Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Quick and Easy Dessert

I’m not much of a baker.  Baking tends to require more precision than I am willing to use (I’m a little of this, little of that kind of girl), therefore I don’t usually make desserts.  However, on Sunday I found myself with not much to do and some leftover phyllo dough in the fridge that I needed to use up.  I had some apples sitting out, and remembered that B really likes apple turnovers.  I never made them before, but figured a lazy Sunday was the best time to attempt to create a dessert recipe.  Now I won’t claim that this experience has turned me into a pastry chef, but I did manage to pull off the turnovers quite well with a recipe loosely inspired by Emeril’s Apple Cups.  Read on for a quick and pretty foolproof dessert.

Apple & Pear Turnovers
Makes 4 turnovers

1 apple
1 pear
2 tbsp. orange juice
2 tbsp. water
2 tbsp. honey
2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter, melted
3 sheets phyllo dough
1 tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Peel, core and slice apple and pear.  Place fruit slices, orange juice, water, cinnamon and honey in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until apples are soft, approx. 10 minutes.  Lay out one sheet phyllo dough, brush with melted butter, then layer on a 2nd sheet.  Repeat and add a 3rd sheet.  Cut into 4 strips.  Place a tablespoon or so of the filling at the end of each strip, fold into a triangle shape and continue folding up the rest of the dough, maintaining the triangle shape.  Brush the end with butter to seal.  Brush both sides of the turnovers with butter and sprinkle with a little sugar.  Place on cookie sheet and bake for about 8 minutes until brown.  

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Comfort Food Done Healthy

B’s surgery this week went very well, and he’s on the road to recovery.  He’s handling it really well, but I know he’s still in some discomfort and tired of being stuck in the apartment.  Being the (part) Italian that I am, I immediately turn to cooking for others in their time of need.  Food is one of those things that people look to for comfort, and providing that for others is my way of consoling and (hopefully) helping those in need.  Since B can’t be physically active for a while, I wanted to make him something comforting but still somewhat healthy.  Lasagna is one of B’s favorite foods, so I decided to put a healthy spin on the old classic.  What I came up with was turkey and vegetable lasagna rolls.  Rather than layering sheet upon sheet of noodles and filling, I thought that rolling up the noodles and filling would make it easier to portion out and serve.  I ended up with individual lasagnas instead of a big messy pan.  To increase the health quotient, I replaced the classic ingredients with healthier versions and added lots of veggies.  Read on for my recipe!

Lasagna Rollups
Makes 9 servings

9 whole-wheat lasagna noodles
1 c. diced onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
½ lb. ground turkey (93% lean)
1 c. fresh spinach
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes
½ tsp. pepper
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. basil
½ tsp. oregano
4 tbsp. part skim ricotta cheese
1 jar marinara sauce
1 c. mozzarella cheese
1 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook noodles according to directions on box.  Drain and lay out on foil so they don’t stick together.  Chop the onions, peppers, and garlic, then sauté in olive oil (I usually add the garlic a minute or two later so it doesn’t burn). 

When the veggies are soft, add the turkey and spices and brown.  Put the spinach in a large bowl, add the cooked turkey/veggie mix and stir.  Let cool for a few minutes before adding the ricotta and half of the mozzarella cheese.  

Mix well, then spoon filling on each noodle, spreading down the length of the noodle, then roll.  Put a layer of sauce in the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan, then add the lasagna rolls (seam down) and top with remaining sauce and mozzarella.  Cover with foil, bake for 15 minutes.  Remove foil and cook another 10 minutes. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Restaurant Review - The Boulevard Woodgrill

So B is having surgery for some back pain he’s been having and since his sister (K) is down for the week to help us out, we decided to go out for dinner.  We wanted to get something in the neighborhood good and not too expensive, so we decided to go to The Boulevard Woodgrill in Clarendon.  We’ve both been there a few times, so after tonight we feel we can give a fair review.

Since we were just in for a quick dinner and B’s having surgery the next day, we skipped the drinks and went straight for the food.  We shared a crab and artichoke dip with pita bread for a starter, which we all really enjoyed.  The pita bread was fresh and hot, and the dip had a good crab to everything else ratio.  It was also a good serving size for 3 people, just enough to do what an appetizer is supposed to do (whet your appetite and hold you over until the meal arrives), not stuff you before the rest of dinner even gets to the table.  The service was good, the timing between the arrival of the appetizer and the meals was right (I hate when you get rushed through your appetizer because the main course has arrived- what’s the point of the appetizer?).  Our server was also friendly and attentive. 

