Thursday, March 7, 2013

Crazy for Quinoa

On a spring break diet kick, I've been eating a lot of quinoa. It's super healthy, filling, full of protein and perfect for cool winter nights. Sick of buying the stuff from Whole Foods for far too much money, I decided to make my own. It look a lot longer than I expected to cook, but was totally worth it in the end. It definitely involved a lot of time labor but was not particularly challenging prepare. I adapted my recipe from the quinoa risotto recipe on the back of the Trader Joe's Organic White Quinoa bag. This dish was great to give a taste of spring but still hearty enough for a winter night. Next time I make it, and there will definitely be a next time, I would consider adding an herb like fresh thyme or rosemary. I really loved the dish, and here's the recipe! I hope you enjoy it as much as my friends and I did.

Time: about an hour
Servings: I used 1 1/2 cups of quinoa, which made roughly 6 servings

1 1/2 Cups Trader Joe's Organic White Quinoa
3-5 T Olive Oil
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
5 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup white wine
1/2 of a large white onion
1 cup of frozen corn
Asparagus (which I tossed in olive oil, sea salt and pepper, then roasted at 400 for about 15 minutes), cut into pieces
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Sea Salt to taste

1. Preheat oven to 400, roast asparagus, keep aside
2. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, then add the garlic to a large skillet
3. When the garlic begins dancing, pour in the quinoa and stir so it gets covered in the oil for about 3 minutes until the quinoa gets slightly toasted
4. Warm the vegetable broth on low heat
5. Pour in the white wine, stirring, and lower the heat
6. Once the wine is absorbed, add a cup of the broth, stirring regularly
7. Let the quinoa simmer but stir regularly, when the broth is mostly absorbed, add the broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly
8. Cook frozen corn according to package directions
9. Heat a 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a separate skillet
10. When that oil is hot, add the onions stirring until they turn translucent and begin to caramelize, move them to the side
11. When most of the broth is absorbed by the quinoa, stir in corn, onion and asparagus, continuing to stir frequently and letting quinoa simmer
12. Add zest of a lemon and juice from half the lemon, with the last of the broth
13. The quinoa is cooked when the germ bursts, making each kernel a translucent color
14. Remove from heat, serve and enjoy!

Saturday, January 19, 2013


While home for winter break, I had the pleasure of dining at Chef Gerard Craft's latest addition to the St. Louis restaurant scene: Pastaria. Despite the staggering wait, it was completely worth it! Craft's restaurants have helped fuel a burgeoning St. Louis restaurant scene with their strong menu options, fresh ingredients, creative recipes, and commitment to specific ambiances. I love the French feel to Brasserie with the brown papered tables and bread station in the center of the restaurant, which made me very excited to check out Pastaria. With large windows facing the street, I was interested in seeing how the space maintained a warm, family feel, which Craft told several area magazines he intended for the space. As soon as I walked up to the large windows and saw a man feeding fresh noodles through a pasta machine, I knew I was in for a treat. After waiting at the bar for a table, during which time I got to choose from a small but solid list of local beers. The restaurant itself is more or less one large room with a bar on one side, an open kitchen along the back wall, and a gelato station towards the front. In one corner is the pasta preparation station. There are also seats facing the open kitchen, which would give a diner a fun perspective! The rows of simple wooden tables and high ceilings keep the restaurant feeling like a family-eatery and unpretentious. On each table, are small dishes of salt and olive oil. In the center of the restaurant, similar to Brasserie, is a table garnished with a floral arrangement and vintage kitchen equipment where bread is divvied up before heading to the individual tables.

For starters, we tried the crispy risotto balls. The breading had a nice crunch but was not tough or too heavy, caving into the cheesy center with the first bite. The balls were filled with creamy mozzarella and sharper, grainer Grana Padano. The balls were served with a delicious, simple marinara sauce and an aioli. They were a great starter! We also had the shaved kale salad, which was essentially an epic Caesar salad. The finely chopped kale gave the salad a hearty, rich, filling taste that is often absent in a basic romaine lettuce Caesar. The salad was simply kale, breadcrumbs and Pecorino, tossed in a creamy, anchovy-based dressing. The nutty flavor of the Pecorino complimented the kale's strong flavor, the creamy dressing downplayed both of the strong flavors and the acidity in the dressing brought it all together perfectly.

