Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sweet Potato, Portabello, Caramelized Onion, Rosemary, and Goat Cheese Pizza

Pizza fresh out of the oven - mmm.

I had a ton of leftover sweet potato and ricotta from my previous gnocchi experience. The sweet creamy mixture of sweet potato and ricotta inspired an idea for a great pizza. I decided to use the sweet potato and ricotta mixture as a sauce. This would be topped with portabello mushrooms, caramelized onions, rosemary, and goat cheese.

I was going to make my own dough, but got a little lazy and ordered up some dough from Anthony's in Falls Church. They have great dough. I rolled out the dough onto my pizza pan and baked it at 500 F for 5 minutes (JAM Note: In retrospect, I would bake this for 8-10 min as the crust could have baked a little longer). Take the pizza crust out of the oven and reduce the heat to 425 F. Put the toppings on and bake for 8-10 more minutes. Voila! Dinner is served.

Pizza is best served with a nice green salad. My mom made a spinach, strawberry, and toasted pecan salad to go with our pie. She made her own strawberry balsamic dressing as well. Sweet, yet tart, it was the perfect compliment. This meal is so simple, yet so elegant. You will totally impress people with your skills in the kitchen!

Spinach, strawberry, and toasted pecan salad with strawberry balsamic vinagrette.

Pizza Recipe

1 ball of pizza dough (good for 16 in pizza)
1 portabello mushroom, sliced
1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced (JAM Note: I would use a whole onion in the future)
2 oz goat cheese
2 tsp rosemary
2 tbsp olive oil
1 sweet potato, baked
6 oz ricotta cheese, drained
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1/4 c parmesan cheese


Preheat oven to 500 F. To make sweet potato ricotta mixture, mash potato in a bowl and add the next four ingredients. Mix until well combined and set aside. Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium high heat. Add onion and cook for 5 minutes. Then add portabello mushrooms. Onions will start to brown and caramelize, when this happens remove from heat.

Roll out pizza dough onto pan. Spread into a circle about 16 in in diameter, leaving a thicker edge around the perimeter. Bake in oven for 8-10 minutes. Turn heat down to 425 F. Spread a thin layer of the sweet potato mixture onto the pizza. Top with portabellos, onions, rosemary, and goat cheese. Bake in oven for 8-10 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Balsamic Vinagrette

5 strawberries
1/4 c balsamic vinagrette
2 tbsp water
1/3 c olive oil
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper

Combine ingredients in blender. Shake before serving.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Chocolate Granola Bars with Mixed Nuts and Cranberries

Granola bars - kinda grainy photo.

These granola bars aren't playing at being low calorie - they have nuts, honey, butter, and chocolate.  But they are high-fructose corn syrup free and use 'real' ingredients. They are also pretty easy to make and quite tasty. 

You take your oats, nuts, wheat germ and toast them on a sheet pan for 10 minutes. Then you heat your butter, brown sugar, and honey. Combine the toasted oats and nuts with the honey mixture. When this has cooled for a couple minutes, add the chocolate and dried fruit. I added the chocolate right away and it melted - so don't do that! It created kind of a chocolate glaze. Then you press the mixture into a glass pan and let cool for a couple hours. Then cut into bars. The toasted nuts, sweet honey, chocolate, and tart cranberries were a great combination.


1 3/4 c oats
1/2 c wheat germ
1 1/3 c mixed nuts
1/2 c dried cranberries
1/2 c chocolate chips (I might reduce this to 1/3 c)
3 tbsp butter
1/2 c honey
1/3 c brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the oats, wheat germ, and nuts in a sheet pan. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, stirring every couple minutes. Heat butter, sugar, and honey in a saucepan on medium heat. Remove from heat after it has melted. Pour oat mixture into a large bowl. Add the honey mixture and dried fruit, stir until well combined. After this has cooled for a couple of minutes add the chocolate chips and mix until well combined. Line a 9x9 in pan with foil and press mixture into pan. Let cool for 2-3 hours and then cut into bars.

2 out of 3 JAMs

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

Sweet potato gnocchi swimming in butter and sage!

I am a big fan of gnocchi. I have had some light and fluffy gnocchi at some restaurants and some that were gummy and heavy. With some sweet potatoes on hand, I decided to take a stab at making my own. I found a recipe on epicurious that uses ricotta instead of an egg.