For the main course, B had the cheddar bacon burger with French fries.  B said it was one of the better burgers he’s had in the area.  I snuck a fry or two, though they were nothing to write home about.  I thought they were a little soggy, but B thought they reminded him of Boardwalk fries and didn’t have anything bad to say.  Maybe I’m a picky fry eater. 

B’s sister got the chicken Caesar salad, which had plenty of sliced chicken (K said it was a ridiculous amount!).  She enjoyed the meal, but thought the amount of chicken overwhelmed the rest of the salad. 

I ordered the special, a roasted duck and arugula salad with a mimosa vinaigrette.  Overall I enjoyed the salad, the dressing was the right amount of sweet and tart, and countered the peppery flavor of the arugula well.  The duck was a little overdone; I didn’t get much flavor from it.  The salad was topped off with sliced oranges (could have used more), cherry tomatoes (didn’t add anything to the salad), candied pecans (YUM) and dried cranberries. 

Combining our past experiences at the Boulevard Woodgrill, we would have to say that it’s a bit of a mixed bag.  Some menu items are fantastic, while others are so-so.  Can’t complain about the service though, even when they’ve been busy we have had attentive servers.  We are also both fans of the décor- a nice bar off to the side, plenty of booths (restaurants under-utilize booths these days), and floor to ceiling windows perfect for people watching.  It’s somewhere we’ll continue to dine since it’s walking distance from home and overall a pretty good restaurant, but it wouldn’t necessarily be our pick for a special trip.  

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Bartender-Chef

Hey everybody, this is B.  Last weekend, JM and I went to a birthday party in Georgetown.  The hosts decided to reserve a room at Garrett’s in Georgetown (check them out at  It was a blast.  I would definitely recommend the place if you want to go to Georgetown, but don’t necessary want all the pretentiousness that sometimes comes along with it. 

While we were there enjoying the night with friends, JM and I happened to find ourselves sitting at the bar talking to one of the bartenders.  I don’t know about you, but I find that making friends with the bartender should be a top priority at the beginning of every night out.  Your drinks come faster, stronger, and sometimes freer!  So while talking with Larry*, the bartender, he started giving us sample shots of pretty much anything with a name that sounded like it could have been it’s own reality TV show (again this is why making friends with bartenders = awesome).

By the end of the night, our conversations and the flowing drinks got me thinking…should a really good bartender be classified as a chef?  They mix and match several ingredients to try to make the perfect combination.  If you aren’t satisfied with your order, you might send it back (at the risk of having an unwanted something extra added to the ingredients of your next round).  If they’re victorious with their creation, you might give them your compliments (or a big tip).  A good bartender will, just like a top chef, prepare your drink with some flair and impressive presentation skills.  So what do you think?  Is a good bartender really a chef-in-disguise?  Leave your thoughts in the Comments!

Thanks for reading!

*name has been changed.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sneaking in the Vegetables

During the winter, B and I, like most northerners, tend to go for comforting, cold weather meals- lots of starches and hearty dishes.  When spring rolls around, I get inspired to eat healthier and try to incorporate better ingredients into my cooking.  I love fruits and vegetables, especially when they are fresh, so this isn’t much of a challenge for me.  B tends to be a bit more difficult to please.  He likes when I hide vegetables (especially spinach) in meals- he usually doesn’t like to eat veggies when they’re sitting on the plate beside the more appetizing main course.  It tends to be a challenge to get him to eat, let alone enjoy, a vegetable other than a potato or corn, so I seek out ways to disguise them or sneak them into meals.  Unfortunately it tends to decrease the healthiness factor significantly, but sometimes you lose some to gain some.  This recipe incorporates spinach and heart healthy salmon, and I use nonfat cream cheese so as to not completely negate the nutrition quotient.  B loved it and even commented I could add more spinach next time, if that’s not success, I don’t know what is!  Next challenge- getting him to like zucchini and squash without frying it or coating it with cheese.  Check back later for progress on that one!
Spring Salmon Packets
Serves 2

1 salmon filet (big enough for 2 people)
4 sheets of phyllo dough (or 1 sheet puff pastry)
1 egg
Salt and pepper
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. parsley
2 tsp. nonfat cream cheese
1 c. fresh spinach
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 350.  Remove skin from the salmon filet and cut in half.  Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and parsley.  Coat the top of each filet with 1 tsp. cream cheese.  Lay out the phyllo dough (or puff pastry), brushing each sheet with olive oil before layering on the next sheet (skip this step if using puff pastry).  Cut the pastry in 2 equal pieces, then place the salmon filets on each.  Top each with ½ cup spinach, then wrap each in the dough/puff pastry.  Cut off any extra pastry, and then fold the ends under like a package.  Wisk the egg to make an egg wash, then brush it on the top of each packet.  Place on a baking sheet (coated with a little nonstick spray) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.  Serve with rice. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

Local Food Event: Calling All Fondue Lovers!

