Monday, December 12, 2011

2012 Restaurant Week: Winter Edition

You know me....I love eating out during Restaurant Week here in DC. I just received an email from my favorite booking website,, that the winter restaurant week is January 9-15!! Remember to book early since times fill up quickly.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Spencer's Coffee House - Bowling Green, KY

Today we take a journey a bit south to my homeland...Kentucky.  I'm currently living at home for a month to help take care of a sick family member.  I spend most of my day making pretty bland food for picky taste buds, but every so often I am able to take a break and get out of the house. The past two times that I left the house I ended up at the same place:  Spencer's Coffee House in Bowling Green, KY.

I love local coffee places. They feel so much more genuine than a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. Plus, there's nothing like drinking coffee or tea out of a real, ceramic mug.  The first time I visited this establishment I had their drip coffee of the day. I WISH I had photographed what kind of coffee it was because it was really delicious. The coffee was perfectly brewed and didn't feel like it had sat in a container all day (we drank the coffee at 9:00 at night...and you never know how long it's been there!).  The coffee was rich and not bitter, high in (excuse the snobby term) tannin which filled my whole mouth with balanced flavor notes. Basically, this was a darn good cup of joe!

Hooded Sweatshirt Latte

The second time we went, I had to try their hooded sweatshirt latte. Why? Well, first of all, with a name like "hooded sweatshirt" I was intrigued. Secondly, how can a drink be like a sweatshirt? I took my first sip and understood why. The flavors were similar to a "pumpkin spice" but surprisingly different at the same time. When I took a sip, I felt like I was enveloped in fall; warm, creamy and spicy. It's like I was...wrapping up in a hooded sweatshirt! Seriously, I wish I could take this mug of warmth home with me so that I could experience my favorite season, fall, in a cup every day.

The atmosphere at Spencer's is typical coffee shop, but the place had a nice homey feel to it as well. It could be the exposed brick, 10 foot high ceilings, or the hardwood tables and chairs...and yes, you can tell that this is where the KY hipsters go...but everyone was very friendly (I expect nothing less in the South!) and you can tell they are dedicated to their coffee. If you're ever driving through KY, you should totally take a little detour off the interstate to try this place!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Highlights from Dublin, Ireland

Miss me?? I was in Dublin, Ireland for 10 days for my association's fall conference and was unable to post while I was there. Although I was working all the time, I did snap a few photos of my dining adventures. Wanna see some highlights?

Now, of course I couldn't take pictures of everything while I was there. I am actually really sad I couldn't take pictures of our luncheon entrees at the Dublin Convention Centre because they were literally the best conference food I have ever had! are some of my fav Dublin moments:

Innocent smoothies are beyond delicious. I used to drink these all the time when I lived in the UK. Right after we landed I spotted this particular smoothie in a convenience store and had to have it! The best way to avoid jet lag? A bottle of pure fruit goodness of course!

I can't go to Ireland without some fish & chips! We were staying at the historic Shelbourne hotel, and their bar food was actually spot on. The fish was flaky and tender on the inside, and crunchy on the outside. Plus, their chips had the perfect crunch to thickness ratio.

My favorite dinner was at Ely's Restaurant and Wine bar. The next couple of photos are from the two (yes two) times that we ate there...

Organic Lamb with Mashed Potatoes and Celeriac Remoulade
Local Beef Fillet, Green Beans, and Roasted Potatoes

Lobster & Crab Ravioli
And of course, I couldn't leave Dublin without grabbing afternoon tea. The traditional tea at the Shelbourne would have cost me 35 euros (approx $50). So, after my co-worker and I did a little shopping on our day off, we popped into the M&S food court for this reasonably priced late lunch. Our total bill was 20 euros. This wasn't the best afternoon tea in the world, but it definitely hit the spot without killing my budget. Mmmmm, I already miss devonshire cream (aka clotted cream) on a nice fluffy scone...

All in all the food in Dublin was surprisingly awesome! I can't wait to go back to Ireland some day and see the rest of the country...and cuisine!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Sauteed Kale with Corn

I have a new obsession...I feel like I say that a lot but really I get in these crazy periods of eating the same thing for an entire week, then change to another obsession. For the moment, my obsession is kale. Kale is one of the few dark greens that I like, and I didn't even know that I liked it since I usually sneer at the over-cooked greens I get in the south (sorry collard/mustard greens!). Although kale can be a bit tough or chewy if not cooked properly, with these simple steps you can make some darn tasty greens!

