July 28, 2010

Napa Valley

Obligatory picture of grapes

After four nights in San Francisco, Marshal Mike and I were ready for a slower pace and warmer weather. Enter Napa Valley! We instantly felt relaxed as we passed over the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco skyline slowly disappeared behind us. We stayed at a great little hotel called the River Terrace Inn (and yes, they did have a terrace right on the Napa River).

Photo from Deandeluca.com

My friend Molly had recommended a restaurant called Press for dinner, with the promise of "the best steak you have ever eaten." We were not disappointed. Unfortunately I filled up on our starter, a delicious and fresh green bean salad (with fennel!), so didn't get to enjoy much of my halibut. MM said his filet mignon was one of the best he has ever had. Success!

The town of Yountville is located just north of Napa and is home to one of the most famous, well-known, and well-respected restaurants in the country: Thomas Keller's French Laundry. If MM and I had nearly a grand to drop on dinner and if MM considered the perfect meal to be more than steak, potatoes and broccoli, then we would have tried to get a reservation (which is close to impossible anyway). But, we don't, so we didn't.

Instead, we tried one of Keller's other Yountville restaurants, called Bouchon. (The other is Ad Hoc, which only has one 4 course menu per day and I was worried we would get there and the menu du jour would be calf's livers, sweetbreads and uni, or some other ridiculousness we would not want to eat.)


Bouchon is modeled after a French bistro, so the menu has all items you would expect from a French bistro. MM had Gnocchi a la Parisienne, which he enjoyed. And I had the mussels, which were cooked with white wine, chorizo and peppers. They were delicious! I wanted to stop in Bouchon Bakery on the way out (it is next door) to pick up some bread to take home, but by the time we were finished with lunch the line was out the door, down the block. No thanks!

Bowl for the mussel shells.

At the end of it, we wished we had another day in Napa to keep exploring and I definitely want to go back to check out Sonoma and the other wine areas. Unfortunately someone (ahem, me) didn't read in the guidebook that the wineries all close at 4:30 or 6pm, so we only made it to two on Sunday and three on Monday before we went to the airport. Here is a list of the wineries we tried, in the order in which we tried them:

Trinitas Tasting Room at the Meritage Resort: I only tried their Sauvignon Blanc, which was ok. The tasting room is in a cave, which is what drew me to it in the first place.
Peju: MM's sister asked us to pick up two bottles of one of their wines, so that is why we tried this winery. We did a full tasting here (4 or 5 wines, I can't remember) and I didn't love any of them.

Grgich Hills: I did a full tasting here, which was also either 4 or 5 wines. I loved their Chardonnay and Fume Blanc! I usually find Chardonnay to be too thick and oaky, but this one was nothing like the Chardonnays I have tried in the past. Delicious!

Heitz Cellar: This was the only tasting we went to that was free. (Trinitas didn't charge me for the one wine I tried and Peju and Grgich waived the tasting fee because we bought bottles. So kind of them.) I think this tasting was 4 wines, and the real stand out in my opinion was their Ink Grade Port. It was so rich and smooth and fruity!

Del Dotto: This was the last winery we tried. It was so over the top opulent (bordering on the ridiculous if you ask me): marble columns, trompe l'oeil paintings on the walls, huge chandeliers and the tasting was $30! But our pourer (is there a proper term for them??) was British and we were her first tasting she did alone. She was the best and the wine was delicious too!

July 24, 2010

San Francisco (Day 2)

On our second day in San Francisco, MM and I had breakfast at The Grove, a neat coffee shop. Holy expensive! Our breakfast bill came to over $30! But, it was delicious. I had granola with yogurt and fruit and MM had scrambled eggs with hash browns, bacon and toast. Pretty basic stuff, but not so basic pricing.

