Maryland Brownies

MarylandBrowniesI'm writing this post while I'm sitting on the runway, waiting for a flight route to open to Chicago. And what else do you do when you're stuck in a plane for an hour without beer, wine or whiskey? Write about brownies of course!

There's a brownie recipe Amy and I make a lot. It's super easy and only requires one bowl. It's called "Best Cocoa Brownies". And. It. Is. THE. BEST.

I never imagined I could improve on this recipe. Then one day we were at the Beer, Bacon and Barbecue festival in Timonium and we came across this homemade chocolate shop called Parfections.  They had this decadent chocolate bark with Old Bay and peanuts. They called it Oriole Bark. Why, you may ask, would anyone in their right mind put Old Bay in chocolate? Well first, because we're in Maryland. We put Old Bay on everything. Second…well it's Maryland. Stop asking stupid questions.

It hit me one night, while eating and entire batch of brownies and then moving on to some Oriole Bark…I COULD MAKE ORIOLE BROWNIES!!

Alcohol might have been involved. Lots of it.

I was on a mission at that point. I think I texted everyone I know about this drunken brilliant idea! So this is probably not news for most of you that are actually reading this.

I tried various measurements of Old Bay: 1 teaspoon, not enough, 2 teaspoons, getting there, 3 teaspoons…perfect!

Then it came down to peanuts. How to introduce them into the batter and when. I tried mixing them into the batter in the last step, but I didn't really get the essence of the nuts (get your mind out of the gutter people, I know what you're thinking). So in the end, I just chopped them up and tossed them on top of the batter in the pan right before baking. And there you have it…perfection.

Maryland Brownies


10 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cold large eggs

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

2 to 3 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning

1/2 cup chopped un-roasted peanuts


Position rack on the second position from the bottom of your oven. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line the sides of a 8 x 8 pan with foil and apply a light coat of nonstick spray.

IMG_1619Make a double boiler. Simmer about half an inch of water in a medium sauce pan and place an aluminum bowl over the top so that the water doesn't touch the bottom of the bowl. Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa and salt in the bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Once all the butter is melted, the mixture should be hot to the touch. Remove the bowl from the heat and let cool until it's still pretty warm but not too hot to touch.

Add vanilla and stir until blended. Then add one egg at a time and stir until blended as well. After you mix in the second egg, you should have a pretty smooth mixture. It should be shiny and thick. Add the flour and Old Bay and mix until you don't see anymore flour then mix another 20 or so strokes.

IMG_1626Spread the batter in the prepared pan evenly. Use a rubber spatula sprayed with non-stick spray to spread it around if you need to. Top with the chopped peanuts. If you want an extra strong Old Bay flavor, shake a little more over the top of the brownies, about a 1/4 teaspoon.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Check with a toothpick. The center should be slightly moist and not come out completely clean. When done, remove from the oven and lift the brownies out from the pan. Do you smell the roasted nuts and Old Bay! It's AMAZING right?! But WAIT! DON'T EAT THEM YET!

IMG_1627Once cooled, put the brownies in the refrigerator.  This is an important step, people. First, it mellows the flavor of the Old Bay and second, it will make the brownies super fudgy. Once cooled, cut the brownies into 16 squares and serve, or just eat as a single brownie.

Salmon with Lentils and Mustard Herb Butter, or What I Call, Butter Up Your Wife Salmon

Salmon is one of the easiest and most versatile fish to prepare. You can fry it, grill it or smoke it, and it's pretty hard to ruin it. Of course, there's always a danger of overcooking it, but even then, if you use the right technique it's going to come out pretty good.

20150311_211849038_iOSI've been making this salmon recipe from Epicurious about once a month for the last two years. It's "healthy," at least from my perspective since it's fairly low carb and high in protein, and it's been a go-to recipe of ours since we started eating healthier. For a while, I was just frying it on a pan over high heat like the recipe calls for, but then one night, when we were having some friends over, I bought some wood planks and discovered the magic of smoking the salmon on my gas grill.

Charred Wood PlankIt happened completely by accident that I figured out the right way to cook salmon on a wood plank. I did the precursory soaking of the plank for two hours. Then, after heating up the grill on max heat for a good 10 minutes, I put the planks on the grill and let them sit…for a while. Too long, at least at the time I thought it was too long. I was in chatting with our friends when I suddenly it occurred to me, "Shit, the planks!"

