Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Wine Club Love!

So a few months ago, one of my lovely coworkers invited me to be her guest at Wine Club. Wine Club was started by a friend of hers (and now mine!) and a few girls that work on the hill. It started out small, but in the year that it's been in existence, it has grown tremendously and expanded to outside friends as well. The rule of Wine Club is, you don't talk about Wine Club. Just kidding! I couldn't resist a Fight Club reference...Actually, the rule of wine club is that everyone has to bring a bottle of wine, we all take turns hosting, and we create fun themes for each month's gathering. We've done Christmas parties where we've all brought toys to donate for Toys-for-Tots, a 'Wines you are Thankful For' (obv. a Thanksgiving theme), and 'Wines with a View' (the label on the bottle you bring has to have a view). One of my favorites was the 'Magnum Bottle' theme- which was actually a play on a Super Bowl theme (football players are huge, so we brought huge bottles to go along with the theme).
This month I was the lucky host. Since it was February, of course I went with a Valentine theme- 'Wine Club in Love' - everyone had to bring a bottle they loved. I went all out with the food- antipasta plate, spinach artichoke dip (B helped me out with that one, I'll have to share the recipe!), homemade pizza, and an apple tart (a Giada recipe, so good!). Everything must have been good, because there was no food left over! We also went through probably 10 bottles of wine, but whose counting? All in all it was a great night- I love throwing parties, and I love wine club. It's so great to have a large group of girls that can get together and just enjoy each others company. We don't all know each other well, so it's a great chance to make new friends. I know it's really expanded my circle of friends. Everyone should have some sort of social group- not just a group of best friends (though everyone should have that too!), but a larger group with a common interest- book club, food club, wine club, whatever! - that they can just enjoy hanging out and getting to know new people. I'm so glad that I get to be a part of it, and very thankful for all the friends I have made!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Party, Party, Party!

The thing I love most about the holidays is how often I get to see friends and family.  By that, I mean how often I get to see them at holiday parties!  I absolutely love holiday parties, and the holiday season in general.  B and I go all out with our decorations- we even chop down a real Christmas tree and put it up in our apartment (it usually takes up half our living space, but who cares)!  Because we (and by we, I mean mostly I…) did such an awesome job decorating this year, B and I decided to throw our own Christmas party for our friends.  It’s been ages since we’ve hosted a party, so we went all out with the food, drinks and decorations.  We tried some new recipes, and our friends contributed some yummy treats, for which I need to get recipes (hint hint ladies!).  Our menu consisted of butternut squash soup shooters, mini pigs in a blanket, roasted sugared almonds, a veggie tray, Italian mini meatballs, (semi-)homemade margarita pizza, stuffed dates wrapped in prosciutto (oh how I wish I could claim credit for those!), and mini pot pie biscuits (ditto!).  Our specialty cocktail was cranberry champagne to match the season. Oh, and Christmas cookies, of course! 

I must say, B and I have gotten party planning down to a science.  We’ve been host to many a party and we’ve learned a lot along the way. Read on for our party tips and the recipe for my butternut squash soup!

JM and B’s Party Planning Tip
  • Start Early!  Clean your house/apartment the day before, and put together your menu at least a week in advance to give yourself enough time to go shopping.
  • We are big fans of Evite- it’s easy to send out, add guests to the list, and keep track of who has responded.  Send it out a month in advance, with a reminder follow-up a week out.  Schedules fill up quickly around the holidays, and reminders are essential!
  • If guests ask if they can bring anything, let them!  It’s great to be able to add a few extra appetizers or drinks without adding the extra work.  Just make sure you don’t scrimp on your menu because you’re counting on everyone else to do the work for you.
  • Prepare your food early.  I do my cookies at the beginning of December and freeze them.  As for the rest of the menu, we assemble everything early in the day so that it’s ready to be cooked and the dishes are already clean and put away. 
  • Don’t put out all the food at once.  It gets cold that way, and guests tend to trickle in a few at a time.  You want to be able to keep the food hot.  We start with 3 or 4 items and then add new dishes throughout the evening. 
  • Serve your guests their drinks; don’t make them get it themselves!
  • Turn off the TV and turn on some background music.
  • Make sure you socialize with each guest, and introduce people that don’t know each other (tell them something they have in common to spark conversation).
  • Attend to your guests, but don’t spend the whole evening cleaning up after people. 

