Kelly the Culinarian: November 2007

Friday, November 30, 2007

Food Find: Morimoto in Philadelphia

After lunch at the White House, I really don't know where else to go. I feel like I may have reached a culinary climax. Also, I have no Internet at home yet and I will be spending the weekend in Virginia. In the meantime, I have acquired a wonderful review from my classmate Sarah Baicker, who had the pleasure of dining at Morimoto in Philadelphia. Yeah, it's named after that Morimoto on the Food Network. It's his flagship Japanese restaurant, so enjoy this little delight from Sarah.

Say what you will about Philadelphia. Sure, the City of Brotherly Love might be a little dirty, and yeah, we might have an incompetent mayor and, uh, a “small homicide problem.” But one thing Philly does have is one hell of an array of restaurants.

We might not be able to get a team to a championship, but we know how to eat and we know how to appreciate good food. And our foodie king is restaurateur Stephen Starr.

Starr is best-known for his glitzy Thai-fusion restaurant Buddakan, which also has a New York location. But he’s also behind a kitschy Elvis-themed Mexican restaurant (El-Vez), an upscale steakhouse (Barclay Prime) and Morimoto, a contemporary Japanese and sushi house that bears a name that ought to be familiar to some of you. Yes, Chef Masaharu Morimoto is the Morimoto of TV’s cult-classic cooking show, Iron Chef.

I’ve wanted to eat at Morimoto since learning to appreciate sushi some years ago, but, alas, Morimoto is impossible to afford on my non-existent salary. In fact, eating at Morimoto is out of the range of most salaries. This is the kind of place with a name followed by an obscene amount of dollar signs on CitySearch and MenuPages. Sigh.

But, being blessed with a well-to-do—and generous—food-loving friend, I got to experience Morimoto while home for Thanksgiving break. And…wow. I can only hope that one day I make enough money to get to eat like that again.

It’s hard not to feel cool walking into Morimoto. The restaurant is bright, very long and narrow—all just one big room with no divisions—and with a kitchen in pain view situated in the back. There’s a bar and lounge upstairs, where we waited and had a drink while our table was prepared. Everyone is well-dressed, and I will admit that I half-expected a celebrity could walk in at any minute. The wait staff is extremely attentive and helpful from the moment you walk in. Most all tables are booths, and all the booths are an icy-looking lighted plastic that fades gradually from color to color—purple, to red, to blue, and so on. Starr has a knack for going just a little over-the-top in presentation, but I promise it’s not as offensive as it sounds.

I let my friend do all the ordering. He’s a frequent diner at Morimoto, and quite simply, I was overwhelmed. The menu contains a lot of items I’d never heard of, much less tried. And so, after we each had a drink (I had a glass of Cabernet) he went to town, ordering what was certainly more than enough food to last the two of us a good three or four days.

First up was a warm whitefish carpaccio, a plate of thinly sliced pieces of fish drizzled with warm oil and spices. It was very light and, even with my unsophisticated palate, I could appreciated the subtle flavors. The dish was presented like a piece of art (as was everything that was whisked past our table) and was definitely a great introduction to the meal.

Then came a yellowtail tartar and a pile of rock shrimp tempura. The tempura was delightful, very slightly crispy, and it somehow managed to not feel heavy despite being fried. It was sweet with a little kick at the end, and the portion was generous—we were munching on the shrimp throughout the rest of the meal. The tartar was my first tartar ever, as well as my first introduction to caviar. I’ll admit it reminded me a little bit of what canned cat food looks like as far as its size and shape, but I can still imagine its taste. And the taste was more than enough to knock those cat food images from my mind at the time.

But the star of the night was the black cod miso, a warm fillet of black cod lightly drizzled with a sweet miso-based sauce that had hints of caramel. Before the dish arrived, my friend told me to expect something that tasted like lobster, but if lobster was a thousand-times tastier and more tender. And yeah, that about sums it up.

Too bad, he added, that black cod is on the verge of extinction. Oops.

While we were still working on the cod, our sushi arrived. We ordered a pair of pieces of variety of sashimi, including tuna, salmon and unagi (eel). At this point in the meal, I must admit, I was well past full. I probably didn’t enjoy the sushi as much as I should have, but I can say this: I took out a salmon roll from the local Whole Foods last night and I think Morimoto has forever ruined my chances of appreciating cheap, take-out sushi.

Before we left, our waiter (who, I should add, was absolutely adorable and totally down-to-earth) brought us each a glass of sparkling white wine with a scoop of homemade raspberry sorbet dropped inside. These perfect endings to our meal were gifts from the chef, Mr. Morimoto himself.

Did I say I like my friends?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

White House lunch!

I'm still at my office at 10 p.m., but days like today make it worth it. I had lunch at the White House in the State Room! It was as amazing as it sounds. First Lady Bush did her annual tour of the Christmas decorations. This year, the theme was a Holiday at the National Parks.

