Monday, August 27, 2012

Cooking Korean at Home

Last week before grocery shopping, I made a tentative plan of dinners I would make during the work week. Usually I'm not that organized, but it did help me make more concise shopping lists. The husband and I enlist a divide and conquer approach to shopping at Super H Mart. By splitting the list, we can navigate the produce area much faster. When we go on Friday nights, we can also avoid the crazy super crowded weekends.
 Vegetables and spice mix for yukejang.
Bean sprouts, green leaf tips, daikon, carrots, mushroom, onion, scallions.
 Boiled beef brisket with vegetables in a spicy beef broth.
 Seasoned vegetable toppings for bibimbap.
Spinach, bean sprouts, yellow squash, carrots, mushrooms and kimchi.
 Rice is topped with the vegetables with kochujang.
 Boiled homemade pork, chive and cabbage gyoza.
Boiled homemade shrimp, chive and scallion dumplings.
While the husband was busy working over the weekend, I made the dumplings by hand. While it's a whole lot faster and easier to just buy a package of frozen dumplings at Super H Mart, I prefer making my own when I have the time. I can control what goes into the dumplings, making sure to put in flavorful ingredients, and leaving out the weird preservatives you may find in premade versions. I haven't ventured to make my own dumpling skins yet, but one day soon I'll experiment.
This time I made the shrimp dumplings by grinding up the raw shrimp in a food processor with ginger, lemongrass, garlic, chives, scallions and cilantro. Using the food processor helped create a much more uniform texture that cooked nice when the dumplings were boiled in water. The pork version included scallions, chives, napa cabbage, ginger, garlic, soy and ground pork. After folding the dumplings, I freeze them on a cutting board in a single layer for awhile before placing them in freezer bags.  

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Faccia Luna Old Town

One of the closer restaurants, other than our pho joint, that I quite like is Faccia Luna. I've never tried any of the sandwiches, only a small selection of the pizzas, and only a few of the pastas since most of the pastas have a heavier cream sauce or stuffed with cheese. What I have tried, I've enjoyed. 
 Antipasto plate
Proscuitto, salami, arugula, mozzarella caprese, grilled bread, parmigiano reggiano, kalamata olives and white beans with basil.
 house salad
 Capellini with tomato sauce and grilled spicy sausage
Sausage, mushroom, onion and roasted red pepper pizza.
It took willpower, but I managed to only eat two slices of pizza. I did eat leftover pizza for breakfast for the next two days. Good thing I've started working out at the gym before work while the husband is knocking out his Insanity workouts.

Mapo Nasu

I'm getting closer. It's summer time and we often pick up eggplants at Super H Mart. Since we cut back on our meat intake and ramped up the vegetable intake, I've been experimenting with making an authentically spicy Sichuan-style mapo-nasu. 
Instead of chucking in whole Sichuan peppercorns into the sauce, this time I ground the peppercorns. I used potato starch to make the sauce thicker. Still not quite there, but getting closer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cooking at Home

Relaxing at home after a good workout at the gum, I put in some time in the kitchen.
 Okonomiyaki with pork belly, cabbage and corn.
Beer Can Chicken with thyme, oregano, basil and rosemary.
 2 hours after roasting in a 350F oven. 
Orzo with cherry tomatoes, sundried tomatoes and cucumber with red wine vinaigrette.

Pretty People Vintage is pretty awesome

Generally when I think of shopping for special occasion dresses, or to pick up something new at a bargain price, I wait for sales at Ann Taylor or department stores. This time, I decided to shop local in Old Town. Originally I meant to check out Current Boutique, but no one arrived to open up the store on time.  Instead I  wandered down King Street and I noticed the sign for Pretty People Vintage off a side street.
 Owned by Annie Lee, formerly a partner at Annie Creamcheese in Georgetown, this cute townhouse has a selection of modern and vintage clothing and accessories. I saw a bunch of acute vintage cowboy boots that I'll check out again my next trip.
Cute new dress
While I was looking for some outfits to wear to upcoming weddings this autumn, I didn't find anything that jumped out at me. Instead, I found a cute patterned dress to wear to work. Might look nice with some cowboy boots and a red clutch.

Los Tios brunch

We headed out Saturday morning to Old Town so the husband could get a haircut and I could go window shopping. After shopping, we debated between brunch, tacos and Italian for lunch. Since we had to go shopping out in Tyson's Corner, we ended up headed up to Del Ray. Taqueria Poblano was crowded, so we went to Los Tios instead. We've never gone to Los Tios for brunch before, but they have a variety of egg dishes.
  Chorizo con Huevos 
Chorizo sausage and two sunny side up eggs on a bed of vegetables with potatoes and rice.
Tipico Rancheros 
Tortillas topped with beans, ranchero sauce, two fried eggs, chorizo, fried plaintains, rice and potatoes.

