Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sunday Brunch at Spring St

While I'm not normally interested at eating at healthy places, (I am a big fan of butter and full-fat foods), Travis and I were starving a few weekends ago while finishing up Christmas shopping in Soho and decided to try out Spring Street Natural Restaurant for brunch. Despite being a natural restaurant, the brunch menu looked delicious AND there were tons of people there at 2pm on a freezing wintery Sunday.

First off, we ordered and then they brought us a yummy basket of tomato rosemary bread- it was a pretty pink color and surprisingly sweet. Delicious.

Shortly after, our food arrived! I order Eggs Florentine, which were perfectly cooked. The yolks of the poached eggs practically melted into the fresh baby spinach and lightly toasted English muffin underneath. The hollandaise sauce was not as heavy nor thick as other ones I'd had, but was just a nice mellow, buttery addition to the savory, salty egg yolk and spinach combo. Also, there wasn't a lake of hollandaise, but a nice splash.

The fries were somewhat crisp (inconsistent here with some more crunchy than others) and salty, and tasted like they had been cooked in peanut oil, so they were on the greasier side but were a little bit nutty. The homemade ketchup was sweeter and thinner than Heinz ketchup, but it went well with my eggs.

Travis' food, though, was another story. He ordered the frittata, which came with brie, shitake mushrooms, zucchini, and red peppers. Unlike other frittatas I've eaten, this one was dry, with minimal moisture, and was very thin. The eggs were far too cooked for my liking, and the brie distribution wasn't consistent - some bites had way too much brie and others not enough, leaving Travis to semi-deconstruct his meal in order to have veggies, cheese, and eggs in each bite. Not something either of us would ever order again.

His fries, of course, just as good as mine.

All in all, if it was just based off of what I ate, I'd happily give this place a solid 2 out of 3 JAMs, as my eggs and fries were delicious, the bread basket was really unexpectedly good, and the service and price (my meal was about $20 including tax and tip and a hot apple cider) decent.

With Travis' terrible frittata though, I give this place a cautionary 1 1/2 JAMs. We will have to go in once more for additional sampling to determine if it should really be a 1.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Kiwi Breakfast

Basket of Goodies

There is a wonderful bistro in Arlington off of Lee Highway that my sister and I first heard about in the Washington Post (where else?). Cassatt's was inspired by the owner's stay in New Zealand. He loved the cafe culture of New Zealand, and wanted to bring that same feel to this establishment.

While I have never been to New Zealand, I can vouch for the warm hospitality and quaint feel of this restaurant. I first ventured here to grab a cup of coffe and a snack with AJ a couple of weeks ago. He orderd an endive salad with walnuts, cranberries, and goat cheese. I ordered the New Zealand version of a latte, the White Flat. The strong espresso is complimented nicely by the steamed milk. A little sugar makes this a delectable beverage.

On my next trip, my mom and I stopped in for a late brunch. Cassatt's serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am-3pm. I ordered a salad, while she got a vegetable omelette. The salad was nice and fresh, featuring field greens, cranberries, walnuts, pears, and feta cheese. Some nice fall flavors. The salty feta was a nice contrast to the sweet fruits.

The real star of the brunch menu is the egg. Cassatt's serves these in a variety of styles. On my following trips I ordered eggs over easy, an Italian frittata, and tasted the omelette and the eggs with smoked salmon. I was very pleased with how well the eggs were cooked to order. The eggs over easy were slightly cooked through, with just a little runniness (I recently developed a love of fried eggs). The toast is an excellent tool to sop up the runny yolks. I would also recommend the Italian frittata for those who are hoping to get in some veggies in their meal. The Italian frittata is essentially an open faced omelette served with sauteed onions, spinach, tomatoes, mushrooms, and feta. The veggies are so fresh and perfectly cooked. Some omelettes served with this many vegetables can be soggy, but this omelette was not watery at all - letting the flavors shine through!

Eggs over easy, bubble and squeak potatoes, toast, and fruit salad.

Not only do the eggs come with toast and fruit salad, but a wonderful kiwi version of potato hash called "bubble and squeak potatoes". The potatoes are cooked with onion, carrot, and cabbage. It is really quite delicious. The hash has a nice crust on the outside. Quite the complete breakfast.

