Zen, yo.

The other night, James and I decided to try the new(ish) Zen Asian Grill and Sushi in Burtonsville. James had been resisting for a while because they market themselves as a sushi joint. He doesn’t do raw.

I looked online, and it turns out they do some standard Chinese American dishes as well. Once future hubby knew he would be able to eat, he agreed to come.

The first thing you see when you walk in the door is a glittering waterfall. Love it. All at once I was whisked away to a mountain pagoda in some nondescript Asian locale.

We were greeted by a host of smiling faces, and quickly seated. The decor was absolutely amazing. Zen all the way. Open, yet warm and cozy. Whoever designed it was a genius. It didn’t feel like Burtonsville. It felt like Georgetown, or Dupont Circle, or Bethesda. It was like going downtown without the traffic.

The menu was fairly large, considering the size of the establishment, but everything looked as though it belonged. I was very hungry when I arrived, so I quickly picked two items off the very long sushi list. Baltimore roll and California roll. Ok, stop laughing at me. They had a lot of lovely looking, more “authentic” choices, but I wasn’t feeling very adventurous, and I was going to have to eat everything myself since James isn’t a sushi sharer. By the way, he ordered sweet and sour chicken along with chicken fried rice.

Dinner was almost over when I remembered to take a picture. I was lost in the moment. :)

Dinner was almost over when I remembered to take a picture. I was lost in the moment. 🙂

Extremely yummy. I mean it was delicious. I’ll have to go sample more of the menu to give you a more comprehensive review, but everything I tasted was delicious. The feel of this place is the real reason to go, however. It’s a great date location, if you’re interested.

The Cheese Log Ratings:
Food: 4.5 cheeses
Atmosphere: 5 cheeses
Service: 5 cheeses
Date-worthyness: 4.5 cheeses
Would I return: DEFINITELY! Can’t wait!!

My Mom’s Hot Apple Cider

For years, my mom has always made the world’s greatest apple cider. I have the recipe myself now, and it has now become a fall tradition for me and James. I thought I’d be nice enough to share it with all of you. Happy Fall!

Ingredients:

1/2 gallon fresh apple cider

2 cups orange juice (no pulp it best)

1/4 cup honey

2 1/2inch cinnamon sticks (basically it’s 1 standard stick broken in half)

5 whole cloves

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

Directions: Combine all ingredients into a pot on the stove. Bring to a boil. Lower temperature and simmer for approximately 1 hour.

Cake Decorating 101

Last night was my first cake decorating class.

Our instructor is a wonderful Greek lady named Mata. She’s a professional European pastry chef. One of the first things she said was that this class is not meant to be stressful. “You’re supposed to come here to relax.” Sweet.

The first  thing we learned was the proper technique for using the star tip.  We practiced on some sugar cookies.

It was pretty fun! I’ve never taking a culinary class before, and I’ve always wanted to. Working with icing and cookies, it wasn’t long before all my work stress evaporated.

My mom and I are taking it together. I’m a baker and she’s an artist, so perhaps together we could make some spectacular cakes. That is the goal, anyways. It was my mom’s idea for us to take the class, and I’m very glad she pushed for it. I would never have done it otherwise. I can’t wait to do my homework!

How to Teach a Man to Cook

Before I met him, James’s cooking expertise extended to frozen pizzas and scrambled eggs. Yesterday, I came home to the sweet comforting smell of a whole chicken simmering in the slow cooker. I took a deep breath and thanked God for giving me such an awesome man to marry. He made it all by himself, and it was perfect.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been emailing him 4-step directions for making barbecue chicken thighs, tilapia, and baked salmon. He’s done an awesome job with all of them. A+.

That’s the secret really. Clear and direct directions. Don’t blabber. Tell him where the pans are located. Draw a picture of which way the chicken is supposed to face. And let him do it.

I’m so excited. Either tonight or tomorrow, we’re making chicken soup. And soon, maybe even tonight, I’ll teach him how to sauté. I can’t wait to see him this evening! Amazing how the level of my happiness is directly related to the amount of time I spend in cooking-related activities. It’s going to be an awesome weekend!

