Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Ratatouille Rollatini

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This is a twist on what you may know as Eggplant Rollatini, but instead of stuffing the eggplant with just ricotta cheese and herbs, I stuffed it with ratatouille and ricotta cheese. I made enough for an army, and I planned to cook it in two batches- one right after the other. But as soon as these babies came out of the oven, I was overwhelmed by the smell of roasted vegetables, lemon-spiked ricotta cheese, and bubbling tomato sauce. When I resurfaced a few hours later from eggplant heaven, I remembered I still had another batch to cook before bed. As I write this, it is 11:30 pm and the second batch in baking in my oven. Oh well, there are worse reasons to stay up late. There is roasting garlic wafting out of my kitchen, and I think I am getting hungry again.  I highly recommend making this on a weekend, mainly because there are a lot of steps.

You will need:
2 small eggplants (I like to use smaller eggplants because they are less bitter, but if you cannot find them, a single larger eggplant will be fine)
1 medium red bell pepper
1 pint of white button mushrooms
½ of a yellow squash
3 cloves of garlic
Kosher salt
1 cup of part-skim ricotta cheese
A lemon – for the zest
½ cup of bread crumbs (I used whole wheat)
16 oz of tomato sauce (on a weekend I probably would have made my own, but because it was a school night, I used Rao’s) (use 8oz per batch)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp of dried thyme
Shredded parmesan cheese (for sprinkling at the end)
Fresh basil (2-3 leaves)

First, cut off the stem on your eggplants and then slice them vertically into thin slices.  Lay out paper towel on a clean counter and place the eggplant slices onto the towel. Lightly dust both sides of the eggplant with kosher salt and let it sit for 30-60 minutes. If you are using a bigger (older) eggplant, I would let it sit for the full hour. My little guys only needed about 30 minutes, but then again, I am impatient. The salt will draw out any water trapped in the eggplant and reduce the bitterness.

While your eggplant is resting, dice the red pepper, squash, and mushrooms and mince the garlic.  This will be the ratatouille stuffing in your rollatini.

Then heat about 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and the minced garlic in a large pan. Once the garlic becomes fragrant and turns a golden brown color, put the diced vegetables into the pan. Sauté the vegetables for approximately 10 minutes, or until they become soft and flavorful to taste. Stir frequently so the olive oil and garlic evenly coats the vegetables.  Once the vegetables are fully cooked, transfer them to a bowl or plate.

While the vegetables are cooking, you can make the lemon-spiked ricotta stuffing. In a small bowl mix together the ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, zest of the lemon, thyme, and about a pinch of salt.  Set aside.

Next, pour about a thin layer (approx 4 oz) of the tomato sauce on the bottom of the pan. Spread it around with a spatula so the bottom of the pan is completely covered.

By this point your eggplant should be about ready to cook. First, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Then, blot your eggplant with dry paper towels to remove any moisture that formed from the salt. Next take the sauté pan that you used to cook the vegetable and heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over high heat. Once the oil is hot, place the eggplant slices into the pan- as many as you can fit. Working in batches, saute the eggplant for 2-3 minutes on each side- or until they turn a golden brown color. Transfer the eggplant slices to a plate lined with paper towels- to soak up any excess oil.

Once you are done cooking all of the slices, take each slice, place a teaspoon (or less) of the ricotta mixture on the end of each slice. Then, place a teaspoon of the ratatouille stuffing on top of the ricotta cheese, and roll the eggplant up like a spring roll.  Place each of the rolls into the baking pan and then pour a think layer of the tomato sauce on top of the rolls(approx 4oz).

Bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes. Pull the baking sheet out about halfway, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and put back into the oven for another minute. Top with thinly sliced fresh basil and enjoy!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Happy Food Day!

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Image courtesy of
Happy Food Day!  Food day is a "nationwide celebration and a movement toward more healthy, affordable, and sustainable food."  This is something very important to us.  We both try to buy locally grown produce and eat healthy meals as often as we can.  We are fortunate enough to have the ability to do so.  Many, however, are not so lucky.  The week before Thanksgiving, we will be participating in the Food Stamp Challenge.  In short, this means that we will spend a week eating on the same amount as a food stamp recipient.  In the District, this equates to $32/week for a single person.  (To see the monthly benefits where you live check out this site).  We are doing this to raise awareness about hunger in the District and as a way of giving thanks for all we have.  We will be posting about a 'typical' week of food for us and then comparing that to our week on the Food Stamp Challenge.  

