Thursday, October 28, 2010

Cooking with kids

Last week I set up a special playdate...just me and my 4 year old niece, Sydney.  Sydney is a very smart little girl who loves to be a big helper, especially in the kitchen.  So I decided to take her to a place called Cookology.

Cookology ( is a cooking store/school where professional chefs host cooking classes for all different age groups teaching all-things-cooking from learning basic knife skills to decorating cupcakes to cooking a 3 course meal. 

The class we attended was a "Mommy & Me" class, even though I was the Aunt and the only adult not a mommy.  But the class is geared towards 3-5 year olds and this one in particular was focusing on fall/halloween treats.  There were about 6 other kids there with their moms and each child was able to add a certain ingredient and help mix things together. And they were taught about vanilla and sugar and cinnamon and measuring and stirring and counting.  The teacher was a lot of fun and really great with the kids. They even got to color their own chef's hats to take home.

We made Pumpkin Whoopie Pies with a cream cheese frosting which the kids were able to spread on themselves (the "pie" part ended up being more like cookies than cakes though still yummy) and Chocolate Candy Corn Bark.  The bark was a mixture of melted white chocolate and graham cracker crumbs topped with melted chocolate and the kids crushed up oreos to use along with the candy corn to decorate the top of the bark.

It was great and fun educational experience for my niece. And I loved the fact it was just her and I, able to have some bonding time.  It was very special and I hope to take her to another class soon.  When her 2 year old sister gets a little older, maybe I'll be brave enough to take them both!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rosa Mexicano: National Harbor

Rosa Mexicano is an upscale modern Mexican restaurant located at the National Harbor outside of DC.  The decor inside includes blue tile fountains, majestic flags, and Dia de los Muertos masks.  One wall was entirely windows looking out onto the harbor itself.  As we ate our dinner we watched the sun set over the water.

Our meal began with freshly made guacamole made tableside. A simple recipe of tomato, onion, jalepeno, and cilantro served with a cute little straw basket of mini corn tortillas, crunchy tortilla chips, and 2 kinds of thin salsas in varying degrees of heat to your liking. So fresh and chunky.  Perfect mixture of heat and avocado with the veggies and the warmth of the tortillas and the crunch of the chips.
Fresh guac and chips

My entree was a butterflied snapper served whole (minus the head) and pan sauteed, served with a chile garlic sauce and a tomatillo cilantro sauce, as well as habanero marinated red onions and a slice avocado. The fish was perfectly cooked, still with the bones mind you, which probably added some flavor.  The cilantro sauce bright green and fresh and the chile sauce with just a bit of a bite.

Edgar ordered a couple appetizers for his meal.  One being Berkshire Pork Belly Tacos.  These mini corn tortilla tacos were topped with tomato and cilantro.  Berkshire pork is about as good as it gets and pork belly is sweet and fatty, so full of savory flavor.

The other appetizer being duck tortilla pie.  Layers of roasted pulled duck (nice and smokey) and mini corn tortillas topped with yellow pepper habanero cream sauce (nice and spicy).

Now you might be asking how does pork belly and duck fit into the diet of someone who's all pesca-vegetarian and organic and whatnot.  Well, sometimes, you see things on a menu that you can't get just anywhere and you know they're going to be tasty and you think, "I've gotta try those cuz who knows when I'll get the chance to again?"  So that's how it fits.

Ok.  Ahem...Moving on...

Along with our entrees we were served a bowl of rice and a bowl of refried black beans with Chihuahua cheese.  We also had a lovely little pitcher of a raspberry sangria with diced apples.

For dessert (by this time we were so stuffed but we couldn't pass it up) we had churros which are basically elongated donuts...crispy on the outside, soft and doughy on the inside, smothered with cinnamon and sugar and served with 3 sauces, a raspberry puree, a creamy caramel, and a spicy Mexican chocolate.
                                              Oh,  so heavenly!!!  To the moon and back!

