Reviews

Tastemade Video: Pie Gourmet – Vienna, VA

tastemade

Does the world really need another food-related app?

Yes. Enter: Tastemade.

It’s a beautifully designed app that combines my two favorite things: Food and Video. Users (or Tastemakers as they call them) submit 1-minute videos of restaurants that they love. ONE MINUTE?! Anyone who’s ever edited video knows that editing one minute of footage can take an entire week, but luckily the app has some preset templates that do all the dirty work for you. Pick your theme, select your videos, and BOOM. Watch out JJ Abrams.

I also like Tastemade, because it’s not set up as a review site, rather it promotes the idea of sharing only restaurants you truly enjoy. So, you’re not bogged down with all of the negativity that comes with some of those OTHER sites wrought with bitter restaurant reviewers.

Since I love pie (especially Peach Pie with Candied Rosemary and Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie) it was fitting to make a video about the greatest pie shop in the universe, Pie Gourmet in Vienna, VA. Seriously, ask Stephen Hawking, he knows about the universe and pi.

Check out my first video below (or click here if you prefer a gigantic screen).

Since I learned so much whilst making this short video and everything went smoothly without any hiccups (where is the sarcasm button?), I figured I should share some tips to help you be a master Tastemade filmmaker.

Tastemade Video Making Tips:

  • Start with a great screenplay.
  • Yell as loud as you can to make sure the camera microphone picks up your voice (and also to alert everyone around you that you are making a video).
  • Choose a restaurant that sells pie.
  • Find something stable to rest your phone on, like a moving vehicle. Aim for potholes.
  • Have a surprising third act twist.

 

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Beyond the Food

Monument Coffee Roasters – Manassas, VA

momument coffee roasters

My first experience with coffee was from that notorious red can (you know which one). The constant drip of coffee was a staple in my grandparent’s house and I’m 90% sure it’s the only thing my grandfather ever drank. Although I doubt (as the jingle claimed) that it was the “best part of wakin’ up,” it was clearly vital fuel that he needed to get through early mornings and long days.

He drank it with enough milk and sugar that at five years old, I enjoyed it. Not enough to drink it every day (not that my mom would have let me), but it was a fond enough memory that I would carry into my teens when chain coffee shops started popping up in every corner.

coffee cup monument roaster

Good conversation over a cup of Monument’s Sumatra Karo Highlands.

Nearly twenty-five years after my first sip, I still enjoy my coffee with milk and sugar, but I’ve replaced the red can with coffee beans that were roasted the night before and trashed a drip coffee maker for an Aerobie Aeropress.

Clearly, coffee culture has changed a lot over the years, and Alycia & Ryan Otte couldn’t be happier. The Ottes just launched Monument Coffee Roasters, a small batch roasting company out of my hometown, Manassas, Virginia. (Spoiler Alert:  The coffee is good. REALLY good.)

raw coffee beans

Look at these beautiful raw coffee beans.

It’s probably no coincidence that the couple met at a coffee shop–specifically Alycia’s family’s shop in Oregon. Coffee has been a big part of their lives for many years and their goal has always been to open a roasting shop of their own; however, Ryan’s Coast Guard duties meant a lot of moving around. Tough to open a business, when you’re not sure how long you’re going to be living in a given location.

Eventually, though, they landed in Manassas as their final stop. And although the idea of having their own roasting company was always on their minds, it wasn’t until they began talking with friends in the community that they realized their dream may be set in motion sooner than they thought. They specifically mention BadWolf Brewing co-founder Jeremy Meyers, who urged the couple not to wait and to make their dreams a reality (as he had recently done with his craft brewery).

coffee roaster

This is where all the magic happens.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Manassas, it’s not what anyone would describe as…hip. Sure there are some good local restaurants in old town and a growing craft brewery scene, but other than that, you’re surrounded by chain restaurants and big box SUPERcenters.

It’s because of this that the Ottes saw an opportunity to educate the community and bring fresh roasted coffee to a market often skipped over by other innovative and passionate food entrepreneurs.

Education is key. Right now, it seems as though most coffee drinkers in Manassas and some of the surrounding suburbs consider only two factors: Convenience and familiarity. Convenience coming into play as we drive to work, since a coffee shop with a drive-thru is sometimes the only option we have time for. And given that coffee is more often viewed as simply a fuel, we look to grab a cup of what we know (hence the perpetual red can in my grandparent’s cabinet).

Monument Coffee Roasters

Coffee action shot! #flyingbeans

There are pockets and flashes of really great, local coffee roasters and shops around the U.S., but Manassas is still a pretty good representation of coffee culture in most of the country. It was only a few years ago that I experienced what truly delicious, fresh roasted coffee tasted like (thanks, Caffé Amouri!). It doesn’t just taste different from the bagged stuff at a super market or a chain shop, it tastes infinitely better, resulting in a realization of “Ohhh…so THIS is what coffee tastes like!”

What the Ottes are hoping for is that the coffee industry moves toward what has happened to craft beer. Tons of small breweries have popped up and allowed consumers to experiment and try new beers. Rather than sticking with a staple coffee company, the Ottes want to be a part of your rotation of coffee roasters. “You might like another shop’s Sumatra, but maybe our Kenyan is your favorite,” Ryan noted, pointing out that there are so many different factors involved with how coffee tastes that coffee drinkers should experiment with different brands, varietals, and brewing techniques.