Beyond the fabulous food, there was a lovely tree decorated with 347 handmade ornament representing the national parks and monuments. This photo is the three of us at the tree in the Blue Room.

The food was equally fabulous. There's a 300-pound White House gingerbread house made with the original architect's plans. So adorable and impressive!

If you want to know about the buffet menu, check it out here. Or check out my slide show below.

This is really the most exciting thing to ever happen to me! The shrimp was fabulous, the lamb succulent and the dessert decadent. I hope I get asked back again!

Back to work.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kelly's tips: Party time!

It's getting that time of year when families, friends and even offices get together to celebrate. There's holiday parties, New Year's Eve parties, Christmas parties, festivus parties and who knows what else. I recently had to fight H&M over a refund (they have a ridiculous return policy, in my opinion), but I picked up an issue of a their magazine. Mostly it's a snotty, thinly veiled marketing tool that offer no guidance except what to buy at the store. However, there was an interesting article from Linnea Johansson titled "Throwing the Perfect Party."
Here are her tips:
1. Choose a theme -- Can I suggest sleep overs with slippers for guests and a morning brunch, the '80s with Brat Pack videos and bad hair or your favorite film?
2. Take shortcuts (buy food, use what you have, etc.)
3. Pamper your guests -- it keeps them talking
4. Follow the rules -- When you're a guests, don't bring another person if they're not invited and respond to the invite.
5. Be creative -- Take that theme extreme! If you're doing a fall gala, write invites on dried, pressed leaves.
6. Use lighting -- Use dramatic lighting as part of your motif.
7. Surprise your guests -- She gives some crazy suggestions if you have a lot of cash to spend, like flying guests on a helicopter. I think it's nice to have something thoughtful, like personalized favors.
8. Send an exciting invitation -- It sets the tone and doesn't have to be pricey.
She thinks the minimum for a party is $300, according to the magazine, which is coincidentally the exact amount Colorez Arizona owes me for a story I wrote for them in July. That's right, roughly five months ago.
But I've had great parties for less than that. I have a chocolate fondue fountain and when I was in college, I used Evites or Facebook to get people there. I provided the chocolate, the locale, the cutlery and plates, then ask each friend to bring one item for dipping like marshmallows, strawberries or graham crackers. We usually had a ton of leftover food and everybody had a great time. We put on some music, had some drinks and chocolate things on the cheap. I guess it's not as fabulous as Linnea's parties, but we had a damn good time.
But maybe if Colorez ever pays me, I can hold one of those glamorous parties Linnea talks about.


It's going to be a while until the Internet is restored on the home front. At least until Monday. Until then, I'm living practically like an Amish chick. No TV, no Internet, really no amusement whatsoever. I went to bed at 10 p.m. last night because I had nothing else to do. I'll be writing a real post from work later on.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Food find: Au Bon Pain cookies

It turns out my Internet issues are a result of Comcast, not my computer. At least I have that going for me.

So it's the end of November, but there is no snow to be seen anywhere. In this age of global warming, it's not even cold outside. Yesterday it was in the 60s, I think. So how is one to know that it's Christmastime?

Two things: The Macy's at Metro Center has revealed its holiday windows and there are holiday cookies at Au Bon Pain. Now don't get too excited over the holiday windows. This year, there's about eight windows that describe Santa's journey across the world on Christmas Eve. It's a little creepy/psychedelic because Santa is dressed in this slightly disturbing pink glitter outfit and travels through outer space to deliver toys. There's also this one window with a rotating snowflake that's going way, way too fast. It looks like they mounted a giant snowflake on a record player. There is an endearing window that talks about Santa traveling over DC that has a little model of the Capitol that's cute. I took a picture, but I don't know what I did with it.

But do get excited over the cookies. My ABP started baking these cookies about one week ago. So far, you get gingerbread men and a sprinkle-decorated tree. Here's the secret -- If you go in the hour before they close, the baked goods are half off. I go to the ABP at 700 13th St. NW and from 7 to 8 p.m., it's a tasty time to shop. That's when I got these little edible holiday mementos and they were tasty. Really, it's the only way I know we're heading towards Christmas at this point.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Still trying to figure out my Internet situation. Sorry guys! I'll make a triumphant return tomorrow regardless of my anachronistic computer.

Can someone find my Internet?

I finally got back last night -- United was a much more pleasant experience than ATA. My flights were both on time and they didn't lose my luggage so I called it a success.

However, my five-year-old laptop is no longer connecting to the Internet. I thought I could live without television for three months but no Internet is going to make me a dull, boring girl with no hobbies.

More on this debacle later.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Food find: Omega

I first had Omega in Lake Zurich many years ago. It's a small chain of Greek-style diners that have awesome breakfast foods. Last time I went, I ordered the junior apple pancakes, which are baked cake-style pancakes with what I would guess is two full apples baked into it. They take 35 minutes to make. They also have an amazing and filling bread basket full of all types of bakery delights.