Sweet potato dough coming together with the ricotta and flour.

The dough requires some prep work but comes together pretty easily. After baking the sweet potatoes and letting them cool, you combine them with the ricotta, parmesan, salt, and nutmeg. (JAM Note: I halved the recipe and it still made enough gnocchi for 5 - 6 people). You gradually add the flour to the sweet potato mixture. I added about 3/4 cup more flour, as the dough was very stick and impossible to roll out.

Rolling out the dough into long strips.

The dough is then turned out onto a floured surface and divided into 6 parts. Each piece of dough is rolled out into a long string about 1 in thick and 12 in long. The dough is then cut into 1 in pieces. The gnocchi are then rolled off a tine of a fork to create lines in the dough. This step isn't necessary, but adds some texture and added visual appeal.

Cutting the gnocchi.

The gnocchi are then ready to be cooked in a large pot of salted water. I cooked them in four batches. The gnocchi took about 5-6 minutes, and you can tell they are ready when they float to the top. The gnocchi are then allowed to cool on a rack. While the gnocchi are cooling you can begin on the sauce. I used 5 tbsp butter and heated it in a large skillet on medium-high heat. The butter should begin to brown around 10-15 minutes. Once the butter is brown, you can add the chopped sage. Saute the gnocchi in the butter sauce for 3-5 minutes until warm and slightly golden.

Gnocchi pressed with a fork.

The gnocchi were sweet, but could have been a little lighter. The brown butter sauce added a nice savory element to the sweet pasta, and the crisp sage was the perfect compliment. The gnocchi were pretty good for my first try. However, they were a little denser than I would have liked, which may have been due to the extra flour or the ricotta. I would like to compare this recipe to one using egg. Definitely a recipe I would use again, perhaps with a few tweaks in the future.

1.5 out of 3 JAMs

Thursday, February 26, 2009

"See You Later See You Soon..." - Dinner at Liberty Tavern

Swiss chard and pecorino ravioli with stewed lamb neck and lamb jus.

So I have some big news to announce (which most of you probably already know) - I am moving to California to live with AJ! AJ got us an apartment in Mountain View (yes hardwood floors).I will still be blogging, but now my location will be Northern California. I am excited to experience the dining scene in San Francisco and take part in the bounty of produce available in my new home.

Malia, Natalie, and Jenny made plans for a sort of goodbye dinner at Liberty Tavern in Arlington. I was happy to spend an evening out with my girls. Boy was I surprised when I saw a bunch of my friends waiting inside for me! Thanks for planning the dinner, it was really special, and I was glad I got to see most of my friends again before I left for California.

Now on to the dinner. Liberty Tavern has the most amazing pizza. I had the pleasure of tasting their "Vermont" this past fall, and I can now say it is one of my top 5 favorite pizzas. Nari ordered up the Vermont, and she agrees that it is done to perfection. The crusts are crisp on the edges and chewy in the center. The combination of vermont cheddar, sweet and tart grannysmith apples, caramelized onion, salty prosciutto, and sage make this one of the best pizzas I have ever had. Seriously give it a try.

The classico - san marzano tomatoes, bufala mozarella, basil, and extra virgin olive oil - proved to be the most popular choice of the night. A simple pie, made with high quality ingredients, didn't let anyone down.

Jenny, Malia, and I enjoying our dinners. (Malia's spaghetti is in front)

Malia and I opted for the pasta dishes on the menu, wanting to try something a little different. Malia got the spaghetti with smoked linguica, octupus, mussels, piquillo peppers, and tomatoes. The pasta was nice and thick, chewy, done al dente. The sauce had a little kick to it with nice garlic flavor. The sausage added a nice smokiness to the dish and the seafood was incredibly fresh.

My ravioli were nicely cooked, filled with swiss chard and pecorino. The swiss chard added a slight bitterness that contrasted with the sweet dough and sharp, salty pecorino. The stewed lamb neck was piled on top of the ravioli. The meat was tender and juicy and sweet. I finished every last one.

Pizzas at Liberty Tavern are spectacular - Natalie and Nari seem to agree!

