Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Topsy-Turvy Mardi Gras

Last night we celebrated Fat Tuesday with Breakfast for Dinner at Tina and Dennis's house. The highlights were Rainbow Eggs (food color added just when the scrambled eggs are starting to set up) and acrobatics by the Kids. The adults also got a version of "Rainbow Eggs," with the more sophisticated addition of bell peppers, mushrooms, and cheese. Yummy! And today, Ash Wednesday, counting down the minutes until a midnight snack.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Miss Saigon-inspired Spring Roll Slaw

After a weekend of too much eating (Tosca, the Argonaut, and some Arby's in between), we needed something light, yet flavorful for dinner. Vince had a craving for Miss Saigon, but given that our favorite Vietnamese restaurant is in Miami, we had to improvise. A quick trip to Harris Teeter for some cabbage, carrots, cucumber, limes, cilantro, and curry powder furnished the ingredients necessary to recreate the flavor profiles of Miss Saigon's lemon-grass curry chicken. This lemony-crunchy-salty slaw was the perfect finish to a weekend of big flavors without adding too many calories for our waistlines.
Here is the recipe: All these measurements are approximations since I pretty much eyeball things in the kitchen and don't measure so add the spices to your taste.
1 cup shredded carrots
2 cups shredded cabbage (or half a head of cabbage)
1 cup julienned English cucumber (half of a long cuke)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
1/3 cup lime juice
2/3 cup extra olive oil
1 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp curry powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1. Blend all of the ingredients for the dressing together using a food processor or immersion blender
2. Place cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers in a large bowl.
3. Toss together with the salad dressing.
4. Cover bowl and place in the fridge for 15-20 minutes to let flavors marry.
5. Serve alone or as a side for grilled fish or chicken. You can even garnish it with a handful of crushed roasted peanuts for extra flavor.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Argonaut and the Roller Girls

No, this is not a long lost episode in Jason's search for the Golden Fleece. It's a scene from Saturday night's dinner. After catching a flick at Union Station (Go, Fanboys!), we headed down to H street for dinner and drinks at the Argonaut, a quirky establishment recently listed as one of the 75 best bars in DC by the Washingtonian. The bright green walls and inviting patio made me wish for spring, but those wistful thoughts were soon forgotten as the aroma of seafood simmering in garlic butter sauce made its way through the open door. The nautically themed, yet eclectic, downstairs dining room was jam-packed and reminded me of New York bars in the SoHo and Nolita areas. We were directed upstairs where seating abounded, but service was slow. Not entirely the fault of the waitstaff, as we learned they were awaiting the arrival of the DC Roller girls, who call the Argonaut home after their monthly match-ups. Roller derby is apparently making a comeback across the country. But enough about that and on to the food. Our good friends Chris and Erica ordered Cubanos, my brother-in-law Chris and I requested fish tacos and Vince, against the advice of the waitress, chose the oyster po'boy. We also decided on a beer board with hot sausages, grilled meat and cheese for a starter with our pitcher of Dogfish head beer. First the good: Although, I didn't taste the Cubano it looked properly layered and pressed, as a good Cuban sandwich should be. The crispy fish tacos were some of the best I've had, and I order them frequently. The Argonaut has really hit on something by frying the fish rather than grilling or broiling. The breading helps the fish stand up to the stronger flavors of the salsa cruda and the cabbage-slaw. Now for the bad: My guacamole tasted mostly of mayonaise, not my favorite flavor and certainly not necessary with the creaminess of a ripe avocado. The oyster po'boy left something to be desired as did the shoe-string fries; they were stale and undersalted. But the biggest shortfall of the night turned out to be the long delayed beer-board. After asking for it repeatedly, the platter finally arrived as we were finishing our dinner, and I can attest that hot, spicy meats do not a good dessert make. All in all, we enjoyed the Argonaut mostly for its atmosphere, but also for its food. Definitely a fun stop in DC, just make sure you don't have the beer board for dessert!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ristorante Tosca

