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Friday, I’m in Love: Cupcakes!

Happy New Year!… if a bit late, and happy returns… to blogging? Been a bit of a rough year, but there’s no way to get back to writing than to just do it! And what better way to do that than with a Friday treat? In fact, I plan to try and treat myself every Friday, hence this new “Friday, I’m in Love” series–thank you Robert Smith. It might be going out, staying in, but it will be a nice way to force myself to post something at least weekly, but I digress…

Curbside Cupcakes food truck I had earned a short day at the office today and was planning on a very quick walk to metro to get out of the cold. Since I was passing at lunchtime, the food trucks were out in force at Canal Park. Normally, I don’t bother stopping because of the cold and the lines, but fortune was smiling upon me as Curbside Cupcakes, one of my favorite trucks happened to be out there and how better to treat myself than to a ½ dozen cupcakes paired with some ice cold milk–or hot espresso–at home?

Continue reading Friday, I’m in Love: Cupcakes!

Sakuramen in Adams Morgan

Sakuramen Menu Mention “ramen” to most people and you’ll get a weird look followed by “you mean the stuff in the cup?” or others might remember the college days when your “pantry” consisted of packets of Kool-Aid and instant ramen noodles since both could be bought in large amounts for not a lot of money. In any case, it’s not likely to evoke a good reaction to anyone that isn’t aware of how ramen noodles are prepared elsewhere in the world. So when a friend suggested Sakuramen in Adams Morgan a few weeks back, I was intrigued but skeptical, after all, even if it isn’t instant, it’s still just noodles and broth, right?

Well that is true, but completely undersells the experience. Since my first visit, I’ve been back twice and it’s a welcome comfort each time. When it’s chilly outside, ramen is warm and filling and with flu season upon us, there’s nothing like a good soup to make you feel better.

Fried Pork Gyoza/Dumplings

Especially if you’re like me and start with Gyoza (or Jiaozi, Dumplings, Potstickers, whatever you like to call them). Dumplings are one of my food addictions, no matter how much I plan to eat, I have to start with them if they’re on the menu. Steamed if I’m trying to be healthy, fried if I just don’t care. You get a nice serving of five which is perfect for sharing… just not with me!

Gojiramen

I went for the Gojiramen: traditional shoyu (soy sauce/chicken stock broth) ramen with chashu (roasted Berkshire pork), menma (marinated bamboo shoots), scallions, nori (seaweed), and sprouts. I’ve had the Shoki bowl before as well and both were delicious and had me tipping the bowl after finishing to slurp up a bit more broth. Speaking of slurping, if you’ve ever seen the Spaghetti scene from Tampopo, you’ll know what I’m talking about, but slurping is definitely not frowned upon here.

A few more pictures are up on flickr, but I didn’t really “chow down” on this visit. A gentleman seated near me made the mistake of ordering too much and had to have his appetizers boxed up to take with him. There are other delights on their menu that I look forward to trying on future visits, but this little out of the way place is enough to get me down to Adams Morgan on a more regular basis and that’s saying something. I certainly won’t look at ramen the same way anymore and no microwaved cup with a seasoning packet will ever cut it again.

Cocktails @ Bourbon Steak DC

My love for Bourbon Steak DC is no secret, but we typically go for lunch or dinner, only spending a few minutes at the bar while waiting for our entire party to arrive. Mostly that was tactical since as some of our bunch are lightweights, indulging in a smattering of cocktails before our dinner would have them passing out before the entree arrived. So when a friend suggested heading over there for happy hour to celebrate her late mother’s birthday, it was a great reason to have some cocktails and laughs in the lounge.

I was well aware of the tempting libations from previous visits and the restaurant makes great use of social media, tempting their followers from time to time with food and drink suggestions…

I started things off with an Achilles Heel, hanger one frasier river raspberry, metaxa ouzo, fresh lime and ginger served in a salted glass with cucumber garnish. I’m normally pretty wary of ouzo, but I knew I was in good hands with Duane Sylvestre who made sure I got the most out of the drink by encouraging me to tuck into the garnish after having a sip. Who knew that a little salted cucumber could enhance one’s cocktail experience so well?

The boy prefers his drinks on the sweeter side and cooled off with a classic Planter’s Punch to start while my friend opened with her usual, a Sazerac. It was a good thing we got there fairly early as we were able to chat with the bar staff and I could get out my cocktail nerdity before the lounge got too loud and crowded.

