Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Cheese and Charcuterie

The other night Superking and I were at the grocery store looking for something to bring home for dinner that night.  Pizza? I don't know.  Tacos? We just had that last night. Fish? We already have that 3 nights a week!

Top left: wine salami, truffle salami, jamon iberico; Bottom: Irish cheeses

So what to do? And then we see it...a lady handing out free samples of salami.  We have a taste. Yumm! We're hooked! Let's make a charcuterie platter!!  Who says charcuterie and cheese plates are only served at fancy restaurants and only as appetizers?! We've had cheese plates several times for dinner. And we're not the least bit ashamed!

Both cheese plates and charcuterie plates can be as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be. And they can accomodate most any price range too. First of all, let's talk charcuterie.  Some of you may be wondering exactly what that is.  Well, let me tell you, if you like meat, you'll LOVE charcuterie.  The word itself is from the Italian word for "cooked meat" and a charcuterie platter generally consists of various cooked and dried meats, sausages, salamis, hams, etc.  Most often it can be served alongside a cheese plate or on its own and the meats are usually accompanied by a variety of savory side items such as crusty bread, olives, pate, and maybe a spicy grainy mustard.

For our charcuterie plate, we chose three meats...a pinot noir wine salami, a black truffle pork salami, and jamon iberico, which is a really thinly sliced dry cured slightly spicy ham.  All three had their own unique savory flavor. We also paired our meats with some leftover Irish cheeses from our St. Patty's Day feast, some cooked shrimp, cheesy rosemary bread, and crunchy apples to add a little sweetness.

Apples, cheesy rosemary bread, shrimp

Now we can't talk about charcuterie without talking about cheese. Cheese is one of my all-time favorite foods. I've tried a lot of different kinds and I have yet to find one I didn't like.  Some of my faves though are gouda, brie, chevre (fresh goat cheese)...I could probably keep going for a while. Anyway, I digress...

Apple, dried cherry, and cinnamon filling for sweet baked brie

This is a dish I like to make for parties and sometimes just for me and Superking. Its simple yet looks beautiful, is filling, and very versatile for any occasion or time of year.  Baked Brie. I usually use a Pampered Chef recipe for this and most often I make the sweet version with apples, cranberries or cherries, almonds, cinnamon, and sugar.  This time I also wanted to do a savory one with mushrooms, red peppers, and olive oil.

sweet brie ready for baking

ooey gooey cheese with crunchy apples

The sweet apple brie I serve with fresh sliced apples, some crackers, possibly other fruits like grapes. The savory one I would serve with warm crusty bread, some fresh cut veggies, or some lovely charcuterie!

savory baked brie

mushrooms and red peppers sauteed in olive oil

There are no rules! Serve cheese and/or charcuterie as an appetizer, a dessert, a side dish, or even dinner! Pick 3-4 cheeses (if you pick too many you'll overwhelm your palette) that are of varying degrees of texture and pungency.  Pick 3-4 meats of varying flavors and textures.  Accompany them with sweet fruits (dried or fresh), salty nuts, crusty breads or crackers, fresh veggies, juicy olives.  Whatever you like! Savor and Enjoy!

sweet and savory: the best of both worlds
fancy cheese plate with apples and sopresata salami

Sunday, March 27, 2011

DC Cherry Blossoms Part Three: The Thunder Burger and Bar

After seeing the pretty cherry blossoms, it was still fairly early in the day and approaching lunch time.  We took a cab over to Georgetown (where we had our surprise run-in with the DC Cupcake girls) and went to lunch at the Thunder Burger and Bar.

This was a place Superking had been to a couple times without me :(  Now it was my turn! The restaurant has a rock 'n roll/ heavy metal theme with metal-studded leather chairs and red zebra velvety booths. We happened to arrive there when they were still serving brunch as well as lunch. The brunch menu looked tasty with an array of omelets and pancakes and waffles piled high with whipped cream and strawberries. But we opted for lunch.

the king's table

They are most known for their burgers, cooked medium or medium rare with a warm pink center unless otherwise requested.  Some people might be a little nervous about that but this restaurant serves only beef that is all natural, free-range, and freshly ground so its perfectly safe. And man, is it good and juicy!

the library room

fake ivy on the walls

old brick fireplace with large wooden mantel

Along with their free-range beef burgers comes a whole list of amazing, and some quite unique, toppings. Here are a few...charred jalepeno and poblano peppers, caramelized red onion relish, ancho or wasabi mayo, gorgonzola blue cheese, tobacco onions, pineapple salsa, triple creme brie cheese, fried egg, and pulled pork BBQ.  Those are probably some of the most unique ones. There were also more normal ones like tomato, mushrooms, cheddar cheese, bacon, guacamole. And all the burgers come with lettuce and remoulade sauce on a sesame seed challah bun.
powdered sugar chips served while waiting for our meal

Superking's burger had tobacco onions (no these don't taste like cigarettes, just a smoky flavor), charred peppers, grilled red onion, aged white cheddar, fried egg, and pulled pork BBQ.  Served with a small bucket of Thunder French fries.

Mine was a bit more simple with sauteed mushrooms, applewood smoked bacon, and triple creme brie. Of course, I had to do the brie! And it was served with sweet potato fries with a ginger aioli mayo.

Everything was very tasty! Or should I say, Yumma Yumma! The burgers were huge and I ended up taking half of mine home for dinner later! Overall it was a really neat place with great food. When are we going back??

DC Cherry Blossoms Part Two: Sakuras

"Sakura" is the Japanese word for cherry blossom.  In light of the recent overwhelming tragedy in Japan, this year's Cherry Blossom Festival in DC took on a special meaning for a lot of people. A few months ago, my husband and I decided to start saving money for a big trip to Japan within the next year or two. When we heard about the earthquake there and then the tsunami and now the continuing news of the nuclear reactors, we were heartbroken, wondering if there would even be a Japan left to visit.

The cherry blossoms are an important element in Japanese culture and art. Wikipedia states that the "cherry blossom is an omen of good fortune and is also an emblem of love, affection and represents spring. Cherry blossoms are an enduring metaphor for the fleeting nature of life, and as such are frequently depicted in art."

This is the site where the first cherry trees were planted when given as a gift from Japan.

Gazing at the beauty of these pink and white flowering trees I couldn't help but think about the Japanese people and hope that the same beauty and strength of these trees continues to shine through them and enables them to rebuild their beautiful country quickly.

I love it when you see the little blossoms growing right out of the trunk. Life always finds a way.

For us we are thankful to have the opportunity to enjoy these lovely flowers and the 
fresh air outside on a chilly day and a little time just the two of us.  In addition to the 
blossoms we were able to enjoy a few of the nearby monuments as well. An introspective 
look at how our own country was formed and strengthened.

Jefferson Memorial across the Tidal Basin

Washington Monument

Washington Monument through the blossoms

Jefferson Memorial

Edgar at the base of the Washington Monument

view of Washington Monument through the columns of the Jefferson Memorial

words of Thomas Jefferson about religious freedoms

Thomas Jefferson himself

Me by the waterfalls of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial

The Lincoln and WWII Memorials across the National Mall

underground tunnel in Jefferson Memorial

right in the middle through the trees is the White House in the distance

Here are some more of the pictures we took.  Enjoy! 

looking out across the Tidal Basin

my hunny

my hunny again walking from the car in Haines Point to get to the blossoms

even the potties were nice

the helpful beaver reminding us it is illegal to pick the blossoms

taking a nap in an old tree

a cute duckie husband and wife pair

view of the Capitol Building from the Washington Monument

boats in the marina at Haines Point

cool clump of old trees

Jefferson again