Food Budgeting Rule #1: The Pantry List

Eating on $10 day isn't impossible--but requires a little planning. When going about how to start this project, I decided that during the first week I should try to make Pantry dishes. aka using up as many items I already have in my pantry. It's a good way to save money initially (by not spending) and it also helps me do a 'spring cleaning' of sorts for items that have been sitting on my shelf for too long.

Canned Items:
Garbanzo Beans (hummus?), Spicy Corn Relish, Salsa, Vodka Sauce, Peanut Butter, No-Salt Tomato Sauce, Pesto Sauce, Jam, Mint Jelly, Aji de Amarillo Paste, Tahini, Dijon Mustard, Wasabi, Pickled Ginger

Shell Pasta, 6 packets, fancy pasta, Mediterranean Curry Couscous, Basmanti Rice, Sushi Rice, Whole Wheat Bread loaf, Hamburger buns-4, Pita Bites, Stacy's Pita Chips, Potato Chips, popcorn

Tapioca, Yogurt, Sliced cheese (cheddar, pepper jack), Parmesan Cheese, Half & Half, Butter

Pepparoni, Kashi Granola Bar, Pine Nuts, Frozen tofu squares

Onions, Plums, Dried Seaweed (for sushi), Frozen Eggplant/Zucchini slices, Frozen Okra

Lemon Chalet Cream cookies, Smore Ice cream, Graham Crackers, Marshmallows, Chocolate Bars

Frozen Meals:

Pantry Staples:
Whole Wheat and All-Purpose Flour, Corn meal, Sugar, Brown Sugar, Powdered Sugar, Balsamic Vinegar, White wine Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Worcestershire Sauce, Miren, Sesame Oil, Soy Sauce

It may seem like a whole lot of nothing, but I'm hoping I can use this list to plan a few meals around this stuff. A few ideas have already come to mind: an eggplant pasta? Hummus? Veggie Sushi for lunch one week? We shall see. Do you see any ideas from this list I need to jump on? Let me know..


Restaurant Week
(or Two) Recap

So this is a little late, but I made a last-minute reservation at Zaytinya on Thursday and wanted to eat there before recapping Restaurant Week. Here's what I thought:
Halibut at Vermilion
Really great night out--we opted for the Chef's dinner (four courses) instead of RW's three and it was worth the additional $10. We had a Crab Cake BLT for an appetizer, Halibut with Okra, a delicious Filet, and tasty dessert of chocolate and raspberries. We arrived a little early and had a drink at the bar---and if I go back, I would definitely try out the bar food next. There were some tasty sliders and other appetizers that looked great, and the bar had a really nice lounge to hang out in.

Solid. All you have to do is offer an entire menu that includes duck on the menu, and I'm already ecstatic. I've eaten at the gastro pub attached next door, EatBar, many times, which is great but slightly salty overall. I was really happy how much Tallula's menu expanded on EatBar's ideas. I started with some homemade pasta, moved on to the duck, and ended with a cheese plate (my weakness). All amazing. I want to go back and try all their homemade pastas, because that's my weakness.

Mezze at Zaytinya
This was a last-minute reservation (when our original plans fell through) because Megan and I figured out Zaytinya extended Restaurant Week. THANK YOU. It was such a great meal---five courses of hot, cold, savory, and sweet mezze meals. Megan and I chose two out of the four options for each course, and weren't disappointed in any of the ten dishes we ate (the two lamb dishes stand out even five days later). I know they say not to eat ethnic during RW because it's affordable all the time, but this was a great experience and allowed us to try a wide variety of the restaurant's best dishes. There are almost TOO many choices when you're ordering mezze meals, and this gave me a great introduction to a really tremendous restaurant.

Crispy Kale!

So this was something that sounded amazing back in June, but of course took me three months to find Kale at the farmers market and actually make it. It was totally easy, and I can recommend making this as part of an appetizer platter (as we did) or as a topping to a fish or rice dish.