Butternut Squash Soup Shooters
Adapted from recipe by Giada de Laurentis
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • onion, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 1/2 poundbutternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp. dried sage
  • Salt and Pepper
In a Dutch oven, add the butter and oil and melt together over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrot and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds. Add the squash and the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to a boil and add the sage. Continue to boil until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Turn off the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes, then ladle (in batches) into a food processor and blend until smooth (you’ll want to pour each batch in another bowl until finished).  Return blended soup to the Dutch oven, season with salt and pepper to taste, and keep warm over low heat until you are ready to serve.
To Serve:  Turn off heat.  Using a turkey baster, put soup in shot glasses and serve to guests. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Football Chili

B and I love pretty much everything about fall- sweater weather, caramel apples, hot apple cider, fairs and festivals, and most importantly, football and fall food.  Sunday’s in our apartment are dedicated from 1 PM on to NFL and tailgate-worthy eats.  Nothing welcomes the season better than homemade chili.  I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to make chili- you have to have cool weather to really enjoy it.  Summer chili just won’t do.  Read on for my Sunday Football Chili recipe, and GO EAGLES!  (Sorry, no matter how long B and I live here, we’ll never be Redskins fans…)

JM’s Sunday Football Chili
Serves 6
1 ½ lb ground turkey
1 46 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 can dark kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
½ of a Vidalia onion, chopped
½ of a red pepper, chopped
½ of a green pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 bay leaf
½ tsp sugar
½ tsp basil
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cumin
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
¼ cup chili powder

Brown meat in a Dutch oven on stove over medium high heat.  Add the peppers and onions and cook until onions are translucent.  Add all other ingredients, bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 2 hours.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese and serve with cornbread.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Italian Jambalaya

I realize it's been a long time since I've posted a new recipe, but that's only because I want to provide you with only the best of my work (and I'm just not much of a summer cook...let's just say I've ODed on BBQ food).  Luckily I got my groove back when I had some leftovers from our (FINAL) cookout that I needed to use up.  We had some Italian sausage and chicken breast left over from Labor Day, so I decided to come up with something creative to rid my refrigerator of all of it at once and get B and I through most of the week.  I originally wanted to make jambalaya, but B insisted he hates jambalaya (I'm calling his bluff on that, by the way) and insisted I throw everything together with some pasta and marinara sauce, which I am very tired of at the moment.  Rather than overruling him and being a culinary dictator (even though I was the one doing all the work), I decided to be creative and come up with a compromise that incorporated both of our ideas.  I came with an Italian-style "jambalaya," with orzo subbing in for rice and the tomato base filling B's request for a red sauce.  I have to say I was quite pleased with 1- my ingenuity and 2- my benevolence.  Hey, I could have totally overruled him and made him eat whatever I cooked.  Instead I took the high road.  I'm going to be such a good wife!  (BTW, I feel like a giggly teenage girl referring to myself as a future wife...wonder when the reality of that is actually going to kick in?)  Anyway, I hope you enjoy the result of my good wife-practicing exercise, I know I did!  (B secretly did too, even though he won't admit it and insists he still would have rather had boring old pasta and red sauce...someone's going to have to clue him in on the "tell your wife whatever she makes you is delicious so you don't starve" rule before we get married).   

