Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I enjoy sharing tapas with friends and I love spicy Mexican food.  I also really like a good margarita (with salt!).  So when my sister came to town and we had the chance to go out to dinner without the kids, we figured we would try out BandoleroBandolero is a modern Mexican restaurant with a "small plates" type menu in Georgetown by Chef Mike Isabella (from Graffiato and a contender on Top Chef). 

We arrived at Bandolero around 8:20pm, a little late for our 8:15pm reservation (which the staff was really nice about pushing back for us due to some late breaking child illnesses in our house).  The restaurant was packed and the bar was full of twenty-somethings prepping for an evening out in Georgetown.  We were seated at our table about 10 minutes after we arrived, which was great since there was no room for us to stand near the bar.  

Despite other reviews I had read, I didn't find the music too loud or the restaurant too dark.  But it was very busy.  We ordered a pitcher of the Bandolero margarita made with blood orange, espolon blanco tequila, patron citronage, and lime.  It was okay, but a little too sweet and not strong enough for my tastes.

To start, we ordered the La Muestra which came with guacamole, masa crisps, chicarrones, and salsas.  I loved the different variety of dips for my chips and the guacamole was delicious.  The salsas were good, I definitely liked the variety. 

We also opted for the Snapper Ceviche which served red snapper topped with charred mango, jicama, peanuts, and mint.  It was bite-sized, and light and refreshing.  A good ceviche to go with the chips and dips.

For dinner, we shared a bunch of plates including the skirt steak, wild mushroom, quesadilla (with lobster), sweet plantains, sopes and crispy brussels.  Everything came out from the kitchen quickly and most were plated on a simple wood board.  The presentation was impeccable.  But the taste and flavor overall, was average.  

The skirt steaks were prepared well and topped with avacado, salsa, and crispy onions but lacked spice and flavor.

The sopes reminded me of sloppy joes made with lamb instead of ground beef.  The crispy corn shell under the lamb was quite tasty though.  Fine but not great.

Sadly, the crispy brussels disappointed.  The brussels were toasted to perfection with the sweet, caramelized finish but the tamarind crema overwhelmed the vegetable.  Maybe without the heavy cream sauce but with chile oil would be a little lighter.

Overall, our dinner was okay.... the service was efficient and the food was average.  If I were going out in Georgetown for the evening, I would head over to Bandolero for dinner.  But I wouldn't go out of my way for this restaurant... it was solid, but nothing special.

Bandolero on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 25, 2013

Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin

I'm always looking for a good side dish to serve with ham at Easter.  Mashed potatoes are out - too Thanksgiving-y.  Rice is kind of strange to serve with ham, as it's usually served with Asian dishes (I guess you could do rice pilaf, but still, not a match).  Baked potatoes go with steak.  Clearly, slim pickin's. 

But I've finally settled on my favorite.... scalloped potatoes.  I guess you could make them from the box, but here's a really easy recipe for scalloped potatoes gratin from scratch.  And, it calls for both yukon gold potatoes and sweet potatoes so it looks fancy.  Fancy enough for Easter dinner.  

Here it is, adapted from Bon Appetite 2008.
2 sweet potatoes (yams) (about 2 lbs)
4 Yukon gold potatoes (about 2 lbs)
2 cups of heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup of butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
1 tbl Herbs de Provence
1 cup of Parmesan cheese

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Scrub and peel your potatoes.

2.  Slice the potatoes at 1/8'' thickness with a mandolin into a bowl of cold water.

3.  In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream (you can use lowfat milk for a more healthy option), butter and garlic.  Heat over medium heat until simmering and butter has melted.

4.  Butter a 9x13 glass dish.  Dry potatoes.  Layer half the potatoes in the glass dish.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and 1/2 tbl of Herbs de Provence.  Sprinkle with 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese.  Create another layer with the remaining potatoes, salt, pepper, Herbs de Provence, and cheese.

5.  Pour the cream mixture over top of the potatoes and press potatoes down to try to submerge.  Cover with aluminum foil.

6.  Cook potatoes covered in oven for 30 minutes.  Remove foil and cook for another 30 minutes until top of gratin is golden.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  And serve!


Monday, March 18, 2013

Guinness Beef Stew Over Colcannon

Well, St. Patrick's Day is over.  But that doesn't mean you stop celebrating with Irish food!  Absolutely not!  