Cassatt's also serves different pastries. These can complement an egg dish, or just be ordered for a small breakfast with a white flat. Malia, Jenny, and I were out to brunch last weekend, and ordered the Basket Cassatt - an assortment of pastries. The basket came with a cranberry scone, blueberry muffin, lemon poppyseed muffin, croissant, and apple turnovers. They certainly don't skimp on the butter! The scone was extremely dense and buttery. The blueberry muffin was again, very buttery, with nice blueberry notes, but definitely not the best season to serve this fruit filled sweet. The highlight of the basket was probably the lemon poppyseed muffin, which was lemony, with a nice texture from the poppyseeds, and not too sweet. The croissant was flaky, with a nice buttery flavor.

I can't wait to try their dinner menu. This is one girl who has become a kiwi convert.

1.5 out of 3 JAMs

4536 Lee Highway
Arlington, VA 22207
(703) 527-3330

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Elementary School Birthday Party!

This past Sunday, we decided to relive our elementary school birthday experiences by feasting on pizza and cupcakes! 2 Amys has some of the best pizza DC has to offer, and located very close by is the recently opened Georgetown Cupcake.

2 Amys offers Neopolitan pizza. This is not just any Neopolitan pizza. These pizzas are prepared in the traditional Italian method: using soft-grain flour, fresh yeast, water, and sea salt for the dough; and italian plum tomatoes, mozarella di bufala, extra virgin olive oil, and fresh basil or oregano for the toppings. It is only those pizzas prepared in this manner that are granted Denominazione di Origine Controllata status by the Italian government.

We arrived for lunch around noon and the place was already packed (If you come on Sunday, you also have the option of ordering their homemade doughnuts - they smelled amazing). Fortunately they were able to seat us upstairs within five minutes of our arrival. Jenny and Ariel had been to 2 Amys previously and really wanted Malia to try this pizza. Besides the classic Margherita, they also offer pizzas with different toppings. Jenny had ordered the "Norcia" - the last time we were here - a pie topped with tomatoes, salami, grilled peppers, mozarella, and grana. She and I decided to split this pizza and the Arugula pizza.

The Norcia

The pizzas came out about 20 minutes later, but it was worth the wait. The crusts on these pizzas are the best - thin and crisp in the middle, and thick and soft on the outside, with just a slight char from the woodburning ovens.

The Norcia has some great flavors - the salty smoky salami pair well with the sweet bell peppers, and tomatoes. The melty mozarella brings them all together. The Arugula pizza was the epitome of freshness. The arugula leaves were crisp and peppery, piled high on top of the pizza. The provided a nice contrast to the melted cheese and warm dough. Definitely one that will be ordered again.

The Arugula Pizza.

While chomping down on our pizzas, we began to discuss the different kinds of pizzas that can be ordered these days. Some places focus on unique topping combinations, others the quality of their dough. 2 Amy's definitely follows a minimalist approach, using nothing but the finest ingredients. If you are looking to savor a quality pizza with simple ingredients this place is for you.

Our next stop was Georgetown cupcakes. Finding a parking spot in Georgetown can be quite the task, but luckily it gave us some time to digest our lunch so we could prepare for cupcakes. Georgetown Cupcakes was started almost a year ago by two sisters with a passion for baking. In their short time they have earned many accolades. Recently they were featured in the Washington Post's "Cupcake Wars", earning the title of "best cupcake" in the DC/Metro area.

Georgetown Cupcake Storefront.

We arrived around 2:30 to a fairly long line. Jenny inquired at the front of the line to see how long they had been waiting. "15 minutes", we were told. Luckily it seems these girls know how to keep things moving smoothly.

Once inside we looked at the giant chalkboard listing today's cupcake offerings. They were offering a dozen varieties. We decided to try vanilla^2, carrot, red velvet, vanilla&chocolate, key lime, chocolate mint, gingerbread, snowball (coconut), chocolate^2 and peanut butter chocolate.

cupcakes in all their glory

Once the cupcakes were packed in their cute little pink boxes, we took them to Ariel's house for our taste test. Malia chose the gingerbread cupcake with cream cheese frosting. The cake was moist and had just the right spiciness from ginger and cinnamon, and the cream cheese frosting was tangy and not too sweet. Ariel went for the chocolate^2 which was extremely decadent. The chocolate ganache was layed on thick and we felt was a little too rich, but the chocolate cake was extremely moist and perfect for the chocolate lover. The peppermint frosting on Jenny's chocolate mint cupcake was a perfect foil for the rich chocolate. It tasted just like Christmas. Yum! AJ loved his vanilla cupcake with chocolate ganache. Always a classic. Katy enjoyed the red velvet cupcake (altho she isn't a cream cheese frosting fan, so she would've preferred a vanilla frosting). Dan gave his thumbs up for the vanilla^2.

