Sunday, December 29, 2013

Creamy Ham and Potato Soup

We went a little crazy this year for Christmas and I've got a lot of extra ham from dinner on my hands.  Along with lots of other things, including stuffing... but that's a story for another day.

Anyhow... One way to re-purpose that extra ham you might have on hand is in this creamy, delicious ham and potato soup.  This recipe calls for heavy cream and I guess you could substitute low-fat milk instead but... it's not 2014 yet so you have a few days to enjoy this the right way before new year's resolutions set in.

2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 onion, diced
2 tablespoons of butter
1 glove of garlic
3 slices of thick ham, diced
5 potatoes, peeled and chunked
3 cups of chicken stock
3/4 cup of heavy cream
3 tablespoons of flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Cheddar cheese to sprinkle

1.  Heat butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until the butter melts.  Add the carrots, onion and celery to the pot.  Cook until tender, about 6-8 minutes and add garlic.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

2.  Add diced ham to the pot.  Cook until slightly browned, about 5 minutes.

3.  Add the chicken stock and potatoes to the pot.  Bring to a simmer, and cover.  Lower heat to medium low and cook for about 25 minutes until potatoes are tender.  After the 25 minutes, mash potatoes into smaller pieces using a potato masher or fork.  

4.  Combine flour and heavy cream in a small bowl and whisk to get rid of clumps. 

5.  Add flour/cream mixture to the pot and season with salt and pepper.  Whisk to blend in cream base.

6.  Ladle in to bowls, sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese and serve immediately!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mad Fox Brewing Company

While there are plenty of places to get a high-end, expensive dinner in the DC area, I find that it's awfully hard to find a great, low-key dining option with consistently good food.  There are a few gems in the area, but they are definitely few and far between.  So when you find one, you gotta share the love.  Hence, I share with you one of my favorite casual dining pubs, Mad Fox Brewing Company.  Excellent beer, great food and friendly staff at a reasonable price. 

I love the selection of bar bites at Mad Fox and the frickles are my favorite snack to enjoy with a beer while watching a game.  Briny pickles with a crispy shell served with spicy ranch dipping sauce, I could probably find a way to eat two orders (yikes!).  The shishito peppers are another great, spicy snack - lightly roasted and served with miso mayonnaise.  Other 'not-to-miss' bar treats include the bitterballen (curried croquettes of lamb and beef) and grilled wings.  

Mad Fox has lots of dinner options to choose from ranging from schnitzel to burgers and pizza.  The bacon jam burger, topped with blue cheese was meaty and delicious (best I could tell from the one bite my husband was willing to share).  While the fig and balsamic blues pizza topped with bacon, figs, caramelized onion and blue cheese was good but a little too rich for my tastes.  

Overall, Mad Fox is a great place to go grab a quick bite and a beer this busy holiday season.  You can even pick up the best gift ever - a growler of beer - for a few friends on your nice list!      

     Mad Fox Brewing Company on Urbanspoon

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Chicken Enchiladas

Lately, I've been experimenting with dinner dishes that you can make over the weekend and pop in the oven during the week to have dinner ready in a flash.  The reheat thing always does something a little wacky to the food, so I find it best to prep the dish to the point right before it goes in the oven, then cover it and foil and cook within a day or two. 

This approach works particularly well with chicken enchiladas.  Here's a great recipe for chicken enchiladas using a tangy salsa verde-type sauce rather than the traditional red.  Just come home, pop it in the oven, and viola!  Dinner.  See how amazing you are?  Yes, the talk of the town.  :)  Enjoy!

9 large soft flour tortilla shells
2 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup onion, diced
4.5 oz of diced green chiles
1 teaspoon of cumin
1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
1/2 cup of cream of mushroom condensed soup
1/2 cup of sour cream
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
2 tablespoons of milk
1/2 cup of crumbled queso fresco
15 oz can of green enchilada sauce
3/4 cup of pepper jack cheese
2 tablespoons of cilantro, chopped

1.  Heat one tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium high heat.  When butter has melted, add 1/2 cup of diced onion.  Cook until onion is tender, about 8 minutes.  Add the diced green chiles and cook for another 2 minutes. 

2.  Lower the heat to medium and add the sour cream, mushroom soup, cumin, and red pepper flakes to the skillet.  Heat for about 3 to 5 minutes until smooth and blended.

3.  Take half of the sauce in the skillet and place in a small bowl.  With the remaining sauce in the skillet, add the 1/2 cup of crumbled queso fresco and shredded chicken.  Cook for two minutes until cheese has melted.

4.  Butter a large baking dish (9 x 13) and heat oven to 350 degrees.  Place about a 1/3 of a cup of the chicken mixture in the center of a tortilla. 

5.  Fold the tortilla in half, sliding the top side along the bottom to smush the chicken mixture.  Then roll the tortilla and place in the baking dish seam side down.  Continue with remaining tortillas.

