Thursday, January 24, 2013

A Little Taste of History: Edgar Bar & Kitchen

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Before we get into my review, let's recap what I recall about J. Edgar Hoover. First, he was the director of the FBI. Second, he HATED political subversives. And third, thanks to HuffPo, I know he loved eating white toast, half a grapefruit, cottage cheese and Bibb lettuce every morning at the Mayflower Hotel. Thankfully, Edgar Bar & Kitchen decided not to serve J. Edgar's favorite meal. 

In honor of this brilliant yet tenacious spy hunter, the Mayflower Hotel recently redesigned their ground floor restaurant, allowing current power brokers to raise a glass to their esteemed leader. 

It's hard exactly to describe what I mean when I say a place is "so DC". I am confident that long-term District residents will know exactly what I mean; it's a certain je ne sais quoi. I suppose the best way to describe it is a place where you feel like Hill interns stuff their badges in their pockets in an attempt to bend the ear of a politician or his chief of staff, the kind of place where there's more American-made whiskey than any other liquor on the menu, and the kind of place where you would feel out of place in anything other than business attire. 

It is also the type of place where, as evidenced by exhibit A below, you are never too old, white, or male to sidle up to the bar in a bow tie at 6:00 PM on a Tuesday. Yuppies, beware. 

Exhibit A

You will notice, however, that the Mayflower spared no expense in creating an absolutely beautiful space. The two main dining areas are separated by a single bar that is accessible from either side and lit from within. The soft glow from the bar is an incredibly lovely space to imbibe what I imagine to be an incredibly large selection of whiskeys.

Edgar opened in December, and I met a former co-worker in early January to check out the Mayflower's new digs. It being Happy Hour, we ordered wine and a couple of appetizers. Unfortunately, there were no happy hour specials and, I have to admit, the food was the least notable part of my Edgar experience. 

First, we ordered the Crispy Artichokes with Preserved Lemon and Herb Aioli. The first thing you might notice is that this lemon looks more grilled or roasted than preserved. I am not sure exactly what preserving techniques they used in J. Edgar Hoover's time, but I am relatively certain this would not qualify - even in his day. That said, the flavor of this appetizer was actually pretty good. I am usually not a fan of deep fried items, but this was a light batter - like tempura - that I enjoyed. The flavor would have been lacking without the aioli and the "preserved" lemon, but altogether it was a decent appetizer. 

Second, we ordered the Charred Brussels Sprouts with Smoked Bacon. Again, I have to take issue with the menu description. To me (and to my little friend Merriam Webster), to "char" something is to burn it slightly - so it gets a blackened crunchy exterior. As you will notice, the Brussels sprouts we received were really missing that char. I might even venture to describe them as under-cooked, given the menu description. Sadly, they were also a little bland. We salvaged them by dipping them in the leftover aioli from the artichokes. 

Here's the thing about Edgar. I wouldn't come here for the food. While the prices were not unreasonable, you can find much better bar food for the price. (One of my personal bar food favorites is the Darlington House). That said, because we didn't try any entrees, I wouldn't write this place off entirely. 

Despite the agitated temperament of its namesake, and the inaccurately described appetizers, there is still something charming about this space. The next time I get in the mood to schmooze up a lobbyist, I am thinking this will be a lovely setting to do so. 

Do you guys know what I mean when I say a place is "so DC"? What is your favorite bar food spot in DC? Elsewhere? 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Low Fat Blueberry Banana Bread

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  • I do not bake. I really do not bake. The challah post was the first time I've ever attempted to bake any kind of bread other than banana bread. But I have a tendency to buy too many bananas, and as soon as a brown spot appears, I cannot bring myself eat them. In an effort not to waste my overripe bananas, I've made a A LOT of banana bread. 
  • I really wish I knew who to credit for this recipe. But I have made it so many times and made so many tweaks over the last 5 years, that I don't think it belongs to anyone else anymore. My goal with this recipe was to make it as healthy as possible, while still maintaining the flavor. Over the years I have tried whole wheat flour, omitted the butter altogether, and cut the amount of sugar by half. After all these variations, this is the recipe that I have decided is the right balance of healthy and delicious. Sadly, whole wheat flour was not a success. I know, I know there's wheat germ and spelt flour and all those other uber healthy alternatives, but I still want my creation to taste like banana bread. This time I mixed in some blueberries. You could also throw in chocolate chips, slivered almonds, or walnuts to vary it up. 
  • Here is what you'll need:
  • 3-4 very ripe bananas
  • 1 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 carton of blueberries
  • 2 tbsp natural apple sauce (No sugar addded)
  • Ground Cinnamon (a lot)

First, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Then, peel your overly ripe bananas and place them into a large mixing bowl.

