February 21, 2015

Comfort Food: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

I've always wanted to try making my own chicken noodle soup. It's the epitome of comfort food for colds, nostalgia for home, and in my case, being snowed in again. I had a cake deliver this morning, so I planned my day to drive to the office afterwards. After what took triple the time to get to my cake destination, I decided to head back home. Thank goodness I did, I was stuck going 15-20 mph on snowy backroads (although absolutely beautiful) and then completely stopped in front of my house because so many cars were stuck on the road.
After I finally made it back home, I had the immediate urge to cook something warm to thaw my frozen state. I looked in the fridge and saw we had the basic necessities for the soup. Since I've never made chicken noodle soup before, I looked up a basic recipe and improvised with what I had in the kitchen.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup (serves up to four):
-Organic Chicken Breast (3 large pieces)
-Celery (4 large stalks)
-Carrots (3-4 medium)
-Onion (1 medium)
-Minced Garlic
-Bay leaves (4 dry leaves)
-Black Pepper
-Chicken Stock (5 cups)
-Bowtie Pasta (I used this instead of egg noodles)

I plan on trying to make my own chicken stock in the near future, but for today's purpose of making a quick dish I used what I could :)
First I diced the carrots, celery, onion and chicken breast. A great way to cut carrots (suggested by some pretty professional chef friends!) is to cut at an angle, and slightly turning the carrot each time. Here's a great example from Serious Eats, refer to steps 6-8! These "faux tourne" carrot pieces are much more appealing in your dishes.
After chopping all your vegetables and chicken breast, season the chicken with black pepper, minced garlic, and thyme. I grilled the chicken first on a pan, while lightly browning my veggies in my main pot. I then added the grilled chicken to the pot, along with the bay leaves and chicken stock.
Once everything started to boil, I added my bowtie pasta. My mom bought some beautiful handmade pasta, and I thought the vibrant colors would be a great addition to my soup.
I gently placed the pasta in the soup, since they're more prone to falling apart. After 7-8 minutes, the soup was ready! My brother came home soon after I finished the soup (after sitting in four hours of traffic!), and he gave it two thumbs up :) I'm proud of the result, the soup was delicious!
I hope all of you are staying warm and safe in this crazy weather, I'm off to shovel for the third time today (boo). What kinds of snacks and warm dishes are you eating while snowed in?

P.S. Here's a photo of the cake I delivered this morning! Loved the circus theme :)

Until next time :)

Stay hungry,

February 18, 2015

Snowday; Spicy Jalapeno Burger with Fried Egg

Winter days indoors are meant to be cozy, warm, and downright lazy. Compared to the blistering winds, staying within your toasty doors seems quite appealing. The entire DC, Maryland and Virginia area was hit with a good amount of snow last night - not nearly as much as predicted, but my little Nissan Versa wasn't able to brave the roads for long. Prepared for a nice day indoors, I brainstormed on a simple and comforting dish. Not quite in the mood for a stew that would normally be expected in this kind of weather, my boyfriend and I opted for a juicy homemade burger with a delicious runny egg (previously mentioned in my Avocado Egg Toast post!).

Early in the morning, Bao and I took his car (a Suburu, much better suited for this weather than my car) and made our way to the local supermarket down the street. This was the first time I'd ever made burgers from scratch, so I looked for a simple recipe. We improvised for the most part, but here are the basic ingredients we included (from grocery fresh veggies and what ever we had in the pantry):

Spicy Jalapeno Burgers with Fried Egg (serves 4)

- 1lb Ground Beef: 92% lean, 8% fat
- Red Onion (1 medium)
- Jalapenos (2 medium)
- Minced garlic (as much as you like, we love garlic!)
- Eggs (4 large to top burgers, 1 large to mix into patties)
- Avocado (1 medium)
- Butter lettuce
- Salt/Pepper
- Basil
- Dijon mustard
- Worchestershire sauce
- Avocado Oil
- Kaiser rolls (4)
- Pepperjack cheese

Start by chopping a quarter of your red onion, one jalapeno, and garlic into small bite size pieces. Add the chopped veggies with your beef, and the standard spices/herbs to taste: salt, pepper, dried basil, Worchestershire sauce and dijon mustard. Finally, add one large egg and mix. Form four thick patties and prepare your pan with avocado oil (great for high heat!)
I wanted a thicker cut burger so we made each patty fairly round, to press down slightly once on the grill.