Liberty Tavern has definitely become one of my favorite places in Arlington. They use great ingredients and the prices are reasonable, especially if you're ordering up a pizza. Another great thing to know is Liberty Tavern has a to-go menu. Pizzas and sliders can be picked up next door, at their to-go window. You can have a tasty dinner on the table in no-time.

2.5 out of 3 JAMs

3195 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA

Monday, February 23, 2009

Tapas at La Tasca

Rioja and mussels.

I absolutely adore the concept of spanish tapas. You get to order a bunch of small little dishes to share with friends - allowing one to eat a variety of different dishes. Gotta love that communal feel! Mike was in town again this weekend (two weekends in a row - what a treat!), so Will, Malia, and I met up with him at La Tasca in Clarendon.

I hadn't been to La Tasca since my college graduation dinner with the fam (it has been almost two years). Jaleo is the more well-reknowned tapas establishment in the DC area, but don't count out La Tasca. The restaurant evokes a warm inviting feel with its rich reds and yellows. The three tiered restaurant gives diners an impressive view from the top.

View from our table - look out below!

Baked eggplant, manchego cheese and tomato

Mike and Will started the night with La Tasca's white sangria - a refreshing combination of vino blanco, peaches, and citrus fruits. Malia and I were in the mood for red wine and went with the Rioja. A smooth, yet light wine with notes of strawberries and spices. We decided to split some tapas. We ordered mussels with white wine, garlic and parsley; grilled seabass; manchego cheese; sauteed mushrooms with garlic; eggplant baked with cheese, tomatoes, and herbs; grilled lambchops with green peppercorn sauce.

Lamb chop and sauteed mushrooms.

The wait for our food was a little long, something that seems to be happening more often when I dine out. Luckily we had some drinks to tide us over. I started off with the grilled seabass and some mushrooms. The sea bass was light and flaky served with grilled peppers and onions. I love the carmelized flavor of onion and it complimented the sweet flesh nicely. The mushrooms were sauteed with garlic and soaked up the wonderful flavors of the olive oil. The mussels were good, nothing out of the ordinary, and a tad cold. In fact most of these dishes could have been a little warmer, with the exception of the baked eggplant - which was my favorite of the night. The earthiness of the eggplant was complimented by the rosemary, basil, and garlic. The tomato added a nice acidity to the dish, which was topped off with some gooey cheese.

I have missed our dinners together. Glad we could rectify that.

I caught you this delicious bass.

La Tasca may not have the best tapas I have ever eaten, but they are tasty and the restaurant's atmosphere welcomes you to dine in warmth with friends, and after all isn't that what we are all searching for in a meal.

Diggin' into some calamari.

2900 Wilson Blvd
Arlington, VA 22201

Post Party Brunch - Revisiting Metro 29 Diner

Delicious homemade challah french toast!

After a fabulous party of dancing and celebrating late into the night with my favorite people, I was ready for a nice breakfast to recharge my batteries. When we found out the wait at the Original House of Pancakes was going to be over an hour we headed to Metro 29 diner. I was a little skeptical that the wait would be better, but they run a tight ship over there and are good at getting people in quickly (paying for the bill was another story).

Malia and I had eaten dinner at Metro 29 a month or so ago, and while we enjoyed our meal, we felt that breakfast would probably have been better. My friend Michael had recently told me about their amazing french toast, so I knew what I would be ordering. Our food came to the table a little slowly, but it was worth the wait. Two huge slices of challah are dipped in egg and cooked on the griddle. While, this would have been better with maple syrup (they had corn syrup), it was still toasty and fluffy with a nice sweetness. Mmm, everyone agreed this french toast is done to perfection.

Bacon, egg, and swiss on whole wheat.

Chowin' down.

AJ, Mike, Sunny, and Bird opted for the breakfast sandwiches. AJ is always in search of a good breakfast sandwich. A lot of places don't use real eggs (which he hates) or they make them real greasy. These sandwiches met both of these tests. His only complaint was that it would have been better on a nice roll.

A little hasbrown with your ketchup?

Sunny and Mike both ordered up some hashbrowns. They were crisp yet tender and a little salty. These sides were definitely meant to be shared, so go in on these with a friend.

