Friday, December 31, 2010

Clementine "Cuties"

Today I dive a bit further into my discovery of awesome winter produce with another of my favorites, the clementine.

I usually associate clementines with Thanksgiving as my Aunt always brings them to Kentucky from Texas.  The large box usually does not last long as we sit around the kitchen table, talking about life as we peel.  Clementines are a great snack since they are small, keep well refrigerated or on the counter, and are easy to peel.  I did not see them in my local grocery until early December, and you can definitely find them just about any where now.  I'm taking several to work as a healthy afternoon snack since I know they will not go bad as quickly as other fruits.

I have not found many recipes using clementines, save the usual jelly, jam, or sauce.  However, like the pomegranate I think that clementines are best enjoyed in their raw, unaltered form.  So if you're looking for a fresh fruit to eat this new year, look no further than this small citrus fruit!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Reveiw: Teaism

I received a gift certificate to Teaism Restaurant for Christmas, so my good fortune has translated into another review!

Teaism has 3 locations in DC and I visited the one that is between Lafayette and Farragut Squares. I have actually been to the Teaism in the Penn Quarter and was not impressed with their afternoon tea.  This may be because I was hoping for a traditional "English Tea" and was given an "Asian Tea".  Being a self-proclaimed "tea snob" I am very particular about my tea.  I wanted an English Breakfast Tea with scones and clotted cream, but instead received green tea with wasabi sandwiches and ginger cookies. 

So with this Asian-influence in mind, I headed to Teaism for lunch.  Of course before venturing out in the cold DC weather, I first checked online to see Teaism's lunch menu. It is a fairly concise menu with your typical bento boxes and your not-so-typical portobello and goat cheese sandwich or veggie burger. I chose a pot of Dragon Well green tea and the Tuna Bento Box, which includes "rare tuna & wasabi sauce, sweet potatoes & miso sauce, broccoli & brown rice".

Everything in the box, except the tuna which had little to no flavor, was delicious.  The Wasabi sauce was supposed to enhance the tuna flavor, but it did not have the right balance. To quote Top Chef, I think it was lacking "acid" (usually a vinegar or citrus flavor). However, the sides were cooked perfectly.  I think my lunch companion and I could have eaten a barrel full of the sweet potatoes with it's awesome miso glaze.  I would love to get my hands on that recipe!  Also, the brown rice was fluffy with just the right amount of sticky texture to it that shows they know how to cook brown rice properly.  Notwithstanding the tuna, this was one of the better bento boxes I have had in the city.

Although, my eating companion said that her Chai tea was tasty, I would suggest sampling Teaism's green, white or oolong teas since they are stereotypically associated with Asian cuisine. This is a great chance to try a new and interesting tea.  Most Americans really only drink black tea, or brew green tea improperly which causes it to be bitter.  Teaism properly brews their tea, so it is the perfect opportunity to see how green, white, and oolong teas are supposed to taste.  But again, I'm a biased you should discover all that Teaism has to offer for yourself!

Rating (out of *****): ****
Price (out of $$$):  $
Address: 800 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington D.C., DC 20006

Monday, December 27, 2010

Merry Christmas from Graduate Gourmet!

I know I am a bit belated, but I have been busy traveling, celebrating, and simply enjoying being home for Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, this year my grandmother has given my mom the "gift of gourmet" with Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  Of course I could not help but read the first few chapters myself!  Julia Child had a way of writing that made even the most complicated French cooking maneuver seem effortless.  I wish my mom the best of luck in trying out some traditional French recipes!

Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Not-So-Elusive Pomegranate

I start my dive into Winter produce with the pomegranate.  Granted, this is the easiest fruit to conquer, but it was also the only one I could find in the store this week.  I like to eat the seeds as is, but they also are great on salads, cooked down for sauces, and added to smoothies.

A few years ago, no one even talked about the pomegranate, but with its healthy benefits, pomegranate products are popping up everywhere.  To enjoy this winter fruit without spending a fortune, I suggest buying the whole fruit.  I think the reason most people buy pomegranate products and not the fruit itself is that they do not know how to eat it or open it!  Well, after this post you will no longer have that excuse!  Here is a step by step look at how to open a pomegranate:

First, you need three things: 1) the pomegranate, 2) A bowl filled with water, & 3) A knife and cutting board.