I ran outside to the grill and the sides were flamed up. I put out the flames, and flipped the plank over and slapped the salmon down. I reduce the heat to medium but keep the planks on the hot side of the grill. The plank was smoking like crazy but it never flamed up again since it had soaked for a long time.

Plank SalmonThe result was an intensely smoky flavored salmon with a perfect buttery texture. Ever since then, I let the planks catch fire and put them out before placing the salmon on them. After the first bite, Amy and I looked at each other with that Holy Shit Is This Not The Best Fish You've Ever Eaten look.

(legal disclaimer: This site is for entertainment purposes only. If you listen to me, you're an idiot. Do NOT let your wood planks catch on fire.)

Smoked Salmon with Lentils and Mustard Herb Butter (Modified from the Epicurious recipe previously mentioned)

For the Herb Butter (I make double for the next time I make the recipe because this is what takes the longest to do)

10 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds. It's important to NOT melt the butter. Only soften it to a point where it can be mixed)

2 tablespoons of chopped chives

2 tablespoons of chopped fresh tarragon

4 teaspoons of grainy mustard

4 teaspoons of fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

For the lentils:

1 cup French green lentils

4 cups water

1 leek, white and pale green parts only (the original recipe calls for 2, but I just think 2 is too much)

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice

For the salmon:

4 6oz to 8oz Salmon fillets

Salt and pepper to taste

1 large hickory or cherry plank (most grocery stores have them, but you can order them on Amazon in bulk for a lot cheaper)

Two hours before you start cooking, soak the wood planks. (If I could tell you the number of times I forget this step…)

You can make the mustard herb butter as far ahead as you want. (I sometimes quadruple this because I actually will use it as a replacement for butter in other recipes)

20150311_212928189_iOSStir the ingredients for the herb butter together in a bowl until thoroughly mixed. Spoon onto plastic wrap, then roll into a tube. Twist the ends until you have a nice log of compound butter. Place in the fridge until ready for use.

To cook the lentils. Bring the lentils, water, and 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt to boil in a medium saucepan.  Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, check the lentils. They should have some bite to them but not be chalky. If you cook them past this point, they'll get mushy. I don’t think I've ever cooked them past 22 minutes. This is not lentil soup we're making here after all. Once the lentils are cooked enough, reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and then drain the lentils.

20150311_221947591_iOSWhile the lentils are cooking, chop the leeks, rinse them in a colander, and cook in the butter on medium-low heat until tender. About 10 minutes. Keep the lentils warm while you cook the salmon.

Add lentils, reserved cooking liquid, and 3 tablespoons of the compound butter to a large fry pan (I use the cast iron skillet). Add the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Heat up the gas grill on high for 10 minutes. While you wait, relax and have a beer. If you have a charcoal grill, good luck my friend. Have a couple beers.

Once the grill is ready, place the SOAKED (can I stress this enough?) wood planks on the grill. Leave the grill on high. Check on the wood planks often. Once the planks start to smolder, flip them over and reduce the heat to medium. Season both sides of the salmon generously with salt and pepper (I'm talking a huge pinch per side of the fillets). Place the salmon on the wood plank(s) and cook 120 degrees in the middle (basically medium), about 10 minutes. (Please use an instant read thermometer because I frankly don’t keep track of the time.) Once done, remove from the planks with a spatula and cover with foil until ready to serve.

To serve, place a salmon fillet on a serving of the lentils and top with a slice of the mustard herb butter.


Cinnamon Banana Chocolate Chip Mini-Muffins

I'll preface this with the fact that I suck at baking. All of the things that make someone a good cook always prove to be the ruin of any aspiring baker. When I'm cooking a recipe and I'm missing something, I just improvise and use something else we have instead. But with baking, YOU CAN'T FUCKING DO THAT...and it drives me nuts. I hate working within boundaries -- I want to experiment, goddamn it! But baking is all chemistry, and you can't substitute white sugar for brown sugar and expect everything to come out the same. Science is a motherfucking bastard!

So with that, I believe I finally found a baking recipe that I can make and NOT fuck up. Hopefully this is the first of many to come that I'll write about here. 

There are a lot of reasons to like this recipe. It's extremely easy -- mind-boggling easy. And it's a great way to use over-ripe bananas; which with three kids, we almost always have. 

(Speaking of over-ripe bananas: peel them, throw them in a plastic freezer bag, and save them for when you want to make this recipe.)