Sauteed Kale with Corn
Serves 2

1 bunch of Kale, pulled off the stem and chopped in big pieces
2-3 cloves garlic
1.5 T olive oil
1/8 cup water
3/4 cup corn


  • Start with a huge pan with sides. This is important as you'll need to load the pan in order to get enough wilted greens.
  • As with most of my recipes, start by heating your oil on medium-high heat with the chopped garlic. 
  • Once you can smell garlic (1-2 minutes), add the chopped kale.

  • Stir the greens until the kale wilts to half the original size (3-4 minutes). 
  • Season the kale with salt and pepper. 
  • Add the corn and water, and put a lid on the kale. Steam for 5 minutes, or until the kale reaches your desired tenderness, stirring every few minutes. 

I like to eat this dish wish some brown rice or quinoa and call it a meal! But if you want to have sauteed kale as a side dish, here's a great modification.  Don't use the corn but add 1-2 tsp of balsamic vinegar when you add the water. Serve under seared scallops or fish. The vinegar adds a nice brightness to the kale which pairs perfectly with fish.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Am I lactose intolerant?!

I've never been a fan of drinking straight milk. Milk always needed to be served in a latte, with cereal, or some Hershey's syrup. However, I love all dairy products; particularly yogurt and cheese. I didn't realize just how much dairy I eat until recently. I've been experimenting with vegetarian/vegan cooking, so my dairy intact went WAY down. Pretty much to none really.

I had not thought much about the lack of dairy in my life until I grabbed a pumpkin latte a few days ago. I wasn't more than 4 sips in when my stomach went crazy. It was so crazy I thought that I had some bad milk and didn't drink the rest. The next day I ate some pizza at a friend's house and the same thing happened...Now I'm considering going to a food allergist to see if I'm allergic to lactose or something else. Anyone have any experience with lactose intolerance? Or any remedies to helping with the symptoms? I don't think I will miss milk, but I would really miss cheese...and ice cream...and cream sauces...

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stovetop Popcorn

My last post got me thinking....I wonder how many people just pop a bag of microwave popcorn when it is so easy to pop your own on the stove top! I mean, nothing beats the taste of fresh popped popcorn, and it's even better when you can control the oil/seasoning.

Here's what you need:

Popping corn (~1/4 cup), vegetable oil (not olive oil though!), & seasoning.

Medium saucepan with lid

That's it. See, making popcorn isn't so hard!

The trick to popcorn perfection is high, fast heat. You want to turn the stove to a little more than medium-high (I put mine on the "8" of my stove), but not all the way to high.

Pour a little oil in the bottom of the pan. I like to use around 1 tablespoon, but you can use less/more if you want.  You really do need some sort of oil though to keep the popcorn from burning or tasting stale. Add 3 or four kernels of popcorn to the pan and put a lid on it. These are your "test" kernels. 

Once these kernels pop, you know that the oil is the perfect temperature (and not too hot!). Immediately pour in the rest of your popcorn.  I use 1/4 of a cup, which makes a little less than 3 cups of popped corn. Once the kernels are in the pan, put a lid on it. The trick to keeping the popcorn from burning depends on a few factors:

  1. Do not walk away from this pan for any reason!!!
  2. Gently "shake" the pan to keep the kernels moving/swirling around 
  3. Just like with the microwave, when the popping stops for more than 3 seconds, remove the pan from the heat 

When the popping stops, carefully pour the popcorn into a bowl, season and enjoy. Just be wary of any renegade popcorns that may pop at you as you pour. Personally, I use the lid of the pan to shield myself from any flying corns.

I can eat this entire bowl all by myself....but feel free to adjust the amount of uncooked kernels based on how much you will eat.

Here are some of my favorite seasoning ideas:

  • black truffle salt
  • parmesan cheese
  • cinnamon & sugar (2 parts cinnamon to 1 part sugar)
  • salt and pepper

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Black Truffle Sea Salt

Have I said how much I love anything with black truffles??? No? Well, I'm quickly becoming obsessed. It all started when I went on vacation to Seattle, WA earlier this summer. Truffles thrive in Washington state, and I found an awesome little shop by Pike's Place Market to try oils, salts and seasonings. A few months ago, my obsession really bloomed when I went to Graffiato and had a truffle pizza!

The problem with truffles is that they are super pricy and do not fit in the everyday budget. Have you gone to a fancy restaurant and ordered black truffle mac & cheese? I have and let me tell you it's not cheap! (but totally worth it...please order it once in your life.)