I think the key to these cupcakes is the quality of their ingredients. Only the finest valrhona chocolate and madagascar bourbon vanilla are used. The key lime cupcake is made with fresh key limes. The vanilla cupcake and the key lime frosting are dotted with zingy lime zest. It's like a visit to the Keys in every mouthful. The coconut cupcake is for the extreme coconut fan. The coconut cupcake has shredded coconut in the batter and is frosted with cream cheese frosting and topped with shredded coconut. It's a lovely tropical escape from the winter blues. The peanut butter chocolate swirl has a chocolate cupcake with a creamy peanut butter center and is topped with ganache and a pb icing swirl. The combo of chocolate and peanut butter plays to the kid in all of us. And afterall isn't it fun to act like a kid every once in awhile.

3715 Macomb St NW
Washington DC 20016

2 out of 3 JAMs

1209 Potomac St NW
Washington DC 20007

2 out of 3 JAMs

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

'Ha ru'de!

Boston "uncommon" roll (if only the wait staff were as clever as this name).

After an afternoon spent watching the Will Ferrel film, "Elf", and eating cookies, we all wanted something lighter for dinner. We decided on sushi at Haru. AJ called ahead to reserve a table, as pretty much any place in Boston starts to fill up quickly for dinner. The hostess responded, rather rudely, that they weren't taking reservations (even though AJ has made reservations before).

We decided to head over regardless, because Haru is located a block away from AJ's apartment and we really didn't want to walk in the cold. The entrance was packed with people waiting for a table, and as we walked in the host asked us if we had made reservations. Well this certainly got our blood boiling after having dealt with such a rude response to our request for reservations earlier. We were told they could seat us at the bar if we were willing. With our stomachs growling, we agreed.

They seated us at the bar, giving us a view of the sushi chefs at work. Unfortunately the seats at the bar are rather low, allowing one to see the chef's heads, but not their preparation of the sushi (another disappointment).

As we took off our coats, Nick placed his laptop behind his chair. As soon as he began to peruse the menu a waitress came over demanding that he move his laptop or they would move it for him. It wasn't so much the request that was disarming, but the manner in which the waitress spoke to him. We had yet to order, and so far the service had been very poor.

Salmon avocado roll and tuna sashimi

After disappearing for awhile after we had placed our drink orders, our waiter returned. AJ and Nick both ordered the "Boston Uncommon" roll, Anna the phoenix roll and I got the salmon avocado with tuna sashimi. An order of steamed dumplings was requested as well. Our waiter returned five minutes later to inform us that the steamed dumplings would take longer than anticipated because they were "still frozen". We were dumbfounded that a waiter would admit that a dish was frozen. I mean it is not as if we were at a TGIFriday's. The dumplings were brought out and were given decent marks by Nick and Anna. But for the price, you would expect something a little fresher.

Although many of us had eaten at Haru before and enjoyed the sushi, our expectations at this point were pretty low. As I stared at the sushi chefs over the bar, I kept hoping that the next roll they brought out would be one of ours. After a solid 20 minutes of waiting, they brought out our rolls.

The "Boston uncommon" is just that - beautifully presented in pyramid form with a rainbow of colors that visually whet the appetite. The flecks of golf add a sophisticated feel, although they add nothing tastewise. The flavors themselves are unique, with bits of mango and ginger creating a tropical sensation around the salmon, tuna, and avocado that one is used to experiencing in a sushi roll.

The salmon and avocado roll was solid, nothing extraordinary. The tuna sashimi was an excellent cut of fish that was smooth and buttery as it rolled down my tongue. For $10 my meal was reasonably priced. The signature rolls will cost you $17-19 (a little exorbitant in my opinion).

Overall, the food was pretty good, but not worth the poor service and high prices.

1.5 JAMs

800 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02199

Monday, December 15, 2008

"Where Pizza is Art"

"Lunch for Henry" - Henry is Didi's cat. Apparently cats love butternut squash as well.

Pizza as an art form. This seems to be how many critics describe the ethic of pizza makers these days. But could a pizza joint in Cambridge really pay homage to the culinary icon that is pizza? AJ and Justin had raved about Veggie Planet so much, that I offered them a guest spot on thisfoodismyJAM. They never did take me up on the offer, so I knew I would have to taste this for myself.