A little crowded, but we fit all four onto the pan!
Once your patties are done (about 4 minutes high heat each side, only flip once and lower heat to cook inside), top with your cheese of choice and start making your eggs.
Top your warm patties with an egg each and while your kaiser rolls toast, add your desired veggies.
And voila! Delicious and easy burgers that were made, photographed (hehe) and eaten within an hour :)

I hope these photos inspire you to try this at home! Bao and I enjoyed these burgers so much (and they were incredibly easy to make) we plan on making another variation soon.

Until next time!

Stay hungry,

February 15, 2015

Valentine's Desserts

The best part of hallmark holidays is (obviously) the desserts! My coworker April and I decided to coordinate a Valentine's themed party for our team, so we whipped up some desserts to surprise everyone. I made some classic red velvet cupcakes topped with fluffy cream cheese frosting, and April made some amazing peanut butter cookies and "slutty blondies"!

No one seemed to know the term for these delicious creations, but here's a reference from the wonderful Benny's Baker blog. Her tame definition of a slutty brownie is "a baked good with an oreo between a cookie and a brownie". I suppose April's variation could have been called a cookie bar (her delicious bars were chock full of crush oreos, hershey drops, chocolate chips) but I thought the other title brought some humor into her creation. Wish I grabbed a photo of her bars but they were gone in minutes! Always a good sign ;)

After the weekend came around, I already had the kitchen cleared to make a Sesame Street themed baby birthday cake, so I decided to make one of my boyfriend's favorite desserts: chocolate covered strawberries! I was inspired by my friend Kim's blog post (she also made drool-worthy "Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie n' Oreo Fudge Brownie Bars" that reminded me of the above mentioned slutty blondies haha)!
First things first, I let the strawberries sit in a bowl of water for a few minutes then dried the off with a paper towel. I then laid them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and popped them in the fridge for half an hour uncovered to make sure they were completely dry before dipping. I used store bought dipping chocolate (on sale for $1.50 each at Wegman's!) in white chocolate and dark.
If you read Kim's post, you'll understand I'm completely in agreement about covering the strawberries with as much chocolate as possible! After the first coat of chocolate, I added a few drizzles (because you can never have too much chocolate).
I had originally crushed some oreos and had sprinkles prepared to dip these in, but the chocolate hardened too quickly. I'll have to try again next time!

Hope you all had a wonderful Valentine's weekend filled with plenty of love from good friends, family or significant others.

Until next time!

Stay hungry,

February 12, 2015

Avocado Egg Toast

Breakfast is inarguably the best meal of the day. First thing after you wake up in the morning, breakfast fuels your early hours and sets the precedent for the rest of the day. During the week, however, most of us don't have the luxury of making an elaborate breakfast, so I look forward to the weekends where I can make breakfast slowly. 

With the coffee roasting and the stove hot, the most definitive factor that makes any meal "breakfast" to me is the elegantly simple egg. Eggs on anything - atop a juicy burger, over-easy on rice, poached and perched perfectly under creamy hollandaise - really take any dish to another level.

I often make avocado and egg toast, as it's an easy, no-fail breakfast that you can easily dress up or leave as is and enjoy. I started off with this gorgeous seeded bread (literally packed with pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds, black and white sesame seeds) that just add the most amazing texture and depth to what could be a normal boring slice of toast.

While one egg was on the stove (I prepare my sunny-side up on med/low heat) and my hot water was starting to boil, I popped the hearty bread into the toaster. This was my first time attempting to poach an egg, and my first try was semi-successful. Most of the egg stayed in one shape, but I could definitely use more practice! If you'd like to try poaching an egg yourself, I'd recommend this video from Martha Stewart's Kitchen Conundrums; I really enjoy Thomas Joseph's series since each video has clear, concise directions.
As you can see, I overcooked the poached egg a bit. Next time I'm aiming for a runnier yolk!
I simply topped each toast with either a poached egg, sunny side up, or halved avocado. It's so easy to add flavors and dimension to avocado toast since everything is like a blank canvas. Here I put my mandolin to good use for some thinly sliced radish (I love the bright colors and fresh bite from radishes), and freshly cracked black pepper or leftover seeds from the loaf for my avocado.