But the thing I like the most about this recipe is that I can make a double batch of these and I have snacks for the boys' lunches for a couple weeks. Since these are mini muffins, they fit inside the boys' lunch boxes and I can include a couple or even three if I want to. A couple days after baking, I put them in a plastic container, freeze them, and they keep for a long time. Considering how much a box of granola/cereal bars cost at the grocery store (what's the latest cost of a box of 8 bars? $4? $5?), this recipe is a real money saver. Plus let's face it, our boys beg for them every night.

And with that, my Cinnamon Banana Mini-Muffins

Adapted from King Arthur Flour's recipe for Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins, because who the fuck has "cinnamon flav-r bites" on hand? What even ARE cinnamon flav-r bites? 

Makes about 96 mini muffins (I know that sounds like a lot but trust me, they'll go quickly).

1 cup butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
2 cups mashed banana (about 4 over-ripe bananas)
2 large eggs  
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup milk
3 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon (heaping)
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
2 cups Whole Wheat Flour (I prefer to use White Whole Wheat Flour if I can find it)
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips


(Note, you may have noticed the bottle of Lagavulin in this picture and yes, drinking and baking go well together. I feel the cinnamon in this recipe pairs quite well with the flavors of the Lagavulin.)

Preheat oven to 350. Place racks in top third and bottom third of your oven.

Grease a non-stick mini muffin pan with butter or non-stick spray. (Because paper muffin cups are a pain in the ass. I promise they will pop right out when they're done baking.)

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients: baking powder, baking soda salt, cinnamon, all purpose flour and whole wheat flour.

In a stand mixer using the paddle attachment, mix butter and sugar until completely blended, smooth and white. Start at a low speed and then increase to medium speed. It should look like this.


Add the mashed banana to the mixer and mix until blended. But don't beat it to death. Some large banana chunks are good. 

Add the eggs one at a time, vanilla, and milk until blended. This takes roughly 30 seconds to a minute.


Reduce the speed of the mixer to it's lowest setting and mix in the dry ingredients. DON'T OVER MIX. Only mix until it's just blended and turn off the mixer. Add in the chocolate chips and mix for a few seconds until evenly distributed.


Using an ice cream scoop (4 mm is just the right size or roughly 3 tsp), place a heaping scoop in each cup of the prepared muffin pans.


Place the filled muffin pans in the top and bottom racks of the oven and cook for 6 minutes. At the end of 6 minutes, swap the rack and cook for another 6 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the tops are golden brown. 


Remove the pans from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Then remove the muffins from the pan and move to a cooling rack if you have one. 

Eat what you want, and then stack the rest in plastic containers to keep fresh. They keep fresh for a couple days and then you should freeze them. 

Jason and Julia

About a three weeks ago, Amy and I were sitting on the couch trying to figure out what we were going to make for dinner on Christmas Day and I was a little stumped. I didn't want to go through a huge ordeal with cooking Christmas dinner like last year with the porchetta we made. To keep things on the simpler side, boeuf bourguignon ended up being the dish of choice. I don’t know why I like this dish so much. But it’s probably because I like any dish where meat is seared in bacon fat.

Once we decided to make boeuf bourguignon, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A couple days went by and finally I gave in. I was going to do a practice run. 

I bought all the ingredients at the store: mushrooms, pearl onions, beef chuck, beef stock, and of course, red wine -- Pinot Noir to be specific (but any red wine really works). I had some time on my hands the Saturday before Christmas, and I spent an hour or so that afternoon making it, following Julia Child's recipe to the T. I even bought fresh pearl onions and skinned them which was a COMPLETE PAIN IN THE ASS! I threw the prepped stew in the oven at 325 like the recipe says, and sat back and waited (and by sat back I mean I took care of three kids).

About an hour in, I had to go pick up my car from the shop (I had dropped it off that morning before I started) so we ran out for about an hour to get it. When I got back, I checked the stew, and it was done already, despite the recipe saying it should take two and a half to three hours (it was only about two hours in). We served it with a nice pappardelle pasta as soon as it was done which I think is a good way to serve this stew, but mashed potatoes, polenta, or just about any starchy side will do.

My initial impression was that it was dry. But Amy insisted it was just fine. She even had some for lunch the next day. “How was it reheated?” I asked the next day. “It was even better!” she said.

We had a ton of leftovers, and I figured I’d give them to some friends I was meeting for lunch on Tuesday. Suffice it to say, it ended up being a whole ordeal because I left the leftovers in my freezer at work when I met them for lunch, and I then I found myself driving halfway across Montgomery County to drop the leftovers off. It was too long of a story to tell here, but when I got home, Amy said to me, “Honey, I didn’t have the heart to tell you. The beef WAS dry!”

