Sunday, December 9, 2012

Bagels, Montreal Style - Baking GALS Round 16

This month I decided to go savory rather than sweet.  The shipping period happened to coincide with Hanukkah so I figured, why not bagels?  I’m not into deep frying so no donut-making for me, and I’m sure there are some guys out there who would appreciate something other than Christmas cookies this time of year…

For years there has been a bagel debate – New York or Montreal?  Seriously, check out this article dating back to 1987: 
And this one from 2009: 

Well, the answer to that question may depend on the answer to what you like on your bagel.  Cream cheese or butter?  What do you like it topped with?  Cheese, salt, poppy seeds, plain (c’mon, who likes plain??), everything, even jalapeños or spinach these days.  The Canadians go simple.  There are generally only three varieties – plain, sesame or poppy seed.  The major difference between the bagels you and I are used to (New York) and the Montreal style is honey.  There’s honey in the dough and honey in the water you boil them in.  Because of that mild sweetness, the preferred way to eat them is toasted with butter – again, simple, and I gotta say – pretty darn delicious.

I’m afraid I can’t share the recipe with you this time.  I bugged my Montreal bagel expert for his recipe multiple times, which is one his family has used for years, and I said I would keep it under wraps.  The recipe in the first article above is quite similar to what I used though, so at least you’ll be able to get close!  Since I’m not all that familiar with what these are supposed to taste like, I brought in the expert for a critique (nerve-wracking!) and here’s the verdict:

APPEARANCE:  Good color, good seed disbursement (should be on both sides), good size, but not quite the crisp crust they should have.  Argh!  I have learned that a baking stone is the way to go rather than cookie sheets.  And no need to preheat it as you usually do with pizza - just put the bagels on and put it all in the oven at once.

SMELL:  This made me nervous.  The initial assessment was, “These don’t smell like Montreal bagels.”  Uh oh.  I totally blame the bag.  I had made them earlier in the week and froze them for a few days so they wouldn’t go stale – I think the smell test was unfair J

UNTOASTED FLAVOR:  Good reaction!  They tasted the way they should and even warranted me a high-five.  Nice.

And the final test…

TOASTED WITH BUTTER:  Immediate reaction - “MMMM!”  Score, me!  That was all I needed to hear.

I definitely think I can perfect these bagels – not in flavor, but in technique.  I have some baking tricks up my sleeve that I have yet to pull out.   The good thing is, while time consuming, they are really fun to make – the kneading, the rolling, the boiling, the seeding…it’s a process but definitely one that pays off.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Serbian Lazy Apple Pie

Believe it or not, I did not make up the name of this dessert.  And quite frankly I have no idea why it’s called this because I made an apple pie a couple months ago and this pie/cake was just as involved, if not more so.  It’s an odd recipe – for one thing, it was in metric measurements and for us here in the US who are not engineers, metric makes no sense, not to mention it just says to bake “at medium heat” – wtf?!?  Also, there is virtually nothing in the recipe to flavor the cake, except for "vanilla sugar" which doesn’t even have a measurement listed next to it.  I converted the measurements to terms I could understand and took the flavoring into my own hands.  All in all, not bad.  Not a cake I would crave or likely make again anytime soon, but it was fun to do something different, and the birthday boy I made this for (who is Serbian) was quite pleased – in the end, that’s all that matters.  


14 Tbsp margarine/butter (1 ¾ sticks)
7 Tbsp lard (I used vegetable-based Crisco)
1 ¾ cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
2 cups milk
2 ½ -2 ¾ cups AP flour
2 tsp baking powder
2+ lbs sour apples, grated (I used granny smith)
Powdered sugar for topping after baking
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract – my addition
Cinnamon & Nutmeg – my additions


Stir together the margarine/butter and lard.  Add 10 Tbsp and egg yolks and continue stirring until well mixed.

Add milk, vanilla extract (if using), flour and baking powder.  Stir well.  Batter will be thick.

Pour slightly more than half the batter into a greased 9x13” baking pan.

Beat the egg whites with the remaining 4 Tbsp sugar just until you get firm peaks.  Spread the egg whites over the batter in the pan.

Mix grated apples with cinnamon and nutmeg (I highly recommend the spices here) to taste.  Distribute evenly over the egg whites.

Pour the remaining batter over the apples and with a rubber scraper/greased spatula, spread the batter evenly to completely cover the apples.

Bake at 350º for about an hour, but start checking it after about 25 min and keep adding 5 minutes at a time until the top is browned, a little crackly, and a knife inserted into the center comes out clean.

Let cool for about 5 minutes then sprinkle the top of the cake with powdered sugar.  Let cool another 15-20 minutes or so then sprinkle with another coating of sugar.  Enjoy!

*Ed. note - sorry for the picture quality this time around...not the best lighting!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Review: Taan Noodles - Adams Morgan, DC

[Ding ding ding!] RAMEN: ROUND 3! [More boxing bells]  Yes yes, yet another ramen shop has recently opened in DC, this time on the other end of Adams Morgan on Columbia Road (  Since I’ve reviewed the other two major players (Toki Underground and Sakuramen), of course I had to check this place out too.  Sooooo….