Anyhow, I went over for brunch this morning in Downers Grove. No bread basket, though, I think you only get it if you order non-breakfast foods. I ordered the Omega skillet, which is a skillet filled with hash brown potatoes on the bottom and layers of bacon, sausage, onions, cheese and eggs. It came with either pancakes or toast on the side -- I of course went with pancakes. My dining companion went with a steak and two eggs, which came with toast and hash browns or pancakes.

My skillet was fabulous. The potatoes were nice and crunchy and brown as well as seasoned. The bacon, sausage and onion were plentiful but not overwhelming. I like the cheese because it held together by bites. The scrambled eggs were done well and tasted great. The pancakes were pretty tasty too. The steak was huge and done to medium perfection. The sunny side eggs were good as well and you can't really mess up hash browns and toast. Yum!
I really don't like mornings, but Omega is worth getting up for.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Turkey day!

OK, the title is a little deceiving. I didn't do any cooking at all. My mom made a really great feast: 12-pound turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls, stuffing and cauliflower in a cheese sauce. It was quite amazing. We all mashed and dished the tasty stuff in the kitchen, while we sipped on what my sisters called jingle bells:

1 part cranberry juice
1 part sprite

And the adult version:
2 part cranberry juice
1 part white wine
1 part sprite

We live in a drafty house, so we serve our foods buffet/potluck style in chafing pans. We have an electric three-section chafing set for turkey, stuffing and potatoes and then we used an additional fondue-type set up with gel fuel for the veggies. It's not a perfect system, but it's start.

We have a tradition here in the Mahoney household: Every year after turkey dinner but before pie, we go to downtown Chicago to see the Marshall Fields windows. I refuse to call it that other name that owns it now ... The theme this year was the Nutcracker, although I recall that back in the day when it was Field's, there were more windows, but it was still cool. My favorite window had nothing to do with the Nutcracker. I really enjoyed the tree decorated with Frango mints.

Anyhow, another wonderful holiday at our house. Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Holiday message

I will not be cooking Thanksgiving dinner. I'm going home on Thursday to relax for a few days and my mom will be working her magic in the kitchen. Instead, I'll send you this holiday tribute.

Did you ever watch The West Wing? Remember the episode when CJ is perplexed to find two turkeys in her office because it's time for the pardoning of the turkeys? Yeah, it actually exists.

I really thought this was an invention of the West Wing writers until a couple of weeks ago. Turns out, every since Harry Truman did it 60 years ago, every president has given a full presidential pardon to two turkeys, just in case one is afraid of crowds, for Thanksgiving. The turkeys are specially raised for the event so as to be human friendly and get shipped off to Disney World via first class airfare after the event to serve as grand marshal of the Thanksgiving Day Parade. You can watch President Bush in the whole ceremony here and check out my personal photos of the event here.

I don't know which was worse -- that the leader of the free world gave a pardon to a turkey or that this is the biggest presidential event I will cover while in DC. It was so adorable, regardless. The turkey was huge and the most passive thing I've ever seen. After that, Laura and George Bush left on Marine Force One for their holiday weekend, so I got a double whammy out of that event.

It kind of made me crave a turkey sandwich ...

PS -- If you're traveling this week, may I suggest packing a few snacks? Chances are your flight will be delayed and airport food sucks/is really expensive. I'm packing a baggie of granola and some peanuts. They even charge you for food on board airplanes now too.

***These are my personal photos and may not be used without my permission***

Monday, November 19, 2007

Food find: Potbelly's

Today was a fabulous day in the Capitol. I went out to the Pentagon for a tour, which was pretty interesting. It's the world's largest office building and was constructed in something like 16 months to respond to the pressures of World War II. There's everything in the Pentagon -- Post office, commissary, barber, florist, chapel ... and Taco Bell! How is it the Pentagon can have a Taco Bell but the rest of DC cannot, praytell?
I'll never get called Taco Kel again at this rate ...

Anyhow, in addition to our lovely tour, we also had class tonight. Dr. Conrad Crane, the author of the The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual came to lecture about the manual and progress in Iraq. It was an interesting presentation about counterinsurgency methods, but no need to bore you with the details.

Because we were in class for something like 13 hours today between the tour, regular classes and this presentation, we got treated to dinner. This time was pizza, last time was Potbelly's. I've already written about the pizza, so let's chat about Potbelly's tonight. It's a sandwich chain that's privately owned with headquarters in Chicago. All their subs are toasted and offered with hot peppers, which I always decline. In this photo, I got a ham and turkey combo with all the veggies.

In addition to delicious sandwiches made fresh on tasty hoagie rolls, they make fabulous cookies. For quite some time my office has been debating which lunch establishment has the best cookies. We tried Au bon Pain, Cosi, Starbucks, Mrs. Fields and Subway, to name a few. Potbelly's wins out because of their texture. They only offer up oatmeal chocolate chip cookie -- they do one and they do it right. The oatmeal creates a nice textures with the right amount of chocolate chips so as to not overwhelm. They're also made fresh daily.