In fact, I might take a guess that you are sitting on some left over Guinness from your celebrations.  Well, here let me help you clear it out... with some delicious and hearty Guinness Beef Stew.  And the thing that makes this stew recipe so great is that it isn't made with potatoes, it's served over potatoes.  Authentic Irish colcannon to be exact.  

Bain sult as! ("enjoy" in Gaelic)  

1 lb of beef stew meat
3 tbl olive oil
2 tbl of flour
salt and pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
3 tbl of tomato sauce
1 bottle of Guinness beer
1 cup of beef stock (or Better than Boullion) 
3 carrots
6 small Yukon gold potatoes
1 1/2 cups of cabbage, coarsely chopped
2 green onions, sliced
1 tbl butter
1/4 cup of milk
1 tbl of Kerry Gold herb butter 
salt and pepper
1.  Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Toss beef with one tablespoon of oil.

2.  Combine flour, a dash of salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper in a bowl.  Add beef to the bowl to dust lightly.

3.  Heat 2 tablespoons in a skillet (cast iron if you have one) over medium-high heat.  Add the lightly dusted beef cubes to the skillet.  Sear meat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes on each side.

4.  Chop onions and crush two cloves of garlic (keeping whole).

5.  Lower the heat in the skillet to medium and add onions and garlic.  Saute until tender, about 6-8 minutes.  Add tomato sauce and saute for 2 minutes.  Remove meat and onions and place in a casserole dish/Dutch oven (with a lid).   

6.  Add half the bottle of Guinness to the skillet and turn up heat to medium high to bring Guinness to a boil and deglaze pan, scraping up brown bits for flavor.  

7.  Lower heat to medium and add one cup of beef stock (or my favorite, Better than Boullion with one cup of water) to the skillet and heat until blended, about 3 minutes.

8.  Pour skillet sauce over meat in the Dutch oven.  Pour the rest of the Guinness over the top.

9.  Clean and chop large pieces of carrots.  Add to the Dutch oven.  Cover with the lid and cook in the oven for 3 hours.

10.  After it is done cooking, the meat will be tender and succulent, and will fall apart.  Superb!

1.  While the stew meat is braising (when you have about 45 minutes left of cook time for the meat), scrub and clean six small, Yukon gold potatoes.  Place in a pot with water (lightly salted) and bring to a boil over high heat.  Boil potatoes about 20 minutes until tender and easily pierced with a fork.

2.  Chop cabbage and slice onions while the potatoes are cooking.

3.  Drain the water and remove potatoes from the pot.  Add one tablespoon of butter to the pot and heat until melted over medium heat.  Add cabbage.

4.  Saute cabbage for 6-8 minutes until tender, stirring often.  Add green onions and saute for 2 minutes.

5.  Gather your seasonings -- salt, pepper and herb butter.

6.  Add milk (I always use whole milk), herb butter (regular butter if you don't have this) and potatoes to the pot.

7.  Using a potato masher or a fork, mash the potatoes until broken apart and stir with a spoon to mix with milk and butter.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 8.  Place the potatoes on a plate/shallow bowl.  

9.  Spoon Guinness beef stew on top of potatoes.  And enjoy with another glass of Guinness -- you deserve it for all that hard work.  And, because you know, "good things come to those who wait" and you just waited 3 hours for dinner. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Bernie's Deli and Gourmet Market

I've lived here (in the DC area) for almost 15 years and I will tell you this.... a good deli sandwich is hard to come by in these parts.  I don't know why it is that a "deli" can only be found in NY or NJ, but it's true.  They are few and far between anywhere else.  Which is why what I am sharing with you now is super important.... I found a fantastic deli in Northern Virginia.  The real deal.  Pickle jar and all.  

Wait for it.... wait for it....

Bernie's Deli.  

Located on Rt. 123/Ox Road in Fairfax City, Bernie's Deli and Gourmet Market is the best deli in the area.  Fresh sliced deli meats, piled high, hard rolls, pickles, and Italian desserts like cannoli and black and white cookies.  Forget those generic sub places.  You now have the deli you deserve.

I love Italian cold cut subs.  They are my favorite.  And Bernie's is delicious - lots of meat piled high -- Cappicola Ham, Hard Salami, Peppered Italian Ham and provolone, topped with lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers and oil & vinegar.  Mayo nowhere to be found, thank god.  As it has no place on an Italian sub.  And those who think it does, do not belong in a deli.

My husband loves a good Reuben sandwich and Bernie's Superior takes it to a new level.

