Best Recipes of 2011

Happy 2012!

I’m a little behind on the end-of-year listage, but better late than never. Here are our top 5 recipes of 2011! To qualify, the recipes had to be a recipe we hadn’t tried prior to 2011, so that knocked out some recipes we may have cooked more frequently. Nonetheless, these five (in no particular order) were our favs of the year:

1. Martha Stewart’s “Perfect” Mac & Cheese

Mac & Cheese

C: A friend gushed about this recipe, and once I saw it, I knew I had to try it. I made the mac last week for dinner with a few friends. It was pretty time consuming, but definitely a cheesy indulgence when regular ole’ mac & cheese just won’t cut it.

J: It was a hard to beat recipe. C has always made great macaroni and cheese, but this one just blew so many recipes out of the water. What was even more awesome was mixing it with some of the red-eye barbeque sauce I had made for the pork loin dish. If you have people coming over, I can’t imagine a better side for a heavy meal.

2. Pumpkin Gingersnap Cookies

C: I never would have guessed that a non-chocolate cookie would be one of my favorite sweet treats of the year, but these were addictive.

J: I came across this recipe by accident and suggested it to C for a party. The results were gone in a second. The cookies mixed the ginger’s snappy sweetness and pumpkin’s bitterness well, resulting in a balanced tasting dessert. Once you try it, it will likely become a permanent weapon in your holiday baking arsenal.

3. Summer vegetable tostadas

C: This is a simple recipe that J and I often cooked this summer when indecisive about dinner.

J: For a lot of reasons, you really can’t go wrong with this dish. It’s delicious and versatile. I prefer zucchini while C prefers squash. What frustrates me is that whenever I do squash, the chicken comes out right. When I do zucchini, the chicken isn’t properly done. What’s great though is that this dish can be all things to everyone. Eliminate the cheese and you’ve got a great dinner on a diet. Drop the chicken and you can please vegetarians. And as I pointed out, you can do other vegetables if they are not to your liking.

4. Pioneer Woman’s Dreamy Apple Pie with Sylvia’s Blessed Pie Crust

Dreamy Apple Pie

C: This is a two-fer because the pie would not have been so delicious if it weren’t for the crust, and I’ll most likely use the crust recipe more in the future than I will the apple pie. That said, for apple pie-lovers, this one is a winner.

J: Most of the time, you can wing something in a recipe. A slight bit more of this or a little less of that. But what set this recipe apart from every other pie was undoubtedly the crust.

It was the first time I’ve ever had a home-made crust. But once you taste the difference, you’ll recognize a superiority to the same old frozen food section we’ve all come to accept as the “standard.” If you’re going to go for side-widening calories, make them good with this pie crust.

5. Shrimp Cakes with Corn-avocado salsa

C: I had completely forgotten about this, but this was J’s pick. It was delicious, but not the easiest or quickest recipe. This is slightly different than the recipe we used from a magazine, but the result should be similarly delicious.

J: Whatever you do, do not, repeat, do not attempt to make this when you’re hungry. C and I spent a couple of hours doing all the prep work. De-veining the shrimp, cutting up the ingredients, blending it, searing it, so on, so on. This is something you prepare on a summer day when you have some important guests you really want to impress, and only when you’ve got the time to do it. But it’s worth every bite.

There you have it! Our top recipes of 2011! What were your favorites this past year? What are you planning to cook in 2012?


Christmas Baking Part II

Whew. Just like that Christmas has come and gone. Each year it seems to go by even quicker than the last. Luckily, I packed in as much baking as possible when I was home in North Carolina.

Every year, my next-door neighbors hold a Christmas Eve Open House with lots of delightful brunch foods and Bloody Marys to wash everything down.

Cheddar Biscuits

Since I didn’t have much time to cook for this, I went with an old stand-by: cheddar biscuits from the How to Cook everything app. The recipe was actually for cheese straws, but it saves a lot of time if you just form them into small round biscuits.