For my second round, I went with the Wooden Chair Rickey, Bourbon Steak’s entry into 2012’s Rickey Month competition.

It had a nice blend of flavors which I confess I can’t recall exactly at the moment–perhaps too much celebrating–garnished with pickled cherries. It satisfied the requirements of the classic Rickey, it was cold, tart and fizzy with more than a hint of sweetness, or as the drink is commonly called, “air conditioning in a glass”. I always try to order a few in the warm months and I’m glad I didn’t pass this one up.

Closing out the night with a delicious burger and a Planter’s Punch of my own, it was a really fun evening with a bit of nerdy celebrity spotting, many laughs and sharing memories and stories. Something I feel you can’t always do with your friends online.

As I’ve said before, unfortunately Bourbon Steak isn’t for the everyday meal or cocktail hour, but as a special treat to yourself every now and then–I think we’re up to once or twice a season, now–you will enjoy a great afternoon or evening with impeccable service, delicious food and as I can now confirm, amazing cocktails.

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

I am not a fan of pumpkin. There, I said it. I like pumpkins for decoration, like seeing them growing in patches, maybe painting one for Halloween, but in terms of pumpkin bread, pumpkin pies, pumpkin spice lattes? Not my thing. Growing up, we were a sweet potato pie family and that’s always stuck with me. Now the experienced foodies out there probably know by now that with most dishes, whether you use sweet potato or pumpkin, the spices are often the same and there’s probably only a slight difference in taste depending on how much sugar is used… but you still won’t see pumpkin “delicacies” coming out of my kitchen.

This sweet potato cheesecake recipe was a result of the combination of my love for cheesecake and the rapidly dwindling supplies of frozen homemade sweet potato pies that my aunt would send us each year. I’ve made sweet potato pies before, but somehow they don’t seem to impress and/or entice as much as cheesecake. I admit it, sometimes I make a dessert to bring to an event that will impress. I’m only human!

Sweet Potato Cheesecake

Crust*:

  • 14-ounce bag of gingersnap cookies, finely ground
  • 6 tablespoons butter, melted

Cheesecake:

  • 14-ounce can of canned yams in light syrup*, mashed with fork until it makes 34 cup
  • 24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons apple cider
  • 34 teaspoon ginger
  • 34 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 34 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons cream
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 10 1 12-inch springform pan. (Optional) Line the bottom and sides of the pan with buttered parchment paper to make for an easier removal.
  2. If you’re a kitchen gadget person–like me–grind the cookies up in a food processor, if not, place the cookies in a large zip-top bag and crush them to your desired fineness with a rolling pin or empty wine bottle.
  3. In a mixing bowl, combine the gingersnap crumbs and melted butter and stir well. Pour the crumbs into the bottom of the springform pan, pressing out from the center and up against the sides to roughly an inch. A thicker base crust will mean less height on the sides. Use any round smooth-bottomed glass, measuring cup or kitchen tool to tamp down the crumbs, forming an even crust.
  4. Bake for about 10-15 minutes, the edges of the crust should pick up a bit of color but the crust will not be set. Remove from oven to cool slightly while completing the cake batter.
  5. In a mixer with paddle attachment, combine cream cheese, butter and sugar. Mix until smooth and combined. You may need to pause to scrape down the bowl once or twice.
  6. Add the reserved sweet potato puree and mix to blend. Add apple cider, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg and cream and mix well. Add eggs, two at a time, scraping down the bowl between additions and mix just until incorporated and the batter is smooth. (With most mixers, paddle attachments are pretty good at collecting "potato strings" for easy removal.)
  7. Pour batter into the prepared crust and bake at 350° F for an hour. It should be just set around the edges, and slightly jiggly in the center.
    • Employ your own "cheesecake baking/cooling method" here. I prefer an hour at constant temperature, then turning the heat off and leaving it in the oven another hour or two until it’s cooled down to help avoid cracking.
    • Some cheesecake recipes call for a slow reducing of temperature over time. Ex: 20 minutes at 350, then 20 at 325, 20 at 300, etc. That’s too much bother for me, but your miles may vary and you know your oven better than I.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight before serving.

* Notes: My default crust for cheesecakes is now ginger snaps as opposed to graham crackers. It generally adds something extra and I’ve had friends that wanted to nibble on the crust more than the cake. I think the cookie better complements this cheesecake, but feel free to substitute your preferred crust.