On Saturday, we headed to Cambridge to get some veggies into our system before eating cookies and drinking hot cocoa (so what if the veggies were covered in cheese?) Veggie planet has quite the admirable mission: they use only vegetarian ingredients, support local farmers, purchase organic ingredients when possible, use organic dough from a nonprofit bakery doubling as a homeless service provider, and donate a percentage of their profits to other organizations working for social and/or environmental change. If only eating pizza could make you feel that good all the time?

Veggie Planet is tucked away in the basement of some shops. The decor doesn't exactly inspire the same awe as John Harvard's University, but I think that's the point. As AJ put it, the veggie plant vibe is like: "we're gonna make some really awesome organic pizzas, if people want to eat them that's cool, whatever". The eatery also doubles as a music venue on some evenings. Stephen Kellogg and the Sixers are coming on Dec 26th (oh how I wish I could be there). I did enjoy that effort was made to decorate the place for the holidays - festive snowlakes were hung all over the place.

A crowded house at Veggie Plant is easy to explain with the wondeful menu that is offered.

The "special of the day" - mushroom spread, butternut squash, spinach, and fontina.

Justin and AJ had experienced the wonders of butternut squash topped pizza on their previous trip. AJ agreed to split a large one, so that I could try it for myself. The "special of the day" beckoned to me as well, so I ordered a small one to split with AJ. Seriously the menu is amazing and I had difficulty choosing just two options. A large and a small is enough to feed four people. We definitely over ordered, but we were both starving so it worked out well.

The "Lunch for Henry" is topped with mashed butternut squash, goat cheese, caramalized onions, and sage. This pizza is so perfect on a wintery Boston day. The dough was crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. The sage and squash combination is such a classic, and the addition of crunchy caramalized onions added great texture. The goat cheese was gooey and salty which was the perfect compliment to the sweet squash. This pizza is the reason I love salty and sweet combos!

I shouldn't have worried about how the special would follow "lunch for henry", because these flavors blew me away. The mushroom puree was garlicky and earthy, providing the perfect platform for large chunks of roasted butternut squash and sauteed spinach. The nutty fontina cheese melted into the winter vegetables pulling it all together.

As I finished off my last bite of crust I felt so content. The only thing that made me sad was knowing that there is no Veggie Planet Pizza in Virginia. Seriously, it's that good.

3 out of 3 JAMs

Club Passim
47 Palmer Street, Harvard Square
Cambridge, MA

Dining on Newbury Street

I was up in Boston this weekend, and had the opportunity to eat at a couple of different restaurants. There are a plethora of cuisine options in terms of price, type of food, and ambiance.

Hello pistachio goodness.

On Thursday night, AJ, some friends, and I headed to the shopping hot spot that is Newbury Street and walked into Kashmir for some fine Indian dining. This was actually the first restaurant that AJ took me to when I visited Boston for the first time. The interior is decorated with shades of gold, white, and red giving the dining room a palatial feel. Asian artwork adorns the walls.

We decided to kick the night off with some beverages - a pistachio shake, and a couple mango lassis. These refreshing beverages were meant to be enjoyed with spicy food. The beautiful seafoam green beverage was slightly sweet with a wonderful pistachio flavor. The mango lassi was smooth, but not too thick - a tropical delight.

Kashmir offers a variety of seafood, meat, and vegetarian options. Each of us ordered a separate entree, but we ended up sharing a chickpea dish and the chicken tikka masala. I usually opt for the chicken tikka masala, which features chicken in a creamy tomato sauce (a safe 'American' option). This time, I wanted to try something different. I settled on a dish that would pay homage to my love of eggplant, Baigan Bharth

Baigan Bharth

Vegetable Pakora

We ordered some vegetable pakoras to tide us over until our entrees arrived. I am not used to the consultant lifestyle where eating is apparently the last priority (those PLs are such slave drivers). We commenced dinner at 9pm, a far cry from my usual 6:45 dinner time. The vegetable pakoras were crunchy with a slight sweetness that was balanced nicely with some cumin and other spices.

The entrees arrived with fresh, hot naan. Naan is quite possibly my favorite part about eating Indian, and this batch was no disappointment. The naan was warm and chewy, with some nice char marks from the tandoor oven. We also sampled some peshwari naan - which was stuffed with lots of butter and coconut. You can't go wrong with a recipe like that.

The chicken tikka masala was very good, but how badly can you mess up chicken in a tomato sauce? The chickpea dish had a similar sauce, with tomatoes and onions. Nothing was very spicy, even though we had all ordered it "medium". I guess no one trusts that some white kids can handle the heat. The eggplant dish was probably my favorite, it was loaded with garlic, and mashed into a creamy consistency. It had some slight heat from the curry powder.