Monument Coffee Roasters

My Kenyan Lenana is ALMOST ready…

They credit James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, for the inspiration. Freeman paved the way for small batch roasters, with his mission to only serve customers beans that had been roasted within the last 48 hours. And if you’ve never had coffee roasted that fresh, YES, YES, YES (a thousand times, YES) it does make a difference.

And it should make a difference, because roasting coffee ain’t easy. While talking to the Ottes in their roasting “laboratory” I quickly forgot the business is technically in the food industry and instead felt as though I was talking to scientists. They’re not making coffee, they’re trying to perfect it. With all the variables associated with a “finished” coffee bean–the location grown, roasting time, temperature, yellowing, the “cracks” and smells–roasting coffee takes hard work and a ton of trial and error. Aside from their decades of experience in the coffee industry as a whole, the two have been perfecting the Monument Coffee Roasters offerings for over a year.

coffee roasting chart

Although roasting can be done by smell, sight, and sound, this program helps document the process. Looks like math class, right?

Their coffee itself is single-origin Certified Fair Trade and Organic, sourced from South America, Africa, and Central America. They have several varieties currently available from their online store (the Kenyan Lenana made for an outstanding Aeropress latte). And they are very excited about their Brazilian Swiss Water decaf, which uses a non-chemical based method to decaffeinate the coffee beans, resulting in a decaf that doesn’t taste like most decafs.

Aside from their coffee being really good (did I mention that, already?), I get the impression that this is what they love to do. The Ottes’ veins are filled with coffee.  The saying goes “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” After talking with them and watching them roast coffee beans, I actually think that saying is incorrect. Because, in order to do what they love, they’re working all day every day to perfect it. And I’m thankful for what they’re doing, because, when I sneak coffee to my grandchildren, it’s going to be fresh roasted within 48 hours…but still laced with milk and sugar.

You can stay connected with Alycia and Ryan and their coffee roasting adventures on their website, monumentcoffeeroasters.com, on Facebook, and Twitter. Their brick-and-mortar shop is expected to open in early 2015, but until then you can buy coffee from their website (seriously, DO IT!). I certainly can’t wait to use their beans to make some more Coffee-Infused Doughnut French Toast.

Monument Coffee Roasters

The new best part of wakin’ up.

 

 

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Recipes

Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

I have two confessions to make, but first let’s talk about pumpkins. THEY ARE EVERYWHERE.

I don’t even need to use a calender in the fall, because I can gauge how far into November we’re in solely based on how much pumpkin per day I’m exposed to. I’m staring at one on my desk right now! And Pinterest might as well just change its name to Pumpkinterest during November.

I really really really really really want to hate the pumpkin. I desperately want to be “too cool for school” and shrug off this ubiquitous squatty squash. But I can’t, because I freaking love pumpkin pie!

Sugar and Spices for Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

Think about it:  It’s one of the few desserts that can actually stand up to Thanksgiving Day dinner. It’s lead-in is possibly the greatest meal of the year and yet despite this, we unbutton our pants, take a power-nap, and burp to make room for a slice of this king of Turkey Day desserts. Thinking about it from a performance perspective, that’s like having to go on stage after Journey! And you truly don’t stop believin’ that you can eat more food.

Okay, enough stalling, here’s the first confession:  I hated pumpkin pie as a child. I always opted to skip the pie for another helping of carbs and meat covered in gravy. I was dumb little boy.

At some point I did learn to love it, but thinking back to my Pumpkin Pie Timeline, I don’t even remember when that occured. It was probably in the early 2000’s, but I can’t find the diary entry that addresses it, so we’ll say for argument’s sake that I’ve only really liked pumpkin pie for the last half of my life. Yup, fifteen wasted years.

Canned Pumpkin for Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

Wet and Dry Ingredients for Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

Anyway, I do remember THE pumpkin pie that left the most impact on my tastebuds. THE pie that stood sat atop a pumpkin pie throne surveying all the other pumpkin pies in its kingdom. It’s THE pie that I had long considered my favorite pumpkin pie. This is where the second confession comes into play. It’s actually very embarrassing to admit where this pie came from. And at this point, as I’m typing, I’m trying to think of a different angle for this post, so I don’t have to put it down in writing.

Up until recently, my favorite pumpkin pie was from the Bob Evans chain restaurant. I know…

Pie Crust for Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

It was a simple, tasty pumpkin pie at a reasonable price. It’s highly possible that I had never actually been exposed to a homemade pumpkin pie before. It’s also possible that I was just too young and stupid to try any homemade pumpkin pie put in front of me. There’s clearly someone at fault here and it’s probably my younger self.

Filling Collage - Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

It’s almost Thanksgiving. We have a food blog. I cannot have my favorite pumpkin pie be from Bob Evan’s. Sorry, Bob. You have a good last name (comprised of an amazing first name), but your pie has ruled my pumpkin kingdom for long enough. Today, we have elected a new pumpkin pie king: Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie.

Fresh out of the Oven - Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

Whipped Cream for Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

When we decided to dive into the already over-saturated pumpkin pie recipe stratosphere, we made a list of stuff that we wanted to incorporate and exclude based on our own tastes. Pumpkin lends itself nicely to heat, so chipotle and cayenne add a little bit of a kick, which is balanced by the fresh whipped cream on top. So, leave the Cool Whip and canned stuff at the supermarket, cause this pie brings it’s own cream. We used the same Ina Garten work-horse crust as we did for our Peach Pie with Candied Rosemary.

It’s too bold to say it’s the best pumpkin pie in the world, but it is definitely my new favorite. Goodbye forever, Bob.

Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

CHIPOTLE PUMPKIN CREAM PIE

Pie Crust (Ina Garten’s Perfect Pie Crust from Foodnetwork.com):

  • 6 Tablespoons (3/4 stick) SUPER COLD Unsalted Butter
  • 1 1/2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
  •  2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons COLD Vegetable Shortening
  • 1/2 Tablespoon Sugar
  • 4-6 Tablespoons Ice Water

Pie Filling

  • 1 15oz can pure pumpkin
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Whipped Cream Topping:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. For the crust: We’re no strangers to Ina Garten’s recipes and her “Perfect Pie Crust” is definitely a winner. Consistent, tasty, and most of all easy. If you’re looking for a flaky, no fuss pie crust Ina’s will certainly serve you well.
  2. For the filling: Mix together pumpkin, milk, and eggs. In a separate bowl mix the dry ingredients. Combine the wet and dry ingredients.
  3. For the pie:  Preheat oven to 425°. Place the crust in a 9-inch pie pan (preferably glass), leaving about a half inch over the edges for crimping. Pour pumpkin filling into the crust and gently pound on counter to release any air bubbles in the filling. Bake at 425° for 15 minutes, then reduce to 350° for 40 – 50 minutes, or until filling has set and crust is a nice golden brown.  Let cool for approximately 3 hours.
  4. For the whipped cream topping:  After the pie is cool, go ahead and make the topping by whipping the heavy cream in a stand mixer (or handheld, or food processor, or by hand with a whisk if you have muscles). As the cream starts to whip, add the confectioner’s sugar, cream of tartar, and vanilla. Whip the hell out of it, until just before it looks like it’s going to turn into butter.
  5. Use a piping bag and your favorite tip to make the whipped cream look all pretty on top of the pie. Don’t have that fancy stuff? Then, place a large dollop of whipped cream on top and smooth out.
  6. Serve immediately or refrigerate to let the pie set and get colder (if you prefer). Garnish each slice with a dusting of cinnamon.

Chipotle Pumpkin Cream Pie

 

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Mouf Links

Mouf Links: Travel Edition

MOUF links

Although this is mostly a food blog, you can’t find great food without a bit of traveling. With the travel bug still in our systems from our recent California trip, we figured it would be a good idea to share a few travel-related links. The recipe is simple: Click the links. Travel. Find food. Eat. Mouf is happy.

1.  Trippy.com
No, this isn’t an online store that sells hallucinogenic mushrooms. Trippy is a travel-based social media site designed to connect travelers around the world in a user-friendly Q&A style site. Expert travelers also engage with the community, so your travel question may be answered by the likes of Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain. The design is clean and site allows you to integrate maps, links, and pictures in your answers, resulting in a rich, intuitive design that will be your new BFF in travel. Seriously, this site makes that other advisory travel site look like an old Buick station wagon.

2. The Dining Traveler Blog
Our DC #Foodiechats friend, Jessica van Dop DeJesus recently re-branded her travel blog from the DC Repatriate to The Dining Traveler. Go check out her new site, packed with travel and food info from not only her current home in Washington, DC, but also other places like New York City, Chicago, Belgium, Germany, Australia, and especially her childhood home, Puerto Rico. And if you’re planning a trip to Washington, DC, feel free connect with her on Twitter for some advice from a local (she’s pretty much eaten at EVERY great restaurant in DC). WARNING:  When you visit her website, you will become extremely jealous of all the beautiful places she’s visited and delicious food she’s eaten. 

3.  Lowepro StreamLine 250 Camera Bag
I’ve been using this camera bag for the last year and it’s graduated (with honors) into an all-purpose travel bag. Since it’s supposed to hold all your camera goodies, there are lots of nooks and small pockets for batteries, lenses, etc. I’ve found it works great as your “one personal item” for flights since it easily holds an iPad, magazine, plane snacks, headphones, and anything else you might need to help you forget you’re stuck on a plane for hours. You can even squeeze in a 13-inch Macbook if you don’t mind not being able to zip it up.  For those of you traveling with mushrooms, the small front pockets should work wonderfully. This little guy is also perfect for hiking since you can tote around some camera stuff, with plenty of room for a bottle of water and a burrito. Yes, a burrito. What do YOU pack on your hikes? (I’m not getting paid to write this and I actually bought the bag with my own money. I really like it.)

4. Costco Travel + Alamo
There are lots of travel packages and deals you can find on the Costco Travel site, but I’ve never actually used them. I’m sure they’re fine, but what I do use almost every trip is the rental car section. If you travel and rent a car (even just a couple times each year), it’s worth it to become a Costco member. The deals are always the best and the booking process is fantastic since you don’t have to pay upfront and you can cancel at any time.  I may save it for another, longer post, but Alamo is the company I always try to use since they have check-in kiosks (yay, no human interaction!) and they let you physically walk around and pick out your own car at most locations. When you combine Costco and Alamo, renting a car is smoother than room temperature butter. (Again, not paid to say any of this. I mean, come on, like Costco is going to pay to be on this silly little blog.)

5. Alton Browncast Episode #43:  Samantha Brown
Fill your ear-moufs with this podcast full of tips and stories from the undisputed queen of travel, Samatha Brown. She’s been around the block (or globe) more than a few times, so heed her advice with more than a grain of salt. I specifically enjoyed her explanation of why taking a simple walk can help open up your travel experience to something beyond tourist traps. Not to mention, Alton Brown is as good of an interviewer as he is a devious Cutthroat Kitchen host.