Hazelnut French Toast

I love going out for breakfast, but now that I have my very own house and my very own kitchen, my restaurant budget shrank a bit. No worries though! The greatest creativity comes when you’re forced to change your ways of doing things.

This Sunday after church, James and I had brunch at our house before getting to work on the subfloors (we’re turning into serious D-I-Y homeowners). French toast is James’s favorite of the breakfast trifecta (waffles and pancakes are 2nd and 3rd, respectively). So while he got to work with the drill, I set out to make breakfast. While getting my ingredients together, I remembered that I had neglected to buy vanilla extract. So, for a substitute, what else but a little Frangelico! I know, I’m out of vanilla but I have imported hazelnut liqueur laying around…

Ingredients:

5 slices of bread (I used Nature’s Own Honey Wheat)

3 eggs

small handful of sugar (about 2-3 tbsp)

2-3 tsp Frangelico hazelnut liqueur

cinnamon and nutmeg (about 1/2 tsp of each, eyeball it)

strawberries, sliced and mixed with a bit of sugar

Wisk eggs, sugar, Frangelico, and spices. Heat frying pan to medium and melt a little butter in the pan. Dip bread slices in egg mixture and fry about 1 or 2 minutes on each side. Serve with strawberries and maple syrup.

Aside

“Put Some Windex On It”

I hate going to the doctor. I always have.

Recently, I had the dreadful situation of having an afternoon appointment with a doctor in downtown Chevy Chase, not far from the DC line. Dreadful because an afternoon appointment gives me more time to revel in my nervous shakes.

On this day, I left work early enough to find lunch on my way down Rockville Pike. I stopped at Mykonos Grill, which looked so inviting with its sidewalk tables surrounded by a white picket fence and twirling vines. I had never eaten alone at a restaurant, but now was the time to try something new. Feeling like myself, I entered the building.

“One, please.”

“To go?”

“No, I’d like to write.”

“Oh! Right away, of course. Where would you like to sit?”

The wonderfully friendly hostess let me choose any of the pretty tables I wanted. This is the view that I chose:

Instantly, I was lifted out of my misery. After ordering, I pulled out my favorite notebook and pen. I felt like a real writer. No, I didn’t break any serious literary ground, but I enjoyed acting the part.

It was an inspiring meal. Being alone and loving variety, I only ordered appetizers: tzatziki and pita, spanakopita, and spinach stuffed mushrooms. All at once I was whisked away from the stifling tense mess of Rockville pike. I was sitting on an island in Greece, soaking in the warm Mediterranean sun. All my worries were gone, and I was myself, writing, dreaming, and thrilled.

The food was delicious, but the real reason to come to Mykonos Grill is the inviting atmosphere and the wonderful people. This wannabe writer will be returning for the instant teleportation to a sweeter, warmer place.

Italian Market Adventure

This weekend, my fiancé and I went to Philadelphia. We both love it. He’s a huge fan of the Philadelphia Soul (Arena Football), I love colonial history, and we both love cheesesteaks. So of course, Philadelphia has a special place in our hearts.

This weekend, our excuse to drive 3 hours to Philly was a Soul game on Friday night. Saturday, we spent the better part of the day roaming around South Philly and the 9th Street Italian Market.

Di Bruno Brothers, 9th Steet

May I just say that for the first time in my life, I was sad I had eaten a huge hotel breakfast? This place smelled AMAZING. So much cheese, meat, pasta, olives, sausage, you name it. After about 5 seconds, I was fantasizing about moving to Philly and shopping here every morning, then going home to our cute historic row house and making dinner for James.

South Philly Row House

In one of the shops, I ran into the longest spaghetti I’ve ever seen. It was about 2 feet long in the package, but it had been folded before it was dried, so each strand was about 4 feet long. Then, for the first time in my life, I came across Candelone pasta- tubular pasta about 1 inch in diameter, and (again) 2 feet long.

I was starstruck. Right away I picked it up and said “I’m buying this.” James laughed at me and said “How are you going to cook it?” “I don’t care, I’ll find a way,” I said. “Even if i have to boil water in the bathtub.”

my souvenir

Luckily, I didn’t have to use the bathtub. In a pot of water with a serious, rolling boil, the spaghetti softened up and shrunk down in about 20 seconds.

