Thursday, August 26, 2010

Instead of blogging, I've been...well, you'll see

Question: Where have I been?

Answer: In a v.v. bad place.

You know those moments in life when you think to yourself, "how on earth did I wind up here?" Yeah, today was one of them. Perhaps I should start from the beginning. You see, I've spent the better part of the last month out of town. In fact, I'm headed back out of town for Labor Day, to Denver. The short stops home have been a bit of a blur. In the midst of all of this, unsurprisingly, I appear to have packed on five pounds. But, those are pounds full of food, drinks, and love (and yes, stress too, but we won't think of that) so not altogether bad. But nevertheless, rest assured, I'm on it - no blaming this on baby weight; instead, hitting the gym and portion control hard!

Back to my point, like I said, the pounds gained also meant memories, food, and drink shared with friends and family, some whipped up at home, others fit in the most recent restaurant week, late nights drinking with old friends, wedding/baby showers, birthdays, girls' time, and a few dates with the hubby crowded in there. Oh, we also just bought a car, and I got a new job (no Mount Vernon Square for me this fall, it's back to Penn Quarter). Don't worry, I'm still a "random bureaucrat"! Baby boy got baptized, and we've discovered the wonder, and the craziness that is the kiddie gym. And, attempts to catch up with General Hospital, even if Franco the serial killer has gotten lame, and I'd rather see Lyla Quartermaine come back from the dead. We also have said or are saying goodbye to several couples leaving the metro area, over more great food and drink, of course. (Sometimes, it seems so hard to have real friendships in DC as people are constantly moving on.) All in all, a crazy hot, crazy busy summer with some rich memories.

So, all of that seems pretty happy, then what is this v.v. bad place, you ask?! Well, you see, with this whirlwind of a summer comes my whirlwind of a brain. I swear I used to be with it, but I've become an utter space cadet. So, what did space cadet do today? I locked myself out of the house! - which is hard to do given that you have to lock our door from the outside. But, anyway, long story short, I returned from my morning run to find that I only had access to our garage. Not realizing or remembering (he swears he told me!) that C stashed a key in the garage, I decided to do what our neighbor Bob once did. You see, when we first moved in, we managed to get ourselves (myself 6 months pregnant) locked on our balcony, a little too high to jump, in 95 degree heat. After a few minutes of calling for help, savior/neighbor Bob heard our cries and rescued us by accessing our house through our utility closet crawl space. (Do you see where this is going?) Today, like a light bulb, I remembered this and decided that if 65 or 70 year-old Bob could it, than surely I could, right?! Yeah, about that, here's the damage:

Lesson learned, Bob is clearly more nimble and has seriously less junk in the trunk than I - it wasn't so much a matter of not fitting as it was poor planning on executing the maneuver. Needless to say, I am now on much more intimate terms with my furnace and hot water heater, as well as the no more than 6-8 inches in between.

Thanks for letting me share my space cadet moment and just to exhale. Here's to hoping I find some time and mental awareness to blog again soon. For now, happy nearly end to summer.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Semi-Homemade Biscuits and Gravy

(Our cottage's awesome retro electric range and oven)

For those who know my name in real life, I hope you enjoy the semi-homemade reference. But truly, that's the way my version of biscuits and gravy is done. It ain't scratch, but it is good! This version was prepared for the family at large in our rental cottage on Diamond Lake in Michigan. What better way to whittle the waistline for donning a bikini than filling one's belly with biscuit and gravy goodness?!

3 cups Bisquick baking mix
3/4 stick unsalted butter
1 cup and one tablespoon canola oil
1 lb. breakfast sausage
1 envelope country gravy mix
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
5 cups milk
Dozen eggs
Black pepper

Mix biscuits according to Bisquick directions, 3 cups baking mix with 1 cup milk. Fold in 1/2 stick room temperature butter and 2 cups of shredded cheese. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat 1 cup canola oil in medium frypan to medium high. Roll biscuit dough into large balls (makes about twelve). Drop dough balls into oil, about four at a time depending on size of pan. 

Moving on to the gravy, heat one tablespoon canola oil and add sausage in large chunks. Brown the sausage, but do not fully cook. Depending on the fat content, remove about half of the grease, but the grease is where the flavor comes from, so reserve at least a little. Add country gravy mix to form a roux, stirring briskly. Add 4 cups milk (less depending on mix directions) and bring to a boil. Add about a tablespoon of butter and generous amount of fresh ground pepper. Simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until thick and flavorful.

In separate non-stick pan, crack eggs over heated skillet to fry eggs.

Once biscuits (yes - these are deep-fried cheddar biscuits - and yes, I feel my heart constricting) start to expand, or if they start to stick to pan, remove from oil and align in 9x13 pan. Pop in the pre-heated oven for about 8-10 minutes to finish off. The biscuits may not be pretty as a result of the deep fry, but they will be tasty.

Serve as simply as possible - one biscuit, split and one egg, topped with a generous spoonful of gravy. Serves twelve, or less, depending on whether you have someone like the carnivore in attendance. Ahhh, vacation - fattening, delicious vacation.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Lunch Liaisons: Ping Pong Dim Sum

(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'll tip-toe back in from hiatus with an easy-does-it lunch liaison post...