The décor is nice.  There’s a warm funky feel to it.  Good ambient lighting with old cameras and doors adorning the walls and shelves.  Not sure what theme they are going for exactly, but I’m someone who enjoys antiquing (no, not the urban dictionary definition though that’s kinda funny) on occasion (I know, how old am I?!?!  Just an old soul, I swear) so I like things like that.

The service was great. I went on a cold night and the only available seating was right by the front door.  There was a space heater pointed directly towards me and the hostess said they were “working on a curtain” for that area.  As soon as a table opened up further back in the restaurant, she offered it to us and we gladly accepted!

On to the food.  We started with corn fritters for an appetizer – basically some corn mixed in a batter and fried.  Pretty tasty – the corn flavor came through the grease flavor which is essential!  There was a spicy aioli type sauce served with them – kind of like a sriracha mayo – and it was a nice accompaniment.

I ordered their basic triple stock ramen, but substituted the pork belly for chicken confit.  The chicken was super tender and really tasty.  The soup?  Not so much.  It was good, for sure, but the broth just wasn’t as rich as I’d hope it would be.  It was in fact a little bland.  

My dining buddy got the vegetarian ramen and as you can see, it was cream based.  The menu did specify that it was “cream corn soup” but this was some thick cream.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but a little strange for a noodle soup.  And while also good, there was the same issue with blandness.  

We requested salt and our waitress said she would look for some – really?  A restaurant doesn’t have salt back in that kitchen?  Maybe not as she returned to the table with some chili powder, sesame oil, sriracha sauce and soy sauce.  I used 3 of the 4 and was able to achieve more of what I was looking for.  My veggie friend did the same and was able to improve the flavor as well but we agreed that we shouldn’t have to be adding so much extra flavoring in order to enjoy the food!  I don’t want to totally knock the ramen as it was certainly still edible.  The noodles were cooked perfectly, it was filling and there were some tasty add-ins in mine such as pickled cucumbers and a soft egg.  Also, had we actually gotten salt, that may have been all we needed to bring out the other flavors.  Here’s the final breakdown:
  • I love the space and service was great.
  • Has a bar, which the other ramen joints are lacking.
  • I didn’t see the upstairs seating area but everything on the main level is stools at high top tables – that’s totally fine except the stools have no backs, therefore us ladies have no place to hang our purses and all of us, guys and girls, have no place to hang our coats unless you drape them over the stool then sit on them.
  • Offer a broth based vegetarian option!  My guess is it would be just as popular as the others and not everyone wants a bowl of cream.
  • Even though I substituted chicken confit for the pork belly that was supposed to be in my soup, I was still charged the extra $3 for the chicken.  I didn’t ADD chicken, I substituted – don’t charge for that!  For whatever reason - to me, $11-$12 is ok to pay for soup, but $15 is not.
  • Drinks aren’t cheap.  Beers are $9-$13 and cocktails are $11-$13 each – yikes!  I’d hope my drink would be less than my food…
  • The ramen prices are equivalent to the competitors – Toki is $11-$12 while Sakuramen is $11-$15.  Taan’s range from $12-$15.

Would I go back?  Yes – I’d try it one more time after they’ve been open a little longer to see if they’ve worked out the kinks.  But if I had to judge now, I’d say Toki #1, Sakuramen #2 and Taan #3 – with potential to move up.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Baking GALS Round 15 - Vanilla Cinnamon Bars

Cornbread meets cinnamon muffins – that’s how I’d describe this one.  I was reading through the tons of recipes I’ve flagged to try recently and discovered the stand-out ingredient in these bars…cornmeal – huh?!  I’ve had polenta cake, in fact I’ve made polenta cake in a cooking class once, but anytime I’ve seen recipes for that they generally include lemon and poppy seeds.  I’ve never seen one that includes my favorite spice.  Obvs, I had to make it.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good lemon poppy seed muffin or cake, but vanilla and cinnamon are much more fall-like.  And just for those who may not know, cornmeal and polenta are the same exact thing – most definitely interchangeable in a recipe.  The only difference is the packaging they come in at the store and the name on the label.

This recipe comes together really quickly – no mixing dry ingredients separately then adding alternatively with liquids….its super simple.  Mix the wet ingredients, add all the dry into the bowl, stir, pour into a pan and bake.  Done.  Well except for the glaze.  Glazes are like my signature by this point – one I’m quite proud of too!

The texture of these bars is really interesting.  They’re definitely a little crumbly like cornbread, but have enough flour to still keep them cakey enough not to fall apart.  Without the glaze I think they’d be a little dry, but with it – perfect.  These won’t become a staple for me, but they are definitely worth a try when you want something a little off the beaten path.

Recipe adapted from  - Vanilla Bean Cinnamon Bars


1 cup dark brown sugar
6 Tbsp butter, melted
¼ cup milk – I used 1%
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla bean paste or 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup all purpose flour
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
2-3 tsp milk (or more, if you want a runnier consistency)
Couple shakes of cinnamon


Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease 8x8” pan.  In a large bowl, beat together the sugar, butter, milk, egg and vanilla until smooth.  Stir in the cornmeal, flour, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake for about 30 min or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool before glazing.

