Sunday, January 30, 2011

Taco Bell Soapbox

Ok, excuse me for a moment while I get up on my food soapbox for a bit.  I keep hearing this story and its just screaming for me to write about it. Have you heard this whole mess about Taco Bell being sued because their meat isn't entirely beef?  If not here's the basic scoop...

A class action lawsuit was filed in California claiming that Taco Bell's meat mixture contains binders and fillers.  The USDA requires the restaurant to have at least 40% of the mixture be beef, while the rest can be spices and seasonings, water, that kind of stuff.  It was reported that Taco Bell's meat mixture only contains 35% beef while the remaining 65% contained water and a host of other substances/chemicals that no one really knows what they are or even how to pronounce them.

Taco Bell proudly boasts of the "quality" of their "meat" saying it contains 88% beef, more than double what is required.  Taco Bell President, Greg Creed, plans to counter-sue, saying these laywers have their facts wrong.  When interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America, the TB president himself, in trying to defend his company and their products, stated that aside from the 88% beef, there's 3% water and 4% seasonings and spices. And they stand by their product.
yumm, doesn't that look appetizing?

Hmm, I'm kinda bad at math but it seems there's still 5% unaccounted for.  What's that made of? The president wouldn't say except that they were ingredients used to "enhance the flavor, the texture, and the taste..." of the tacos. If you have quality beef and spices, what else would you need to enhance the flavor?

Bottom line, I believe Creed is lying to protect his butt.  I used to work at Taco Bell in my high school and college days, for 3 years I might add.  And I ate there all the time. I loved it! However growing up, I began to require more sophisticated tastes and grew out of that.  So ok, its fast food, its supposed to be cheap. We all know that there are tons of fillers and extenders (whatever those are) and additives in their food and whatever beef they are using is most likely Grade D.  Stuff you wouldn't even feed your dog. And the reason they cut all these corners is to save a few bucks.  Not from your pocket, but theirs.  They don't care how much it costs you as long as you keep spending your money in their restaurants.

And while we're at it, let's not just pick on Taco Bell.  How about Burger King, KFC, McDonald's...I could go on...they're all in the same boat!  They all use fillers and additives! None of that stuff is real food because if it was people would complain its too expensive.  And let's not stop with fast food restaurants.  You wanna talk about Perdue chicken and what a bunch of soulless money-hungry liars they are?? I've seen videos and read some research about how they treat their chickens that they "claim" in their commercials by Mr. Perdue himself, are organic and antibiotic free and pampered like movie stars.  It's enough to make you sick.  Which is exactly how I feel every time I see one of their commercials.

Everybody talks about wanting good quality food but when it really comes down to it, no one wants to put out the bucks for it.  So what's the result?  Large food companies who serve us crappy "meat" mixtures where at least half of it, if not more, is made up of a bunch of chemicals and hormones causing food allergies to run rampant amongst our kids, diabetes, heart disease, early onset of puberty, short this fake cheap food is killing our nation.  No other country lives like we Americans do, with our cheap fast food and no other country has the health problems that we do either. And who's really to blame?  The large food companies? They are not entirely without guilt.  However, they wouldn't bother making or selling us this crap if we didn't keep buying it.

Now there's some food for thought....what's more important, a cheap non-meat taco or the health and well-being of your family?  For me, I'm more than willing to shell out a few extra bucks for the real stuff.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow and Soup

So we had the first major snowfall of 2011 here in Northern Virginia last night.  I think it was about 10" or something. The roads were a mess and many of our friends and family were trapped for hours in non-moving traffic because of people having to abandon their cars in the middle of the roads, running out of gas, getting stuck, or just giving up on getting home.  Even my dad ended up staying the night at our house because he couldn't take anymore driving after being on the road for almost 6 hours to get from DC to Sterling, and he lives another (normally) hour drive further out from my house! What a messy nightmare!

And yet, in the midst of all that treachery, we took a moment to admire the stillness and beauty of that thing which was making so many people's lives so miserable.

It was a good thing I decided earlier that day to make some hot homemade soup! Only my second soup I've ever made (the first being a pumpkin bisque I made last year, sadly, long before the conception of my food blog).  This time I made a French Onion Baked Potato Soup.

In honor of National Soup Month, I've been dying to make a good hearty soup that even my non-soup-loving husband would enjoy.  When I asked him a couple weeks ago, what kind of soup I should make for him, he suggested baked potato soup.  So I began the hunt for a thick warm stew-type soup that would satisfy the hungry beast within him.
my poor little bird feeder...sorry birdies!