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Travel

Six Things We Miss About San Diego

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Reserve

What?! San Diego is awesome? Breaking news, I know. But, we’ve been to the ol’ Sandy Eggo three times in the last fifteen months and we’re never ready to leave. The weather is perfect, traffic is minimal, you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a good time, and the FOOD. OH, THE FOOD. And, it’s cheap. The ratio of deliciousness to inexpensive is probably the highest in the U.S. Look it up in the census stats, it’s in there.

I also highly recommend buddying up to a local, as we’d probably end up eating at an Applebee’s* if it wasn’t for our friends Mike and Ashley. It’s like having our own personal food tour guides and surf instructor. Speaking of which, if you enjoy witty and sometimes sarcastic writing (which is why you’re here, right?), check out Mike’s surf blog, The Flying Peanut. Warning: It will make you want to quit your day job, move to San Diego, and learn how to surf.

Yeah, so picking five things wasn’t easy…so we picked six.

1. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood     Oscar's Mexican Seafood on Urbanspoon

Oscar's Mexican Seafood

Spicy Shrimp Tacos from Oscar’s. Yeah, this was from the second round of ordering. Should’ve gone back for a third…

If you’re looking for a reason to visit San Diego, I’ll give you two: The smoked fish taco and spicy shrimp taco from Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. They are not good. Nor are they great. The only way to describe them would be LEGENDARY. They are the type of tacos you will weave into the lore you tell your great grand children; and while you’ll most likely exaggerate your own amazing feats, you will not need to use any hyperbole with these two corn tortillas filled with magic. As we chowed down on these tacos during our final hours on the West Coast, I put some serious thought into how I could bring a dozen of them home with us on the plane. And although I couldn’t figure out a sanitary way to accomplish that feat, at least I was left with the fond memories of fish, shrimp, cheese, cabbage, pico de gallo, and avocado on a fresh made corn tortilla, topped with habanero crema. This restaurant is the sole reason why my Realtor.com app has a lot of recent “San Diego” searches.

2. Staying at the Secluded Studio with Canyon View (Airbnb.com)

Airbnb Canyon View

Waking up to this sure beat the cookie-cutter town houses we see at home.

We have found our unofficial second home in San Diego. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, the Secluded Studio with Canyon View in San Diego is a great place to start (click here for $50 off your first Airbnb trip!). Aside from being a clean, bright space with beautiful canyon views from the balcony, the location is perfect and is just a short 5-10 minute drive to all of the restaurants on this list. It’s great if you want to avoid the crowded beaches and packed downtown area, while still being pretty close to everything. You’ll feel like you’re staying with family, as the hosts provided us with bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, tea, coffee, milk, and juice. As much as I enjoy maximizing our food adventures by eating breakfast out, it was nice to enjoy a bagel and coffee, whilst sitting on the balcony over-looking the canyon.

3. Working on a Food Truck for Animals

Giraffe San Diego Zoo Safari Park

I found our next pet!

As much fun as it is to feed ourselves, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was pretty freaking cool. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a giraffe?! They make human eyes look like garbage disposal sludge. And rhinos are just like giant puppies who have horns and could kill you if they wanted, but they won’t ’cause you’re on a truck and they LOVE apples. Spend the extra money for the Caravan Safari and make friends with some wild beasts.

4. El Zarape Restaurant     El Zarape Mexican on Urbanspoon

El Zarape California Burrito

California Burrito from El Zarape. Notice the holy trinity of hot sauces.

This hole-in-the-wall-ish restaurant is exactly the type of place you’d expect to find a solid Mexican meal. Although it might not have won any burrito awards, I have a sentimental attachment. I’m going to get a little mushy here, so get out the tissues and crank up the Journey. El Zarape was the site of…sorry, I’m tearing up a bit here…it was where I had my first California Burrito. I feel like I should mail them an anniversary card every year. I seriously crave this place at least once a month and the pain is compounded by the fact that California Burritos cannot be found anywhere in Northern VA or DC. It’s not a difficult food product to make, but for some reason it’s a freaking unicorn out here. So, to be safe you better eat at least two while you’re there.

5. Coin-Op Game Room     Coin-Op Game Room on Urbanspoon

Coin-op Game Room San Diego

Here’s to my dead homie, Michelangelo.

Barcades aren’t specific to San Diego, but we had a good time drinking and time traveling back to the 90s at Coin-Op Game Room. The beers and drinks were top notch, bartenders were friendly, and they had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! And it’s the only place that encourages drinking and driving (MarioKart, of course). Just stay out of the way of the pinball masters. They do NOT mess around.

6. Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream     Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream

Front Row: lychee, chocolate orange, peanut butter and guava jelly. Back Row: toasted coconut, peanut butter brownie, lemon cream

You know how when you go to an ice cream shop and you try a bunch of flavors and then you have to settle on just one or two? Well, Hammond’s has solved this problem with…(drum roll)…Ice cream flights! Hell yes. Choose up to six flavors, each small scoop is perched on its own mini cone for you to enjoy. It even comes on a cool stand that looks like it was designed by Apple. I don’t know why every ice cream shop in America isn’t stealing this idea.

*Just kidding, we will never eat at Applebee’s. Sorry, John Corbett.

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Recipes

Pumpkin Sage Empanadas

pumpkin empanadas

When you think of sage, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Turkey day stuffing? Raviolis with brown butter sauce?

EVIL SPIRITS?

Yup, probably longer than we’ve been stuffing bread into turkeys, sage has long been thought to have the power to ward off evil. Which honestly makes evil look pretty weak. I could understand being afraid of something like habanero peppers or Hákarl (Icelandic fermented shark). But ‘lil ‘ol sage? Seriously, evil, grow a pair.

