Thursday, April 30, 2009

Literally, almond joy! - Toasted Almond Lemon Bars (Cookie Carnival)

As life picks up, my blog seems to have fallen quiet for awhile! It's been weird not having blogged in some time, so I'm happy to come back with my Cookie Carnival entry for this month! This month we baked up some Toasted Almond Lemon Bars (thanks to Holly from Phemomenon for hosting this month!). Now, I've had some troubles with lemon squares before -- they never quite set up right or weren't lemon-y enough or were too sweet. So I was a bit nervous about how this one would turn out... I have to say though, this is probably one of my most favorite "cookie" recipes EVER. I mean it, EVER. I'll say, that these probably aren't for everyone, but for someone who LOVES LOVES LOVES anything almond, these are the perfect combination of citrus-y goodness and almond-y sweetness. But I'm getting ahead of myself... first the recipe:

RECIPE: LEMON ALMOND SQUARES
From The Sweet Melissa Baking Book by Melissa Murphy

Makes 1 dozen bars

For the Crust:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds, lightly toasted
1/2 teaspoon salt
20 Tablespoons (2 1/2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch pieces

For the Lemon Filling:
4 large eggs
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup fresh lemon juice (about 7 lemons)
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar for sprinkling

To Toast the Almonds:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the almonds in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Before You Start:
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9 x 13 - inch pan with nonstick vegetable cooking spray. Make a parchment "sling" by cutting two pieces of parchment paper, measuring 16 1/2 inches long by 12 inches wide (you can also use aluminum foil). Place one piece across the length, and the other across the width of the pan, with the excess hanging over the edges. You will use this sling later to lift the finished bar from the pan. Spray the sling with the cooking spray.

To Make the Crust:
1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulse the flour, sugar, almonds, and salt to combine. Add the cold butter in pieces and pulse until the dough comes together in a ball.

2. Turn the dough out into the prepared pan and press evenly into the bottom and 1 1/4 inches up the sides. (This crust, once it is baked, needs to act as a liner in which to pour the liquidy lemon filling. So be sure to do a good job of pressing the dough up the sides - no cracks!). Cover the dough with a piece of parchment paper or aluminum foil, and fill with pie weights ( you can use dried beans or uncooked rice as pie weights as well). Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until lightly golden. Carefully remove the pie weights and the liner and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, or until the whole crust is golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

To Make the Filling:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until smooth. Add the almond extract and flour, and whisk until smooth. Add the lemon juice, and whisk to combine.

To Complete the Bars:
1. Pour the lemon filling into the prepared crust. Reduce the oven temperature to 325 degrees F. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the filling is firm and lightly golden. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

2. When cool use the parchment sling to lift the entire bar from the pan and onto a cutting board. Slice into twelve 3 x 3 1/2 - inch bars. Remove from the pan and, using a small sifter, dust with the confectioners' sugar.

The bars keep in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. For longer storage, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze well wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 3 weeks. Do not unwrap before defrosting. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

Results/Comments:
Alas, I forgot to take pictures of my lemon bars along the way... which quite speaks to the lemon bars themselves. I served the one batch THREE times in the course of a week! First, of course, Mr. J and I had to try them for ourselves (fresh and warm... I couldn't wait for them to cool ALL the way)... second, for my parents at our pre-Easter gathering (my dad loves lemon anything), and third, at Mr. J's family's Easter dinner.

I ran into some... let's call them technical difficulties. I apparently didn't read the recipe close enough (although I swear I read it multiple times!) and thought that the almond crust was meant to be just the bottom layer with the lemon filling as the top layer. For whatever reason - i.e. excitement to make these - I didn't realize that the crust was actually supposed to SURROUND the lemon filling until I already started baking the crust. No matter! The lemon filling still firmed up nicely on the crust (my fear was that it wouldn't firm up and would just ooze out) -- the crust was just a bit thicker than it should have been, but I didn't care, the crust was yummy.

These lemon bars were just delicious. The almond extract flavor was a (pleasant) surprise to everyone who tasted the bars, which was nicely complemented by the almonds in the crust. I loved how the sour lemon flavor balanced with the almond extract sweetness. Really, I could have eaten the whole tray. I admit that I think I might have loved these more than some of my family members, but these honestly were some of the best "cookies" I've ever tried. If you are a fan of almond, these are the bars for you.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Just Opened/Coming Soons - Keeping up with DC restaurants...