While the restaurant does a good job with getting people seating and serving its patrons, paying for the check was a disaster. We needed to split the bill and the cashier seemed to have no idea what she was doing - staring at the screen for long periods at a time. She mischarged several of my friends, and just generally halted the payment process for all the patrons. Some people behind us were grumbling about walking out without paying. We felt bad, but really she should know how to split a bill.

Overall, a very satisfying breakfast. I would say that if you are heading to Metro 29, opt for the breakfast items over the dinner options. Oh, and you might want to bring cash.

1.5 out of 3 JAMs

Friday, February 20, 2009

Havana Nights Birthday Celebration!

"Moros y Cristianos" (black rice and beans - those cubans are so clever).

The gloomy and cold winter days don't inspire celebration, so Malia and I had to think up something good for our February 15th birthday party. We wanted a theme that would exude heat, and inspire dancing! What better place to get away to than Havana? This would also give us an opportunity to cook up some great Cuban dishes.

We knew we wanted to do some empanadas, black beans and rice, and cuban sandwiches. For dessert we strayed a little from our theme - baking up some vanilla and chocolate cupcakes with some bright festive colored frosting.

We had a lot of cooking to do, luckily my mom agreed to make the black beans and rice. We found the recipe on While this recipe isn't totally authentic, using canned beans and turkey sausage, it certainly was tasty!

Spicy sausage and potato filling.

Cutting out the empanada dough. 

Filling the dough!

Fresh outta the oven! 

The most time consuming of our dishes was the empanadas. We made the dought the night before, but when we took it out of the refrigerator it was quite cold and hard. Punching the dough out was certainly a good way to get rid of some aggression. We thought to ourselves, isn't it OUR birthday? Why are we doing all of this work. But it was totally worth it. The empanadas were warm and flaky with a spicy pork filling that warmed the belly.

Cooking our cuban sammies in the skillet.

Mmm toasty. These little babies were the hit of the party.

While I had never actually had a cuban sandwich before making these, I knew this traditional dish was a must have at the party. I searched for cuban bread at the grocery store but found none. If I had more time I might have attempted to make my own, but a nice soft italian or french loaf (don't use a baguette) works very well. We roasted a pork tenderloin, carved it up and piled it on the toasted bread. Topping with ham, swiss, yellow mustard and dill pickles. Our friends devoured these! I think we could have made twice as many and they would have all been gone by the end of the night.

You can't have a birthday party without cupcakes!

Malia and I have become cupcake fiends, finding any occasion worth baking for. We decided to make martha's one bowl chocolate cupcakes in mini version. Not wanting to discriminate, we baked up some yellow butter cupcakes as well. We made our own buttercream frosting - making a chocolate version as well. Malia and I couldn't find any mini cupcake liners, so these cupcakes baked up like little balls. They were the moist, bite size, and the perfect way to end our cuban feast!

Recipes follow.

(Based on a Tyler Florence recipe)

4 waxy red poatatoes, peeled and sliced.
1 tsp salt
1 lb spicy pork and provolone sausage, casing removed
1 yellow onion
2 garlic cloves
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp dried oregano (JAM Note: used Italian seasoning)
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 recipe empanada dough

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with water; add the salt and bring to a boil, uncovered. Simmer until fork tender, about 15 min. Meanwhile, place a large skillet over medium flame. Add the chorizo, and cook for 5 minutes until renders its fat and gets crispy. Add onion, garlic, and seasonings. Cook and stir for 5 minutes, until mixture is soft. Pour broth in and simmer for 3 min. Drain potatoes and fold them into pan. Break potatoes up into nickel-size pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Allow filling to cool. Can be made the night before and then when assembling the empanadas the next day.

Empanada Dough:
1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
1 c masa harina
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 c unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 large egg beaten with 1 tbsp water for egg wash
Butter for greasing pans.

In a large bowl, sift flour, masa harina, baking powder, and salt. Stir in melted butter. Gradually add 1/2 c to 3/4 c water, working it in with your hands to incorporate; the dough should be easy to handle and not sticky. Form the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and chill for 30 minutes, up to overnight. The dough will be hard and cold the next day, but should soften up with 5-10 min of kneading.

