Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year in Review

This year was full of activity, not always the trendiest or fanciest of restaurants (though we did okay), but nevertheless full of excitement. Looking back, it was a ton of fun...

As you well know, the end of 2009 brought a new member to our household, and with that, a long blogging hiatus. I came back with a bang during Snowpocalypse II in February.

Soon after, I preached a little on food philosophy ... I'm rather certain it will be a college major soon. Damn, just a few years too late.

In March, we inched our way back into foodie-dom with celebratory meals at J&G Steakhouse and Blue Duck Tavern, and I tried my first of many food trucks to come.

I, of course, indulged in the ubiquitous cupcakes and burgers around town.  As is the case, I suspect, with most new parents, we also fell into a takeout routine. We had some bad meals, but some very good ones as well.

There were rants, again, and again, and again. I also started some post series; food as memories (only two so far) and lunch liaisons.

I did A LOT of cooking at home!

There was the big trip to Chicago, with a ton of eating involved, including stops at Topolobampo and Cibo Matto.

I finally completed a couple of Google doc projects, my NoVa Restaurant Guide and Food Trend Tracker.

We made it through 21 courses at VOLT, while we (Bryan Voltaggio included) sweated out the MSU-ND game.

And, as the year wore on, the blog became more and more personal, and I realized that its format must change. New things are to come in 2011. Stay tuned, and thank you all for reading. Love to you all and HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Monday, December 27, 2010

I Declare 2010 the Year of.....

Bacon!!! This year I found culinary inspiration from a lot of sources, but time after time, I found bacon as a key ingredient in the dishes I wanted to try. Here's my top five most notable bacon uses for 2010:

Haute-Meal Cookies (WaPo Holiday Cookie Guide)
Bacon-dusted fries (hopefully coming soon to a restaurant near us) 
Bacon Donuts - (at Lyon Hall)
Brussel sprouts (via eat, make read) - okay, Italian bacon - I used pancetta
Burrito topping (at District Taco) - Bacon in a burrito? Yes, in fact - it's fantastic.

Let's ring in 2011! What will be this year's inspiration? 

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Food as Memories, Part 2 (The Merry Christmas Version)

Merry Christmas everyone!! I hope you are, like me, finding some time to relax and remark upon this past year's blessings. I have so many things in my life that bring such great comfort and joy. Those blessings and happiness are only from God. On his son's birthday, I thank God for the ultimate blessing that was and is Christ. May the blessing of Christ fill you with joy this holiday season as well.

A lot of my readers and friends are not Christians, but we all tend to celebrate Christmas with our own holiday traditions (Chinese restaurants and movie theaters are proof enough of that!). In this time that I find myself so inspired and swelling with faith, I share the joy of the season with my non-believing friends too. May the spirit of Christmas warm your home this holiday as well.

I always find that thinking about holiday memories also warms the season. What a perfect time to follow up with encore food as memories post. These experiences are appropriately full of holidays, family, and friends.

Our first Christmas as husband and wife - the Bellagio buffet

We tied the knot exactly a week before Christmas, so for our first holiday as an official married couple, we were not looking to start making holiday traditions. We were merely looking for a way to celebrate Christmas but enjoy a few quiet days together, just the two of us. Las Vegas became our less than traditional choice. And for Christmas dinner, where else than the Bellagio buffet?! We snuck in at the lunch price and got the spoils of both the lunch and dinner offerings, a decadent spread to say the least. We also made instant family in the hour long line, a sort self-governing body. What a truly unique way to become a family all our own.

Our foodie first date - eatin' good in the neighborhood

One of the things I love most about C is that he is always one hundred percent real. No facade. When we finally got around to going on a real day, rather than flirting our way around the golf courses of greater St. Louis, where did my future husband sweep me off to? Yup, Applebee's. Once I saw him polish off the chicken fingers and riblets basket without coming up for air, I knew that this man would never pretend with me. I was right. He's the same man today.

Summer camp at VBYC - puke and pancakes

Summer camp taught me a very valuable lesson. I am completely unable to digest whole milk. Unfortunately, this lesson was learned over several visits to the nurse's cabin. Fortunately, there was a cute boy suffering from an ugly bout of something that turned him green (still cute) to keep me company. To this day, I still associate certain tastes with camp, be it that bitter nauseousness after whole milk, rubbery pancakes (which were sooo good on cold mornings), or industrial canned peanut butter. Sometimes, I really miss the simple pleasures of childhood.

Back to red meat at Arby's

It was not a Big Mac (there was no such thing as a Ray's Hellburger in those days) or a Porterhouse that brought me back to moo cows after four years off red meat. No, it was an Arby's roast beef sandwich. And, you know what? It was good. Having the two people closest to me during my high school years (the no red meat years) helped make the first juicy bite even more magical.