So grab some Potbelly's next time you're out. The sandwiches are a little on the small side, but quite delicious and satisfying when paired with a cookie.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Drink discovery: The Third Edition

I can't decide if I'm getting old or there just aren't enough bars in Georgetown to go around. I say this because I went to The Third Edition last night and I was aghast at how many people they fit into that joint. Seeing as there's something like 40 bars in that neighborhood, it's probably just me. I still had an awesome time, though.

Located at Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, it's about one mile away from any metro stop. But I'm an adventurous gal and I could use a nice walk. The main bar of this place was in the '80s brat pack film, St. Elmo's Fire. The picture of the '80s-rific bar is from the establishment's Web site. It was so crowded that when I was on the dance floor, I got elbowed in the head and knocked over. Silly me, I thought I was at a bar and not some mosh-worthy concert.

Here's my big peeve about the place -- It was a $5 cash-only cover. The beers, even Bud Lite, were $5.50 a piece. To open a tab was a $25 minimum charge. Tip to the bar owner: If you want to make money, you want me to spend money. Telling me I must drink five of your crappy beers to have a suitable tab isn't a way to make me want to spend money. Therefore, I didn't drink. That may have expounded my issue with the crowding.

If every law student at Georgetown wasn't in this single bar, it would have been a cool little joint. There were two levels, plus an outdoor bar. There were a few tables and booths for the mellow crowd as well as two DJs, one playing top 40s songs and the other rocking out to the '80s. They get extra points because they played Kelly Clarkson, which is a staple in my opinion.

Afterwards, we walked to Dupont Circle in search of some food. Did you know that the only place that serves food at 1:30 a.m. is Subway? I had higher hopes for Dupont too.

I may go back to Third Edition, but only during the day to try their menu.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Hey folks, I'm taking the night off. It's been a busy day. I got new headshots and went on a White House tour today. I'm going out this evening, so expect a new food and drink review tomorrow.

I also changed the look of the site, so tell me what you think!

Friday, November 16, 2007

DCblogs photo entry and a little bit about me

Happy Friday! We made it.

First order of business: here are my entries in photo contest. The theme is “What inspires you?” I chose to showcase two photos I took last weekend on Veterans Day near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. The sacrifice that these men and women made to protect our freedom and that of others inspires me to exercise those freedoms. Journalism is the only profession specifically mentioned in the Bill of Rights and I make full use of it. I was also inspired by these selfless veterans to write a column for the Lake County News-Sun.

At play: I took this near the Washinton Monument.

Mental prep: This was taken right before the presentation at the Wall on Veterans Day. She's prepping for her performance while facing the crowd gathered at the Wall.

Another point of business: Diane at Much of Muchness tagged me earlier in the week and I’m finally getting to it! What a week.

1 How long have you been blogging?
Since May of this year.
2 What inspired you to start a blog and who are your mentors?
So, so many reasons. I love food and would like to write a cook book or be a food writer at a newspaper. When I started the blog, I was in a class that didn’t have a ton of writing in it, so I wanted to stay sharp. I’d never done a ton of photography, so I thought I’d give it a try. I also wanted to see what kind of digital community existed out there. I have a pretty common name as well and I wanted to be the No. 1 Kelly Mahoney on Google, as opposed to the WWE rink girl or the meteorologist (all fine Kelly Mahoneys, I'm sure).
I love Amateur Gourmet and admire the blog over there. In real life, my mom is quite the inspiration -- she did not know how to cook at all at my age at all and is now a kitchen guru. It gives me hope that I might be able to cook without a recipe one day.
3 Are you trying to make money online or are you doing it for fun?
It would be nice to make some cash off of this, but much like journalism, if I was in this for the money, I’d be bitterly disappointed. I make roughly $.09 per day off of this site.
4 What three things do you love about being online?
A. Writing about food! My mom always says food is love, so I like to share the wealth. You have to eat at least two to three times per day, and there’s so many facets to food writing – recipes, dining out, baking, cook books, food on television … I’ll never get bored with this.
B. Meeting people. I’ve learned so much about cultures and food while doing this. I love seeking out other blogs and taking in people’s suggestions to make this one better.
C. Getting feedback. I’ve learned so much from my readers. It’s been a great experience and I hope it will continue.
4 What three things do you struggle with online?
A. Haters. I have a hard time believing that there are losers out there with nothing better to do than stalk the same blogs in order to leave nasty, nitpicky comments, but I guess there are people like that who need a hobby. It’s kind of sad, but it gets to you.
B. Readership. Like I said, I’d like to write a book one day, so I’m always trying to reach out to blogs for inspiration, ideas and networking (Got a suggestion about increasing readership or my site in general? I’d love to hear it!)
C. Staying current. I get out and I try my best without a kitchen, but it’s hard without an oven. I’d also like to freshen up the layout, but I don’t know enough about HTML. One day …

In return, I’d like to pose the same questions to the following bloggers that I’d like to learn more about:

My Kitchen Snippets

Trish at The Coffee Shop

Andrea at Mom to the Fey

Winedeb at Deb’s Key West Wine and Gardening blog

Rak’s Kitchen

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Food find: Kabuki Sushi and Teriyaki

I've had a hard day and decided to splurge. I walked over to National Place's cafeteria and settled on sushi for dinner tonight at Kabuki Sushi and Teriyaki.