Lightly flour the countertop and rolling pin. Divide the dough in half and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Using a 4-inch cookie or biscuit cutter (or large glass mug) cut out circles of dough. Roll out scraps to make more circles. Repeat with second half.  Spoon 2 tbsp of filling into the center leaving a 1/2 inch border. Brush the edges with the egg wash and then fold dough over to enclose filling and form a semi-circle. Tightly seal by crimping edges with your fingers or a fork. Chill at least 30 min before baking, if not using ingredients that have been chilled overnight. Preheat oven to 375 and place empanadas in greased baking sheet. Brush tops with eggwash and prick with a fork (JAM Note: we omitted this step). Bake 30 min until golden brown.

2 out 3 JAMs

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Payard Patisserie and Bistro - Restaurant Week NYC Style!

Spanish Mackeral with ginger, garlic, baby bok choy, and shitake mushrooms.

A couple weekends ago Malia and I headed up on the Bolt Bus to visit Jenny for a JAM reunion! We were super excited. Jenny, being the planning queen that she is, made us a reservation at Payard Patisserie and Bistro during New York's restaurant week. Malia and I had gone to La Rue 123 during the Inaguration Week in DC, and had passed up their special menu. We were not going to make the same mistake this time! For $35 you can get an appetizer, entree, and dessert! We double checked the regular menu, and were pleasantly surprised to see that most of the items on the special menu were also on the regular menu. This is a good sign, in that the restaurant isn't just putting some cheap cut of meat on the special menu to pass if off on those in search of a cheaper meal.

Salmon tartare

To start, Malia and I ordered the lentil soup, while Jenny and Travis ordered the salmon tartare. Travis loves french onion soup, so he got that as well. Our server came by with a basket of bread, from which we all chose their wheat roll. Being after 9pm, we were all famished and glad to have something to nibble on. The roll was rather interesting - it was super crunchy, almost like a really large cracker. The dough was slightly sweet and hardy, but I generally prefer my rolls on the softer side.

Our appetizers came out shortly thereafter. Surprisingly, this was the first time I had eaten a pureed lentil soup, I am used to the texture of the individual beans. The soup was creamy, a little on the salty side, served with croutons. The dish was nice, but nothing extraordinary. Jenny and Travis were pleased with the flavor of the salmon. Travis' french onion soup had great carmelized, salty flavors. He felt it was a little on the sweet side, but I like that component about this particular soup. The sharp, salty gruyere was the perfect compliment.

French Onion Soup.

The entree options were a lot slimmer - roast chicken or spanish mackeral. I have cooked a lot of chicken in my days, and thus I tend to steer away from chicken when I go out to eat. The spanish mackeral looked like a good option, served with baby bok choy and mushrooms. I once had a very bad incident with spanish mackeral and a certain salt mound method of cooking (Jenny and Malia can attest to the awful nature of this dish), but I decided to give this fish a second chance. The rest of the group opted for the fish as well.

The fish was presented in four small sections, complimented with steamed baby bok choy, a ginger sauce, and wild mushrooms. Jenny picked around the mushrooms. The fresh minced ginger was such a refreshing addition, and enhanced the flavors of the flaky white fish. The skin could have been crisped up a little more in my opinion, but still it was a solid meal.

Chocolate creme brulee with candied orange - divine!

Don't worry I have saved the best for last! Payard is probably best known for its wonderful pastries, tarts, cakes, and candies. The menu indicated that we could have any of the pastries in the patisserie case. Well, by 11pm that case is quite sad looking, with a couple eclairs and small pastries looking very unappetizing. Fortunately our waiter told us that the creme brulee was also being offered. Malia is not usually a fan of creme brulee, but after looking over at our neighbors devouring the dish, she decided to try it along with the rest of us.

This was no ordinary creme brulee! The chef created a chocolate version with candied orange peel. I love the crunching sound you hear as you dig your spoon into the crisp sugar. The textural play on crisp and creamy is wondeful. The chocolate custard was simply amazingly silky, rich, with deep chocolate flavors. The candied orange peel delivered a slightly chewy, sweet burst of citrus. The ramekin of custard could have easily fed two people, and yet I easily could have eaten the entire thing. Somehow I managed to restrain myself.

The creme brulee easily elevated the entire meal. I would certainly come back to Payard, but perhaps next time just for dessert.

Bon Appetite.
2 out of 3 JAMs

1032 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10021

Early Birthday Dinner with the Fam

Seared yellow fin tuna with lentils, turnip gratin and broccoli rabe.

