Thursday, February 28, 2013

Travel Bites - Key West

After the chaos of the wedding week last year, Jared and I planned a road trip honeymoon through the Florida Keys. We flew to Miami, rented a car, and made our way down to the zero mile marker on Highway 1. This year, we returned to Key West for a long, tranquil weekend. It was warm, sunny, and weird. Just like we remembered.
For our first night back in town, we strolled around Old Town people watching and enjoying the weather. We stopped in at Santiago's Bodega for delicious tapas and sangria. It was a feast of cherry-hoisin glazed beef short ribs with orange-miso slaw; shrimp and chorizo skewered and pan-grilled with minced garlic; and cayenne-spiced potato croquettas with house ground prosciutto and provolone cheese served with scallion cream.
Sadly, they were out of the saganaki (haloumi cheese sprinkled with oregano and flambéed with brandy, served with pita bread), but it was probably for the best. Too many other tasty bits to try.
The next morning, we did the tourist thing and checked out the Hemingway House. Our feisty guide told us tales of the writer's stormy past - from loves and divorces to inspirations for novels and wild gaming. 
We traipsed around the beautiful estate for a while after our tour, and one of the six-toed cats befriended Jared (much to his dismay). The little beast made himself comfortable, even as my charming husband cursed and tried to push him away. A cat after my own heart, being perfectly sweet and infuriating all at once. Maybe we should have taken him home.
That evening, we walked down to Camille's for dinner. The wait staff there is eclectic and quirky. The decor is hippie-island chic with a nod to female power. The menu changes daily with food that is local and fresh. It's an odd little joint in the best way possible. We happened upon it during our trip last year and returned this year to find it just as strange as usual.
And, thankfully, just as tasty as we remembered. I ordered the Ahi tuna ceviche and seared swordfish, enjoying every mercury-laced bite. Jared went for the spaghetti with clams and white wine butter sauce. Lovely.
We spent the rest of our trip biking around the island, discovering new beautiful neighborhoods, touring the old fort, and relaxing in general. But we had one last culinary venture on our list for the weekend . . . and it was Better Than Sex. No really, that's the name of the restaurant.
This saucy little late night spot does nothing but desserts. And my sweet tooth finally met its match. The vibe is a little sultry and a little seedy. Rich textures and dark corners where some patrons were getting a little too handsy. Voyeuristic entertainment aside, this place is decadent and amazing. Our desserts of choice? The Chocolate Grilled Cheese: Danish brie cheese and dark Belgian chocolate grilled on home-style buttered bread kissed with cinnamon and sugar and served "snuggled up" against a shot of strawberry champagne soup. And the "Between My Red Velvet Sheets" Cheesecake: touted as velvet creamy love fluffed up to perfection. "You'll be floating on Cloud 69 from your first nibble." Get some.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Grilled PB & Banana Sandwich

Now that Lent is in full swing, I figure a meat-free Friday post is appropriate. This little twist on a classic is the perfect way to cap off my work week. Comfort food, book, bed. Looking forward to my quiet, relaxing evening.


  • two slices of bread (I used a loaf of oatmeal-honey wheat)
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon honey butter
  • 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
  • 1 small banana, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon good honey (optional)
Cinnamon Honey Butter
  • 1/4 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tablespoons good honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt


  1. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. 
  2. Spread cinnamon honey butter on one side of each slice of bread.
  3. On the other side of each slice of bread, spread the peanut better.
  4. Drizzle with honey (optional).
  5. Arrange the sliced bananas evenly on the peanut butter side of one slice of bread, then top with the other slice of bread (cinnamon honey butter side out).
  6. Note: I prefer creamy PB with sliced banana, but crunch PB with mashed banana would work well too. I wouldn't go with creamy PB and mashed bananas, though. The sandwich would lack a bit in texture.
  7. Grill the sandwich on medium heat until the peanut butter is slightly melted and gooey and the bread is golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.
Cinnamon Honey Butter
  1. Combine the butter, honey, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
  2. Refrigerate after initial use.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Traditional King Cake

So, I know that this is blasphemy, but I made a couple of post-season king cakes this weekend. First of all, it was my mother-in-law's birthday yesterday and her only requests were brunch with the family and a king cake birthday cake. And you just don't question a birthday cake request.
Typically, king cakes are reserved for Mardi Gras season,
but we're gonna go ahead and make a few exceptions here.
Secondly, one year ago today, Jared and I walked down the aisle, made it legal, and sealed our newly minted marriage with a giant tiered king cake. Instead of doing the traditional choking down of the year-old frozen, crusty wedding cake, we decided to bake our own king cake this year. And every year, from now on, in honor of the anniversary. In the process, hopefully we'll land on a recipe that becomes our new favorite.
The Anniversary Cake
For the first attempt, I found a recipe courtesy of one of my favorite Louisiana chefs, John Besh. While I'm sure that a better baker could have yielded better results, my cakes were a bit of a bust. They looked great and tasted ok, but they were dry and tough . . . thanks in large part to my over-kneading the dough. Oops. Better luck next year, I guess.