I'd definitely give Rosa Mexicano a 5 star (or 5 Yumma) rating!  Can't wait to go back and try more stuff on their menu!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Capital Teas

National Harbor
Last night hubby and I went to the National Harbor in DC/MD to see the Cirque du Soleil OVO show.  We arrived early to get dinner beforehand and walk around some of the shops there at the harbor.  One shop we went into was Capital Teas.  Being that it was really windy outside and I am an avid tea drinker, we went inside to look around.
The first thing that caught my eye was this entire wall of little shelves that each held a glass jar with loose tea leaves inside.  Each jar was neatly labeled with what kind of tea it was and how much it would cost for a few ounces.  They also had a couple sample teas freshly brewed, which of course I had to try at least one.

The one I tried was called Irish Morning Rum Cream.  And yes, it tasted as decadent as it sounds.  Such a creamy sweet flavor.  Very aromatic. And no actual cream or milk or even sugar had been added, mind you!  Then we proceeded to make our way across the wall, opening jars and sniffing away, as many teas as caught our eyes. 

For those of you who may not know a lot about tea, there are several main tea, oolong tea, green tea, and white tea.  There are also herbal teas and fruit teas called tisanes although some tea aficionados would argue that those are not true teas.  The different types of tea have to do with how the tea leaves are processed.  White teas are usually more subtle because the tea leaves are young and they have very little processing to leave it as close as possible to its natural state. Then each tea type gets stronger up to the black teas which are the most flavorful because the leaves are more matured and the processing more involved.   I generally prefer black teas as I like a lot of strong flavor but I wanted to give the green teas and even the white teas a chance too. I ended up buying a small tin of the Irish Cream and also a tin of Organic Cherry Blossom Rose which is a green tea (you can really smell the rose!). 
Inside the tea shop

Tea also has many healthful benefits as well, for the body, the mind, and the soul. Tea has high levels of antioxidants which help keep our immune system healthy and strong. It has been known to lower the risk of several types of cancer, bad cholesterol, heart disease, bowel disorders, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimers, as well as helping with weight loss and halitosis! And lets face it, whats more relaxing than sitting in your favorite cozy chair with a good book and a nice hot cup of your favorite tea!! We all need to make time for more of those moments!

So this afternoon I decided to steep a cup of hot organic cherry blossom tea while I took a few moments to blog about how wonderful and tasty tea is.  I hope I get the chance to go back to Capital Teas ( and experience some more flavors.  Until then I'll take as many opportunities to enjoy the quiet tea moments I have.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Provision Company: A little piece of heaven!

Now I'm kinda retro-blogging about past food adventures.  The last few vacations my hubby and I have been on, I've taken to keeping a food journal.  I usually journal our vacations anyway, ya know, each day write down what we did, where we went, etc.  But now that we have become foodies, the focus of those journals has become more about our food adventures while on vacation.
About a month ago, we took a week-long trip to Myrtle Beach.  We've been vacationing in that area for 11 years now.  We even took our honeymoon there.  And we love it there.  However, as much as we love Myrtle, there will always be a special place in our hearts for a little place called Holden Beach.

We've taken turns between Myrtle and Holden, which is located about 40 minutes north of Myrtle just over the NC state line. And even when we're staying in Myrtle, we always take a day to visit Holden and all the quaint little things it has to offer. One of those things we discovered this year was the Provision Company.  As I said we'd been visiting the Holden/Myrtle area for 11 years and this place has been around for the last 9 years and we never knew it!! How could this be??
Holden Beach bridge

As you drive through the town of Holden, you come to a very big tall bridge which crosses over a canal and then leads to the actual beach, where families rent a big beach house together.  The Provision Company is located under this big tall bridge, which is not a place we have frequented in the past. 