For my meal, I was blown away by the pistachio ravioli. The noodles were very fresh tasting and you could tell they were made in house by the delicate manner they were sealed. They were filled with slightly nutty and somewhat creamy Grana Padano, which packed a flavor 20 times greater than your basic ricotta ravioli. They were then covered in brown-butter based sauce. It was a simple brown-butter lemon sauce with mint and crushed pistachios. It was a unique and perfect blend of flavors. The nuttiness of the brown butter paired well with the Grana and the lemon cut the creaminess. The fresh, cool flavor of the mint brought out more depths of flavor in the cheese and sauce. The pistachios had a crunch which added a unique textural element to the dish as well as a subtly sweet flavor. I could not get enough! Someone else at the table ordered the Chitarra al Pomodoro: spaghetti with tomato sauce. The spaghetti was al dente and the sauce was fresh and flavor with a basic combination of tomatoes, garlic and basil. The use of fresh ingredients allowed the pasta dishes to be simple yet full of flavor. I also had the chance to try the pizza from someone else at my table. The crust was a mix of Neapolitan and thin crust. In an authentic Italian way, the crust was thicker around the outside and softer, more delicate in the center. Yet, it wasn't overly soft in the center requiring a fork and knife, lending itself to a perfect fold and eat. The Roman pizza I tried had a moderate amount of basic tomato garlic sauce, mozzarella and Pecorino cheeses. The real stars of the pizza was chili and bacon. The bacon was salty and wonderful, due to Craft's curing of his own meats. The chili on the pizza gave it a great kick at the end with a subtly growing spiciness, which the next bites of tart tomato, sweet crust and salty bacon helped cover. Until the next kick of chili. Every dish was delicious!

For dessert, we obviously knew we needed to try some of the fresh gelato. I have a minor hidden obsession with goat cheese and beet ice cream, so when I saw they were serving a beet gelato with a Manouri cheese. Manouri is basically a Greek goat cheese, creamy and sweet. I love beet and goat cheese ice cream for the sweetness of the beets and cheese and the way it pairs with the creaminess of the ice cream. The gelato was pretty great. I also tried the carmel gelato, their most popular flavor. We also tried the tiramisu, which was great.

Overall, the meal was great, the ambiance was full of energy yet unpretentious and inviting. It was definitely worth the wait for one of the best vibes I've felt from a restaurant in a while and some of the most delicious pasta I've had this side of the Atlantic, or at least the Mississippi.
Pastaria on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Brunch: NYC Style