Lo and behold, I came upon several recipes that stood out to me.  A couple potato soups and a couple French onion soups (hubby LOVES the French onion soup at Mon Ami Gabi, one of our favorite local restaurants).  So which one do I choose??  I decided to do what I always do in this situation...I chose both kinds!!  Why do I have to choose just one soupy delight?  I can have them all by stealthily combining the recipes using bits and pieces of each to create my own masterpiece!

Well, maybe not a masterpiece but at least a darn good soup.

I will say, though hubby was very pleased with the outcome, I thought it maybe could've used a little more seasoning and I wish the flavor of the onions came through a little more (so if anyone has any suggestions??) but all in all, it did turn out pretty good and was a perfect way to welcome, or curse, the snow!

3 cups chicken or veggie broth
1/2 onion
3 TBsp butter, plus butter for sauteeing
3 Tbsp flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups of milk (or 1 cup milk & 1/2 cup heavy cream)
3 tsp herb/seasoning (I used rosemary and garlic powder)
5 small potatoes
1 cup bacon
1 cup mushrooms
4 thin slices of sourdough bread
butter for spreading on bread
sliced and/or shredded cheese of your choice for topping
(This makes about 4 servings)
yummy very thick bacon from local farm, Chicama Run

Cook bacon and cut into pieces. (If you want good crisp bacon without a mess or fuss, bake the slices in the oven at 400 for about 15-20 depending on the thickness of the slices).  Preheat saute pan and melt butter.  Chop onions and mushrooms and add to saute pan on low heat.  Cook until onions begin to caramelize.

Pour broth into large pot. Chop potatoes and boil in broth until soft.  Ladle 1/3 to 1/2 of potatoes (depending on how chunky you want your soup) with some broth into a blender and blend until smooth.  Then pour into a crockpot along with the rest of the potatoes and broth. Turn the crockpot on low just to keep soup warm until serving. 


In same hot pot already used, melt butter and add salt, pepper, and other seasonings.  Slowly add flour, stirring out lumps.  (Note: the flour may be a step you could skip if you don't want the soup to be super thick as mine was) Pour in milk/cream and stir until thick and bubbly, being careful to keep it from burning on the bottom.  Add bacon, onions, and mushrooms to milk mixture.  Then add milk mixture to potatoes in crockpot.

When almost ready to serve, spread a thin layer of butter on sourdough slices as well as a few thin slices of cheese, and lightly toast until cheese is melted.  Spoon soup into 2 large bowls.  Place one toasted sourdough slice on top of soup in each bowl and shred more cheese on top of that.  If your bowls are oven-safe, place on a baking sheet in a preheated oven at 400 just until top cheese is melted.  If not, you can also place the bowls in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds to do the same thing. Place bowls on small plates and serve remaining sourdough slices on the side.
very thick and chunky

ooh, melted cheese
hmm, needs more cheese
that better!

Another note: The soup is very thick and hearty. And if there's plenty for leftovers the next day, be prepared to reheat it a little extra-long because it will be almost as thick as mashed potatoes! Enjoy!
P.S. If you want to check out the original recipes I borrowed from...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

DC restaurants are awesome!

On the heels of Restaurant Week, I thought I'd share a few more DC restaurant adventures that I've been wanting to blog about for a while.  DC has so many cool and unique restaurants that offer amazing food rivaling any other American culinary cities and one of my goals in life to experience as many of them as I can.

Last summer hubby and I decided to take a long weekend in DC.  We're so close to DC but we rarely get there and are able to hang out long enough to really enjoy the city and all it has to offer.  So why not get a hotel and stay the weekend?
M St Bar and Grill inside St. Gregory Hotel

Now I have to warn you...I wasn't a food blogger at the time so I didn't get as many pictures as I would've liked.  It just wasn't on my mind to take pictures of all my food back then! Anyway...We stayed at the St. Gregory Hotel and Suites, located at 2033 M Street just outside Georgetown.  It was very nice and looked way more expensive than it was.Complete with a statue of Marilyn Monroe in the lobby and the M Street Bar and Grill downstairs providing room service.
St. Gregory Hotel lobby with Marilyn Monroe

Our first night was a Thursday and we attended Brew at the Zoo, a charity/foodie event at the National Zoo where the proceeds benefit the animals and research there.  The next day, Friday we went to 3 different places: Urbana, Sushi Taro, and Hank's Oyster Bar.