The truckload of shrimp

Over the years, two of C's qualities, over all others, have secured his status as a cemented member of our family. The first is his ability to eat copious amounts of food. My dad loves to fondly look back on one of the first weekends they spent with C, and the portions that C inhaled over that weekend. Not only was there a Mongolian BBQ showing by the Carnivore (I think he eventually put that place out of business), there was also the seafood joint that served Old Bay shrimp by the pound (in a toy dump truck for effect). As my parents watched C inhale mollusk after mollusk, I like to think that at some point in that time they decided, yes, with the way that boy eats, he's qualified to be a family member.

The other quality has been and continues to be C's adoption of our stance on Spartan fan-dam. At some point in time, C became just as obsessive and emotional (okay, it's hard to be as emotional as me) about MSU as the rest of us. He's truly fanatical, and for that, my clan loves him. They love him so much, in fact, that my dad declared to C over Thanksgiving, "C, you're the best son-in-law I could imagine. I mean that. I'd say that even if you were a Notre Dame fan." which point, my mom and I both teared up pretty seriously.

On that happy note, it's time for me to sign off. I wish you and your family a very merry Christmas. Next week, while we're off seeing Harry Potter and friends, I've scheduled some posts to look back on 2010. When I return, a glimpse at Vermilion.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Pick A Cookie, Any Cookie

Holiday cookies have been a tradition since we were first married. I just like the idea of giving homemade gifts to other families and colleagues. I also like to clear out the baking shelf of the pantry and "restock" for the new year. Considering this year's supplies and the diversity of to-die-for recipes out there, the following made this year's list:

Peppermint Bark (This is the Toll House recipe. One of the best investments I ever made was the $6 purchase of the Toll House cookies book. However, even Nestle makes mistakes. Do not attempt to melt the white chocolate in the microwave; it could turn into a feta-looking disaster. Get out your double boiler instead.)

Oatmeal Scotchies (I used this recipe as a base and branched out a little as well, with Ranger Cookies - of course! - and these "haute-meal" cookies with bacon, yes, BACON!!)
Lemon Ginger Bars (Hands down, the most popular cookie I made this year. Everyone raved!)

Pumpkin Puppy Cookies (Because the doggy in your life needs a little holiday love too!)

Which holiday cookies are you making this year? Please comment and are appreciated too! Send them to

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Katsu Update

Remember last Spring when I scoured the city for Katsu goodness, and my recommendation came in the form of a great little dive in Northern Rockville?! Well, I found some Katsu goodness in the city, downtown in fact.

New York Ave's Mazu, just off the old Convention Center parking lot, has a worthy substitute for the lengthy trip, particularly for those without cars. I'm not going say Mazu is as good as Cafe Temari - it's not - but I have no complaints. The crispy, lean panko-coated cutlet is fried perfectly (and not too greasy, though I should note I ordered chicken). The rice is sticky. And, the pickled radish is crunchy.

For this Katsu fiend, a downtown substitute is trouble - more deep-fried goodness in my life. Oh well, there are worse things to complain about.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Free Shipping Friday!

If you are desperately searching for some deals today, let me point you to a few of my favorite websites. - I rely on this site to get through every week. Free two-day shipping on any order over $50 (and that includes all your products from and as well). This is my lifeline. I may never have to make a Costco trip again. Also, did I mention the coupons? - Yes, I still wear Mary Kay make-up; it's incredibly high-quality, customized, and inexpensive compared to the department store goodies. Plus, I get to order from my best friend in high school, and there is always free shipping and returns, and most of the time, a free gift too. - Okay, first I'll point out the negative - I hate the sale merchandise on J Crew's website. I would much rather shop for steep discounts in store. That said, I do love a coupon, and J Crew online often has great ones. I even got a $90 price adjustment - yes, ninety bucks! - on my last order when a coupon popped up two days later.  Score! - A foodie must. My kitchen is stocked with purchases from here. I often buy online, and pick up at the Clarendon store, to maximize free shipping and parking. And did I mention the gift-wrapping instructional videos? - When you are in need of a treatment, it's always great to make an appointment online. (I will note that I also like the reservation site, but you cannot cancel an appointment within 24 hours at Bliss). Plus, lots of goodies and gift cards for last minute ideas. - This is more of a delivery service than a one-time shopping destination, but what about buying someone a subscription for produce delivery? I cannot get enough of their local (when available) and organic goodness. or - Both have lots of comfy winter warmth, very high quality stuff, and comparably inexpensive prices. Plus, both have bricks and mortar locations in the area. You can return LL Bean goods to the Tyson's store, and Lands End goods to any Sears. - I have a love/hate relationship with Amazon. Certain things are great - wish lists, the ability to link to other sites, and of course, their prices. Oh, and don't let me forget all things Kindle. But, often, free shipping (or prime shipping, if you want something fast) involves navigating just the right purchases. Coupons are the same way - often I find that items are priced ever-so-precisely as to make it impossible to take advantage. All of that said, I keep coming back, so I have to count Amazon amongst my favorites too.