“What??!! You mean I just drove across Montgomery County to give our friends dry stew?”

OK. So any normal person would’ve just made something else for Christmas, but I need to get things right Goddammit! Revisiting my approach in my head step by step, I made the following mistakes.

Mistake # 1 - Using precut beef chuck

Instead, buy a whole beef shoulder and cut the meat into two-inch cubes.


The precut beef chuck I used was cut in one-inch pieces (and sometimes smaller). Shoulder is the preferable cut for stew like this and I’ve even heard of people using beef short ribs. Some people like round, but whenever I use round it comes out exceptionally dry regardless of the temperature I cook it at. And with that…

Mistake # 2 - 325 degrees is too hot

It cooks the fat out of the meat way too quickly. In the recipes defense, it does say to regulate the heat so liquid simmers very slowly, and I basically didn’t do that because I just had too much going on. But 325 degrees in just about any oven, is too hot and is going to result in your having stew with dry meat. 300 or even lower is a better starting temperature. It’s better to start it out at a lower temperature (like 250) and have to turn it up than to cook it for 30 minutes at too high a temperature and then turn it down.

Mistake # 3 - Using fucking FRESH pearl onions

There’s a reason humans invented the freezer and frozen foods. So people like you and me don’t have to skin pearl onions.  For realz people. Buy frozen ones. They’re available in the freezer section (duh) and you won’t tell the difference.


Mistake # 4 - Serving it immediately

Make any meat stew the day before you serve it (if you can). Yes, the recipe says you can serve it immediately, but in the end, making any stew or chili the day before and letting it sit in the fridge overnight to absorb all that sexy, juicy goodness is going to improve it tremendously. Trust me.

The boeuf bourguignon we had on Christmas Day for dinner turned out amazing and was NOT dry. At All. My mother-in-law was down, and she couldn’t get enough of it. And in the end, I’m keeping what little damn leftovers we have for myself. (Sorry, friends.)


(And yes, if you're wondering, we did eat Christmas dinner off our coffee table.)

Oh and if you need Julia Child's recipe, it can be found here.



Yes, it's happening! I'm bringing this site back from the dead almost 3 years from the last time anyone posted. I thought I was done with DCFoodies and came very close to shutting it down completely, but there's just something about the holidays and cooking that really made me miss sharing my experiences in the kitchen with everyone. 

Rather than writing about restaurants, which Amy and I almost never go to anymore (at least not new ones anyway), this blog will be focused on cooking and baking. That's what I spend most of my free time doing and besides, we can all cook better food than we can get at most restaurants anyway. 

I will be putting ads back to the site soon and as usual all the proceeds from the ads will go to some local hunger or food-focused charity. If any of your are interested in contributing and helping generate money for those charities, I'm always open to having guest writers or other columnists. 

Cooking with Truffles: Valentine’s Vegetarian Menu

Washington-20120203-00746For any foodie on a mission to maximize his or her eating pleasure, Valentine’s Day presents a special challenge. The perennial question is, How do you hit a new high and top last year’s memory?

Truffles are often overlooked as the star attraction of a home-cooked meal because of their price tag. Back in the day, Brillat-Saverin described them as "the luxury of grands seigneurs and kept women" (also, perhaps, hinting at their aphrodisiac qualities). In all honesty, those qualities have yet to be scientifically confirmed, but I don't think anybody would deny the sensuousness of any truffle-specked dish…

The truth is, like many of you, I had never cooked with fresh truffles before. Truffle salt, yes. Truffle oil, yes. But not with fresh truffles. I decided to explore the possibilities and find a reasonably cost-effective way for me and my husband to indulge. I did a bit of research, and found out that this time of the year, we are primarily talking about winter black truffles of European origin (French or Italian). In the DC area, you can find them at Arrowine in Arlington (perhaps somewhere else as well), and online.

The cheapest source I found is Urbani truffles which also offers a wide variety of other truffle products (truffle paste, truffle oil, truffle butter, etc.) The smallest amount one can purchase is 1oz ($75), which happens to be enough to pull off a truffle dinner. I supplemented fresh truffles with white truffle oil, black truffle salt, and black truffle butter (which I made myself with the leftover truffle shavings). A nice local source of truffle salt is the Spice & Tea Exchange in Georgetown.