Friday, August 17, 2012

I love sandwiches

We've been dieting, in a way, trying to eat more vegetables and less meat. After a few days of being healthy, my inner sandwich-lover took over and I had to pick up up a sandwich from my favorite lunch spot near the office.
Axian turkey, bacon, Swiss cheese sandwich on marbled rye.
Axian has some of the best rye bread. While I remember their bacon being thick-cut and savory, this time it was thinner and not as satisfying. Apparently Axian also did away with their sandwich deal that included free chips or steak fries.

Pulpo in Cleveland Park

Cleveland Park has a slew of different restaurants. While the Cleveland Park outpost of Tackle Box relatively was short-lived, the space was reconfigured into a new place owned by the same people who run Floriana on 17th Street NW. Pulpo is a Spanish tapas restaurant that offers a variety of small plates and overpriced libations. With two lovely ladies, I tried out the restaurant to see how it measures up to Jaleo, Estadio and  Boqueria.
 Trio of ceviche and grilled vegetables with romesco sauce.
The ceviches included shrimp, tuna with mango and scallops. The ceviches were bright in flavor with a nice kick of heat from jalapenos. I would recommend this the most out out of all the dishes we tried. The vegetables had a smokey flavor, but the romesco sauce did not add as much of a punch as expected.
 Seared tuna with haricot vert, fingerling potatoes and cherry tomatoes with a spicy brava sauce.
I felt the potatoes were slightly undercooked. I would have preferred the potatoes cooked a little more or even roasted to provide a different flavor and textural profile to the dish. The tuna underwhelmed me as well, missing a sear on all sides. Perhaps a slice of lemon could have added a much needed acidity.
 Patatas Bravas with aoili sauce.
This was one of the few hot dishes we ordered. Well-executed, this was my second favorite dish.
 The signature pulpo (octopus) dish.
The octopus is braised first, then finished on the grill. The octopus was still tender but missing a nice char from the grill, which would have elevated the dish. The potatoes on top of the mustard greens had a banana flavor that confused me at first. In hindsight, we chose too many dishes with potatoes.
Buenelos de Bacala (salt codfish fritters)
The mixture of salt codfish and potato was nicely done, but the fritters had the consistency and texture of a tater to. The aoili sauce paired well with the fritters, and presentation was clean and well-executed. I prefer the versions I've tried at Jaleo  and Boqueria.
I think the biggest disappointment was the markup of my selection of wine. I love the crispness of Spanish white wines, especially Albarino. I also know the general price point of this wine, and 2 glasses at $24 when the bottle retails for about $18. On a positive note, the service was good. Our waiter did a nice job of keeping our water glasses refilled, and did a nice job of gauging how much interaction our table wanted with him. Our order of tapas was spaced out well too, avoiding overwhelming our table with too many dishes arriving at once and allowing us to taste and evaluate each at our leisure. One thing I thought was odd, it's Restaurant Week and Pulpo is participating, but our waiter did not mention the special at all.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Making Jjambbong at Home

Jjambbong is one of my favorite Korean-Chinese dishes. I love the spicy broth, the mixture of vegetables and seafood, and the long noodles. Super H Mart has a frozen mix which we used to buy, but when you check out the sodium levels, it's just too high. I decided I'd make my own version at home and loved the results. You must pick up frozen Korean noodles to make it taste right, although some recipes say regular Italian pasta would work.
 Spicy broth based on ginger, scallions, soy sauce, Korean chili powder, kochujang, dash of fish sauce and anchovy broth. Add cabbage, onion, red pepper, zucchini, mushroom, sliced pork belly and mixed frozen seafood.
 Bring the soup to a boil and then let simmer while the noodles are cooking.

Amusing Super H Mart Snacks

During our weekly grocery store trip to Super H Mart in Fairfax we always end up the snacks and candy aisle. I think it may be my husband's favorite aisle. Since he's dieting and exercising more, we haven't picked up anything naughty, but we still window shop. Some of the names of the snacks make me chuckle, so I had to share. Here's the best of the worst:
 Kook Hee cookie
 OhYes...Oh No...
These look like fingers.
 Freakish face on the O!Karto! bag.
 Ahhh...who wants a snack in the shape and flavor of a chicken drumstick? Not it.
Kancho...aka the worst thing a foreign teacher in Japan could experience in an elementary school.