Cut off the top and bottom of the pomegranate.  Cut enough to reveal the white pith and not to cut into the seeds.  Next "score" the pomegranate's skin, cutting from the top to the bottom as shown below. 

Once you have scored the pomegranate, put the whole pomegranate into the bowl of water and gently open the pomegranate along your cuts.  Doing this under water prevents any juices from spraying on your clothes and staining them.  After you open the pomegranate, proceed to removing the white pith from the seeds. 

I throw away the outside skin as I go, but as you can see below, the pith floats to the top while the seeds fall to the bottom of the bowl.  From here you can scoop off the pith, then drain the water.

You are left with juicy pearls of pomegranate goodness.  I transferred the seeds to a Tupperware container.  I would suggest eating them within 3-4 days, so if you aren't ready to eat your pomegranate, simply wait tocut it.

Sure, you can buy the seeds out of the skin, but at Trader Joe's they cost double for half the amount of seeds! With just a little time and effort, you can enjoy this winter fruit for far less.

Monday, December 20, 2010

DC Restaurant Week Announced!!!

I received the "Save the Date" email from OpenTable today regarding DC's Restaurant Week.  I was brimming with anticipation as I eagerly opened the email.  I scrolled through the email to see that the 2011 winter restaurant week is January 17th-23rd.

Why am I so excited?  Restaurant week is the best time to check out restaurants you would love visit but have not due to price.  Participating restaurants offer a multi-course, pre-fixe meal that is $20.11 for lunch and $35.11 for dinner.  This is a gourmet-food-lover's dream as you enjoy anywhere from three to five courses. You have to be very careful, though, because if you are not careful you will spend more during restaurant week than you would normally allow yourself, which ruins it's purpose. 

Here are some tips to follow during Restaurant Week:
  1. Choose a place where an entree costs more than the restaurant week price.  If you are not saving money, you should visit on a normal day.
  2. Make a reservation!  The wait can be twice as long during restaurant week, which can hinder the full gourmet experience. Plan ahead and use services like OpenTable to make your reservation.
  3. Try something new.  This is the best time to try a new cuisine or go to a different neighborhood of DC. DC has a growing restaurant scene and you can use this opportunity to discover it fairly inexpensively.
  4. Do not go the same place you went last year.  This is especially tempting for me as I really enjoyed Jaleo's restaurant week menu last year.  But if I can do it, so can you!
  5. Want more than 3 courses? Go to a restaurant that specializes in small plates as they are more likely to offer more courses and variety.
Of course I will review the restaurant(s) I visit so be on the look out in January!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Graduate Gourmet Tip: Shop Seasonally

Spring, Summer and Fall are known for their abundant supply of fresh produce, but what about Winter? After all, nothing can grow in the cold DC air, right?  Wrong.  The winter months supply some great citrus and root vegetables.  For example, my favorite type of citrus, the Blood Orange, is in season December through February.  I have been on the lookout since early December for these sweet, yet tart fruit to appear on my local Trader Joe's shelves, but they have yet to appear.  Still, there are many other types of produce that are in their peak in the winter months: persimmons, brussels spouts, butternut squash, pomegranate, parsnips, and clementines. By adding these seasonal ingredients to your everyday cooking, you can mix up you selection and keep your taste buds guessing.

As I am sitting here typing out these seasonal specialities, I notice that I only eat maybe two or three of the items.  I cannot tell you to shop seasonally when I hardly buy these ingredients.  I thereby challenge myself to come up with a few good recipes using these not so well known fruits and vegetables to improve all of our culinary palettes.  Wish me luck!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Review: Good Stuff Eatery

I have been meaning to head over to Good Stuff Eatery ever since Spike (the owner) was on Top Chef...which was several seasons ago.  (I know, I know, worst Top Chef fan ever.)  So when a friend of mine asked for a place to meet for lunch near Capitol Hill, I knew exactly where I wanted to go.

We got to the restaurant at 2 pm on a Saturday afternoon half expecting to have the place to ourselves.  Boy were we wrong!  There was a line of about 20 people, and another 8 to 10 people standing near the entrance waiting for their food to go; this is not even counting all the people seated eating!