Given the fact that most Valentine's Day restaurant prix-fixe options run $60-90 per person, I felt like putting together the coveted truffle dinner was really no more extravagant than eating out (besides, my husband is vegetarian, which makes the choices rather limited). Another myth I wanted to debunk is that that cooking with truffles has to be complicated and time-consuming (stuffed pigeon breast with chanterelles and truffles, homemade puff pastry with braised sweetbreads and truffles all sound fantastic, but there are other delicious, easy and fast options). You don’t really want to spend the entire Valentine’s night in front of the stove, do you?

Washington-20120203-00760The theme I chose is "casual minimalist with a twist." No 10 or 20-step recipes, very few ingredients per dish, and simple preparation to showcase the truffles and keep the flavors subtle.

My truffles arrived via Fedex about 24 hours after I placed the order online. They arrived in a cooler, in kind of a matryoshka doll setup: the truffles are in a napkin inside a plastic sleeve inside a paper sack inside a styrofoam cooler inside a cardboard box. As for my truffle tools, I did buy a mandoline, but after reading rather graphic reviews I was too terrified to use it without a No-Slice rubber body suit. Luckily, I found a small sharp paring knife (I have small hands!) to be the perfect tool for dealing with the truffles (both for cutting and shaving).

Finally, onto the Menu:

Truffle salad with frisee, haricots verts, tarragon, endives, fennel (seasoned with truffle sea salt, Meyer lemon juice, and white truffle oil). Blanch haricots verts for no more than 2 minutes.

Truffle sandwiches on sourdough (I love using the 69 cent sourdough rolls from WholeFoods) with a nice layer of European-style butter and truffle sea salt. You can stick the bread slices in the toaster oven for 30 seconds, if you like the sensation of eating warm bread.


Fresh WholeFoods-brand asparagus & fontina ravioli served with truffles, truffle butter, and truffle sea salt.

Washington-20120203-00774Seared scallops with truffles and truffle butter on a bed of celeriac & potato puree (made with truffle butter, a touch of cream, and truffle sea salt) -– perfect for a pesceterian or meat eater! I prefer a 50/50 celeriac to potato ratio, in order to keep the mashed vegetable flavors subtle. Make a slit in the middle of the scallop, and insert a truffle slice prior to cooking (1-2 min on each side on high, depending on the size of the scallops).

Cheese course: Sottocenere (truffled cow’s milk cheese with an ash rind), or/and Cacio al Tartufo (sheep's milk cheese with truffle sprinkles)

And for dessert - you guessed it – truffles, in my case, purchased from Cocova (formerly known as Biagio Fine Chocolates). There is a very wide variety of exquisite individual truffles for $2 each. Have them box it up for you, get on one knee, and present Her with a little cute box…

P.S. In case you did not use up all of your truffles, in the morning you can share a soft-poached egg with truffles, and a fresh ricotta and truffle honey toast with your coffee.

Magic Moments 101

As a follow-up to the prior "theoretical" part, I want to give you four simple ideas for a food and wine tasting that demonstrate acidity in action. We are going for similarity (Tart + Tart = Pavlovian response), or opposition (as in “opposites attract” -- like buttery luxurious cheese and intense, vervy and highly acidic Champagne).

Besides being perfect tools for "wine ed", these yummy appetizers are great for entertaining. So if you are not a wine guy/gal, you can still enjoy the canapes!

Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese

RamekinSimple but brilliant! The quickest "party trick" for this pairing involves stuffing golden pappadews straight out of the jar with fresh goat cheese.

PeppadewsYou also can use goat cheese in a tart or frittata, and I especially like using individual-size ramekins for an intimate get-together. All you need to do is mix together the cheese, green pepper, chives, a couple of eggs, a little cream, pop the ramekin in the oven, and you are done. Or try the pure, unadulterated chevre on a bed of greens with a simple vinaigrette dressing (if you can, make it with Meyer lemon juice and good quality olive oil). Try these little treats with a Sauvignon Blanc from Loire Valley, France (a Sancerre or Quincy). Another crisp Sauvignon Blanc (e.g., from New Zealand, South Africa, etc.) will also work nicely.

Note: if you choose to play with a Sancerre AND a New Zealand Sauvignon blanc (there's a thought!), you will undoubtedly observe the stylistic differences between the two Worlds (subtle, lean and minerally vs. in-your-face and fruit-forward).