Urbana ( is located in the bottom of  Hotel Palomar near Dupont Circle. Urbana is actually a hip urban wine bar but they happen to serve a great breakfast as well. Hubby had eggs, sunny-side-up, with rustic potatoes and applewood smoked bacon.  I had the challah french toast with fresh strawberry compote, which was huge! The bread was huge, the strawberries were huge and so sweet! It was an awesome way to spend our first morning in DC.
late night snack...brownie sundae at M St Grill

After a little shopping in Georgetown, we had lunch at a little place called Sushi Taro (  This ended up being one of hubby's faves this weekend. If you like sushi, this is the place to go in DC. The inside has that very neat precise Asian minimalist flair.  The sushi was probably the best we've ever had.  We ordered some kind of sampler sashimi platter to share.  And then we ordered a couple pieces of toro a la carte. Toro is the fatty underbelly of a is amazing! Especially when fresh and prepared correctly. This was my first time trying it and I couldn't believe how soft and savory it was. It just melted on my tongue!  The other sushi we had there was really good too. You could tell it was super fresh and top quality fish. Among the sushi platter was this humongous raw oyster! I've never seen an oyster that big! It was big enough we were able to cut it up into 3 or 4 pieces for us to share.

sushi platter at Sushi Taro (see the huge oyster on the left in its shiny shell?)

After that we needed a nap! A brief snooze geared us up for a dinner at Hank's Oyster Bar (which I just discovered there's one in Alexandria too). ( This place has a very casual and fun atmosphere.  Not very big so it can get crowded fast. When you are seated, instead of bringing you a bread basket like every other restaurant, they bring you a small bowl of goldfish crackers! I love that unique little touch!  Here we ordered some small plates...ceviche with lime and jalepeno, fried oysters, and old bay fries.  I discovered after this weekend that I'm not a fan of oysters, either raw or fried, and they're not a fan of me either. However, I gave them a good college try (hubby loved them!).  Everything was great though! All in all a fun food-filled day in DC!
late night snack...sushi tempura at M St Grill

More of our past DC weekend coming up!

Sunday, January 23, 2011


Ok, last installment of our Restaurant Week January 2011 food adventures. :(   Last night we went to dinner at Vermillion, located right on King Street in the middle of Old Town Alexandria.  The night streets were lined with lighted trees dancing on the edges of the sidwalks and the nightlife traffic was bustling.  So bustling in fact that we had to circle the block several times and even call the restaurant to hold our table so we could find a place to park and not lose our reservation. Luckily we eventually found a spot not too far away from the restaurant, thankfully, because it was FREEZING outside last night!!

We finally made it inside the restaurant where it was warm and cozy.  Brick walls with a mixture of modern lamps and gas lanterns lined the cozy tables and the bar scene was bumpin!  We were seated upstairs where it was slightly quieter and we were greeted by a wall of wine bottles at the top of the stairs.
the nightlife

The food here was not particularly unique but it was very yummy!  To start, we were brought a complimentary tasting from the chef.  Miniature Greek Meatballs with a cauliflower puree.  So yumm! I wish these were bigger and more of them! They even made the cauliflower taste good! We practically licked the cute little bowls they were served in.

For the first course, I chose Rock Shrimp and Atlantic Squid.  You kinda expect squid to be a little chewy, even when cooked well.  Not this time! It was so soft and perfect! The shrimp and squid were served on top of a bed of 3 different kinds of beans mixed with salsa verde and thai chilies all piled on top of a slice of toasted focaccia drizzled with olive oil. It was nice and light and savory.

Hubby's first course was, of course, the Carpaccio of Wagyu Beef.  Its hard for him to pass up wagyu because you don't really see it very often. And it really is so succulent! This wagyu was served with tiny little pumpernickel croutons, baby watercress, a spicy mustard vinagrette, and a couple little pieces of parmesan cheese. Again, very light tasting for a beef dish.

For the second course, I chose the Wild Mushroom Ravioli. This was served with Swiss chard, fresh pomegranate seeds, chunks of roasted sweet potato, dollops of goat cheese, and a sage brown butter.  Oh sooo good!  The Swiss chard I found interesting because not long ago I had a bad experience with it and decided I didn't like or want to try it again.  But, I figured I would be brave.  Maybe I would like it in a different setting.  And surprisingly it wasn't too bad with the ravioli.  I mean, you'd be hard pressed to make mushroom ravioli with brown butter and goat cheese taste bad.  I'm a sucker for goat cheese and this did not disappoint.  It combined nicely with the other flavors and the pomegranate gave a nice sweet pop.