We also plan to donate the amount we would typically spend on groceries to  Charlie's Place, which provides a morning meal service, case management, clothes, and various other services to about 60 clients in Northwest DC.  We would love for our readers to join in on this challenge with us or make a donation to an organization that supports hunger in the District.  If you are interested in joining us in the challenge or making a donation, please let us know in the comments or send us an e-mail at

Image courtesy of



Friday, October 19, 2012

Drafting Table: Rework The Blueprint

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Drafting Table is a new restaurant on 14th Street that soft-opened last week and officially opened this week. As the name suggests, the restaurant has an architecture theme, and the menu can best be describe as eclectic grastropub fare.

Drafting Table’s menu oscillates from bar food to grown-up entrees, which has proved awesome in other cases (think: Birch & Barley). Although we don't mind eclectic, the menu just seemed a little confused. We are still struggling to understand how a fried pickle platter and duck confit ended up on the same menu! Even more obscure is what any of this has to do with the architecture decor.

Before going into the specifics of the meal, we do want to point out that the staff was friendly, attentive and obviously eager to please.  But as a former waitress, Amanda was slightly bothered when the waitress placed a tray on the table to serve the beverages and stacked plates at the table. 

Notwithstanding our confusion about the menu, we started with a falafel appetizer that was actually pretty decent. In traditional form, it was served with hummus, pita triangles and pickled vegetables. There was nothing creative about this combination, but it was done well.  However, the falafel was green on the inside, which is a sign of proper preparation, so they scored points with us on that.

The french fries were definitely the best part of this meal

Next, Liz ordered the burger, which was (allegedly) topped with apricot chutney, blue cheese, and bacon-onion jam. She didn’t expect all of the condiments to be piled onto the burger together.  Consequently, the individual flavors were totally indistinguishable. One thing that struck all of us as odd: when she ordered burger cooked medium-rare, the waitress responded, “We only have two temperatures: pink and not pink.” Cue the eye rolling.

Our friend, Abby, ordered the Pear and Prosciutto Salad and Amanda chose the Mussels in a white wine and garlic broth. The salad boasted an air of simple and effortless tastiness.  The lemon ricotta on the side was an excellent touch.  The mussels were also quite good. They seemed fresh and the broth was delicious.  Amanda’s only quip was that the broth should have been more easily accessible for dipping—meaning there should have been more of it, or the mussels should have been served in a flatter bowl.   Although we did not take issue with the preparation of our meals, we all left feeling relatively uninspired by the food. 

Pear and Prosciutto Salad

Mussels in white wine and garlic broth

The food at Drafting Table doesn’t fit neatly into any category, and perhaps some will see that as part of its charm. Personally, we left feeling a bit underwhelmed by by the menu and baffled by its relation to the architecture decor. As we sit here, we can’t help but wonder whether Howard Roark would have grasped the connection between the blue prints on the wall and the fried pickle platter.


Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Baked Buffalo Chicken Salad

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For me, lunch is always the hardest meal to plan.  I need something to look forward to at the mid-point in my work day, and unfortunately daily forays outside the office is not an option for me.  Therefore, one of my biggest challenges is making lunches that are healthy, filling and satisfying.  One meal that I try to vary is a simple salad.  I absolutely love buffalo chicken salad; however they tend to be fairly unhealthy given the fried chicken, blue cheese, and amount of dressing I tend to slather on.  So one day, I decided to try and create a healthier option. Since then, I've probably made this lunch around 20 times.  It is that good.

For the Buffalo Chicken you will need: 

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast tenderloins
¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup bread crumbs
2 egg whites, beaten
1 tablespoon water
Hot sauce as desired
3 tbsp butter
(recipe adapted from Epicurious)

I like to do all the prep for this meal before starting to prepare it, which happens basically in an assembly-line fashion.  First, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and coat a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray.   

Then in a gallon size plastic bag, add the flour, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and salt.  Mix these ingredients in the bag by holding at the top and shaking a bit. 

In a small bowl or Tupperware, crack the eggs and mix whisk them.  I actually use the whole egg for this meal, which slightly lessens its healthiness factor, but I think adds more flavor.  I also add hot sauce to the egg mixture to increase the heat level on the buffalo chicken.  If you desire, add hot sauce to taste.  Then, on a plate, mix the breadcrumbs, and another teaspoon each of garlic powder and cayenne pepper. 

You are now ready to prepare the chicken.  Before we begin, I wanted to mention something about the chicken used in preparing this dish.  The recipe calls for chicken breast tenderloins.  I have typically used those, but this time, I used chicken breasts and pounded them thin.  Why?  Because, they were significantly cheaper at my grocery store and its just as delicious either way. 

Ok, back to the preparation. First, add the chicken to the bag and shake it until the chicken is coated in the flour mixture.  Then, dip the chicken in the egg mixture until it is fully covered.  Finally, place the chicken in the breadcrumbs and coat.  Then place the chicken on the baking sheet.  Repeat until all chicken is complete.  