Hope this gives you all some ideas for making a super simple breakfast. I have to try making a decadent burger with a sunny side up egg or meaty steak and eggs! Yum.

Until next time!

Stay Hungry,

February 9, 2015

The Gryphon - Early Valentine's Dinner

Growing up, I remember how much the Hallmark holidays had me daydreaming about the scenarios in movies. I'd still call myself a romantic, but the importance I placed on these stories has significantly diminished. I'm learning to appreciate the little things that add up to the big things.

To celebrate Valentine's, my boyfriend Bao and I decided to take advantage of a great Groupon deal for a place called The Gryphon. The concept of picking several small dishes to try out different creations (like tapas) sounded perfect.

Although I was already excited to have a quiet dinner with him, I was pleasantly surprised when he showed up at my door,  hiding the most gorgeous snowboard (my first ever!) beside the front wall. We agreed on no gifts this year... but he completely put that to shame. In the time that I've known him, I've noticed he puts so much thought and consideration into his gifts. After all my giddy inner-child-jumping-for-joy and hugging (him and the board haha), we proceeded to our dinner destination.

The Gryphon DC
1337 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036

Finding parking in DC has always been a struggle for me, so thankfully he drove us to the restaurant. We found a nice spot close by, and walked past an upbeat crowd that looked to be a part of a bar crawl. When we found the brightly lit sign above the entrance, we opened a large glass paneled door and made our way inside.

My first impression of The Gryphon: dark lounge, vampire lair. Silly, but as soon as you walk in there was an elaborate bar on the right, and heavy black tapestry sectioning off the back. There were chandeliers made entirely of elk horns arranged in to fit together seamlessly, and prison bars over a makeshift window. We were seated right away and our friendly waitress Amber came by to introduce herself and give us a rundown on all the best dishes.

What had originally thrown me off about the decor soon became a eccentric touch that I grew to appreciate. The low, warm lighting added to the overall ambiance, the plushy leather chairs we sat in were comfortable. The entire menu looks promising - there are a few main entrees to choose from, several raw bar options, and a plethora of small dishes (called Social Bites) towards the end. 

We started off with Amber's recommendation of the Striped Bass Ceviche. The striped bass was marinated in a tart lime, orange, grapefruit, cilantro and red onion juice that was so refreshing. The plantain chips to place the tender striped bass pieces were the perfect compliment to this starter.
I wish I had gotten a better photo of this dish - admittedly I was shy at first whipping out my dslr for a quiet dinner out - but this was my favorite dish hands down!

Next up, seeing as we both love raw oysters, we ordered an assortment. I remember years ago of a large family gathering, where we all sat around our old kitchen table shucking a plethora of fresh raw oysters from a special seafood market. I probably had over four dozen raw oysters that day (you either love them or hate them haha). I particularly love topping with a dot of hot sauce and drizzle of lemon, and decided to add the horseradish and vinegar mix this time around.

We chose to try each of the three choices on the menu: Sting Ray from Rappahannock River, Virginia, Tom's Cove from Chincoteague, Virginia and Malpeque from Prince Edward Island, Canada. Bao and I liked the Malpeque most, as it's the plumpest of the group. I ended up adding a spoonful of the ceviche juices to compliment the oysters further. I highly recommend!

As we finished up our oysters, the social bites started to arrive at our table. We both love a great cut of meat (there are ribeyes, dry-aged sirloins, lamb and filets available) but opted for the smaller dishes to get a bigger range of flavor. As we grazed over the menu, Amber let us know her favorite items; her excitement for particular dishes convinced our choices.

The first dish pictured above is proscuitto wrapped monkfish atop asparagus and black eyed peas in a smooth champagne butter sauce. We were pretty excited about this dish since Bao hadn't had monkfish in years, and the dish was fairly good. The monkfish was dense and the proscuitto was cut a little thick, but the overall flavors were wonderful. I especially loved how the chef sliced the asparagus at an angle to maintain a crisp and flavorful bite.

Next dish I was excited about was the fried caesar parmesan brussel sprouts. I love brussel sprouts steamed, roasted, grilled, any way really. These were fried in peanut oil with fresh grated parmesan, definitely a rich and decadent treat. I loved how the brussel sprouts were presented in a small cast iron "dutch oven". 