Pho Deluxe in Fairfax

After our final golf lesson in Kingstowne, we needed to find a lunch spot before our weekly Super H Mart trip. I sit through the hour-long lesson smelling egg and brunch dishes and fantasizing about Eggs Chesapeake as I whiff golf ball after golf ball. By the time to decide what to eat for lunch, I'm no longer craving brunch. We found a new pho joint in Fairfax, and it's a step up from our neighborhood spot in terms of decor and has a much more extensive menu of Vietnamese favorites.
 Summer Rolls with pork and shrimp
 Fresh pho toppings
 Small pho with top round steak
Fully Loaded
Located near Lotte, it's a cute little pho and more restaurant. There's bun dishes and plenty of different appetizers. I like that there's also beer and a bar. Great lunch stop on the way to Super H. One downside, the broth is super salty and I fell asleep on the drive home from the salt coma. 

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sichuan Jin River in Rockville

Last summer we ventured up to Rockville despite the warnings from REM to try out a different Sichuan restaurant, Sichuan Pavilion, which was not related to the K Street joint near our offices. It was super fiery and incredibly popular, but the a/c was broken during that sweltering July visit. Scarred by the hot room and distance, we hadn't returned until last Friday.
Now called Sichuan Jin River to remove confusion, the food is the same spicy, hot Sichuan I remembered, the prices are good and the portions are large. Fortunately the a/c was working this visit. We arrived right before 7 pm, and beat the lines. After a 7-10 minute wait, our number was called and we were shown to a table. We ordered our Sichuan favorites to compare how SJR stacks up to Sichuan Pavilion on K Street, Hong Kong Palace in 7 Corners and Great Wall.
 Dan Dan Noodles ($4.50)
Spicy and great flavor. The noodles look and taste like Italian pasta. I prefer the noodles at Sichuan Pavilion which are thinner and served with more sauce, although they do not offer a small size. The best version I've tried so far is found at Great Wall on 14th Street.
 You need to toss the noodles and sauce together to evenly coat the sauce.
 This is my husband's job, he has a great technique to thoroughly mix all of the flavors together.
 Chicken in spicy sauce 
The chicken is cold, and this was my least favorite item. The husband loved it, and the leftovers in our refrigerator are all his.
 Zhong pork dumplings in a spicy sauce
After you toss in the spicy sauce, add a dash or two of the vinegar to perk up the flavors.
 Mapo Tofu with beef
Fantastic. I'm still working on learning the flavor profile to make mapo at home, and and this is a great version to study. The mala numbing, spicy and floralness of the Sichuan peppercorn is addicting. I put the leftovers on top of ramen noodles to make mapo ramen. Definitely recommend.
 Sliced beef with vegetables in spicy sauce.
I love the steamed beef in spicy sauce at Sichuan Pavilion, and this is a close rendition, but definitely oiler. This had the perfect level of spiciness for me, and the vinegar bites of cabbage were good. Add some cabbage to the leftovers to freshen up the dish.
All in all, Sichuan Jin River is a good Sichuan restaurant. If we lived in or closer to Maryland, I could see a compelling reason to go there. Since we work a block away from Sichuan Pavilion and live a short-ish drive from HKP, it's not going to be in the top 3 list of Sichuan restaurants for us. Our visit here reaffirmed the need to return to Great Wall on 14th Street. They have a much more limited menu for Sichuan dishes, but they do our favorite dishes very well.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Coastal Flats in Fairfax

We had a busy day after our golf lessons. Instead of hitting up our regular pho joint, we ventured out towards Fairfax Town Center to buy a blender (which didn't work), and have lunch before seeing the Batman movie at the IMAX theater in Chantilly. We ended up at Coastal Flats in Fairfax Corner. 
He ordered a cheeseburger.
It looks decent, although a skinny burger patty. Unfortunately, the burger was over-salted and he didn't like his choice.
I chose a lobster roll with sauteed spinach instead of the roasted corn.
The lobster was cut in nice chunks. 
Service at Great American Restaurants follow a formula, with an extreme emphasis on customer satisfaction. It was a little creepy to see the staff walk over and plaster on a super fake smile as they interacted with their guests. 
In hindsight, we should have just gone to pho or kabob place, or even to the nearby Chipotle for burrito bowls. Oh well, chalk this up with the Uno Restaurant experience. We need to remember to stick with what we know, or to the ethnic restaurants where a subpar meal doesn't cost over $50 for two.