Monday, January 31, 2011


I'm not a morning person.  The allure of the duvet is much stronger than my desire to brave the cold morning.  This means I'm usually rushing about in the morning to get ready for the commute to work.  Today we decided to head in a little later than normal and I unexpectedly had time to make us breakfast at home.
Mushroom and pepperjack cheese mini omelet, half an orange, mini cinnamon raisin bagel toasted with cream cheese, and a bowl of tonjiru miso soup.  With a warm and full belly we set off to face the day. 

Pho 75 in Rosslyn

My boyfriend was volunteering for a Japanese festival all day and I was left to my own devices.  For the past few weeks I have been slowly sorting and making piles of items to donate, items to pack in boxes, and items to dispose of immediately.  After completing the books and one closet, it was time for a break.  Wandered up the street to Pho 75 for a comforting bowl of pho.  Unfortunately I hit peak hours and had to wait in line for a while for a seat.  It was worth the wait.
 Large #12
Fresh basil, bean sprouts and thin slivers of jalapeno.
 Lovely noodles.
Add a little dark miso, sriracha and toss the bean sprouts in the hot broth.  I think Pho 75 has one of the best, delicate but flavorful broths.  Cash-only, cafeteria-style room, definite neighborhood gem.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Japanese at Home

My boyfriend and I are trying to be more economical with our food expenditures, cook more meals at home and eat less processed foods.  This means I need to think about what we're eating for dinner and lunch bentos for the week before we head to the store.  I planned to make meals that take less prep time during the week, and the more time-intensive ideas on the weekend.  Tonight's dinner was a return to Japanese meals and included leftover soon dubu and hamul pajeon from last night's Lighthouse dinner.
 I have fancy lacquerware bento boxes I picked up at Ching Ching Cha in Georgetown.  The boxes help set the mood and presentation.  I also have lacquerware covered soup bowls I received as a gift from my Board of Education Office colleagues in Japan.
 Leftover soon dubu (spicy tofu soup) from Lighthouse Tofu in Annandale.
Hamul pajeon (seafood pancake), tonkatsu (fried pork) on cabbage and bell pepper, brussel sprouts with bell pepper, umeboshi with kyuri, and Japanese potato salad.

Dim Sum brunch = big nap later

Organized a dim sum gathering for a grad school friend's birthday at Mark's Duck House. Our table looked like the Model UN and included two dim sum novices who preferred vegetarian items.  One might have caved and tried a shrimp dish or two.  I had heard that bacon was the gateway to meat for vegetarians, but maybe it's shrimp dumplings at dim sum.   Dim sum is a great group dining option that becomes more economical the more people you can gather together.  There's also something fun about sharing bites and good conversation between sips of hot tea. Learned the merits of dandelion tea today too as a foil for the grease. 
We had gai lan, baby roast pork, stuffed crab claws, baby clams in black bean sauce, chive and shrimp dumplings, har gao, vegetable dumplings, chicken feet, vegetable noodles, turnip cake, spring rolls, shumai, shrimp in crepe noodle, sesame balls, mini egg custard tarts and a few others. 
I had everyone meet for the first seating at 10 am.  In hindsight, we could have met a bit later, but it was definitely nice to not have to wait for a hour for a table.  Love watching the carts passing by too.  There's a sense of anticipation and wondering what the next cart will hold.  The only downside about dim sum at Mark's is their lack of congee.   The birthday boy shared a bit of wisdom too...Why do people balk at eating chicken feet but eat pork butt without a second thought?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Day Lunch

Luckily my boss decided closing the office yesterday was a good idea.  That was definitely influenced by the three hours it took him to drive 2 miles last night.  My boyfriend's office was also closed and we had a super relaxing "lazy bear" snow day together.  We watched Lie to Me and Modern Family episodes on Hulu while wrapped up in blankets.  
Scavenging through the freezer once more, I found a small frozen cheese pizza.  Baked the pizza and topped it with some arugula.  We split the pizza in half and with an orange each, it was a nice snow day lunch.

Yasai Tappuri Miso Ramen

I love ramen.  Another freezer staple I like to keep on hand is a package of fresh ramen.  I'm a big fan of tonkotsu and miso since I lived in western Japan, and my boyfriend prefers shoyu because he's from Kanto.  Next time we head to Super H I'll have to pick up a bag of shoyu-flavored ramen. 
There have been so many changes lately in the ramen world, with tsukemen becoming popular, Tokyo ramen shops gaining cult status and novel fusion bowls like green curry and tom yum ramen.  Next trip to Japan I really want to visit the Ramen Museum in Yokohama to try some different styles.
Yasai-tappuri miso ramen.  Pretty much an "everything but the kitchen sink" bowl.  I included sauteed onion, mushroom, carrot, celery, green beans and arugula to a boiled egg and the noodles.  The arugula was unexpectedly good.  It's nice to find a way to use up all the odds and ends of our vegetables for the week.