For a family function Christmas Eve afternoon, I used a family recipe for  vegetable dip. Basically I use 16 ounces of cream cheese (softened), a shredded carrot, 1/2 small onion (chopped), a few strips of chopped green pepper, and hot sauce to taste. So simple, but so delicious!

Since my friend’s cookie exchange several weeks ago, I’ve been looking for a reason to bake candy cane biscotti that someone brought. Christmas Eve sounded like as good an excuse as any. Unfortunately, I forgot to read the last line of the directions and I didn’t put the candy cane pieces in at the right time. I ended up crushing them into the dough once I had formed the logs on the cookie sheet. They ended up okay, but not as sweet and pepperminty as I would have liked. Also, I used white chocolate chips since my Podunk grocery store didn’t have bar chocolate, and they worked fine for me, although they did harden towards the end.

Candy Cane Biscotti

Christmas Day is spent at my grandma’s house, usually at breakfast time, but it being on a Sunday this year, we headed there after church. My grandma takes care of most of the cooking (oyster stew, sausage and egg casserole, homemade ham biscuits!), but I like to bring one dish.

Last year I didn’t get a chance to go to the grocery store, so I used what we had in the fridge and I ended up with a delicious overnight eggnog french toast casserole. This year I just went with milk instead of eggnog, but the casserole turned out fantastic! I used croissants instead of brioche (see: Podunk grocery store), making it extra caloric and delicious!  My aunt also brought a crème brûlée french toast casserole, but we had so many hungry relatives, only one serving remained uneaten at the end of the day. What can I say, we love to eat!

What did you bake for this holiday season?

Christmas Baking

One of my favorite things about Christmas time is it gives me an excuse to bake. Between parties, cookie exchanges, hungry friends and co-workers, there’s always a way to use a new recipe or revisit a favorite. I think I did more baking than ever this year, and Christmas is still days away.

Here are a few of the delicious treats I baked this year.

Triple Chocolate Peppermint Treats

I tested out this recipe for triple chocolate peppermint treats on a baking day with friends a couple of weeks ago. White chocolate is not one of my favorite things (heck, it’s not even really chocolate!), but it was subtle enough in this rich chocolatey cookie.

Although they were delicious, I decided against making those for baking day. I felt there were too many steps and too many supplies needed to make them when sharing a kitchen with several other bakers.

Instead the Washington Post cookie guide came out just in the nick of time, and I ended up making salty chocolate nutella thumbprints from the ladies of Whisked! My cookies spread out (I suppose my oven or ingredients were too warm), so I resorted to spreading the nutella on top. While they may not have looked as perfect as the WaPo photo, they were the perfect mix of salty-sweet and easy to make.

My nutella thumbprints are in there somewhere

I took the cookies to a cookie exchange, and hopefully they were enjoyed by all the chocolate lovers!

A good friend gave me Martha Stewart’s Cupcakes cookbook for my birthday, so I decided to make one of the recipes for her tacky sweater party last weekend. Initially I wanted to make a chocolate spice cupcake, but ultimately I baked gingerbread cupcakes since they were more Christmasy.

The recipe suggested white frosting, but I thought brown sugar cream cheese frosting would go nicely with the cupcake. I am so glad I made the substitution! The cupcakes themselves were some of the moistest cupcakes I’ve ever tasted (possibly because I used extra-large eggs). The frosting paired perfectly with the flavors in the cupcake. I didn’t have time to type up the recipe from the cookbook, but this looks basically like the one I used.  The frosting recipe, also from Martha Stewart, is as follows:


1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup packed light-brown sugar (I used dark because that’s what I had)

I also added cinnamon, vanilla, and a touch of nutmeg to bring a little more flavor to the frosting.  Just beat everything together with an electric mixer until it’s the desired consistency. You’ll probably also have some leftover.

Gingerbread Cupcakes with Brown Sugar Cream Cheese Frosting

I’m looking forward to doing a little more baking when I’m home in NC, so I’ll try to do a Christmas Baking: Part II in the coming weeks! Happy holidays, y’all!


