Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Yummy Yummy Zengos

After shopping til we dropped at GNO, we headed over to Zengo's for some sips and bites. I had been to Zengo's once before and left sooooooo huuuungry, we stopped for a Happy Meal on the way home. This time our tummies left perfectly plump and our palates were pleasantly pleased (sorry about the alliteration, couldn't help myself!). Right off of the Chinatown Metro stop, Zengo's is a nice place to grabs some drinks and dinner. Although we didn't go for it, they have a $35 sharing menu that would be enough to satisfy a sumo wrestling team: one appetizer, one entree, one dessert, and one side dish, per person. Drinks not included. Vince got the short ribs, Chris had the lamb chops, and I had the black cod. Everything was fantastically-filling. We also tried the Won Ton Tacos as an app. Very very good. Beside the give and take, Latin-Asian fusion concept, I think Zengo's signature is a smoky grilled taste that they incorporate into almost every dish. It is particularly pleasant (ok, last one I promise!) on the edamame and the asparagus.

Tasting Girly Beers...Yuck!

Thursday was Shecky's Girls Night Out in DC, a fun, silly, girly event that is the equivalent of the Home Show or the Boat Show for girls. DC food, beverage, clothing and accessories purveyors set up shop at the DAR for the two day event. I attended with my friend Kellie from Miami and not only did we get to sample fabulous products, but we managed to snag a seat at the Budweiser beer and food tasting. First of all, let me remind you of the crowd...girly, girly girls... of which I am occasionally one. Second, these beers were directed at that crowd. We were treated to a tasting of four beers: 1. BudLight Raspberry paired with (you guessed it) raspberries, quite terrrible; 2. BudLight Lime paired with Key lime pie, guaranteed hangover; 3. Shock Top Belgian white paired with a ball of goat cheese, finally some sophistication, and 4. A pre-made bottled Chelada (beer and bloody Mary mix) with chips and salsa, no comment. Luckily, I can say my beer tastes have expanded beyond that. There are much better ways of combining fruit and beer, but most times it goes awry. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the Chelada, I have it on good authority (Kellie's!) that when made properly a Chelada is a delicious cure for a hangover, but the canned variety is not my favorite. All in all, the event was fun and we got a commemorative Chelada cup out of it!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paladar Carmen Maria

Having come to terms with the fact that there are no authentic Cuban restaurants in the Greater DC area, I'm taking matters into my own hands. Mami's (Mom's) tutorial on how to make Cuban coffee was just the inspiration I needed to start making good criollo food at home. Armed with Nitza's classic Cocina Criolla and a few other books, I'm going to start with the basics ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, pudin de pan (old clothes, chicken and rice, bread pudding), things I already (kind of) know how to cook, and then I'm going for broke -- Pastelitos, here I come! Friends and family in the NoVa area get ready to eat, Mom get ready for lots (more) phone calls home. Paladar Carmen Maria is open for business!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

How to make Cuban Coffee

Cafe Cubano: an intensely flavorful, sweet and delicious form of espresso. Can be served with by itself, mixed with steamed milk as Cafe con Leche, or served in equal parts with evaporated milk as a cortadito. Easy to find in New York or Miami, better made at home everywhere else.

While my mom was here last weekend, I recruited her help in writing this post. She's a great teacher and has a one of a kind technique for making beautiful espresso, dark and sweet with the perfect espumita, a thick layer of sugary foam. She gave me the play-by-play for perfect Cuban coffee everytime and I pass it on to you.

Ingredients and Equipment:
1. Cuban coffee maker: can be found at Latin Grocery stores or specialty kitchen shops. If you know someone in Miami have them mail you a $10 version from Navarro's.
2. Water, Cafe Pilon (in their trademark red and yellow packaging), white sugar
3. A sturdy carafe and spoon for frothing the sugar, preferably with a pour spout. I use a glass 2 cup measuring cup. A stove or hot plate. Gas or electric really doesn't make a difference.