In case you haven't noticed, I like brunch. It's probably one of my favorite meals to eat at a restaurant. It's so decadent which makes it the perfect way to start a relaxing Saturday or Sunday or overcome the night before. Whether I'm looking for brunch to help me get over the revelry of the night before, energize me for a busy day of relaxing (and occasionally studying), an afternoon of shopping, to enjoy a little hair of the dog that bit you, or simply to catch up with old friends, I'm a brunch girl. This past weekend, I was in New York visiting friends and relaxing, so obviously brunch was necessary. For a relaxing Saturday mid-day meal, we decided to try The Mercer Kitchen in SoHo, one of Jean-George's restaurants. We entered the restaurant and headed downstairs to the hostess stand; the upstairs section is more of a bar. We had a reservation and were seated within just a few minutes. The interior is dark with open paneling on the ceiling and exposed brick walls and arches. Mirrors and glass throughout the restaurant make it seem larger, and also more intimate at the same time while upside-down umbrellas hanging from the ceiling add some type of decor. The mirrors reflect the tables and the low-lighting keeps the room feeling warm, despite the industrial build. The open kitchen is also a nice touch, just a personal preference. The brunch menu varied from Asian-inspired starters to classic American staples like the (MERCER) burger, all featuring fresh and seasonal ingredients. The whole menu sounded fresh, light, and delicious, making the decision very hard. Starters included butternut squash soup, salmon with crispy sushi rice, crispy squid, a beet salad, figs with mozzarella, basil, and prosciutto, and a raw kale salad, among other choices. The brunch entrees included savory lunch options like a burger, sea bass, a lamb sandwich, and even a NY Strip. It also contained more breakfasty choices like an omelet with goat cheese, french toast, and eggs benedict. There was also a small raw bar menu and a few pizza choices.
I was in the mood for the ideal brunch balance: a little breakfast, a little sweet, a bit savory, and something lunch-enough to hold me until dinner. So, I chose the smoked salmon pizza. This was no usual pizza though, it was essentially a deconstructed lox and bagel, kicked up a notch. The crust was a thin and the wide, almost an inch, edges were seasoned like an everything bagel with poppy seeds, sesame seeds, garlic, onion and salt. The center of the pizza was covered with a dill mascarpone spread. The dill flavored the soft cheese, which was sweeter but a milder and more intricate flavor than cream cheese. Then, the pizza was covered with fresh, flavorful, not overly-salty smoked salmon. The smoked salmon was spread across the whole pizza and then topped with tomatoes. Lastly, there were a few vinegar-treated red onions. They tasted like they'd been soaked in red wine vinegar and excellently broke up the sweetness of the cheese, saltiness of the fish, and savoriness of the slightly-chewy crust with their tart acidity. The pizza was awesome! It was like eating a super bagel, and made for a super brunch. It was so unique in concept and the way the flavors all came together was delicious, despite the simple concept of the dish. My friends ordered goat cheese omelets served with rosemary potatoes, which they said were perfectly cooked, packed full of fresh goat cheese, and that the potatoes were very well seasoned. Overall, it was the perfect choice for catching up with old friends and starting a great day of traipsing around New York. I highly recommend trying Mercer Kitchen for brunch, or any meal, but definitely make a reservation! Mercer Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Moveable Feast [Four all Seasons]

While Hemingway coined the term "moveable feast" to describe Paris, I discovered a moveable feast here in DC this weekend. With my uncle visiting, we decided to go for a big brunch and try out the Four Seasons' all-you-can-eat gastronomical celebration. When I first think of buffet, the image that comes to mind isn't necessarily the classiest, so before I begin the explanation of my experience at Seasons, throw out every image in your head of some greasy food sitting under heat lamps for hours with  flies buzzing around and other customers looking like they eat exclusively at buffets. The restaurant is located through the elegant Four Seasons Georgetown lobby, down a set of plush stairs and into a warm, open seating area. The restaurant itself is essentially a large banquet room full of spread out tables with simple white tableclothes. The room is big and has different stations spaced throughout the room, which keeps a crowd from gathering at any one area and giving the whole room a calm and elegant feel. I was lucky enough to visit the Seasons on a gorgeous fall day and sit outside on the intimate and sunny patio, which holds only about 5 tables. After entering the restaurant, we were greeted and taken to our table,  where out waiter came over, explained how the restaurant worked, and began to fill our champagne flutes with the bottomless mimosas. He explained we were free to visit the tables or order belgian waffles or eggs benedict from him at any time. The atmosphere truly added to the leisurely nature of the meal and the attentive service just furthered me feeling like a VIP.

A Seafood Feast
To start, we began at the seafood table where we had so many delicious choices to make. At the beginning of the table, I grabbed a smoked fish dish, crab cocktail, three different kinds of smoked salmon and some items from the fresh seafood bar. I took several raw oysters on the half shell and jumbo shrimp, which really were huge! I skipped over an olive oil poached tuna served on a bean salad, a curried scallop with coconut chutney, bagels, and huge King Crab legs. The smoked fish salad was deliciously salty, full of smokey flavor and served atop horseradish and beet bavarois. The beet mixture was airy and light, almost like a cross between a spread and a mousse. It was also sweet from the beets, which paired perfectly with the fish's smoky notes. This was probably my favorite dish from the seafood section. I also enjoyed a crab cocktail with pickled ginger and grapefruit. The fresh, lump crabmeat was tossed in a classic, creamy seafood salad sauce, that the ginger and grapefruit cut with their acidity. However, the ginger added a tart bite to the mayonnaise while the grapefruit added a subtle sweetness. Both added texture to the dish but somehow instead of overpowering the crab, just gave more flavor to it. I tried a piece of pastrami smoked salmon: a little too salty for me. The dill marinated salmon which was great, the plain smoked salmon was fresh and flavorful, and the jumbo shrimp were huge and fresh. The raw oysters were fresh, not too briny or salty, and subtly sweet in the way only oysters can be. To go with the seafood, there were about 8 sauces and condiments displayed including a wasabi sauce, horseradish sauce and plain cocktail sauce.