It was delicious. I love Philly. Next time I’m going to bring a cooler, a lot of ice, and come home with a serious supply of cheese and sausage as well. We actually did have a cooler with us this trip, but we were planning on spending the rest of the day out around town and didnt want to chance losing the meat. It’s ok though. There will definitely be a next time!

New Stuffed Mushrooms with a Kick

The other day I decided to try stuffed mushrooms a whole new way. Usually I use the recipe that I’ve posted previously (mostly spinach and mozzarella). In an effort to branch out and add new greens to my diet, yesterday I came up with a whole different kind of mushroom.

You know, a lot of people are scared of swiss chard (including me, until a few days ago actually), but it really has a nice, surprising nutty flavor when cooked. That’s what gave me the idea for this recipe. The earthy flavor of cremini mushrooms really goes great with the nutty flavor of cooked swiss chard. It’s the ingredient that eaters will never guess. I only made a small portion for about 7 cremini mushrooms, but you can add things to taste.

Ingredients (adjust as necessary to taste):

3-5 large leaves of swiss chard (chopped fine, stems removed)

1/4 cup (or more!) colby-jack cheese, shredded or crumbled

a little pepper and salt

little garlic powder

tiny bit of cayenne pepper (a little goes a LONG way)

about 1 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2-1 tbsp cream cheese, as necessary to bind it together

7 cremini mushrooms (baby bella), stems removed

Combine swiss chard, cheese, salt, pepper, garlic powder, cayenne pepper, and Dijon mustard. Mis until swiss chard is coated evenly. Add cream cheese and mix well.

Line a baking sheet with foil. Stuff the mushrooms (overstuffed is great!) and arrange on baking sheet. Sprinkle with a hint of paprika. Bake at 400°F for 10-12 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool for a minute or two but serve while warm.

My mother and I loved these. The cayenne gives it a little kick, and the Dijon and paprika reminded me of a picnic. I’ll be making these again now that summer barbeque season is on the way!

Cupcakes Revisited

For years, I have had a serious beef with cupcakes. Especially cupcakes at weddings. What started out as a cute idea to make an economical replacement for a wedding cake quickly became a ridiculous fad that was equaly expensive as a tiered masterpiece.

As a bride on a serious budget, I understand why someone would want to go cheaper, especially if they never had any desire for a cake in the first place. But cupcakes? They can be even more labor intensive than an actual cake, and when you eat one, it’s all crust! I’ve always hated making cupcakes, for that reason. Still, I have to admit, they’re cute. Just not when they pretend to be a wedding cake and end up costing the bride more money.

This was my background going into this week’s cupcake experiment.

I decided to make mini stawberry cupcakes with fluffy vanilla buttercream, and actually enjoy making them. And, I’m happy to say that the trial run was a success! The secret? DO NOT use a knife.

I made a delicious vanilla buttercream replacing milk with whipping cream, and putting the icing into a ziploc freezer bag, cutting the corner, and piping it onto the cupcakes. Real simple. Real easy. Real Quick.

I think I’ll do it again once Lent is over. 🙂

When in Rome… fry an artichoke?

As I was brushing up on my Italian recently, I was reminded of one of the most delicious appetizers I’ve ever had. When in Rome, I had the famous “carciofi alla giudia”, literally, “jewish artichokes”. If you’ve never been to Rome, I bet you’ve never seen this:

Carciofi alla giudia

from cucina.ilbloggatore.com

They say no one but a Roman can cut an artichoke this way.

Originating with the ancient Jewish population in the Ghetto of Rome, carciofi alla giudia (car-CHO-fee alla JOO-dee-aa, for my non-Italian speaking readers) is an artichoke that has been fanned out and deep-fried, creating a crispy-on-the-edges, soft-on-the-inside texture. It’s like a fan of potato chips that are a little chewy in the very center. I’ve never been a big veggie person, but I LOVED this when I had dinner in the Ghetto. I wonder if you can get these anywhere in America? I want to try to make these. I bet James would be afraid to try them, but he usually trusts me. I can’t wait to see what happens!