Hubby's second course was the Duroc Pork Loin.  It was cooked medium well so it was still slightly pink and served on top of caramelized 3 herb spatzle and pickled cabbage.  It took us a while to figure out what the spatzle was.  Hubby said it tasted like eggs and I thought it tasted like some kind of cheesy pasta.  Turns out we were both right.  Spatzle is a kind of egg noddle often served in German and Austrian cuisine.  Either way it was very tasty and worked well with the sourness of the cabbage and the sweet tender porkiness of the meat.

Then came dessert.  There were only 2 to choose from so I got one and hubby got the other.  Mine was the Bittersweet Chocolate Bombe.  Sounds decadent and amazing right? It was!  Bittersweet chocolate mousse combined with dulce de leche and topped with espresso ice cream and a couple cocoa tuilles (which we learned about from Masa 14) and the plate was shmeared with a sticky caramel sauce. I thought I might be too full already to finish such a decadent dessert but somehow my tummy found the room!

Hubby's dessert was no slouch either.  A Cider Roasted Bosc Pear.  It looked like a little steaming teepee of deliciousness when it arrived.  (There was literally steam coming out of the top!) It was served with caramelized maple ice cream, granola, cranberries, and a piece of sesame brittle for decoration.  The maple in the ice cream was pleasantly subtle and made the perfect companion to the hot juicy pear, the crunch of the granola and brittle, and the tartness of the cranberries.

Once again, an awesome meal at an awesome restaurant in the DC area.  I'm sad to see the week come to an end.  There were so many restaurants we still wanted to try! So much food and so little time. :(   I guess we'll just have to make plans for the next Restaurant Week!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A desk and a cheesecake...

Ok, I'm taking a little break from the Restaurant Week reviews for just a moment to share an adorable little food adventure we ran into today in our travels involving a desk and a cheesecake. 

I've been wanting a new desk for a while.  I had one of those crappy $30 computer desks from Walmart or something which I got rid of over a year ago. And since then I've been using a card table for my desk. Functional but a little ghetto. 

About 2+ weeks ago I began scouring Craigslist for a nice but inexpensive desk that would have a little storage and a fairly large work space.  After much trauma (long story), I finally found a great desk that would fit my needs perfectly and for only $60.  The only drawback was that we had to drive to Warrenton to get it, which is about an hour's drive from where we live.
it's kind of in pieces at the moment for easier travel

So we trek out to Warrenton, pick up the desk without much ado and start to head back home.  Then just outside Warrenton we're going through a small intersection where on the right corner there is a local bank.  And on the street in front of the bank is a sign that reads "Key Lime Cheesecake".  What?!

Lo and behold we see in the parking lot of this bank, a teeny tiny building not much bigger than my bathroom, with a sign that says "Cheesecake Heaven" and it has a drive-thru window.  We literally slam on the brakes as we go through the light and make a ripping turn into the parking lot.  We gotta see what this is.
yes, this is the entire building!

We pull up to this tiny little window and a lady opens it to help us and explain their menu.  It was the most adorable little eatery I've ever seen!! The inside was just big enough to hold a refrigerator case full of cheesecakes, a cash register, and a drink fountain where you could order either Coke, Diet Coke, or Sprite. They had cheesecakes by the slice or you could purchase a 7" one (which serves 2-4 people) or a large one like for a party or something.
there's hubby, (we drove away from the window so I could take pictures)

The flavors all looked amazing!  Plain, which had a cinnamon cookie crust, Chocolate Mousse, White Chocolate Raspberry, Snickers, Oreo, Fudge Brownie, Keylime, and Peanut Butter. Yumma Yumma!!

Now my hubby is not traditionally a dessert man.  Neither is he the type to, just on a whim, go buy something like this.  But even he was readily picking out a flavor as soon as we saw the menu. We, of course, picked a 7" Peanut Butter cheesecake to take home (peanut butter, especially when combined with chocolate, one of my all time favorite things to eat in the world).  We haven't gotten to taste it yet but the smell of peanut butter just knocks you in the face as soon as you open it.  Already I can see why she calls it Cheesecake Heaven!

So we go to buy a desk for my office and in turn find a cute culinary adventure.  Here's this one local lady, buying local ingredients, making fancy little cheesecakes out of her home and carting them to this teeny tiny little drive-thru on the corner of a highway.  Simple yet full of yumminess and pleasure and local flavor.  It doesn't get much better than that!

Cheesecake Heaven is located at 5125 Lee Highway, New Baltimore, VA 20187 (just outside Warrenton). Their phone number is 540-341-4114.  Also look for Jane's Cheesecake Heaven Drive Through on Facebook!