For the glazing, mix all ingredients in a bowl and stir.  Cut the bars into even pieces and using a spoon drizzle the glaze on each piece.  Let the glaze set before serving, assuming you can wait that long.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mexican Quinoa

I’m willing to bet that even if you’re not hungry, you’d start salivating a little when you get a whiff of fresh garlic hitting a hot pan.  We’re talking Pavlov style here.  There are a few things that always do it for me – garlic, the sound and smell of sizzling onions, and on the sweet side – the scent of cinnamon wafting from the oven - I’m a sucker for it.

This super simple recipe starts out with sautéing some chopped fresh garlic.  If you like to cook as I do, the smell invokes instant relaxation and puts everything swirling around in your head to rest, at least for the 30 minutes it takes to put this together. (Kind of how the sound of a running dishwasher makes you want to curl up on the couch with a blanket and nap….no?  Just me?)  It’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal and can easily be adapted as you’ll see below.  After cooking up the garlic and some peppers for a couple minutes, it’s really just a matter of tossing everything into one pot and letting it go.  Healthy, flavorful and high in protein, you can’t argue with that.

Recipe adapted from Annie’s Eats: 


2-3 tsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced – I used 3 medium sized cloves
3-4 jalapeños, seeded and finely chopped – I subbed about 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and drained – I used red, but color doesn’t matter
1 ¼ cups vegetable broth – I used chicken broth
1 can (about 1 ½ cups) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 can (14.5oz) diced tomatoes, with juice
1 cup frozen corn (or kernels from 2 cobs)
½ tsp kosher salt
⅓ cup chopped fresh cilantro – I used about 1 tsp dried cilantro
Squeeze of fresh lime juice
3 scallions, thinly sliced – my addition


Heat olive oil in large saucepan (one that has a lid) over medium-high heat.  Add garlic and jalapeños/crushed red pepper and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in the quinoa and let it toast for 2-3 minutes.  Add broth, black beans, tomatoes, corn and salt and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and let simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the liquid is fully absorbed.  If using dried cilantro, add it when you have about 5 minutes of simmering left.  Once the liquid is absorbed, remove from heat.  Add the fresh cilantro and lime juice.

*Couple notes:  I had a leftover chicken breast, so I chopped that up and added it at the same time as everything else.  Nothing wrong with even more protein, right?  I also couldn’t believe this recipe didn’t include onion of some sort so I chopped up a few scallions and tossed them in for the simmer as well.  I think it adds a flavor that would have been lacking.

Optional toppings: shredded cheese, sour cream/plain Greek yogurt, salsa, avocado, etc.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: Thai X'ing - Shaw, DC

Thai X’ing - the not-so-secret secret Thai place you definitely want to check out.  The restaurant is located in a row house on Florida Avenue tucked away behind grape-vine covered trellises.  Unless you’re looking for it, you could easily pass it by.  Until recently, the only way to get a reservation was to call and call and call and hope they would return your increasingly more desperate messages.  Then, as of a few days ago, when I was trying to retrieve my wallet that I inadvertently dropped on the floor the night I ate there, an email address popped up on their site (and they responded within an hour!).  However, their website seems to change on an almost daily basis, so don't be surprised if only a phone number is available.  Not sure what’s up with that, but here is the site ( - do your best to get a reservation and try it, it is totally worth the time and trouble.

Here’s the deal:  This isn’t a fancy place.  You’re basically sitting in someone’s house as a few servers scurry around bringing you plates of food and walkie-talkie messages to the kitchen.  As far as I know, they only serve water, so bring your own alcohol if you prefer.  Some nights are vegetarian and some nights have meat.  There is never a menu.  When I went, we had a group of 4 people and received 9 dishes, including a whole fish and it was more than we could eat.  Here’s a rundown of what we were served:

-     1) Tom Yum Soup with mushrooms and some other random veggies.  The broth was slightly creamy and quite spicy, with coconut milk and lemongrass. Awesome.

-      2) Seaweed salad –ummm, no clue what was in this other than some weird squishy seaweed and some ginger mixed in.  Weird, but still tasty.

      3) Fish cakes.  This was the one major downfall of the meal in my opinion.  At first I was excited - who doesn't love a good little fried snack?  But then after one bite my excitement fizzled.  Imagine the texture of overcooked fake chicken add salt and fish flavoring.  Eww, not my cup of tea.

        4) Green papaya salad.  So good - light, refreshing, and the perfect flavor to get that fish taste out of my mouth!  The papaya was julienned with some other veggies - green onion, tomatoes, etc.  The dressing was tangy, spicy and slightly sweet.  There was definitely some lime juice at play here.  Yum.

-         5)  Green beans with tofu.  I would call this a green bean salad as I thought that's what we were told, but after a good old-fashioned critiquing of this post by one of my dining companions, I am changing the name to   "green beans with tofu" as he insists it was not a salad, but was meant to go over the rice.  I don't even remember the tofu in it (but I did have a rather large glass of wine pre-dinner).  Call it what you will, there was some sort of spicy sauce on the beans, definitely involving some was quite good.