Champagne and popcorn/sea salt potato chips/triple cream brie

Don't worry if buying caviar is out of your reach; there are plenty of other fantastic and inexpensive ways to enjoy a sparkler. Pair French Champagne or another sparkler (Spanish cava, Italian prosecco, Alsatian Cremant d'Alsace, etc. ) with popcorn, sea salt potato chips, and a decadent triple-cream brie (such as Brillat-Saverin or Pierre Robert from Fromagerie Rouzaire, Rouge et Noir from Marin in California, or perhaps a Canadian Goat Triple Cream from Woolwich Dairy). Goat BrieYou can typically find those at a Whole Foods store; or better yet, look for them at a nice specialty cheese shop such as Cheesetique in Old Town Alexandria, or Arrowine in Arlington (I highly recommend either one).

Italian Barbera with oven roasted tomatoes

Vertical tartletSlice cherry tomatoes in half, and roast in the oven for 10 minutes (line a baking dish with foil, pre-heat the oven to 400F, season with olive oil, salt and pepper). They are perfect for making super fast canapes by piling the tomatoes into phyllo cups (I prefer Athens Mini Fillo Shells), with a little bit of good quality feta (French, Bulgarian,Greek, etc.), and popping them into a toaster oven for a couple of minutes, right before you are ready to serve.

The bright acidity in Barbera -- the quintessential red grape of northern Italy -- is just one of the things that I love about it. Its natural acidity, combined with its ripe red and berry fruit flavors, gives it a wonderful versatility, and makes it a great match for the bright, tangy flavors in our appetizer.

Pinot Noir with mushrooms

I love mushrooms as much as I love Pinot Noir-- it's an earthy match made in heaven!

Here is a great opportunity to put those phyllo cups to work once again. This time, we will fill them with mushrooms sauteed in butter, with a touch of thyme and sour cream. I really like the deluxe "exotic" mushroom packs that you can buy at Whole Foods (crimini mushrooms, or baby bellas, would work just fine). Grate a bit of Pecorino sheep's milk cheese on top (I prefer "genuine" Sini Fulvi DOP Pecorino Romano, from Italy's Lazio region). It is salty, intense, and pleasantly briny, and just like phyllo cups, it's a staple in my kitchen. A couple of minutes in the toaster oven, and they are ready to be served. The pairing works, first of all, because of their shared earthiness, as it always translates directly into food and wine pairing affinity. On top of that, the acidity in the Pinot Noir cuts the richness of sour cream like a knife, and is complimented nicely by the saltiness in the Pecorino.

Buon appetito!


Hello! My Name Is Pinot Noir

If your New Year’s Resolution is to be a little bit less afraid of wine, this post is for you. You should also keep reading if you are stuck in a rut, afraid of leaving your cozy oenophilic comfort zone. Do you always find yourself asking for a glass of California Cab (or Zinfandel, or Pinot Grigio - insert your default choice here)? There is an amazing world out there waiting to be explored!

A big part of the fun is getting to know the grape personalities. Spicy, brooding, animalistic Syrah; juicy, fun Grenache; flowery, sensual Viognier… I am personally very fond of Pinot Noir, - the fickle, elegant grape with fantastic food affinity and beguiling aromatics, which comes to the pinnacle of its expression in Burgundy, France.

Old vinesJust like with learning a new language, there are some basics that you need to get out of the way first, such as the framework for explaining what you like or do not like about a certain wine. Even more importantly for foodies, you will need it to understand and describe the relationship between food and wine. Let’s take a look at a couple of those concepts.


Washington-20120116-00676I think of acidity as a flavor sparkplug. Ever thought about why you put lime and lemon juice on your food and even in your beer? It is the so-called “strategic” use of acidity: it makes food taste better, more focused. That is precisely why restauranteurs love crisp, clean, acidic wines. Acidity in wine helps to stimulate your appetite by setting your digestion into motion and it also helps to break down the fattiness in the food you eat (the same way we use the acidity in vinegar or citrus to marinate different foods). It creates a magic chain reaction of wanting a little more food, then a little more wine, then a little more food… you get the idea. It is useful to remember that higher acidity is typically found in wines that come from a cooler climate, as grapes do not get physiologically mature as quickly and do not get as ripe as in the warmer parts of the world.