Seeing as Malia and I are going to be throwing our own party next weekend, we wanted to share a quiet bday dinner with our family. Malia and I had heard good things about Willow Restaurant, conveniently located by the Ballston Metro. I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to enjoy dinner, because I had been suffering a nasty cold, but luckily the weather decided to warm up just for me (right?)

Cornbread, asiago cheese biscuit, and sweet wheat roll.

The entrance of the restaurant was warmly lit by candlelight highlighting the rich wooden floors. The red hughes are inviting, and the casually dressed wait staff give the place a comforting atmosphere. Unlike some upscale restaurants I felt like I could actually eat here.

Surveying the menu, I spotted a butternut squash soup, one of my weaknesses. I knew I would have to start with that, as well as their wild mushroom flatbread to be shared with the table. Malia ordered a beet salad, Veronica and my dad, the organic field greens salad, and my mom, the salmon carpacchio. My dad ordered a bottle of prosecco to celebrate our almost 24th birthday.

Butternut squash soup with scallions and toasted pepitas.

Beet (they're hidden) salad with pears, candied walnuts, blue cheese, and frisee.

Smoked salmon carpacchio with sour cream, beets, and potato latkes.

The Willow - flatbread with fontina, wild mushrooms, and truffle butter.

While we waited for our sparkling wine to arrive, we were served three different rolls. I love it when restaurants do something special like this. Individual wheat rolls, cornbread, and an asiago cheese biscuit were served to each of our bread plates warm from the oven. The overall favorite was the wheat roll, a soft slightly sweet bread that really hit the spot. The cornbread was nice with a kernel of fresh corn here and there. The asiago cheese biscuit was a little dry, but the tangy cheese was a nice touch.

Our wine was brought out. The sommelier was very informative, sharing that this bottle was one of his favorite proseccos because it has a lot of flavor compared to others. He let us keep the tag that tells you exactly what row of grapes the wine was produced from - pretty neat!

The appetizers came out quickly thereafter. My mom enjoyed her salmon, but felt that the accoutrements of beets, sour cream, and potato latkes took away from the simple yet elegant flavors of the fish. I enjoyed the soup, but felt that the butternut squash flavors were slightly overpowered by the cream in the dish. The scallions and pepitas were a nice textural and flavor contrast to the sweetness of the soup. The field greens and beet salads were enjoyed by all parties, with a special fondness for the roasted almonds found in the former. The flatbread was my favorite appetizer - the dough was crisp, the cheeses sharp, and the mushrooms earthy. I was sad that our waiter forgot to wrap it up for us to take home.

Flounder with crab and artichoke heart crust with zucchini, tomatoes, gnocchi, and littleneck clams.

Potato wrapped rockfish with brussel sprouts, bacon, and ricotta pancakes.

Pan seared scallops in a potato 'boat' with broccoli rabe.

Our entrees took quite some time to arrive after we had finished our appetizers. While the hostess came over to let us know our entrees would be out shortly, we weren't super impressed with our server. We weren't sure what caused the delay, but were quite ready to dig in when our plates were set down.

The portions are rather large, without sacrificing quality of flavor. Often times I feel that restaurants pile their plates with food without paying as close attention to the quality of the preparation. This was not the case at Willow. The presentation of the dishes was beautiful. I especially enjoyed the potato basket that my mom's the sweet buttery scallops were served in. Her dish was probably the smallest, but still filling.

My dad really enjoyed his potato crusted rockfish. Strings of potato are wrapped around the fish which is then seared or baked, creating a crispy exterior that contrasts the sweet soft flesh. This dish was served with some light and fluffy ricotta pancakes.

Malia's yellow fin tuna was a little well done for her medium liking, but overall the flavors were great, especially the salty and smoky lentils. Veronica and I enjoyed the light yet flavorful crab and artichoke heart crusted flounder. The tomatoes, zucchini, and basil gave it a definite Italian flare. The butter added a richness that wasn't overpowering and was nicely complimented by the lemon juice and briny capers. The gnocchi were a nice treat, but a little too starchy.

Overall, we were thoroughly stuffed. I would definitely go back, and would love to try some of their desserts. I have heard the sticky toffee pudding cake is divine.

Time to blow out the candles!