Christina's directions were pretty straight forward: clean the kale (then dry it!), toss it with some sesame oil, diced garlic, and salt, and then place in the oven until it's crispy. Make sure the kale is dry--it will take longer to crisp up if there is too much moisture--drizzle plenty of oil and garlic salt (for added garlic flavor!) over it and place it in a 375 degree oven. We cooked ours for about 15 minutes, but check it every 5 to see how crispy it is. It should go from this:
to something like this:
I.E. the leaves will shrivel up and you should be able to break it apart like a cracker.

Out of the oven, I drizzled more sesame oil over it to keep that flavor nice and abundant, and then broke off the leaves from the stem and served it in a bowl. Hardly any prep---and such a great reward: the kale was crispy and, while it's a bit much to eat on its own without other dishes to balance the flavors, as a topping it should really be tried more often.


September Food Project

The first week of my food blog I had a panic attack after seeing how much a vegetarian lifestyle could cost me. In the end, the extra shopping evened out with the cheaper meals out, but it still made me think more about expenses. If it's one thing I can always justify it's a good meal, which usually means I go over my food budget by $100-200 in a bad (or delicious) month.

So September, I'm trying something new: to stay under budget. For me, that's would be $400. I usually divide this up between groceries and eating out---but this month I'm going to do something different. The idea is to spent no more than $10 a day---that's $300 for the month--and then have an additional $25 each week that work as a buffer.

$10 seems really low---I spend that much for lunch---so to be successful I've already started working out some ground rules:
1. Bringing lunch to work, and including homemade items like hummus, sandwiches, and cheap items like yogurt, granola bars, and fruit.
2. Hearty Family style dinners that will last for 2-3 leftover meals. (I'm thinking pastas, rice dishes, etc. instead of meat and sides).
3. Less Alcohol/Soda. I have a separate 'Amusement' budget for going out---but when you're strapped for a cash even a $2 coke will cost you dearly.

...plus anything else I can come up with by September 1. Do you have any tips for me? Any good cheap-and-delicious recipe sites I should check out? Let me know in the comments...


Escape to Brooklyn

This weekend I decided to escape DC to visit my sister in Brooklyn. I ran into a friend on the bus, and she inevitably asked what Alicia and I would be eating this weekend--because when the Weaver sisters get together, it's usually a food-centric trip.

Friday Night I got in around 8:30, and we went to try Hancos—they are known for Bin Maih Sandwiches and Bubble Tea. Alicia lives super close to this place, and got really excited last month when it was featured on This American Life on NPR. Really, really awesome sandwiches. I had the Classic sandwich (ground pork, ham, pate) and Alicia had the Grilled Pork. We ordered them mild--and then added on our own saracha at home. Great way to start my vacation.

Papusas at the Brooklyn Flea: Two for $5!
Saturday we started off at the Brooklyn Flea Market. Alicia and I meant to grab some lobster rolls, which she said were amazing, but when I realized they were the much-anticipated Red Hook Lobster Rolls that just arrived in DC, I decided to go for something I could not immediately grab at home. Hello Papusas:
Looks like a mess, but very tasty
We ordered four: a jalapeno, cheese, zucchini, and pork (all ingredients are cooked into the dough and then served with sour cream, pickled cabbage, salsa, and jalapenos). Zucchini was amazing, and was a great pairing with the incredibly spicy jalapeno.

Grand Army Plaza Market
After papusas, we walked them off by walking to the Prospect Park Farmers Market. Lots of really amazing produce was there for the taking: peaches, tomatoes, eggplant. I made Alicia grab some delicious looking Kale so we could make this crispy kale recipe Christina told me about back during my Vegetarian month. I'm thinking that will be our treat before dinner.


DC Restaurant Week: What should I eat?

This upcoming week is Restaurant Week in DC and, as I've missed out on the past two because I was broke, I'm really excited about my upcoming dinner plans. I wanted to pick the pricier places that are suppose to be amazing, and see what the kitchens could do. This week I've made two reservations: Tallula and Vermilion.