I LOVE fondue.  B and I actually just made cheddar cheese fondue for his family last weekend, so fondue is still fresh on my mind.  The Melting Pot is one of my favorite places to eat, and B and I have celebrated several anniversaries there!  Since I'm such a fan, I thought I'd share an event with you this weekend that combines yummy cheese fondue and charity (what more could you ask for?).

The Arlington and Reston locations will be donating to The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Gaithersburg proceeds will benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the Washington, D.C. location will be making their contribution to Food & Friends!

Those interested may make reservations by calling the Arlington location at (703) 243-4490, Gaithersburg location at (301) 519-3638, Reston location at (703) 264-0900, or Washington, D.C. location at (202) 857-0777. 

If you attend, let me know how it was in the Comments section!  Enjoy!

Pierogi Fail

When I was a kid, there was a food and craft fair at the local amusement park every fall that I would go to with my grandmother.  The tradition continued through high school and college, each September I would go home for the weekend and go to the fair with my Gram.  I loved the day and the crafts, but most of all, we both loved the food.  We had a pattern- we’d start with these phenomenal homemade pierogies with onions, and then move on to kettle corn, blooming onion, homemade ice cream, and anything else we could either cram in or carry with us for later.  Far and beyond, the pierogies were my favorite.  They were perfect.  Cheesy potato filling, perfectly sautéed and topped with butter and onions, they were divine.  I would dream about those things at least a month before the fair.  I haven’t made it back to Pennsylvania for the fair in a few years, and I miss those pierogies!  Since I couldn’t go to the pierogies, I decided to try and recreate them.  I found a recipe online to work from and B and I set to work.  We boiled and mashed the potatoes, made the dough, assembled the pierogies, boiled them, and then sautéed in butter with onions. They looked pretty close to the original, unfortunately, they tasted nothing like them.  They were too doughy and greasy; I definitely did not roll the dough thin enough.  While they weren’t terrible, they definitely did not come anywhere close to what I’d hoped for.  B and I didn’t even finish them.  While this kitchen experiment did not turn out well, we did manage to figure out a few things to do differently next time.  We’ll come back and give it another shot another day.  No hard feelings, we can’t get everything right the first time.  A kitchen is like a laboratory, you have your initial attempt and then you change things and learn each time from your mistakes.  There’s no shame in messing up, perfection would only lead to boredom! 

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Ladies Who Lunch

Yesterday, the girls from work and I decided to get out of the office and enjoy the beautiful (88 degree!) weather.  We decided to get away from the office and have lunch at Matchbox on 8th street.  I was excited, I had never been to Matchbox and heard good things about their menu.  I was not disappointed.  I loved the look of the restaurant; it was classic, simple, and the whole storefront opened up onto the sidewalk.  We had a great table that was right inside the open doors, great for enjoying the weather while avoiding the hot sun.  I was impressed by their cocktail menu, featuring creative and refreshing sounding concoctions that were surprisingly not overpriced (in DC, I have come to accept that cocktails under $10 is a steal).  Each of us decided to indulge in a libation and each ordered something different.  I started with a Melonball, a lime green cocktail that reminded me of the sweet syrup you got on snowcones as a kid.  The service was a little slow to start, it took a little longer than I would have liked to get our drinks and order, but I did like that we didn’t feel rushed or hovered over by our server.  It took awhile to decide what to order, they had a lot of great selections, though I knew for my first trip I had to try the wood oven pizza.  The numerous topping combinations had me deliberating quite a while- I wanted to try everything!  I settled on the sausage and onion pizza with red peppers and mozzarella.  The crust was perfectly crispy, the sauce not too sweet, and the sausage was perfect, not too greasy.  The onions should have been sautéed first, but otherwise it was a great combination.  The sweetness of the peppers balanced the spiciness of the sausage perfectly.  I’d definitely order it again.  My coworker got a delicious looking chicken sandwich with homemade potato crisps that none of us could keep our hands off of.  They were waffle cut, and so delicate and crisp I couldn’t figure out how they kept them together.  Topped with Parmesan and just enough salt, they were so good I would order a sandwich just to get the chips!  We thoroughly enjoyed the environment, the drinks, the food, and most of all, the time out of the office.  We were surprised by the number of people we saw out and about and couldn’t help wondering what these people did that they could just be out walking the streets in the middle of the workday.  Jealousy kicked in, if they could all be free, why not us?  We could totally be ladies who lunch!  Life would be so luxurious and enjoyable if one didn’t have to worry about the stresses of work, bills, and everyday life.  Someday…until then, we’ll definitely make a habit of taking the time to enjoy life’s little pleasures!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Easter Eats