Chicken tikka masala, cozying up to some warm naan.

All in all a solid meal. Most places on Newbury Street are slightly overpriced. The vegetarian dishes were all $15-16, a little high in my opinion. The flavors were good, and if you're looking for a great location, you can't beat this spot.

2 out of 3 JAMs

279 Newbury St
Boston, MA 02116

Friday, December 12, 2008

Wildfire and Movie Night

Sweet 'n Savory Butternut Squash Soup
A bunch of friends decided to get together last Friday night to see the highly anticipated vampire movie, Twilight. We all agreed that a hearty meal was in order beforehand if we were going to brave the long lines of screaming teenage girls on opening night. Ariel suggested Wildfire after hearing about a special deal they had for a 3 course meal at the bargain price of $35. It may seem a bit pricey, but their entrees usually range in the $20 + category.

Wildfire Signature Salad

We started off the night with cocktail orders. Wildfire has an array of signature drinks, as well as a wine and beer list. Ariel decided to go with the pomegranate martini, while Natalie chose the blackberry margarita. I settled on the passion fruit mojito and Michael opted for the bold Manhattan. Aside from the Manhattan, everyone agreed the drinks were fruity, not too sweet and had just the right kick from the alcohol.

When the soup's in the cup, sip it like it's hottt...

Once the drinks arrived, we ordered our meals. Michael decided to get a regular entree item with a soup starter. He chose the french onion soup and sirloin steak sandwich. The rest of us went with the $35 meal deal. We all had the butternut squash soup to begin with, because who can resist this sweet and creamy gourd? The soup was more savory than sweet, but very creamy and the buttery flavor of the squash came through, as well as salty notes from the cheese, and a kick from the added garlic. Michael was equally pleased with his French Onion Soup. The oozy, melty cheese layer and the smell of caramelized onions said it all. It was a winner.

Next came the salad course. Natalie and I chose Wildfire's Signature Salad which comes with mixed greens, hearts of palm, carrots, eggs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and croutons. This was one hearty salad! Natalie and I had to stop ourselves from eating it all to save room for the main course. Ariel and Travis ordered the caesar salad, which they seemed to enjoy as well.

Travis and Michael enjoying their meals

While we were waiting for our entrees, a funny thing happened. Ariel and I began taking pictures of everything from our drinks to salads for the blog, as per usual when we dine out. This time, however, our waitress noticed and asked us what we were doing. We proceeded to tell her about our blog and in a flash the manager was at our table asking us about the blog and making sure our meal was going well. Needless to say we got the star treatment that night. Ariel and I felt like celebrities! Okay, we didn't get anything for free, but it made us think we should mention this blog more often!

Cedar Plank Salmon

After the excitement wore off, our entrees arrived. Ariel, Travis and I got the cedar plank salmon, which had a smoky flavor that paired nicely with the sweet brown sugar soy glaze. Ariel and I agreed the salmon was a bit dry, but overall still a yummy piece of fish. Micheal ordered the Peppercorn Tenderloin Steak Sandwich, which came with a hearty portion of meat, along with oven roasted tomatoes, lettuce, grilled onions and ranch sauce. Natalie savored her filet mignon. I tried a piece and the meat was so tender and juicy, with a nice char on the outside. I like a girl who likes her meat!

Natalie gets ready to dig in

After soup, salad and an entree, we were all stuffed! But dessert was part of the deal, and like I always say, "there's always room for dessert!" Natalie, Travis and Ariel ordered the seasonal pumpkin pie, while I opted for the chocolate molten cake.

A chocolate lover's dream

The chocolate cake was moist and very chocolatey, but the center wasn't very molten. The ice cream was rich and creamy and the chocolate and caramel sauces added to the decadence, but all in all it wasn't anything too special (That doesn't mean I didn't lick my plate clean!) The real winner though was the pumpkin pie. I got a bite of Natalie's and it was the best freakin' pumpkin pie I'd ever tasted. The pumpkin filling was full of pumpkiny goodness, with just the right amount of spice and it was oh so creamy and smooth. The thick layer of whipped cream was just sweet enough and so light and airy. Heavenly! We waddled our way over to the theater and staved off food comas to take in the movie Twilight. (Worth it just to look at dreamy Rob Pattinson, ladies!)

Pumpkin Pie Oh My!

