Monday, September 13, 2010

Best Ever ShortBread Recipe Baked by a Kid

My parents are usually the ones writing on this blog post, but tonight, I made something that I would like to tell you about.  It is called Cinnamon Walnut (I left the nuts out) Scottish Shortbread, and it is from one of my favorite children's cookbooks called, Emeril's There's a Chef In My World!  Recipes That Take You Places!

Why It's The Best:  I love shortbread, and this recipe is really good because it has cinnamon, and allspice in it, which makes it taste extra good.  It tastes buttery and light, and was easy enough for me to make without any help.  You have to make sure not to overmix it, though, because it will become tough, and you want your shortbread to be light and flakey.

How I Know:  Because I'm a kid, and I've tasted lots of shortbread, and this is the best so far.  It was extra good because my mom had some left-over homemade cream cheese icing, which I decided to spread on each piece of shortbread.  Then, I put a couple of fresh rasberries on top, followed with another piece of shortbread (kind of like a cookie sandwich).  We ate it when it was still warm, and it was wonderful.

Craving Level:  Seriously... I'm a kid -- I could eat it everyday, but, sadly, my parents would never allow me to have it that often.  So, we'll say... twice a week.

One More Thing:  If you have a child in your life that likes to cook (and learn about cool places), you should definitely get them this cookbook.  Each recipe is from a different part of the world, and the page that the recipe is on tells you what country it is from, a little bit about the origins of the recipe (or just some neat facts), and then shows you a picture of the flag.  So, you can learn more about the foods the rest of the world eat, while becoming a really good cook!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Best Ever Crab Melt

It's the time of the year when we just can't find enough ways to eat blue crab.  This recipe is a new favorite, and comes from a cookbook that we really love.  Writing this post also led to an interesting discovery.

The Neiman Marcus Cookbook was a limited edition book, and to our surprise, has become a collectors item.  Originally published in 2003 to mark the 50th Anniversary of Neiman Marcus's first restaurant, the Zodiac Room in Dallas, it contains recipes drawn from all of the chain's 42 locations.  It's been a good investment, beyond the wonderful meals we've made, and we've now learned that it has actually appreciated in value.   

The list price for the cookbook is $45, but the least expensive new one on Amazon is $86, the most expensive is $212, with "used" books starting at $54.32.  It's an expensive cookbook (it is Neiman Marcus), but worth it ...and it may be one the few that will provide any monetary return on your investment -- should you ever want to part with it, but trust us, you won't.   

The cookbook contains a number of winners.  Jen used to work at Nieman's and the Tortilla Soup (pg. 19) was always a favorite for lunch in the "Neiman's Cafe".  The Chicken Salad recipe (pg. 90) is a classic, and the chocolate chip cookies are well known, and delicious.    We recently discovered a new favorite and wanted to share it with all of you.

What:   Crab and Shrimp Salad "Melt" on Sourdough Bread (click on the recipe to enlarge)

Why it's the Best:  The method of cooking the shrimp makes it so flavorful, and when combined with fresh lump crab, tangy mustard, cheese, and all of the remaining ingredients, the end product is truly delicious.  Then, putting the mixture on a fresh slice of sourdough bread, and baking puts this already great "salad" on a whole new level.

How We Know: The cookbook made Oprah's favorite things list for 2003, who can argue with that.

Craving Level: Monthly during crab season.

Reviews:  Cookbook reviews by buyers

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Best Ever Dinner Value in NYC

The family went to the "Big Apple" last weekend to see, and taste, the sights and sounds.   Somehow NYC has become the candy capital of the US, we came back with bags filled with M&M's (compliments of the new M&M store in Times Square), gummy's of all varieties (thanks to Dylan's Candy Bar on 59th and Lexington).   And oh, we did hit the new Pop Tart store as well, and pimp'd out some Pop Tarts.

In between our sugar sessions, we did manage to see some attractions, and eat at a few good restaurants.  One in particular is worth writing about.

Where:  Lower East Side, 83 1st Street @ Fifth Ave, New York, NY  10003.  We were in this part of town to see Stomp, which is playing nearby at the Orpheum theatre.  A great show, we highly recommend it, but go on a Friday and Sunday to get discounted tickets.  

