Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Travel Bites - New York City

As previously mentioned, Nikki and I spent an extended weekend traipsing around New York City. We ate, we drank, we laughed loudly and inconsiderately in numerous public places. It was fabulous.

Our trip started with a bit of shopping, then an afternoon snack at Fig & Olive. We sampled a variety of crostini that paired unique tastes of the Mediterranean: mushroom, artichoke, scallion, and parmesan; manchego, fig, and marcona almond; prosciutto, ricotta, fig, olive, and walnut; and shrimp, avocado, cilantro, and tomato. The meal was topped off with an absolutely amazing chocolate pot de crème. It was rich, silky perfection, really.

That evening, we took in a show and another tasty meal. Nice Work If You Can Get It with the one and only Ferris Bueller followed by margaritas and Mexican specialties at ToloacheI highly recommend the guacamole tradicional, langosta tacos (spicy lobster), and cactus fries.
Day 2: call us cheesy tourists, I don't care. But Nikki and I hit up the Dean & Deluca near our hotel and took our slightly pretentious picnic to Central Park. After fueling up with petit basque, salami, french bread, and lemon orzo salad, we spent the rest of the day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
We frolicked amongst the Pollocks, the Monets, the Warhols, the Rothkos, the Picassos, the Mirós, the Hoppers, the Titians, the Van Goghs, the Renoirs, and so on and so on. Got lost and turned around a few times, of course. But mostly just enjoyed our day with the masters.

Tomás Saraceno on the Roof: Cloud City

Our afternoon of art appreciation made us work up quite an appetite. So, off we went to Flex Mussels. This delightful little joint offer mussels, mussels, and more mussels. They cook up just about any and every flavor combination that you can imagine. And for those of you who don't know, I am a HUGE fan of mussels and was in savory seafood heaven. 

Nikki and I cracked open a lovely bottle of wine (or two) and feasted on the South Pacific (mussels with kaffir lime, cilantro, white wine, lemongrass) and the French Onion (caramelized onions, gruyere, croutons). For a well-balanced meal, add the truffle fries. You won't regret it.
Amanda and Nikki
The next morning, we woke up hungover and reaching for the Alka-Seltzer . . . coffee . . . aspirin . . . and water. But, after a bit of a slow start, Nikki and I made our way down to NoLita to meet an old friend for brunch at Café HabanaWe somehow managed to dodge the usually long line of "hungry hipsters" and squeezed into this small, funky joint for a great meal. 

Now, the three of us split some real, substantial dishes - the cuban sandwich and the chilaquiles verdes con pollo - which were tasty in their own right. But the main attraction at this popular spot is the Mexican-style grilled corn. Sounds pretty innocuous, right? NO. This stuff is addictive: fresh, crisp, smoky, and coated in chili powder, lime, and cotija cheese. It's downright delicious! And should not be passed up.
We spent the rest of the afternoon poking around shops in Soho, then wandered to the Urbanspace Meatpacking Market and the High Line - an elevated 1930s railroad track that has been transformed into a public park. After another wonderful day in the city, we managed to score last-minute tickets to The Book of Mormon: a perfectly irreverent and inappropriate send off for our weekend of sister bonding and joint birthday celebrations.

The next morning, we packed up and parted ways. Farewell until next time, New York. It was lovely.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Macerated Berries with Honey Vanilla Mascarpone Cream

Looking for a treat that's a bit simpler? Try this elegant, pared down dessert.

  • 1 cup of mixed berries of your choice (strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries work well), rinsed and hulled
  • 1 teaspoon Grand Marnier
  • 4 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 tablespoon half and half
  • 1-2 tablespoon honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Combine the berries and Grand Marnier in a medium bowl.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In another medium bowl, whisk together the mascarpone, half and half, honey, and vanilla until combined and slightly whipped.
  4. Serve the cream mixture on top of the berries.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chocolate Trifle Cake

Today is my very last twenty-something birthday: 29. It's a little anti-climactic. No more major milestones. I can already drink legally and rent a car. And it's not like I get to ring in the start of a new decade of existence. So, I guess now I just get a little older and hopefully a bit wiser.

In honor of this not-so-exciting birthday, I decided to fully embrace my misplaced angst and indulge in something big and decadent. And what's more ridiculous than multiple celebrations to kiss my roaring twenties goodbye? First, I convinced my sister to ditch life for a few days for a weekend trip to New York City. Then, a big home-cooked dinner with the in-laws followed up with a night of DC theater and Ethiopian food with the hubs. Needless to say, it has been an awesome week, but I still feel kinda "old" and boring.

Guess I'll just have to drown my sorrows in leftover birthday cake. Not a bad idea considering I made one of my favorites: Chocolate Trifle Cake with Macerated Strawberries and Mascarpone Whipped Cream.