 If you still are looking, even after perusing all of these sites, might I suggest another celebration of Small Business Saturday this weekend? For my Michigan peeps, I adore Kitchen Connection in Niles. Arlingtonians - try Kinder Haus Toys for kids, or ShoeFly for adults, both with locations in Clarendon.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

La Caraquena in Falls Church

This is the full story of how we finally ended up at La Caraquena for a recent weekday lunch...Many times while driving in downtown Falls Church, either to my son's pediatrician, Weight Watchers, the farmers market, or baby gym (I know, we should move to Falls Church!), we would drive past and remark, "Wow, lots of people going into that restaurant at the no-tell motel". Again, and again, it would happen. We would see crowds going in, or waiting outside, but never were we quite motivated enough to try it out. Plus, neither of us could exactly remember the name to look it up. But, then, we see a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives episode (we were watching because one of personal faves, Metro 29, was on recently) in which Guy Fieri counts La Caraquena amongst his local stops. Why it is we need Guy Fieri, jack of all trades, to convince us to stop in, I don't know, but we finally did. I'm not entirely convinced that the man can cook, but he can sell fierce cutlery (and yes, I do mean fierce as in the outdated 2008 use of the word - no other word properly describes the Big Baller Knuckle Sandwich set), host game shows, and eat his way across the United States. Guy is a pro in at least one of his chosen trades. He can find a good restaurant, though I suspect that this has more to do with his viewers phoning in rather than any of Guy's abilities.

Arepas are the house specialty at La Caraquena. These Venezuelan sandwiches are petite, but packed with filling, so you won't be left hungry. I don't see any reason to browse beyond the classic avocado chicken salad, the reina pepeada. C prefers the carne mechada, a seasoned pulled beef. We also have a difference of opinion as to dough preparation. I'm a grilled girl; C likes the crunch of the fried. We need to get tees. Honestly though, you cannot go wrong, no matter how you choose to build your arepas; check out the website's pic of one for evidence:

It's hard to find something you won't like here - yucca fries were another hit for us. Actually, there was a problem was a small problem with the fries; we should have ordered two servings. What was not a problem was the accompanying housemaid mayo. I don't like mayo, especially not as a dipping sauce, but this was fantastic. It was robust and flavorful, and stood up to the perfectly crisp and slightly sweet fries. Empanadas were already sold out for our late lunch, but I will return to try them. Look at this pic. How could I not return to try? Oh, and there's an entire dinner menu we missed. Obviously a return visit is in order. 

 A couple of helpful tips: Even if you decide to "stop in" in the middle of the day on a Saturday, go to the trouble of making a reservation. The place only seats about 40, so it's in your best interest to book, and not end up disappointed, like we did on our first attempted visit. Also, make sure that you are parking in the motel lot and not the neighboring strip mall. One could envision that a tow could ruin any meal. Finally, let the staff dote on you a bit, and relax yourself. No need to hurry through this deliciousness (this coming from someone who has learned to inhale her food before Baby H starts chucking Cheerios at waitstaff).

Monday, December 13, 2010

Grandma Greats' Ranger Cookies

When you look up a recipe for Ranger cookies, you'll find them attributed to everyone from Mennonites to the Texas Rangers (I assume as in Walker, not MLB). For me, and pretty much my entire family on my mom's side, these cookies are only properly made by Grandma Great (her version involved lots of oats, Rice Krispies, and coconut, and of course, chocolate).

Once you reach fourth generation status in our clan, you are no longer Grandma Smith or Grandma Jones (or nana, or meemaw, or whatever it is you prefer), you become Grandma Great. It's a royal moniker of sorts, like duchess - no official title, but you are really special. Now that we've reproduced, my own grandma is officially our Grandma Great (with no disrespect to the original matriarch; she is smiling down on us these days). She has her own version of the perfect cookie, involving both chocolate and butterscotch chips - a cookie that I've always referred to as a ranger cookie, because as a child, logic told me that cookies made by grandmas are ranger cookies...I also used to associate these cookies with allergy shots, but that's a story for a different day. In an ode to both Grandma Greats, a blend of their respective recipes for the perfect ranger cookie:

Grandma Greats' Ranger Cookies

1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening or unsalted butter
2 eggs
2 cups sifted flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
2 cups quick oats
1 1/2 cups Rice Krispies
1/4 cup coconut
1 12 oz. package chocolate chips (2 cups)
1/2 12 oz. package butterscotch chips (1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cream sugars and butter; add eggs and beat well (a few drops of water may be added here as well). Sift together flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and add to the creamed mixture. When well-blended, stir in oatmeal, Rice Krispies, coconut, and chips.  Drop heaping teaspoons about an inch apart on parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake 8-12 minutes until brown. Makes 5 or 6 dozen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

All He Wants for Christmas

Is the Redskins not to suck….