2.5 out of 3 JAMs

Wildfire Restaurant
Tysons Galleria
1714 U International Drive
McLean, VA 22102

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It's not Thanksgiving without Apple Pie

All American Apple Pie

This post is coming a little late, as I am behind on my posting as usual, but I couldn't resist writing about the Apple Pie I baked for Thanksgiving. Despite the fact that Ariel's boyfriend deemed Apple Pie the most boring of all pies, I was determined to find a recipe that would do this American classic justice. Apple Pie has been one of my all time favorite pies ever since I was a little girl. My dad and I share an affinity for fruit pies, especially apple.

Our family always cooks up a feast during the holidays, and desserts are no exception to that rule. My mom is a firm believer in making desserts from scratch, and I completely agree. The taste of homemade pies, cakes and breads is so worth the extra time and effort. The taste of fresh ingredients just shines through and beats the socks off those frozen desserts and mixes.
Like many of you all out there, I was afraid to make my own pie crust, but after triumphing over the summer with a raspberry peach pie, I was ready to make another go around. I am a fan of the blog, "The Art and Soul of Baking" and I saw that the author had put up a wonderful step by step process for making pie dough. I mistakenly bought "white wheat" flour, which is not at all similar to all-purpose white flour. The protein content is too high and it absorbed too much liquid. The dough became tough and unmanageable. After my first batch was scrapped, and I replaced the white wheat with all-purpose flour, everything went along much more smoothly. Just make sure to keep that butter really cold and to gradually add ice-cold water as needed to keep the dough moist.

I was worried about how the crust would actually turn out, but it turned a beautiful golden color after baking in the oven. Everyone at my Thanksgiving dinner was a fan of the apple pie and commented on how pretty it looked. Even the apple pie haters (ahem, AJ) said they enjoyed the pie. I think next time I would make sure to roll out the dough a little thinner, because the crust was rather thick, and to cook it a little longer so the apples in the filling would become softer. Hopefully I can hone my pie making skills with another pie for Christmas. Don't you all just love the holidays?

All-American Apple Pie
Makes 1 (9-inch) pie, serving 8 to 10

6 to 7 (2½ pounds) medium to large Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled,
cored, and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices (JAM note: I used 4 Granny Smith, 2 Stamen, and 1 Golden Delicious)
¹⁄³ cup (2¼ ounces) or more sugar, either granulated or firmly packed brown sugar, plus 1
to 2 teaspoons granulated sugar for sprinkling (JAM note: I used half white and half light brown sugar)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¹⁄8 teaspoon allspice
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 400°F and position an oven rack in the lower third. Following the
instructions in Step 7 on page 178, transfer one rolled-out circle of pie or tart dough to a 9-inch pie pan and the other to a baking sheet. Chill them until ready to use.
Taste the apples; if they are very tart, you may want to increase the sugar by 2 to 4
tablespoons. In the large bowl, gently toss the apples with the ¹⁄³ cup sugar (or more),
the lemon juice, cinnamon, and allspice until evenly coated.

Trim the dough in the pie pan so it is flush with the rim. Transfer the filling to the pie shell and press down firmly on the apples with the spatula to eliminate some of the air pockets. Scrape any sugar or spices left in the bottom of the bowl over the top of the apples. Top with the other dough half, again following instructions for transferring dough and decoratively crimping the edges. Chill for 30 minutes.

In a small bowl, beat the egg yolk with the milk to create an egg wash and use
the pastry brush to lightly glaze the surface of the pie. Sprinkle the pie with 1 to 2
teaspoons sugar. Use a paring knife to cut 3 or 4 decorative slits in the pie to allow steam to escape (or use a mini cookie cutter to make cuts in the dough). Bake the pie for 50 to 60 minutes, until the crust is a lovely golden brown and the apples are bubbling and tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. (JAM note: My oven cooks things fast, I only baked the pie for a little under 50 minutes) Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool for 40 to 60 minutes.
Storing: The pie will keep at room temperature under a cake dome for up to 2 days. For longer storage, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Reheat in a 375°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes to warm the filling and re-crisp the crust.

Makes 1 (9- or 10-inch) pie shell

1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted
butter, cut into ½-inch pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons cold water (JAM note: I doubled the recipe so I could have two pie shells)
1¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons sugar (omit for a savory crust)
¼ teaspoon salt

Place the butter pieces in a bowl or on a plate and freeze for at least 20 minutes. Refrigerate the water in a small cup until needed.

