Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Kapnos

You probably thought I'd given up on the food blogging career. Au contraire, my friend.  Life outside of the blogging world has consumed me over the past month. Breathe has become my inner chant. First, it was the final chaos with school ending: end-of-year picnics, half-days off from school, soccer season tryouts and parties.  Then, we immediately set off to our place in the Outer Banks only to be hit with a broken air conditioner, leaks in the ceiling, and of course Hurricane Arthur.

Coming home has been a slow progression to life beginning to feel somewhat normal.  The ground has finally been broken on our new house (yea!) and we are preparing for the ultimate birthday present my wonderful husband could have ever given me...a dinner party with our guest chefs Mike Isabella and Bryan Voltaggio!!! Now, the stress level has risen again as these famous chefs are coming to my tiny kitchen in my only slightly bigger dining room, and we are having over a few friends to celebrate the occasion. Yikes!
Gary with Mike Isabella (left) and Bryan Voltaggio (right)

If you are a food lover and tune in to Bravo's Top Chef, you might recognize these names, especially if you live in the Washington, DC area.  Both chefs were in Season Six of Top Chef, Bryan Voltaggio was a runner-up in the finale.  Mike Isabella also appeared in Season 8's All-Stars, placing as the runner-up in its finale.  Both men own various restaurants in the Washington, DC area.  Bryan Voltaggio is the executive chef and owner of four restaurants: VOLT, RANGE, Lunchbox, and Family Meal. Mike Isabella is the owner/chef of Graffiato, G, and most recently Kapnos.  I can't express to you how giddy with excitement I am to meet these fabulous chefs. Of course, I will keep you posted with our preparations and the big event itself. It's a month away!

Seeing as though my birthday was coming up (and has since passed), Gary and I thought a nice treat and well-deserved date night would be to go to Mike Isabella's Kapnos restaurant located right off of U Street in DC.  Neither of us had ever been there before, and we were excited to check out what they had to offer.

Kapnos is a Greek-themed restaurant that offers a mezze style dining experience where you can order several different types of small plates to share with your table.  Suffice it to say we were a bit googly-eyed over our choices and of course ordered way too much food.  It's so hard to keep it small when there are so many exciting things to sample and try.

The atmosphere at Kapnos is contemporary and young (maybe it just seemed young because I am now officially in the over-40 club).  The interior is sleek and dark (thus the shadow-laden food pictures below), and the tables are placed close together. There is the option of sitting outside to do some people-watching with lots of walkers and trendy restaurants right in the area, but we opted to eat indoors.  The hostess and our waiter, Chris, were also sleek and young, but very friendly and knowledgable about the items on the menu.

Now, on to the menu.  As I said, Kapnos is described as being Greek-inspired, Northern Greece to be specific.  As a regular follower of my blog, you may have heard me say once or twice and maybe even three times that I adore Greek food.  However, what is my favorite type of food? You get a piece of baklava if you said Middle Eastern.  What I loved so much about the dishes we picked at Kapnos was that each dish seemed to pull the Mediterranean together from Greece to North Africa.  Classic Greek flavors were there, as you'd expect, such as feta, yogurt, lemon, and dill.  Yet, more flavors were added in to give typical Greek dishes a little flair and more depth such as sesame, chickpeas, and saffron.

We began the night with a choice of three spreads on the menu.  The first was called revithosalata, which consisted of chickpeas, tahini, and a sultan chutney.
Revithosalta
Melitzanosalata and Tyrokafteri Spreads from Kapnos
Melitzanosala (left) and Tyrokafteri (right)
We also ordered one of my favorite spreads of the night called melitzanosalata, a smoked eggplant puree with red peppers, walnuts, and feta.  A little mint was added on top.  It reminded me of baba ganoush without the tahini.  Goodness, I love eggplant.  The tyrokafteri was our third choice, a puree of smoked manouri cheese, feta, and grains of paradise.  With the warm and soft flatbread served with the spreads, I went to town and was already stuffed before our other plates even arrived. Gary said to put down the bread, but I couldn't. I just couldn't.  I had to try each spread on its own and then mix them all together and then mix two together at the same time.  By the way, the melitzanosalata with the tyrokafteri are perfect together.  I should know. The roasted eggplant and the tanginess of the cheeses with a taste of lemon gave it a nice salty bite with each mouthful.

