Friday, March 28, 2014

Fresh Noodles and Buns at Chinatown Express

Chinatown Express is quickly becoming my favorite lunch spot in DC.  They make the most amazing fresh noodles and steamed pork buns.  My great love for old school noodle shops may be a nostalgic throwback to my Poppy taking us out for lunch at noddle shops in Chinatown Philadelphia.  I just love watching people making the fresh noodles and buns in the front window. 
It really is a unique skill and it certainly makes a huge difference in the quality and taste of the meal.  This also means that your lunch arrives at your table super quickly, making it the perfect spot for a weekday lunch break from the office.  Especially if you are lunching with your friend Bob and you are listening to him complain about...everything.
Fresh Noodles and Buns at Chinatown Express
We only ever order two things and they are easy to remember because they are the top two things on their Lunch Special Menu: Fresh Noodle Soup and Steamed Pork Buns.  We get the fresh noodle soup with duck and it is one of the 40 Dishes Every Washingtonian Must Try 2013.  It is on this list for a reason.  It is totally delicious.  The duck has crispy skin and the broth is so rich from the delicious duck. 
But the true star of the dish if, of course, the noodles.  No limp, boring noodles here.  They are perfectly cooked and tender, but with great body.  They soak up the delicious broth and are full of flavor.
This is really one of the most perfect lunch dishes that will leave you perfectly satisfied and ready to take on the rest of your day at work.  Or take a nap under your desk.
Not to be outdone, the steamed pork buns come out fresh from the steamer with a little bed of cabbage.  It may sound weird for a pork bun to taste "fresh" but that is what the handmade dumplings will do.  It is a the perfect ratio of bun to pork filling, which makes for two delightful little bites.
They have a trio of delicious little sauce-ish items to accompany your buns.  My favorite is the super garlicky green sauce.  There is a really spicy red sauce, but I am too wimpy to use it.  They also have pickled ginger.  But the green sauce will give you the WORST garlic breath in the universe, but it will be well worth it.  The punchy garlic green sauce compliments the sweet pork and dumplings perfectly.
Yum, yum, yum.

One Year Ago: Fried Fish Tacos
Two Years Ago: Spicy Apricot Baked Chicken
Three Years Ago: Provencal Beef Stew

Friday, March 14, 2014

Pear Oat Muffins

Happy π Day, math nerds!  I've been on a bit of a home repair tear lately, so my cooking is suffering.  But I got a very sweet reminder to post from my newborn cousin who is surprisingly adept at Facebook for her age.  So I give you a delicious breakfast treat.  These muffins are filling, slightly sweet, and totally delicious.  They puffed up into a glorious golden dome much better than my muffins usually do.  I think this is because of the right ratio of wet to dry ingredients, but MORE importantly because I just brought new baking powder and baking soda.  I never really "run out" of these things, so I rarely think to replace them when I'm at the store.  But this is a good reminder that my baked goods are always greatly improved when I am using fresh ingredients.  I happen to be hosting my 3 favorite people who are not named Mark this weekend and I will feed these muffins to them.  While my sister, mom, and dad are busy chewing...they'll be too busy to drive me (and my long-suffering husband) crazy :)
Pear Oat Muffins (makes 24 muffins)
1 cup oats, plus 2 Tbs. for topping the muffins
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
2 ripe pears (chopped ripe)
3/4 sour cream
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs. vanilla extract
2 eggs

1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees and combine your dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
2. Peel and grate the pear using a box grater.
It will be very juicy - that's good you want the fruit and the juices.
3.  Whisk together sour cream, oil, vanilla, and eggs.
4.  Mix the pear and wet ingredients into the dry until just combined.
5.  Evenly divide the batter between 24 muffin tins and sprinkle the top with the remaining 2 Tbs. of oats.
6.  Bake for 18 minutes until slightly golden and puffed up.
7.  Remove from the pan and allow to cool on a rack.
Best the same day, but they will keep fresh in an airtight container for a few days.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Espinacas Con Garbanzos

My friend Erin is in living in Barcelona (so jealous!) and is loving all the delicious Catalan foods that she is sampling over there.  Luckily, we get a little peak into her Barcelona kitchen to enjoy one of her favorite new recipes that she learned in Spain.  You can follow more about Erin's adventure on her blog  Thanks, Erin!

Hola guapos! I'm Erin, DC area native and long time fan of CSK. (Emily, you are my Thanksgiving feast spirit guide.) I've been spending the last year in Barcelona, Spain, learning the language, culture and food. What I love so much about the food here is that the dishes are almost always simple and fresh. They have truly mastered how to bring out the best qualities of individual ingredients. The Mediterranean climate is perfect for growing most fruits and vegetables year round, which means the markets are always stocked with delicious, fresh and cheap produce.
This is my all time favorite place to buy my fruits & veggies. It's located about 50 meters from my front door, has great quality and is dirt cheap. You know a place is good when it is regularly swarmed with older Catalan ladies.
Santa Caterina market is one of the most famous in the city (2nd to La Boqueria) and is less than a five minute walk away. You can find just about anything you would want in here.
My preferred produce stand in Santa Caterina. If you are traveling to a European market that is frequented by tourists, go past the first few stalls and find the gems hidden in the middle and the back. They will be more affordable and frequented by the locals.
Here's the view from my kitchen. A faltering herb garden (hey, not bad for February) lots of trees, old buildings and a playground.

