Friday, October 29, 2010

Eating Out: Part One-Acacia MidTown

Alright, y'all, I have decided to try my hand at restaurant reviewing. After all, I have been eating at some very lovely restaurants and it would be improper for me to withhold my findings from you.

It being restaurant week, a friend from my program suggested a few of us - as in 10 of us! - try someplace on the list. We picked Acacia - which I was very excited about because so many people recommend this place when I first moved here. Now, many people stay out of restaurants on Restaurant Week, but I don't particularly agree with that. If a restaurant can pull out a great menu on a super busy night, then I know it'll be even better on a low-key one. And that's a handy thing to know.

So, the decor. I must mention this because it confused me... like a rustic home/underground nightspot. There were wooden kitchen tables for large groups, and booths by a colorful bar, and then in the back a curtained area for parties. The lighting was low - very low, but I didn't mind that so much. The waitress greeted us with a smile and we were given the cocktail menu. It looked delish - but I just couldn't drop $10 on a drink. I'd go back exclusively for that, however.

The variety of course offerings was quite impressive. For my first course, I decided on the homemade gnocchi with duck confit and cranberry sauce. In a word: divine. I have never, ever - not even in Italy - had gnocchi that good. They had been flash fried before service, giving a lovely little crunch and they weren't sticky or gluten-y at all. I was extremely impressed. The portion size was good, too - piled high with sauteed chard and duck, covered with the right amount of cranberry sauce.

For my main course, I had to decide between the ribeye with bone marrow pancake and the duck breast wrapped in bacon with mashed sweet potatoes. My overall impression on this: 7. While my duck was cooked, my friend's was almost raw in places. And while I do think bacon is delicious, I thought they had over-wrapped the meat. Also, they stuffed it with pineapple which I didn't particularly enjoy - apple might have been better. I would have liked more spice and texture to the sweet potatoes, but the broccoli rabe was cooked perfectly. I took some of the duck home and ate it the day after and was very happy to find it tasted almost better than the day it was served - that's when I realized, they had served it lukewarm. I'll attribute this to the fact that there were 10 people in our group and everyone was served at once. The service was impeccable, can't forget that detail. Oh! and the duck in the picture below looks much larger than it actually was :) At any rate, the portion here was much better compared to the size of what we were served for dessert...

For my last course I chose the apple ginger mouse cake with caramel mouse and creme fraiche sorbet. Faaaancy, eh? It was very good. The mouse had a wonderful flavor - like the burnt caramel part of creme brulee. The ginger apple layer was also very good - the constancy of apple butter. The cake part I could go without, personally - it was squeaky and tough to chew. The sorbet was nice, but let's face it - it was more like vanilla ice cream. Again, this is not to scale.

Now, hilarity ensued when the following was placed in front of two guys at the table. Yes, this is what was marketed as "black forest cake with cherry sorbet." Where is the cake, you ask - oh it's there - those two crumbs. Seriously, Acacia? We were one of the last groups of costumers of the night so I doubt they had run THAT low on cake.

Overall, I am glad I tried this restaurant. Their menu was seasonal and the ingredients were fresh and well prepared, for the most part. Acacia fell short on dessert and side dishes, but the gnocchi alone made the $25 worth it - they were THAT good.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Secret Ingredient...

Usually I am the chocolate chip cookie maker in my house and my sister handles the peanut butter. But I needed to thank some friends for driving me to the airport so I decided to try my hand at spicing up the good ole JIF recipe. Just go to GOOGLE and type in JIF peanut butter cookies and the recipe will show up - or look under the paper wrapper on your peanut butter jar. The trick to making these taste special is to add a couple tablespoons of cream cheese to the batter. Seriously, try it! The cream cheese adds a little tang which is just delightful. I got this idea because a) I am kinda weird and sometimes mix cream cheese and peanut butter on my bagels and b) I didn't have enough butter to make the recipe in the first place. So there you go - your handy trick for the day.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Muffins for Grandma

I can't remember the last time I went to Georgia. Oh wait, maybe I can...kind of. But it was so long ago. All I remember is eating the most amazing clam chowder and mashed potatoes at a seafood restaurant. I also remember creeping on pretty houses with my mother to get new ideas for a wrought iron banister for our soon-to-be-built home. But really, I was only about 15.
So when Weston asked if I'd like to visit his grandparents in Georgia, I was super excited at the idea of visiting the state again. And to show my appreciation to his grandparents, who I knew would be treating me with their famous southern hospitality, I thought and thought for something perfect to bring to their home. Initially I settled on cookies...then I thought, "too simple." Not to mention, I only had the ingredients to make peanut butter cookies and Weston's aunt is deathly allergic to peanuts. So that was out. Hilariously, the perfect gift came to me in a dream - muffins! Apple muffins. Could you make apple muffins? For some reason, I thought this was a pretty out of the box idea, so I typed it into the handy dandy interweb and low and behold - a billion recipes appeared. Apparently my ingenious idea was not so unique. Sad panda.