6.  Cover the tortillas with the green enchilada sauce.

7.  Add two tablespoons of milk to the reserved 1/2 of the sauce.  Mix together until well blended and sauce has a thinner consistency.

8.  Top tortillas with the cream sauce (no points for presentation here... more about functionality because the cream sauce will spread as it heats). 

9.  Then top with the 3/4 of a cup of pepper jack cheese. (if saving for later, top with foil and continue with step 10 when you are ready to cook for dinner)

10.  Cook in the oven for 30-40 minutes until cheese is bubbly.  Remove and allow to cool for 8 minutes.  Cut , top with cilantro and serve immediately. 

Monday, November 11, 2013

Pumpkin Bread

Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away... the holiday of over-eating and family.  It's one of my favorite holidays and a great time to relax and rest (and yes, I do tend to fall asleep on the couch while the turkey is cooking).   

Here's a super easy recipe for pumpkin bread that you can bring to any Thanksgiving celebration or just serve at breakfast on Thanksgiving Day, so you can get back to preparing that turkey!  The key to recipe is all the spices, so don't leave any out...

1 cup of pumpkin puree (or 1 small pumpkin to use to make the puree, instructions below)
2 eggs
1/3 cup of vegetable oil
4 tablespoons of water
1 cup of sugar
1 1/3 cup of flour
3/4 teaspoon of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon of ground ginger
Butter for the loaf pan

1.  If you are making homemade pumpkin puree, heat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut off stem, cut the pumpkin in half, and then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff.  Place on a baking sheet (I lined my with foil, but you don't have to) and roast pumpkin in the oven for about 45 minutes until tender.

2.  Allow to cool and peel off skin.  Cut pumpkin into chunks and throw in a food processor.  Blend until smooth, and add a tablespoon of water if needed to achieve desired consistency.

3.  Take 1 cup of pumpkin puree, eggs, vegetable oil and water and whisk together in a large bowl.

4.  In a separate bowl, blend together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.

5.  Add dry ingredients to the bowl with the pumpkin puree and stir until well blended.

6.  Butter a loaf pan and pour in the pumpkin mixture.  Cook in the oven at 350 degrees for about 50 minutes until golden brown and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

7.  Cool on a wire rack and serve immediately!  (I like it warm, but you can always refrigerate and serve the next day for breakfast)


Thursday, November 7, 2013

New Opening - Water & Wall

I have a confession to make.  I am a SUCKER for a good story.  I absolutely love stories... you can learn so much about a person from their stories--who they are, what's important to them, where they focus their efforts.  A good story takes the black and white and turns it into color.  The story behind Maple Avenue and the newest addition to the family -- Water & Wall -- takes fantastic food and a great chef, and gives it meaning. 

Maple Ave is the first restaurant from husband and wife team Chef Tim Ma and Joey Hernandez.  They started the restaurant following their passion for food, and leaving behind a comfortable engineering career to take a chance. 

That chanced turned into Maple Ave.  Located in Vienna, Maple Ave just recieved the #1 ranking for best restaurant in No. Virginia.  Chef Ma and his wife poured their heart and soul into that restaurant (they grew their own garden on the roof and tiled the floor themselves!) and their dream became a wonderful, successful reality. 

Now, Chef Ma and Joey are taking the best of Maple Ave and using that core to start a new restaurant in Arlington, VA -- Water & Wall.  I had a chance to sample some of the new items on the menu at Water & Wall, and it is clear that this sister restaurant is going to do some great things.

The menu offers some staples from Maple Ave., including the shrimp and grits which is creamy and delicious - the perfect comfort food (and yes, I do have a bias for shrimp and grits, I said it and an I'm not ashamed).

Given the previous success of Maple Ave, Water & Wall takes some chances with bold, innovative plates like beef curry, with succulent, tender braised beef in a light curry sauce served with fresh greens.  A fantastic diversion from the standard dinner options.

Another new gem on the menu is the Burmese chicken salad.  This dish is my absolute favorite.  The light, tangy sauce with a good amount of spice is the perfect balance with the fresh, crisp cucumbers and red onion salad.  It reminds me a lot of Larb Gai, and I am addicted.

The red drum dish plated with sweet potato puree and root vegetables is outstanding and a great combination of fresh, seasonal produce. 

To finish off the meal, I would definitely recommend splurging on dessert.  The crack cookie is chewy, crunchy and sweet with a cranberry sauce to lighten the dish.  A fantastic way to end a great meal.

The outstanding food is underscored by an attentive, friendly and fun staff who focuses on customers and their dining experience.  That type of customer service sets Water & Wall apart from other fine dining environments.  General manager Nick Seo is truly committed to customers and that value shines through in every interaction with staff.

So, if you are looking for a new dining experience that will leave you hungry for more, look no further.  Water & Wall is now open for dinner (and soon brunch!) in Arlington, VA and is a great story about a passion for outstanding food, good people and a dedication to wonderful customer service that will warm your heart and fill your tummy. 