Mix the dough: Place the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of the food processor. Process for 10 seconds to blend the ingredients. Add the frozen butter pieces and pulse 6 to 10 times (in 1-second bursts), until the butter and flour mixture looks like crushed crackers and peas. (JAM note: I used my hands to mix the dough, which is a bit more difficult, but still doable)

Immediately transfer the butter-flour mixture to the large bowl. Sprinkle a tablespoon of the cold water over the mixture and “fluff” it in, then add another, and another, until 3 tablespoons have been added. Continue to fluff and stir 10 or 12 times. It will not be a cohesive dough at this point but a bowl of shaggy crumbs and clumps of dough. Before bringing the dough together, you need to test it for the correct moisture content. Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze firmly. Open your hand. If the clump falls apart and looks dry, remove any large, moist clumps from the bowl then add more water, one teaspoon at a time, sprinkling it over the top of the mixture and immediately stirring or mixing it in. Test again before adding any more water. Repeat, if needed. The dough is done when it holds together (even if a few small pieces fall off). If the butter feels soft and squishy, refrigerate before continuing. If the butter is still cold and firm, continue to the next step. (Note: Adding the liquid may also be done on low speed in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment—add three-fourths of the liquid, test for moistness, then add the remaining liquid if needed.)

Knead and chill the dough: Turn the dough onto a work surface and knead gently 3 to 6 times. If it won’t come together and looks very dry, return it to the bowl and add another teaspoon or two of water (one at a time), mixing in as above, and try again. Flatten the dough into a 6- or 7-inch disk, wrap in plastic or parchment paper, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This allows time for the dough to hydrate fully and for the butter to firm up again.

Roll the dough: If the dough has been refrigerated for more than 30 minutes, it may be very firm and hard and will crack if you try to roll it. Let it sit on the counter for 10 to 15 minutes until it is malleable but still cold. Dust your work surface generously with flour and set the disk on the flour. Dust the top with flour. Roll, turning the dough, until you’ve got a 14- to 15-inch circle about ¹⁄8 inch thick. If at any point the dough becomes warm and sticky, gently fold it into quarters, unfold it onto a baking sheet and refrigerate for 15 minutes, or until the butter is firm again.

If a crack or hole forms while rolling, brush any flour away and patch the area according to the instructions above.

Transfer the dough: Fold the dough circle into quarters, brushing off any excess flour as you fold. Put the point of the folded dough in the center of the pie pan, tart pan, or baking sheet and unfold the dough, lifting it slightly as necessary to ease it into the crevices of the pan. Do not stretch or pull the dough, which can cause thin spots, holes, and/or shrinkage during baking.

Trim the dough: Use a pair of kitchen scissors to trim the dough so it overhangs the edge of the pan by 1 inch. Fold the overhanging dough under itself around the pan edge, then crimp or form a decorative border. Chill for 30 minutes before baking. (JAM note: I just used a knife to cut off an excess edges of dough).
Storing The dough can be wrapped in plastic and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or double-wrapped in plastic, slipped into a freezer bag, and frozen for up to 1 month.

2 out of 3 JAMs

Monday, December 8, 2008

Seasonal Eats - Pumpkin Bread

To me, nothing says fall and winter holidays like pumpkin (well, besides chocolate and peppermint), so when I was baking a pumpkin pie, I knew I wanted to try some other pumpkin inspired recipes. Seeing as the pumpkin bars I made earlier were such a hit, I decided to make some pumpkin bread with cranberries for Thanksgiving/post-Thanksgiving.

Adapting a recipe from The Joy of Baking, I made the pumpkin bread with some slight alterations, adding dried cranberries for a little extra holiday cheer. The bread was moist and carried an aroma of pumpkin pie spices, with just a hint of sweetness. It was delicious!

I brought some in for my coworkers as a Thanksgiving treat and they all enjoyed it (though obviously if you are not a fan of pumpkin pie, this pumpkin bread might not be your JAM). We ate it during the morning as a breakfast but certainly it could serve as a not so sweet dessert (probably delicious served warmed with ice cream).

Pumpkin Bread (makes 1 loaf)

Preheat over to 350 degrees. Grease a loaf pan (9x5).


Whisk together in a medium bowl:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
Combine in a small bowl:
  • 1/3 cup water or milk
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Beat in a large bowl until fluffy:
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  1. Once the butter and sugar are fluffy and well combined, add in 2 eggs, one at a time, and beat on low until well blended.
  2. While still beating on low, add in 1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree.
  3. Add the flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with the milk mixture, while beating on low, being sure to scrap down the sides of the bowl. Beat until smooth.
  4. Fold in 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
  5. Pour batter into loaf pan and spread evenly, ensuring batter is evenly distributed.
  6. Bake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, approximately 1 hour.
  7. Let cool in pan for 5 to 10 mins before unmolding. Cool completely before cutting.
All in all, a 2 1/2 out of 3 JAMs. While the texture could have been a bit more moist and less crumbly (next time I will probably add a little more pumpkin), the flavor and aroma were amazingly fragrant and very very festive.