I present to you one of my favorite dishes, espinacas con garbanzos (spinach with chickpeas), which can be served tapas style over bread, as a side dish to grilled pork/fish/chicken, or on its own for a quick lunch. This particular recipe serves 6-8, so feel free to cut it in half as it does not taste quite as good leftover the next day.
Espinacas Con Garbanzos (Adapted from Jose Andres)
2 15oz cans of chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1/4 cup EVOO, then extra for drizzling
5 garlic cloves, peeled and whole
1 lb fresh spinach, washed and stems removed
Medium sized slice of hearty bread, crust removed
2 tablespoons paprika, I used the Smoked Spanish variety from Penzeys
1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Sea salt and ground pepper to taste
1.  Place chickpeas in a large stockpot, cover with cool water, just enough to cover them. Place on medium heat to warm up while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
2. Heat 1/4 cup EVOO in a small skillet over medium heat. Brown the garlic cloves for 3 min, then set in a bowl. Brown the bread in the same skillet, 1 min each side.
Place the bread in the bowl with the garlic. Remove the skillet from heat, allow to cool for a few minutes.
This would be better with a mortar & pestle, but I had an ice cream scooper. Worked just fine. Expats gotta be resourceful.
3. Mash the bread & garlic for several minutes to make a thick paste. Add a bit of EVOO as needed to get the desired consistency.
4. Add paprika, cumin, vinegar to semi-cool skillet, mix and allow to sit
5. Bring chickpeas to a low boil. Add spinach, one handful at a time, pausing in between to press into the water. Simmer for 5 minutes.
6. Add paprika mixture and garlic/bread paste to chickpeas & spinach, creating a thick stewy sauce. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally mashing some of the chickpeas.
7. Add sea salt and pepper to taste
8. Serve immediately on slices of baguette, tapas style, or as a side dish to grilled fish, chicken or pork.

For more musings about expat life, feel free to check my blog:

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Minestrone a.k.a. Ed's Good Soup

This recipe is courtesy of my beautiful sister and her hubby, who are always cooking up fun things in the kitchen.  It is the perfect soup to have on a cold night or would be delicious for a weekday lunch.

Ok, so technically this is Ina's recipe, but Ed made it and liked it so it is now referred to in our house as "Ed's Good Soup."  This soup is actually better after it sits so I recommend cooking all the way through Step 4 and then allowing the soup to cool and refrigerating it overnight.  When you are ready to serve, reheat the soup, then continue on to finish it off in Step 5.  We served this on Superbowl Sunday with some crunchy bread and sprinkled with parmesan cheese.
Minestrone a.k.a. Ed's Good Soup (adapted from Ina Garten's recipe)
4 ounces pancetta, 1/2-inch-diced
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups diced carrots
2 cups diced celery
2 1/2 cups (1/2-inch-diced) peeled butternut squash
1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
2 teaspoons dry thyme
1 (26-ounce) can or box diced tomatoes
6 cups vegetable stock (recipe here!)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups cooked orzo
8 to 10 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup good dry white wine
2 tablespoons store-bought pesto
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving

1.  Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pot or Dutch oven. Add the pancetta and cook over medium-low heat for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.
2.  Add the onions, carrots, celery, squash, garlic, and thyme and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften.
3.  Add the tomatoes, wine, and stock, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper to the pot
(*please note, the last time Ed made this he used 1 1/2 TABLESPOONS of pepper - I do not recommend using tablespoons when the recipe calls for teaspoons - use 1 1/2 teaspoons*).

4.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Add the beans and cooked pasta and heat through. 

5.  When you are ready to serve, add the spinach and cook just until the spinach leaves are wilted and stir in the pesto.

We did not give any to Penny but I included a picture of her anyway!
Editor's Note:  Penny is my favorite niece because she always seems to be giving my sister the same annoyed look that I am always giving my sister. 

One Year Ago: Better-than-Steakhouse T-bone Steak
Two Years Ago: Baked Buffalo Wings
Three Years Ago: Stuffed Baked French Toast

Monday, February 10, 2014

The "V" word and how to survive it

No one loves to eat out at a restaurant as much as me.  A night off from cooking where I can get inspired by new food is always a treat.  But really I love it because drinking multiple cocktails or glasses of wine in a restaurant feels sophisticated and classy.  Downing a bottle of sauvignon blanc on my couch on a Tuesday...well let's just say that while I love doing doesn't have that same classy flair that I wish it did.  But I digress.  There is a time a place for a restaurant meal and for me, Valentine's Day just isn't that time.  I don't want to be squeezed into a crowded place with every other love bird in the city, worrying about what to order to how my hair looks after a long day of work.  I want to be home and relaxing with a big glass of good wine and an even bigger plate of delicious food.