I've had great success with the food court here. There's all kinds of choices -- burgers, Asian, Indian, cafe foods and pizza. I think it's a little weird that there are offices that overlook the food court, but I enjoy the multitude of television there that makes it so characteristically DC -- can't live a minute without the news.

Anyhow, I ordered a fashion roll that came with shrimp tempura, cucumber and avocado. I also got a spicy California roll. I thought the fashion roll was pretty -- but it's a little funny to see the shrimp tails sticking out. I did see them cook the shrimp right before assmebling the roll. The roll was warm, then, when I got it, but it was still delicious. The crunch of the tempura along with the cool bite of cucumber and creamy avocado pieces was a nice combo of tastes and textures. I also liked the toasted sesame seeds on the outside.

The spicy California roll was doused in spicy mayo and salmon roe. I thought the spicy part would be in the inside in the form of wasabi, but I gave it a try. It was far too spicy for my taste. It really overwhelmed the rest of the roll. I scraped off most of the mayo and it turned out to be quite tasty -- the sushi chef just needs to practice moderation, it appears.

All in all, a good sushi experience, especially for a food court. Next time, I think I'll get one of their combo meals. My meal was $9, but for $10 or $12, I could have gotten a mix of nigiri pieces and a roll. Next time, I'll choose better.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A short note

Tonight I was at school until 9 p.m. While we had some fabulous speakers this evening, I'm also fabulously tired.

So, I'd like to encourage you to check out my story for the Medill News Service about the kinds of foods served at political events. Think filet mignon, champagne and southern-fried chicken. But for the '08 election cycle, advertising just how recyclable your plates and napkins are will be a big fad. How typical Washington ...

Also, this installment of Well Fed on the Town by yours truly is about an upcoming tasting event at the National Press Club that I think it totally worthwhile for foodies and the curious alike.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Cooking with Kelly: Chicken pot freed from the pie

First, business. I'm doing a project for the Associated Press (highlight of my life!) about politics and young people. Please check out our AP video, produced by fellow grad student Emily Wood, and leave a comment on YouTube if you're so inclined.

Meanwhile ... It's starting to get a little chilly in Washington. I could see my breath today as I walked to the Metro and it rained the entire morning. I just wanted to stay in bed, but alas, the news waits for no one.

I had a hankering for some comfort food. Pasta in the microwave is a bit iffy and most of my go-to meals are out of the question without an oven.

I was thinking chicken pot pie, but I was not about to eat one of those things that come out of the box. I have nothing against frozen dinners; I just can't seem to find a decent pot pie from a box that still has a flaky crust. Besides, I want something a little more figure friendly and those box things aren't that cheap

So here's my single chicken breast, veggie-rich pot pie recipe. I trimmed off the fat from the chicken and used very little oil, so this is cost effective and healthier than anything from those boxes.

So here's how I went about it:
1 chicken breast, cubed
1/2 white onion, diced small
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 stalk celery, cleaned and chopped
1 carrot, peeled and sliced into circles
1/2 a baking potato, sliced
Salt, pepper and poultry seasoning
Spray cooking oil
1/4 water (or white wine or chicken stock)
2 prepared biscuits
1/2 cup peas
1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Season the chicken pieces with pepper, salt and poultry seasoning to taste (I used about a teaspoon of the poultry seasoning). Use enough spray cooking oil to coat the pan evenly and heat to medium, then cook the chicken pieces through, about four minutes. Remove chicken and cover.

Re-coat the pan with a spritz of cooking oil and add garlic, onion and celery; cook for five minutes. Begin cooking the biscuits, according to the package instruction (I made mine in my Xpress101 cooker thing). Add carrots, potato and water; cook until carrots are soft but still have a bite, about seven minutes. Add peas, parsley and chicken, toss to coat and allow to warm for one minute, covered.

To serve, place a scoop of the chicken and veggies mixture in a bowl. Cover with halves of the biscuit.

It's not quite like homemade pot pie, but it's better for you than what my mother made. There less fat because there's not the starchy sauce I remember. Also, one biscuit per serving instead of a butter-laden top and bottom crust is probably better overall as well. And there's more veggies per serving in this recasting of a pot pie. I personally added a little too much pepper, mostly because I'm excited to use my new battery-operated pepper mill.