This sandwich has not just pastrami, but also ham, roast beef, and corned beef, covered with Russian dressing, cole slaw, cheddar cheese and chopped liver on rye.  Well HELLO.  It is meat-licious.

You really can't leave without getting one of the desserts.  I highly recommend the black and white cookie.  Sweet and delicious, with that cake-y bottom.  It is absolutely HUGE, so you can save half for later.

Bernie's Deli is a fantastic deli in Northern Virginia -- so next time you have the urge for sandwich, head over there.  You'll be glad you did!
Bernie's Delicatessen & Gourmet Market on Urbanspoon  

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Walking and Eating Around New Orleans

This past week I visited New Orleans.  It was a quick excursion I planned as my husband's Christmas present (he's really hard to shop for) because the city has things we both like -- food and music.  We had a great trip and a fantastic time walking around to see cathedrals, cemeteries, and gardens while grabbing quick bites along the way.  In case you ever plan a trip to New Orleans, here are a few of the highlights and things I would recommend to see and eat...

Walk down Bourbon Street and take in the 'sights' (e.g., bars, souvenir shops, and people already drinking).  I suggest doing this in the morning because it's clean (they clean the sidewalks in the morning from what was clearly a debacle the night before) and less crowded.  Stop off at Musical Legends Park to grab a cafe au lait and beignet at Cafe Beignet (at 330 Bourbon St).  You can enjoy your breakfast outside in the garden area and listen to some live music (and the musicians take requests!).

If you have never had a beignet before, it's a must when in New Orleans.  They are little doughy pillows with sprinkled powder sugar on top.  It sort of reminds me of a funnel cake, but with a little more bread to it.  They are sweet and delicious.  

Head down to Jackson Square to check out what the artists are selling around the park (e.g., paintings, crafts) and enjoy the beautiful sights like the Saint Louis Cathedral.

On the weekends, there are a bunch of entertainers around Jackson Square like comedians, mimes, and brass bands.  It's a great place to listen to some free music and if you are like me, enjoy another cup of coffee.  **TO NOTE, public restrooms are difficult to find in NOLA, and down at Jackson Square is the one public restroom I was able to find in the city - in the JAX Brewery building - the best tip in this whole blog post**

For lunch, walk down to the French Market, an open-air farmers market and flea market.  They sell everything from Mardi Gras beads and t-shirts to spice blends and sauces -- all at a great price.  There are lots of places to grab a bite to eat in the French Market (and pick up a King Cake!).  We stopped for lunch at N'awlins Cafe and Spice Emporium - they have a huge selection of po' boys and things like a "gator on a stick."  I ordered the crawfish sausage po' boy, which came with cajun-spiced red potatoes (sauteed with peppers and onions).  It was spicy and delicious.  If you sit at the bar stools and eat, you can try out their different hot sauces on your po' boy, which was awesome.  I finally got to try some ghost-pepper hot sauce.  It was hot... but not as hot as I thought.    

Photo Courtesy of Thomas "bogmonkey" A. because I ate mine too fast
From the French Market, walk over to Canal Street and hop on the St. Charles street car to the Garden District.  The Garden District is a little neighborhood in New Orleans that is considered to have one of the best collections of historic Southern mansions.  You can see houses owned (or previously owned) by famous people such as Nicholas Cage and Sandra Bullock.  These houses are absolutely gorgeous and the landscaping is immaculate.  Since my husband is a huge NY Giants fan, we stopped in to see the Mannings...

Unfortunately, Eli was not able to come out and play. And, we were a little disappointed that no one asked us in for tea.  I believe that would have been the "Southern" thing to do.

While in the Garden District, stop by Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 and check out the haunting tombs and wall vaults.  

For dinner, I highly recommend you make reservations for Cochon, a cajun southern restaurant that was featured in Bon Appetit.  My review will be posted on Capital Cooking in a few weeks and I'll link to it so you all can read how delicious it is.   Okay, I'll give you a clue.  They like pigs.

After dinner, head over to Frenchmen Street to check out some live music at one of the many clubs like Snug Harbor, Three Muses and more.  We stopped at The Maison and enjoyed jazz quartet followed by the One Love Brass Band (a ska/reggae brass band).  It was a lot of fun drinking and dancing the rest of the night at The Maison.      

If you are ever looking for a getaway that is a short plane ride away from DCA this spring, check out NOLA.  You'll find fantastic music, delicious food and Southern hospitality.