A very good friend of mine gave me a giftcard to Estadio– one of the restaurants at the top of my ‘to-try’ list- for my birthday. J and I decided- somewhat on a whim- to put that to use a couple of Fridays ago.

I’d heard the wait time at the restaurant could be hours, but the hostess told us it would only be 45 minutes to 1 hour, so we made our way to the boisterous bar and ordered a couple of sangrias (one red and one white). My only complaint about my red sangria was the mint flavor was not as strong as I would have liked (it was more like a garnish).  The bartender also recommended I try the Tinto de Verano-red wine with their housemade lemon soda, which I enjoyed maybe more than the sangria since it wasn’t too sweet. J tried the beer on draft, which was average, but then again, it’s pretty clear wine and cocktails is Estadio’s thing.


Our table was ready sooner than I expected, and we were led to the other side of the bar, the centerpiece of the restaurant. The hostess seated us at the end of a long table. One note: these were the heaviest restaurant chairs I’ve ever experience. J literally had to push me up to the table, and I couldn’t get out without his help, especially since I was seated right against the bar crowd. Made things a little awkward.

We began our meal with two each of the pintxos, which are simply one bite on a skewer.  We had the chorizo, manchego & pistachio-crusted quince, and jamon-wrapped fig, almond, cabrales- both of which packed as much flavor as one could ask for out of one bite.  Next up was a large bowl of butternut squash soup with pepitas. Given that everything on the menu is essentially small plates, we were pleasantly surprised by how much soup Estadio served. The pepitas added a nice crunch to the soup, but I would have liked a few more, and J wanted more spice to cut the sweetness of the squash. It was definitely tasty though and a great value.

Next up- the highlight of our meal- the bocadillos. We ordered two- the“Escalivada” grilled vegetables, black olive puree & alioli, and the pork belly & pickled shishito peppers. My first bite of the pork belly didn’t give me a taste of the peppers, but the subsequent bites had the pepper flavor that the pork really needed to elevate its flavor. After a couple of bites and each of us gushing over the sandwich we were eating, J & I switched, and I had my own taste of the veggie bocadillo. Thus began the battle of my taste buds (and between J & I) to decide which sandwich was better. The Verdict: Rematch needed!

Hanger Steak

After the bocadillos, our expectations were high. Unfortunately, maybe too high as our next dishes disappointed. The wild mushroom croquettas with arugula and roasted peppers tasted like stuffing from Thanksgiving. Yes, yummy but they lacked the depth and complexity of the other dishes. The hanger steak with salsa verde and chunky olive oil potatoes was visually appealing. We ordered the steak medium when we should have opted for medium rare, but the potatoes (prepared chunky- just the way I like them!) and the salsa verde helped. We also ordered the calamari.  I found it to be too tough with an overwhelming charred taste. Definitely a dish we could have done without.

We ended the meal with another glass of red sangria and pumpkin bread pudding with spiced ice cream.

Pumpkin Bread Pudding

I expect bread pudding to be a little moister than this one, but still delicious. I enjoyed the ice cream more, but J preferred the bread pudding itself.

Overall, Estadio makes for a fun splurge of a night out. It’s not quiet by any stretch of imagination, yet  it has an intimate feel because of the small space, dim lighting, and need to huddle in to hear one another. I’m looking forward to returning in warmer months to try the slushitos (alcoholic slushees)!

J’s Take: Estadio is one of those places that really plays by its own rules. They don’t do reservations after 6pm. They don’t rely on many well-known beer brands. They didn’t want to cater to American tastes in the slightest.

It’s a mixed blessing. Sure, we went to Estadio to try something new. But tapas places, with their small multiple dishes, let you balance between new things and trusted favorites. So you can get something you know is satisfying should your gambled dish not be as great as you imagined.

While C already discussed everything else, I just wanted to talk about the sandwiches they served us- the bocadillos. The sandwiches were quite tasty, the pork belly being the best I’ve ever tasted. This actually surprised me. You see, pork belly was on track to being one of my least favorite dishes overall, regardless of where I went. It was frequently dry and rather bland, and frustrated me because C kept ordering it, disappointment after disappointment.