Quinoa, Cauliflower Romesco and Foraged Mushroom Salad
After finishing off my seafood plate, I visited the cheese and salad stations. At the cheese station, each cheese was displayed with a Stonewall Kitchen spread as suggested accompaniment. To try each cheese as objectively as I could, I took two pieces of each cheese: one plain and one with the suggested sauce. The first cheese I tried was not my favorite. It was a dark yellow/orange colored Porter cheese with dark marbelization because of the porter beer in it. It was a very strong cheese with malty, chocolate flavors and was a little too weird for my taste, even with the simple mustard it was served with. Next, I tried the Humboldt Fog. To be fair, this is my favorite kind of cheese but this was probably the best Humboldt Fog I've ever tried! For those that don't know, Humboldt Fog is a goat cheese with essentially three different types in one. The outside is spreadable and runny with a texture more like brie, the inside is a traditionally crumbly, smooth and delicious goat cheese and the middle is a strong ash which tastes almost like a blue cheese. The Humboldt Fog was served with a really light and scrumptious honey which countered some of the cheese's tartness and highlighted its sweet notes. I also tried a cheese that tasted like a milder Brie. If Brie cheese had a slightly milder and harder cousin that would be even better than Brie on sandwiches - that was this cheese. Think Muenster consistency meets Brie flavor. Delic. I also had an orange cheese which had a nutty flavor like white cheese but the color of cheddar and was softer than most cheddars, I'm not sure what kind of cheese it was. Lastly, I tried a piece of manchego that was being served with fig and ginger jam. I always like nutty-flavored, hard manchego cheese but the fig and ginger jam was a great accompaniment. I also enjoyed a few pieces of prosciutto, salami and coppa with the cheeses. The salad table featured eight visually-appealing salads and vegetables including an Asian slaw with sesame-ginger dressing, a celery root slaw, roasted acorn squash with pumpkin, and a pear salad. I chose to try the cauliflower romesco which was nutty and warm and a sweet and savory quinoa with butternut squash, toasted hazelnuts. The two perfectly embodied this first fall weekend as I sat outside watching some leaves that had already begun to change in Rock Creek Park. My favorite salad was a foraged mushroom, artichoke, preserved tomatoes, and ricotta salad. The mushrooms were earthy and delicious and the other ingredients freshness was not overpowered by the light and simple oil and vinegar dressing. Also, the mix of mushrooms with the summery tomatoes was an ideal fall salad!

Next, it was time for the main course. For my veggies, I had brussels sprouts (my favorite veggie) with hazelnuts, brown sugar and sage carrots, and sweet potato puree with a pecan crust. I always love sprouts, the carrots were perfectly soft on the outside but still crunchy and the sweet potatoes were creamy, sweet and more like dessert. I also had cheesey grits that were literally 75% melty, oozy cheese and very few grits - in a good way. For protein, I had a buffalo-style quail with homemade blue cheese dressing. It was my first time having quail but I found the dark, rich meat delicious and the buffalo sauce surprisingly good, and it packed a kick! I also had a charcoal-grilled lamb chop with a tiny bit of mint tomato sauce. The meat was so tender and instead of needing a heavy sauce, the tomato mint had flavored the lamb while it cooked, giving it a deeper flavor.

Each season, the buffet offers a specialty themed food table and this fall it was "Mexico City" theme. There were several options there but I chose to try a beef enchilada. This was no usual beef enchilada though! The beef was a texture almost like pulled pork, wrapped in a corn tortilla that was being warmed while I waited. Just the beef was delicately wrapped in the tortilla, then smothered in a red enchilada sauce and queso fresco. The red sauce was authentic, I presume, spicy and rich without being gloppy or heavy. The corn tortilla had an authentic crunch, the smoked beef was delic and the cheese, well, I love cheese.