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Sick of soup...not yet...

Pot of green lentils, sweet potato, and onions.

I hope you all are not sick of soup yet, because I am still obsessed with eating a warm bowl of the stuff on a cold day. I don't know how many of you have leftover chicken broth and sweet potatoes from Thanksgiving, but if you do this recipe will serve you nicely.

I have had a hankering for lentil soup ever since my coworker, Jennifer, got a bowl at Cosi. I hadn't made lentil soup in awhile, but knew from previous experiences that working with these legumes is fairly simple, especially if you get the red lentils (JAM Note: the red lentils have had their husk removed which shortens cooking time).

I looked up a recipe I had saved from an old washington post article. I went to the store to pick up some ingredients: an onion, cumin, and those red lentils. Of course, the store had no red lentils, so I picked up some green instead. I also forgot the cumin!

I essentially improvised, using the recipe I had seen as inspiration. I sauteed diced onion in a pot with some olive oil. When that started to carmelize, I added one sweet potato (JAM Note: chopped into 1" pieces) and two cloves of garlic. I then rinsed 8 oz of green lentils and added them and along with 16 oz of chicken broth. I threw in some salt, pepper, and chilli powder and brought the mixture up to a boil. Then I cover the pot and let it simmer for about an hour and a half to two hours (JAM Note: or until the lentils are soft).

The flavor of the chicken broth really made these lentils outstanding. They were salty and just a lil smoky. The cumin would have been a nice touch - I will remember that next time. The sweetness of the onion and potato really complimented the lentils nicely. A little extra spiciness might be nice -maybe some extra chilli powder or red pepper flakes could have been added. But overall this dish is simple and hearty. I will be eating this the next couple of days!

2 out of 3 JAMs

Pomegranate at Pinkberry

I've always been torn between Pinkberry and Red Mango, especially since often times they end up being right next to or across from each other, at least here in the city. Ultimately though, Pinkberry usually triumphs, due to its extra flavor, coffee, which has that tangy Pinkberry flavor with a hint of coffee.

But when I heard about Pinkberry taking coffee off the menu and replacing it with pomegranate, I definitely knew I wanted to check it out!

I selected a medium pomegranate with cookies 'n cream, chocolate chips, and strawberries, as after sampling it thought its more tart flavor would not go well with my usual choice, mango. The yogurt itself is more tart than the regular flavor, and there is just a hint of pomegranate flavor, not overpowering at all. The texture is identical. It went best with the chocolate chips and chocolate cookies, as at times the strawberries clashed with the yogurt's flavor.

While it's not as good as coffee (though Travis would argue that it's much better), I give it a 2 1/2 JAMs out of 3, definitely worth trying especially if you like your Pinkberry with sweet (like cookies) toppings.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Teasim the Season...

...To be sippin' on some delicious chai! Teaism is a delightful tea shop and restaurant in DC. There are three locations: Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter, and Lafayette Station. I have been to both the Dupont and Penn Quarter locations. I first heard about Teaism on the food network (ok so I was a little behind on the news). Ever since I had my first sip of hot chai, I knew there was no going back to the Starbucks version. It was warm, creamy, and spicy.

I had raved about this place so often, that I was afraid I had overhyped the chai for my boyfriend. But it seems the chai has won him over, and now he has been raving about it to his friends in Boston. We decided to take Matt to Teaism the day after Thanksgiving to show him what the hype was all about.

Chai, 'nuff said.

We drove into DC to the Penn Quarter location. Although I have yet to see the Lafayette Station location, I believe the Penn Quarter restaurant to be the nicest. It is artfully decorated with japanese prints, bamboo screens, and my favorite - a koi pond!

One fish, two fish, orange fish, huge fish...that's how it goes right?

There is nothing more relaxing than sipping on a hot chai while listening to the sound of water trickling into the koi pond.

Doing their best fishy faces.

While we didn't sample any treats on this trip, Teaism has a delightful ginger scone and a scrumpcious salty oat cookie. Also, don't be afraid to order a bento box if you happen to stop by for lunch or dinner. Well, these are a few of my favorite things...

PS Don't call it a chai latte! AJ was harassed for calling it such. This ain't no starbucks y'all.

Penn Quarter
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 638-6010