-       6) Pumpkin curry.  Several chunks of nicely roasted pumpkin swimming in a spicy coconut curry sauce.   WOW.  Deeelish!

-          7) Noodles with tofu.  This tasted a lot like pad thai, but not as dry as pad thai often is.  A little nutty, a little vinegary.  Not quite as exotic as the other dishes, but still very flavorful.

-         8) Fish.  No idea what kind of fish this was.  Sort of the shape of flounder, but the tail wasn’t shaped like a flounder tail.  At any rate, it was a flaky white fish and I am a flaky white fish kind of girl, so I loved it.  The peppery tangy dipping sauce on the side was good, but holy moley – so spicy!

The after picture...
-        9)  Finally – mango with sticky rice.  The mango was perfectly ripe.  The rice was perfectly sticky.  If you are a fan of this dessert, this is a really good version of it.  I am just starting to get on the coconut/coconut milk bandwagon and still only like it in savory dishes with some spice.  My dining companions happily crushed this one without me though.

In addition to all of this, you are given a large bowl of white rice to sop up all of the amazing sauces.  I think I could pour that pumpkin curry sauce on anything and it would be good.  

Bottom line – try Thai X’ing.  It’s family run, authentic and an experience.  At $30-$40 it is well worth your money. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Baking GALS Round 14 - Pumpkin Orange Cardamom Bundt Cake

Oh my f*#&ing god.  That was almost what I entitled this post…seriously.  Alas, I maintained my cool – barely.  It’s been a long time since I tried out a new recipe and was totally blown away.  I don’t know if it’s that this combo of flavors really just works, or if they were just hitting the spot for me today or very likely a combo of the two, but this recipe should definitely go on your “must make” list. (Come on, I can’t be the only one who has one of those right?!) 

I’ve known for a while that orange and cardamom are a great combination.  The floral scent/taste of cardamom just fits with sweet floral oranges.  My mom makes Scandinavian orange cardamom bread at Christmas, often per my insistent request.  It’s considered a sweet bread, but it has just a hint of sweetness to it.  Toast it up, add a little butter and (here we go again), oh my f*#&ing god, it’s so good.  I’ll have to attempt to make that myself someday, but for now I’ll leave it as a mom specialty.  Anyway, back to this cake.

I like to try to make something seasonal for the guys so they can really get a taste of home, especially in the fall since fall flavors are so rich and warm.  How can you not feel cozy, even if just for a second, when eating some apple pie or pumpkin bread or butternut squash ravioli – yum.  I saw the name of this recipe and was intrigued.  However, as you can tell by the pictures I didn’t make this in bundt cake form.  I’ve only sent one cake overseas and it was tricky to pack.  It was probably tricky to share as well, so I thought I’d stick with something easier in both departments, hence the muffins.  Be jealous people, these are awesome – and fellas, eat your hearts out!

**Note**  Cardamom is my “secret spice”.  I like to slip it into random recipes (even once in chocolate chip cookies!).  It is used a lot in both Indian cooking as well as Scandinavian.  Considering my parents lived in India for several years and my mom’s family is Norwegian, I grew up with her using it quite a bit.  I made an apple pie for someone this past weekend, and after deliberating with my mom about whether it would work with apples or not, I decided to chance it and throw some in.  The verdict?  Well, I was told the pie was “mindblowing”.  ‘Nuff said – thank you cardamom!



Cake Ingredients

2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 cup White Whole Wheat Flour (I use King Arthur)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 teaspoons cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
1 cup flavorless oil such as safflower or canola
3 large eggs
1 15-ounce can pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon fresh orange juice
1 cup plain yogurt

Glaze Ingredients

1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons buttermilk (I omitted this)
4 teaspoons fresh orange juice


Note: You’ll want to bake this on a lower rack in your oven so be sure to set that up before you preheat it.  If you make muffins, bake on the middle rack.

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

2. Grease and flour your Bundt pan well and set aside. (Use muffin papers or grease muffin pans)
3. Sift together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cardamom, ginger and cinnamon and set aside.
4. In the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the sugars. Add the oil and beat for about a minute.
5. Beat in each egg separately until combined.
6. Add the pumpkin puree, orange zest and juice and mix on medium speed until well combined. There should be no lumps from the pumpkin left.
7. With your mixer on low, alternate adding the yogurt and the flour mixture scraping down the bowl periodically. Mix until just combined.
8. Pour the batter into your prepared pan, evening out the top of the cake.
9. Bake in your preheated oven for about 75 minutes. I suggest you check it after 60 minutes for doneness (ovens vary) to make sure the top isn’t over browning. You can put a piece of foil over it and let it continue baking. The cake is done when a toothpick inserted near the center comes out with only a few crumbs attached. *For mini muffins, bake 10-12 min. For regular muffins, bake 14-17 min.
10. Allow it to cool about an hour before removing it from the pan, then let it cool completely before adding the glaze.