Vermilion is my first stop of the week--I snagged a last-minute later reservation for Wednesday night. It's a place I've never been, but should go to at least once. Reviews have been hit or miss lately, so it might not a crap shoot--but I'm hoping the  Here's the menu:
  • Dinner appetizers: Gazpacho with peaches, ricotta salata, and kalamata tapenade; squid two ways with shelling beans, celery, focaccia, and saffron vinaigrette; stuffed roma tomatoes
    spiced luganega sausage, farro, vin cotto & brad’s goat cheese
  • Dinner entrées: Goat-cheese raviolo with roasted beets and walnut froth; bistro filet with potato confit, shallots two ways, and salsa verde; pan-roasted Arctic char with parker-house panzanella and pickled red onion.
  • What I'll Get:  Slightly disappointed in this selection, but I'm sure it'll still be delicious. Maybe the squid and then the filet?
Tallula is definitely the dinner I'm most excited about (Review here). I grabbed this when RW was first announced, and then heard they are offering up their entire menu. SCORE!
  • Dinner appetizers: Tomato-and-cantaloupe soup with blue crab; ahi-tuna tartare; pan-seared scallops; soft-shell crab; bison carpaccio; frisée salad; bibb-lettuce salad; mixed baby greens; corn-and-smoked-potato agnolotti; saffron fettuccine with rock shrimp, calamari, and chorizo; cavatelli with veal sausage, escarole, and chili flakes.
  • Dinner entrées: Pan-roasted duck breast with roasted peaches, turnips, and vin cotto; olive-oil-poached salmon with mizuna, beets, and pickled trumpet mushrooms; roasted whole branzino with zucchini tian, pickled green garlic, and preserved-lemon vinaigrette; hangar steak with potato galette and salsa verde; halibut with mussels, clams, and bouillabaise broth; duo of pork with black-eyed peas, collards, and okra stew.
  • What I'll Get: Definitely the duck for my entree, the saffron fettuccine seems really cool--I wonder if it's homemade? Appetizer will most likely depend on my mood that day.
My thoughts on the Restaurant Week idea have always been that the menu should show off the best a place has to offer and sell me on coming back for a full-priced meal another time. It doesn't always happen (I had a mediocre meal at Art and Soul in January) which is why I try to be very selective. A lot of time the service isn't the best when waiters know you are there for RW, and that can also effect my opinion about returning---a true fine-dining experience should be open to all dinners, even ones who can't afford a tasting menu or $100 bottle of wine.

I'll be back at the end of the week with pictures and my thoughts on the meals!


Ray's Hell Burger Too

Hanoi Style Wild Board Burger: Amazing!!
Over the weekend Alicia and I went down to Rosslyn to explore Ray's Hell Burger Too. This would be Michael Landrum's second burger joint in the same parking lot (where his original Hell Burger use to be-between the Real Estate and Pho restaurant). In case you want to miss out on the Obama groupies at the current Hell Burger, this is a great, more low-key alternative.

What's Fantastic:
  • The Wild Board burger (shown above). Served 'Hanoi style' which interprets as asian marinade and a tangy coleslaw on top. It looks simple, but the flavors are really amazing. Must be served well done, but excellent all the same.
  • Smaller sizes. My main complain against Hell Burger is the enormity of the burgers. It's a fantastic burger,  but one you have to eat on an empty stomach because it's HUGE. I like taking guys here because they appreciate the meat orgy—but if I'm picking a burger place for myself I'd rather go into DC to Good Stuff. Not any more. Offering a smaller (and cheaper!) burger size, Hell Burger Too suddenly makes itself a closer and equally delicious option.
  • Servers! Although I love the crazy feel of the original Hell Burger--finding a seat, ordering quickly and with cash--Hell Burger Too not only accepts credit cards but also acts more like a sit down restaurant.
Venison Burger....blah with a side of ugg
What Needs Work:
  • Alicia had the Venison Burger—the other 'wild meat' on the menu—and that was...adequate. Best description is that it had one note. Served with a chestnut puree and our cherry-brandy glaze, the dish missed a pizazz that made me want to keep eating. I added salt to give it a little zing, and Alicia suggested balsamic...we're not really sure what it needs, but it doesn't feel complete yet. Definitely not worth the $12 price tag.
  • Other wild meats? There was a vegetarian option on the menu, but what about the other promised meats originally hinted about: "elk, antelope, wild duck and ostrich" I'd love to see those on a plate.
Has anyone else been? Let me know what you though...