Cutting dough

Whether or not you believe in the cleansing power of sage, it still has to make you wonder how broad of a spectrum it works within. “Warding off evil” is a pretty general description. If I saw that on a résumé, I would want some elaboration and at least two legitimate evil references. For example, does it work on bullies? What about evil siblings? Or the condescending waiter at that pretentious restaurant downtown? Where is the line drawn?!

Maybe it’s as ambiguous as simply “bad stuff.” Like if you were to make a pair of socks out of sage, it would ward off the evil of stubbed toes. (Anyone with an ottoman at the end of their bed knows what I’m talking about. Its legs are the spawn of Satan.)

Empanada dough

And with that nondescript definition of “bad stuff,” couldn’t we extrapolate the powers of sage and apply them elsewhere? Because doesn’t ALL food ward off evil? Comfort food is so named for a reason. And a rough day at my office typically results in multiple trips to our Peanut M&M dispenser. Who cares if you have 73 borderline redundant emails in your inbox if you can escape for just a few precious seconds to feel that soothing crunch of candy shell, chocolate, and peanut. It feels SO GOOD to ward off those evil emails with every bite.

Not surprisingly, whenever Tina and I want to cheer someone up we tend to try to accomplish the cheering with delicious foods. Sometimes cookies. Occasionally beer. Many times deviled eggs.

pumpkin sage filling

Recently my west coast cousin, Stephanie, was in town helping out with some family matters. Those who can read between the lines can figure out that “family matters” is a euphemism for some really freaking hard weeks that her, her sister, and their parents have had to go through. Needless to say, she was in need of a culinary escape to help balance all the “bad stuff.”

Cooper and Toph

Gratuitous picture of Toph and Cooper watching us cook. #dogcousins

We’re always trading Facebook likes at each other’s food, but we’ve never actually had an opportunity to cook and eat each other’s food together. So after enjoying a nice afternoon at a winery, we went back to our place to make Pumpkin Sage Empanadas to continue the culinary exorcism.

Pumpkin sage empanada

For many people, cooking can be as therapeutic as eating, so Tina was quick to put Stephanie to work as her sous chef. Which meant I got to take the day off (and by that I mean I had to go to the grocery store to pick up forgotten ingredients). Toasting almonds, opening cans, measuring, stirring. All seemingly insignificant tasks, yet all great therapy techniques to help ease the mind.

This recipe is also fitting since we discovered it after falling into an empanada kick spawned from a visit to San Diego’s Papa Luna’s (a post solely dedicated to this Pacific Beach spot coming soon). So, inspiration from the west coast fueled some comfort food for our west coast visitor. It was a perfect match.

Pumpkin sage empanada

The empanada crust recipe is one you’ll want to keep in your toolkit FOREVER. Yes, I know everyone says that about their crusts, but the buttery, flakiness is so good you’ll want to experiment by filling it with everything in your kitchen. We’ve had great success making apple hand pies and even spicy corn cotija empanadas. And you could even cram thanksgiving dinner into one, but fortunately Papa Luna’s has already done that.

Although this recipe’s filling might taste a little bit like autumn (aren’t you proud that I haven’t used the phrase “kick off fall with…”), these can be eaten year round. And are especially delicious right after a vacation to San Diego in which you have fallen in love with empanadas (We’ll see you again soon, Papa Luna).

pan_final

So, if you ever find yourself surrounded by evil spirits, whip up a batch of these empandas. I can’t guarantee they’ll actually scare the evil away (in fact it may be drawn to the scent), but at least you won’t be hungry.

Pumpkin sage empanada

PUMPKIN SAGE EMPANADAS WITH GOAT CHEESE

Makes 24 empanadas (Note:  The filling makes enough for about 48 empanadas, but we’re only making 24 with this recipe. Freeze the left-over mixture to use later, or make some ethnically confused enchiladas with it.)

This recipe is adapted from Give Me Flour’s Pumpkin Goat Cheese Pies. The dough is a real keeper. (seriously, WRITE IT DOWN) and you can experiment with the filling to try different variations.

Dough

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream (more if needed)

1.  Mix flour, salt, and butter in your favorite large mixing bowl. Get your hands dirty and combine the ingredients into a coarse meal, while ensuring that you can still see pieces of butter to facilitate maximum flakiness.

2.  Beat together the egg and heavy cream, then pour the liquid mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

3.  Using your fingertips again, make smooth circular movements to mix the dough, but DO NOT KNEAD. Continue mixing until the dough comes together, adding another splash of cream if necessary. It shouldn’t take long. If all worked out correctly, you’ll still see some pieces of butter and ribbons of cream in the dough.

5.  Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. (The dough can also be frozen for up to a month, simply let it thaw for 8 – 12 hours in your refrigerator before use.)

Filling 

  • 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup roasted chopped almonds
  • 4 oz feta or goat cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  In large sauté pan, brown the chopped onions in the olive oil. Toss in the sage and cook for a minute or so, then add the pumpkin, cayenne pepper, currants, and almonds. After mixing well, taste it and add salt and pepper to your liking. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

2.  Preheat oven to 350F˚.

3.  Place dough on a floured surface (we love our marble pastry board) and roll it out until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch scalloped biscuit cutter, cut the dough into circles. Place the dough circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4.  Place the pumpkin mixture in the center of each dough circle, followed by a dollop of the cheese. Next, fold the dough over and lightly seal the edges with your finger tips. We like to line one edge with egg wash or a bit of water before folding over to help with sealing. You want the empanadas to have an almost rounded edge after they’re done baking, so make sure not to press the edges together so hard that they’re flat.