Step 1: Open up the Coffee Maker and separate the colander (not pictured) from the base. Rinse the colander and set it aside. Fill the base with water up to the vent. The vent looks like a nail in the side of the base. Place the colander back on the base.

Step 2: Fill the colander with Cuban Coffee until it forms a mound as shown in the picture. The more coffee you pack into the colander the stronger the finished product. We like our coffee strong, but a loosely packed mound will produce great results every time.
Step 3: Screw the top of the Coffee Maker onto the base. It's important to make sure that you tighten the two halves as much as possible to avoid leakage on the stove.
Step 4: Add four tablespoons to a quarter cup of sugar to your mixing cup. This is a rough estimate and depends on how sweet you like your coffee as well as how much foam you would like to make. More sugar = more espumita!

Step 5: Place the Cuban coffee maker, top open, onto the stove over medium high to high heat. Now you will want to watch your coffee maker carefully as the first drip of coffee that comes out is absolutely crucial to making a good head of foam. So relax and be ready for the aroma of coffee which will give you a heads up. Step 6: As soon as you see that first drip, pour it into the sugar and move the Coffee Maker off of the heat. This will give you time to start stirring.

Step 7: As soon as that first drip is worked into the sugar you will have a mixture the consistency of wet sand. Now you can put the Coffee Maker back onto the stove with the top down. You will also want to lower the heat a tad so you don't burn and scorch the coffee. As the coffee continues to percolate add a little at a time, frothing the sugar as you go. This is the part that takes skill, patience, and finess. (I'm still working on it!) As you mix keep pressing the sugar against the sides of the measuring cup and it will get lighter and lighter in color.
Once you get the sugar to the color and consistency of a Wendy's frosty, you are ready to add in the rest of the coffee.

Step 8: Pour in the remainder of the coffee slowly stirring it into the frothed sugar to help it incorporate. After about 5-8 stirs, set it on the table and let it rest for about 60 seconds. The sugary froth will begin to separate from the coffee like the head on a well poured glass of Guiness.

Voila, espumita! Once you reach this point, you are ready to spoon and serve. Espresso cups are great and really cute, but if you don't have these (yet!) grab some shot glasses and get ready for a burst of flavor and energy.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Dinner

So, I know Easter was Sunday, but we are still munching on leftovers from our first official holiday entertaining ever. There were some ups and downs in the execution, but all in all it went really well and we had a great time. Coming from Cuban and Italian backgrounds, Vince and I made too much food, had too many appetizers, and had too much fun!

First, here's a pic of the appetizers. Starting from the back: wheel o' cocktail shrimp, plate of white and wheat crackers, cheeseboard with grapes (brie, blue, sharp chedder, truffled awesome cheese from Trader Joe's), plates and easter napkins, and empty sangria set just waiting to be filled with my dad's delicious chardonnay-peach sangria. Boy, do I wish I had gotten a shot of that! Picture a bright yellow peach slice floating in an amber liquid. Delish!

Now on to dinner. Our dining room is cozy (read tiny) and we decided to move out into the living room and add an extra table to accomodate both guests and food. The mismatched tables looked almost seamless when covered with a yellow tablecloth courtesy of Martica (Martha Stewart). Now, starting from the back again: Emily's delicious yeast rolls, seafood pasta with Vin's homemade red sauce, brussel sprouts with bacon, a ham (of course!), asparagus-artichoke pasta salad, the recycled sangria pitcher now serving as a water pitcher(!), and a huge tomato and romaine salad. How many people did we have for Easter dinner do you ask? Ten? Fifteen? Twenty? Drumroll, please...Seven!

