Monday, July 26, 2010

Fontaine Caffe & Creperie

Dan and I had planned on going to brunch at Carlyle in Shirlington Saturday morning (they have fantastic brioche french toast that I love, but go early on a Saturday or Sunday because if you go later and it's been sitting it gets soggy and that's never a good experience). However, Friday night sometime the power blew and all of the restaurants and shops on the left hand side of the street (Carlyle, Best Buns, Guapo's, etc.) were still without power come Saturday, so, this gave us the opportunity to try something new.

I found Fontaine when walking down Royal Street in Alexandria a few weeks ago (drawn by the little sandwich board sign by the curb on King street); I instantly thought of my mother and mother-in-law because they both love crepes. This is not a Dan kind of place necessarily--he likes a hearty breakfast--eggs, bacon/sausage, pancakes, etc., but he was quite a good sport.

He ordered a bloody mary--I love tomatoes but I've never cared for cold tomato juice. They fresh squeeze their juice at Fontaine and it certainly looked tasty, just not up my alley.

I had every intention of ordering their Bella sweet crepe (with nutella and strawberries) but I saw brioche french toast on the brunch menu and thought I would give that a whirl instead. It was really rather tasty--the brioche got a bit brown on the edges and could have used a smidge more cinnamon in my opionion, but on the whole it was rather tasty.

Dan ordered the Norwegian savory crepe which had smoked salmon and caramelized onion. He loves a bagel w/ lox for breakfast so he was aiming for this flavor combo when ordering. It had a light clean flavor, but Dan missed the texture a bagel provides that a crepe lacks.

We will certainly return--great coffee--tasty brunch--quaint atmosphere. I think Dan will try the Breakfast Bruschetta and I'll go with the Bella :)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Office Cake

I just have to send a shout out THANK YOU for my wonderful co-worker K who made the gorgeous cake above for my office b-day party. It was a buttermilk cake w/ cream cheese/whipped cream frosting and strawberries...just like I used to have as a kid (same as my wedding cake actually!)

I was truly surprised and I am so grateful to have such amazing friends.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Crochet Class--Week One & Two--Single Crochet + Border

I spend a fair amount of time exploring downtown Alexandria. My parents own a small business so I have a healthy appreciation for mom & pop shops and I try to patron local stores as much as possible. One weekend while roaming around the quaint streets I stumbled upon a shop called Fibre Space (it used to be an adorable children's store when I used to live downtown). I was drawn in by the cute window displays and once inside I couldn't help but be intrigued.

I signed up for a beginners crochet class and went in with open eyes (and super soft yarn in circus peanut--basically peach--from Blue Sky Alpacas.) I found out later from my aunt that my Great Great Grandmother, Great Grandmother, Grandmother and my Aunt (all on dad's side) all crocheted.

My classes went well--the top photo is a swatch of single crochet stitches--it is just a practice swatch for my eventual blanket. The bottom photo is my practice swatch with the border--the spaces are meant for a ribbon to eventually be woven through--I'll update when I finish.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie

Our fabulous summer intern, SBW, had a birthday this past Friday (7/16) and his "cake" request was for a fruit dessert, more specifically apple pie or cobbler. I honestly cannot remember having ever made an apple pie--maybe when I was younger with my mom but nothing within reach of my memory.

If you have the time, I am a big proponent of homemade crusts--it gives the finished product the rustic look of a homemade pie and the texture and flavor cannot be easily matched.

After work I had a girls night out event from 7-9:30pm and so I didn't end up even starting the pie until after 10pm (he's a really great intern, otherwise I might have just bought a pie Friday morning!). I didn't realize until after it was too late (i.e. the pie was baked and cooling on my counter) that I hadn't actually peeled the apples...whoops! It ended up not mattering all that much, besides the peel is nutritious, so I was really just adding nutrients to the pie...erg right?

I had left over apples because I feared stacking them too high but in actuality--stack em up--they cook down so much that it is really better if you have more of a mound in the center, don't be shy, but definitely use a catch pan because when the juices bubble over it will be quite sticky--I used foil on my baking sheet because I don't like scrubbing pans.

The pie was a big hit; definitely best when microwaved for a bit and topped with a scoop of Haagen Das Vanilla Bean on top.

Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie


1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup frozen solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (mine was just "chilled) and it worked fine)
3 tablespoons (or more) ice water
1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar

3 1/4 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

CRUST: Mix flour, salt, and sugar in large bowl. Cut in butter/shortening until coarse meal forms. Mix the 3 tablespoons ice water and vinegar in small bowl to blend. Drizzle over flour mixture; stir with fork until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if dough is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 12-inch round. (It it a lot easier to do this if you start with a flat ROUND disk and roll out from here--also a french style rolling pin is also helpful but not necessary). Transfer to 9-inch-diameter pie dish (if you have a "deep dish" this would work well here. Trim overhang to 1/2 inch; turn edge under and crimp. Refrigerate while preparing filling and topping.

FILLING:Mix all ingredients in large bowl to coat apples.

TOPPING:Blend first 5 ingredients in a food processor. Add chilled butter cubes; using on/off turns, cut in until mixture resembles wet sand.

Toss filling to redistribute juices; transfer to crust, mounding in center. Pack topping over and around apples. Bake pie on baking sheet until topping is golden, about 40 minutes (cover top with foil if browning too quickly). Reduce oven temperature to 350°F. Bake until apples in center are tender when pierced and filling is bubbling thickly at edges, about 45 minutes longer. Cool until warm, about 1 hour. Serve with ice cream.

Blueberry "Thunder" Muffins

In college I worked at Kanakuk Kamps, a Christian Athletic Camp near Branson, Missouri. I absolutely loved kamp and every summer I miss going down. One food memory I have from camp are the Blueberry "Thunder" Muffins from Persimmon Hill Berry Farm (roughly 20 miles southwest of Branson). On change over days parents would bring muffins for the counselors and on days off we counselors would go to the farm to pick fresh berries for ourselves.

A surviving relic from my kamp days is the recipe for Blueberry "Thunder" Muffins from the little cookbook I bought my first summer from Persimmon Hill. These became one of my specialties in college--one could not make much in the small on campus apartments but muffins worked well.
Over the years I've tweaked the original recipe a bit but nothing really all that significant. With any baked good, you control the quality of the ingredients. I try and use fresh blueberries when they are in season because they are truly beautiful then--they have a sweet complexity in their peak--and even better straight from the sunny fields of a farm, that their grocery store cousins simply cannot match.

I love making these after I've had a rough day--baking is straight forward--if you use high quality ingredients and measure properly you will be rewarded with a beautiful product. Life is messy and unpredictable, baking is orderly and it makes me feel like everything is right again at the end of my day.
Blueberry "Thunder" Muffins
Adapted from Persimmon Hill Berry Farm

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk (original recipe calls for milk)
1 tsp. vanilla (I am generous with this)
2 to 2-1/2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
1 Tbsp. sugar (sanding sugar or turbinano works best for this)
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon + dash (I prefer ceylon)

1. Line a muffin pan w/ paper liners (I use an old tin called Muffinaire my mother-in-law gave Dan--it's not the best pan necessarily but it is a molded pan so it is SOOOOO easy to clean.) In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt (and dash of cinnamon for good measure); set aside.

2. Cream butter & sugar; add eggs one at a time (eggs need to be room temp) and vanilla (mixture will look slightly curdled). Alternate adding flour mixture and milk until just combined. Gently fold in blueberries.

3. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups (I use a mini ladle for this step), filling each nearly full. In a small bowl, combine the 1 tablespoon sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle sugar mixture over batter. (I am very generous with my cinnamon sugar--a crumble type topping would also be tasty here)

4. Bake in a 350 degree F oven 25 to 30 minutes (standard) or 35 to 40 minutes (Texas sized) or until golden and a wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Remove from pan; serve warm. Makes 16 standard or 6 jumbo muffins.

Remi plopped down on Dan's lap while I was baking...too cute, big dork.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Impromptu Lasagna

I've learned that my quarter Italian husband could pretty much eat pasta for any/every meal. So, when I have no creativity left on a weeknight, my go to dish is something related to pasta. In this vein I've also learned that when I make spaghetti sauce that I should make a giant batch so that I can stock my freezer with sauce.

This meal originated at the farmer's market (naturally). The Blue Ridge Dairy comes and sells fresh ricotta and mozzarella (along with a dozen other yummy varieties). So, In passing I noticed the ricotta. My half Italian mother-in-law has mentioned that when making lasagna the ricotta really does have a big impact....I remembered that I had pasta sauce in the freezer and my gorgeous basil on the counter and dried lasagna noodles in the pantry...decision made, ricotta and mozzarella purchased...we were going to do lasagna that week.