While the thought of ordering dessert was tempting, we had a delicious cake waiting for us at home, baked by my mom. Homemade desserts baked by your mother just can't be beat. I had been craving gingerbread all winter and had yet to taste any, so my mom was gracious enough to fulfill my request. Malia was down for some ginger cake as well, with cream cheese frosting being her favorite! Malia also had the honor of blowing out the candles for the both of us, as I did not want to contaminate the cake for everyone. My mom had to help her. She is not used to blowing them out all by herself. Hahaha.

Ginger cake with cream cheese frosting.

This cake packed some punch with a whole cup of fresh minced ginger going into the batter. The spiciness was awesome, and the molasses gave it great color and depth of flavor. The cream cheese frosting was sweet and tangy - the perfect pairing for the ginger cake. I could seriously eat this frosting all by itself. Super good for me, right? But it's my bday and I'll do what I want to! Hands down this cake takes the cake. It was the highlight of the evening for me (oh and the wonderful company of course).

Ginger Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Ginger Cake:


3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsulfured molasses
2 large eggs
1/3 cup hot water
9 oz fresh ginger, peeled and minced (1 cup)


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whisk dry ingredients in a bowl. Cream butter and sugar wiith a mixer until light and fluffy. Add molasses to butter mixture and then eggs one at a time.

Reduce speed to low and add dry ingredients to bowl in 3 additions. Alternate with hot water, ending with dry ingredients. Pour batter into 13x9 in pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean. Let cool fully before frosting.

Cream Cheese Frosting


1 stick butter
1 8 oz package cream cheese
1 lb confectioner's sugar


Let butter and cream cheese soften at room temperature. Combine butter, cream cheese, and sugar. Blend until smooth.

2.5 out of 3 JAMs

4301 N Fairfax Drive
Arlington, VA 22203

2 out of 3 JAM

Burger Wars, Week 2: Elevation Burger & BLT Burger

BLT Burger, NYC, Jenn:
Since my NYU friends had found out about my burger wars, I decided to enlist them to help me find the city's best burger. With high hopes after reading about Spotted Pig's burger with blue cheese, we headed out to meet up for a post-work burgerfest.

Sad to say, the wait of approximately 3 hrs was more than our hungry stomachs could handle so Steve saved the day by recommending BLT Burger, calling ahead while we walked to place our names on the list. Known for their "gourmet" yet casual burgers, BLT Burger would hopefully not disappoint.

We arrived to the crowded restaurant and our party of 6 had to wait by the doorway, crammed between the hostess stand and the bar. Despite Steve calling ahead and our 15 min walk to the restaurant we still waited about 30 min for a table on a Thursday night. Needless to say, by the time we were seated, having stared at the menu for the past 30 mins, I was starving!

I ordered the place's namesake, the BLT Burger, which is a 7oz certified angus beef (CAB) burger with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and BLT Burger sauce, medium rare, with blue cheese ($11 + $1 for cheese). Other BLT Burgers were ordered, as well as the Tex-Mex Burger, Salmon Burger, and Veggie Burger. We added some sides of skinny fries, waffle fries, and onion rings.

While listening to a soothing mix of oldies and 90s hits, we all enjoyed the atmosphere - a mirrored wall with the menu hand-written, today's specials on a board along the side, cozy booths and tables (well for some of my dining companions the set-up was a little overly crowded) and the sophisticated yet kitschy touches of decor like a steer's head and other western items on the walls.

Our burgers arrived quickly and we all immediately noted the small portion of bacon on the signature BLT Burgers - two sad little pieces rather than slices. Despite this, the burgers from a taste perspective were solid - juicy, the tomato and lettuce fresh, and for me the blue cheese added a nice bite to my patty. Also, BLT cooked mine to a light pink color, a little more cooked than I like my burgers but not bad considering there were six of us and each ordered different items and degree of rareness.

Darren, who ate the salmon burger, was happy although perhaps it didn't justify its $11 price tag. Pit enjoyed his veggie burger due to its falafel-patty, instead of a typical bean or soy based patty and its onion roll ($7). Travis' Tex-Mex burger was more flavorful than the BLT Burger, although the heat from the jalapenos and jack cheese was not very prominent due to the slathering of avocado, mild salsa, and sour cream.