Chocolate Cake
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed hot coffee
Macerated Strawberries
  • 2 lbs strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
  • 1-2 tablespoons sugar (depending upon sweetness of berries)
  • 1-2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
Mascarpone Whipped Cream
  • 8 oz. mascarpone cheese, softened
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, sifted


Chocolate Cake
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the flour with the sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt at low speed. 
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla. 
  4. Slowly beat in the buttermilk mixture into the dry ingredients until just incorporated.
  5. Slowly add the hot coffee until fully incorporated.
  6. Pour batter into 2 greased and floured 8-inch round pans.
  7. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean.
  8. Remove cakes from the oven and cool in pans for 30 minutes.
  9. Invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
  10. Using a long, thin serrated cake knife and a sawing motion, slice the cake horizontally into even layers.
* This recipe is adapted from Ina Garten's Double Chocolate Layer Cake.

Macerated Strawberries
  1. While the cake is baking, combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.
Mascarpone Whipped Cream
  1. Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, With an electric mixer on medium speed, beat heavy cream on medium speed until stiff peaks form. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together mascarpone and confectioners' sugar until smooth.
  3. Gently fold whipped cream into mascarpone mixture until completely incorporated.
  4. Place the bottom half of one of the cake layers on your serving dish. Using a pastry brush, mound one quarter of the whipped cream mixture in the center of the layer and, using an icing spatula, spread it to the edge.
  5. Top with an even layer of the macerated strawberries.
  6. Place the other half of the cake layer, crumb-side down. Top with whipped cream mixture and strawberries as described above.
  7. Repeat the same process for the remaining two layers.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sunday Supper - Odyssey Cruise

Now that we've lived on Washington's SW Waterfront for two years, Jared and I have seen countless sailboats and yachts pass by when we walk along the channel. We, inevitably, would say that we should figure out a way to hop on board one day, but then never followed through. Then, as luck would have it, we found a great deal on one of the dinner cruises. And with Rachel and Bobby in town, I knew we'd have some partners-in-crime.

So, we made plans to partake in a Sunday night Odyssey Dinner Cruise. You dine, you dance, you putter around the Potomac taking in the "monumental" views, as advertised.

Like any good tourist trap, it was a bit campy with its structured schedule and smooth jazz twinkling in the background. But, we had a few drinks, embraced the whole experience, and ended up having a really great night on the water. To top it all off, the food was pretty tasty as well.
First course: a delightful little shrimp cocktail appetizer.
Shrimp and Corn Chowder - roasted sweet corn, Gulf shrimp, red peppers and potato with fresh cream and an herbed crouton
Mushroom Braised Short Ribs - braised beef short ribs marinated in a shallot and wild mushroom gravy, served with garlic mashed potatoes and crispy onion straws
Odyssey's Signature Decadent Chocolate Truffle Torte - rich two-layer cake filled with a delicate chocolate mousse enrobed in a smooth dark chocolate ganache

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Travel Bites - Home Sweet Home

Thanks to our wedding earlier this year (and to the weddings of countless friends), it had been quite a long time since I traveled home with no particular agenda or schedule. So, it was really nice when Jared and I just hopped on a plane and spent five wonderful days in Louisiana, visiting family and friends, water skiing on the bayou, and relaxing on the slow days of summer. And, while back in Cajun country, we, of course, squeezed in a few meals at some of our favorite places.
The weekend began with breakfast at Meche's Donut King. These baked goodies are soft, doughy and practically melt in your mouth. They are served up warm and fresh and doused lovingly in a sugary glaze. Add a cup of Community Coffee and you are fueled up for the day. My favorites are the plain glazed donuts, but the apple fritters and Bavarian cream-filled donuts are a close second.

While we were in town, my parents celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary. So, Jared and I used that as an excuse to take Pete and Claude out one night. We returned to Café Des Amis, site of our infamous rehearsal dinner, in Breaux Bridge . . . partially because it's in the city where my parents met oh so many years ago, but mainly because it's amazing and we selfishly wanted to go back.

This eclectic joint is nestled in a beautiful old downtown building and is decorated with paintings and musings of local artists (rotating new pieces each month). It is also home to the famous Zydeco Brunch, which is basically a jazz brunch on steroids. People pack in on Saturdays and Sundays to enjoy Cajun cuisine and dance the morning away. Don't know how to dance to Zydeco music? Don't worry. A local will most likely harass you to join them if you look even remotely interested. Just embrace it.

We opted for dinner, instead, revisiting some of the things that we had been drooling over since the wedding in February: alligator sausage cheesecake; Yellowfin Tuna Rockefeller - seared tuna served on a bed of creamed spinach then etched with crawfish étouffée; and their white chocolate bread pudding - topped with a delicate white chocolate sauce.
The next day, we worked off some of that good Cajun cooking with an afternoon on the bayou. 

Pete and I taught my friend Megan how to water ski (with only a few wipeouts and bayou water nasal enemas to account for). Jared worked on perfecting his skills. Claude and Aunt Doris sat on the porch swing in the shade. And the day just sort of melted away.

As the sun went down, we fired up the grill for one last tasty meal. This time, we picked up a few pre-seasoned sirloin burgers and stuffed quails at the local Rouse's Supermarket. My dad cracked open a few bottles of his latest LBB brew and we got to grilling.
The Swamp Rat Ski Team
A man and his oil drum-turned grill.
We definitely slept well that night. And we left Louisiana the next day with full stomachs and heavy hearts. Cheers to a leisurely weekend in the boot!