Recipe adapted from

Sunday, September 23, 2012


I definitely was supposed to have been born Jewish.  Or at least have a bunch of Jewish friends or something to make my weird obsession legit.  Well I do have several, so that makes me feel a little better I guess.  Or f*** it, why can’t I just love their food and traditions?!

I’ve made lots of Jewish foods over the years – apricot babka, latkes, hamentashen (several times trying to get the dough to taste the way I want!), honey cake (epic fail, or is it just not good?), brisket, etc.  Never challah though.  While my mom is a phenomenal bread maker, it always intimidates me, even though one of the absolute best feelings (in the kitchen) is kneading dough with your hands.  It’s soft, has great elasticity and smells so good.  You can work out some aggression or angst on the dough if necessary too!

I found this recipe for fig challah a couple weeks ago and I knew I had to make it soon.  It seemed like the perfect baking challenge for me in my new kitchen.  And the result?  Success!!  I had a lot going on in the kitchen yesterday and I added way more orange zest than the recipe called for.  When I tried the filling it was all I could taste, so I added a few prunes to try to regain a little sweetness.  I think it worked out well – the citrus flavor came through but wasn’t at all overpowering and the fig flavor was strong as well.  The bread itself?  So good.  It had a nice crumb – soft, chewy, slightly flaky crust and while it was a teeny tiny bit dry for my taste, it was nothing a little butter or honey couldn’t fix.  Definitely not reach-for-some-milk-quick kind of dry. 

I’ll be making this again, for sure, despite the tricky braiding process – I mean, check out the pictures – gorgeous!!  Worth every minute of effort.  Bring it Joan Nathan.  (Ok, so maybe that’s a little aggressive)




2 ¼ tsp (1 packet) active dry yeast
¼ cup plus 1 tsp honey
⅔ cup warm water (110-116 degrees)
⅓ cup olive oil plus a little more for the bowl
2 large eggs
2 tsp flaky sea salt such as maldon – I used fleur de sel
4 cups AP flour

Fig Filling
1 cup stemmed and roughly chopped dried figs – I used a combination of calimyrna and black mission
½ cup water
⅛ tsp freshly grated orange zest
¼ cup orange juice – I just squeezed the orange I had zested, no idea how much juice it was
⅛ sea salt
Few grinds black pepper

Egg Wash
1 large egg, beaten
Sea salt for sprinkling – I also used coarse sparkling sugar for sprinkling

See Smitten Kitchen’s website for instructions and excellent photos of the braiding process:

Baking GALS Round 13 - No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Bars

Heecctiiccc!  That has how the last 2 months have been for me, hence the lack of posting.  I went on two trips this last part of the summer and have moved apartments after being in the same one for 4+ years.  First the trips – one was to see my parents in Cape Cod, my annual pilgrimage which I generally love.  This year the weather was crappy!!  A friend was supposed to join which would have made it fun despite the clouds, but then her flight got all screwed up so I was left to entertain myself with my parents.  It was still a nice visit, but a bit of a let-down. 

Next up was North Carolina with that same friend.  Her family has a house near Wilmington and they go every August.  Finally – beach weather!!  We took full advantage, laying out for at least 5 hours a day, soaking in the rays, drinking up some delicious cocktails (basically vodka and sprite zero – super tasty, refreshing and figure friendly!) and eating lots of great food.  Throw in a boat ride and vacation was complete.

When I got home, I started the long arduous process of purging my belongings.  I knew there was probably plenty that I no longer needed that I had stored away.  Boy was I right – ummm, why on earth would I need an entire bag of paid bills dating as far back as 2005….seriously?!?  Hello shredder bin.  I had a storage area in the basement that was packed to the brim – I think I kept the equivalent of one box full of stuff.  When did I become such pack-rat?  No mas, my friends.  I donated a ton of clothes & shoes and threw out at least 10 large bags of useless things.  I’m looking around at the minimal storage space in my new place and thankful that I took the time to do such a big cleanse.  Everywhere except in the kitchen of course….and now we get back to the food.

My mom said it best.  When I told her I had baked a co-worker a birthday cake her response was “Well its home – you’ve baked there, so now its home.”  Saying something as simple as that really settled me, it’s amazing how much power moms have!

Ok, onto the Baking GALS treat for this month.  I actually didn’t have to bake for it at all.  This recipe is sort of an easy way to make granola bars.  You basically melt some butter, sugar and peanut butter then pour it over the oats, mix it and let it set.  Simple simple.  Though I gotta say, while tasty, these are very sweet – I mean really sweet.  I also think there is too much butter, they tasted a little greasy.  Not to knock this recipe completely as I love the idea of these bars, but I feel like there could definitely be some improvements.

At any rate, I hope the guys enjoyed them – and had some milk to wash them down!  Next month, not something so sickly sweet, perhaps something seasonal – apples or pumpkin...hmm.  And sorry for the mediocre pictures, I’m trying to get better!