Photo from Flourandwater.com

For dinner, we tried Flour + Water in the Mission District. They are known for their Neopolitan style pizzas, but have other Italian fare as well. We shared the galactic and sylvetta salad with shaved fennel (yay!), roasted almonds and stone fruit prosecco vinaigrette to start. For those of you who don't know what galactic and sylvetta are (as we did not), galactic is a red leafy lettuce and sylvetta is like arugula. It was delicious! Then we shared a margherita pizza, which was also fabulous. I thought it was the same as, if not better than, 2 Amy's and MM conceeded that it was almost as good as 2 Amy's. All in all, it was a good food day!

July 22, 2010

San Francisco (Day 1)

Marshal Mike and I are in San Francisco for my dear friend Molly's wedding, and I thought I would share a couple of the great restaurants we have visited.

Photo from SPQRSF.com

On our first night in San Francisco, we ate at SPQR, which is an acronym for Senatus Populesque Romanus and translates to "The People and Senate of Rome" and was the emblem of the Roman Empire. The food was fantastic. We shared an heirloom tomato, summer melon and goat cheese salad. The red and yellow cherry tomatoes were the sweetest I have ever tasted and the watermelon, honeydew and cantaloupe were cut into the smallest, most precise cubes. MM had cherry tomato risotto for his main course, which he devoured and said tasted like a 2 Amy's pizza melted into risotto. (He loves 2 Amy's pizza, so that is a pretty high compliment from him.) I had the corn agnolotti with chanterelles, percorino and summer truffle. It was superb: sweet corn paired with the earthy mushrooms and truffle. We were too full after all that to try dessert!

Photo from ottimistasf.com

We were not too full to have another drink, however, so we tried Ottimista Enoteca-Cafe, which is within walking distance to our hotel. MM wasn't too pleased that they didn't have his beloved Sierra Nevada (SPQR didn't either), but I was glad we tried it regardless. The atmosphere was great, the bartender was friendly, and I had a delicious glass of Dolcetto d'Alba, which I had never tried before. (SF is so cold compared with the DC Sauna, that I have been drinking red wine!)

July 20, 2010

Spiced Chicken with Couscous Salad

My brother is in town and commented that last night's dinner had no starch, so tonight's has a little bit of everything.

This recipe is from Real Simple's June 2010 issue. The couscous salad is really delicious. I used edamame because the snap peas at the grocery looked awful. Unfortunately I over-salted the couscous, but it was still yummy. I couldn't really taste the spices on the chicken, so I would probably add more next time.

Chicken Schnitzel with Roasted Broccoli

You are probably starting to think that we eat a lot of the same thing over and over again here in the BlB household. And you are probably right, but that's ok, it is all delicious. And really, that's all that matters.

This chicken schnitzel recipe is from Thomas Keller in Food & Wine's July 2009 issue. It was great. Crunchy, with a bright acidity from the lemon juice and capers. Marshal Mike and I are going to Keller's Bouchon Bistro in Yountville, CA next week - so exciting!

July 13, 2010

Marshal Mike's Peanut Butter Birthday Cupcakes


Today is Marshal Mike's 32nd birthday! In honor of this special day I made peanut butter cupcakes with milk chocolate frosting. I used this cupcake recipe from Elinor Klivans' cookbook, Cupcakes! and this milk chocolate frosting recipe from Joy the Baker. I haven't actually had a cupcake yet, so I can't tell you how they turned out. But the batter was delicious and the frosting was delicious, so I have high hopes.

Happy Birthday Mike!

July 12, 2010

Al Karl's Smoked Pork

Marshal Mike and I were in lovely Cape May, NJ this past weekend for my friend Amy's wedding. (You can see the cupcakes I made for her shower here.) We had a fabulous time and stopped at my friend Nicole's family home in Wildwood Crest, NJ on the way out of town on Sunday. Nicole's parents, Nancy and Al, sent us home with a piece of smoked pork that Al had recently cooked. It was delicious! You can see from the above picture that I cubed it and added it to a tortilla with melted cheese, caramelized onion and fennel, black beans and cherry tomatoes. The perfect dinner to use up the vegetables that were lingering in the kitchen. Thanks again, Scoot and Moose!

