mexican monday: fish tacos & queso.

Mexican Monday was a great success this week!  While the menu generally consists of quesadillas plus a range of dips, I decided to focus only on two components this time: Fish Tacos with Green Apple Guacamole and “A More Natural” Chile Con Queso.  It was one of those meals that seemed to take forever to prep, because of all the chopping, peeling, and grating involved!  (I really need to take a cooking class on knife skills!)  The end result was SO worth it though.

I considered substituting chicken for the cod in the tacos, but ended up following the recipe almost exactly.  The chicken probably would have been fine, but the cod really complemented the other items in the taco well.  I love discovering strange ingredient combinations that just mesh.  Green apples in guacamole?  I knew that could either be weird or amazing…  and it really turned out great!  Refreshingly light and delicious.

Fish Tacos with Green Apple Guacamole

I’ve had a difficult time photographing tacos and quesadillas, so I just held it open this time!  Plus, now I can show off my manicured thumb.

This is the first time I’ve ever made queso, and in browsing through a few recipes, I noticed quickly that Velveeta cheese is a standard ingredient.  Now, I don’t mind eating things with Velveeta.  At this point, I realize that probably every queso I’ve ever had has included Velveeta… and I will continue to charge forward and dip my chips in these quesos!  However, there is something about creating the food on my own that makes me very picky about what I use.  I have weird rules for myself, like I hate using canned vegetables, frozen meat, or pre-grated cheese (this rule is not as important as the other two).   Anyway, I searched and found a recipe with more natural cheeses.

Queso substitutions:  I used a poblano pepper, a light green pepper (a medium-spicy mystery pepper), along with the jalapenos.  For cheeses, I chose a New York Cheddar along with a Habanero Pepper Jack from somewhere in the midwest.

Side-note on peeling tomatoes… is there an easy way to do it?  This is probably an odd comparison, but I almost felt like I was peeling a human!  The roma tomato was so slimy and veiny underneath.  (Sorry, that is very unappealing.)

A More Natural Chile Con Queso w/Tortilla Chips.

The queso was SO good.  We still have some left over, so I have just been loving life.  I was humbled yesterday, because the Washingtonian posted on their Best Bites Blog that Chef Jeff Tunks uses Velveeta in his mac & cheese at Passion Fish.  I adore Passion Fish and everything they do, and it is true: Velveeta does make both queso and mac & cheese pretty good.  I think I’ll stick to this delicious recipe though.  :)

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brunch at mon ami gabi.

I am always on the hunt for good brunch spots, and so I was thrilled to recently experience the fantastic restaurant in Reston that is Mon Ami Gabi!  The name means “my friend Gabi” in French, after Chef (and Owner) Gabino Sotelino.  My dear friend Lauren got married two weekends ago, and her family hosted a bridal brunch at Mon Ami Gabi to kick off the festivities.  It was the perfect choice, and I still get distracted thinking about all of the delicious sweet and savory foods that made up the meal.

We were seated in a long side room, which offered us a good amount of privacy… but also enough space to really relax and celebrate!  Lauren planned out a 3-course brunch, and selected delicious options for each segment.

Lauren's Mon Ami Gabi Brunch Menu

I chose the Warm Brie (quaintly presented in a stainless steel pan), the Classic Quiche Lorraine (which was big enough to turn into my Sunday breakfast as well), and the Chocolate Mousse (so rich, I only had three bites!).

Warm Brie

Classic Quiche Lorraine

Chocolate Mousse

Who eats mousse for brunch?  I don’t know, but even from just those three bites, I find myself craving it sometimes during the mid-morning now!

I also have a picture of the Chicken, Cheese, & Broccoli Crepe option.  Crepes always take me back to sophomore year of college, when my roommate and I would throw crepe parties whenever we had a good excuse!  Crepe-makers can be such a valuable asset to any snazzy kitchen.

Chicken, Cheese, & Broccoli Crepe

Merci, Mon Ami Gabi!  I wish you weren’t so far from Arlington, but I’ll definitely be back to visit!

dinner by peter!

We went over to our good friend Peter’s the other night for a lovely dinner!  This entry is somewhat of a guest blog entry… I’m writing it, but the dinner was all Peter’s work!  The meal centered around a Capture Sauvignon Blanc Les Pionniers 2009 that he had discovered recently.  Amazing.  It was crisp and citrus-y at the beginning, then got increasingly more herbaceous as it breathed and warmed to room temperature.

We brought along some good ole Humboldt Fog cheese (Whole Foods and Screwtop are both carrying it right now!), and it was a GREAT match.  Peter added champagne grapes for a perfect side spread.

Capture Sauvignon Blanc Les Pionniers 2009, Humboldt Fog, & Champagne Grapes

Peter cares a lot about where his food comes from, which is just awesome.  He gave us all the background details, so I will include them all!