Italian Jambalaya
Makes 6-8 servings
extra virgin olive oil
2 chicken breasts, cubed
2 Italian sausages, cut into bite size rounds
2 red bell peppers, bite-size chunks
1 green bell pepper, bite-size chunks
1 vidalia onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes and juice
1/2 tsp each of oregano, basil, salt, pepper, thyme, parsley
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 box orzo

Begin by heating about 1/4 cup of EVOO in a dutch oven pan on medium to medium-high heat.  Brown the chicken and sausage, then remove from pan and set aside.  Saute the peppers and onion in the pan, adding a little more oil if the pan is dry.  Saute until onions are translucent, then add in the garlic and herbs and reduce heat to medium.  Saute for a few minutes, then add in the chicken, sausage, tomatoes, chicken broth, and white wine.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover, cook for at least an hour.  About half an hour before serving, cook the orzo according to the directions on the box.  Drain, then add to the jambalaya.  It's best to let it cook for a few more minutes so the orzo absorbs the flavor of the sauce.  Remove from heat and serve with a crusty bread and top with fresh Parmesan cheese if desired. 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Restaurant Review: Oceanaire

It's been awhile since I've done a restaurant review, mainly because I'm saving money for the wedding and therefore had to cut back on fun things like dining out and shopping (sad, I know). I finally got to enjoy a nice lunch when I went out with a few friends to Oceanaire. I'd never been there before, so I was excited to try it. I'm not a big seafood person- I usually choose steak or Italian over a seafood place- but what better way to mark the end of summer than with a great seafood dish?

 I'd heard good things about Oceanaire before, and it didn't disappoint. The food was phenominal. While the restaurant is a little stuffy (lots of suits), the food and service made up for it. Definitely a power lunch spot and a place to impress. Now, onto the most important review- the food. We started off with a few appetizers for the table: calamari, crab cakes, and oysters rockefeller. All were delish- the calamari had a great red pepper sauce with it, and the crab cakes were the best I've ever had- huge chunks of crab and not too mayonnaisey. The oysters, however, were the star of the show. I have only had oysters once before, and they were raw and gross. I just can't handle the texture, it makes me want to gag. Needless to say, I was not excited when someone at the table suggested we order them, until they reassured me these oysters were cooked. I figured why not give it a try since I've only had them raw before. I was pleasantly surprised. They were cooked with a little spinach and cheese, and they were superb. I've definitely changed my tune on oysters (cooked ones, anyway).

For the main course, I ordered the sea scallops. They were by far the best scallops I've ever had. I cleaned my plate, and I never do that! They were cooked to perfection, and the buttery sauce was to die for. My only complaint is that sides are served family-style. While I don't mind sharing, I fully believe that to really showcase a dish, it should come with the perfect side to compliment it, and should be served all together on one plate. The family-style side dish thing to me is just a restaurant ploy to charge you more money. $30+ a plate meals should come with a side, I shouldn't be charged extra for a few vegetables. Alright, I'll step off my soap box now that you know how I feel about that...

On to dessert (yes, I had a 3 course lunch, don't judge me). Again, we split a few for the table- a baked Alaska, which I haven't had for years, and creme brulee, one of my all-time favorite desserts. The baked Alaska was interesting, but just not my thing. I'm not big on meringue, which is a major part of the dish, so the effect was kind of lost on me. The creme brulee was great though, not to mention huge! We ordered two for the table, expecting a little ramekin, but got a huge seashell shaped dish that easily fed 2-3 people. Finally, generosity from the restaurant business! Seriously, I can't hide my excitement from big portions at expensive restaurants. It makes me feel justified spending the money on something I can share with another person!

Overall, my impression of Oceanaire was fantastic food, great service, and just an alright atmosphere. It certainly fits it's reputation of being a power lunch spot. I'd be curious to see what it's like after the work day. While I wouldn't recommend it for a date or a get together with friends, if you're looking to impress or are craving great seafood, this fits the bill.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Wedding Madness

I know, it seems WAY too early to already use that title in a blog post, but really, it has fit the first few months of wedding planning.  Even though our wedding isn't until the fall of 2011, B and I have already felt the stress that comes along with planning a wedding.  The difficult decisions are definitely right at the beginning of the process, as you have to deal with the most important questions right away-- the budget, the location, and the number of guests.  These are all huge, and stressful, decisions, which I am happy to say have all been decided!  The most difficult decision was the location.  B and I currently live in the DC area (obviously!), but my family is from central/western Pennsylvania, and his family is from the eastern part of the state, with other relatives spread across the country.  No matter where we have the wedding, someone will have to travel.  This made our decision easier and harder at the same time.  In the end, we decided on a DC wedding (yay!), for numerous reasons, but mostly because it is what we really, really wanted.