Why It's the Best: Sometimes finding a good meal for the money can be just as exciting as a great dining experience.   In this case, we found great food and a great deal.   Dinner for four for just over $115 (not including tip), a good value in any town, but in Manhattan, this is a real winner.   

A few things made this such a find.  Let's start with the drinks, a martini was $9, a vodka tonic an amazing $6 and a good glass of chardonnay for $7.  Take advantage of the specials and the deals are even better.  Happy hour offers $4 wine, beer and rail drinks during 5-8pm, and 8-10 pm in the lounge.  The early bird special (5-6:30 pm) on Sun-Thursday nets you 20% off your meal.   Additionally, our server and the rest of the staff, was very friendly and attentive.

They have a wood-burning oven and offer a daily special calzone.  The menu also contained a couple of traditional Italian favorites (at least around our house) not commonly found in Italian restaurants, including Arancia (rice balls) and Penne alla Cuccuzzi (sauteed zucchini in olive oil). 

How We Know:  Martinis at our hotel (and most hotels/restaurants in NYC) ranged from $14-17.   Jen's family is Italian, and are very good cooks, making many authentic recipes not always found in local Italian restaurants -- the two I mentioned above.  We were both surprised to see them on the menu, and even more surprised at how delicious they tasted.   

Review and Directions: Google, Yelp, TripAdvisor

Sunday, August 15, 2010

DC Restaurant Week August 16-22

Tomorrow is the start of the annual DC Restaurant Week, your opportunity to dine at some of the area's best restaurants on the cheap.  A three course, fixed menu lunch for $20.10, and $35.10 for a three course, fixed menu dinner at participating restaurants.   Visit the website below to see which restaurants will participate in this event so you can make your reservations.

How to Make it the Best: Although $35.10 for a three course dinner sounds like a good deal, there is a better way to make it pay off.   The trick is the "fixed course" lunch or dinner.   What we learned over the years is that some of the restaurants participating aren't really offering you much of a discount.   They pick the courses you have to choose from, which limits your savings.   

To get the most out the promotion, pick restaurants that are premium priced, like steakhouses, and avoid lower priced restaurants like tapas.  Also, pick a night of the the week that's typically slow like a Monday or Tuesday.   Restaurants typically feature other promotions on those nights that you can also take advantage of, like half price bottles of wine.

Enjoy the week!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Best Ever Secret Sauce

Looking for that special something that can be added to your grilled food that will be sure to impress friends/neighbors at the next cook-out?   This receipe from Williams-Sonoma Complete Grilling Cookbook is just what the chef ordered to get them talking.  Originally intended as a finishing sauce for swordfish, we find it has worked equally well on chicken, shrimp, and other firm textured fish, such as tuna.

What:  Lime and Cilantro Sauce (click on the recipe to enlarge)
Why It's the Best:   For starters, it has cilantro, and, if you're one of our regular readers, you know we're big fans of cilantro.  The subtle kick of the jalapeno brings the sauce to life.  Another wonderful thing about the sauce is that it's so versatile.  We mentioned that it works well with chicken and shrimp, and even though we haven't tried it on skirt or hanger steak, we think it would be delicious on those cuts of meat, as well (think fajitas).  And, we're fairly certain that, like us, you'll enjoy the taste so much, that you will set some aside to use as a dipping sauce for your finished product.  Lastly, it's quick and easy to make, and only needs to be refrigerated for 2 hours. That said, the longer it can be chilled, the better, and you can keep it for days.

How We Know:  This receipe has been a family favorite, and has been passed around for years now.  It's just a no-brainer to add a "zip" to the same old grilled fish/chicken.

Craving Level:  Bi-monthly, when grilling season slows down with the cold, but definitely weekly during the summer months.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Best Ever Hamburger

Even though Ray's Hell Burger has been showing up on "Best of" lists for a number of years, it wasn't until President Obama's most recent trip that I decided it was worth a visit.  Sure, Biden and Obama have been regular patrons at the place, but if it was good enough to take a visiting head of state like the President of Russia, then I had to check it out.

What: 100% premium steak cuts, aged, hand trimmed, ground fresh daily, hand-formed, 10 oz's big and juicy.