The main dish was Chicken Pesto Pasta.  The pesto was made from scratch the day before with homegrown basil, store-bought pine nuts, shredded romano cheese, parsley, and garlic. Here it is being prepped…

Peter's Homemade Pesto (photo credit: Peter)

The chicken (from Magruder’s) was marinated overnight in lime juice, extra virgin olive oil, lemon pepper, and garlic seasoning.  Yum!  Then it was sautéed with a store-bought onion, pepper, and yellow squash from Biggs Riggs Farm in Romney, West Virginia.

Chicken Pesto Pasta

Dessert was amazing, in a jaw-dropping way!!  Peter sliced up some peaches from Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania and paired it with Trickling Springs Ice Cream from Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  He topped it all with Trader Joe’s Vanilla Almond Granola!

By the way: I have not been to Pennsylvania many times, but I happened to have traveled to both Chambersburg and Shippensburg before!

Vanilla Ice Cream with Peaches and Granola

Thank you, Peter!  The meal was deliciously fresh, and the Sauvignon Blanc was so memorably intriguing!  What a perfect summer meal.  :)

pete’s new haven style apizza.

I just wanted to quickly post about our visit to Pete’s last weekend.  It was a somewhat spur-of-the-moment lunch decision, but we wanted to go because it’s right nearby in Clarendon, we had never been before, and we had heard about it’s former Top 100 status.

It turns out New Haven style pizza (“apizza”) is very different and fascinating.  You can read about it on their website here.  Pete’s itself was pretty clean and modern, but I must admit that the pizza did not look like it was going to be very appealing.

Pete's New Haven Style Apizza & a Sorbillo

I ended up really enjoying my veggie slice though, and Chris liked his sausage slice too.  As advertised, the pizza did taste somewhat burnt on the outside, but then was also soft on the inside… kind of strange.  I don’t think there was actual truffle extract involved in my veggie slice (the mushrooms must have just been very nicely sautéed), but it seemed like it was there as I ate.  In my opinion, the more mushroom flavor, the better!  So thumbs up for that.

We also split their Original Sorbillo (“A rectangular shaped pizza filled with Salumi, ricotta, mozzarella”).  Yum.

We liked Pete’s, but I don’t know if we’ll go there again.  New Haven Style Apizza was intriguing, but just wasn’t exciting enough to give us many more cravings for the future.

sauce workshop!

One of our wedding presents was a cooking class!  We were given a list of choices, and finally decided on a “sauce workshop.”  The workshop was quite an experience!  The beginning was a little funny as we all stood around waiting for everyone to arrive.  We read the handout, adjusted our aprons, and stared at each other around the room.  Once the class started, however, it was a FRENZY of action for two-and-a-half hours!  I thought about the phrase “too many cooks in the kitchen,” and marveled at how it all worked out somehow.

The class was full of characters.  Across the room, there was a Matt LeBlanc look-alike who kept confusing me when I’d see him out of the corner of my eye.  Our instructor reminded me (in looks and personality) of a (much nicer) Sue Sylvester.  She meant business, and definitely knew her stuff.

The most interesting character was our third teammate, “Stephanie.”  I put her name in quotation marks, because that is what her name tag read… and so naturally, that is what we called her for the entire class.  It wasn’t until the end that we figured out that she had replaced a Stephanie who couldn’t make it last minute, and had just decided to wear that name tag (and answer to that name) anyway!

“Stephanie” was super cool.  She was shorter than me, a grandmother, and an amazing cook.  I told her she needed to start teaching these classes herself.  “Stephanie” was very respectful of the chef teacher, but was constantly telling us everything she would do differently, as well as any additional tips she knew.  She had a quiet voice, so we would strain to catch these great bits of wisdom.  I was THIS close to asking her for her phone number after the class, because I would love to cook with her on a regular basis!

The instructor taught us about the mother sauces.  Apparently, tomato sauce is a fairly recent change to the list.  The first dish we made was Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis.  Even though it was a sauce workshop, we spent awhile making the crab cakes.  I definitely appreciated learning this, however, so no complaints from me!  Also, I actually found the same recipe we used here.

Crab Cakes with Roasted Red Pepper Coulis

Here are the other three recipes we made: Seared Salmon with Raspberry Beurre Blanc (maybe my favorite sauce), Cilantro-Pepita Pesto with Seared Pork (this pesto was awesome), and Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce (the instructor ended up demonstrating this one since we were running overtime).

Seared Salmon with Raspberry Beurre Blanc

Cilantro-Pepita Pesto with Seared Pork

Steamed Asparagus with Hollandaise Sauce

The class was great, and it really whetted my appetite (ha) to learn more about sauces.  Seriously, I had no idea that there was SO much to learn.  Here is one website I found that does a good job of explaining the basics.  I learned a lot of great cooking tidbits, like how to cook salmon in a pan, how to cook great gravy (hold back 2 degrees so that it can keep cooking off the heat, then strain it through paper towels), and the art of slowly adding ingredients.  Cooking classes are the best.  What a great present!

basic enchiladas.