5.  While you brush each with egg wash, have a friend help you make it rain sesame seeds on top.

6.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes; the empanadas will have a nice golden color.

7.  Let cool for a few minutes, then insert into your mouf.

Pumpkin sage empanada

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Reviews

How a microwave egg cooker changed my boss’s life forever

Medieval Egg ArtOnce upon a time (aka a few months ago) in a land far far away (aka Northern Virginia) I purchased a Nordic Ware microwave egg cooker. I can’t recall where I first heard about it. It’s one of those food devices that seems to have always been around, but never really gets much attention because its too busy doing house chores for its evil step sisters.

Despite the lack of promotion, I somehow noticed this lowly device hanging on a rack at the end of a supermarket aisle. It was all like, “Hey do you like eggs and saving time?”

I love eggs and saving time!

A Love of Eggs & Thyme: A Food MemoirA love of eggs and time* are literally the only two prerequisites needed to purchase this piece of plastic. (*Not to be confused with A Love of Eggs & Thyme, my to-be-published food memoir.)

The thing works well. In about a minute, my eggs were ready for consumption. Only one problem: COOKING AN EGG ISN’T ALL THAT HARD TO BEGIN WITH, nor all that time consuming. With just a touch more effort and a couple more minutes, I could have restaurant-quality fried eggs.

DAMNIT! I’d been gotten by the Marketing Gods again. Or had I?

Thoust Brunch Too HardI remembered that my office at work only has a microwave and toaster oven for heating food. So, as much as I’d love to make an omelette for a weekday lunch, it just wasn’t possible. (True story: I once used a quesadilla press to make omelettes at work. It worked surprisingly well, but the company next door complained because we were apparently brunching TOO hard.)

One afternoon, while I was making a rosemarino ham, white cheddar, egg sandwich, my boss entered the kitchen and was intrigued by my device. I explained to him how it worked and he waited to see how the finished product turned out. As I opened the lid, steam rose out from the perfectly cooked egg.

Like one of those Cinderella type stories where the prince instantly falls in love with a beautiful princess, my boss’s eyes were hypnotized and he was smitten.

Shortly after the kitchen meet-cute, he informed me that he had indeed purchased one of his own and that it met all three of his qualifications for a solid product: (1) It was cheap, (2) it worked as advertised, and (3) it was easy to use.

Eureka!He shared his excitement with everyone in the office, eager to spread the good word of the egg cooker. He’d proudly walk up to a co-worker and place the egg cooker on the counter. “Know what that is?” he would ask, his sermon cocked and loaded. He would then explain how the device worked, how it met his qualifications for a solid product, and even offer to email them a link to the product page on Amazon. His enthusiasm could be matched by a child in the 90’s on Christmas morning describing his or her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle (it’s Michelangelo of course).

Here’s the thing:  I don’t recall him ever showing this much excitement over anything…ever. So, based on the limited data I have on his excitement habits, I can only conclude that the microwave egg cooker is the greatest thing to ever happen to him. His wife seems nice enough, so I mean no disrespect to her, but the data doesn’t lie.

Needless to say, lunches at our office have never been the same and we’re clearly responsible for 90% of the microwave egg cooker sales in Virginia.

That’s the weird/awesome/surprising thing about food: It’s unpredictable. Every meal has a certain mystery and excitement to it. Every food device–no matter how simple–can bring out the child in us. When I casually threw it into my shopping cart, I never would have guessed that my boss would fall in love with this inexpensive piece of plastic and live happily ever after.

Nordic Ware Egg N Muffin

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Mouf Links

Mouf Links

Mouf links, Augie Carton, Pumpkin Noosa, Mind of  a Chef, Oteri Scale, Cooking Caveman