So to add a little truffle flavor to my life, I bought black truffle sea salt. Let me tell you, a little of this stuff goes a long way! The guy at the store suggested sprinkling it on steamed veggies, mashed potatoes, or even adding it to little mayo for a nice dip. What do I like to do with it? Sprinkle it on popcorn! Popcorn is the perfect base for a salty seasoning and lets you really taste rich, truffle-goodness.

Don't like truffles? Try other gourmet seasonings! The trick is to buy these specialty flavors in small containers, and to only use them on special occasions. This little jar cost me $10, but I've had it for almost a year and really haven't used much. That is because the flavor is so robust and rich that I don't need a lot to make an impact.

So if you want to spice up your everyday recipes, why not head to the fancy spice shelf at Whole Foods or any other specialty store and pick up a small bottle of exotic seasoning? By keeping quantity low and flavor-impact high, you get a great return on your gourmet investment!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Caprese on a Stick

Looking for a simple, last minute appetizer for a Labor Day picnic or cookout? I love these little caprese salads on a stick.  They are super easy to assemble and look so pretty on the plate!

Simply grab a container of cherry tomatoes, mini pearl mozzarella, basil, and toothpicks. To assemble, I first put on the tomato, then the basil, then the mozzarella. This keeps the basil leaf from falling off!

Sprinkle with a little salt, pepper & olive oil and you're good to go!

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sauteed Mushrooms

Yeah, yeah, I know it's been a long time. Let's just say life is a bit crazy right now. But you know what's not crazy? A simple lunch of sauteed mushrooms and brown rice. Yum! I didn't really feel like cooking this morning, but since this dish takes all of 8-10 minutes to cook, its faster than fast food!

Since it's just me in my apartment, this recipe makes one serving. However, you can always make more. Just remember what Julia Child says....don't crowd the mushrooms!!! If you're making this for more than one person, I would go ahead and make two pans or two batches of mushrooms. That way your mushrooms have plenty of room to spread out and get delicious.

Sauteed Mushrooms
Serves 1
  • To start out, pour olive oil into a large skillet (1-2 turns of the pan or approximately 1-2 tablespoons). 
  • Throw in one large clove of minced (chopped) garlic, and turn on the heat to medium-high. 
  • Once you can start to smell the garlic (a minute or so) add 1/2 a container of mushrooms (sliced) to the pan. Don't know how to slice or clean mushrooms? I can help you there...Or if you're lazy like me today, you can buy them pre-sliced.
  • Sauté, gently moving the mushrooms around in the pan. After the first side of the mushrooms start to brown, go ahead and add a few sprigs of rosemary. 
  • Brown the mushrooms until they look like this:

  • Where's the salt and paper you say??? Hold your horses! Salt pulls out the moisture in the mushrooms. So if you want your mushrooms to brown (and not be a mushy, liquid mess) wait to season the mushrooms until after you have browned them.
  • Serve on top of brown rice, and you're set! I actually season my rice with a touch of salt and pepper, but the seasoning on the mushrooms should be enough as well.

Have a great labor day weekend!!

Monday, August 22, 2011

How to: Clean & Slice Mushroom

Picture by Liz Oxhorn 
I have not always been a fan of mushrooms...I think it's because we usually ate the canned white mushrooms growing up. Those things still gross me out on pizzas....But when I discovered that there's a world of fresh mushrooms, I became addicted! I particularly love baby bella mushrooms because they have the meaty texture of portobello mushrooms but are far easier to cook/clean!

So how do you clean mushrooms?  Well first, you can't rinse them in the sink.  If you've ever done this, you know that the mushrooms go soggy and fall apart, which is not appetizing! So instead take a damp cloth and gently rub the dirt off of the mushroom. You can then snap off the woody stem and toss those away.

Picture by Liz Oxhorn

What you are left with are beautiful, clean mushrooms.

Picture by Liz Oxhorn

You can easily stop at this point, stuff the mushrooms with a nice filling, and roast them. Or....

Picture by Liz Oxhorn

Slice them! Since there is no stem to make the mushroom unstable, you can easily place the mushroom cap on your cutting board and slice in any direction/thickness you like.

Picture by Liz Oxhorn

Now you're ready to add the mushrooms to a soup, sauce or casserole...or you can saute them in a little olive oil, garlic, & rosemary as an easy side dish.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Mexican Quinoa Salad

Before you skip this entry saying "Quinoa? What is that? That sounds weird....I'm not going to eat that." Let me tell about this awesome supergrain that I have become obsessed with. These little grains pack 4 times the amount of protein as rice (per serving) and have a great amount of fiber! Ok ok, who cares about the health benefits, right? Well, quinoa is great because it has a similar consistancy as short grain brown rice, cooks quickly, and absorbs the flavors of whatever you mix with it.  This flexibility makes it the perfect base for summer salads.