  • 1 cup lukewarm milk, about 110°F
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup butter, melted
  • 5 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh lemon zest
  • 3 teaspoons cinnamon
  • several gratings of fresh nutmeg
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • Purple, green, and gold decorative sugars

  1. For the cake, pour the warm milk into a large bowl. Whisk in the granulated sugar, yeast, and a heaping tablespoon of the flour, mixing until both the sugar and the yeast have dissolved.
  2. Once bubbles have developed on the surface of the milk and it begins to foam, whisk in the butter, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the remaining flour, cinnamon, and nutmeg and fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a large rubber spatula.
  3. After the dough comes together, pulling away from the sides of the bowl, shape it into a large ball. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes.
  4. Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside in a draft-free place to let it proof, or rise, for 1 1/2 hours or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  5. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Once the dough has risen, punch it down and divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough between your palms into a long strip, making 3 ropes of equal length. Braid the 3 ropes around one another and then form the braided loaf into a circle, pinching ends together to seal. Gently lay the braided dough on a nonstick cookie sheet and let it rise until it doubles in size, about 30 minutes.
  6. Once it's doubled in size, place the cookie sheet in the oven and bake until the braid is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven, place on a wire rack, and allow to cool for 30 minutes.
  7. For the icing, while the cake is cooling, whisk together the powdered sugar, condensed milk, and lemon juice in a bowl until the icing is smooth and very spreadable. If the icing is too thick, add a bit more condensed milk; if it’s a touch too loose, add a little more powdered sugar.
  8. Once the cake has cooled, spread the icing over the top of the cake and sprinkle with purple, green, and gold decorative sugars while the icing is still wet.
* King Cake recipe is adapted from John Besh's My New Orleans: The Cookbook.
Happy (belated) Birthday Sarah P!!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Sunday Supper - Seared Venison Backstrap with Mushroom Risotto

This meal is always a favorite. The tender, rare backstrap pairs nicely with the creamy, subtle flavors of the risotto. Perfect comfort food for a regular evening or a lovely dinner with friends. Pour yourself a glass of Côtes du Rhône Rouge and enjoy.


Seared Venison Backstrap
  • 1 2 lb. venison backstrap
  • 1/2 cup Allegro marinade
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Mushroom Risotto
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 1 cup Arborio rice
  • 2-3 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 pint mushrooms (creminis, oysters, porcinis, portobellos, shiitakes), cleaned and sliced
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated 
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon thyme, chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper


Seared Venison Backstrap
  1. Marinate the meat in the Allegro for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  3. Heat the olive oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.
  4. Sear the meat until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Turn and brown for an additional 2 minutes.
  5. Place skillet into the preheated oven and cook until medium rare, about 5-10 minutes depending on thickness.
  6. Allow meat to rest for 5-10 minutes.
Mushroom Risotto
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a large cast iron pot over medium heat.
  2. Add the shallots and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Stir in the rice. Heat the grains for 1 minute.
  4. Add 1/2 cup of hot broth and lower heat until barely simmering. Continue to stir constantly.
  5. As the liquid is absorbed, add more broth in small amounts.
  6. Continue the process until the rice is slightly tender. 
  7. In a separate pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  8. Add mushrooms and sauté until soft.
  9. Stir the mushrooms into the risotto.
  10. When the rice is almost completely cooked, add heavy cream and stir slowly until absorbed.
  11. Remove from heat and stir in cheese, fresh herbs, and pepper.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Cajun Shrimp Boil

Happy Mardi Gras everyone! Down in Louisiana, today is a major holiday filled with family, friends, parades, king cakes, beads, crawfish, and all sorts of other good food and good times. It's the last day of indulgence and celebrations before the ritual fasting during the penitential season of Lent.
Brad, Jared and the former Breaux Bridge Crawfish Queen
DC has its own brand of Mardi Gras festivities. The Mystick Krewe of Louisianians holds an annual ball during Carnival season in Washington to bring the pageantry and revelry up north for natives displaced in the area. The first ball was held in 1944 and the event has grown bigger and more popular ever since. Now, Festival Queens from every corner of the state are presented. 
Ally and I hangin' with Sen. John Breaux. No big deal.
And the Krewe consists of members from the Louisiana Congressional delegation, other individuals from around the state, and members of the Louisiana State Society here in DC. Since I have been on the LSS board for a few years, we've even gotten to dress out for the event.
Krewe Dat?!?
For the actual day, we plan to enjoy a good old fashioned Cajun shrimp boil alongside an Abita Mardi Gras Bock. It's a little taste of Louisiana during the chilly February weather, and a great way to cap off a fun Mardi Gras away from home.
Tonight, we're heading to a parade in the Arlington, Virginia neighborhoods of Courthouse and Clarendon. Thousands of people line up on the main drag to see local groups toss beads and marching bands play their own mix of Louisiana tunes. Jared's parents will be rolling in the parade this year in the Krewe de Poisson Mardi Gras Marching & Social Club. I've never been before, so I'm excited to partake in the spectacle. I'm sure it won't quite be the same as a Mardi Gras at home, but it's a perfectly wonderful substitute.

  • 2 lbs. wild Gulf shrimp, shell on
  • 1/2 lb. andouille sausage, cut into thirds
  • 2-3 tablespoons salt
  • 1/2 package Zatarain's Crab Boil spices
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 whole head of garlic, halved crosswise
  • 1 small onion, halved
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 8 small red baby potatoes
  • 2 ears of corn, husked and halved
  • 1 pint cremini mushrooms
  • Dipping sauce: mayonnaise, ketchup, hot sauce, Tony Chachere's Original Creole Seasoning

  1. Fill an 8-quart stock pot (with colander insert) with water until 2/3 of the way to the top, leaving plenty of room for other ingredients.
  2. Add the salt, boiling spices, lemon, cayenne pepper, garlic, onion, celery, and oil. Bring the water to a boil.
  3. Reduce to medium high heat and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Add the sausage, corn, and potatoes and continue to simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. Next, add the shrimp and mushrooms to the pot and cook for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let the shrimp sit in the boiling liquid for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Strain everything from the pot (easily done if using a pot with a colander).
  8. Dipping sauce: whisk together three parts mayo to one part ketchup. Add hot sauce and Tony's to taste.