Vince and I celebrated Valentine's Day a little late this year (due to Joe and Terri's wedding festivities on the acual day (Congrats, guys!)) and in high style (thanks to DC restaurant week). With Todd Kilman as our guide, we decided on Ristorante Tosca in downtown DC. From the restrained elegance of the dining room to the attentive waitstaff, and of course chef Massimo Fabbri's excellent cuisine, we couldn't have made a better choice. After perusing the full menu (all of which was at our disposal for dinner), Vince chose the roasted veal and spinach ravioli with red wine reduction butter and parmesan cheese, and I opted for the Carolina shrimp and baby octopus warm salad with shaved fennel, sliced potatoes, and swiss chard. Both were excellently seasoned and incredibly flavorful. There's nothing quite like a handmade pasta for freshness, and the baby octopus provided a deliciously smoky surprise that paired well with the sweetness of the shrimp. For the main course, Vince and I swapped proteins. I savored every bite of the pancetta wrapped pheasant breast (My first pheasant! Kind of like chicken, except more gamy, I'm not really sure what that means exactly, but it feels like the right word). Vince tackled a hefty portion of roasted red snapper with braised artichokes. By the way, braising artichokes does amazing things to their flavor and texture; they taste almost like wild mushrooms. For dessert, we ordered the chocolate semi-freddo and the polenta crepes filled with Nutella and ricotta cheese. Everything was amazing. At one point, our waiter came by, noticed our empty plates and remarked, "Clean plates, that's what we like to see." Still trying to process the eruption of flavors in our mouth, we honestly replied, "Well, we would have licked the plates right now, if it wasn't socially inappropriate." He laughed and brought us our check. Although Tosca was incredibly crowded--our waiter estimated 300 tables turned-- we never felt rushed, harried, or ignored by the waitstaff. Restaurant week or not, we were treated like regulars.

* Enota: #411 on the Wine List, excellent dinner choice. A full-bodied read with just enough fruit to make it easy to drink with every course, and reasonably priced. If only I could remember the name!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Carrot-Fennel-Ginger Soup

Carrot Soup with Fennel Ginger Broth

Carrot Puree:
1lb carrots, peeled and diced (the smaller the carrot the sweeter the taste, Save one carrot for garnish)
1 medium yellow onion
1/2 stick of butter
3 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced or chopped
2 cups fennel-ginger broth (see below)
salt and peppet, to taste
Fennel-Ginger Broth:
4 cups water
1 inch piece of ginger root, peeled and sliced
the green stalks of a fennel bulb, save some of the leafy greens for garnishing
1 tsp black pepper corns
1 tsp coriander seeds

Instructions: Fennel-Ginger Broth

1. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a sauce pan.

2. Chop fennel stalks into thin slices and add to the boiling water

3. Peel and slice ginger and add it to the boiling water

4. Add pepper corns and coriander seeds to the water.

5. Stir, reduce heat to simmer and reduce by half.

6. Strain out ingredients before adding broth to carrot puree.

Instructions: Carrot Puree

1. Peel and dice carrots (reserving one for garnish), onions, and garlic.

2. Heat butter and olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat.

3. Add carrots, onions, and garlic and sautee for 3 minutes

4. Lower heat to low and cover. Cook for 25-30 mins until onions are translucent and carrots are softened. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.

5. When the carrots are softened, turn off burner and puree with an immersion blender (for slightly chunky soup) or in a regular blender (for a very fine blend).

6. Stir in the strained fennel-ginger broth and blend a few minutes longer.

7. Season with salt and pepper to taste. (The salt really brings out the sweetness of the carrots.)

8. Garnish with pieces of shaved carrots and some of the reserved fennel fronds.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Cooking on Camera

From the days of Sesame Street, I remember my mom watching The Frugal Gourmet with Jeff Smith and the culinary stylings of Jaques Pepin. I remember being mesmerized by the knife skills and laughing at Smith's take on Cuban food (celery in frijoles negros, I don't think so!). TV cooking has come a long, long way, becoming much more slick and user friendly, but the fun of watching a great cook on TV is still the same. Food Network has a few new cooking shows that deserve some attention. The first is "Secrets of a Restaurant Chef" with Ann Burrell. This show is by far my favorite of the new line up. Whether its her crazy blonde hair, breezy manner or contagious confidence, Burrell is fun to watch and her techniques are much more advanced than Rachel's or Paula's, but still accessible. "Ask Aida" is my second favorite. The interplay between Aida and her co-star is nice, though scripted, but most of the questions answered are elementary and geared toward beginning cooks. Third in this post and in my personal ranking is "Cooking for Real", Sunny Anderson is still fairly uncomfortable in front of the camera and I rarely want to make one of her recipes. Although I did use her recipe for poached chicken a few months ago. Sunny added coriander seeds and lemon peel to the usual suspect for a really fresh lemony flavor. I liked it. What are your Food Network faves?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Guest Chef: Cooking with Ami

Ami's Delicious Beef Vindaloo and Sides!!!!!
So I promised a follow up with details about our night of Indian cooking, but let me first say how fun it can be to have a guest chef in your own kitchen. Everyone has their own idiosyncratic style of cooking, an amalgamation of tips learned from mom (or dad), favorite spices to use, and techniques discovered in books or on cooking shows. A guest chef gives you the chance to learn new techniques and enjoy a great meal at the same time. Hosting a guest chef in your kitchen also teaches you to let go. If you tend to be a kitchen-nazi, (Carrots, celery, and onions must be cubed to 1x1x1 cm squares!) being a facilitator and sous-chef rather than the chief orchestrator can be a trying, but liberating experience.