New World vs. Old World

The term "New World" wine is used, quite literally, to describe wines from New World wine producing countries, such as the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Africa, etc. If we look at the statistics of what people are drinking in this country, we will see that sales of reds are dominated by bigger, fruit-forward wines that taste of sweet oak and ripe fruit. Whites include plush Chardonnays and other wines that tend to have a touch of sweetness to them. In general, the New World is dominated by international varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.).

Old-World wine-making has a different philosophy: it is about subtle, earthy, mineral flavors that make one focus more on the place where the wine was made, and less on the grape. Terroir is a word that gets thrown around a lot (and also happens to be the name of my favorite wine bar in NYC :-)); it is used to describe the unmistakable sense of “placeness”, unique soil composition, climate, etc. of the wine’s birthplace.

There are definitely proponents of both styles out there as demonstrated by global wine sales. Neither one is necessarily more valid than the other; it is a matter of individual taste. I personally have a preference for European wines for several reasons. First, because I like my wines “lean and mean” (as opposed to the “friendly”, easy-to-quaff wines of the New World). Second, because I find a great deal more values in the $12-20 price range among European wines (which is what I typically spend on a bottle of wine, and I always look for more flavor bang for my buck). And last but not least, because oaky, alcoholic, and fruity New World wines are on average less food-friendly and versatile; it is hard for them to stand up to the more zingy, complex flavors I enjoy so much. On the other hand, I find that earthy, highly acidic Old-World wines set me up for a high pleasure payoff with a wider variety of foods.


Depending on your personality, feel free to dive in and enjoy the wild ride, or build a solid wine foundation step by step:

  • You should consider taking a class at the Capital Wine School.Too few people know that they have the expertise of Master of Wine Jay Youmans right here in DC (Master Sommelier and Master of Wine are the two highest and most recognized certifications in the world. The "Wine Basics" and the "Essential Wine Tasting Skills" classes are perfect if you are looking for "the big picture" perspective. Jay's classes are fun, informal, and unpretentious.
  • Most quality restaurants understand that the dining experience is incomplete without wine, and work hard to create food & wine pairing “magic moments”. Part of that process is putting together an exciting but reasonably priced wine list and training the staff to be able to pass the excitement on to the consumer. Cork, Grapeseed, and Dino are just a few of my local favorites that boast nice by-the-glass programs (and offer other formats such as flights, 3oz pours, wine madness) that make it easy for anyone to try something new without taking out a second mortgage.
  • For “do-it-yourselfers”, I recommend two of my favorite wine books written by women who are incredibly passionate about wine and equally passionate about sharing their wine knowledge. “Wine Bible” by Karen McNeal is a collection of compelling stories about grapes, winemakers, and terroirs. “Great Tastes Made Simple” by Andrea Immer contains practical advice on how to get started with food & wine tastings at home. Both were extremely inspirational for me, as I was getting started in the wine world, and I had the privilege of meeting both of them in person at Saveur Magazine events. (Actually, one of the biggest inspirations was Andrea Immer’s son Lucas who asked his Mom for smoked duck for his 8th birthday :-)).

My last piece of advice to you: whatever mode of exploration you end up choosing, remember not to take wine too seriously. Cheers!

WineP.S. Be sure to check out Magic Moments 101 for some food & wine tasting ideas!

White Chocolate Filled Macaroons

Thanks to the holiday season I had a massive desire to eat macaroons. I think it's due to the time when I lived in Paris. It also could be that I wanted to reward myself with macaroons after overcoming the nine circles of hell of holiday shopping. Macaroons make lovely gifts and are a good substitute for holiday cookies. They're very simple to make and only require 5 ingredients:

1 cup of confectioner's sugar
3/4 cup of almond flour
2 large egg whites
1/4 cup of superfine sugar
A pinch of cream tartar

For the best results remember to take the eggs out a few hours before cooking, so that the eggs are at at room temperature. (Room temperature eggs result in the best whipped whites. If possible use fresh eggs that have not been refrigerated.)

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and prepare your your baking sheets with butter.

Start off by pulsing in a blender the almond flour and the confectioner's sugar. Almond flower is available in grocery stores, but you can also make your own by purchasing almonds and grinding them up in a food processor until they are very fine. If you decide to make your own almond flour, be patient, because the almonds need to be ground to a dust like texture. Pulse for about 2 to 3 minutes. Then sift the mixture twice.

IMG_0072Before whisking the egg whites, sift the superfine sugar twice. Then take the egg whites and whisk them in a mixer or by hand (if you have the wrist strength). Whisk the eggs until they begin to foam. Add the pinch of cream tartar, and continue to whisk until peaks begin to form and the texture thickens.