Slushy Snow Storm + Rush Hour = Madness

I think I was too complacent about Wednesday's storm forecast. Unfortunately multiple factors combined to create a massive headache as people struggled to make it home from work.  Fortunately we had taken metro to work so we were not stuck in traffic for hours.  The only hiccup was the shuttle had stopped running, so we were forced to walk through the slushy snow.  Would have been much better in proper snow boots, but I was woefully unprepared.  
 We made it home safely together.  After a hot chocolate and a hot bath, it was time to decide what to eat.  I like having a package of frozen seafood, frozen shrimp or frozen fish from Trader Joe's in the freezer for times like this.  Some onion, mushroom, celery and carrot along with the seafood mix helped make a robust pasta fra diavolo.
Picked up a bottle of single malt scotch this week in recognition of Burn's Day.  The owner of the liquor store on 32nd and M Street recommended Tomintoul as an alternative to Macallan 10.  Very smooth and perfect for sipping while watching a little HGTV and relaxing during the storm.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Kaz Sushi

Some restaurants you like for a while, but they fall out of the regular rotation.  I used to love Kaz Sushi Bistro in early 2003.  The Asian short ribs in the bento box were meltingly tender and flavorful, and the sushi combinations were inventive.  But then price point and atmosphere seemed so much livier and relaxed at Sushi Taro so I stopped going to Kaz.  Fast forward a few years past Sushi Taro's major renovation, concept change and price increase.  It's birthday time for my sushi-loving friend and we needed a good place to celebrate.  Sushi Ko in Glover Park is just inconveniently located, especially on bitterly cold winter evenings.   Since we were going after work, I made a reservation at Kaz.  
 Age-dashi Tofu ($5).  Good but I like
the dashi to be hotter.
 Coriander-Crusted Calamari Salad with a Ginger Dressing ($8).
Assortment of sushi. 
Yellowtail-scallion maki ($6.50), salmon-jalapeno maki ($5.25), spicy tuna maki ($5.25) and ume-shiso maki ($4).
Tuna tapenade nigiri ($6) and seared Albacore tuna w/ chili-daikon nigiri ($6). 
Kaz uses koshikari rice, which is cooked and seasoned well, and the portion size of both rice and fish is done correctly.  Definitely the best sushi I've had in awhile.
The evening started out nicely.  We ordered some hot sake and caught up.  Everything on the menu sounded good to me, and we decided to share appetizers and sushi, which is one of my favorite ways to eat with friends.  Then a loud, inebriated couple sat down nearby.  It was like a car wreck in progress. You know you shouldn't look, but you're compelled to see what happens next.  A regular customer came in, gave the waitress a hug and put his fedora on her.  The gentleman next to us seemed to have a nice time surreptiously watching us watch the drunken antics across the room.  It was almost like dinner theatre.  If only there had been a mute button.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Ren's Ramen Return?

Gas, tolls and drive to NYC makes a bowl of ramen at Ippudo quite pricey.  Satisfying, but pricey.  NYC teems with ramen shops, but DC is sorely lacking.  When I want a good bowl of noodles in the area, I end up ordering pho, curry laksa or jjambbong.
Luckily the tiny ramen shop that was tucked away next to the now closed Daruma in Bethesda will be reopening this spring in Wheaton. Despite the distance, my boss and I would make a lunch run every now and then. They had a nice ton-shio, a shoyu and a miso version with noodles sourced from Hokkaido.  They even had a yasai tappuri ramen with a vegetable broth.  Their hanjuku egg was worth the add-on fee, but the pork didn't hold a candle to the marbled chashu I've had throughout Japan.

My favorite food board,, had a recent update that the Nakamuras found a location and are busy renovating.  Looking forward to checking them out this springtime at 11403 Amherst Avenue in Wheaton.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Roast Chicken Dinner

I love cooking for my boyfriend.  He is willing to try anything and thinks everything tastes great.  It's wonderful to cook for someone who's so appreciative and open-minded.  Usually he lets me decide what I feel like cooking, so when he makes a special request I pay attention.  He enjoyed our Thanksgiving dinner this year and was interested in a repeat.  Since it's easier to find chickens, I substitute roasting a chicken instead of turkey.  It's really the perfect meal for Sunday, when you have extra time to spend in the kitchen.  Plus we'll have some great leftovers for lunches this week.
 Arugula salad with fresh orange champagne vinaigrette.
 Roast chicken.  Lightly salted and roasted at 350F on top of onion and carrots.
 Mashed potatoes.
 Green Bean Casserole.  Fresh beans are quickly boiled and blanched in cold water.  Nice bright flavor.
Homemade stuffing.  Japanese-style bread is toasted in the oven, then mixed with celery, mushrooms, onions, herbs and chicken stock.  I also made some chicken gravy with the pan drippings and roasted onions and carrots in the roasting pan. 