The Provision Company is not fancy at all.  From the outside you see an old wooden building that looks like it has weathered many storms.  On the lower level are the bathrooms where the doors are labeled "4U2PN" (I had to read it a couple times before I figured it out too).  Then you walk up these rickety stairs to a swinging old-timey screen door.  Inside there's a small counter with a chalkboard above it listing about 10 different menu items and a small area where you serve yourself a drink in a big styrofoam cup.
Patio looking over the canal and bridge

You order your food and then walk out to the patio seating area.  There are wooden tables and plastic lawn chairs.  The windows are open so you can feel the gentle warm breeze from the canal and the ocean. The smell of saltwater and sand wafts over you like a comforting blanket as you watch a few boats float by and a couple seagulls land on the pier next door. Everything is very simple with absolutely no frills in sight but the food and the atmosphere is awesome!
shrimp burger

The things you HAVE to try there are the shrimp burger and the conch fritters.  All their seafood is freshly caught right there either in the canal or the ocean.  Everything is prepared fresh when you order and with all local ingredients.  I've never had a shrimp burger before this and now I think I will never have another as good as this one! You could see the actual shrimp in the "burger breading". It was topped with pickles, lettuce, tomato, onion, and some kind of spicy cucumbery tartar sauce. 
conch fritters

Then we had the conch fritters. First of all I didn't even realize there was actual "meat" in a conch that you could eat!  But these were amazing.  Think hush-puppies meets clams.  There was lots of breading and spices, peppers and onions and a little bit of the chewy conch meat mixed in served with the same spicy tartar sauce.  That might not sound very appealing but trust me, if you like fried clams or calamari, you'll love these!

Edgar very full with the Holden bridge behind him
All our food was served on paper plates with plastic utensils.  And there were old license plates all over the walls.  Yes, it looked like a hole in the wall but to us it was a little piece of heaven that we never wanted to leave.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

An Apple a Day

I've been eating a lot of apples recently.  Tis the season, I guess.  In our adventures to the farmers markets I've been able to experience a variety of apples that I haven't had the pleasure of trying before.  There are so many different kinds and each has their own distinct flavor and texture. Not to mention all their healthful qualities.

There's the old adage everyone knows..."an apple a day keeps the doctor away".  But do you know all the ways it really can keep you healthy?  I found a website,, that gave a list of 10 health benefits of apples...

1.  Bone protection and strenghthening
2.  Asthma help, not just apples but apple juice as well, women who are pregnant and eat lots of apples have children with lower risk of asthma
3.  Alzheimers prevention, it protects brain cells
4. Lower cholesterol, you can lower it by 16% by eating 2 a day!
5.  Lung cancer prevention
6.  Breast cancer prevention
7.  Colon cancer prevention
8.  Liver cancer prevention
9.  Diabetes management
10.  Weight loss management (now theres one we can all use!)

Heres just a few varieties of apples to enjoy, some sweet, some tart, some crispy, some softer, some good for baking, for making sauce, or just for eating!  How many of these ave you heard of?...Gala, Honeycrisp, Ginger Gold, Jonathan, Jonalicious, Mutsu, Braeburn, Rome, Stayman, Pink Lady, Fuji.  Get out there and try them all!

Some other very interesting facts I recently learned about apples...
*The average medium sized apple is only 80 calories (back to that weight loss!)
*There are more than 7500 varieties of apples grown around the world, 2500 of them in the U.S.
*Red-delicious is the most popular and most produced apple in the U.S.
*The only apple native to North America is the crabapple.
*And did you know that you're supposed to store your apples separately from your other fruit in the fridge? Apparently certain enzymes and gases in apples hasten the ripening of the other fruit.  So if it seems like your fruit and veggies are ripening too quickly, you might want to see if there's an apple nearby!  On the other hand, sometimes you need something to ripen quickly like a really young peach or a banana for making banana bread.  Stick it next to the apples; it'll be extra ripe in no time!