Mash the bananas using a potato masher, large fork, or (if all your other ktichen utensils have up and vanished) your clean hands. This would be a really fun recipe to make with kids!

This next part is easy. You take ALL of your ingredients and you add them into the bowl with the bananas. Yes, ALL of the other ingredients. No prep work this time! 

Can anyone tell me the difference between baking soda and baking powder? This is seriously why I do not bake! I really do not know the difference! 

The leftover applesauce makes a healthy snack while you're waiting the hour for your bread to bake! 

Crazy how easy this recipe is, right? You literally just pour all of the ingredients into a bowl. 

Then you just mix it all together! 

I added the blueberries last- mostly for dramatic photo effect. Also it is fun to fold them into the dough! 

Make sure all of your ingredients are fully incorporated into the batter. Resist the urge to eat spoonfuls of raw dough. OK, don't. I didn't either. 

Next, lightly grease your loaf pan. I used PAM but you could also use butter. Then pour the batter into the pan and spread it around evenly. Totally optional, but I love cinnamon, so I sprinkled extra cinnamon on top before baking. 

Next pop the loaf into the oven and set your timer for 60 minutes. You should start checking your bread for doneness around 50 minutes, but it will almost always require the full hour. 

Finally, let it cool and serve! I find the loaf keeps for up to a week if covered with foil. 

I am sure you all have your own family banana bread recipes passed down from your great, great Aunt Roberta. So tell me, what should I try next time? Are there healthier flours I can substitute without losing the flavor? 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Union Market

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Each time we travel, we seek out markets. Spice markets in India or the Grand Bazaar in Turkey. We love markets because they allow you to browse the culture anonymously. Of course, the thing we like best about the markets is the exposure to the local food scene. Here is where you can see what locals are craving and shopping for – the fruits and vegetables that are unique to the region, the spices that remind people of home, and the baked goods that families have perfected over generations.

DC has always had Eastern Market for local produce, home made pasta, and farm fresh dairy. To get a sense of some of the old DC culture, you can also line up for Market Lunch and get some of the best pancakes or fried fish sandwiches in town. Waiting in line at Market Lunch is like peeking into a window of our city, our culture, and our bellies.

For all these reasons, we were so excited to hear that DC was building a new market - Union Market - for specialty food items, up and coming chefs, and foodies, like us! To us, Union Market is more reminiscent of Chelsea Market in New York City than Pike Place Market in Seattle. Although it has a few produce and butcher stalls, Union Market is really a market for prepared food vendors.

We entered Union Market this past Sunday and our eyes widened in amazement. Instantly you are faced with Righteous Cheese and Buffalo & Bergen – two places we wish we’d had enough time to try! Buffalo & Bergen sells NY bagels for $1! Already regretting that we didn’t pick some up for breakfast….

Because there were so many good options, we started with a lap around the whole market. We didn’t have room to try all of the food, so we picked a couple of vendors and created a little food tour for ourselves.  

We first sat down at the bar of Rappahannock Oyster Bar.  The bar seats we were able to score were great for us because we got to watch the chefs behind the counter shucking oysters.  This was actually pretty cool, and seemed slightly scary at the same time--one miss and you could stab yourself in the hand!

It was hard to pick from all the amazing options, but we decided to share a crab cake--and let me tell you--this was the best crab cake by far that we've had in DC.  There was literally no breadcrumb filling--the entire cake was fresh crab meat.  The cake sat atop a slaw, which gave a great crunch to the tender crab meat.  We also loved sauce that covered the dish.  It was the perfect amount, and the flavor was zesty and cool.  We could have eaten five of these on our own, let's be honest. 

To end this portion of the food tour, we each decided to sample a grilled oyster. We have eaten oysters raw (not Amanda's favorite) and fried (not Liz's favorite), but we had never tried grilled oysters before.  We both were pleasantly surprised with the flavor and consistency of the grilled oyster- the whole oysters are placed on a grill, causing the oysters to steam inside the shell.  The saltiness of the oyster was preserved, but the sliminess associated with raw oysters disappeared as a result of the grilling.  The oysters came with a beurre blanc sauce, which was the perfect sweet and buttery compliment to the saltiness of the oyster.

Next we shared an empanada from DC Empanadas.  We picked the vegetarian option, the Tio Shawn, which was filled with black beans, rice, cheese, chipotle peppers, cilantro and green onions. The shell was flaky and not too thick. The stuffing was a rich and flavorful balance of all of the components. We liked that the the rice was not over powering, as can be the case in a lot of Latin food.  We topped the empanada with a hot sauce and a homemade cilantro dressing.   We tried to snag the recipe for the cilantro dressing--but were informed it is a DC Empanada secret! 
Lastly, we split a taco from Takorean.  Takorean started as a food truck, and recently got a stall at UnionMarket. As the name suggests, they make Korean-themed tacos. At their stall, you get to build your own tacos - choosing from various meat and vegetable options.