I'll be eating these leftovers for a few days, too.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Food find: Clyde's second try

Lis got a job! Trust me, she's more excited about being employed than the food in the picture.

After my last sub par visit at Clyde's in Gallery Place right off the Chinatown Metro stop, I decided to give it a second try. There's always an off night.
Also, I read Kitchen Confidential over the summer and after hearing Anthony Bourdain describe his first encounter with raw oysters freshly fetched from the ocean, I decided I had to give it a try.

So off to Clyde's we trekked for a second try and a culinary adventure. First off, Clyde's does the bar scene much better than the upscale dining Tim and I were hoping for last visit. This place was packed, even though it was a Monday night. From 3 to 6 p.m., the raw bar items are half-priced, so that may have something to do with it.

We had a celebratory beer (Blue Moon with the orange) and proceeded to the ordering of raw things. Up until about a year ago, I didn't even eat sushi -- why go out and pay someone so you can eat uncooked things? How far I've come. We sat at the bar to expedite the dining process, but it still took considerable effort to capture the bartender's attention. However, when another bartender came on duty, he was far better at his job. I hope the tip went to him.

We decided to get a dozen for the three of us to share at a bargain price of $11 total. We got two of each type of oyster they had. Moving clockwise from the top, near where the empty glass is: cape breton from St. George Bay, NS; large size, plump in the shell with a brine finish; Onset point from Buzzards Bay, Mass., large size, plump in shell with a sweet finish; kusshi from Deep Bay, BC, small size, slightly briny with a sweet finish; raspberry point from New London Bay, PEI, medium size, crisp and briny with a sweet finish; Wainno, which isn't on the menu and I don't have any info and Island Creek from Duxbury Harbor, Mass., medium size, buttery taste with a briny finish.

So I started with the kusshi and decided that I wanted a purist experience -- no lemon, no sauce, no horseradish. I picked it up, slurped it off the half shell and chewed it tentatively.

It tasted like the ocean.

Maybe I don't have a refined enough palate, but I had a hard time tasting the sweet or buttery finished noted on the menu and got stuck on the briny part. However, once I added horseradish, the experience was heavenly. The meat was tender, the liquid within the oyster was delightfully salty and the overall texture and taste delightful. I guess I'm just not an oyster purist -- I like my sauce.

My only complaint was that I swear there was some gritty sand in some of the oysters. Now I know a small amount is unavoidable, but they manage to make sushi not taste like fish or have scales embedded in the nigiri. If I'm going to go raw, I at least want to feel like I'm eating something somewhat removed from the ocean.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Prep chef: Holiday food gifts

As my mother always says, food is love. To continue with premature holiday postings, I want to give you a heads up on two really great books about giving food as gifts. The reason I bring this up so early is that some of these gifts need to steep or sit for a month or more, so time to get cracking.

The first is "Homemade: Delicious Foods to Make and Give" by Judith Choate. This beautifully photographed book is separated into types of foods, including breads, relishes and pickles and drinks. This recipe for limoncello is one I'd like to try:
5 pounds organic lemons
8 cups vodka
6 cups sugar
6 cups water

Use a vegetable peeler to remove the lemon peel. Pour vodka into a one-gallon container, add the lemon peel and cover. Place in a cool, dark place for one week.
Combine sugar and water over medium heat and bring to a boil, then remove from heat and allow to cool. Then add to the vodka mixture and stir to blend. Strain the mixture through a sieve into clean containers and refrigerate for one month before serving or giving.

The other book I picked up from my local library is "Gifts of Food: 160 Delectable Recipes and How to Wrap Them" by Susan Costner. This book doesn't have any photos, but has many drawings to explain things such as how to braid challah or wrap cookies. This book is arranged by gift appropriate for various seasons and has a separate section on how to wrap various food products. I liked the section on how to seal bottles with wax; it would be a great accompaniment to the limoncello above. I really like her recipe for individual Irish soda breads, which would be good for both the holidays and St. Patrick's Day.

4 cups unbleached flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups dried currants

1 egg

1 3/4 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine flour and butter, working into consistency of oatmeal. Add sugar, baking powder and soda, salt and currant, stirring with your fingers. Beat egg and buttermilk together, then form a well in the dry ingredients for the wet ingredients. Stir well until blended; form into ball.

Knead on floured surface until smooth, three to four minutes. Divide into 16 buns and place on greased baking sheets. Flatten slightly and dip a sharp knife in flour, then make "x" s on top of the buns. Cook 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown, cool on a rack

Those are just some of the great recipes and ideas in these books. Check out what your local library has to offer as well. Remember, time is a wasting away until the holidays!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Food find: Holiday cheer

I normally don't start thinking about the holidays until after Thanksgiving. I think this is as a result of the trauma I suffered working at a fabric store for three years. By 9 p.m. Oct. 31, all traces of Halloween had been moved to clearance, the holiday trees had been erected and decorated and Christmas music played around the clock. And we sold holiday fabric year round.