Where: Ray's Hell Burger, Arlington, VA 

Why It's the Best: sure it has a Presidential endorsement, but it's also a great burger.  We've eaten at gourmet burger joints before, the thing I like about Ray's are the options for customizing your burger (see the menu).

I went with the B.I.G. POPPA, and it was tremendous.  The burger had a au poivre crust with blue cheese, cognac and sherry mushrooms and grilled onions.  The burgers are also perfectly formed, they say it's done by hand, but I'm skeptical.  

How We Know: the place constantly has a line out the door.  A line in which the President was willing to wait.   If you go, know that you will be on line for at least 10 minutes.   Go early, before noon, for the best chance to move quickly.  Oh, and bring cash, they don't take credit cards. 

Craving Level: Weekly

Monday, May 17, 2010

Best Ever Blue Berry Pancakes

We just returned from a combination birthday/Mother’s day getaway weekend in Middleburg, VA. The 265 acre Goodstone Inn is a fantastic, and close escape from the DC area. A couple of things to note about the Inn, and then we will get to the food.

First, the grounds are beautiful, and you can stay at one of the six properties on the estate. As we drove to the Spring House, where we stayed, we were captivated by the site of the tall grass, ripling in a wave like motion as the wind sweep across it.  It was a memory we'll never forget. The stone, three story Spring House had four bedrooms/suites, each with a full bath, a fully equipped kitchen, and a cozy living room with a fire place.

The most important point was how impressed we were in how they do the little things right. We stayed at the Inn at Perry Cabin last fall, although smaller and simplier, we felt that the overall experience at this place was absolutely on par with that Inn, and 20 minutes closer!

The second and, perhaps, most the important fact was that the food was great. Normally, when you stay at a small Inn or B&B your expectations are minimal. Typically, you're there for the peace and quiet, and potentially the location. This place is a foodies paradise! The full service restaurant is under the very capable direction of Chef William Walden, formerly of L' Auberge Chez Francios in Great Falls.

You can enjoy, and we mean enjoy, three meals a day without even leaving the property, but should you choose to leave the town of Middleburg, Va is only five minutes away.  And as a bonus, a couple of our favorites items on the menu where reminiscent of selections on the Chez Francois's menu...hello, Souffles. But, our favorite dish while at the Inn was without a doubt, the Blueberry Pancakes.

What: Blueberry Pancakes

Where: Goodstone Inn, Middleburg, VA

Why it's the Best: Chef Walden uses Tahitan vanilla, flour, sugar, baking soda and other ingredients. But it's not just the ingredients that make these's how he prepares them that makes them unique. He first lightly seers them in a cast iron skillet, creating a crispy sweet and slightly crunchy crust. He then finishes them in the oven, where the baking soda kicks in causing them to rise and given them a light and fluffy center.
The second thing he does that puts it over the top is cover them with his fresh homemade blueberry sauce (with a hint of cinnamon).  Also impressive and unique, was that he left his kitchen to visit and ask the guests how they enjoyed their meal. In fact, he left his business card so that we could email him our comments. Chef Walden keeps a profile on the guest that visit the a marketer, he had me at "send me an email."

How We Know: the Editor of QG Magazine stayed at the inn recently and they told us that he loved the pancakes so much they are going to be featured in the magazine. Look for them in the July or August edition.

Craving Level: Weekly, and most likely every Mother’s Day!

Reviews & Maps: Google, TripAdvisor , Open Table

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Best Ever Bottled Salad Dressing

...if you like cilantro.   If you do, well then, you are in for a treat!

What: Trader Joe's Cilantro Reduced Fat Salad Dressing

Where:  Trader Joes Grocery Stores, and as far as we know, it's the only maker of a bottled cilantro salad dressing...which we learned the hard way by running out and then forgetting where we bought it.  

Why its the Best: for one, it's a nice change from the usual.  The second is the taste.  Great cilantro flavor with a touch of does linger.    Consider it another way to enjoy cilantro with your meal.  It pairs well with a chicken, and we find that we're using for more than just with salad.

Lastly, and perhaps, most important to the non-cilantro loving crowd, it contains about half the calories of your typical salad dressing, like Italian, and about a third of the fat.  It's a big hit with dieters and dieting sites.

