Sunday, February 27, 2011

Spinach Artichoke Dip

Another easy appetizer that I made for my friend's surprise party was Spinach Artichoke Dip.  Now, this is the first time I've ever made this dip myself, and it came out really nicely!  It is also a bit "lightened up" as I'm on WeightWatchers (c), but you can always exchange the ingredients depending on your taste preference.

To help with time, I mixed up the dip the night before, put it in a baking dish, sprinkled cheese on top, and covered with aluminum foil.  I wrote on the foil the temperature and amount of time baking so that I could easily remember without my recipe.  I served mine with warm baguette and crackers, but you can also eat with veggies or pita.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
1 10 oz box of spinach, thawed and excess liquid squeezed out
1 bag frozen artichokes (found at Trader Joe's, or one can drained)
1 small shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 C light sour cream
1/2 C Greek yogurt (my fav is Fage)
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese
salt & pepper to taste
1/2 C part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded


  • Mix all of the ingredients (except the mozzarella) in a bowl.  Check the seasoning.  
  • Spread mixture into baking dish and cover in mozzarella cheese.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Romanoff Sauce

I cannot say how much I LOVE this recipe.  It is super easy to make, and I need to thank Gina from Gina's Skinny Recipes for this dip.  I usually have the two ingredients in my house, so I can make it whenever I want. As berry season begins, I will be making this more and more often!

For my friend's surprise birthday party, I simply mixed up the dip the night before (right in the sour cream container), then put it in a nice bowl the night of the party.  I used dark brown sugar, which is why it turns out more brown. However, if you use light brown sugar, it is much lighter in color.  Enjoy!

Romanoff Sauce
4 oz light (or regular) sour cream
2 T brown sugar

Mix ingredients together and enjoy!  Feel free to adjust the proportion of ingredients for an entire container of sour cream or to your level of sweetness tastes.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Preparation is Key

I have become the event planner of my friends' lives.  Not that I mind really, as I am a meeting planner in the "real world".  However, most people may not know that the two are VERY different.  I never would have thought of myself as good at throwing parties, but I have found that they only way to survive 25 people coming over your house is preparation.

This weekend I held a surprise birthday party for one of my very dear friends on a Friday night.  Of course I nominated myself to fix some appetizers and a dessert, not expecting myself to catch a cold the day before the party, or considering that I had to work all day right before the party.  For Saturday events it is very easy to cook before the party; however on a Friday you have work all day, last minute cleaning of your apartment AND cooking!  So I knew the only way I could truly have the energy to facilitate a party on a Friday night was to prepare most of the food the night before.

Of course, I scoured the internet in search of aps that I could prepare the day before.  I usually take a few ideas and then mix it up to make my own dishes.  What I finally decided on was a fruit tray with Romanoff Sauce, spinach and artichoke dip, Italian turkey meatballs, and Paula Dean's Pumpkin Ooey-Gooey Butter Bars. [recipes for the first three to come!]  I loved all of these recipes because I could mix them up and have them ready for reheating the next day.  For example, I sauteed the meatballs, put them in a Tupperware container with a paper towel to sop up the grease, and refrigerated overnight.  The next day I just had to put them in a crock pot for reheating and I was good to go!  The same was true for the dip.  I mixed up the ingredients, covered with aluminum foil, and wrote on the foil the time and temp for cooking.  This made the prep before the party very fast and easy; which was nice since I needed a quick nap after work to fend off my head cold.

Thus, anyone can throw a weeknight party!...Even with a cold.  Be on the look out because I'll put some of my recipes up in the next few days.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Gourmet Weekend with My Mom

I cannot believe it has been over a week since I last posted!  I truly apologize to anyone who reads my blog consistently...if you are out there. But I have a good reason! My mom, who is the one who started me on my foodie quest, was in town for a significant birthday and it was our task and challenge to eat our way around the District.

I think the best, most Gourmet experience of the weekend was afternoon tea at the Willard.  Please note that this is NOT on my usual "graduate" budget.  A normal afternoon tea at the Willard is $40, but since this was Valentine's Day weekend, it was a bit more for a special tea.  However, it is well worth the price.

When we arrived, we were greeted with red roses and shown to our table. The tea is held in Peacock Alley, which is basically a hallway between the F & G street entrances of the hotel.  The walkway is named for the ladies who would sit in this hall to "see and be seen".  Let me tell you that this location has some of the best people watching in the city...We actually witnessed a wedding party taking their pictures with 13 groomsmen! Wow, that's a wedding.

I digress... While sitting there, sipping our tea, harp music played classic love songs (because of Valentine's day) and my mom and I took turns guessing the songs.

You are allowed one selection of loose leaf tea from a list of about 10 different teas.  I first tried the Willard Blend and did not like the mint in it, so I sent it back for my usual English Breakfast tea.  My mom had the Wild Blackberry tea, which was so good that I was only allowed one tasting before she drank it all up!

You also receive a carrousel with tea sandwiches, scones, jams, and desserts.  After we ate our first plate of sandwiches, we were not sure if we could ask for more.  However, soon our waitress came by our table with a plate of sandwiches and hot water to refresh our tea, asking if we would like more!  My mom and I simply indulged ourselves for 2 hours, nibbling on the great food, people watching, and having great conversations.