So when I started concocting this Mexican-inspired salad, I knew I wanted black beans, corn, tomatoes, cilantro, etc.  I was a little worried that all these individual components would add up and make the salad expensive. That's when I found that Trader Joe's makes a black bean & corn salsa! My love for this store continues to grow!

To bulk the salad up I added some steamed zucchini, but you can add anything you like! The last time I made this salad (no picture sadly) I also added steamed green beans and sliced avocado on top.  But feel free to add roasted chicken, an extra can of black beans, or whatever else you have in the house!

The greatest part about this salad is that it comes together in less than 15 minutes!

  1. Cook Quinoa.  The directions may vary on the box, but with the Trader Joe's brand, you mix 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water, bring to a boil, then simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the water is gone.
  2. Chop and Steam Veggies. Depending on what veggies you choose, simply slice them all to a consistent size. Then, I put them in a Ziplock Zip-n-Steam bag and follow the directions on the bag. 
  3. Mix. In a medium bowl, add the following:
    • One container of black bean salsa 
    • the juice of half a lime 
    • Cooked quinoa (1/2 cup dry quinoa to 1 cup water) 
    • steamed veggies
    • Add salt and pepper to taste
That's it! You can eat it hot or cold; as a side dish or a light lunch.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Vietnamese Cuisine in Toronto

Hello from beautiful Toronto, Canada!

I'm up here for my association's big annual meeting. That means lots of hotel food, stale coffee, and bad convention center vendors. So what do I do when I have an evening off? Grab some awesome local cuisine of course!

My hotel happens to be in the "old Chinatown" area, so around the corner is every type of Asian cuisine.  Yesterday I had some awesome Thai green curry (sorry, no pictures!) but tonight I had Vietnamese at Pho Orchid (124 Chestnut Street).

Now, I hate to say this, but I have not eaten a lot of Vietnamese food in my life.  From what I've tried, I know how light and refreshing the food can be. After receiving a glass of water with orange slices, I ordered the grilled beef & spring roll "bun" vermicelli bowl. Oh my, this was the perfect meal after all of the heavy food I have been eating. A warm, crunchy spring roll was served along side thinly sliced meat (that almost melted in my mouth), and placed atop a bed of vermicelli rice noodles, crisp lettuce, peanuts, and a small bowl of fish sauce. I loved that the meat actually tasted grilled and not like it was stir-fried in oil.  For a bit of extra flavor, fresh chopped mint was sprinkled on top which added a nice bright flavor to the dish.

The atmosphere of the restaurant was great too. Don't let the picture dissuade you (I happened to take the picture in between surges of customers) this place was both clean and classy. Usually with Asian restaurants you have to choose between clean/expensive or cheap/dirty, but how much was my awesome dinner with tax & tip? Ten dollars! Now granted, that's Canadian dollars, but the exchange rate isn't that big of a difference.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How to Roast Asparagus

I seriously LOVE asparagus! I know I say that with a lot of foods, but asparagus is one of those veggies I would eat pretty much every day if I could. One of my favorite ways to eat them is roasted with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. For those of you who say you don't like asparagus, it is probably because of 1 of 2 reasons: 1) It was overcooked and mushy or 2) it wasn't prepped properly and had chewy, woody ends.

Well it is time to forget the asparagus of the past and to learn to make it properly! To start out, cover a baking sheet with a little aluminum foil (makes clean-up super easy) and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Pick up a few pieces of asparagus and grip the stalks at either end. 

Bend the asparagus gently in the middle. The asparagus will naturally break where the woody part ends and the delicious stalk begins. Yes, this may mean you have some really short stalks (especially in the early and late parts of the season), but you don't want to eat that chewy part anyway, right?

Once you've separated all of the woody ends from the delicious end pieces, arrange the stalks on the baking sheet, drizzle with 1-1.5 tablespoons of olive oil (just eyeball it), and sprinkle salt/pepper on top. Toss gently with your hands to cover all of the asparagus with the seasoning and pop them into the oven.