Recipe from Brown Eyed Baker  (

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review: El Chucho - Columbia Heights, DC

11th Street NW has been exploding lately – as has my never-ending list of places to check out, one of which was El Chucho which opened in late June.  They describe themselves as “a small neighborhood cantina serving modern Mexican food”.  The restaurant is managed in part by Jackie Greenbaum whom some of you may know from Jackie’s restaurant in Silver Spring, MD.  I went to Jackie’s years ago and remembered it fondly so I was curious to try her new venture. 

My trusty taste testers, Jermaine, Leon and Carburetor, were kind enough to give up a Tuesday night and try the place out with me.  Ummm yeah, those are most definitely aliases.  At any rate, Jermaine was particularly vocal about the experience right off the bat. “What’s with this menu?  I can’t even read it.”  “I thought it was going to be all Mexicans working here, I’m a little disappointed.”  And the comments continued….  To explain those comments – the menu was a little confusing aesthetically.  The font changed multiple times, it was divided into hard to distinguish sections, some words were bolded for no apparent reason, some were surrounded by shaded-in shapes, etc.  Definitely a little overwhelming at first glance.  We bombarded our waitress with questions and she was gracious enough to help us navigate everything and offer suggestions of her favorites, a few of which we did order.  As for the employees – well we had heard that this was an “authentic” Mexican restaurant, unlike many in DC, and most employees did not appear to be Mexican.  However, upon further research on the restaurant I’ve learned that the chef’s family is from Mexico and she herself had training there.  That’s good enough for me.

Let’s get down to the business of the food.  First and foremost was the corn on the cob.  I think this picture says it all – smoky grilled flavor, cheesy salty cilantro-y goodness, not at all overcooked (which definitely makes or breaks corn) – delicious!  Only problem?  The price tag.  I know there is an upcharge on everything when you eat out, but this time of year in the mid-Atlantic you can easily find local corn at the grocery store for about $0.25/ear – this was $4 – ouch!

After the corn, we just ordered a mish-mash of things and shared it all – here’s what we got:

-       Chips & Guac – nice flavor, good balance of chunky/creamy texture, could have used a pinch more salt & garlic, but that is my personal preference.  Complaint?  The pit.  Each order I saw go by including ours had the pit in the bowl.  I know it is supposed to help with the browning of the avocado, but honestly from what I have read, it is questionable that that actually works – what it really does is take up a lot of space in the bowl.  How about a couple squeezes of lime juice instead and fill up that bowl!
-         Chicken & Steak Tacos – the chicken had a nice smoky flavor at first bite, but with each subsequent bite they tasted a little bland…more salt!  We added some of the salsa that came with the guac and that definitely helped.  The steak was more flavorful and had grilled onions and avocado, but still was helped with a dash of salsa.  Smaller in size than most I’ve had.

Chicken Tacos
-        Flautas – lightly fried, not too greasy which can often be the case.  Good amount of chicken in them and topped with some queso fresco – tasty!
-         Torta Ahogada – this is basically a Mexican sloppy joe, and a good one.  It’s a nice soft roll, with pulled marinated pork and avocado.  The whole thing is smothered in spicy/slightly sweet chile de arbol sauce, and when I say smothered I mean it.  They serve it with a pair of plastic gloves, as evidenced in the action shot below.  This was definitely the most flavorful dish we got and one I would order again.  Complaint?  No fork!  You can’t serve something like this and assume that everyone will be ok with the glove method – some of us are classy ladies and like utensils!

LEON!  Why does it look like you could possibly be shirtless here??


Upon arrival there was a 30 minute wait.  They took my name and cell number and said feel free to wander, they’d call me when the table was ready.  Considering they are placed along a 2-3 block stretch of bars and restaurants and their own bar is quite small, I thought this was a nice touch.  We ended up getting seated within a couple minutes of their estimate.

The Juan Rose cocktail is delicious.  Fruity, tart, strong.  Don’t be afraid by the “apple shrub” listed in the ingredients – there are no plants in your drink.

Plates.  With each dish that came out we indicated that we were sharing everything, yet we never got any plates.  Granted we didn’t specifically ask, but as a former waitress, I don’t think we should have to…

My tasters provided ratings based on a 0-100% scale, 100% being excellent:
Jermaine – 72%
Carburetor – 61%
Leon – 68-69% (if I remember correctly)

Trust these at your own risk; however I can attest to the fact that they all really like food, including mine, meaning they deserve at least 90% credibility.  J

Note - it doesn't appear that they have a website yet, but you can find El Chucho on Facebook.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Baking GALS Round 12 - Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Round 12?  Really?!  I can’t believe I’ve been doing this for a year already.  It’s definitely been one of the most fulfilling things I have done this past year.  And when something you do for fun because you love it ends up also being rewarding, that is one of the greatest feelings.  Enough about me though – thanks again to all the troops who are putting their lives on the line every day.  I hope the treats you’ve received from this organization bring you at least a small piece of the comforts of home.

On to the cookies.  Salted Espresso Oatmeal Chocolate Chip cookies – wow, now that’s a mouthful.  These cookies are pretty basic, but with a couple little touches to amp up the flavor.  Everyone has had oatmeal chocolate chip at some point in life, but with the addition of a little espresso powder to enhance the chocolate and some salt sprinkled on top to create a great salty-sweet balance, you get something super tasty.  Something new but familiar enough to comfort…perfect.