Finally we tried our short ribs with roasted radishes, pineapple mustard glaze and scallion oil. These short ribs were chewier than expected (I was imagining a braised beef stew-type tenderness), but the sweet pineapple mustard glaze complimented it perfectly. By this time of the meal, we still had a good amount of food left but our tummies were full! These were small dishes compared to the standard restaurant fare, but we hadn't come into dinner absolutely starving. 

The overall experience for The Gryphon was a wonderful one. Having an informative and bubbly waitress, trying varied unique dishes, and enjoying the eclectic atmosphere was memorable.

Until next time!

Stay hungry,

February 5, 2015

Dinner at Il Pizzico; Introducing Dinner at Deb's!

I love how food has the ability to bring people together. A casual first date dinner, girlfriends conversing over desserts, a night out for drinks with good company - all make for the perfect environment (and perfect excuse) to connect with others. One of my dearest and most talented friends, Deborah, wanted to grab a bite at a hole-in-the-wall authentic Italian restaurant.

We first met at her house as she was testing out a new recipe (she's a stellar chef!) and wanted me to try it out. This dish had tender flank steak thinly sliced, with a generous spread of ginger and other delicious herbs. The garnished strips were then rolled, secured with cooking twine and roasted in the oven. Once the tendrils reached the perfect finish, they were placed upon a bed of perfectly marinated bok choy.

We each tried a piece and as usual, I was blown away by how well executed this dish was. Deb fearlessly tries new recipes all the time, viewing any seemingly complex dish as a welcome challenge. I'm hoping to feature some of her amazing dishes (with her permission) from time to time, so stay tuned! With a tasty "antipasti" in tow, we made our way to our dinner location.

Il Pizzico
15209 Frederick Road
Rockville, MD 20850

From the outside, Il Pizzico looks unsuspectingly normal. A simple exterior nestled in a small strip next to a cafe and gas station, it's hard to imagine what we had in store. However, I knew if Deb was recommending this restaurant, there was something special about this place.

As soon as we walked in, the beautiful ambiance was a pleasant surprise. Soft lighting and simple metal art adorned the walls on the restaurant portion to our left. To our right, a well stocked bar with a friendly bartender. We were warmly greeted and led to our seats on the restaurant portion and introduced by our waiter.

As he went over the specials for the day, Deb and I both looked at each other as soon as he mentioned "The Cowboy Steak". We had no idea what the cowboy steak was, just that we were definitely interested. Deb already planned on getting her favorite pasta dish, so we were settled.

We ordered the Carpaccio di Manzo, and the fresh and colorful palette was a perfect start to our meal. The thin, buttery slices of raw beef had a drizzle of mustard sauce, bed of baby arugula, shaved Parmigiano, and fresh cracked black pepper. The beef slices were so soft and tender, and the baby arugula hidden under the shaved Parmigiano balanced perfectly. This was my first time trying carpaccio and I'm sold!

Our entrees arrived at just the right time, and the dishes looked like works of art. I was told the portions weren't garishly oversized, but more under the pretense of quality over quantity. The cowboy steak was beautiful to look at and equally as delicious. I asked for a medium rare cook (closer to rare is my favorite), and the meat was tender with gorgeous grill marks and a balsamic glaze. The glorious star of the dish sat atop steamed broccoli and potato wedges.

Deb had the Maltagliati Al Ragu'di Vitello, a homemade pasta with creamy veal meat sauce. Each flattened pasta piece had the perfect al dente texture and the right amount of chewiness and bite that could hold it's own. Paired with the light but meaty sauce, I could see why she had been craving this dish all day.

After we enjoyed our amazing entrees, we were ready for a sweet bite. Our waiter told us about their specialty desserts for the day, one of which was an obvious choice: an almond amaretto cake filled with a creamy custard, drizzled with an amaretto glaze topped with fresh whipped cream - all nestled next to some almond gelato. No debate needed!

With a warm cup of black coffee, this dessert was the perfect balance (a hint of raspberry drizzle garnished on the plate added a tangy twist) that left our tummies happy.

This silly photo of Deb (since she never lets me take "normal" photos of her, haha!) shows a little bit of her fun personality.

As we made our way back, the thought of being so lucky to call some once-acquaintances-now-friends crossed my mind. Deb and I met in college, then reconnected after we moved past our school years. I'm always so grateful to be able to look up to such a kind and accomplished individual, and feel comfortable enough to open up about my goals, fears and everything in between without the worry of judgement. Hopefully this year I can take more time to show my appreciation to the incredible friends I have in my life.