I finally got around to catching up on the latest food openings and coming soons to the DC area! And boy was I excited by what I found. Courtesy of "The List: Are You On It?", here are some places to whet your palate...

JUST OPENED:

Fire and Sage - This casual restaurant with an all-day-dining menu features American specialties with innovative twists, from fresh hand-carved sandwiches, to main course salads, brick oven-fired flatbreads and original seafood and meat entrees. Executive Chef Aaron Tootill's down-to-earth style and passion for simple dishes is apparent in a variety of dishes such as bacon-wrapped oak plank scallops, and char-grilled tea smoked halibut with corn salad. Desserts include a "Hot Bag O'Doughnuts" with honey butter and strawberry compote. Fire & Sage's wine menu features a good mix of California, European and other world selections, both big-label and boutique, moderately priced. Over 25 wines by the glass are offered in 6-ounce or 9-ounce pours. Regional microbrew beers such as Old Dominion and Dog Fish ales complete the restaurant's selection of American and international draught and bottled beers. (Marriott Metro Center, 775 12th Street, NW, Metro Center)

Fratelli la Bufala - The Italian company that has dozens of restaurants throughout Europe, has opened up it's second location in the US in Georgetown (first one in Miami). The restaurant's pizzas feature mozzarella made from the buffalo milk that is imported twice a week from Italy. The pizzas are Neopolitan-style and the same dough is used as the bread in the sandwiches. Chef Fabio Capestrano, originally from Italy, will also serve bison meat from animals who graze in Southern Italy. The restaurant has an open kitchen and buffalo-themed decor. (1063 31st Street, NW, Georgetown)

Nando's Peri-Peri - A second location of nando's peri-Peri has opened just off Dupont Circle. What makes Nando's Peri-Peri flame-grilled chicken unique is its use of Peri-Peri, a spice passed down through generations in both Portugal and Africa. At Nando's Peri-Peri the chickens are always fresh, never frozen and marinated for 24 hours, but diners get to select their own degree of heat from a range of bastes that are brushed on at just the right moment over an open-flame grill. Larger than the Penn Quarter location (819 7th Street NW), the new 18th Street space offers two levels of seating and a wine room upstairs, ideal for private dining. (1210 18th Street, NW; 202.621.8603)

COMING SOON:

Bibiana Osteria-Enoteca - Ashok Bajaj will be opening his seventh restaurant in the downtown area of DC later this year in the space formerly occupied by Luigiani’s. Known for his contemporary American and Indian restaurants around the city (Rasika, 701, Oval Room, Bombay Club, Aredeo/Bardeo), he decided to take on Italian cuisine, as it is one that he truly enjoys. Bajaj has yet to hire someone to head up the new kitchen. Stay tuned for more details. (1100 New York Avenue, NW)

Blue Ridge - Blue Ridge, a wine-focused eatery with unexpected East Coast wines and Southern-inspired cuisine will open this spring. And sustainability advocate Barton Seaver will be the executive chef. The 200-plus seat restaurant will take over the former Busara space. Look for menu items like pork terrine with preserved fruit, shellfish stew with smoked ham broth and a variety of burgers. (2340 Wisconsin Avenue, NW)

Buddha Bar - For those of you who are fans of Buddha Bar in Paris & NYC or Little Buddha in Las Vegas, get ready…a new Buddha Bar is coming to DC in the third quarter of 2009. Opening at 455 Massachusetts Avenue – just three blocks from the Verizon Center - the 9,400 sqft location will be a replica of the existing location in New York City. The Paris-based Asian-French restaurant and bar, created by George V Entertainment, has 10 locations worldwide. Buddha Bar is known worldwide for their eclectic Asian d├ęcor, hypnotizing music and magical food – and is sure to create a unique experience here in DC. (455 Massachusetts Avenue, NW)

Dupont Tequila - Here’s DC’s first tequila bar. Get ready for a variety of cocktails with fresh squeezed juices, sangrias of many colors, frozen margaritas and more than 20 tequilas. From the kitchen will come a mix of Mexican favorites like tequila glazed jumbo shrimp and tequila salsas. Live entertainment will be featured on the weekends. Originally slated to open in early 2009 at this time no details available.