*I’m taking the lazy way out today – for the recipe check out Brown Eyed Baker -

Monday, July 9, 2012

Not Just Pie....Hand Pie

Its summer and that means its serious fruit season.  Stop eating the apples and citrus that have been in cold storage since they were actually in season months ago and move on to the good stuff – stone fruits and berries.  I eat fruit in some way shape or form almost every day – in a salad, in a smoothie (my blender is going to throw in the towel soon if I don’t cool it) or just straight up.  But it was high time for pie (say that with your best southern accent).

I usually go to my old neighborhood in Takoma Park for a block party on the 4th of July, and when I do I know I will get at least a slice or two of homemade pie from my friends’ mother.  This year, plans changed so I was left to my own devices.  A group of us cook together on Thursdays so last week I offered to make dessert – strawberry blueberry hand pies.  I’ve seen tons of recipes for hand pies recently and I like the idea of true single servings, because come on, who doesn’t cut their own slice just slightly bigger than everyone else’s…then go back for “just one more sliver”?  This is portion control at its finest.

This recipe actually calls for rhubarb rather than blueberries, but I am a berry fanatic lately so there was no question, the rhubarb was out this time.  A couple more pics, then the details:



Recipe adapted from Crepes of Wrath (

1 batch pie dough (recipe below)
5-6 stalks rhubarb, washed and thinly sliced (I substituted about 1 ½ pints fresh blueberries)
3 ½ cups strawberries (I used a one pound container)
¾ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup corn starch
2 Tbsp AP flour
½ tsp lemon zest (I zested a whole lemon)
½ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp coriander (I omitted)
½ tsp ground cardamom (my addition – just love it)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sugar for sprinkling (I used coarse sparkling sugar for a little crunch)

Pie Dough
3 cups AP flour
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cubed
¾ cup ice water (give or take)
*Note – I generally like to do half shortening/half butter for a flakier crust, but since these are hand pies all butter works better – less mess!


  1. For the dough – mix flour, sugar and salt in a large bowl.  Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until well incorporated and texture is that of coarse crumbs.  Add ice water 1 Tbsp at a time until dough comes together in a ball.  Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about an hour.
  2. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  Thinly slice rhubarb (or just use blueberries) and dice strawberries.  Place them in a large bowl and toss with the sugars, cornstarch, flour, lemon zest, spices and vanilla.  Set aside.
  3. Remove pie dough from fridge and dust work surface with flour.  Roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick (or however thick you prefer).  Using a round cutter, cut the dough into circles and place half of them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Place about 1 ½ tsp filling on top of each round.  Lightly brush the edges of the round with egg wash and cover the filling with the other half of the rounds.  Crimp the edges with a fork, brush with egg wash and sprinkle sugar over the top.  Poke small holes in the tops of each pie with a fork and bake for 20-25 min or until golden brown.
  4. Allow pies to cool completely before placing in an air tight container.  Can be stored for up to 2 days at room temperature, longer in the fridge and for up to 2 months in the freezer.
*Note – the recipe calls for using a 1 ½ inch cookie or biscuit cutter to make the rounds.  I opted to use a soup mug about 5 inches across and make half-moon shaped pies instead.  Either works fine.

 Serve with ice cream and enjoy the taste of summer!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Baking GALS Round 11 - Lemon Blackberry Yogurt Cake

Do I need to say anything more?  The name of this cake sounds delicious enough.  So summery and light – god, I wish I could have tasted it!  This month’s recipient of my Baking GALS treat has a birthday in a couple weeks so I thought it was only appropriate to send some sort of cake rather than cookies.  Everyone needs cake on their birthday…only problem is- no samples.  I hope it’s good!  Though from the little bit of batter I tried when I licked the beater (come on, who doesn’t lick the beaters?), it was pretty damn good.  I will definitely be making this for myself and my friends soon.

The best part about this cake is that it’s actually quite healthy – the recipe only uses a few tablespoons of butter and even incorporates whole wheat flour, which I try to sneak into most baked goods anyway.  The worst part of the whole thing is the amazing sounding cream cheese glaze.  I subbed this out for a traditional glaze (powdered sugar and lemon juice in this case) only because I was shipping it and who knows how long it takes to get to its destination.  When I make this again, I’m definitely trying that cream cheese glaze – that alone makes my mouth water…

Try this recipe, and tell me how it is, will ya?

Before the glaze.

Recipe adapted from


1 ¾ cup AP flour
¾ cup whole wheat flour (I use white whole wheat, it’s a little more tender)
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
4 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
¾ cup dark brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 cup skim milk (or whatever milk you have on hand)
¾ cup fat-free plain greek yogurt
1 pint fresh blackberries
Zest of 1 lemon
4 oz cream cheese, softened (recipe calls for reduced fat – use what you like)
½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
⅓ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk


Preheat oven to 350º.  In a bowl, whisk both flours with baking powder and salt, set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, and vanilla, beating well.  Add lemon zest.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together milk and lemon juice; add in yogurt and stir to combine.  Next, combine all wet ingredients together.  Slowly add flour with mixer on low.  Mix just until combined.

