Saturday, May 29, 2010

Get Ready for Summer with Champagne Punch!

 It isn't a rooftop party, or jazz in the Sculpture Garden, or Sunday Funday (though now mainly on Saturdays due to the need for an extra recovery day - aging is a bitch!) or any other gathering with friends, without some refreshing champagne punch.

This all started for me with the annual New Year's Day parties at my best friend's parent's house.  Every year, to this day, there is a bottomless punch bowl with this amazing concoction.  The joke from my friend's dad is that I have my own giant straw that I bring so I can just sit around the corner from the bowl and slurp it all down.  Let me tell ya - I would if I could!

There are two versions of this recipe, and it can easily be adapted to meet your own taste......

Version 1 - the original, courtesy MAR:

1 750 ml bottle Champagne
1 2-liter bottle Ginger Ale
2-3 healthy dollops Brandy or Triple Sec
1 package frozen sweetened strawberries
2 lemons
2 limes
1- 2 oranges

Place frozen strawberries in bottom of punch bowl.  Pour Brandy or Triple Sec over them and let sit while preparing other fruit.  Slice lemons, limes and orange(s) into thin "wheel-shaped" slices.  You may want to cut the orange wheels in half if they are too big.  Add citrus to punch bowl.  Pour in champagne and ginger ale and give it a light stir to combine.  The frozen strawberries will thaw in the punch, both sweetening it and helping to keep it cold.  Best if it sits for a ½ hour or so to let flavors blend, but really, who can wait that long?!

Version 2 - my adaptation, a little "healthier"

1 - 1.5 bottles Champagne
1 1-liter bottle Clear Splash* Kiwi-Strawberry flavor
2 - 3 kiwis, peeled and cut in half-moon slices
1/2 - 1 cup pomegranate seeds

Combine all ingredients in punch bowl or pitcher and serve!

Over the years I have made several variations of this recipe.  There are lots of flavors of Clear Splash out there, and occasionally I have gone the ginger ale route myself.  Very often, I use frozen strawberries (unsweetened) as well as other frozen fruit - blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, mango, etc.  Its all delicious....just mix and match to find your favorite combo!

* Clear Splash is Giant Supermarket's brand of calorie-free/caffeine-free sodas....basically like Sprite Zero, but in a multitude of flavors.  Other groceries stores have their own brands.
Monday, May 17, 2010

My First "Pampered" Experience - French Silk Pie

Mother's Day calls for something luxurious and decadent, so what better dessert than French Silk Pie?  Chocolate lovers, this is the pie for you, and for those of you who don't love it (ME!), just shave yourself off a sliver because you will quickly reach your monthly chocolate fill.

I've never used anything from Pampered Chef and I have to say, I was a bit wary of the heavy stoneware.  I didn't know if baking times or temperatures would need to be adjusted, but the little pamphlet that came with the pie plate assured me they didn't....and it was right!  The crust was perfectly cooked and didn't stick to the dish (though that may have had something to do with the ridiculous amount of fat in the dough).  At any rate, the inaugural use of my Christmas gift was a success!

For the crust:

2 ¼ - 2 ½ cups all purpose flour
¾ cup shortening (I generally use half Crisco and half butter for more flavor)
¾ tsp salt (this does produce a slightly salty crust, but it’s a great balance for the filling!)
2-5 tbsp ice water

Add the salt to the flour then cut in the shortening until it forms pea-sized pieces.  Sprinkle a tablespoon at a time of the ice water over the mixture until you can form a ball of dough.  Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.  Then roll the dough between two sheets of waxed paper until it is large enough to fill the pie plate with a little hanging over the edge.  Peel off one sheet of waxed paper and put the uncovered side down into the dish.  Peel off the other sheet and gently nudge the dough into the pan, making a rim of dough around the edge.  Prick the bottom all over with a fork.  Bake at 425° for 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool completely before adding filling.

For the filling:

1 ¼ cup unsalted butter
1 ½ cup sugar (I recommend superfine sugar)
¾ cup cocoa powder (regular Hersey's is fine)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
4 eggs (as fresh as possible)

Soften butter (just a little).  Beat with electric mixer until it is no longer in big chunks.  Slowly beat in the sugar, then beat on high speed for 2 minutes.  Add cocoa powder and slowly beat until cocoa is incorporated, then beat on high again for 2 minutes.  Add vanilla and one egg.  Beat on high until the egg is completely mixed in.  Add remaining eggs one at a time, beating between each one.  When all eggs are in, beat on high, tasting every few minutes.  It is done when you can no longer feel grains of sugar on your tongue (or between your fingers).  Pour mixture into pie crust and swirl a little to make presentable.  Refrigerate, then serve chilled with whipped cream.  Due to the uncooked eggs, make sure to store the leftover pie (assuming there is any) in the fridge as well.

Italian Food hits the Hill - Acqua al 2

I recently checked out one of the newest additions to Capitol Hill, an Italian restaurant whose only other locations are in Florence and San Diego.  Yes folks, good old DC actually got something before New York - take that NYC!!!

My friends and I had a great experience.  While the wait staff was still a little "fresh" (give them a couple weeks to get comfortable and settle in and really learn the kitchen's capabilities), the restaurant itself was super cute and the Owner/Manager(?) at the front was very nice.  I mean really, he even showed me around the place after my meal and then walked me out the front door and waved often does that happen?!  The very Italian chef delivered one of our dishes himself and checked to make sure everything was ok...again, a pretty rare experience. 

As for the food - I found it to be like most other restaurants in that you love some dishes and others are just ok.  What I do love about Acqua al 2 is that they offer several Chef's Choice flights, and I don't mean of wine.  There is a pasta flight, a steak flight, a dessert flight, etc.  What a great idea!  Since it was our first time there we opted for the pasta and steak, both of which I highly recommend.  This way, you can figure out what you like and just order that the next time you go.  I'll very likely be getting the rigatoni with eggplant or a filet with green peppercorn sauce sometime in the near future.....delicious!!

Definitely give them a try - its a little bit of Italy right here in Eastern Market.
Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wines of France

If you like wine and have never heard of Washington Wine Academy, you should take a look at their website ( They are a great little company that was founded about 11 years ago.  They offer lots of classes for anyone from the serious wine connoisseur looking for a Certification to the enthusiast that may just want a down and dirty 1-Hour cram session.  

I've participated in a couple Volunteer events for them over the last year or so (including the Washington DC International Food & Wine Festival) and it's always a good time.  You go and help organize or pour wine for a couple hours and as payment you get into the event free of charge - not a bad deal!!

This past Thursday I took one of their 1-Hour Sessions, called the Wines of France, in their new Wine Education center in Crystal City.  How can you learn all about French Wines in an hour?  Well, obviously that's impossible, but I did learn a bit about each of the wine growing regions and what types of grapes are grown in each.  Even though it's a classroom setting, it's pretty informal.  The instructor lectures but questions are welcome at any time and at the end when you tastes the wines (we tasted 6) it turned into more of a back and forth banter with everyone.  The best part was that the class was just over $20 - I've taken MANY classes in the DC area and this is by far the least expensive with no lack of quality or information.

So check them out - they promise a summer full of fun activities...perhaps I'll see you at one of them!