Galileo - Roberto Donna has signed a letter of intent at the space that formerly housed Butterfield 9. He hopes to open a reincarnated Galileo, the formal Italian restaurant he ran in Washington for more than two decades. The restaurant should open in April or May, after a brief makeover. There will be an intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant, Laboratorio del Galileo, featuring a tasting menu. Donna will be executive chef at the new restaurant. (600 14th Street, NW)

Mad Butcher - Bethany and Jonathan Umbel of Pure Hospitality LLC (Hook and Tackle Box) hope to acquire Havanamax cigar shop to open a butcher shop and restaurant. The Mad Butcher will bring in whole pigs and sides of cattle from local farmers and prepared on site. There will be an on site aging room, selling of raw meats and a casual cafe. (3249 M Street, NW)

Maoz Vegetarian - Maoz has now found a site for their newest outpost. It will open in downtown DC where Signature Cigars used to be in mid- to late-spring. The first Maoz branch was opened in 1991 in Amsterdam, Holland. The motivator behind this pioneer shop was the idea that it was time Dutch people were introduced to a new and nutritious vegetarian dish. Customers were served a pita-sandwich with daily-fresh, handmade falafel-balls fried in vegetable oil, topped with freshly made salads and sauces of their choice. Sure enough, the Maoz sandwich became a huge success in Amsterdam, leading to the expansion of Maoz both nationally and internationally. All menu items are strictly vegetarian, and are prepared daily with the freshest ingredients available. (1817 M Street, NW)

Pizzeria Paradiso Dupont Circle - DC pizza maven Ruth Gresser and the gang will be moving from their current location in Dupont Circle, but the move will only take them up the street. Look for a new space that is twice the current size with outdoor dining. Beer fans get ready, the new location will include a replica of the "Birreria" from the Georgetown locale. Look for a May/June opening. (2003 P Street)

Good Stuff Eatery – Parts 2, 3 and maybe 4? - Chef Spike Mendehlson and the extended family that has helped make his Capitol Hill burger joint such a success – have plans to open two more Good Stuff Eaterys. One will be in DuPont Circle and the other is planned for Union Station (post-renovation). Word on the street is that there is also a pizza concept in the works.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

BB: Peanut-y Chinese Chicken Salad

This month, Barefoot Bloggers brings us a dish for lunch, dinner, or just a snack selected by McKenzie at Kenzie's Kitchen - the Barefoot Contessa's Chinese Chicken Salad! I actually remember watching this episode (several times!) where she made this salad (along with a pesto farfalle, yum) and brought it for a picnic on the beach. I wish that I had a beach nearby to bring this chicken salad to, but alas, I suppose my office will have to do! In any case, I was pretty excited to try this recipe because I had seen it multiple times on TV already and it sounded delish.

RECIPE: CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD
Adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's Recipe featured in Barefoot Contessa Parties!

6 servings

Ingredients
  • 2 1/2 split chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
  • Good olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups of green beans
  • 1 red bell pepper, cored and seeded
  • 2 scallions (white and green parts), sliced diagonally
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds, toasted
Dressing Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/8 cup good apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 3/4 tablespoons dark sesame oil
  • 1/4 tablespoon honey
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
  • 1 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
What to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the chicken breasts on a sheet pan and rub with the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chicken is just cooked. Set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred the chicken in large bite-sized pieces.

Cut the green beans into thirds. Cut the peppers in strips about the size of the green bean pieces. Combine the cut chicken, green beans, and peppers in a large bowl.

Whisk together all of the ingredients for the dressing and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Add the scallions and sesame seeds and season to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Results/Comments:

I would say that this came out pretty successful! I was happy to see that the recipe uses my favorite means of roasting chicken breasts -- this is the same technique that Ina Garten uses in other chicken recipes and the one that I particularly use when I'm making her chicken noodle soup. It is so simple, yet it results in a very moist and flavorful chicken breast. I've done this before when I wanted to just have the chicken breast itself (and not incorporated into another dish). I highly recommend this method! (Even sticking it in slightly frozen!)