My Valentine Dinner is made by Mark and it is an homage to our first sorta date, which was inadvertently on Valentine's Day.  It is always a Cast Iron Ribeye Steak and Perfect Baked Potato and it is always perfect, just like him.

Here are a few more tried and true favorites of mine that are sure to make your Valentine's Day special whether you are cooking for yourself, your family, or your special someone.

For the one you love MOST
Roasted Shrimp Dinner for One

NY Strip with Chimichurri Sauce
Whiskey Balsamic Steak
BETTER-than-Steakhouse T-Bone Steaks
Rosemary Balsamic Steaks

Coconut Curry Mussels
Pistachio-Parmesan Crusted Cod
Honey Chipotle Salmon

Veal Osso Bucco
Maple-Whiskey Pork Chops
Rosemary Garlic and Caper Rubbed Lamb Chops
Chipotle Lime Chicken (I wasn't going to suggest a chicken, but this one is so stinkin' good)

Dessert (maybe I should have listed this first)
Strawberry Cannoli's
Cannoli Cheesecake
Peanut Butter Swirl Brownies
Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake
Chocolate Chocolate Goat Cheese Marble Swirl Brownies
Salted Butterscotch Sauce

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Crockpot Balsamic-Honey Chicken

Crockpot meals are really an amazing thing. Throw some ingredients in the pot before leaving for work and come home to a house that smells as though you've been cooking all day. I don't know about you, but I am almost always hungry. I am the MOST hungry when I arrive home after a long day at work and a commute home on my beloved 80 bus. This is why I love coming home to a dinner that only takes minutes to finish. I can pour myself a glass of wine and tuck into my dinner that much faster. The only bad thing about crockpot recipes is that they are rather unglamorous to photograph.  It is so hard for an amateur like me to get a nice shot into the deep recesses of the crockpot.  Oh well - it doesn't stop me from trying.  This particular variation on chicken only has a few ingredients and they blend so perfectly together to create a balanced flavor: balsamic (sharp), honey (sweet), soy (salty), and whiskey (earthy).  You get so much depth from this mix and the chicken soaks up all the amazing flavor. 
Crockpot Balsamic-Honey Chicken
4 chicken thighs (bone-in; skin-on)
1 onion
1/4 cup balsamic
1/4 cup whiskey
2 Tbs. honey
2 Tbs. low sodium soy sauce
salt and pepper

1.  Coarsely chop your onion and lay it as a base in the crockpot.  Rinse and pat your chicken dry, season on both sides with salt and pepper, and set in the crockpot.. 
One important thing that is often overlooked about crockpot meals is that you still need to season your meat thoroughly, just at though you were going to sear it.  Otherwise, you meat will still be a bit bland, even after cooking all day.

2.  Mix together balsamic, soy, whiskey, and honey.  Pour over chicken.
3.  Cook on the lowest setting (mine is "Warm") for 8 hours.  It will NOT be beautiful when you get home.
4.  To crispy up the skin and make it a beauty, set the chicken on a foil-lined baking sheet and put under the broiler for 6-8 minutes, until the skin is crispy.
There...that's better.
5.  Skim some of the fat off the liquid left in the crockpot so that you can use the remaining liquid as a sauce.  If you want, you can put the liquid in a pot and reduce over high heat while the chicken is broiling OR you can use it as-is.  
6.  Serve up with your favorite sides and enjoy.

One Year Ago: Rosemary Pork Chops
Two Years Ago: Chili Dusted Pork Chops
Three Years Ago: Buffalo Roasted Chicken

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Spicy Maple Salmon

This is a fun, fast weeknight dinner if I ever saw one.  Salmon is a delicious fish and it is hearty enough to stand up to some great flavorings.  This particular combination was really fun.  Slightly sweet maple syrup and the heat from the pepper flakes balance out the healthy fat in the salmon.  It also comes together in 15 minutes so I don't have to wait around my kitchen, fighting off the urge to eat a whole bag of chips as an "appetizer" while my dinner is cooking.  I'm not even going to pretend that I used fancy maple syrup (although you could).  I used the regular old maple syrup that we have in the back of our fridge for those rare pancake mornings.  The maple syrup lightly flavors the fish and you get a noticeable hint of heat from the pepper.  I loved how easy this dish is to prepare which makes it a great date-night meal for the fellas who want to impress.
Spicy Maple Salmon
10 oz. piece salmon
1/2 tsp. salt
cracked black pepper
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1.  Rinse your piece of salmon in cold water and pat dry.  Line a baking sheet with foil and drizzle with olive oil so the fish doesn't stick. 
2.  Set the salmon on the baking sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
3.  Pour over maple syrup and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
4.  Bake for 10 minutes until the fish is flaky and cooked through.  My piece was about 1/2 in thick (as you can tell from the pictures) so 10 minutes was perfect.  If your pieces is thicker, you may need another 2-3 minutes for uniform done-ness.

One Year Ago:  MiB Award Winning Shass and Ale Pie
Two Years Ago: Banana Monkey Cupcakes
Three Years Ago: Spicy Eggplant Lasagna