I went out to my little suburban oasis at Prince George's Plaza mall in Maryland today and according to them, the holidays are here. Every store is pushing holiday party dresses and boxed sets of stuff. Starbucks is using holiday-themed cups and selling Christmas blends.

So I got in the spirit. I began my holiday shopping today and I'm glad I did. Target has some great items in their value bins, which are usually located in the front of most Target stores. There are some great foodie items for stocking stufffers, office giveaways and package adornment.

First, in the back of the photo, they have little bags of Ghirardelli coffee in double chocolate or chocolate hazelnut. These $1 packages make one pot of coffee. This would be a great gesture for all your office mates, especially if you have a ton of them.

They also have little boxes of Mrs. Fields Chocolates. The peppermint box has three peppermint truffles with little chunks of the candy visible in rounds of chocolate. The other box, the cookie recipe chocolate box, has one piece each of dark coconut macaroon, chocolate chip cookie dough and brownie truffle. I stocked up on these as giveaways for neighbors -- I never want to be empty handed.

The other thing I grabbed were these little bags of five holiday cookie cutters with silicone grips for $2.50. At the very least, I figure when I wrap up gifts I can use these in lieu of bows, tied to packages with ribbon. These are so much more useful than bows.

You may want to get these soon; it's my experience that these items go fast at Target. They also have icing, sprinkles and a variety of hard candies in the value bins too. Get them while they're there!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Food find: Maple sugar block

I found this little gem at a farmer's market a couple of weeks ago. I stopped to chat with a woman whose family has been in the sugar business for three generations. Patterson Farms creates all kind of maple products, including syrup, candy, cream and my favorite, the block.

I did not know anything about this versatile and affordable product until I stopped to chat with Mary. Turns out this is how the colonial settlers stored sugar and according to the Patterson Web site, families just scraped what they needed off the block for meals, canning and baking.

It's made by pouring maple syrup into a mold, then allowing it to dry and harden, creating dense blocks that are cut up into portions the size of a bar of soap. Not only does this creation keep at room temperature for months, it's has myriad uses. For example, you can grate the block into oatmeal or use it to top cookies. You can mix a chunk with hot water and reconstitute it into syrup. You can also break off a little piece and eat it like candy.

This was $3 very well spent because this little find is so versatile. While I don't see the product listed on the company's Web site, I'm sure if you called the Patterson Farm at (814)628-3751, they'd be more than happy to figure out a way to get you a portion.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Food news: Try Drop in and Decorate

Drop in and Decorate

Host your own
Drop in and Decorate party
for charity!

My blogging buddy Lydia at The Perfect Pantry has a great event for the holiday season that I think you should get involved with. Let me tell you a little bit about Drop in and Decorate, a grassroots effort to stock homeless shelters with tasty morsels. It's pretty simple: bake some cookies, invite some people over to decorate them and donate the cookies to a local food pantry, senior center or lunch program.

You can find out more about how to host this over here. Now I don't have an oven and can't really participate, but I hope that you give it a try. It's a nice way to socialize with some friends and still promote a cause. This event has a corporate sponsor, which is offering a baking kit. You can click on the logo to check out the kit.

Drop in and Decorate
On another note, two of my classmates and I have partnered with the Associated Press to write about youth and politics. It's really the pinacle of my career thus far. The story was picked up by Forbes, the Miami Herald, ABC News, CBS and Fox! Please go and check out the video on YouTube -- I'm not showing it here because I really hope you'll go and check it out, send it to your friends and most of all, respond!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Food find: Mini-desserts

It occurs to me that I haven't raved about the National Press Club in more than a week. The horrors! Alas, I attended a Northwestern alumni event tonight at NPC and not only was the food and drink fabulous, but the conversation was stimulating as well.

The event was titled "Force and Foreign Policy: The Future of U.S. Diplomacy Post-Iraq" and had an impressive array of panelists. They brought up interesting foreign relations issues such as the fact that there are more people dedicated to the Armed Forces musicial bands than there are in the entire diplomatic force. It really sends a message when there armed forces in such an overwhelming manner.

Regardless, the press club did not disappoint on the food end as well. They've taken to a popular trend as well in the mini-dessert. High-end restaurants and chains such as TGI Friday's alike have taken to this design of offering a pairing or more of minuscule bites of desserts, usually that take no more than two bites. At some eateries, these desserts are served in shot glasses. At the press club, the bites were nestled in petite paper wrappers for ease of eating. I got a key lime pie slice, a mini-tiramisu and a tiny fruit tart. Everything was delicious -- fresh ingredients, pretty presentation, artfully crafted for the scale and sharp tastes abound.