How We Know: by how excited Scott got when he saw the bottle on the table after months of searching.  If fact, he's putting up this post so we don't forget again.

Craving Level:  daily, bordering on every meal now that we have it again

Reviews:  Fat Secret, The Daily Plate, if you like to try to make your own click here

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Best Ever Mexican Restaurant

What kind of Mexican restaurant warns you ahead of time that there are no burritos or tacos on the menu?  Probably the best Mexican restaurant in the country.   It's only the first of many surprises that await you.   Located in a strip mall in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, this small non-descript restaurant presents an incredibly surprising (pleasantly) dining experience. 

From the wine based margaritas to the knowledgable and enthusiastic staff, it's a consistently impressive evening.  Normally we review dishes, and not restaurants, but this is an exception, with so many incredible dishes we just can't pick one.

What: Eduardo de San Angel Restaurant

Why it's the Best:  From the moment you enter and see the walls endlessly covered with awards, you know that you are in for something special.   It's a paradigm shift, it takes a while for your mind to register what's going on, because it probably nothing like you'd expect, and/or have experienced previously.

If you read the reviews on Eduardo's, you'll hear a consistent theme that it's not the "typical" Mexican restaurant.  Some folks refer to it as international cuisine with a Mexican influence, or high-end Mexican cuisine.  Whatever you call it, it's awesome!   

Some of our favorites;
  • Appetizers -  Grilled Sliced Eggplant Roulade Au Gratin, Gulf Shrimp Ceviche, Roasted Poblano Peppers Filled with Florida Blue Crab and the Black Bean soup.
  • Entrees - Ancho Chile Flavored Crepe filled with Cuitlachoche (blue corn fungus), Serano Chiles and onions with melted Asadero cheese and a Squash blossom sauce,  Trio of Colorado Lamb Chops and Key Lime Oil Brushed Loin of Yellow Fin Tuna are all amazing.
Make sure to start with a margarita or house special sangria.

Equally impressive is the staff and the service.  They are as knowledgable about the food, the preparation and why all the ingredients work, as any you'll ever meet.  The staff are professionals.  It is clear that this is, and has been, their passion and occupation.  Similar to high performance cars requiring highly skilled mechanics, they are essential to the experience. 

How We Know:  Well, it could be all the awards (Zagat gave it two "extraordinay to perfection" ratings), or the raves of hundreds of diners, but the thing we think says it best, is a comment that a server mentioned to us during our last visit with friends.  

As we were raving about the food (again) we asked if chef/owner Eduardo Pria ever considered opening other restaurants in other cities (as in please come to DC) and the waiter said he had many offers to do so, but didn't, because he believes it is necessary and important that he be physically present in the kitchen. 

In a time when celebrity chefs are opening multiple locations within a city and/or cities, here's one chef who still believes he has to be in the kitchen.   So for now, you have to go to Eduardo's place because he's not coming to you.

Craving Level:  Weekly

Direction and reviews:  Tripadvisor, Zagats, Google

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Best Ever Farmers Market

We were fortunate to escape the cold over the holidays by making our way to Florida (the long way via car).  Jen's folks have a house in the Delray Beach/Boynton Beach area (East Coast) and one of our first stops when we arrive is a produce market in Lake Worth.   During our last trip we were struck by how great the deals were so we saved the receipt.  Seriously, it's so good you may find yourself thinking that it may be worth moving down just to be close to this place.

What: Rorabeck Produce Market, the BEST EVER Farmers Market. 

Why it's the Best: two reasons, the first is location.  Ninety percent of all the fresh produce during the winter months comes from Florida, so you get the product without the transportation cost, and the second is the lower cost of living.  Rorabeck's is what a real "direct from the farm" market looks, and feels like.  Not the kind of farmers market we're used to in DC. 

How We Know: let's let the numbers do the talking.  Here's a sample of produce prices from area supermarkets taken from the Wednesday (1/14/10) inserts in the Washington Post.

Craving Level: Everytime we're in Florida.  If you're in Florida during the winter months, find a produce or farmers market.   You're inner bargain hunter will love it! 

Direction and reviews:,