It is hard to tell from the restaurant name, but Good Stuff Eatery is primarily a burger joint.  Gourmet burger restaurants have become en vogue over the past few years, and I feel like they are popping up all around DC.  Good Stuff Eatery's burgers are not the biggest you will see, but they are very juicy.  This is especially important considering I had the Turkey Burger, which typically can be very dry.  The turkey burger was served on an oat wheat bun with avacado, munster cheese, lettuce and tomato.  The ingredients were of good quality, and you can see from signs in the restaurant that they are dedicated to local produce. However, I'm not sure that the burger lived up to my "Top Chef" expectations.  Still, they have several creative burgers, including the Sunnyside which has a fried egg on top, and one named after President Obama, which sets them apart from other burger restaurants.

My friend and I also split a regular fry.  They came out colder and squishier than I normally like, but I liked the added zest of Thyme and Rosemary of the Spike's Fries.  I also like the mayo bar with different flavored mayos. We ate our french fries with Mango Mayo and Chipotle Mayo (separately of course).  The mango was better with the less seasoned fries and the chipotle with the more seasoned.

Overall, I think that Good Stuff Eatery is a cool place to check out if you are in the Capitol Hill/Eastern Market area.  Although the burger was not the best, it definitely ranks on my top 10 list. The price was mid-range for typical gourmet burger places.  My friend and I each had a burger, one regular fry, and two drinks for around $20.  So if you want to have a "Top Chef" experience, head over to Good Stuff Eatery for a good burger.

Rating (out of *****): ***
Price (out of $$$):  $
Address: 303 Pennsylvania Ave S.E., Washington, D.C. 20003 (Capitol Hill/Eastern Market) 

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Graduate Gourmet Recipe: Pork Chops with Sauteed Mushrooms

Still trying to use my veggies from Washington Green Grocer, and craving some pork chops, I went searching for a good mushroom sauce recipe.  I found a couple good ones, then played with my own creation.  Here's what I did, and I think it came out pretty well! I think the mushrooms would be delicious on chicken as well. Everyone will think that you are a gourmet chef with very little effort.  This goes great with some steamed green beans or Roasted Acorn Squash.

3- 4oz pork chops, no bone
2 t olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, minced
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 8oz package of mushrooms (white or baby bella), sliced
1/4 cup white wine
1-2 t of Dijon mustard (to taste)
1 T fresh rosemary
salt & pepper to taste

  • Heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat.  Season the pork chops with salt & pepper, and place in the warm skillet.
  • Cook the pork chops until browned on both sides; approximately 2-3 minutes on both sides for a 4 oz chop.
  • Once the chops have cooked, place them on a plate and cover with aluminum foil to rest.
  • In the same pan that you cooked the chops in, add the remaining teaspoon of olive oil, shallots, and garlic.  Cook until they become fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
  • Add mushrooms to the pan and cook until they begin to brown, 3-4 minutes
  • Add the white wine to deglaze the pan, and stir the bottom bits to make a sort of sauce.  Once the wine is almost completely cooked out, add the Dijon mustard. ( I did not have plain Dijon mustard, so I used country Dijon.)
  • Once the mushrooms are nice and brown and cooked, add salt & pepper to taste.  If you want more of a "sauce" you can add 1/2 cup of chicken or vegetable broth to the pan after you deglaze it with the wine.  I like a bit less sauce, so the amount from the pork drippings and the wine was plenty for me.
  • Take the mushrooms off the heat and mix in the rosemary.
  • To serve, take one chop, spoon 1/3 of the mushroom mixture over the top, and enjoy!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Graduate Gourmet Recipe: Roasted Acorn Squash

Now that I have my awesome vegetables from Washington Green Grocer, I have been searching for the best way to cook my acorn squash.  I found a simple, healthy way to roast them thanks to Gina from Gina's Skinny Recipes.  I modified it slightly with what I had on hand, and it tasted delicious!

