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Turkey Extravaganza

December 2, 2009 Leave a comment

Thanksgiving has always been my absolute favorite holiday. This holiday kicks off the start of the entire holiday season and when done right, the sets the stage and the standard for the next wonderful couple of months.

This Thanksgiving, my family hosted by preparing the star of the show, the turkey, in addition to some essential sides such as mashed potatoes and cranberry relish.

Last year, I had the notion to prepare a free-range organic turkey brined in brown sugar, spices, and the like. No one was a fan but me. The turkey was lean, tender and believe it or not, it actually tasted like turkey! Alas, everyone demanded the staple Butterball turkey this year. I was very disappointed but we did what our family asked: brought back the Butterball.

This turkey day, it was my husband’s sole responsibility to cook the turkey. After days of thawing the frozen bird, my husband seasoned the outside layer of skin with butter, thyme, rosemary, and sage. He also rubbed this concoction under the skin by the breast just to be extra thorough. Then he baked the 22-pound sucker for four and a half hours, letting it rest for about an hour before serving it up with my killer cranberry relish and somewhat dry buttermilk mashed potatoes (very disappointing). Family added to the feast pot-luck style with hearty harvest bread stuffing with pecans and cranberries, to-die-for sweet and tasty bread pudding, candied yams topped with marshmallow, Cheasapeake Bay spiral glazed ham, homemade Philly style cheesecake, and topped it all off with the piece de resistance, a chunky, creamy gravy made by my sister-in-law with the yummy, fatty drippings from our Butterball turkey. YUMMMMM!

So let’s go back to my side dishes. The killer cranberry relish. This was made with fresh cranberries, sugar, water but I added fresh fruit (apple, pear, orange) and a variety of dried fruits as well. It turned out to be sweet, somewhat tart, but not too tart, and full of rich fruity texture. The natural red color looked fabulous in a white serving bowl intermingled with the rest of the spread.

The disappointing mashed potatoes… Well, my only excuse is that they were mashed up too soon. I prepared this dish probably an hour prior to dinner and left them on the range at low heat. I think the moisture just evaporated from the dish and left it dry and wanting. Lesson learned: make the mash just before serving. I made this same dish last year and it was very moist and full of flavor. I used Yukon gold potatoes, boiling them til they fell apart when separated with a knife. Then I mashed with a masher; following up with a ricer to finely mash it to the consistency I liked. I kept the mash on the range at low-med, adding room temp buttermilk and cooled melted butter. As we had lots of it for leftovers, I have been constantly reminded about the poor quality of my mashed potatoes for days afterwards. Ek!

And yet the festivities did not end on Turkey Day because I continued to cook up a storm by roasting prime rib the following day. I got a particularly juicy cut on sale at Safeway for half the usual price. Quite a bargain for a 9 pound rib roast! When it came time to cook, my husband took over with the preparation by seasoning this with olive oil, sage, rosemary and thyme, all finely mixed in the food processor. I came in at this point to make sure it cooked ok. The rib roast was baked for a little under 2 hours at 500 degrees and then I let it rest in the cooling oven for an hour before the whole family dug in for dinner. Although prepared in such a high-temp, quick roasting style (mostly due to lack of time), the rib roast actually came out pretty good. I think most folks tend to slow cook a rib roast so it’s evenly cooked and tender. This fast and lazy approach is not part of my M.O. however my husband and I received rave reviews that this was the best rib roast we’ve made so far. The ends were well done, for those who preferred it that way. The middle was medium rare and just perfect for those who preferred it like that. It was a win-win situation.

And on the final day of our eating marathon, we had plans to eat with friends who spent half a day (12 hours) preparing a turducken (chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed in a turkey) dinner. It was quite an ordeal! The turducken was prepared with (the discoverer of turducken) Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Cajun recipe. (Quick Side Note: Chef P founded the K Paul Restaurant in New Orleans which I have personally been to and I have to admit, it was definitely quite delicious and worth the wait. I say worth the wait because I swear every time I passed by that restaurant, there was a line outside the door.) At any rate, the turducken was quite yummy although I think I prefer all three fowl prepared and served separately. In my opinion, the best part of a duck and chicken is the crispy, flavorful skin and you just kind of lose all that with the two birds stuffed inside the turkey the way they are. The skin and meat all melded into one moist, spicy Cajun style dish. But I felt the loss of crispiness and the unique duck-like or chicken-like flavor was a huge one. Not that I’m disappointed in the dish at all. Far from it. It was still pretty good don’t get me wrong but I’m not as big a fan as I thought I’d be… Who’d have figure?! At any rate, the sides were outstanding! The mac and cheese was creamy, cheesy and easy to pile on. The side salad with roasted cashews, sliced pears and fresh spinach was nice and light, a perfect accompaniment for the turducken. The natural and fresh minced cranberry relish topped with sweet mandarin oranges was gorgeous and tasted like it looked. And the rest was just a blur at this point because I was stuffed to the gills after days of eating all of my favorite holiday foods done up in all the creative ways folks can think of.