That said, cooking with Ami (and our friend Colleen) was a blast. The menu featured beef vindaloo, an eggplant and spinach side dish, spiced basmati rice and few sauces: yogurt and spicy cilantro. Ami directed the kitchen and her sous-chefs (Colleen, Vince and myself) with ease. Wielding a chef's knife and an immersion blender, Ami layered flavor upon flavor never passing up a chance to infuse her dishes with complex and multi-faceted tastes. For example, black pepper corns, coriander seeds, cloves, and various spice powders were roasted in oil before being blended into a sauce. The heat intensified the natural flavors and supplemented later additions of dried powders. We ate with our hands and the help of some soft pitas until we were stuffed. Here are some more pictures of our cooking adventure:
Ami and the Immersion Blender, Meat being browned and eggplant sauteed,

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Yummy Beef Vindaloo!!

Nothing scares away a fear of spices more than watching an expert cook at work, especially when she is making Indian food. Tonight, my friend Ami, here on a visit from Italy by way of PA, cooked Beef Vindaloo and an amazing Eggplant and Spinach side dish. Colleen and Chris joined us and we unanimously determined that it was the best Indian food we had ever had. I'm too full right now for a full post, but stay tuned for a play-by-play of the prep. Bring on the tumeric and cloves! I'm ready for you.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bastille Day

As this is my first guest appearance on Tasting Serendipity, I’ll begin with a (very) brief self-introduction. I’m 28, married, live in Arlington, VA, and I have a serious and ongoing love affair with food. (That’s the simple version anyway. For a more complex life story, you can check me out at I have been fortunate to know Vince since we started law school together in 2004, and thus am equally lucky to call Carmen a friend. I am an avid home cook with a thing for kitchen gadgets, cookbooks and aprons, and the chance to check out a new restaurant makes me giddy.

Which brings me to this evening’s dinner.

Bret and I had dinner at Bastille, a 46-seat French bistro in Alexandria, VA. I should preface this whole review by saying that we were in Paris almost a year ago, and on that trip I developed a pretty heavy case of Francophilia. French food makes me particularly nostalgic for the week we spent touring Paris…or rather, Paris restaurants. So I have high hopes for restaurants that serve French fare and label themselves “bistro”.

Bastille is on a side street in Alexandria, just outside of Old Town and within view of the water. Much like some of the culinary highlights of Paris, it feels tucked away. The outside is quaint, with twinkling white lights and a door that faces a courtyard rather than the road. The inside is dark and cozy and dimly lit (in a romantic way). We were promptly shown to a table for two in front of the window, the host’s “favorite table.” In those first few moments, I was completely charmed…and then I heard the loud-talker at the table next to us. Don’t you just hate when you are out at a restaurant, maybe a long overdue date night with your significant other, and you can hardly carry on a conversation of your own because of a distractingly loud discussion a table over? But this is no fault of the restaurant, and outside the scope of a fair “review.”

Bastille has a prix fixe three-course Sunday “Family Dinner” menu. I ordered the Goat Cheese Cromesqui, the Parisian Bistro Steak (Medium Rare), and the Apple Tatin. Bret ordered the House-made Duck Charcuterie, the Parisian Bistro Steak (Rare), and the Pot de Crème.

Both First Courses were delicious. The duck confit served with the charcuterie was delectable. The bites combining tender duck meat, crispy skin and juicy fat were heavenly, and the only complaint was the small portion size. Bret enjoyed the cured duck meat, reminiscent of salami, but while the flavors melded well with the frisee and dressing, it was perhaps too gamey for some patrons. The pate was mild but had a very pleasant duck flavor and a light spread-like consistency. It worked well with the crisp toast and cranberry red wine reduction. I am normally a sucker for fried goat cheese, and I did enjoy this incarnation. If I have a complaint it was that the goat cheese was too heavily breaded, resulting in too hard of a shell that overpowered the mild taste of the cheese. That being said, the frisee, cranberry and walnut salad was very enjoyable, with the perfect amount of tangy-sweet Dijon cider vinaigrette.

While we normally try to order different entrees, the allure of steak frites was too great and we caved in to order two servings of the Parisian Bistro Steak. Now if the aim of Bastille was “Steak Frites,” they definitely missed the mark with the shallot red wine reduction. The reduction completely overwhelmed what was otherwise a perfectly tender cut of steak. Such a lovely cut of meat needs nothing more than simple salt-pepper-and-herb seasoning and butter to knock my socks off. That being said, the website specifically disclaims any categorization as “’old school’ classic French bistro,” and this diversion from a proven classic may be seen as an example of that disclaimer. All comparisons aside, however, Bret and I agreed that the shallot red wine sauce was overwhelming and our least favorite aspect of the meal itself. The fries were satisfactory. They were heavily salted – Bret goes as far to say “over-salted”—and were a bit too dark in color, whether they were fried for too long, in too hot of oil, or double-fried.