Oh and did I mention dessert? We had a Peep display of easter candy and a yummy semi-homemade guava cream cheese cake washed down with Cuban coffee.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend Eats

Vin and I had a ball Easter weekend with my parents and sis here in DC. It was our first time hosting a holiday with all its attendant triumphs and mishaps (more of the former than the latter, thankfully), but more about that later. We had great homemade food and restaurant food all week. That's one of the great things about having people visit, you have an excuse to dine out at your favorite places. We started the weekend of right with a visit to El Pollo Rico. There always-awesome chicken was especially good that night and the steak fries were crispy and fresh. We also noticed that EPR (nickname courtesy of Ieatdc at chompchomp) had desserts. I love Latin style desserts heavy on the dulce de leche so the trays of milojas and alfajores were too good to pass up. That's the miloja in the foreground, literally miloja stands for mil hojas, a thousand leaves, as in the flaky philo dough layers that sandwich the gooey dulce de leche. The miloja was sweet, but a little dry, I would recommend the alfajor, a shortbread cookie sandwich with dulce de leche in between.
Thursday we cooked homestyle Texas chili, post to come later. Friday, Good Friday, we still managed to squeeze in a meal at Annapolis' Middleton Tavern a few blocks away from the Naval Academy. Steamed mussels, warm goat cheese spread, oysters, and crab balls...ummm ,ummm, ummm. It's good to be Catholic in Annapolis! Saturday we ordered in from Lebanese Taverna and filled up on humus, tabbouleh, kibeh, their eggplant/tomato/pepper dish, and some excellent spinach and cheese pastries.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Le Village Marche

A few weeks ago, Jaime and I had lunch in Shirlington at Luna Grill and stumbled upon Le Village Marche on our post-prandial walk. The store is absolutely darling with a plethora of perfect gifts for silly occasions, birthday parties, and baby showers. They have everything you need to Frenchify your home, bath, or office. They also had a nice selection of cookbooks and etiquette books.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Weekend Update: Sports Grief

After the Wildcat's heart-breaking loss to UNC Saturday night, I went to bed wondering about what might have been. When I woke up the next morning, I was still upset. What was going on? Being from Miami, a city where you couldn't get close to a sports team if you tried (see the Marlins), I did not recognize the symptoms. I had sports grief. An acute (depending on your team) often recurring (see the Boston Red Sox before 2004) condition that comes from serious investment in a group of athletes. Often preceded by euphoric highs as your team advances through round upon round of elimination, the sharp pain of defeat sets in after the final buzzer sounds and the loss irrevocably confirmed. A gnawing hole forms in your consciousness as you realize there will be no more hoping, no more celebrating, and no more heart-pounding, suspense-filled moments spent with friends over beer and nachos. Because that's what's really tough about sports grief, you say good-bye to the community of people that came together in a common desire to see a successful team. It was a great season for Villanova and a spot in the Final Four is nothing to be ashamed of. As the grief finally settles into acceptance, we can look forward to brighter things like: spending time with family over Easter, the start of baseball season, and a great recruiting class in the summer.

P.S. The nachos at Mackeys (last *sigh* gamewatch was moved) were significantly better than the ones from Penn's Quarter Tavern

P.P.S. I would trade good nachos for a shot at the championship any day!

P.P.S. Stay tuned for posts on Easter dinner prep. We are T-6 days from the big event!

Friday, April 3, 2009

$5 drinks at Ceiba

Hey Washingtonians, I just got wind of a great Happy Hour deal at Ceiba in DC*. During Happy Hour, 2:30-9:30(hello!) specialty drinks like Mojitos, Caipirinhas, Sangria (a different one each day) are available for FIVE DOLLARS throughout the restaurant. According to their website, today is $5 Margarita day. Perfect for after work relaxation. If you are planning to stay out late in the District, I suggest stopping by Ceiba for an even better deal $5 specialty drinks and $5 appetizers! Now I don't know if these fiver appetizers consist of one exquisite, but tiny, croqueta or if they are bountiful portions, but with these prices it's at least worth a look. So if you happen to be near 701 14th Street, N.W., Washington DC 20005, give Ceiba a try and let us know how it goes!

P.S. It's supposed to be a lovely weekend for Cherry Blossoms!

*The wind blew in via the Wall Street Journal