Then I entered the room of heaven: dessert. Dessert occupies its own whole room full of boundless possibilities  temptations, and pleasures both optical and edible. There were nearly 20 cakes, pastries and sweets to choose from and everything I tried was delicious. I started with the pecan pie in a jar. It was basically caramelized pecans mixed with brown sugar and melted butter that was still runny, followed by a layer of chocolate chips, homemade whipped cream, a thick chocolate mousse that had a consistency almost of ganache, and a crunchy cookie stuck in the top. Not only was it absolutely adorable, it was the best "pecan pie" I've ever had! Next, I tried the super moist chocolate cake. It was beautifully garnished with a piece of milk chocolate with white chocolate details and a white chocolate decoration on top of a chocolate cream icing, on top of three layers of moist chocolate cake. As the name suggests the cake was beyond moist and each layer was separated by layers of light chocolate icing almost like mouse. If you're going to name a cake so ambitiously, it better live up to it, and this cake definitely did! Next, I tried the deconstructed pumpkin pie. This consisted of homemade pumpkin filling with nutmeg and cinnamon, homemade whip cream, pumpkin seeds, flaky, cinnamon-sugary crust pieces, and topped with a mini pumpkin meringue. It was amazing! Finally, I tried a carrot cake made of layers of carrot cake, separated by thick cream cheese icing, and topped with  candied fruit.

Super Moist Chocolate Cake
Carrot Cake
Pecan Pie in a Jar
Although the buffet was way out of my budget so I'm not sure I'll make it there again, it was a culinary and visual journey not soon to be forgotten. If you're looking for a treat, I would highly, highly, highly recommend Seasons' brunch at the Four Seasons!
Seasons on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Delicious Party Apps

As you may have noticed by the lack of recent entries, I've been crazy busy trying to get back into school. And one of the great things about being back at school, is that all of my friends have been having apartment warming parties. But with so many parties, places to be, people to see, and oh yeah, classes, it's not always easy to make a great dish for a party. One of the dishes I made a few times, always with rave reviews, is a fig and honey baked brie. You might be thinking, baked brie? How wintery? But these figs and honey keep it light and great for any season. Plus, it's so easy to make!

1/8 round of Brie cheese (I bought Trader Joes' and it was only $3 and tasted just as great!)
About 6 medium figs
1-2 Tablespoons Balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup - 1/2 cup honey

Take the brie out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature (This will probably take around 20 minutes). Preheat the oven 350. Slice the figs in halves or quarters. How big you want the pieces of fig is completely up to you! I chose to cut some pieces into thirds, others into quarters, and some even slightly smaller. You don't want to cut the pieces too small though or they won't give as much flavor the cheese. Place the brie on an aluminum foil covered baking dish. Pour about half the honey over the Brie evenly, making sure it pours off the top to the sides. Spread the figs evenly around the brie so the piece of cheese is completely covered, including the sides. Pour the rest of the honey over the figs and cheese. Splash some Balsamic on the whole thing to really help pull out all of the other flavors by cutting some of the honey's sweetness and brie's rich, saltiness. Be careful not to use too much! Bake for about 7 minutes, checking after 5. I ended up baking it for more like 11-12 minutes but just make sure you're monitoring. Take the cheese out when it smells heavenly and the cheese is melting onto the figs and honey.

Enjoy the cheese with any crackers you like, I used Trader Joes' Rosemary Raisin Crisps. This dish is full of sweet, oozy goodness and makes a great treat for a housewarming party or a casual weekday snack! (I cut the leftovers up and tossed them with spinach the next day for a delicious salad!) Happy cooking!

Saturday, July 14, 2012

New Hampshire's Finest

I have discovered some of the best Indian food ever, and it's tucked away in the ski town of North Conway, New Hampshire. To be fair, I've loved Shalimar since last summer but this seemed like the perfect time to post about it! I love Shalimar so much it made my top ten list of reasons I was excited to return to camp this summer; it's that good! Since I've been going there for two summers now, I've gotten to try a few dishes and I thought I'd tell you about my favorites. The restaurant is tucked in between a large area of outlet malls and the picturesque old town of North Conway but is beyond authentic! The unassuming location should not deter diners! The inside is warm and the family that owns and operates Shalimar is kind and attentive. The tables are decorated, underneath sheets of glass with notes of adoration from past diners. The warmth of the restaurant itself just foreshadows the homey, authentic, warm flavors of the cuisine.