I also ADORE the dressing. I tasted the dressing before pouring it on my chicken (I mean, what if I didn't like it? I would hate for all that chicken to go to waste!) and I fell in love. I think this is a great dressing for a regular veggie salad, lightly added. Due to some technical difficulties (i.e. forgot to buy and ran out of...), I substituted the vegetable oil with olive oil.

The original recipe called for asparagus, but I decided to use green beans -- I was all asparagus-ed out from earlier in the week and had quite a bit of green beans left in my refrigerator arsenal. The original recipe also called for bone-in, skin-on chicken breast, but along with the green beans, I have quite a bit of boneless skinless chicken breast in my fridge, so I used that instead. The chicken still turned out very moist.

The end result? Quite a tasty salad, but I think I may have over-dressed it. Although, as I mentioned, I rather love the dressing, I think I may have went a bit overboard with it. But, when balanced out with a pile of greens or on a sandwich, the chicken salad won me over.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Iceberry - A Frozen Yogurt Taste of Springtime!

Over the weekend, I finally made it to the newest frozen yogurt outpost in Georgetown - Iceberry (not to be confused with similarly named frozen yogurt empire Pinkberry). Iceberry has been open for some time, and I've been wanting to try it, but the weather has been downright unpredictable here and generally on the chillier side when I've been by Iceberry.

This weekend however the weather was gorgeous -- a reminder of why I love this area and how beautiful springtime in DC can be! (today on the other hand is a reminder of how rainy DC can be...). In any case, after a full day of exploring around the monuments and weaving in and out of the cherry blossoms (and trying to avoid being accidentally pushed into the Tidal Basin), we arrived at Iceberry.

Inside are a few tables for customers to rest their feet while licking up their frozen yogurt. Most of these tables were already taken when we came in, but we snagged a few seats before the line started out the door. The frozen yogurt flavor choices were more plentiful than aforementioned Pinkberry (that I visited while in LA in January!) -- original, strawberry, honeydew melon, chocolate, green tea... I ordered strawberry with three toppings (Oreo cookies, rainbow sprinkles, and pineapple) and Mr. J ordered honeydew melon plain. Not until after ordering did we learn that the most popular flavor is original followed closely by a tie of strawberry and honeydew melon. (Good selections!)

Both were...delicious. Unlike "frozen yogurt" served at a lot of ice cream shops, Iceberry's frozen yogurt tasted like...yogurt, but better. It had the tangy-ness of yogurt and was not overpoweringly sweet. The toppings if anything were the sweetest parts of the treat, and that part, you could control exactly what you wanted sprinkled on top. I myself am a topping fan, so to be faced with some many possible topping combinations? Excellent. What kinds of toppings you ask? Oreos, rainbow sprinkles, pineapple, fruity pebbles, raspberries, blueberries, coconut, chocolate chips, almonds, and more...

Plus, a healthy (healthier?) alternative to ice cream! A medium cup of the fro-yo has only 140 calories and 0 grams of fat (and 18% of your daily calcium needs!). And believe me, the medium cup is quite plentiful and filling.

Perhaps my only complaint was that service wasn't particularly...friendly. Despite that though, I got my frozen yogurt with the quickness, so I couldn't complain.

Iceberry can also be found in five other locations -- Virginia (Reston, Chantilly, Springfield), California (Los Angeles), and Florida (West Palm Beach).

Ah yes, spring and the wonderful treats you bring. Next up on the frozen yogurt list... Yogen Fruz. They're rumored to be popping up around DC (already one has opened at Tysons Corner)... going to keep my eye out for this one.

Iceberry
3001 M Street NW
Washington, DC 20007

Thursday, April 2, 2009

ALOHA HAWAII! - In search of restaurant reccs!

In case you didn't know, I love Hawaii ... in fact, it is on my list of places that I would one day like to move to. That's not particularly feasible at the moment, so as the next best thing, I try to make it to Hawaii as often as possible. I'm happy to report that a trip is on tap for this year and was hoping for some restaurant recommendations for Oahu.

I've tried out a variety of places over the years... I have a soft spot in my heart for Alan Wong's restaurants so we definitely plan to go to his King Street restaurant one of the nights we are there. On our list to try this time also include Sushi Izakaya Gaku and Side Street Inn.

We're open to all types of food and would particularly love any hole-in-the-wall or new restaurant suggestions!

Ahhhhh, can't wait. Would like to go now! Thanks :)