Add the sifted sugar to the egg whites. Continue whisking for about 10 minutes. The mixture will become creamy and form stiff peaks. Then slowly sift the confectioners’ sugar and almond flour mixture on top of the egg whites, and keep folding until the flour is fully absorbed into the mixture.

IMG_0075Now for the tricky part, if you have a pastry bag, great, but if you do not, create your own by using either a zip lock bag or plastic grocery bag. Put the final mixture in your bag; make sure to concentrate the mixture towards a tip, and cut off a really small portion of the tip, enough to squeeze out a stream of paste the width of your pinky. It is very difficult to squeeze out a perfect circle from a pastry bag. Practice makes perfect. Angle your bag at 45 degrees; do not squeeze from the top down, but begin from the side and twist your bag clockwise. Make your portions as close to 1.5 inches to 2 inches in width and one inch apart from each other.

Before placing the macaroons in the over, decrease your oven to 325 degrees. Bake one cooking sheet at a time. Place your baking sheet in the oven and allow it to bake for about 10 minutes. Make sure to monitor your macaroons. You want your macaroons to be firm on the outside but soft on the inside. After taking them out of the oven, allow the macaroons to cool for 2 to 3 minutes minimally.

While the macaroons are cooking, in a pot over the stove top, melt the white chocolate on low heat, and continue stirring it, so it remains smooth, and does not become chunky and burn.

IMG_0076When the macaroons have cooled off, take two macaroons, and spread some melted white chocolate on one side and put the other macaroon on top. And voila, you have white chocolate filled macaroons.

Tip: You can make any flavor of macaroon from rose to peppermint, just substitute the other flavoring for the equal measure of almond flour. For pistachio flavored macaroons, use ground pistachios, or baking chocolate for chocolate macaroons, etc. Also it is fun to mix and match the fillings with the macaroons. Get creative!

Cranberry Sauce for Grown Ups

IMG_1304Most people probably see cranberry sauce as a simple condement. And for such a simple condement, why should you spend a lot of time making it from scratch, when you can buy it for $2 a can? Why, you ask? Because the real thing is worlds better than anything you can get out of the can.

While I always liked cranberry sauce, I never felt like I could be bothered with the extra effort. The turkey, quite franky, was much more important and more worthy of my effort than some simple cranberry sauce. Boy was I wrong.

Last year at Thanksgiving, I made fresh cranberry sauce for the first time and I couldn't believe the difference. It was a simple recipe, with just cranberries, water, sugar, and a little orange rind. But it make such a big difference in our meal that I vowed never to eat cranberry sauce out of the can again.

This year, I decided to take the cranberry sauce to another level. We're having some friends over for Thankgiving this year and one of them is a big bourbon fan. So to kick up the cranberry sauce, I decided to use bourbon in the recipe. There isn't much guidance out there about adding Bourbon to cranberry sauce, but I did find a recipe on Epicurious about Cosmopolitan Cranberry Sauce

This gave me an idea, maybe I can use a bourbon drink recipe as inspiration my cranberry sauce. So I looked for good bourbon and cranberry drink recipes until I came across this blog post about reinventing the Bardstown Sling (which I had never had before). 

IMG_1325I improvised the recipe a little. I started with a basic cranberry sauce recipe and added any alcohol after the cooking cranberry sauce and letting it cool. In a short 20 minutes, during which I also made my boys lunch and changed a diaper, I had sweet, homemade cranberry sauce. The brilliant thing about cranberry sauce is you can make a lot of it in a short time and store it in the refrigerator for up to a week. Whatever is leftover, you can freeze and bring out for any meal in the future.

So here is my Cranberry Sauce for Grown Ups recipe. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Bourbon Orange Cranberry Sauce

16 oz. fresh whole cranberries
1/2 cup water 
1 cup sugar (use less if you like you cranberry sauce more on the tart side, you can also use honey or maple sugar)
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Cointreau
1/4 cup Bourbon

IMG_1312In a medium sauce pan, mix sugar, water, lime juice, and cranberries and bring to a boil. Stir the mixture until the sugar dissolves and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 10 to 15 minutes until the cranberry sauce has your desired texture and thickness.

IMG_1319Remove the sauce from the saucepan and transfer to a mixing bowl until it is cool. (This would be the time to separate out the cranberry sauce for the kids from the adults.) Once cooled, mix in the Cointreau and Bourbon. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week.