1 acorn squash, cut in half, seeds and fibers removed
2 tspn light Butter
2 tspn honey (you can also use brown sugar or molasses)
dash of ground cinnamon
dash of salt

  • Preheat oven to 350°.  
  • Rub 1/2 teaspoon light butter on each half of the squash
  • Top with honey and cinnamon.  
  • Place squash in a baking dish, cut side up, and add 1/4 cup water to the bottom of the pan.  
  • Cover and bake 50 minutes. 
  • Uncover and bake an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool before serving.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Graduate Gourmet Tip: Shop Locally, Even in the Winter!

As most of you know, the less food has to travel, the less it usually costs. Sometimes this is not the case with farmer's markets within the District as the food still has to travel to get here (I don't see many farms in the city, do you?).  However, I have found a great service which offers a way to get inexpensive, farm fresh produce delivered right to your door.  They are the Washington Green Grocer.

To utilize Washington Green Grocer, simply order a box to be delivered every week, every other week, or once only.  I purchased the small fruit and veggie box (which is 12-15 pounds of food) for $31.25.  The large box is made to feed a family of 4 with 18-20 pounds of produce for 37.75.  My small box is supposed to feed 2 people for one week.  I am actually splitting this box with a friend who lives around the corner so it works out to be a pretty good deal per person.  Take a look at this week's box:

Don't they look scrumptious?  The box changes weekly depending on what they are able to get locally.  Of course the bananas are not local, but they were really good!  If you don't want something to come in your box, you just let them know on your account and you don't have to receive it.  For example, I'm not a big fan of turnips.  This box was to include turnips, so I denoted 'no turnips' on my order and look, no turnips!

You can also add bread, milk, cheese, and even meat to your order; of course it is all local and of high quality.  I would say for the amount of produce in this box, this is a great deal, even if I were to eat it all by myself!  I will definitely be ordering a box from them again.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Review: Wasabi

I love Sushi! So when I find a decent sushi place for not a lot of money, I cannot help but go back often.  Wasabi has become a monthly/bi-monthly staple for my friend Liz and I.  If you've never tried sushi, Wasabi is the best place to go to to learn.  Instead of going to a restaurant and trying to figure out what the rolls look like and what its made of, you have multiple plates of sushi whirling past you at all times.  When you see something you want, you simply pick it off the conveyor.  If you don't see a roll you like on the conveyor, or want something hot, you can still order off the menu.  What is nice about Wasabi is that they label the plates on the conveyor as well, so if you cannot figure out what's on the roll, you can look on the menu to see what it is made out of.

How the pricing works is that each plate is a different color.  Above is a picture of the plate prices.  Wasabi does not offer many "yellow" or "orange" plates, which is a downside, but they do have an awesome happy hour special.  You can get 5 plates of any color and a drink (cocktail, soft drink, hot tea, etc) for $20.  If you do the math, that's an awesome deal!  Especially since some of my favorite rolls at Wasabi are either blue or purple plates.  I've only been able to eat 5 plates once, so come hungry!

Above is one of Liz and my favorites.  It is a volcano roll, which is basically a California roll ramped up.  I tried their rainbow roll this time as well, and most of it was good, except the white fin portion, which was a bit "fishy".  I know people laugh when I say that, but good sushi should never have a fishy taste to it.

So if you want a fast place to get decent sushi, this is the place.  I would not suggest bringing someone who is a sushi conoseur, however if you want good value and speed, this is the place to go.  They also have boxed sushi rolls, salads, and entrees in the front, so if you want to pick up a quick healthy lunch or dinner, this is also a great option.  For those of you in the Foggy Bottom area, they also have a Wasabi to Go in the Shops on Penn Ave.

Rating (out of *****): ***+
Price (out of $$$):  $
906 17th Street Northwest, Washington D.C. 20006 (Farragut Square)
Sorry for the photo quality...I took them on my phone.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Graduate Gourmet Tip: Share or Save

When you are trying to enjoy a gourmet experience in an expensive town like DC, it is important to not only choose a place that will be worth the cost, but also remember to "Share or Save".

Share-  Food portions are HUGE at most restaurants.  Instead of trying to eat the whole portion in one sitting, share several dishes "family style"with a friend or two.  This way, you get the chance to try multiple entrees without busting the bank.  You may also have room in your stomach (& wallet) for dessert!