Spicy & Sweet Pork Chop

Alicia told me about this recipe and I had to try it out. I'm calling it a sweet & spicy pork chop because the rub consists of brown sugar, paprika, chili powder, and cumin---so you are treated to some nice hot spice, following by a sweet, sugary finish.

The rub was easy---1 tablespoon each of paprika and chili powder, a little less cumin, and a little more brown sugar. I coated each liberally and let it sit while I heated up the grill.
Pork chops don't take very long to cook. Get your grill as hot as it will go, then put the pork chops on. My chops were almost 1" thick--so I cooked the first side for 3 minutes and the other side for 2. There was a nice char on each before I took them off, and you could see white juice dripping out of the sides.

Before you dig in, let them sit for a good 10 minutes. We cut into one after five, and you could definitely tell the difference between that piece of meat and the other. Both were juicy, but one was rich-tasting, with the juice coming from the meat, and the other was just a watery piece of meat.

Chris with his serious grill face on
For the non-grill days: In an oven, you can pan fry each side for 3-4 minutes, and then place in a 350 degree oven for another 6-8. (I haven't tested this, but that's what Alicia said)


Eating Maryland Crabs

18 crabs ready to be cracked into.

So August is upon us, which means it's about that time to start ordering Blue Crabs from Maryland. Sadly, I have no beach house and being from Texas, don't have a proper disgust for crabs found not on the coast. Which is how I found Quarterdeck Restaurant on Saturday.

This hole-in-the-wall in in the suburbs behind Rosslyn, which is an odd place to find delicious seafood, but what are you going to do. Stick with ordering crab here (not that the pizza, burger, or nachos?! aren't delicious, i'm sure) and get over the fact there aren't any raw oysters or hush puppies---you won't mind once the blue crabs come anyway.
Playing with my food. The larger crab always wins a fake crab battle.

How I Eat Maryland Crabs
I don't want to suggest this is the best way, but 
1. How many do I order? I was really hungry, and after 4 Medium sized crabs, I could have stopped. Unless you're a speed eater, 4 per person seems like a good rule of thumb---you can always order shrimp cocktail, onion rings to start, or a HOMEMADE key lime pie for dessert to subsidize the meal.
2. Attack the Claw first. Each crab will have one larger claw than the other. that's where to start. Pull the claws apart, get some aggression out with a mallet, and start eating. Butter, vinegar, and old Bay are at hand--but the crab meat is really delicious right now--rich and meaty--so those might not be necessary. Also when the crabs first come out, they should be really hot--so these will be easier on your fingers to start with.
3. Remove the top shell. Turn the Crab on its back, pull back its tab that lifts up from the center of its skeleton, and use a knife to dig in and flip off the top. While you have the knife, scrape out the brains, innards, etc. (Anything that isn't white)
4. Break the body in half. Here's where you can go one of two ways. If you are determined to get every last ounce of crab, start pulling off the smaller legs and sucking out the meat. There's not much in there, though, and after my first or second crab I started discarding these completely. They also might be a good place to start if you wanted to collect leftovers for a stock. While it is wasteful, its not where the tastiest meat is, and you can to consider your exhaustion factor when digging through a pile of crabs. At some point you won't want to shell anymore---and the last crab or two will cry for feeling left out of your stomach. Better to use your time wisely, and stick to where the most meat is....
5. Break into the meat beneath each leg. Here is where the mother lode is. Use a mallet to break open the white backside skeleton, and below each leg is a cavern of white meat. The real question here, though, is do you reserve a bunch of meat to eat at once, or shovel it in your mouth as you go....that question I really can't answer, so let me know in the comments.

Did this Texas get the process completely wrong? Lemme know below.