I drain the yams and reserve the syrup, adding it back in as needed to make a smooth puree. It’s ok to mash together everything in the can, but be mindful of the level of sweetness.

As I note in the recipe, everyone has their particular cheesecake baking quirks, usually based on their oven or aversion to cracked cheesecakes. Sometimes I use a water bath or just a baking pan filled with water for steam, but the addition of the sweet potato puree to this one seems to ward off cracking, but if you have a standard baking method, there’s no need to deviate just for this recipe.

And before the purists get on my case, I know, the recipe says “sweet potato” and I’m using canned yams. I consider that a result of my upbringing as well since we didn’t really know the difference and more often than not bought cans labeled “yams” for the pie. I have made this with actual sweet potatoes–but not actual yams–before, and when it comes to the supermarket aisle, you’ll often see cans with both “yams” and “sweet potatoes” on the label. From what I can tell, what’s in the cans are sweet potatoes, but the cake will still taste great.

Obviously this cheesecake would be a hit at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but don’t be afraid to serve it anytime. Enjoy!

Brunch at Petits Plats

Since Saturday turned out to be extremely pleasant, after hitting the 14th & U Farmers Market, we decided to venture over to Woodley Park and find a bit of brunch. I hadn’t been to any of the restaurants along the row for brunch–or any meal in quite some time–but we decided to give French a try.

Petits Plats bills itself as, “The best French Restaurant in the heart of Woodley Park with very distinguished cuisine and variety selection of wine.”

As we’ve only been there the once, I can attest to the French part, as they seem to be the only restaurant for that on that strip and our brunch was definitely a pleasant experience. They have patio seating but they also have a porch which allowed us to sit well away from the sidewalk/street while still being able to watch people and enjoy the fresh air.

Croque Monsieur at Petits Plats

Their brunch menu was pretty extensive, but we focused on the egg options–wisely deciding to skip the snail dishes. Pictured above is their Croque Monsieur which I’ve never had before, but reading the words: ham, cheese, butter & brioche pretty much sold me on it and I wasn’t disappointed.

This is less of a review and more the writeup of an experience. We try to switch it up for brunch, but the next time there’s an early Saturday with temps in the low 70s… in July, we might just head back to Petits Plats for champagne cocktails and a little bon vivant vibe to get the weekend off to a good start.

The English Garden

While I love the start of Farmers Market season in DC for access to great fresh goods, I admit that one of the first things I make a beeline for is strawberries. Whether I just eat them straight, make ice cream or sorbet with them or find a way to introduce them into my cocktails, I’m generally coming home with at least 2 pints.

English Garden Just over a year ago, I got together with Stephanie of Adventures in Shaw (and now Whisked!) to come up with a seasonal cocktail using strawberries, and I figured why not stick with what works for 2011.

I first tried my strawberry puree with St. Germain Elderflower liqueur, lemon and gin and it was “good” but not great. It had the essence of fruit and floral notes, but was missing something. I recall that one of our favorite drinks at Againn was the Lady MacBethrecipe here–which uses an egg white to lighten up the drink and give it a lovely foamy head that feels like a pillow on the tongue.

I’d never used an egg white in any of my cocktails before, but after a little research I felt confident enough that it would work and had a very small chance of making me sick. I don’t have egg allergies and the risk of salmonella is small. Plus, as I use raw eggs in my cooking all the time, clearly I have no fear. So I modified the recipe, added in an egg white, shook until I thought my arms would fall off and ended up with a definite winner.

English Garden

English Garden, instagram style

  • 1 12 oz. gin
  • 12 oz. strawberry puree*
  • 12 oz. St. Germain Elderflower liqueur
  • 12 oz. simple syrup
  • splash lemon juice
  • 1 large egg white (about 2 tbsp?)**
  1. Pour gin, strawberry puree, St. Germain, simple syrup and lemon juice into cocktail shaker and give a good stir to blend ingredients.
  2. Add egg white, stir, then give a good shake (no ice, yet) to mix ingredients and prepare yourself for what’s about to come. I was also advised that removing the spring from a cocktail strainer, balling it up and adding it to the shaker in this step would help. The insert from a ball whisk would likely also do.
  3. Add ice, I usually fill 2/3 of the way, and shake like your life depended on it. I found that a clear shaker was the most fun for this because you can see the mixture get really frothy. But seriously, give it a good hard shake. You aren’t trying to create a mousse or meringue, but you are trying to get that quality from the egg white to lighten the drink.
  4. Using a mesh strainer, strain into cocktail glass. As you’ve likely pulverized the ice into shards and pellets, this will keep the drink ice-free, it should also keep strawberry bits out of the drink depending on how smooth your puree is. You may find that you need to tap or shake the strainer to get everything through.