Bake the chicken for 8 minutes, flip chicken and bake an additional 8 minutes.  Once chicken has cooled for about 15 minutes, you are ready to add the final touch.  The original recipe did not call for this, but I like to add it to make it seem more like traditional buffalo chicken.  Melt butter in microwave safe Tupperware, usually for about one minute, stirring intermittently.  Then add hot sauce—I usually add about 20-30 shakes of the bottle.  You may need to adjust the butter-to-hot sauce ratio for your palette.  This is just what works for me.  Once the butter-hot sauce mixture is ready, all you need to do is coat the chicken!  I usually just do this by mixing the chicken around using a fork until all of it is coated.

Salad Ingredients:
3 Hearts of Romaine Lettuce
3 Tomatoes
½ cup of low fat shredded cheddar cheese
1 red onion
Low fat or fat free blue cheese salad dressing

To prepare the salad, I simply chop romaine lettuce, tomatoes, and red onion.  I keep everything separate and ready to prepare for quick and easy lunch assembly.  I put the lettuce, chicken and cheese in one container and the tomatoes and red onions in a separate container to prevent it from getting soggy.  When I’m ready to eat lunch I simply toss the tomatoes and onion on top of the salad and add a bit of dressing.  This salad is healthy, delicious and keeps me full for the remainder of the day!

If you try it out, let us know what you think! 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pan Seared Dijon Chicken and Israeli Couscous with Dried Fruit and Almonds

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Some of you wonderful readers out there may be wondering if we do all our cooking adventures together.  The truth is, while we have shared many a fond memory in the kitchen, much of our cooking is done individually. We decided to remedy that one Sunday evening with quite possibly one of the most delicious meals we have had in a long time. We give you, Pan Seared Dijon Chicken and Israeli Couscous with Dried Fruit, Almonds and Scallions. And if you’re doubting that this could be as good as we describe it, as original skeptics ourselves, we encourage you to read on. If you are planning to make both dishes together, which we obviously recommend, we suggest reading all the way through before you start to get an idea of how to best use your time!

Pan Seared Chicken with Dijon Sauce 

(recipe courtesy of Smitten Kitchen)

We decided that we were craving a really hearty and delicious chicken meal and as a sucker for condiments, the “Dijon Sauce” in the title really drew us to recipe.  To be honest though, we had never cooked with anything but chicken breasts before so we were unsure how great this would turn out.  We ventured into the uncharted land of dark meat with bones (!!) as a whole new adventure.  

For the chicken you will need:

3 pounds chicken parts (thighs, drumsticks, and/or breasts), with skin and bones
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 small shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 cup dry white wine
3/4 cup low or sodium-free chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives or the green parts of scallions

Preheat the oven to 450, making sure you have a middle rack set up first. The chicken should be cleaned and patted dry, then seasoned with salt and pepper. (On a side note: While assembling this meal we discovered Amanda washes her chicken before cooking it. Please debate the following: How many of you out there clean your chicken prior to cooking it? Amanda was outweighed 2 to 1 here.  We are curious whether anyone else out there washes meat prior to cooking with it.)  We also put some of the salt and pepper under the skin to increase flavor.  

Because both the chicken and the couscous require scallions, we saved ourselves some time and chopped them all up at once. The we just divided the amount we’d need for each recipe and set it aside.

Then, heat the oil in a skillet, preferably cast iron for ease of transfer to the oven later.  While this recipe calls for three pounds of chicken, we only used about two and a quarter pounds. Thus, we were able to cook all four pieces of chicken in one go.  If you use more, cook the chicken in two separate rounds.  When you put the chicken in the pan, make sure it goes down skin side first, and cook for about five minutes. 


Turn the chicken once the skin side has cooked to a golden brown.  The skin may stick slightly to the pan, so do this with a gentle hand, and then cook for another five minutes.  When chicken has completed stove-top cooking, transfer to the oven and roast for another 15-20 minutes, until cooked through. While the chicken is in the oven, this is when you start cooking the couscous. See recipe below.  As the chicken came out of the oven, our dinner guest exclaimed, "Wow, I never knew chicken could sound good!" 

After cooking in the oven, remove chicken from skillet and set aside on a plate.  Then, add shallots, wine and broth to juices in the pan, and reduce about 2-3 minutes.  Once the broth is reduced by half, add the cream and boil  for one minute until sauce becomes slightly thickened. You can strain the sauce through a sieve if you don’t want little chicken bits in it, but honestly, we felt this added an immense amount of flavor we would not have wanted to sacrifice. (We didn’t put our sauce through a sieve in case you missed that!)  Then, whisk in mustard, chives and any additional salt and pepper desired.  This sauce is one of the best toppings we’ve had; it is incredibly flavorful, yet not overpowering. Amanda  poured it over her whole plate of food, which I’m sure does not surprise anyone who has shared a meal with her and knows her love of all things topping-related.