  1. Beer is Cuisine – Augie Carton (Tedx Talks) – Augie Carton (founder of New Jersey’s Carton Brewing) delivers a twelve-minute Master’s class in beer in this recent Tedx Talk. He challenges the audience to view beer not just as an alcoholic beverage, but rather an integral part of cuisine. For us beer novices, this is a great first step toward appreciating and exploring craft beers, while beer nerds are sure to enjoy Carton’s knowledge and culinarily scientific approach to beer making and tasting. (Shout out to @LipstickNLager for sending me the link!)
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  2. “Entering the Cave” (Cooking Caveman) – Although I don’t normally follow all the varying weight loss trends, I do enjoy reading personal stories of success based on diet changes. (Personally, I enjoy a good week of juicing every now and then, but I’ll save that for another post.) Screenwriter Jeff Nimoy started a food blog which provides a glimpse into the benefits of  the Caveman Diet (aka Paleo Diet) and how it has positively affected his life. For anyone who is unfamiliar with the Caveman Diet or is considering giving it a go, check out Jeff’s first post, then stick around for the recipes, Q&As, and other fun stuff. Oh, and even though he is a writer in Hollywood that doesn’t mean he wants to read your buddy-cop-sci-fi-adventure-family-comedy screenplay. But if anyone out there wants to read mine…
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  3. Ozeri Digital Food Scale (Amazon.com) – Yes, this is just a link to a scale, but stay with me. Until recently, I had only been measuring food with cups and spoons like a freaking moron. Then I came across a recipe that measured only by weight. I was forced to purchase this cheap little scale. Okay, I wasn’t forced (and I could’ve probably made Siri convert the measurements for me), but I thought it might come in handy for other future recipes. A few weeks after receiving this little guy (or gal…it’s really hard to tell the sex on  these things) and I wish ALL recipes provided measurements in weight. Part of it just feels cool, while part of it actually makes a whole lot of sense. At less than fifteen bucks, why don’t you already have one? And no, I do not get any kickback if you purchase it from Amazon, so go steal* one if you don’t have the money. *This blog does not condone stealing.
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  4. Season 2 of The Mind of a Chef on Netflix – We’re always a season behind everything since we watch in in “Netflix Time,” so it should be no surprise that we’re about a year late being excited about Season 2 of The Mind of a Chef. But, if you’re behind like us, GET REAL EXCITED. The first season followed David Chang and was a ramen-filled adventure that left us hungry for more after every episode. The second season continues the trend, with episodes this season split between Chef Sean Brock (McCrady’s and Husk) and Chef April Bloomfield (The Spotted Pig). Bloomfield’s excitement about food is inspiring, as she’s clearly not afraid to get her hands dirty (wait until you see the stuffed pig’s foot for two), while Brock’s heart clearly aches in search of good, soulful food. You’ll not only fall in love with the food, but each episode will end with you wanting to give the chefs a great big hug.  2015 Goal: Hug Sean Brock.
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  5. Pumpkin Noosa Yoghurt - I get tired of all the pumpkin hype generated this time of year (is it even Fall, yet?!). I enjoy a bit of pumpkin pie and a few pumpkin cheesecakes, but I’ve never really understood the Pumpkin Spice Latte parades. (Psst:  You can put nutmeg and cinnamon into your coffee all year-round.) I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find a new Noosa Yoghurt flavor (only available at Target). As a quick rundown, Noosa is the best yoghurt you can buy, period. And they don’t crank out a ton of new flavors like some of the other brands, so when they do, you have to savor the newness while it lasts. Is this pumpkin flavor any good? It’s like eating a pumpkin pie cheesecake with probiotics. If you want me to wait in line at a Starbucks, then ditch the latte and throw some Pumpkin Noosa in a grande cup. Extra whip.
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Travel

Five Things We Miss About New Orleans

Canal Street NOLA

View of Canal Street from the JW Marriott hotel.

FIVE THINGS?! We recently spent a long weekend in New Orleans, but even though it was a short trip, narrowing down everything we’ll miss about this unique city was no easy task. Hell, gumbo alone could take up all five spots (mental note for a future gumbo post…) And you can’t ignore the po’ boys. Or fresh Leidenheimer french bread. Oh, and Abita on tap!

Having been to New Orleans a few times, this list partially reflects some things that we consistently miss every time we fly back home. And aside from one item, we tried to avoid the obvious answers (ahem, G-U-M-B-O). With the exception of a trip outside the city to Gretna, most of these are in or within walking distance of the French Quarter, so it’s easy to relive all of these things within a day. And with all the food you’ll be eating, you’ll need to walk it off.

If you don’t mind the heat and aren’t afraid of hurricane season, flights and hotels are pretty reasonable in August (about half the price as they are in late fall). But don’t forget to pack an umbrella, as there’s a good chance you’ll see a few brief rain showers during your late summer visit. And bring a pocket full of dollar bills–Not for the cavalcade of strip clubs on Bourbon Street, but for the street performers, homeless, and vendors at the French Market.

1.  Chocolate Pecan Crunch at Dickie Brennan’s Bourbon House Bourbon House on Urbanspoon
This dessert from Bourbon House‘s Sara Toth won gold prize at the 2014 New Orleans Food & Wine Festival. One medal doesn’t seem like enough for this rich, salty, sweet, crunchy, smooth, dessert that is almost impossible to describe with words and pictures alone. The inside includes layers of chocolate mousse, crispy pecan brittle, caramel, and a chocolate crust. All topped with rich chocolate ganache and pecans, served with fresh whipped cream and strawberries. We were too full to finish it at the restaurant, but that didn’t stop me from wrapping it up and shoving the leftovers in my carry-on bag. Two days and 1,055 miles later it was still worthy of a gold medal.

0pecan

And the award for the best dessert of the trip goes to…

2.  Merchant Merchant on Urbanspoon
Yes, we’ve already dedicated an entire post to Merchant, but it’s worth repeating. For a break from the noise of Bourbon Street, stop by Merchant for good coffee, crêpes, and friendly staff. And don’t forget to grab an almond croissant for the plane ride home (sorry, United, for all the powdered sugar on seat 9B).

Fork and knife bench

It’s a fork and knife bench! (@ Merchant)

3.  Chargrilled Oysters
Okay, yes chargrilled oysters are pretty common in NOLA and it’s almost superfluous to even include them on the list. However, every single time we go to New Orleans, one of our first meals includes them and it’s one of the first dishes we miss when we return home. And as a little bit of a #FoodPSA, I want to note that even if you THINK you don’t like oysters, you should still give them a try, ’cause you haven’t had any like this. Of course if you’re allergic you should use common sense…but it might be worth it…

Bourbon House Oysters

Chargrilled oysters from Bourbon House

4.  Beignets from Café Beignet Cafe Beignet on Urbanspoon
Standing in a sweaty line at Café Du Monde for beignets and a café au lait holds an iconic place in many peoples’ hearts. But honestly, if you want to avoid the crowd and (dare I say it) find better beignets, then check out Café Beignet. Everything also feels a lot less manufactured than at Café Du Monde, plus one of the locations is next door to a police station, so it’s most likely the safest place to enjoy a beignet (insert joke about cops stealing your beignets).