The annual gift-buying season is a frustrating one. Actually, that's too broad of a statement. Generally, I do pretty well, with the exception of the leather bag I bought (online) my brother last year and thought would be the size of a gym tote, but turned out to be a murse. No, my annual frustration is limited to one important individual in my house. I'm married to the man who has everything he needs (at least in his mind, no matter how awful I might believe that certain pair of pants he wears twice weekly appear - I may have, ahem, taken a slightly severe tactic of telling him he was dressed like a homeless person to get him to cut back). If he wants something , he buys it for himself. (Okay, other than the used Les Paul for our fifth wedding anniversary, or the replacement of his old set of irons, for which he had a set in mind, but felt them too expensive to purchase for himself - hence, last year's birthday present). For a few items, it's my responsibility to do the selection or pick whatever up - "Honey, can you get more of those wool socks I like?"…."Babe, I'm out of the good kind of drink mixes"….or, I find holes in clothing, and make the unilateral decision to replace. But, otherwise, generally speaking, the annual edition of Madden magically makes its way to our house the instant it's released, books continue to appear on C's iPhone Kindle, and C is a happy man (unless, of course, I failed to stock adequate meat in the house that week). 

As a result, I've come up with a couple of traditional gifts that are of no surprise when the box is opened - they are boring, static, everyday items. I also usually try to gift an inexpensive, cheesy, romantic sort of thing. But, the "big one" - the one marked "from Santa" - is always a mystery and I do my best to come up with something to make him spend some time on himself - greens fees, etc…Usually, C seems pleased and that warms my heart.

The thing is, annually, I know exactly what he wants. And I know that I cannot give it to him. He wants the Redskins of his youth back. And it breaks my heart that I can do nothing to make this happen…nor, would it appear, can anyone else. I know he's not expecting another glorious ten year period with three championships, but for the love of all things holy, can they at least show some dignity?! So, Santa, I'm asking you, please bring it home for C (the "it" being not a ring, just some pride).

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Lunch Liaisons: Taylor Gourmet (Mount Vernon Square)

(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'm committing DC sandwich blasphemy here, I know.  But, Taylor Gourmet? Not my favorite. Pluses include quality Italian meats and cheeses (the provolone in particular is tasty), as well as the cannoli (it's not North Boston, but for the limited DC options, it will do). One of the minuses is the bread. I've read over and over how it's driven in from a Philly bakery daily, but it's a little too crusty and chewy for me. The broccoli rabe on my sandwich added to the chewiness. C didn't care for the sesame seeds either.  Another minus - the house roast pork - it was lacking in flavor and anything but lean. Nothing too special from my perspective. All that build up for eh... I'll stay in Arlington for Italian Store hoagies.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

A Little Appreciation

This week, I was all set to bitch about our president's brilliant plan to fix the deficit. Yes, freezing the pay of federal workers is what's going to do it! I was prepared to rant about creating a completely inaccurate, yet seemingly sustainable image that cutting wages will fix all that ails our economy, and more importantly our nation's debts; about how insulting it is to call someone highly skilled and underpaid in one breath and cut their pay in the next; about how I want our president to really tighten his belt, across the board and not target a selected group of individuals (I should note that I support freezing pay if it is part of a more comprehensive spending cut package); about how this should not occur in the same week that a turkey is put up at the W.

But, then, I met someone out of work, and someone hoping to be able to pay their rent this month, and yet another someone struggling to scrape together Christmas gifts for their kids. In these tough times, we meet these people nearly every day. I could tell their stories, but unfortunately, you've already heard the same stories countless times in the last few years. My point is that in this cherished time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the most inspiring time to give and count my blessings, I need to do just that. I need to make a written reminder of just how incredibly blessed by God I am. Let me name just a very few of the blessings that I have in my life (and suck it up, and stop complaining).

  • A beautiful, healthy, and happy baby boy
  • A supportive, honest, and loving husband
  • A dog that would sooner lose a limb than see me upset
  • An incredible support system of family and friends
  • FOOD (glorious FOOD) - Heat - Clothing (that all remains tighter than I would like, but who's to blame for that?)
  • A beautiful kitchen to exhibit my love 
  • A MSU Big Ten Championship, in football
  • Hope and Love
  • Most importantly, faith that we as a family, as a community, as a nation will survive these struggles and come out stronger as a result
May you know and feel God's blessings this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 1, 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 - 11.22.10 Morning Notes