But Estadio viewed pork belly as something to be spiced red and served with pickled shishito peppers. They understand that pork belly provides a great base of a meal, but that it must draw flavor from other elements. Pork isn’t steak, it needs something to go with it. Just as we serve pork chops with sauerkraut, apple sauce or coleslaw, they knew that pork is not a standalone meat. And they flavored it well with a combination of sourness and spice.

The pork sandwich was very good. But meals like the escalivada grilled vegetables with the olive puree and aioli could turn me vegetarian because of how delicious they are. As I sampled both, I had a vision of a food truck that only served sandwiches composed of the contents of these two bocadillos. The vegetables were something between soft and crunchy, snappy both physically and in spice.

I don’t know if I’ll return to Estadio anytime soon, but I will be on the look out for bocadillos sandwich shops in the future.

Estadio is located at 1520 14th Street Northwest, Washington, DC, in Logan Circle.

Birthday Dinner at The Atlas Room

My birthday meal is something I take very seriously. I spend weeks researching what new restaurant I want to try and what would provide a lively atmosphere, good drinks, and delicious food. Last year I chose brunch at Birch & Barley since my birthday was on a Sunday, aka the Official Day of  Brunching, IMO.  This year, I narrowed my choices to Estadio, a return visit to Graffiato, and The Atlas Room. J chose The Atlas Room.

We arrived early for our reservation, so we settled in at the small bar at the back of the tiny restaurant. I ordered the Pisco Sour (Macchu Pisco, Fresh Lime Juice, Egg White), and J selected the  Blue Point Toaster Lager, which he loved. The cocktail was perfectly frothy, sour and light.

I took the time while sipping on the cocktail and waiting for our table to glance around the restaurant. Although I found the atmosphere to be a little stuffy (I’d much prefer a silent basketball game on the bar tv than calming landscape images), and the clientele much older than what you’d normally find on hip H Street, the restaurant still offered a certain charm with its coziness and decor of various maps.

The menu at The Atlas Room is unlike any I have ever seen. It is split into sections by main ingredients, with three size plates for each- basically appetizer, small plate & entree. So you can pick & choose depending on what type of meal you want to have. J & I ended up sharing 1 appetizer, 1 small plate, 1 entree and 1 dessert, which was the perfect amount of food. Okay, maybe we didn’t need dessert, but it was my birthday!

Seared Tuna & Hush Puppies

We started with a seared tuna accompanied with hushpuppies.  While I’m not sure the two really belong together, I enjoyed both enough not to care. Our next two dishes came out together. The entree of beef two ways (braised short rib, flatiron steak with parsnip potato puree, lentils, roasted baby beets and red wine sauce). And the small plate portion of grilled vegetable gratin, composed of fontina cheese, couscous, grilled veggies & tomato.

Beef Two Ways

For me, the flatiron steak was the highlight of the entree, particularly when dipped in the wine sauce. The short ribs tasted like pot roast to me, which unfortunately I have never been a fan of. Similarly, I would rather my potatoes be a little on the chunky side rather than pureed, so these were not my favorite either. I’m thinking maybe I would have been more happy with our choice if I had just paid better attention to the description of the entree. I did enjoy the cheesy vegetable gratin and the unexpected texture the couscous brought to the dish.

The desserts are recited by the waiter, rather than listed on the menu. I chose the one chocolate dish, which was essentially a fudgy mousse dish. It was nice to end the meal on a high note after a somewhat disappointing main course.

All in all, I was slightly underwhelmed by our meal at The Atlas Room, but could see having a totally different experience another time if ordering different dishes. Part of The Atlas Room’s appeal is that it features dishes inspired from all different parts of the world, so it would be possible for a subsequent visit to have a much different flavor.

J’s overall take: I thought it was overall well done, but at the same time as I ate, I didn’t feel there was anything there I couldn’t get anywhere else for a better price and more convenient location.

Check out The Atlas Room at 1015 H Street, NE, Washington, DC.Open Tuesday-Sunday for dinner, and Sundays for brunch.