Today we had a western themed fall festival at our church and I made a dessert for a judging contest.  My recipe is called Bourbon Apple Bundles.  Once again, I took someone else's recipe and modified it to my own liking.  And thankfully it paid off, as I tied for 3rd place in the "pie" category, even though it's not technically a pie.  But close enough!

Bourbon Apple Bundles (modified from a Pampered Chef recipe)
(this recipe is also doubled from the original)
Ingredients:  4 medium apples (I used Honeycrisp), 2 packages of refrigerated breadsticks (you can also use pie crust but add an extra 10 minutes to baking time), 1 medium orange (optional), 2 TBsp butter melted, 1 cup of sugar, 1 cup of cinnamon, 1/4 cup of bourbon, splash of lemon juice to prevent apples from browning
Also I added a dollop of cream cheese icing on top of each bundle after baking: 2-8oz pkgs of cream cheese softened, 1 stick of butter softened, 2 cups confectioners sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, and colored fondant for decorating

Directions:  Preheat oven to 375. Peel, core, and thinly slice apples and then cut slices in half crosswise.  Put slices into large bowl with splashes of lemon juice and the bourbon.  Gently stir to coat.

Unroll dough, if using breadsticks separate at perforations; if using pie crust, slice into 1-inch wide strips.  Place 3-4 apples slices at the end of each dough strip and roll up.  Place bundles in a deep baking dish.  Zest orange to measure 1 tsp of zest and set aside.  Juice the orange to measure 1/3 cup juice.  Pour juice into bottom of baking dish but not over bundles. Brush melted butter over bundles.

Mix zest, sugar, and cinnamon.  Sprinkle over bundles (you may have a lot leftover, depending on how sugary-cinnamony you like it).  Bake 30-40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Tip:  To prevent cinnamon from burning as it bakes, either add cinnamon mixture halfway through baking time or cover dish partly with foil towards the end of the baking.

For the cream cheese icing:  mix together cream cheese and butter until creamy.  Add vanilla and then slowly add the powdered sugar.  Mix until well blended. 
Once the bundles have cooled for at least 10-15 minutes, spoon a dollop of the icing on top of each bundle.  Use small cookie cutters to cut out fun fall shapes from the colored fondant and place one shape on top of the cream cheese dollop.
The apple bundles are also great with some rich vanilla ice cream!

Buffalo Shrimp

When we were on vacation a few weeks ago in Myrtle Beach, at one of the restaurants we ate buffalo shrimp, which we had never seen before.  But it was soo yummy! It seemed easy enough that we could even make it at home.

So after searching online for the perfect recipe we decided to go for it.  We definitely wanted to make our own sauce instead of buying one in a bottle.  All the reviews said we had to use Frank's Red Hot sauce.  It turned out great!

The buffalo sauce was Frank's Red Hot sauce, melted butter, cayenne pepper, minced garlic.  You melt the butter and mix it all together. Easy as pie!

For the shrimp we used frozen pre-cooked shrimp from the grocery store.  Fresh would been better but I don't think it took away from the taste or the process at all.  But we made a nice breading from flour, cajun seasoning, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and a couple of seasonings and put it in a large ziploc bag.  

Once the shrimp are thawed, dip them in an egg wash and throw them in the bag with the coating and shake it up, baby! Then we put the coated shrimp on a baking sheet and stuck it in the fridge for 15 minutes.  After that the shrimp went back in the bag to shake on a second coating.

In a frying pan we poured some vegetable oil and heated it up.  Once it was hot we put the shrimp in, small batches, and let them sizzle for about a minute on each side until the coating was crispy.  

The smell of the shrimp was awesome! The cajun seasoning really came through. Then we tossed the fried shrimp in the buffalo sauce and served it with a bowl of blue cheese dressing topped with gorgonzola cheese crumbles and also a handful of chopped celery.

Everything turned put amazing!! The sauce definitely had a good kick to it without the heat being overwhelming; very tangy and spicy.  The shrimp were crispy and flavorful. The blue cheese was pungent and tart with a great cooling effect from the heat. We were so sad when we ran out of shrimp and still had more tasty sauce leftover! Can't wait to make it again!