We stuck with a Korean classic - bulgogi beef. We topped it with napa slaw, lime crema, sriracha, and sesame seeds all in a double corn tortilla.  The beef was perfectly tender and sliced into thin strips. The napa slaw added crunchiness and acidity balanced by the lime crema sauce and the heat of the sriracha.  

Finish up your food tour at Salt & Sundry for gorgeous kitchen items.
Overall, we were so pleased with the food we sampled!  We can't wait to return to Union Market to test how authentic the NY the bagles really are, sip up the homemade sodas and have a tasting of artisinal cheeses.  Wait, that doesn't sound like a good combination.....

Have you been to any new markets lately?  If you're not in DC, how do the markets where you are from compare to Union Market?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Spicy Curry Noodle Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potato

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On a cold winter day, there is nothing I crave more than a warm bowl of soup. Of course I love the classics, like tomato soup and lentil soup, but sometimes I want to mix it up and try something completely different. I found this recipe over the summer, and the sweet potato curry reminded of the pumpkin curry at Thai X-ing in DC. Have you guys tried it? Out.Of.This.World. I could not wait for the cold winter months so I'd have an excuse to slurp noodles and sweet potatoes from a warm, rich, curry broth. I know the list of ingredients is a little intimidating, but I promise the process is very simple and totally worth the shopping trip. 

To make the soup, you will need:

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped shallots
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 3 stalks of fresh lemongrass
  • 2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger - my grocery store was out so I used dried galangal ginger and it was great 
  • 2 tablespoons Thai red or yellow curry paste - I used red because I already had it in my pantry
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder 
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili paste - such as sambal oelek 
  • 2 cans of light unsweetened coconut milk,
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth (vegetarians could use vegetable broth)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce - should find it in the Asian aisle of your grocery store
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 3 cups of green beans
  • 2 sweet potatoes - peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1 pound dried rice vermicelli noodles or rice stick noodles - I used fresh rice noodles from Trader Joes and they were a little sticky
  • 3/4 pound skinless boneless chicken breasts
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion - for serving 
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions - for serving
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro for serving - I hate cilantro, so I omitted this ingredient
  • 3 red Thai bird chiles or 2 red jalapeƱo chiles for serving. I used serrano chiles because that is what I found easily
  • 1 lime, cut into 6 wedges - for serving

  • I love the bright purple color of shallots. They taste like a hybrid between garlic and onions. 
    Once you've familiarized yourself with all of the ingredients, start out by prepping all of your vegetables. First, mince the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass. For the lemongrass, remove the tough outer leaves and then only use the bottom 4 inches of the stalk. 

    Set aside the minced shallots, garlic, ginger and lemongrass. While you're still at your cutting board, peel your sweet potatoes and then cut them into 1/2 inch cubes. Then, trim the tough ends off of your green beans. Set the green beans and sweet potatoes aside in separate bowls. Then, take your raw chicken breasts and cut them into 1 inch pieces. 

    Once you're done prepping your vegetables and meat, its time to start making the broth.

    In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat. Then add the garlic, shallots, ginger, and lemongrass into the pot and heat for about 1-2 minutes, until the mixture is fragrant. Stir in curry paste, curry powder, and chili paste. Then add 1/2 can of coconut milk and stir for 2 minutes. Then add the remaining coconut milk, 2 1/2 tablespoons of fish sauce, all of the chicken broth, and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Bring the broth to a boil, then remove from heat and set aside. 

    Fill a separate pot with salted water and bring to a boil. First, add the green beans to the pot and boil for 30 seconds - make sure they keep their bright green color. Using a small strainer or slated spoon, scoop the green beans out and place in a separate bowl. 

    Next, add the sweet potatoes into the same pot of boiling water and cook until soft - approximately 7 minutes. Then, scoop the sweet potatoes out of the water and set aside with the green beans.

    Then, add the rice noodles to the same pot of boiling water, and follow directions on the package for cooking time. They should be al dente - softened but not mushy. Drain the noodles and set aside.

    Finally, bring the pot of broth back up to a simmer. Once the soup is simmering, add the diced chicken to the pot and cook for 10 minutes. Once the chicken is thoroughly cooked through, add the sweet potatoes, green beans, and noodles back into the pot. 

    Ladle the soup into individual bowls to serve! 

    You can top the soup with any combination of the fresh cilantro, scallions, red onions, lime, and chills. I used finely diced red onion, scallions, and a little bit of Serrano chile. I garnished my whole bowl with fresh squeezed lime. 

    Had to give you a shot with the noodles!