Once we had the big 3 questions answered, it was time to select a venue.  There are so many options here, so we were a little overwhelmed at first.  While our budget and number of guests helped us narrow down the choices, it also seemed to make the search a little difficult, as DC venues are generally very expensive and we didn't want to blow our budget.  B and I also have a very specific vision for our wedding- we want something elegant, different, and that could also host the ceremony.  After numerous venue visits across the DC metro area, we decided we definitely did not like the hotel ballroom option and basically had to start our search over.  After narrowing it down, we were left with three possible options- the Tower Club, DAR Constitution Hall, and the Carnegie Institution of Washington.  Each venue was unique and beautiful, but one blew us away.  The Carnegie Institution has everything we were looking for and is a quintessential DC space.  It is perfect for our wedding, and when we went to see it, I could see myself walking down the aisle in their gorgeous rotunda.  I'm excited to say that we were able to book it and we officially have a venue and a wedding date! 

We are both so happy to have a beautiful venue (and to have the hardest decision made) and cannot wait to start planning the details.  Up next- catering!  Food is incredibly important to us, so this will be another big decision that will likely take some time and effort.  You will be sure to hear all about our catering search and many more details as we continue planning one of the most important days of our lives!

Saturday, August 14, 2010


B and I just got back from Kauai (Hawaii), where we enjoyed the sun, sand, and of course food for a weeklong vacation to attend the lovely wedding of two of our friends.  Kauai was absolutely stunning, they call it the Garden Island with good reason!  I highly recommend visiting, it was by far my favorite and most relaxing vacation (minus the confused roosters that run loose all over the island and crow at all hours of the day...).  We really enjoyed every part of the island and got to see much of it via a helicopter tour (highly recommend!) and a catamaran sunset sail to the Na'Pali Coast.  I could talk about Kauai all day, but since this is a food blog, lets turn now to that! 
Overall, B and I were quite surprised with the food selection in Kauai.  We expected great tropical fruits, and we weren't disappointed there.  However we searched for good seafood at the market and were disappointed with the small selection.  We did have great fish at both the wedding and restaurant we visited, so maybe we missed some hidden seafood market that us mere tourists couldn't find.  We ended up not doing too much cooking anyway, so we were in no way starved on our trip!  In fact, we stumbled upon the hidden jewel of Kauai (at least as far as food goes!) on a day trip to Hanalei Bay.  Nick's Taqueria is a little taco cart run by Nick, a surfer originally from Colorado that is only open from noon to 3 pm so that he can surf the rest of the day.  Normally I am not a food cart person, I just can't get past my germophobe anxiety when it comes to eating something out of the back of a truck.  However I was starving and there were no other options, so B and I gave it a try.  I'm SO GLAD we did.  It was by far the best pork taco I've ever had.  Everything is made fresh right there, no pre-made, pre-wrapped tacos that are just reheated and thrown at you.  It was definitely worth the wait!  I had no idea something so delicious could come out of  a food truck.  Is this what I've been missing all these years??  Nick's just may have changed my whole outlook on food carts!  If you ever go to Kauai, definitely make the trip to Hanalei Bay (which is one of the most beautiful spots on the island) and stop by Nick's for a pork taco.
Unfortunately B and I are back to reality on the mainland, but refreshed, recharged, and with a new outlook on food trucks.  If you ever get the chance, go to Kauai, you won't regret it!
Mahalo (thanks) for reading!