Hey everybody, this is B.  So I just had my family over for Easter dinner this past Sunday.  Until the last three years, I’d always visited my family for Easter, but since I moved to the DC area, they’ve been willing to come to me.  Since they’re willing to travel and save me having to make the trip back to PA, I like to try to make something a little special for them.  This year I made rack of lamb.  It’s the second time I’ve tried it, and from my family’s reaction, it seems to be a winner.  Check out the recipe.

Rack of Lamb
(serves 6)

3.5 lbs. lamb rib chops
½ c. breadcrumbs
2 ½ tbs. dried rosemary
1/2 c. Dijon mustard
5 cloves of garlic
4 tbs. olive oil
2 tbs. salt
1 tbs. pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Make sure to take the lamb out of the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before searing.  Rub half of the salt and pepper all over the lamb.  Then heat 2 tbs. of olive oil in a grill pan at medium/high heat.  Sear all sides of the lamb for about 1-2 minutes per side and set aside. 

In a large bowl, add your breadcrumbs, rosemary, 3 minced cloves of garlic, and the remaining salt and pepper.  Mix the dry ingredients together with a fork, then add 2 tbs. of olive oil and continue mixing.  Then brush the Dijon mustard all over the lamb.  I love the flavor the Dijon mustard gives the lamb, so feel free to use more or less depending on preference.  Once you’ve coated the lamb, dip the lamb in the breadcrumb mixture.

Drizzle 2 tbs. of olive oil into a Dutch oven ceramic pot and place the lamb chops and remaining 2 whole cloves of garlic into the Dutch oven.  Make sure the meat side of the lamb chop is facing upwards.  Cover the bones with a piece of aluminum foil so they don’t burn.  Put the lid on and cook the lamb in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes, then 400 degrees for 15 minutes.  Remove the lamb from the Dutch oven and set aside for 15 minutes.  Cut the lamb chops so that 2-3 bones are on each cut and serve.  JM and I decided to serve the lamb with carrots and rosemary roasted red potatoes. 

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Sandra Lee Confession

B and I are hosting Easter again this year, a tradition we started 3 years ago because B always has to work on the Saturday before Easter.  B’s family is coming down today, and we have a great Easter dinner planned (more on that later).  So I’m not in the kitchen the entire time his family is here, I decided to make dessert ahead of time.  I had a lot to do in a little time, so when debating whether to make the cake from scratch or a box mix, easy won out (and I’m not much of a baker to start with…).  However I couldn’t just use a box mix and call it a day, I decided to spruce it up a bit.  Yes, I pulled a Sandra Lee.  That chick was on to something- just adding a few things to store bought basics is definitely a great shortcut that (hopefully) most people won’t notice!  I’m not usually a big Sandra Lee fan- I’m a Giada girl myself- but come on, who doesn’t love cocktail time and themed tablescapes??  Anyway, back to the point of the post, which was my semi-homemade carrot cake.  I took a box of Duncan Hines deluxe carrot cake mix, threw away the dried carrots and raisins packet that came with it (sorry, raisins in cake?  No thank you), and substituted in a cup of fresh shredded carrots.  I also took a concept from another Food Network favorite, Ina Garten, and added pineapple (half a can of crushed pineapple with juice).  I made my own cream cheese icing, which was easy (cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar and vanilla).  With all the upgrades, I’d say it doesn’t even count as cheating! Who cares if I didn’t measure out dry ingredients?  The cake mix was my base, so I was free to improvise from there, which was more fun anyway.  Learned lesson of the day, Sandra Lee was on to something!