As DC-Wrapped Dates would put it, our experiences are often defined by our expectations. Both C and I had rather low expectations of Ping Pong Dim Sum going in, so were pleasantly surprised by our most recent lunch liaison. We sampled the bubble teas - C enjoyed his mango version; I didn't love the raspberry-black pepper version. Then, we ordered set lunches, served as a series of bento box-like courses. Most of the dumplings were quite good; we especially liked the crab & coriander, shu mei, and scallop & shitake. The chive was not great, nor was the lotus leaf sticky rice. I did enjoy the prawn toast. Not the most authentic dim sum to be found, but really, there's not a whole lot of that around anyway. I'm thinking I need to hear bad things about restaurants more often so that I can be pleasantly surprised when I try them out.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Pursuing Pleasure: Bibiana

Our night was off to a rather good start, with a rare chance to see a movie, and even more rare, a good one. We then grabbed drinks at Cure (in the Metro Center Grand Hyatt). With a selection of vintages available by the 1/2 glass, glass, or quartino, Cure has a flexible happy hour menu (see the three selections for $12 part) that allows one to try without overindulging. I had two 1/2 glasses, a sparkling wine and a Virginia rose. C dug into a delectable charcuterie platter (garlic sausage, duck, prosciutto - all v. v. good), and I started my evening dining with a sweet and savory cheese course (white cheddar and apricot jam). Both were scrumptious. But enough with my post within a post, and on to our actual dinner reservation.

Our evening was already going well when we arrived, but the welcoming staff at Bibiana helped the trend along. No, we were not special enough to be glad-handed by owner Ashok Bajaj (also of Rasika/Bombay Club/701), who was in house at the time, but our server made us feel loved.  First off, I let her know that I wanted a refreshing vino, and she had the perfect recommendation with the Greco di Tufo (mmm, hints of grapefruit, perfect for the hottest day of the year). We then discussed with her rumors of an off-the-written-platform tasting menu. She let us know that a five-course menu (primi, antipasti, pasta, entree, and cheese course) was available for $65. We were intrigued by the premise, but wanted to try more pasta than protein, and I had already had my cheese course for the evening. We first asked if we could sub an additional pasta course for the entree; then, whether we could order different pastas each for those two courses; and finally, if we could sub dessert for the cheese course. Our server didn't bat an eye at our requests, and the chef customized our tasting menu to our palates and appetites - now that's some service!

Having gotten the ordering out of the way (I'm still shocked at how our tastes were accommodated without the slightest resistance), we were treated to complimentary arancini as our amuse bouche. These babies would have set the bar pretty high even without being encased in fried goodness. The saffron risotto was incredibly palate-pleasing. Our next course, primi, was chosen by the kitchen. Beautiful plates of burrata garnished with blue point oysters and shaved fennel graced our table. Service of this particular dish was ironic, because half of the course was the perfect choice for me, and half was the perfect choice. Our reason for skipping the burrata was C's distaste for cheese, particularly without being on pizza or a sandwich. I'm not a particular fan of raw oysters (there's just something about the texture I cannot get past). So, we negotiated a trade. C enjoyed the oysters (he noted that the flavor was excellent) and I had the cheese. The burrata, a firm outside layer stuffed with gooey mozzarella goodness, was a nice course, but the double portion was on the rich side; the fennel really balanced the dish though.

For antipasti, sardines were served. We had noted to our server that we really enjoy seafood, so I suspect that both the oysters and sardines were attempts to incorporate this theme, a fact that I truly appreciated. That said, sardines are not my cup of tea. I did, however, enjoy the accompaniment, a peperonata relish of caramelized bell peppers and onions.

Perhaps apparent from our inability to choose amongst the pastas, we were exceptionally excited for the noodles. We ordered four different pastas, two of which were the first I've tried in DC that evoke any memory of Batali - that means that they were really, really good. The other two, not so much. Top marks go to the Spaghetti al Nero and the Sclalatelli (say that five times fast!). The Spaghetti al Nero had a lovely squid ink flavor and was laced with fresh crab and olive oil. Though the oil was a bit heavy, it did not distract from the spot-on flavor of this dish. I think both C and I would vote for the Sclalatelli as our favorite dish of the evening. The fettuccine-like pasta was tender and fluffy. The lightly-seared bites of tuna were so rich and meaty, I had to question whether I was eating fish. Served with almost pureed olives, I'm still dreaming of this particular dish.

The collective least favorite pasta tasting of the night was the Cavatelli. We did not finish the dish, which is rare for us. The manager asked, and we explained why it wasn't our favorite. While the manager suspected that the flavor of the burnt wheat pasta was the culprit, that was the one part of the dish I enjoyed. What I did not like was the rapini, and especially, the fennel sausage. It just wasn't good. We are also unlikely to order the Marubini again. Actually, I liked the ravioli itself (stuffed with veal), but the heavily-salted flavors of veal, pancetta, brown butter, and parmigiano do not need extra seasoning. It seems that salt was added, so the dish was overpowered. 

To be honest, the meal as a whole was on over-seasoned side (kind of funny, because as C pointed out during dinner, our visit followed the contestant-judged Top Chef episode in which the "lacks salt" theme was paraded out again and again). That said, I would layer my tongue with a little extra salt in a minute in order to have another bite of the Sclalatelli. The menu reminds me of Sardinia and the flavors of Italy's Western coast, where salt-curing is popular, so perhaps a heavily-seasoned note is part of the authenticity of the dishes. It's just something I think fellow diners should know going in.

As to avoid rubbing the issue in salt (hehehehe), I'll move on to our delicious dessert.  We subbed the cheese course with dessert - a move we consider a win. Let me say bravo to the pastry chef for what I'll call Nutella, Nutella Everywhere. The Nutella ice cream, Nutella powder (think like malted milk, but with a hazelnut flavor), and Nutella glaze were all luscious. But, I should point out two more very important words - fried Nutella.  Not one morsel left on the plate. I would have outright licked clean if I could have gotten away with it. Now, that's a way to end a perfect evening.