And because this is a pet-friendly blog, below are pictures of the Karl family pets:
Hutchie ("Marshal Mike, I don't want to sit on your lap!")

Hank the Tank

Nezzie (aka Edith)

July 8, 2010

Pork Chops Saltimbocca

Photo from Gourmet

So last night was kind of a hot mess. DC has been such a literal boiling hot mess lately that it is hard to get anything done and turning on the oven is frowned upon by all members of the household (2 and 4 legged alike). But I didn't think the pork chops would last another day in the fridge, so I made Pork Chops Saltimbocca with Sauteed Spinach from Gourmet's August 2009 issue. 

As you may or may not know, saltimbocca means "jump in the mouth" in Italian and typically refers to a thin piece of veal rolled up with prosciutto and sage. As the story goes, the food is so delicious that it jumps into your mouth. I don't eat veal, but enjoy the flavors of prosciutto and sage, so I was happy to make this with pork. You could certainly make this with chicken, too. This Gourmet recipe adds fontina cheese to the mix as well. (Oddly enough, i couldn't find Italian fontina, so had to use Dutch fontina. I wonder what the difference is.)

Anyway, once it was finally done, I had managed to burn my thumb on the hot pan that had just come out of the 450 degree oven and was holding an ice cube to it, so I couldn't be bothered taking a picture of the finished dish. You'll just have to trust me that my finished dish looked exactly like the Gourmet picture (except we used boneless pork chops).  :)

July 6, 2010

Walnut-Crusted Chicken with Roasted Broccoli

Another day, another dark photo

This is a great recipe from Martha Stewart (I halved it). The chicken stays super-moist and actually tastes like walnuts. I find that a lot of times chicken coating/breading just tastes like breadcrumbs, no matter what else you add to it. And of course we made it with roasted broccoli, because I wanted fennel again and MM said, "no way, I can't handle anymore fennel!" (Although, there happens to be another fennel bulb in the fridge, so get ready!)

July 5, 2010

Sausage and Summer Vegetable Sauté

 Don't you worry, there is fennel in there!

I pulled out last summer's issues of Gourmet magazine to find some recipes to make this week and this is the first one we tried. (This recipe can also be found on Epicurious.) It was really fantastic. Unfortunately, I wasn't paying attention when I was prepping the vegetables, so the corn went into the sauté at the same time as the other vegetables, but it ended up being fine. They were certainly not overcooked. (On a separate note, this is the first time I have ever cut corn off the cob - whoa, what a mess! Corn was flying around the kitchen! I remembered hearing on a cooking show to cut the corn into a bowl to prevent getting corn all over the place, so I did that with the second cob and it worked pretty well. On another separate note, at the Ft. Myer Commissary, corn was 16 cents per cob. 16 cents! What? I didn't think you could get anything for that cheap. Now, it wasn't the best quality - nothing like the corn we get right from the farm in RI - but it worked just fine in this dish.)

As you can see from the picture, I added carrots to the sauté. (If you are a loyal reader you will know I have had carrots living in my crisper drawer for probably a month now, if not longer. Well, not any more! I have finally used them up. And they were still crisp!) I also didn't realize the dill I had in the fridge had gone bad, so my finished dish did not get any dill. I think it would have made it even better. When MM and I were eating it, we noticed that something was missing. And I think a fresh herb was that something.

July 3, 2010

Gaby and Chloe

How cute are these two?!

Patton is depressed that he can't climb onto the window sill.

July 1, 2010

Pork Chops with Fennel and Caper Sauce

My love affair with fennel continues.

This is another recipe from Giada's Kitchen (and can be found on the Food Network website). It was delicious. I halved the recipe and omitted the lemon at the end (because I was lazy). I also managed to overcook the pork slightly, but there was enough sauce that I could mop it up with the pork to make it moist. I have never made a recipe of Giada's that did not turn out well. (Patton enjoyed the leftover pork fat, too!)