* Strawberry puree is made by chopping and hulling strawberries, add sugar to taste and stir. Let sit for at least 15 minutes, then puree in blender, food processor or with immersion/stick blender. Strain and keep in fridge. (If solely for cocktails, adding a tablespoon vodka will help it last longer)

** If you have an egg allergy or just fear raw eggs, you can also use pasteurized or powdered egg whites. No promises that it will have the same effect, but may be easier if making a lot at once.

I call it an English Garden because it has the feel of having afternoon tea, with cakes and biscuits, out on a patio or in the garden… while getting nicely hammered. Unfortunately there’s already a drink called English Garden that is similar but tries to be more English than Garden. Still, I should probably find a new name for mine.

Any ideas? Let me know in the comments!

Bringing Pickles (not back) Back

A few months back there was all kinds of fuss in the cocktail world about the “pickle back”. A shot of pickle juice served after a shot of whiskey, lauded by many as a great combination. Pickle juice cocktails were soon to follow, cute but not terribly long lasting as a drinking fad.

A cosmopolitan with a pickle back that's an actual pickle. I got ALL of that beat. Way way back in the Summer of 2003, the guy I was dating had gotten me to sit down and watch Office Space for the first time ever. Everything I’d heard before had not prepared me for how little I would be impressed by the film. Sure it was funny, but as I’ve said before, my “office” movie is Nine to Five. The things I remember most from Office Space are Gary Cole and “my O face”.

After I called the Superman III scheme a few seconds before a character mentioned it, he realized the viewing was quickly going downhill, so he shook up a batch of cosmos but the only snack he had was a jar of pickles. We weren’t proud, we were short on funds and we weren’t putting on pants, so pickles it was.

Lemme tell ya, the best ideas are born of desperation! And as it so happens that today is another day when I’m not proud and happen to have a pickle handy, I’m takin’ it back to ’03! Unfortunately, supermarket jar dills work much better than the deli variety, it relies more on salty than sour, but if you’re a homemade pickle person you can easily make them to your taste. So don’t bother with pickle juice with your cocktails, think more about a pickle pairing!

Fall is here . . . at Starbucks!

Confession time: I have never cared for Starbucks’ Pumpkin Spice Latté. You may commence pelting me with scones at your leisure. I do, however, love the fervor with which its return is welcomed every year–this being the 7th–by Starbucks fans and even the occasional Starbucks hater. The coming of the Pumpkin Spice Latté seems to be one of the cultural signs of the coming of Fall, even though the first day of Autumn is weeks away. In DC we’re still experiencing temperatures in the mid-90s, so popping in for a hot drink to while away the afternoon isn’t the first activity that springs to mind. Still, it can’t be denied as a portent of cooler days just down the road.

I’m a bit excited about this year’s new offering, the Toffee Mocha Latté. Even though I don’t normally go for their candy-like drinks, something about that chocolaty toffee sauce just sounded so good! So far, it hasn’t disappointed. I ordered one this morning while they set out a sample tray and it’s not quite like a candy bar dunked into a coffee, but has just enough sweetness in the opposite direction from my usual Vanilla Latté to make it a viable option. I hope other customers like it as I wouldn’t mind seeing it stick around even after the colder months. There have been more than a few seasonal drinks at the ‘bucks that I’ve loved, but have never been seen again.

So here I sit, in my air-conditioned office, sipping my espresso drink while the sun’s already ramping up for a hot day out there and yet… life is good. Happy September, everyone, and here’s to cooler days!

Lighter Fettucine Alfredo

Just a little food porn to get your Monday morning off to a good start. A friend and I have started cracking open our cookbooks in an attempt to get back to the fun of cooking and since these happen to be collections of lighter and healthier recipes, it doesn’t hurt the bottom line either. Above is a “Lighter” Fettucine Alfredo from America’s Test Kitchen which cut the usual cals/fat by roughly 40% or so. They use fresh (or store-packaged fresh) pasta, swap out the heavy cream and butter for half & half thickened with cornstarch and reduce the amount of cheese. Unlike many of their lighter recipes, this one wasn’t too involved and didn’t have weird or crazy substitutions, but unlike the more traditional creamier sauce, this doesn’t keep its sauciness very well, so my leftovers will probably need a dash of water or half & half while reheating.