Can you tell that I just love this holiday?! And I really can’t wait until the next eating frenzy, come Christmas! Bring it on!

Dinner at Hell’s Kitchen in Minneapolis, MN

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

With no association to the Hell’s Kitchen show on television, this red and black hell-themed restaurant welcomes guests with a mix of ghoul and goth; knives and assorted cutlery lead you down the stairs (appropriately) into hell, or the restaurant’s interpretation of it. Chandeliers with hanging spoons and forks, vased branches lined with black crows, black sheer curtains, black leather wingback chairs, thought provoking dark images along the walls were just some of the things that went into building up the hellish theme. The food is far from hellish however. For a pre-dinner teaser, the group I went to dinner with sampled Hell’s Kitchen’s homemade peanut butter and marmalades. When it came time to order dinner, a friend and I split the baked penne dish and the huevos rancheros. The baked penne dish comes with your choice of vegetable or meats. We chose the shrimp. Tasty and cheesy. Good for a cool rainy evening’s meal. Also good all the time is breakfast foods which is served all day at Hell’s Kitchen! Wonderful for breakfast lovers such as myself. This dish of eggs, beans, cheese, tomato sauce, and potato hash is beautifully layered and served on top of a flaky and crunchy tortilla shell. This is their signature breakfast dish and it is worth ordering! Unfortunately, I’m sad to report that there was no more room in me for dessert so can’t speak to their desserts.

Jimmy John’s Deli in Minneapolis, MN

October 21, 2009 Leave a comment

So today I arrived in downtown Minneapolis, MN for a work-related meeting. Hungry, I explore the neighborhood around the Hilton Minneapolis Hotel. It’s about lunch time and I spy a Melting Pot Restaurant, a Hell’s Kitchen, and Jimmy John’s a deli. I’m craving a sandwich, I think.

So after sitting down and wolfing down half my sandwich, I think: OMG, the seven grain bread that this deli uses for their sandwiches is like nothing I’ve had before at a deli. About 1 inch thick and full of healthy goodness, it definitely makes my turkey sandwich (turkey, sprouts, tomato, cheese, mayo, and peppers) POP! Already quite satisfied with just the half sandwich, I’m saving the other half to snack on later. The bread looks like it will not get as soggy from the mayo after hours of sitting. We shall see.

I can’t wait to see what else is around. I’ve heard Brit’s Pub is a little piece of London. There are also a number of steakhouses down the street so I’ll need to check out the menu for anything that stands out as a gotta-have meal.

Anniversary Celebration at the Four Seasons Hotel

October 1, 2009 Leave a comment

Happy 2nd Anniversary to Us!

For our 2 year anniversary, we celebrated at the Four Seasons Hotel Bourbon Steak Restaurant one of the fancier digs in Georgetown (DC) so it is with my nose tipped in the air as I write this restaurant review. Champagne courtesy of the restaurant kicked off our anniversary dinner;  a complimentary sampling of snazzy fries and specialty dips soon followed. The must have appetizer of tuna tartare served tableside recommended by the waiter was a let-down. The presentation was excellent but the dish was not outstanding or memorable; I really liked the added touch of the quail egg cracked by the server on top of the neat stack of tuna, for purposes of tenderizing the meat, I assume. YUM! Despite the disappointing first course, our main courses made up for the fries and the tuna and then some. My husband dined on tender duck breast accompanied with foie gras and I enjoyed a perfectly prepared 10 oz medium rare filet mignon, served with truffle mac and cheese and golden mashed potatoes, truly masterful and gourmet versions of the classic soul/comfort foods. (I must admit that this restaurant has the best filet I’ve ever had, better than Ruth Chris, Charlie Palmer, among other steakhouses in the area.) We were quite pleased with our selections and are already coming up with new celebrations as excuses to go back for some more deliciousness. We topped off our palates with a shared dessert of tiramisu (again unique presentation, nothing special).

And on my last note, I have to include that we celebrated here last year before the Four Seasons renovated and installed a new restaurant on the main level.  It used to be that for dinner, the restaurant on the lower level had more of that private, intimate, somewhat romantic ambiance. Now the lower level is only open for breakfast and lunch, or so I’ve been told. The ambiance of the new restaurant is more contemporary, lounge-like and less intimate. Just a note….