Water & Wall on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Shrimp and Grits

Advance warning:  this recipe for shrimp and grits is not the least bit healthy or low-fat.  In fact, it's probably the direct contrast to a low-fat diet.  But darn if it's not delicious. 

Now that we got that out of the way, let's talk Southern comfort food.  Shrimp and grits.  I've had it prepared so many different ways and they have all been fantastic.  One of my all-time favorites is the shrimp and grits at Crook's Corner in Chapel Hill, NC.  Not to be missed if you happen to be in the area. 

But I digress... okay, so here I've got for you a shrimp and grits recipe that takes it a little bit outside the norm with some sausage and goat cheese.  Wait!  Don't judge yet!  The goat cheese makes the grits that much more creamy and the sausage gives the mushrooms some heat.  Here, don't just take it from me, try for yourself...

1/2 lb of Andouille sausage, diced
1/2 lb of shrimp, tails and shells removed
1 pepper, diced
4 oz of mushrooms, sliced
3 scallions, sliced
1/2 cup of cherry tomatoes, cut in half
2 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tablespoon of butter
1 teaspoon of cajun seasoning
1/2 cup of white wine
2 cups of milk
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of quick cooking grits
3 oz of goat cheese, crumbled
1 teaspoon of hot sauce

1.  Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the diced Andouille sausage and cook until meat is cooked through (about 8-10 minutes).  Crumble sausage as it cooks.  Remove sausage with a slotted spoon and reserve on the side.

2.  Add mushrooms, pepper and scallions to the pan drippings with a tablespoon of butter.  Saute until tender, about 5 minutes.  Add teaspoon of cajun seasoning.

3.  Add the cherry tomatoes to the pan.  Stir to mix with the other vegetables and cook until juices start to release, about 3 minutes.  Turn up heat a little higher.  Add garlic and cook for 1 minute until fragrant.

4.  Stir in the 1/2 cup of white wine while heat is higher to deglaze the pan and scrape up brown bits from the bottom. 

5.  Lower heat back to medium-high and add shrimp.  Cook until shrimp are cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. 

5.  While the shrimp are cooking, heat 2 cups of milk and 1 stick of unsalted butter in a medium sauce pan over high heat to bring to a boil. 

6.  When milk starts to boil, continually whisk in grits and lower heat to medium.  Cook grits, always whisking to prevent lumps, until mixture thickens, about 3-5 minutes.  Fold in goat cheese.

7.  Spoon grits into a bowl.  Top with sausage.

8.  Ladle the shrimp mixture on top of the sausage.  Be sure to get that sauce all around and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Wine Tasting and Food Pairing at Fabbioli Cellars

October is Virginia Wine Month (it now has an "official" title in the event that you needed the extra push to head out to wineries and enjoy some local, Virginia wine).  That, coupled with this government shutdown, means that if you are like me, you might find yourself with some time on your hands. 

Now, you could go ahead and clean that storage room in your basement (throat clearing here towards my husband) or you could enjoy your time off  sampling some tasty wine.  Might I suggest the latter? 

One winery I would definitely suggest visiting is Fabbioli Cellars out in Leesburg, VA.  It's only about an hour away from DC (and conveniently located next to outlet shops, so you can get some discount shopping in as well).  Fabbioli Cellars is open everyday from 11am-5pm.  Are you not in your car yet?  Okay, well read on to see what you are missing.

Fabbioli Cellars is situated off of a quiet back road in Leesburg.  The wine tasting area is located in the bottom level of a small farm house with outdoor patio seating and picnic tables overlooking the vineyard.  Very relaxing and picturesque.

Inside the tasting area, they sell bottles or glasses of wine, and food accompaniments (think dips, cheese, cured meat, and some chocolate) to enjoy on the patio.  It's a fantastic selection and much more robust than most wineries (see how easy! you don't even need to pack a lunch!).   

In a fun change from the "wine tasting" norm, Fabbioli Cellars offers a food pairing with their tasting menu (a great deal at $15).  If you opt for the tasting, you are led back to their tasting room, which is super cute and cozy, featuring about 5 separate seating areas for sampling the wine and food pairings.

They change their pairings every month and all the staff members can contribute to the food pairings (for example, when I was there, the cucumber dip was a recipe provided by one of the staff).  The pairing also features an item from a local chef (this past month it was from a local food truck, The Roving Italian).  I was really impressed by the creativity and local sourcing involved in the tasting menu.  I think I see my new "retirement" job in my future... 

The wine was delicious and the pairings were a tasty and relaxed way to enjoy the wine, similiar to how you would at home.  The staff was friendly, informative and down-to-earth, overall a really enjoyable tasting experience.  I don't normally favor white wines, but the Someting White wine was fanastic.  And the pairing of the desert wine, Rosa Nera, with the chocolate truffle was out of this world.

We definitely had a great afternoon out at Fabbioli Cellars and of course, had to bring a few momentos home with us.  So, take the time this month to enjoy some Viriginia wines and celebrate the fall season.  It's a great time to relax, unwind and appreciate life with a fine glass of wine.