The time it takes for the asparagus to roast is anywhere from 8-15 minutes depending on how crunchy you like your veggies. I like mine with a little give and a little crunch, so I roast mine for approximately 10 minutes. Ok, you know I'm not one for a timer, so lets be honest. I just fiddle with the asparagus at about the 8 minute mark, and if it bends slightly, I pretty much know it's finished.  Or you can always eat one to make sure it tastes good...or maybe just two...

See? Wasn't that simple?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Awesome Trader Joe's Products

So to start out, I'm not affiliated with Trader Joe's in any way....but with that said, wow I just found some awesome products in the store recently! I almost freaked out when I saw the smoked sea salt. I actually first heard of smoked sea salt a few month ago when I was in Seattle. They smoke the salt like you would meat, which gives it a nice...ahem, well, smokey flavor.  It's not like using liquid smoke (because that is actually a chemical), so if you're like me and don't have a backyard to grill on, you can shake on a little of this smoked salt on your food to get a nice flame-broiled flavor any time of year!

The second awesome product is Trader Joe's Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar.  I love making my own vinaigrettes for my salads. I mean, why buy a bottled salad dressing when it takes 45 seconds to mix up yourself? Anyway, this vinegar has a nice citrus flavor with the zing of a vinegar. I think I'll be able to come up with a few awesome new recipes with this tart and and vinegar!

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I think I may have just found my new favorite restaurant in Graffiato! This is Mike Isabella's (from Top Chef) new restaurant in DC, and I have been chomping at the bit to try it since it opened last month!  I just wish I had brought a better camera...oh well, you will have to join me in experiencing this awesome restaurant from my blackberry.

When you first walk in, the doorway is a bit crowded; however, my dining companion and I were quickly escorted upstairs to the main dining area. The tables are close together, but don't feel so close that you are invading anyone's private conversations. I love that you can see the kitchen from your table. You would think that it would make the dining area noisy, but really you could not even hear the kitchen!

After you order, you are brought these awesome spiced pistachios. I don't know what the mix is, but it's spicy, sweet, and salty all at the same time! I couldn't stop munching on these babies...that is, until my first course came.

Graffiato's menu is Italian small plates, so they suggest you order 2-3 plates per person.  The pizzas are bigger, so they amount to more like 2 plates total.

For our first course, we started with the best caesar salad I have ever had. What is so awesome about a caesar salad? Well, they used a lemon dressing instead of a heavy creamy dressing. Also, there were these amazing cream cheese croutons on top, which just made the dish. They were chunks of cream cheese that were lightly breaded, then fried just enough to be crispy on the outside, and cool and creamy in the middle.

The next course was the sweet corn agnolotti. These pillows of creamy corn goodness were sprinkled with chanterelle mushrooms and pine nuts, and finished with a light cream sauce.  After I tried my first bite, I wished that I had an entire bowl full of this awesome pasta....until the next course.

Our next course was the countryman pizza, which is toped with fontina cheese, a duck egg, and....wait for truffles! I don't know if you know this by now, but I ADORE truffles in any form. My only complaint is that this pizza is not the prettiest to look at.  A sprinkling of parsley would have helped the visual presentation. However, what's not to love about a pizza with black truffles?!

Next was my favorite course...and not something I have ever ordered before so I was doubly pleased. I saw bone marrow on the menu and knew I needed to try it! The presentation was beautiful with a long bone slit in half and stuffed with the marrow, pistachios, cured lemon, bread crumbs, and bacon.  I was afraid that the texture would be squishy, but the marrow was creamy and rich while the nuts added texture and the lemon a great brightness in flavor.

Finally, we of course had to have dessert!  They have so many great options, but my dining companion and I were craving chocolate, so we had the chocolate tart with sea salt gelato. Now, the tart on its own was nothing really to be excited about. However, when you eat it with the sea salt gelato...oh my goodness the dish just goes to another level! Of course, I have a think for salty and sweet things, but who would have thought that sea salt gelato would be amazing?

Now, being a new restaurant, I went in weary that the service would be terrible. However, Mike's got this place running perfectly! My water glass was always full, cleaned plates were quickly cleared away, and the food came out perfectly timed. Actually, at one point Mike actually came out and I almost had a heart attack. Sadly, I'm not a sneaky picture taker, so I didn't get a shot. However, this star-struck blogger did enjoy seeing one of her favorite Top Chef stars!

All in all I spent around $40 (including tax & tip), but I didn't leave feeling like I wasted any money. With the excellent quality of not only the food, but also the service, I feel satisfied with the amount that I spent. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm going to be saving some money for the next few meals eating at home, but as an impact on my overall budget, I'd have to say Graffiato was well worth it and I cannot wait to go back!