In a bowl, gently smash blackberries (I left some whole for more texture in the cake) into smaller pieces and mix with a teaspoon or two of flour.

Coat a 12-cup bundt pan with cooking spray.  Here, the recipe calls for layering of batter and blackberries, but I opted to just mix the blackberries into the batter and pour it all in and it worked out just fine.

Bake cake in lower half of oven until a toothpick/knife comes out clean.  About 40-50 min, depending on your oven.  Mine took about 44 min.  Cool in the pan for 20 minutes then invert the cake onto a rack to cool completely, rounded side up.

For topping – dust with powdered sugar or drizzle on glaze.  Serve once glaze is set!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review: Sakuramen - Adams Morgan, DC

Ramen in 80 degree weather?  Believe me, it’s still good.  Especially when there were several days of rain in a row…despite what the thermometer said, it was still soup weather.  I read countless food blogs/DC blogs and saw that a new ramen place was opening soon.  Since I had gone to Toki Underground a few months ago and loved that I knew I had to check out the newest place.  A week after they initially planned to open (not bad!!), Sakuramen (  opened its doors this past Tuesday, May 22nd.  The line and subsequent hour wait proves that there is definitely demand for this, especially in Adams Morgan, which isn’t known for many great food establishments – though before anyone starts bitching, I do realize that that is changing quickly and I’m excited to try out some of the other places!

The atmosphere was great for a place that sits mainly below street level.  Bright red walls, decorated with painted noodles and this guy:  There are a few tables along the wall and a community table down the middle of the restaurant.  Apparently in a few weeks when they get their liquor license (which we were told was definitely coming), there will be a bar as well.

The menu consists of a few appetizers (mostly buns), a few sides and a few kinds of ramen.  You have the option of adding extra meats or vegetables as well as a “fireball”, a spicy paste made of 15 different peppers.  Let me tell ya, don’t be afraid of the fireball – if you like spicy salsa or sriracha, you’ll be fine with this.  The table shared a couple orders of buns (2 per order).  The bulgogi buns were awesome, but then again, bulgogi is one of my all-time favorite Asian dishes.  I didn’t try the mushroom version, but the consensus seemed to be that they could have used a little more sauce.  The bun itself?  Pillowy soft.

For my meal I had the Gojiramen, which was pretty basic.  Pork belly, sprouts, scallions and some bamboo shoots.  I opted for the fireball and it gave the perfect kick to an otherwise great bowl of soup.  The noodles were plentiful and not overcooked and the broth was very flavorful.  In comparison to Toki, Sakuramen’s broth was clear.  I’m quite sure they both use bone-based broth, so they obviously do something different.  Both delicious, but ehhhh Toki’s might be slightly better, or slightly more flavorful I should say.  My only gripe was that the pork belly seemed a little fatty – and yes yes, I know it is supposed to be.  But generally when I’ve had pork belly it’s been seared so there is a nice crisp crust and some of the fat has been rendered – this was a little floppy for my taste [insert joke here].  Next time, I’ll just go straight for the bulgogi in the soup too – and yes, there will definitely be a next time.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cake Batter Cookies

Who doesn’t love funfetti cake right?  It’s so festive and a fun surprise when you cut into an iced cake and see all the colors inside (and not to ruin the surprise, but “funfetti” is just sprinkles in the cake batter – hopefully you knew that, but I did burst the bubble for one friend…).  Well take all that and put it in cookie form – voila!  Funfetti cookies!

These are super chewy cookies and taste like an amped up sugar cookie.  I know I know, sugar cookies are a little boring as I’ve mentioned before, but in addition to adding cake batter to this cookie dough, you also add vanilla pudding mix – the combination makes for a rich vanilla flavor and awesome texture.  I’m a chewy cookie fan, so these seriously hit the spot.  Thankfully I made them for a birthday party (what up – J-Day Twenty-Twelve!!) and for the troops (Baking GALS Round 10) so they have successfully been removed from my house before I plowed through the entire batch myself.  They aren’t the most inventive or decadent cookies you’ll ever have, but they are definitely a great tag-along to any ice cream or cookie platter.  Enjoy!   

Recipe courtesy Chef in Training ( 
§     1 1/2 sticks (or 3/4 cup) unsalted butter
§     3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
§     1/4 cup granulated sugar
§     1 (3.4 oz) package instant vanilla pudding mix, dry
§     3/4 cup yellow cake mix, dry
§     2 eggs
§     1 tsp vanilla
§     1 tsp baking soda
§     2-1/4 cups flour
§     1/2 tsp salt
§     Colored sprinkles

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Stir together flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars together.
Add in pudding package and cake mix and beat until well blended.
Add eggs and vanilla and mix until smooth.
Add flour mixture slowly until well incorporated.
Mix in sprinkles.
Roll into 1″ balls and place on greased baking sheet, or sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake at 350 F for 10-12 minutes.  They will be puffy and very slightly golden on the edges.  They will collapse a bit as they cool – don’t worry about it.