On to dessert! The Chocolate Pot de Crème was over-the-top delicious. Not for the faint of heart, the mousse was sinfully rich and topped with Chantilly crème and crispy chocolate shavings for a surprising mix of texture. The Apple Tatin gets a mixed review. The apple was tender and perfectly sweet, and the crème fraiche sabayon and caramel drizzle was a lovely complement. I personally found the crust of the tatin to be rather drab—a bit of rain on an otherwise happy dessert parade.

For those who enjoy a good wine with dinner, as we do, they have a pretty decent wine list. Although there are not as many offered by-the-glass as I would like, they do offer both 3 oz. and 6 oz. glasses and the most expensive is about $10. There are also a significant number of bottles for under $40. The oddity of their wine routine is that unless you buy a bottle, you get your wine- red or white- in an unsatisfactorily small and narrow glass. We had to ask specifically for the large cavernous glasses that are normally standard for big French reds.

A note on service—we found our waitress to be kind of a downer on our dining experience. I’d give her a “C.” She didn’t mess up, per se, but she was curt and impersonal, particularly given the “Sunday Family Dinner” theme.

All-in-all, it was a lovely evening. The atmosphere is perfect for a date night, especially if Little Miss Loud-Talker is on a different dining-out schedule. The presentation of the food was appetizing and there were several items on the menu that we look forward to trying on our next visit.


I realized the other day that there is a whole world of spices that I know very little about. Take tarragon for instance. I recently picked up a bag a dried tarragon, along with herb de provence and orange extract. They were a bargain and I figured I could experiment at home. I've conquered the herbs de provence and chosen to abstain from the orange extract at least for the time being, but the tarragon sits on the shelf, unused, nay unopened! I'm not quite sure what to do with it or what to put it on. Perhaps all that lies between me and a life with tarragon is a Google search for "tarragon recipes" or simply opening the bag and rubbing the herbs between my fingers for culinary inspiration. Maybe I love tarragon already and don't even know it. The fact remains that tarragon will most probably decorate my spice rack a bit longer before I take the plunge. There are a whole host of other herbs that fit this bill (cloves, tumeric, Chinese five-spice powder) that remain on the store shelves until I encounter at least two recipes that require them and thus justify their purchase.

In other herb news, I recently overcame my fear of thyme. I think it was the silent H or years of using only dried thyme in recipes that frightened me off. But the desire for Guiness beef stew, seasoned with fresh thyme and parseley, taught me to seize the day and learn a valuable lesson. The earthiness of thyme in dried form (some might go so far as to say it tastes like dirt) is much less pronounced in its fresh, much more delicate state. Fresh thyme is now finding its way into everything from stuffed shells to chicken soup and my stomach is better for it.

Apparently thyme is also good for fighting off colds.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Strength in Numbers

Yesterday, I found myself reconsidering this new New Year's resolution. Posting to my blog every week! Yikes! (I'm sure all you veteran bloggers out there are thinking that I'm a wuss, but never you mind.) So, I got to thinking that what I needed was a friend in the blogosphere to help ward off the dangers of a neglected blog and ally in the trenches of the kitchen. This person needed to be eloquent, witty, and unafraid to speak her mind about refined (or unrefined) restaurant fare. Luckily, I had lunch yesterday with a good friend of mine and fellow foodie, Jaimy. I proposed a blogging partnership and she accepted! So, be on the lookout for posts from Jaimy. And, three cheers for successful New Year's resolutions!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

New Year's Resolutions

Sorry for the long blogging absence, but marriage, moving, and the holidays conspired to keep me away from Tasting Serendipity. Now, I'm back and have made a new New Year's resolution: 2009 will be the year of the blog. I'm aiming for at least one post per week to start with more to follow if this goes well. As a newly wed working from home, my dining out has been limited and sporadic, so to achieve the resolution, I am expanding the scope of the blog. For starters. serendipity can certainly be found outside the walls of a restaurant. I'm having a lot of fun trying recipes at home and inventing new dishes. There is a whole new (much more economically feasible) world in these kinds of posts. I'm also going to try and take more pictures. More pictures equals a more fun looking blog. There may also be guest posters in the future who contribute experiences abroad and at home. I have many other blogging friends and should really be collaborating with them. Ok, that's all for now. Blogging this week has been accomplished! 'Til next week, happy eating!