Chicago Eats

July 20, 2009 Leave a comment

This summer, I traveled to Chicago for work and managed to try some local restaurants during my free time. My favorite find was Pastoral Deli Restaurant (found about a block or two away from the Magnificient Mile) which served a number of delicious rustic sandwiches, including duck, pate, etc. Amazingly, this place also sells artisan cheeses, wines, and international foods. If you need to eat and go and weather permitting, you can eat in their outdoor seating area but be warned that spacing is tight and just forget-about-it if you’ve got a stroller. Also, you may not even get a seat during key busy times such as lunch and dinner. It’s also around these times, that you’ll get the most number of passers-by, which is a note for those who mind the smokers walking by and for those who want to know the best times to people watch.

Being a huge fan of Intelligentsia Coffee which is roasted in Chicago, I absolutely had to visit an Intelligentsia Cafe. I wanted to tour the office and roasting location but alas, I actually had to work on the one day they allowed tours (Mondays, in case you are interested yourself). The Cafe I found (located near the Millenium Plaza) served the best latte I had ever had, hands down. The flavor was so intense, more so than the one I get at any other cafe I’ve been to and definitely more so than the flavor I get at home making my own lattes. Taking a nice stroll and sitting at a bench in the Millenium Plaza, I savored my latte down to the last drop. Life is beautiful when you’ve got a delicious cup of caffe latte in your mug!

Tommy Thai * Springfield, VA

November 22, 2008 Leave a comment

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Tonight, my husband and I tried out Tommy Thai Restaurant for the second time since it had its soft opening two weeks ago.

From the menu, we ordered the sticky rice, white rice, papaya salad and fried flounder with a Thai basil sauce. Unlike most other Thai restaurants, Tommy Thai serves their sticky rice black, an interesting twist to the usual white glutinous rice that’s served with the customary sticky rice and mango dessert. The papaya salad is not the authentic, homemade fishy one that I’m used to. This one was light, spicy and sweet. Very good and more suited to a Thai fusion-style restaurant like this one. The fried flounder was more than enough for two people; we ate the whole thing, barely leaving behind the head and bones. The flounder can be ordered filet style for those who prefer not to see the whole fish, head and all.

For dessert, we enjoyed the custard which is similar to leche flan but has a thicker consistency; it was pure deliciousness! There was a taste of coconut milk and a hint of taro in the filling. This dessert would have been perfection if it had the creme brulee style topping. But for sure, the custard dessert will make a repeat customer of me!

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Quantum of Solace and Locolat

November 18, 2008 Leave a comment

I’m amazed at who saw the new James Bond movie, Quantum of Solace, as soon as it came out. It’s hard to believe I myself went to see this movie last week because the last movie I saw was Ironman (June 2008) for my cousin-in-law’s birthday. For the last couple of months since, I’ve been an avid Redbox renter, watching flicks as soon as they come out on DVD. However, maybe I was compelled to watch this movie based on the good reviews and the fact that my husband wanted to watch an action flick to take his mind off his work for a couple of hours.

Upon returning to work on Monday, I was pleasantly surprised that two of my female co-workers had also viewed the movie as soon as it was released and had very strong feedback on the plot, the action and the characters. We all liked the movie but thought it could have been improved in various ways, by incorporating more cutting-edge technology used by Bond, deeper portrayal of Bond’s inner turmoil, more sophisticated (as opposed to brutal) fighting scenes, more car chases with more expensive cars, and a villain that we love to hate (this one was alittle too likable for our taste). All of this conversation going on while we’re eating delicious desserts and sipping European coffee at Locolat, a gourmet dessert cafe in the Adam’s Morgan/Dupont area. Locolat also serves light sandwiches and quiches in case folks are looking for a more substantive meal.

Opened for months now, Locolat is owned by a young couple with the most adorable baby girl. The husband makes all the decadent desserts, ranging from mousses, truffles, cakes, among various other desserts. His wife and the baby usually interfaces with the customers up front by the cash register. They all make a charming team, very warm and inviting. At least I always feel welcomed everytime I drop by the shop.

In the past few months, I’ve tried the decaf caffe latte and the tropical iced tea. The latte is always full of flavor and pairs perfectly with a sweet pastry or dessert, which for me is always something chocolate-y, such as a cholocate chip muffin or a chocolate mousse cake. The last time I stopped by, I sampled the chocolate chip waffle which was not at all like any waffle I’ve ever tried. This one was alittle dry with a thicker consistency. Very different, indeed. I can’t say that I liked it better than the usual buttermilk waffles that I’m used to as this was the first time I’ve tried the liege-style waffle. I think I’ll stick to the other Locolat desserts in the future though.