Israeli Couscous with Dried Fruit, Almonds, and Scallions

(recipe adapted from Epicurious)

Once you put the chicken into the oven, this is the perfect time to get started on the couscous. The great thing about this meal is that the chicken and the couscous share a number of ingredients, which makes it easier to shop and prep. This is by no means a healthy cooking blog, but when we are sure it won’t affect the flavor or quality, we always try to make things just a tad healthier. So we adapted this recipe from Epicurious by reducing the amount of butter by half and switched from pine nuts to slivered almonds. For the couscous you will need:

  • 2 ½ cups of Israeli couscous
  • 3 ¾ cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth (If you buy a quart, reserve the final ¼ cup for the sauce for the chicken--we used low-sodium and low-fat chicken broth)
  • 1 ½ cups of dried fruit (we mixed craisins and raisins- but you can use any combo)
  • 1 ½ cups of slivered almonds
  • 5-7 scallions - finely chopped
  • ½ stick of butter
  • 1 ½ teaspoons of salt (we used sea salt, but you could use kosher or table)

First, pour the chicken broth and the salt into a large pot on the stove and bring to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, pour in all of the couscous and the dried fruit. Take the pot off the heat immediately. All you need to do now is let it sit for 15-20 minutes until all of the broth is absorbed. So easy, right?

If you are making the chicken portion of this meal, now is a good time to make the Dijon sauce!

Once the couscous has fully absorbed all of the broth, stir in the scallions, almonds and butter and you’re done! Despite the simplicity of this dish, the combination of ingredients in this couscous makes for an incredibly complex flavor. Take a minute to appreciate the beauty of this dish! Don’t the the craisins and scallions shine like little gems?



Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Luke's Lobster

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Photo: nat m./yelp

I first heard about Luke’s Lobster in a DC Eater post  discussing the opening of their third restaurant in Georgetown earlier this spring.  This stopped me in my tracks.  Their third restaurant?  How had I missed the opening of this New York-based restaurant’s first and second spots in the DC area?  A quick Google search told me that this restaurant is owned by two brothers who import all their crab, shrimp and lobster from their father’s seafood company in Maine.  They opened their Penn Quarter ‘shack’ back in 2011 and have been shelling out lobster, shrimp and crab rolls ever since. 

Photo: christoper r./yelp

As a sucker for all things seafood related, Luke’s Lobster quickly made its way to the top of my must-try places.  I finally got to give it a go a week and a half ago.  My boyfriend and I made our way around 8:30 pm on a Saturday night.  The storefront is small, and gives off a ‘beach shack’ type of vibe.  There are probably 12-15 seats available inside and two tables for four outside.  When we walked in, every spot was filled.  Always a good sign in my book.  After placing our order, we snagged seats that had just emptied and waited.  We decided to try out the Noah's Ark trio (a combination of rolls served with two sodas and two bags of chips) and the spicy crab bisque soup.  After waiting less than five minutes our food was delivered to us.  Since we were sharing this platter, the kitchen had kindly split the order into two separate plates.  We hadn’t even requested this, so I thought this was very kind of them!  The staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating for this non-server style location.  

Photo: ibis w./yelp

And the food.  Let me tell you that this is some of the freshest seafood I have tasted in this area.  The Noah's Ark is a sampling platter of each of the offered rolls: crab, shrimp and lobster.  I quickly took a bite of each roll, and was pleased to realize that I could not decide which I liked best.  I continued this pattern of eating throughout the meal, spicing things up, quite literally, with frequent bites of the spicy crab bisque soup. The soup had a great bite to it, but did not leave your palette completely overpowered.  It was also thick in consistency, which I prefer.  As I slowly savored every bite of my meal, I continued to wonder which roll I liked the best.  My boyfriend and I debated the issue as we ate.  He finished his meal in about half the time I did and quickly declared he could have eaten three of those entire meals himself. Ultimately, his favorite was the crab roll and I was tied between the lobster and the shrimp.  I did not want this meal to come to an end!

Another thing I liked about this spot was that they appeared to be extremely green conscious.  I always have an eye out for restaurants with recycling bins and the like, and Luke’s definitely had that covered.  They even served our sodas in glass bottles, which is not something I frequently see.  Their website also states that their seafood is obtained through sustainable fishing - another major plus.  My only minor (albeit almost insignificant) complaint was that the guy taking our order spoke so quietly we constantly had to ask him to repeat himself.  Not really a big deal, just slightly strange.  As for price, our entire meal was about $55.  I think this is pretty reasonable for a dinner for two on Saturday night.  I also don’t mind paying a premium for fresh seafood.  Other than that, Luke’s Lobster has rightfully earned a place in my heart (and mouth) as one of my new go-to spots in this city for incredibly delicious seafood.  I suggest you check it out!