Cafe Beignet

Beignets are even good in a hotel room. Look at that sexy green carpet.

5.  Three Happiness Restaurant Three Happiness Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Technically, Three Happiness Restaurant isn’t in New Orleans, but it’s only about 15 minutes outside of the city in Gretna, LA. We have pretty solid Vietnamese food in Northern Virginia, but you simply can’t beat Vietnamese food in the New Orleans area. With a huge Vietnamese population (Tina’s family being some of them!), Louisiana has some of the best Vietnamese food you’ll find in the Western hemisphere. If you need an expert’s confirmation of this, check out Season 11 of Top Chef. The food at Three Happiness Restaurant was delicious (no really, seriously delicious), but it was the good vibes from the owners that made it truly unique. Their hospitality was so genuine that you felt like you were eating in their own home. Highlights included the crispy egg rolls (wrapped in lettuce and basil and dipped in nước chấm), tender cubes of ribeye sauteed in butter, and a seemingly never ending seafood hot pot with shrimp so fresh they were still wearing mardi gras beads.

Egg Rolls

I ate every single one of those egg rolls.

Runner-Up:  JW Marriott New Orleans
Also, as a “runner-up,” I want to give a shout out to the JW Marriott on Canal Street. The hotel’s location was perfect for accessing the French Quarter, while also not being right in the middle of all the action (because it’s nice to be able to sleep a little bit). The hotel food wasn’t anything memorable (especially for the steep prices), but it was fine if you needed a quick bite or late night room service snack. The rooms were clean and the staff was friendly (except for one condescending guy). The bellhops were all awesome and took care of us and our luggage like we were BFFs. So, we would definitely recommend JW Marriott for its cleanliness, friendliness, and location.

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Reviews, Travel

Merchant | New Orleans

Merchant New Orleans

Ah, New Orleans. As we learned from our recent trip back to the Big Easy, some things never change. From the second you step foot in the French Quarter, it’s as if the city grabs you by the Mardi Gras beads and continually blasts jazz into your ear, while force-feeding you seafood, butter, and alcohol (I say this lovingly and as one of the positive aspects of the city). It’s an exhaustively fun experience that I don’t believe is replicated anywhere else in the country.

But as much fun as the debauchery of Bourbon Street is, everyone needs a break (especially that one guy we saw being carried into our hotel by his bros–he knows what I’m talking about). Everyone needs a quiet place to relax, enjoy some coffee, and reflect on the mistakes that were made the night before.

That place is Merchant, a small, zen-like crêpe shop just a few blocks from the French Quarter.

Veg Crepe

Veg Crêpe – squash, zucchini, fennel, cucumber, beet pesto, goat cheese, spinach

Before you even order your food, you’re met with a strikingly clean, modern design. Its serene design fits the calm atmosphere—a welcome change from the noise outside. And despite what could be a cold, sterile environment, the southern hospitality shines through and provides a warmth from the friendly staff.

The menu (which is updated based on seasonality of ingredients) mirrors the simplicity of the shop’s design, while having the complexity to make you feel as if you couldn’t get the same food anywhere else in the city. And although you can find illy brand coffee elsewhere, it’s hard to beat the capable hands of the Merchant baristas. 

It will come as no surprise that this beautifully designed coffee house is co-owned by architect, Marcel Wisznia, and illy coffee distributor, Rosario Tortorice Jr. Surprisingly though, Wisznia did not design the shop, rather it was Ammar Eloueini, a Tulane professor and world-renowned designer. 

Coffee
I enjoy my coffee sweet and creamy (and always with whip), but for some reason while at Merchant it just feels right to order an unsweetened cappuccino. No syrups or several ounces of sugar needed. An iced cappuccino on a sweaty summer morning perks you up and quenches your thirst, while a hot cappuccino on a cool fall day warms your soul.

Sweet Crepe

Sweet Crêpe – fresh peaches, lemon juice, granulated sugar

Crêpes
A good crêpe is a beautiful thing. Its popularity and simplicity has spawned many chain shops pumping out overly thick, chewy, flavorless blankets of flour. Not at Merchant. The crêpes here strike a perfect balance which help showcase the fillings. You can’t go wrong with any of their savory or sweet combinations, and although I’m typically drawn to any combination of Nutella, bananas, and berries that I’m offered, we’ve recently been wooed by the simplicity of a crêpe with granulated sugar and fresh squeezed lemon juice.

Egg Sandwich

Smoked Ham Sandwich – egg, speck, goat cheese, basil

Sandwiches
If you’re going to judge this place on anything besides crêpes, might I point you in the direction of one of their breakfast sandwiches. You can choose your own adventure as far as the bread choices, but how can you not take advantage of the quality croissants available (thank you, French influence!)? As if a buttery, slightly crisp croissant alone wasn’t enough, Merchant’s options include toppings you might find at a local farmer’s market (because most of them ARE) fresh basil, arugula, turkey, speck, fontina, soppressatta, other seasonal specials. However, the real pinnacle of breakfast deliciousness is created through the egg. A perfectly fried egg with a golden runny yolk satisfies not only your tastebuds, but also your heart.

So if you’re looking for a place to relax and forget about the prior night’s public vomiting, throbbing music, and constant barrage of gentlemen who want to guess “where you got your shoes,”  head to Merchant for a cappuccino, egg sandwich, and lemon crêpe. It may not cure your hurricane hangover, but it’s a great start.

You can find a sample of Merchant’s menu online, but also check out the Merchant Facebook page for updates on events (like coffee classes from master baristas) and food specials.

Merchant on Urbanspoon

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