The onion rings were disappointing - mostly batter and on the sweeter side, though probably due to the combination of a sweet batter and the vidalia onions used ($5). The skinny fries, thinly cut french fries, were crunchy and salty, and the waffle fries, while a bit soggy and greasy, were very satisfying with their overall flavor (both fries, $4).

Post burgers I was tempted enough to order one of BLT's milkshakes - the Mocha Mudslide ($7), made of coffee ice cream, crushed and whole oreo cookies with a whipped cream top. Delicious. Easily my favorite part of the meal - it was thick, the cookies were nicely blended into the ice cream, and the combination of the bitter coffee with the sweet cookies and whipped cream made for a perfect balance of sweetness. The cookies also lent a bit of texture in the back end of every sip. I would warrant even better than Shake Shack's custard shakes (blasphemy I know!)

Overall, BLT is a solid burger joint if you're ok with spending about $25 with tip and tax and you're looking for a standard burger, fries, and an outstanding milkshake. Best burger in the city? No, but the atmosphere and menu options make it a little more appealing - the idea of a kobe burger and another Mocha Mudslide might just bring me back a second time around.

Elevation Burger, NoVa, Ariel & Malia's parents:

On Friday night, Dave and I checked out Elevation Burger in Falls Church. Ariel and Malia had asked us to assist them in reviewing places that serve hamburgers. We arrived to the restaurant around 7:00 p.m. to find the place fairly packed, mostly with families who seemed to be enjoying themselves. We decided to try an assortment of dishes: a cheeseburger, an Elevation burger, a side of fries, three small cookies, a chocolate shake, a side salad, and a bottle of water. The tab came to $24 for everything, which is pretty pricey for a hamburger dinner. After paying for our food, we found ourselves a table near the front of the restaurant.

Shortly after we sat down, one of the employees called out “Dave” and presented my husband with his shake, a rather thick concoction served with a large straw and spoon. Dave thought the shake was very tasty.

A few minutes later, Dave’s name was called once more and he was presented with a large rectangular baking dish filled with our hamburgers and the fries. We didn’t realize that the salads were in the self-serve refrigerator with the bottled water and other beverages, so Dave had to go back and pick up the side salad, a minor inconvenience.

Alright, now for our evaluation of Elevation burgers: the burgers were juicy even though they were cooked well-done and the cheese, real cheddar, was better than what is served at a fast food restaurant. My cheeseburger consisted of one patty topped with cheese, while Dave’s Elevation burger was made up of two patties topped with cheese. I dressed my cheeseburger with lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, raw sweet onions, and hot pepper relish. Dave topped his Elevation cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, caramelized onions and ketchup. The toppings are similar to what you can select at Five Guys, except at Five Guys you can request raw jalapeno peppers, my favorite. Dave felt that the burgers were superior to those served at Five Guys, as they were juicy. Our one criticism of the hamburgers is the insubstantial buns on which they are served. Mine sort of disintegrated while I was trying to eat my burger. The buns aren’t hardy enough to contain the burgers and assorted toppings.

Frankly, the hamburgers were filling enough for me, but we wanted to try out some of the other food that we ordered. The fries were great, not too greasy and had a very authentic potato taste. My one criticism of them was that they weren’t super crispy. Dave definitely liked the fries better than those served at Five Guys because they weren’t greasy. At Five Guys, the potatoes are prepared in peanut oil; while at Elevation Burger, they are prepared in olive oil. The side salad came in a small plastic container and consisted of chopped Romaine lettuce and a tomato wedge. The lettuce was very green and crisp and the tomato wedge was fresh. I tried the roasted balsamic dressing which was quite good. The small chocolate chip cookies were a disappointment. Dave thought they had a decent flavor, but a grainy consistency. I was not a fan.

Elevation Burger is a convenient place to stop for an above-average hamburger. The burgers are made with 100% organic free range beef, so that might explain the steeper cost of the meal. Elevation Burger also serves vegetable burgers as an option for vegetarians. If they served raw jalapenos as a topping, I might be tempted to go there more often. But right now, I am thinking of the teriyaki hamburgers my mother used to make and thinking that one of those topped with some raw jalapeno slices and some chopped pineapple would really be worth the cardiovascular risk that such a meal would entail.