Do you ever get really excited about doing something you don’t usually do, only to realize later that there’s a reason why you don’t usually do it?  Well, this happened to me with enchiladas the other night.  No, this story isn’t going where you think it’s going.  (I probably started off too dramatic.)  All I’m saying is that I don’t usually eat enchiladas, but for awhile now, I’ve been really excited about the idea of them.

Chicken Enchiladas

After finally sitting down to taste my finished product, I remembered that I actually REALLY REALLY don’t like enchilada sauce.  What a bummer!  Objectively, I think that it all came out great.  The chicken and cheese on the inside were perfect.  I think the issue was that I used sauce from a can, and it just was not the best.  I’m not going to give up on enchiladas.  Next time, I will just make my own sauce… and I will make a different kind from the canned kind.

By the way, I think it was Old El Paso canned enchilada sauce.

Here is the recipe I used.  (Adjustment: I also threw in some extra queso blanco we had in our fridge.)  I still want to promote the recipe, because it was truly great and Chris really enjoyed the meal!  He gets the leftovers this time.  :)

america eats tavern!

Last Saturday, Chris, two friends, and I had the opportunity to check out America Eats Tavern, a new pop-up restaurant by Chef José Andrés.  I could not contain my excitement!  We showed up for brunch right when the restaurant opened up, and easily got a table.  The place was definitely pretty packed when we left, so I’m glad we got there early!

Ceiling of America Eats Tavern

America Eats is replacing the space where Café Atlántico used to be.  The famous and apparently amazing Minibar, which is usually upstairs, is currently undergoing renovation.  America Eats closes in January, and Café Atlántico actually will move to a different location… so I wonder what will happen with the space next year!  There is definitely a lot happening.

Anyway, America Eats Tavern is exploring a new and innovative approach to classic American dishes from different time periods throughout history… many of which have been lost over time.  The restaurant goes along with the National Archives exhibit, “What’s Cooking, Uncle Sam?”  We didn’t go to the exhibit this time around, but we’re planning to go soon with a bigger group and return to the restaurant around that as well. Since there were four of us, and we are all adventurous in trying new foods, I have many photos to share!  Here is the delicious Blackberry Butter that came with the bread basket we ordered.

Blackberry Butter

We tried two cocktails among the four of us.  I don’t remember the name of the one on the left, but as you can see, it was a sparkling and lighter drink.  The cocktail on the right is the Ramos Gin Fizz, made with gin, egg whites, citrus, cream, and orange flower water!  You could taste every single one of those ingredients in perfect harmony.  The fizz on the top was very solid, and barely moved as the drink quickly disappeared.  The Ramos Gin Fizz was developed by Henry C. Ramos in New Orleans in 1888.  Amazing!

Two Brunch Cocktails (Ramos Gin Fizz, on right)

Here are all of our entrées…

Maine Lobster Roll, John D. Rockefeller, Mount Desert Island, Maine, 1910

Shrimp 'n' Anson Mills Grits with a Fried Egg, Jamestown, 1607

Waffles with Blackberry Butter & Vermont Maple Syrup, James Hemings, Monticello, 1796

Hangtown Fry, Hangtown, California, 1849

I tried a little bit of Chris’ lobster roll, and it was pretty good.  He said it wasn’t his favorite roll he’s ever had, but he liked how the mayo and lobster were separated in the sandwich.  The other boys enjoyed their dishes a lot, though comments of the portions being a little small were made.  I absolutely LOVED The Hangfry!  It was packed with flavor, and I felt the joy that the gold miners must have felt when they struck it rich in California and then bought this particular dish to celebrate.  It was the perfect amount of oyster taste, and everything I could want in a glamorous brunch entrée.

We then ordered two desserts and two teas.  I tried a little of everything, and the desserts were incredible!  The Key Lime Pie was apparently made from fresh key limes… something most restaurants don’t use, for some reason.  The Vermont Sugar On Snow really showed off the amazing Vermont syrup, and the flowers added a unique twist to the dessert. Chris and I enjoyed our teas, though they tasted pretty standard to us.

Dandelion Tea

Balsamic Hyperion Tea (the tea people drank after the Boston Tea Party)

Key Lime Pie

Vermont Sugar On Snow

What a fun and different brunch experience!  Reading the menu in and of itself was a learning experience… there are little blurbs about the history behind each item.  Now I want to spend some time reading the menu online before I go back!  I am so excited to return to America Eats, and hope to get there for a few more meals before January.  The restaurant definitely made us proud to be Americans!  :)