Save- This may sound like common sense, but save half of your entree to be boxed up for later.  A lot of us grew up with parents telling us to clean our plate, but don't you think you make your mom proud when you stretch your one meal into two?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review: Bangkok Bistro

Today I visited one of my favorite Thai places in Georgetown: Bangkok Bistro.  It is located only one block from M Street and has TONS of seating. This is especially important for days like today when I went to lunch with around 14 people.  Every time I go here they are fast, efficient, and delicious. 

One of the reasons I love Bangkok bistro is that the lunch price also includes a bowl of sweet and sour lemongrass soup.  It has just the right amount of kick and tang to get your taste buds ready for your main course.  They also put tofu and mushrooms in the soup, which gives the soup a bit more substance than other Thai restaurants in the city.

I ordered the Panang Curry (pictured top) and one of my friends ordered the Drunken Noodles (pictured below).  I wish I could say this was the best curry I have had in DC, however today it was slightly off.  I have had their Pad Thai here and can attest that it is quite good.  I have also had friends who have tried the sushi and have said it's not bad for a thai restaurant.  All in all, I would say that my experience with the quality of food at Bangkok Bistro over the years have been above average.

Overall, for $16 (including tax/tip) I got a great cup of soup, and fast, not amazing curry.  As far as value for what you get, I think this place is great.  A graduate student always takes the chance to break one bigger meal into two, which can easily be done here since the portions are so large. You can enjoy the company of your friends, enjoy leftovers later, and enjoy the fact that your wallet has been spared.  This new cost is $8 per meal, which is much more reasonable for a DC lunch.

Rating (out of *****): ***+ 
Price (out of $$$):  $
Address:  3251 Prospect St NW, Washington D.C., DC 20007 (Georgetown)

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Review: The Passenger

A few nights ago I visited The Passenger for happy hour drinks. I arrived at 6:00 pm to no more than 5 people in the bar.  However, this worked to my advantage as I had the complete attention of my bartender.  The Passenger specializes in customized cocktails, but also has a short list of beers & wines.  I was asked what my mood was for that evening, and said "Vodka, fruity, not too sweet." What I received was one of the best drinks I have had in a while.  It was vodka with passion fruit and ginger beer.  It sounds a bit odd, but it was very good.  Most of the drinks we got that night were of the same caliber, and the bar definitely began to fill out as the evening progressed.

If you look up this venue on Yelp, you will find an even split of those who like the venue versus those who do not.  I personally liked the place.  It is cleaner than most bars in the area and had almost a "speakeasy" vibe to it. As you enter, you'll see several tables along the wall to the left and 3 smaller booths to the right.  Hidden by the doors are cozy larger booths that have a view of the street.  If I was to bring a big group here, I would definitely advocate getting there early just to snag those booths! They also have several tables in the back, so don't feel that you won't have a place to sit.  Also, there are also no TVs to be found, so it is a great place for conversation and good drinks. 

In regards to food, we got mostly appetizers, which were good but a bit pricey.  This could actually be said about the whole tab.  Although we went for happy hour, it did not appear that the prices were any lower than normal.  Still, they charged us for one less drink, which was nice.  If you're looking for a place with a good vibe, drinks, and conversation, this is a great place to go.

Rating (out of *****): ***+ 
Price (out of $$$):  $$
Address:1021 7th Street Northwest, Washington D.C., DC 20001 (Convention Center/Mt. Vernon Square) 
I apologize that I did not take any pictures...I will attempt to post pictures for any further posts.

Monday, November 29, 2010

My first blog...

So for a few weeks now, I have had friends commenting that I should start a food blog.  I am a self-claimed foodie, and am consistently emailed by friends on food suggestions.  Now, I do not claim to know all of the best places to eat and the best recipes to create.  However, I do know some tricks on how to eat in Washington, DC and around the world on the budget of a Graduate Student.

I have always loved food and good restaurants, but I hate the price tag.  When I started graduate school two years ago, I thought my fine dining days were over.  However, I learned a few tricks and awesome do-at-home meals to satisfy my need for good food.  I hope to share some of my ideas, tricks, hot spots, and adventures as I try to find the biggest gourmet bang for my graduate budget in DC and around the globe.