Saturday Snacks with friends

I had a phone date with my best friend in Australia, so my boyfriend caught up with two friends at an art gala.  He invited his friends to come over afterwards for some wine and to hang out.  I made some nibbles to go along with white wine we had picked up earlier at Trader Joe's.  Judging by the splitting headache I had this morning, I should have made a bit more to eat.  Really great to chat with my friend for a few hours and meet my boyfriend's friends afterwards.
 Smoked trout dip with horseradish.  Flake 1/2 pound of smoked trout.  Mix with sour cream, mayonnaise, diced onion, horseradish and pepper.  Next time I'll add a bit of lemon zest to make the flavor pop.
 Spinach and artichoke dip. My boyfriend said he didn't understand why Americans like this dip so much.  I was determined to make one that would change his mind.  Frozen spinach and artichokes from TJs with cream cheese, sour cream, diced onion and pepperjack cheese.  Hot and creamy, it was great spread on the fresh-baked baguette.
Some marcona almonds, pistachios and grapes rounded out our nibbles.

Hank's Oyster Bar in Old Town Alexandria

Friday night was date night.  After a long work week with late nights at the office, we went out to dinner at Hank's.  It's Restaurant Week in Alexandria, but we decided to indulge in some raw oysters and share some dishes along with a cold bottle of pinot grigio.  Hank's has a nice and laidback atmosphere that we enjoy, and some great seafood.
 Caesar salad with anchovies.
Lobster roll with fries. Larger chunks of lobster towards the bottom of the buttered bun.
Fried oyster po'boy with coleslaw.  Super plump and delightful oysters in a buttered bun.
We shared everything and it was nice to have a bit of chilled lobster roll as well as the warm fried oyster po'boy.  Wonderful way to end the week with my favorite guy.

Friday, January 21, 2011

To Hellburger and Probably Not Back

North of Rosslyn on Wilson Boulevard there's a nice little cluster of restaurants.  Guajillo, Pho 75, Rays Hellburger and the second Rays with interesting meats.  A friend works down the street and confessed she has never been to Hellburger. I thought that was unbelievable.  However, after my latest excursion, next time I'll follow her lead and just go to Pho 75. 
The boyfriend loved his burger and said it was juicy, spicy and a beefy explosion.  He said that it's no t-bone steak, but it was satifying.  Mine was blah and not worth cheating on my diet.  Overcooked and dry in areas but oddly pink in others, not juicy, not flavorful and cold toppings.  My side of mac and cheese was lukewarm at best, and don't get me started on the sub-par bun.  I was surprised when our order came out relatively quickly, and even the photos do not look nearly as gorgeous as previous visits.  Soul Burger #1 back in August versus January.  Where's my lettuce and tomato slice? 
 The Big Punisher - covered in a spicy green garlic sauce.
Soul Burger #1.
My favorite food since 1995 has been a bacon cheeseburger.  Ask any of my former students in Japan. I've waxed profound about the merits of a Palena truffled cheeseburger, mentally compared the incarnation at 5 Guys to Clyde's, Chadwick's, Boulevard and Whitlows, and even enjoyed a fancy rendition at the Ritz Carlton.  But I think my love affair may have run its course.  This bumps ramen up to the number one seed, but I'm willing to audition some other contenders.  I'm still searching for a new favorite sushi joint and a close but authentic dim sum place too.  Looks like lots more food adventures to come.

Jjambbong at Home

We picked up a frozen jjambbong kit on the last trip to Super H Mart.  It's great to have in the freezer for those cold winter nights when I'm home hours before my boyfriend.  With the addition of some frozen vegetables and shrimp, and some fresh red pepper, I had a fast meal that was easy to put together again later when the hardworking boy finally made it home.
 You can find this in the freezer section of Super H in Fairfax.  At $7.99 for 2 servings it's fine as is, or you can add whatever vegetables you have on hand to make a more robust bowl.
 The noodle package with frozen seafood, mushrooms and chili peppers.  A sauce packet is also included.
 We also had a some frozen mixed vegetables and shrimp in the freezer. 
 Bring 2 cups of water to boil, add the frozen vegetables and noodles.  Stir in the sauce packet.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tokyo Banana Omiyage

Tokyo Banana.  You either love it or hate it, but I think it's one of the best omiyage to receive other than fresh ramen.  You can find it in Tokyo Station or Narita airport among the omiyage stalls.  It's always a nice surprise when my former colleague visits DC for work and brings me a box of Tokyo Banana.
 Pretty wrapping and an odd poem decorate the cover.  “People gather to TOKYO with memories of their home. And then, Tokyo gets the everyone’s hometown. TOKYO BANANA.”  (The nonsensical Engrish is just another reason to love it.)
 Each one is individually wrapped.  Makes it easier to share.
Soft outside, like a Twinkie, with a delicate banana-flavored middle.

