with white wine, scallions and sherry. 
 Wow. It comes with some crudités and fresh bread for dipping. It’s basically God’s gift to man. 
 We filled up on cheese, but there is always, always room for dessert here. We were convinced by our smooth talkin’ (well, not really) waiter to get the Cookies and Cream chocolate fondue. 
 You read this correctly. Dark chocolate with marshmallows and Oreo cookies flambéed tableside. 
 It comes with dippers like strawberries, bananas, pound cake, cookie covered and graham covered marshmallows, cheesecake, and brownie bites. We had two plates. I’m not exaggerating. We killed them. 

 And once again, I rolled out of the restaurant. It was so fantastic. It’s not like I was gorging on McDonalds. The Melting Pot is worth it, for sure. Whether it’s a special occasion or just a great deal, you need to try it. 

Oh and guess what? We only had to put down $8.00. Thanks Groupon!

And that was my weekend. Full of (almost) all my favorite things.

What’s your favorite way to spend the weekends?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Blackberry-Apple Upside Down Cake & Happy Anniversary


Who needs them? Certainly I don't. Nothing to look forward to on Wednesdays other than Thursday and Friday.

This Wednesday, however, was different!

Meet Sue and Dick, my awesome roommates (parents). Today is THEIR day! On this day, August 25th, 2010, they have been married for 37 years. Holy cow. That's a lot of togetherness.

My parents are best buds. They are that couple who doesn't often attend other social engagements, although invited, because they are too busy hanging out with one another.

They go on dinner dates every weekend, always.

They go out to breakfast Saturday and Sunday without fail.

Like I said, best buds. And they're still chugging along. So here's to you Mom and Dad. A new cake, showcasing the late summer produce and the perfect compliment to a scoop of creamy vanilla ice cream.

It's beautiful too. I don't think I've made something this pretty yet...in my humblest opinion. 

 The vanilla cake is so perfect with the caramelized fruit baked into the bottom of the pan. I gasped when I first saw it.

They deserve it, for sure. And enjoy it, they did. So here's the recipe for one 9-inch cake that serves about 8.

What ya need:

3/4 cup butter, softened and divided
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large Gala apples, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 cup fresh blackberries (cranberries would work too)
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

What ya do:
1. Preheat oven to 350°. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a lightly greased 9-inch round cake pan (with sides that are at least 2 inches high) over low heat. Remove from heat. Sprinkle with brown sugar; drizzle honey over brown sugar. Arrange apple slices in concentric circles over brown sugar mixture, overlapping as needed; sprinkle with blackberries.
 2. Beat granulated sugar and remaining 1/2 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating until blended after each addition.
3. Sift together flour and baking powder. Add flour mixture to sugar mixture alternately with milk, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Spoon batter over blackberries in pan.
4. Bake at 350° for 45 to 50 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack 10 minutes. Carefully run a knife around edge of cake to loosen. Invert cake onto a serving plate, spooning any topping in pan over cake.

Serve with a scoop of vanilla and you’ve got yourself one mighty fine dessert! Happy Anniversary!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Southern Meal: Black Beans & Rice with Sauteed Okra

Well hey there from Virginia, ya’ll!
Okay enough. I live in Northern Virginia. Very different from Virginia. No farms, cows or tractors near me. Though I would 9 times out of 10 prefer the north (like New England), something is appealing about southern comfort, and I’m not talking about the alcohol.

Few dishes in my recipe box fit in with southern cuisine. Not a lot of soul food. Never a deep fried pickle. You get the idea.

Well, consider this an exception.
I happen to love black beans. Love. And did you know that beans and rice make one complete protein? Nice little nugget there.
I also hardly ever venture out in the vegetable world. I typically am eating broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, squash, zucchini, carrots, mushrooms, peppers… oh wait. Well, I guess I do use a lot of different vegetables but none of them okra. So this was an experiment with me.
But my soco (southern cooking, c'mon!) was delicious! The beans had a creamy consistency and the okra had the perfect amount of spice. This is a great meatless meal but if you prefer, you can sprinkle some bacon on your okra. Whatever suits your fancy. 
Oh and check out this beauty with homemade croutons! To die for.
Next week I'll be making fried chicken and grits. Well, not really, but I'm going to find a healthier version for you. Alright that's it!

What ya need:

1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice (didn’t have any, used Success Rice, oops!)
3 (15-oz.) cans black beans, divided
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped green bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 (14-oz.) can chicken broth
1 (6-oz.) can tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
Salt to taste
Toppings: shredded Cheddar cheese, sliced radishes, chopped tomatoes, chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, sliced jalapeño peppers

What ya do:
1. Prepare rice according to package directions.
2. Meanwhile, drain and rinse 2 cans black beans. (Do not drain remaining can of black beans.)
3. Sauté onion, bell pepper, and garlic in hot oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in drained and undrained beans, chicken broth, tomato paste, cumin, and dried crushed red pepper. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes. Add salt to taste. Serve with hot cooked rice and desired toppings.