Dinner in 15: Fish Tacos

So I wish that was my food up shown above---but sadly it's straight from Food and Wine. Not that I used their recipe, because with fish tacos, you really don't need one--just a guideline on how to cook the fish. Bobby Flay and Martha also had other intriguing recipes, if you want a cheat sheet.

So this dinner came about because I was cooking for my boyfriend, but didn't really want to spend the entire evening in the kitchen, because that's not as much fun. Fish tacos are great because they are quick, interactive, and even have an air of fancy to them. I spent five minutes slicing up the toppings, and another 10 cooking my fish. REALLY fast.

Your steps are simple:
1. Pick your fish. You want a white, flaky fish (Mahi Mahi, Cod) but I have used Tilapia in the past because it's cheap, and as you are adding a ton of spice and flavor to the taco, the blandness isn't really an issue.
2. Pick Your Toppings. Avocado, cabbage, and salsa are all necessities. All you need to do to all three is slice or shred thinly. You can toss the cabbage in a lime-chili powder dressing, but it's not necessary. Other options: Tomatoes (although we found salsa worked better), Creama or Sour Cream, or Guacamole (I used half of my Haas for the tacos, and the other half to make my homemade guac recipe).
3. Cook Your Fish. Grills are preferred, but I sauteed on the stove---just be sure to get the pan as hot as possible. You can marinate the fish first (a little oil, lime, chili powder, and salt on top should work just fine) but 5-10 minutes is fine for that. Once your surface is hot, grill the fish flesh side down. Keep on the grill until the fish is nearly done--Bobby Flay said 4 minutes, but we cooked ours for at least 15 (I think our stove wasn't quite there for a High Heat). Around 6-8 start checking it and eye the skin until the raw color turns into the bright white, but try to err slightly on undercooking the fish so it doesn't dry out. For the last minute, grill skin-side down. Let it sit for five minutes, then pull the fish meat apart with a fork.
4. Create Your Taco. Less is more---go for one slice of avocado instead of three, because you want the fish to shine. Definitely use corn tortillas (steamed 1 minute in a microwave with a damp paper towel) over flour.


We the Pizza Review

So having a slight obsession with Spike from Top Chef, I've been a little excited about trying out his new pizza restaurant, We the Pizza. I went tonight with Sam and Lauren, and for a restaurant that has only been open a week, the pies were pretty good.

You can order by the slice ($4) or an entire pie ($16-$18). You can't do half-half pies, or make custom orders. The menu also included a lot of subs, wings (spelled out stupidly as "we' izings"), and (in a new twist) homemade sodas.

I ordered a White Pie (Today’s ricotta, fontina, roasted garlic, Parmesan, mozz, sea salt, olive oil, fresh Italian parsley) and a Buffalo Chicken (Spicy boneless chicken wings, creamy blue cheese, mozz, Miguel's hot sauce) with the Ginger Soda.

The soda included actual ginger in the bottom of the glass-muddled before my eyes after I ordered it. A real shot of ginger--so only order this if you love the stuff. Really nice and refreshing with rest of the order.

The White Pie JUST came out of the oven when I ordered, so that was still hot and oozing with oil and melted cheese. It had just enough roasted garlic, and the cheese level wasn't anything disgustingly gross. There was a great level of saltiness to the melted cheese, and the huge chunks of ricotta were fresh and delicious). 

The Buffalo Chicken slice was definitely the best buffalo pizza I've ever ordered. Instead of stopping with just the chicken and sauce, Spike added this blue cheese to the mix that really brought the entire pie together--it wasn't just a buffalo pizza, but a buffalo chicken wing on a pizza. next time I'll definitely have to order some we'izings too.

Great Drunk Food. It's right next door to Pour House, so I'm definitely stopping in during bocce season for a slice.
Order an Entire Pie. There were some inconsistencies in the crust--I think because some pies had been sitting out long and others were fresh from the oven.
Good Selection. There were enough specialty pizzas you shouldn't have a problem ordering. Next time i'm grabbing the Mushroom pizza (with truffles!) and the Greek Deep Dish (made with a sesame crust?!)