I'm going to miss the press club

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Food Find: Five Guys Famous Burgers

Washington is a great place to eat through. With the Capitol and so many important politicians and decision makers, there's all kinds of classy eateries with character and well-stocked wine cellars. There also every kind of regional cuisine, thanks to a diverse population and the menagerie of representatives from across the United States. Indeed, if there's a type of food you crave and you can't find it in DC, you're not looking hard enough.

This dates back a week or two, but I was craving a burger. Not some overcooked slab of unseasoned ground sirloin on a dry bun or some nasty composite of beef from a chain, but a real, genuine burger. A friend and I went over to National Place between 13th and 14th NW, which has an impressive food court boasting sushi, Thai, cafe style paninis and soups, Chinese buffet food, pizza by the slice with beer and the classic, American burger.

I stepped in line at Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries, an Eastern chain that has been voted the best burger by Washingtonian Magazine for the past seven years. That's quite the record. I waited 10 minutes for my lunch in the non-rush hour of 3 p.m. because it's all made to order. I ordered a cheeseburger with fries and a fountain drink for $10. For that price, it better be fabulous and famous.

And believe me, it was. Granted, I had no idea that the regular cheeseburger was a double patty and for regular fries they not only fill up a Styrofoam cup with fries, but they also dump a big scoopful into your paper to-go bag, just for good measure. Everything was greasy, but when the craving strikes, you have to feed it.

I got the burger with all the fixings that are standard, including tomato, mustard, mayo, ketchup, onion and lettuce (if I remember correctly). If I knew how big the helpings were, I would have ordered the small burger, which I assume is a single patty. This burger did not disappoint -- the beef itself was tasty and tender and the patty was obviously formed by hand. The toppings were the right quantity so as to not overwhelm the beef itself. Also, the bun was soft and moist without falling apart as I progressed into the burger.

The fries were equally fabulous. They were not made from frozen and you can taste the different in the crispness of the potato coupled with an exterior crunch and interior that is still a bit soft. They were seasoned appropriately and tasted delicious with ketchup.

I don't think my heart can take the grease of this place again, but it was certainly a tasty treat.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Food find: Hotel Strasburg

I can't say much about the Centurion training as it's confidential. However, I can say that it was an intense weekend that has prepared me for all sorts of hostile environments and first aid scenarios.

What I can tell you is about where we stayed. Located in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, we stayed in Strasburg at the Ramada Inn. This was only the second time I've gotten to stay at a hotel by myself, so it was quite nice to have a king-sized bed and a television all to myself. I forgot how much I miss the Food Network! Also, the location was just idyllic. The training grounds are on a dairy farm nestled in a wooded mountain range. With the changing of the leaves and the roaming cattle, it would have been quite the getaway, if it wasn't a training ground for dealing with war zones.

We also ate at the Hotel Strasburg, what my professor described as the finest restaurant in Strasburg. This town was the first settlement in the Valley. The hotel was built as a hospital in 1902 and became a hostel in 1915, charging $35 per month for boarders, which included two meals per day.

The restaurant itself was pretty nice. There were 20 or so Medill students doing the training that weekend, so we got a private room at the hotel for our evening meal. The room was decorated much like a historic living room with paintings and portraits. The furniture was equally homey and the menu had such down home favorites as chicken pot pie, crabcakes and ham with macaroni and cheese. We order a wonderful bottle of Pino Noir and a colleague and I split an appetizer of crab brulee, a cheese spread with crab chunks served over broiled bread. The cheese was pungent but creamy and not enough to overpower the juicy crab meat bits.

I then ordered veal as an entree. Sorry about the photo, the lighting was bad. The veal was supposed to be served in a velvety cheese sauce with vegetable du jour. What I got was veal (I think, I've never had it before) with shrimp on top in an orange-colored sauce that tasted like it had a bit of wine in it. The veggies included roasted potatoes, zucchini, parsnip, green beans and cranberries, of all things. The veal tasted OK -- not particularly tender but tasty. The shrimp were also well cooked but not overdone and the sauce was flavorful. I loved the potatoes, but I've never met one that I didn't like. The veggies were also delicious and the combination was refreshingly different. My friend got the strip steak medium rare au blue, which came topped with blue cheese and a demi glace. I had entree envy, I think.

While I didn't have room for dessert, my colleagues ordered off of a luscious dessert tray with chocolate cake, cheese cake, lemon parfait and all sorts of goodies. The chocolate cake looked like a safe bet and the cheesecake was delicious (I stole a bite from someone else).

Besides Centurion training, Strasburg could be a nice place to have a weekend away and see the fall leaves.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Biz trip

Hey everyone, I won't be blogging this weekend. I'm going to Virginia to complete hostile environment training with Centurion Risk Assessment Group. It's the training that journalists get before they're shipped off to war zones. That's all I can say or else they'd have to kill me or something.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Again, it's Thursday and I'm still in the office. I won't get to regular blogging tonight, so in the interim, please visit my latest installment at the Well Fed Network. It's about a cooking and foodie show that will be in DC this weekend.