For starters, the mango lassi is delicious! It's richer than many but full of creamy, real mango flavor. Each table is served crispy papadan with two contrasting sauces. The first is a thick, spicy sauce almost like a chili paste and the second is a runny, sweet sauce. Both are delicious on their own but the combination is the perfect mix of sweet & spicy and textures. All of the lamb dishes are served with large, tender, flavorful chunks of meat. The korma sauce, a spicy yogurt sauce, is full of spice while simultaneously refreshing, all without being too creaky or rich. Another dish I've tried is the chicken tikka masala: an Indian staple. The chicken is well seasoned with a dry rub and grilled (what makes it chicken tikka) and the masala sauce is awesome. My favorite entrees are probably malai kofta or paneer masala, both of which are fresh, full of flavor, and pack a kick. The chana masala (chick peas) make a great side dish! The best part about Shalimar though, and the item I craved most during the year, is the coconut naan. I'd never seen this on the menu at other Indian restaurants before visiting Shalimar, and still haven't (trust me, I've looked everywhere), which is part of the reaso it's so coveted. The naan itself is perfectly cooked to give it a subtle grill flavor and the perfect amount of chewiness. The bread is then stuffed with sweet coconut and raisins. It is unreal; I literally could eat baskets on baskets of the stuff! It is so deliciously sweet on the inside but the savoriness of the bread keeps it an acceptable accompaniment for dinner, not just dessert.

If you find yourself in North Conway, anywhere or New Hampshire, or anywhere else in New England, Shalimar is definitely worth a visit!
Shalimar of India on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Chi-Town Chow Down

This week, I visited friends in Chicago for a few days and had some great times, good drinks, and delicious food! My first night, I went to Rockit Bar and Grill where I was very impressed! The menu was eccentric with a good mix of creative dishes and new takes on classic American options like burgers. For starters, we ordered the double dip: a platter full with a bowl of hummus, a bowl of tomato goat cheese dip, plenty of veggies, crackers and pita bread. The white bean hummus was fresh and good but the goat cheese dip was my favorite. Served as a generous portion of fresh goat cheese surrounded by a simple tomato sauce. I was initially a little underwhelmed but after mixing the goat cheese with the warm sauce and watching it melt into the sauce, I understood the draw. It was a delicious and rich combination. For my meal, I ordered a turkey burger with avocado, Swiss cheese and house mayo on a pretzel bun. The bun was chewy and the burger perfectly savory. The cheese and mayo were great accompaniments but my favorite part were the truffle fries. Thick cut and covered in truffle oil, parsley and sea salt the fries were amazing! The drinks were also delicious! I ordered a martini with mango vodka, mango syrup, lime, and mango purée. They were dangerously sweet!

The next day I went to Orange for brunch. With several locations around the city I figured it must be good but did not know what to expect. The menu featured several unique drinks such as their house-made orange j fused coffee and an extensive create-your-own juice list. For an appetizer, my friend insisted we try "frushi": Orange's speciality. This fruit sushi initially did not sound appetizing but was very surprising. The specifics change every day but we were offered strawberries with coconut rice and a piece of nigiri with pineapple and coconut rice. The rice was flavorful and moist while the fruit was fresh. The plate was decorated with a flavorful melon sauce, strawberry sauce, and grape garnishes. They were a colorful, fresh and delicious start to the meal.

For dinner my second night, I went to Carmine's: a Chicago Italian landmark. The large patio was buzzing and great for people watching. We were served warm bread with a plate heaping of Parmesan and olive oil. For my meal, I settled on the classic pasta: bolognese. It was delicious! Overall, I had a fabulous trip full of wonderful food and great friends. Now I am off to Maine for the summer so entries may be less frequent but hopefully just as mouth-watering when I get the chance to post! Expect at least one post about lobster!