I’m a fan of chicken with the dish, so I sauteed a bone-/skin-less breast to serve atop it. I’m not normally a “one serving” person, but this was plenty satisfying for me and I didn’t have any urge to snack or look for a dessert later. Like other recipes in The Best Light Recipe, it cuts back on the cals, but not if you chow down the whole thing. When living & cooking single, it’s hard to resist going back for another nibble, but I’m looking forward to enjoying this for the next few days and not having to worry about what to make for dinner.

Dry Rubbed Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

It’s funny how things come full circle. Just over a year ago, I was starting to discover and connect with the DC foodie scene. My cooking posts were tossed in with the other things I wrote about in DC and if you’d mentioned a “food blog” to me, I would have laughed in your face. And well… here we are!

When I got my first crock pot, my inbox and IM windows were flooded with recipes to try and one that worked out well for me was a pulled meat style barbecue. It was ridiculously simple, put meat in the crock pot with a bottle of your chosen barbecue sauce and set on Low for six hours, shredding it at the seventh hour and simmering in the developed sauce. I shared the technique with a friend and ended up getting a mention as a “foodie friend” in her post on Pulled Pork. After looking back at that recipe, I decided to give it a try with a pork shoulder I recently picked up at the supermarket. Instead of a wet sauce, it uses a dry rub and relies on a bit of water and the pork’s fat to develop a sauce as it slowly cooks.

The dry-rub recipe is a “classic” from Cook’s Illustrated and the method is pure crock-pot with just a little bit of fiddling. You normally can leave things in the crock pot and walk away, but this requires some turning early on and obviously some shredding in the later hours:

  • one 6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
  • 1/4 cup water (optional, depending on how much sauce you want to form)
  • spice rub
    • 1 tablespoon ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon ground white pepper
    • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
      (2 tsp if you like it spicy, I substituted chipotle pepper to trade heat for smokiness)
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
    • 4 tablespoons paprika
    • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
    • 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
    • 1 tablespoon white sugar
    • 2 tablespoons salt

  1. Mix together the spice rub in a large ziploc/oven bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.
  2. Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.
  3. Place the sealed bag in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours/overnight. The longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be.

Crammed into the crock!

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the bag and place it in the crock pot. Discard any leftover spice that didn’t “cling” to the meat.

  1. Add the 1/4 cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.
  2. Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for 1 hour.
  3. After an hour, turn the pork shoulder over and continue to cook for 1 more hour.
  4. Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another 4 hours.
  5. Check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize. If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs–or bear paws!) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during cooking.
  6. Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour, depending on your crock pot and the desired flavor/texture.

Shredded and ready to serve

If your pork shoulder is closer to 8 pounds, you may need a longer cooking time and vice versa for smaller cuts of meat. Because of the fattiness of pork, it’s hard to mess this one up. Please note, this recipe makes a lot. It would be great made in advance of a picnic or party, but if you’re making this for just yourself, plan on a lot of leftovers!

To appease the BBQ purists out there, I admit that this isn’t barbecue. It was slow cooked using a steamed/simmering method, not slow-roasted over low heat on a grill/smoker. Some people like the charred bits that barbecue brings and if you feel that’s missing from this recipe, I advise that you remove the pork shoulder at about hour 5 or 6, place it on a baking or roasting pan and set it under the broiler for a few minutes per side to crisp up the edges before returning it to the crock pot for shredding. Just be careful moving the pork shoulder around at this stage as it’s quite ready to fall apart.

Even if it isn’t traditional barbecue, it will do for me in a pinch. Especially if I see that a planned cookout might be rained out, this wouldn’t be bad to have in the fridge as a backup dish. And while a sandwich is certainly the most satisfying serving method for the pork, I could also see it going over couscous or steamed rice, rolled up in a wrap with chopped veggies or even tossed with some cheese into an omelette for brunch. As I said, you’re going to have a lot of it, so if you and your guests aren’t feeling piggy–pun intended–when it’s first served up, plan ahead to freeze some or make some unique dishes with the leftovers. Enjoy!