This is the recipe I used. But I was a bit aghast at the obscenely high amount of oil. I cut it down to about 2/3 of a cup and then added a 1/2 extra apple and a splash of milk for extra moisture. I used one Granny Smith and one Red Delicious apple and I cut them into pretty tiny pieces. If I did it again, I would cut them a tad larger - probably between 1/8 and a 1/4 inch cubes.

I was very much impressed with the quality of my baking soda - within seconds I saw bubbles and bubbles = moist, puffy batter.

Again, remember not to over-mix your batter because the flour will develop its gluten and become gummy. Finally, instead of just plopping some plain brown sugar over the top of the muffins, I mixed in a little cinnamon and that really added a lot of flavor and made these the perfect autumn muffin - perfect for breakfast, dessert, or as a gift to your boyfriend's grandmother.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"I Have a Test Coming Up But I Don't Want to Study" Pie

A couple weeks ago, with yet another exam on the horizon, it occurred to me to - GASP - take some time for myself! So I rented a movie - The Waitress, which I had been wanting to watch for some time but never had the guts to ask if the MCV Library could get movies from the the other campus...And because I know myself, I also knew that I'd have to make a pie before I watched the movie because I'd be drooling after the credits and that would lead to a monstrous craving which is never a good thing to let fester, right?


So yum yum - apple pie. Here's the recipe:

For the Topping:

Just make a simple crumble topping with a few tablespoons of softened butter, 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup rolled oats, some almond extract, and a sprinkling of nutmeg and cinnamon. Set aside.

Cut and chop/slice the apples. I like to do both for a little difference in texture. Then toss them in a little lemon juice, cinnamon, and brown sugar. Set aside.

Now, here's my little secret. I like gooey filling on my apple pie so I borrowed the following set of directions from my recipe for strawberry-rhubarb cobbler. I figured if it made a tasty concoction for the cake, then I could tweak it and use it for my pie. In a saucepan, warm up about a cup of water. In a bowl mix 1/3 cup white sugar and 2 or 3 Tbs cornstarch until they are thoroughly incorporated. Add the apples to the water and cook until they are slightly softened. Add the sugar mixture and a couple teaspoons brown sugar and some vanilla. Watch as a delicious filling forms right in from of your eyes!

Pour into a pie shell, cover with the topping, and bake in a 350 degree oven for about a 1/2 hour.

Shout out to Roslyn for peeling the apples in her own special-amazing way. I'm glad we finally got to make something together :)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Birthday To A Very Special Lady

Mom, I am sorry I can't be home for your birthday this year but I am thinking of you and sending my love and hugs :)

In honor of YOU I made your delicious Chicken Casserole.

Dear readers, here's the dealeo with this dish: in grade school when my class was asked, "What's your favorite food?" the answer was a primarily, "PIZZA!"...except for one little girl who raised her hand proudly and proclaimed, "My mom's chicken casserole." I don't know what it is about this dish that makes it so wonderful, but it truly is comfort food and it really will make you feel close to home on a day when you need it most. I actually don't know where my mom got this recipe, or even if she made it up herself. But I am thinking the former because my mom is Persian and Campbell's Mushroom Soup isn't exactly a prevalent ingredient in that type of cuisine :)

What to do - Gather your ingredients:

  1. Chop and blanch two heads of broccoli OR defrost one large bag of frozen broccoli
  2. Boil and cut into slices 4 or 5 potatoes - any kind will do but my mom used Russet so that's what I did, too
  3. Poach and shred 3 chicken breasts or shred one rotisserie chicken: To do this, fill a pot with water to cover the raw chicken, add some salt, pepper, and garlic powder, and allow the chicken to cook through. DON'T throw away the juice because now you've made some lovely stock to use for soups later on.
Liquid Gold!!!
  1. Made the topping/sauce by combining 1/2 cup milk, 1 can of soup, and 1/2 cup mayo in a bowl. Add a couple ladles of chicken stock and whisk together.
To prepare, place a layer of potatoes on the bottom of a Pyrex dish.

Now, here's where I differ from my mom - I top these with a few ladles of the sauce. She waits until the end and pours all of it on at once, but I like to do it this way so the entire dish stays moist.

Then put on the broccoli.

Next the chicken. Pour over the rest of the sauce.

Cover with shredded cheddar cheese and croutons. Put a piece of aluminum foil over the top and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes. Take the foil off and bake until the cheese gets bubbly and melty and ooey-gooey.

You can actually put this in the fridge and bake it the next day if you want to turn it into a make-ahead meal.

Thank you, mom for the many ways you've made my life better and for all the sacrifices and hugs and tears and love that have laid the foundation for this new, better life we will share from this day forward. You deserve everything good in this world, mama, and I will always be here for you - just like you've been there for me.

Your Popsicle