Cooking at home

We've been busy apartment hunting, and our big weekly grocery shopping has fallen by the wayside.  Fortunately if you have a decently stocked freezer and cupboards, you can still make something healthy that only requires picking up a fresh vegetable at the store.  My boyfriend picked up the vegetable while he was out running errands, and I defrosted a frozen salmon.
 Coat the salmon with a blackening spice mixture. Bake fish on parchment paper in a 400F oven for about 4-8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet.
With a brown rice medley, zucchini and a mango salsa, we had a light dinner.  

Maggiano's Tyson Corner

One night in Orlando, we tried to go to Maggiano's because my boyfriend had a craving for linguine with clam sauce.  We wandered in the crowded door at 9 pm and the brusque hostess said the wait was 2 hours.  We ended up going somewhere else down the street.  I feel like very few places are worth waiting that long for a table.  Friday we ended up driving to Tyson's to the nearest Maggiano's for a late dinner.  We were seated quickly, and the host even called me ma'am.  sigh.
 We started off with calamari and a small caesar salad.  I ordered the linguine with white clam sauce and the pasta was overcooked. 
My boyfriend chose the Classic Pasta Angel Hair with Sausage.  A surprising special was the inclusion of a choice of Classic Pasta to take home with you when you order from the Classic Pasta list.  When the pasta feeds two easily, it's a pretty good deal for the price.  Carmine's tastes better for family-style Italian-American, but pricewise, Maggiano's is a solid contender.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Kellari Taverna DC

It's a fabulous conundrum to choose a restaurant for lunch with your coworkers when someone else is treating.  My boyfriend asked for some suggestions with food, service and close proximity to their office being the most important parameters.  I suggested Tosca, Central, Blue Duck Tavern, Bourbon Steak, Ris or J&G.  Those were a little far, so they went to Kellari Taverna, the Greek fish restaurant on K Street. Kellari has a great Business Lunch special for $24.95 for 3 courses.
 Spanikopita - spinach, leeks and feta stuffed in phyllo dough.
Grilled Calamari
 Rockfish with polenta and rapini
Grilled Salmon - grilled fennel, roasted tomatoes
 Galaktoboureko - vanilla bean semolina custard with phyllo dough
Yogurt Cheesecake
These days with many offices cutting back on holiday parties, it was a lovely gesture by their coworker to take everyone out for lunch.  Sometimes I forget how lucky my boyfriend and I are that we work with really nice people.  I've been lucky to never experience the office mean girls or caustic bosses.   
All of the food was good and a perfect portion size for someone like me.  For my boyfriend, he could have used a little more I think. 

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Saturday Snack

We're apartment hunting.  After a few early morning tours, we ended up at a newly opened WalMart.  Say what you will about the destruction of small businesses by the monolith, but their bakery has some pretty tasty sandwich rolls.  My boyfriend needed a snack, so I picked up a few things to make him a lightened steak and cheese sandwich. 

Friday, January 7, 2011

Cooking Korean at Home

I'm an adopted Korean.  Cooking a mushroom lasagne with bechamel? No problem.  Cooking Korean foods? erm...  Luckily Annandale is close by with a lot of tasty, affordable and authentic Korean restaurants.  After trying out a good variety of dishes, I've become more familiar with the flavors and decided to tackle cooking a Korean meal.  I made bibimbap and gochujeon.
 Bibimbap Assembly.  You can use any vegetables you have on hand, the key is hot rice and kochujang (spicy red chili paste).
 Look how pretty.  Bean sprouts, marinated ground beef, mushrooms, bok choy and carrots.
 Top the bowl with a fried egg.  When you're ready to eat, mix everything up together.
GoChujeon - stuffed green peppers.
I picked up a bag of green peppers at Super H.  They looked like the spicy ones my boyfriend likes.  These were sweet though.  One day I'll read labels.  I found a recipe online for Korean stuffed peppers.  I slit the peppers, cleaned out the seeds, then put cooked spicy ground beef inside.  Dusted in flour, the peppers were cooked on a layer of egg, and steamed a bit like pan-fried dumplings.  The dipping sauce was soy with some rayu (chili sesame oil). 
My boyfriend loved it, and there was enough leftover to make 2 lunch bentos.  Since the Florida cookies and restaurant bonanza, we've been trying to eat lighter and more economically.  This was both.