Here are more details for this recipe...

Buffalo Shrimp                                  

2 cups all purpose flour , 2 TBS creole or cajun seasoning, 1 TBS garlic powder,1 TBS cayenne pepper, 1 tsp onion powder, 1 tsp black pepper,  1 lb large shrimp peeled and deveined (can use raw or cooked),2 eggs,Oil for frying (veggie oil is fine),
Buffalo sauce: 4 cloves garlic, minced;  2 1/2 TBS butter, melted;   6 oz Frank's hot sauce;  1 tsp cayenne pepper

1.  In a large resealable plastic bag, combine flour, creole seasoning, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, onion powder, and black pepper.  Seal bag and shake to combine.
2.  Whisk the eggs gently. Take each shrimp and dip into egg wash then place in plastic bag of flour mixture.
3.  Once all shrimp are in the bag, seal and shake to coat well.
4.  Place coated shrimp on baking sheet and place in refrigerator for 15-20 minutes.  Save remaining flour mixture in bag.
5.  In mixing bowl, whisk together garlic, melted butter, hot sauce, and cayenne pepper.  Set aside.

6.  If you want to deep fry, pour 2-4 cups of oil in large pot and heat to 375 degrees F.  If you want to pan fry, pour enough oil in pan to cover the shrimp and preheat until it starts to bubble slightly.
7. Remove shrimp from refrigerator and shake a second time in flour mixture bag.
8. Place shrimp in hot oil and fry until pink, about 2-3 minutes.  If you're using already cooked shrimp, reduce frying time to about 1 minute or until coating is slightly crispy and golden.
9. If desired, place shrimp on paper towels to drain some of the oil.  Then immediately coat with buffalo sauce.
10. Serve with chopped celery and blue cheese dressing, topped with blue cheese crumbles.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Hunter's Head Tavern

Today hubby and I went on a little road trip to Skyline Drive.  It was so gorgeous! The fall leaves aren't quite at peak color yet but there was enough color to still enjoy the views.  We stopped at probably close to 20 overlooks to gaze at the beauty of the Shenendoah Valley and the surrounding mountains.

On the way back home, we took a little detour into Upperville to visit a little hometown restaurant we've been wanting to go to for a while.  Its called Hunter's Head Tavern.  Its a quaint English style pub that specializes in organic straight-from-the-farm ingredients.  The restaurant works in conjunction with a nearby farm called Ayrshire Farm....sustainable, humanely-raised meats, and organic produce.

The atmosphere was cozy, even sitting outside on a cool fall evening, and the food was comforting.  The bar area, typical pub look, with the menu written on a chalkboard.  They give you your table number written on a wooden spoon which you then stick inside an empty wine bottle that adorns your table. The floors were made of old creaky wood and there were a couple fireplaces here and there.  The outside seating area on a stone patio had wooden tables with matching bench chairs and it was covered by a white tent decorated with white lights.  A tree sitting next to the patio was also covered in the pretty little white lights making the whole area seem like we were at a quiet outdoor party.

First they brought us a small loaf of freshly baked bread...soft on the inside and crisp on the outside.

 Hubby ordered a ceasar salad, and filet with mashed potatoes and carrots.  Nothing super special or out of the ordinary but yumma yumma nonetheless.

 I ordered spicy sweet potato soup which was served in this cute little pewter creamy and not hot spicy but spice spicy, like maybe cardamom or cinnamon or nutmeg?  I don't know but it was heavenly.

 I also ordered their seasonal lasagna, which was unlike any lasagna I've ever had.  First of all there was not one sign of a tomato.  Instead it was pasta layered with butternut squash, sage, and goat cheese.  It was topped with some kind of white creamy cheesy sauce.

 Very unique and very yummy and also very rich.  Needless to say there was no room for dessert. :(  Maybe next time!