Until next time!

Stay hungry,

February 3, 2015

DC Outing: Astro Donuts and La Colombe Coffee

With the hustle and bustle of our every day hectic schedules, I realized it had been far too long since I spent some quality time with my mom. Perfect solution: decadent donuts, flaky pastries and hot coffee!

Driving through DC sans bumper to bumper traffic is incredibly peaceful... and gives you an opportunity to see how beautiful the city really is. We made our way out early in the morning and arrived promptly at our first stop:

Astro Donuts
1305 G Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20004

I've been having an odd craving for donuts, and this place looked like the perfect spot to satiate my sweet tooth. I wasn't just looking for any donut though, I wanted one that had the perfect texture (a bit chewy and soft, yet has a little weight to it). Astro Donuts has rave reviews all over Yelp for their indulgent donuts and savory fried chicken. The perfect balance of sweet and salty, how could you go wrong?


Being my first time here, I was expecting a larger bakery-type layout but this location was just a storefront for pickup. Easy hint should've been when my mom and I noticed a couple was sitting outside - in this blistering cold - while munching on their doughy goodness. Regardless, we walked in excited to try these raved-about donuts!

We skipped the fried chicken and opted straight for the sweets: Nutella, Lemon Berry, Maple Bacon, Vanilla, Caramel Macchiato, and Creme Brulee. My plan had been to pick up a few donuts to share with the family later while my mom and I sat over some coffee to catch up. However, she was starving by the time we got to the car and informed me she'd be devouring one right away!

Her review: AMAZING. She was in sticker shock at the price of each donut (around $3 each) but admit they were noticeably different. The perfect texture I had mentioned earlier was seemingly achieved! My recommendation, eat them right away instead of waiting a few hours like I did. As my mom's hunger (I explained to her the definition of "hangry") was satisfied, we made our way to our next destination:

La Colombe
Blagden Alley, 924 N Street Northwest
Washington, DC 20001

I have a confession: I love coffee. As many of you have grown an affinity to coffee after starting an office job, mine became prominent during those late nights studying in college to getting that morning jolt of productivity at work.

I wanted to find a nice environment for my mom and I to sit comfortably and talk, and La Colombe was the perfect spot. The location is slightly hidden in the middle of a small neighborhood, and as we walked along the brick wall alleyways we noticed some beautiful mosaics of all kinds of dogs. Refreshing informal "entryway" to this coffeeshop!


As you walk in, you hear the familiar bustle of people conversing and the skilled barista foaming milk. The wall on your left is a large glass/garage door lined with small, intimate tables for two, on the right is the beautiful brick and huge marble counter top where your order is placed.

We ordered a buttery croissant and apple danish to munch on (pulled from a local bakery), a latte with hemp milk for me, and a dark roast coffee for my mom. Initially all the seats were taken but within minutes a kind stranger motioned for us to take her place as she was leaving.

Our drinks and pastries were ready right away and placed on the most beautiful hand-painted cups and saucers. I took a sip of my latte and boy, was it delicious. The coffee had a slight fine grainy texture to it - could have been the hemp milk - but it was most definitely one of my favorite lattes to date. Our pastries were perfectly buttery and flakey (they will toast your pastries if you ask) and the atmosphere was wonderful for talking.


After our delicious breakfast we went window shopping, took some photos, then made our way to our final location.

2001 International Dr, 1856 G
Mclean, VA 22102

Dark Roast
Although we had had coffee a few hours prior, my mom insisted she take me to her favorite french patisserie that she had business meetings in. Located in the luxurious Tysons Galleria in Tysons, Virgina, this small shop was beautifully decorated inside with beautiful hammer-detail chairs and soft lighting.

PAUL Pastries


We sat inside with our dark roasts and quiche for lunch. I would recommend coming here as my mom does with business associates or close friends as the atmosphere is calm and inviting. We finally made our way back home after a fun day.

After spending a day with my mom after so long, I realized how busy we became in our own lives and how nice it was to reconnect with her now that I'm a little older. I still feel foolish calling myself a real adult - haha - but instead of the parent/child relationship, we seemed to understand each other better.

Until next time!

Stay hungry,

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