It turned out better than I expected. My "good lasagna" takes the better part of a day to make (I make the pasta from scratch--really easy to do--the sauce is what takes a while). The ricotta and fresh basil and mozzarella--this was fantastic!

This is a really rough recipe and I change it all the time so do what you want.
1-2pds Bulk Sweet Italian Sausage--or links w/ casings removed (I use sausage solely because Dan prefers sausage--you can use what you like--a mixture of beef/pork/lamb is what I would use if Dan weren't particular...I like Dan, so I aim to please)
1/2 onion diced (yellow/white/vidalia)
1 shallot or 2 garlic cloves
1 28oz can whole San Marzano tomatoes
1 28oz can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1/2 stick butter
1/4 cup fresh julienned basil
tomato paste
kosher salt
shaved carrot
Basically, I wing this sauce pending on what I have in the pantry at the time. I saute the sausage with the onion/garlic/shallot--then I add the tomatoes--a little tomato paste--the butter and then taste from there. Mushrooms/Bell Pepper would be nice too, again, it's a mush of what you want. A bit of shaved carrot cuts the acidity of the tomato & I use sugar/salt as needed.
1 container Ricotta (12-16oz)
1 egg
1/4 cup Parmesan Cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil julienned
I used the "no boil" variety of dried lasagna noodles (I was going for quick & easy weeknight meal here!)--sauce the bottom of a 13x9 pan and start layering with pasta/filling/sliced fresh mozzarella, parm, sauce, pasta, etc. until you reach the top of your pan--then basically cover with your remaining cheese.
Bake at 350 for 30-45 minutes covered in foil (put it on a cookie sheet just in case)--then take off the foil and brown the top 15-20 minutes. Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Friday, July 2, 2010

"German Green Stripe" Tomato Plants

Dan and I are trying our hands at container gardening. We have a postage stamp sized back yard but the soil quality is "poor" at best. Honestly, I've read a bit about gardening but I'm not entirely certain we are doing this correctly, considering we've never done this before.

Above are 3 of our German Green Stripe Tomatoes, which, according to the web it is a sweet juicy heirloom tomato with a "piquant" bite....if we get any fruit it should be a pale green color with a hint of yellow striping....we shall see!

We used an organic gardening top soil, then once we filled them all up and had them planted we noticed that the bag said the soil was not for containers??? Dan said it was fine--we're thinking maybe it meant not for "indoor" containers.

However, we've had these for about a month now and they look pretty much the same as when we purchased them...maybe we need a bigger pot.
Above is our lone non-potted plant (I thought that we had 3 plants when I went to the store for pots, only to discover that we actually had 4).
We will update with our progress, or if we end up replanting these babies. If anyone has any insight on this we'd love some good advice!

The Spice & Tea Exchange

I have highlighted spices from The Spice & Tea Exchange in the past few posts so I decided to bring my camera and take a few snapshots. Oddly enough, there was another girl in there doing the exact same thing when I arrived. The place can get pretty crowded on the weekends later in the afternoon; I would suggest stopping in on Saturday morning. They are right across from the Alexandria Farmers Market on the square off of King Street.

I had stopped in to buy Dan's Father's Day gift from Remi (he doesn't have thumbs...or I had to help him out...naturally!) We received a grill from his parents for our two year anniversary and ever since he studied in Spain in college, he has been talking about a mortar and pestle. Anyhow, Remi thought it might be nice to get Dan one so that he could make his own spice blends. Remi decided on a black marble one that had some cool engravings--we'll post it when Dan makes a good spice rub later this summer.

One thing that is fascinating to me are the chunks of Himalayan sea salt. Beautiful Pink craggy orbs. I always want to purchase one of these though I'm not really sure if it is even practical because I have no idea what I would use it on.

They encourage you to smell the spices (accept for the pepper of course) so that you can smell the differences between them all.

There is a wall of different types of salt--above is Cyprus Black Lava Salt--they have fleur de sel, truffle salt, whatever you may desire. They also have a wall of flavored sugars: lime, coconut, vanilla, espresso, etc.

According to a bit of research (and asking the lovely folks at the spice shop) there are two main types of cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is native to Southeast Asia (i.e. southern China and northern Vietnam) and has a strong, spicy-sweet flavor that most of us would recognize as "cinnamon".
Ceylon, or "true" cinnamon, has a more complex flavor and less bite in my opinion--I have come to prefer Ceylon with baking and it pairs well with fruit dishes.

In all, I have just begun to appreciate the value of fresh spices and having this little shop by me has been quite nice.