Overall, it is an experience I will always remember.  Yes, this is a bit pricey; however, if you are looking for a great traditional afternoon tea to enjoy with someone special, I would highly suggest the Willard's afternoon tea.

For further information on days and times for Afternoon Tea, please see the Willard's website.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Chicken and Dumplings

Being from the South I LOVE chicken and dumplings.  This recipe is derived from a mixture of Paula Dean and Sunny Anderson's recipes.  Of course I put my own tweaks in the mix, but any good chicken and dumplings recipe is the same.  If you haven't pre-made some homemade chicken stock, you will need to boil a chicken (or just 4 chicken breasts/thighs) for 40 minutes, shred the chicken, and reserve the broth.  Now, Paula Dean keeps her veggies from her stock in the pot, but I like fresh, slightly al dente veggies in my soup, so I started from scratch after making the stock from my last post. Also, I incorporated some thyme in my dumplings to echo the thyme I used when making the stock.  Usually dumplings do not have herbs, so you may leave this out if you wish.

Chicken and Dumplings
Soup Ingredients
1 T butter
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 T all-purpose flour
2/3 meat from 1 poached chicken, hand-shredded
5 cups (~1 box) chicken stock

Dumplings Ingredients
1 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp salt (eye ball it)
a couple sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
ice water

  • Melt the butter in a large saucepan.  Saute the onions and celery until slightly softened (3-4 minutes). 
  • Stir in flour and allow to cook for one more minute (this will help thicken the soup later and cooking removes the pasty taste of the flour).
  • Add the stock and bring to a simmer on medium heat.
  • While the broth is boiling, make the dumplings.  Mix the flour, salt, and herbs in a bowl (eyeballing is fine). Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients and add a few spoonfuls of ice water.  Begin to work this into a ball in the middle of the flour. 

  • Keep slowly adding water until all the flour is incorporated.  Below is my attempt to show you what the dough looks like about halfway through.
  • After all the flour is incorporated into the ball, it should hold together by itself but not be sticky.  Put some flour on a flat surface and begin to roll the dough to about 1/8 of an inch.  I used a large glass cup, so don't worry if you do not have a rolling pin! 
  • Cut the dough into long 1" strips, then divide the strips to whatever size you like.  Traditionally, dumplings are long and narrow, but I found its easier to eat the smaller dumplings.
  • Once your broth is simmering, add the chicken, then carefully place dumplings one-by-one into the broth.  Putting the dumplings in individually makes sure that the dumplings do not stick together.  After you put in the dumplings DO NOT STIR! Resist the urge! Stirring can also make the dumplings stick together.  The dumplings should be cooked in 3-4 minutes, or until they float and are no longer doughy.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Chicken Stock 101

Making your own stock is very simple and takes only a few ingredients that you should keep as "staple" items in your pantry anyway.  This week I wanted to try my hand at making my own stock since I make so much soup.  What is great about this recipe is you can make it in a crock pot on high for 4 hours, or on low for 6 and you can leave the house instead of sitting around like I did! I made this on the stove, so all of the times are based on the stove.

Chicken Stock

1.)  Chop up some veggies that are in your fridge.  I had an onion, celery, the tops of a leek, carrots, garlic, and a bundle of thyme. You can really use this as a chance to empty your fridge of any herbs or veggies you have on hand.  I would only suggest that the onion and celery are a must, and not to worry about measurements.  Just throw in what you have!

2.)  Put a small whole chicken (mine's 4 lbs) or a large chicken (cut into pieces) into a large pot with the veggies; season slightly with a pinch of salt & pepper.  Cover all the ingredients with water, put a lid on the pot, and bring to a boil.

3.)  Once it is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until the juices run clear.  Some 'scum' may appear on the water at the beginning of boiling.  You can just remove that with a spoon.

4.)  Remove the chicken and set aside.  Strain veggies from the broth and discard.  You are left with a beautiful, rich, homemade chicken stock that will last you for several batches of soup.  It can store in the refrigerator for up to 4 days, or you can freeze the liquid in freezer bags for up to 3 months.  If you want to remove the fat, let the liquid cool completely and scoop off the fat that rises to the top.

You can use the leftover chicken to make soups, put into wraps, or just eat as is! You can even make my chicken and dumplings....which I will reveal to you in my next post!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy Hour, More Than Just Cheap Drinks

What is the first thing you think of when someone says Happy Hour?.....Beer? Martini? Wine? Well, happy hour can also be a great time to get cheap eats as well.  I know some of you may be saying "I do not eat that early".  However, several restaurants are now featuring happy hours as late as 8 or 9 to encourage people to come for dinner as well.

For example, Chef Geoff's Restaurant has all night happy hours on Mondays and Tuesdays, featuring $6 gourmet burgers and $9 pizzas.  The portions are rather large so you could definitely take half home or split with a friend.  Wasabi features a 5 plate and drink deal for $20.  McCormick & Schmick's has one of the cheapest happy hours in town with $1.95 hummus or queso, $2.95 burger, or $3.95 shrimp scampi.

Other high end restaurants may serve smaller entree portions or cheaper appetizers at the bar during happy hour. The key to saving a buck while eating at a gourmet happy hour is to do your research.  Always check online first to see if they have a happy hour menu.  If not, try another place. There are so many restaurants to choose from in DC that you are sure to find a place with a great happy hour menu.

I would love to hear your favorite places to eat for happy hour in DC!