 What ya need:

1/2 cup chopped onion (1 medium)
1/2 cup chopped green sweet pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
8 ounces whole okra, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (2 cups)
2 cups chopped, peeled tomato (2 large)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
2 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, drained, and crumbled (optional)

What ya do:
1. In a large skillet cook and stir onion, sweet pepper, and garlic in hot butter over medium heat about 5 minutes or until tender. Stir in okra, tomato, salt, pepper, and, if desired, cayenne pepper. Bring to boiling; reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 20 minutes for fresh okra (10 minutes for thawed okra) or until okra is very tender. If desired, sprinkle with bacon. 


Monday, August 23, 2010

Rolo Surprise Cookies

Have you all heard of Stumble Upon?

It's incredible. Go check it out...after you read this post of course! You basically set it to your personal preferences and it allows you to "stumble" onto different websites that you might be interested in. For instance, I have travel, humor, restaurants and recipes to name a few.

I hardly ever use Stumble because I'm so busy.

My boyfriend, however, who thinks of me always, sends me sites that he has found with incredible recipes. He fills up my inbox with tantalizing cookies, cakes, pies and brownies.

I love it.

Being in a long distance relationship, I don't get to share all my creations with him, so when I get the chance, I jump at it.

Last week, Alex sent me a recipe for stuffed cookies.

Yeah, I know. I made a few changes to it to call it my own, and whipped it up before I picked him up for a wedding in Ohio. (Mini photo montage).
My next door neighbor, Ashley, all grown up!
Cupcake Table!!!!
My date and I.
Anyway, Alex, his three roommates and uncle all loved these cookies. So did my family. Aka, they were a HIT. They look boring, I admit, but take one bite and you're in caramel heaven.

The cookies stay soft even as the days pass. The insides stay gooey and perfect. I love these cookies. They will definitely be saved in my recipe box. It would also be great with other candies, I'm sure. Maybe Reese's or fun size candies? Give it a try with your favorite!

What ya need:
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
48 chocolate covered caramel candies

What ya do:
1. In a large bowl, cream together the white sugar, brown sugar, and butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, then stir in the vanilla. Sift the flour, cocoa, and baking soda together and gradually stir into the creamed mixture. S-L-O-W-L-Y. Cover dough and chill for at least one hour. Meanwhile unwrap the candies.
2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
3. With floured hands, wrap about 1 tablespoon of dough around each piece of candy, completely covering the candy. Roll each ball in the remaining tablespoon of white sugar.
Step 3: Stuff, Cover, Sugar
 4. Place 2 inches apart on an unprepared cookie sheet. Bake for 7 to 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Cookies should be set and slightly cracked.


Sunday, August 22, 2010

Banana Chocolate Chip Coffee Cupcakes

Hey everyone! I've been so flustered getting back from Tejas, driving to Penn State and going to a wedding in Ohio that I almost forgot to tell you to check out Ancient Fire Wine Blog for my guest post about the delicious Chocolate Chip Banana Coffee Cupcakes I made a week ago.

Check it out and I'll be up and running tomorrow!!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Pickled Onions and Slaw

Remember to check out my giveaway! You know you want a bunch of free bagel sandwiches!

So as you all know, I just got home from Texas on Sunday. I was filled with great food, great friends and great times.

One of the things I like the most about going on trips is the inspiration that I get from them. This one was no different. Among all of the great food I had, barbecue stands out as being something truly Texas.

That's not to say we can't do it here in Virginia. I wanted something with a barbecue feel, and I found it in this month's Cooking Light. I mean now that I'm back from vacation, it's back to healthier fare. But you wouldn't know! One of these sandwiches is right around 400 calories. Sold! Serve it with the slaw and some grilled veggies and you've got yourself one hell of a meal!

If you're not a big beef, steak, or pork eater, but still want your finger lickin' good food, try this recipe. You can make it into 8 mini sliders or 4 bigger sandwiches. I went with the bigger route, but that's because I didn't have mini sliders. This recipe is great for a summer day but can be made all year on an indoor grill.

Pulled Chicken Sandwiches with Pickled Onions
What ya need:
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons honey, divided
2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, divided
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken thighs, trimmed
1/8 teaspoon salt
Cooking spray
4 sandwich rolls (or 8-mini sliders)

What ya do:
1. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

2. Combine sliced onion, 1 tablespoon vinegar, and 1 1/2 teaspoons honey in a small bowl; toss well.

3. Cover and refrigerate onion mixture at least 30 minutes.
4. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, remaining 1 tablespoon honey, 2 tablespoons water, mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer (do not boil). Simmer 5 minutes; stir in butter. Remove from heat; keep warm.
5. Sprinkle chicken with remaining 1/2 teaspoon pepper and salt. Place on a grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 4 minutes on each side or until done. Remove chicken from grill; cool slightly.
6. Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces. Add chicken to saucepan with mustard mixture, and toss gently to coat.
7. Cut rolls in half crosswise. Place rolls, cut sides down, on grill; grill 1 minute or until toasted. Spoon about 1/3 cup chicken mixture over bottom half of each roll. Top each roll with about 1 teaspoon drained onion slices and top half of roll.

Broccoli Slaw
What ya need
1/4 cup fat-free plain Greek yogurt
2 tbsp light mayo
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 (12-ounce) package broccoli slaw

What ya do:
1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large bowl; stir with a whisk.
 2. Add parsley, cranberries and broccoli slaw; toss to coat.
 3. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to allow flavors to marry.