Friday, January 21, 2011


Continuing our Restuarant Week food adventures...Last night we went to Bastille, which is located on Royal Street in Alexandria, a few blocks from the main strip of Old Town Alexandria.  A little off the beaten path and next to a few industrial factories and railroad tracks, the building, from the outside, seems a little too low key for such fine French cuisine.  But when you step inside, the low-keyness gives way to a homey warmth and intimate coziness.

The restaurant is fairly small, seating maybe 20-30 tables at most. And it has a traditional old French feel with a modern twist.  And the food does the same thing. I must note, that this restaurant supports local organic sustainable farming! Congrats to them!

For the first course, we chose the Bastille Duck Charcuterie.  It had duck prepared 3 ways...prosciutto style, rillettes (which was almost like a soft sausage without a casing), and duck confit served with a fruit mustarda sauce.  The proscuitto of course was sliced very thin and was juicy and salty.  A perfect combination with the sauce which had a spicy tang to it.  The rilletes was soft and smokey, very delicious. And the duck confit...for those who may not know, confit is where you fry something in its own fat which gives it extra fatty was crispy on the outside like a fantastic home-fried chicken and the duck on the inside was fatty and moist and delectable. (I apologize, some of these pictures aren't the greatest. It was a little dark in there and with such an intimate atmosphere, I didn't feel it was appropriate to use a flash every time we got served a dish.)
Left: duck confit; Middle: prosciutto with sauce and greens on top; Right: baguette slice and rillettes

The other first course dish we chose was the Country Pate with a lentil salad.  Neither one of us had ever had pate so we figured we'd give it a try.  It looked like a rectangular patty of uncooked sausage. That may sound a little unappetizing but trust me, it wasn't.  Again, similar to the rillettes, it had a soft smokey flavor like a savory sausage.  The lentil salad was light and a bit vinagery with a patch of some kind of leafy salad bits on top.  And it was served with a dollop of some kind of mustard seed sauce which was tart and tangy.
Lentil salad (left); Country Pate (right); middle is sauce and a baguette slice

Then came the entree course.  I chose the pan-roasted Lamb Strip Loin with a fresh olive harissa and winter vegetables with Merguez tajine.  Ok, a lot of words, I didn't understand and maybe you don't either so heres a quick explanation.  Olive harissa is sort of like an olive salsa, a mixture of olives, capers, tomatoes, parsley, olive oil, maybe sherry vinegar and sometimes other spices.  It definitely has a very olivey taste which I really like.  Merguez is apparently an African spicy lamb sausage and Tajine is a Moroccan dish traditionally cooked in a heavy clay pot with meat and vegetables with numerous spices such as tumeric, cinnamon, cardamom, cumin, ginger. So the vegetables had a sweet spicy flavor with a few bits of meat, very softly cooked.  The lamb itself, the main part of the dish, needs no explanation.  Just a word....yummy.  Ooh, I almost forgot, the veggies were topped with pumpkin seeds and pomegranate seeds, a nice little pop!
Lamb Strip Loin and winter vegetables

The other entree dish my hubby picked was the grilled Flat-iron Steak topped with a shallot cabernet sauceand served with pommes frites (or French fries to the layman).  The steak was cooked perfectly, juicy and flavorful. Incidently they automatically cook it medium rare unless you specify otherwise, which was perfect for us.  And the sauce...omg, the sauce was amazing.  I could just eat the sauce with a spoon!
Flat-iron Steak with cabernet sauce and French fries

There was an optional cheese course we could've added after the entree but we knew we'd be too full for dessert if we did that.  Too bad cuz I'm a total cheese lover! But that just means we'll have to go back another time! :)

Dessert course...I chose the Pumpkin Creme Brulee with apple compote, sage, and bacon.  Now this is what the menu said, but I'm just now finding out that I don't think thats entirely what I got. :(   The pumpkin brulee itself was awesome.  Sweet pumpkin creaminess topped with the burnt crispy sugar.  Perfection.  However, I didn't get any apple compote and the sage and bacon flavors were a little absent.  So that's a little disappointing. However, that does not take away from the yumminess of the dish I received. And it was served with a cute mini biscotti that tasted of hazelnut, perhaps?
Pumpkin Brulee

Hubby's dessert was the Apple Tartin with orange armagnac sabayon.  Ooh, sounds so fancy! The orange stuff was amazing.  Armagnac is a distinctive kind of brandy and the sabayon part is like a custard made with the armagnac.  Apple Tartin is like an upside-down mini apple pie but so much better, especially combined with the orange liquer and creaminess of the sabayon.  Beautiful and delectable!
Apple Tartin

A sweet and perfect ending to a wonderful meal!