Our next plate was tuna tartare.
Tuna Tartare from Kapnos
Nothing against the tuna tartare but it was my least favorite plate of the night. With a mix of yuzu (a citrus fruit from East Asia), harissa, and grilled avocado, the dish was good but I would never say it electrified the palate.  It was a nice cleansing plate before the next dish was served, but other than that it wasn't anything to write home about or write anything further in my blog, for that matter.

The tartare was quickly followed by two phyllo pies that we ordered: roasted duck and wild mushroom.
Mushroom and Roasted Duck Phyllo Pies from Kapnos
Phyllo Pies
We chose to skip the spanikopita because we've had that a dozen times and chose instead to try something completely different like the roasted duck with cress, cherries and pistachio yogurt and the wild mushroom with aleppo, golden raisins, and honey yogurt.  I will say the mushroom was my favorite of the two.  The phyllo was cooked perfectly, crispy with each fork bite and never soggy from the moistness of the mushrooms.  Each bite was a contrast between the savory mushrooms and the sweetness of the raisins and honey. Gary chose the roasted duck because, well, he will order duck whenever given the opportunity.  For me, it was good and different, but I prefer my phyllo pies full of delicious vegetables rather than the rich and very filling fatty duck meat.  The pies were meal enough and we were reaching the edge of our consumption limits, but we pushed on.

Our final two plates were my two favorites of the entire night.  The first was fava, a combination of yellow lentils, spinach, and pearl onions.


I know the picture is horrible, but trust me when I say it was delicious.  The yellow lentils were larger than the typical green lentils I typically eat, giving the appearance of niblets of corn.  They sat in a fava bean puree and were tossed with the onions and spinach.  At the same time, we were served a plate of loukaniko, a Greek sausage made from pork and lamb.  The dish was served white bean skordalia, kalamata, and oranges.
As you can see, our dish also had a mix of those beautiful lentils, so I took my sausage and added it to the fava dish and declared that this was the ultimate comfort meal.  To which Gary replied, "I hate when you say 'comfort food'.  Food is food." Gasp! Food is food? Really? Food is food. Humph. This man has no idea.  To which I say, "You know nothing, Jon Snow."

The evening ended fully stuffed but I am always willing to find that special space in my stomach for dessert. Otherwise, the meal is not complete.  I chose loucoumades, crispy fried dough drenched in spiked honey (tasted kind of like bourbon or brandy) and sprinkled with pistachio.
 Topped off with an espresso and I was over the edge, completely.  I took three home and warmed them up for breakfast the next morning. I did not share.

Our experience at Kapnos was great.  The service was good. The wine choices were excellent, if a bit pricey.  Our bellies were full and we were smiling as we left.  I would love to go back again and try totally different mezze the next time, maybe go a little lighter on the orders. I can't wait to see what Mike Isabella has in store for us and our guests next month!

If you are interested, both chefs also have their own cookbooks for sale.  Mike Isabella's cookbook is called Crazy Good Italian and Bryan Voltaggio's book is called VOLT, ink.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
If you're a regular reader or know me outside the blogging world, you are probably well aware that I am a devoted shopper of Trader Joe's.  I can tell you what's good, what's ok, and very rarely what isn't worth buying.  In fact, I can't think of anything I haven't liked at all. I have tried almost every product imaginable there. It is a weekly stop for me.  And, my favorite section is their "new products" display, where there is always something fun to try.

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
My newest find is their "Exotic Spice Tower".  It consists of four different spice blends from North Africa, the Middle East,and Latin America, including sumac, which I've been on the hunt to find for a while.  Seeing as though it is the time of year for spices and rubs, I had to pick up a stack of these flavorful blends.

The first thing I did when I brought home my lovely blends was to open each one to see how they spoke to me.  The nose is a wonderful tool.  Close your eyes, take a sniff, and ask yourself what food you think of when smelling these intoxicating scents.  If you open your senses up without knowing which spices you are smelling, chances are some sort of food will come to mind.  When you allow yourself to open up to the possibilities your aroma memory will often spawn creative food ideas that you won't even need a recipe for.  Trust your senses.  And, truth be told, it is your nose and its memory of food and food smells that needs to be tapped into most often rather than your taste buds.  Smell first, taste later.

The first spice blend I tried was the Pilpelchuma, which is a blend often found in Lybian cuisine. This blend is full of chili powder mixed with cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, and caraway.  
Love my George Foreman grill
One sniff and I knew I had to have it as a spicy rub for a grilled pork tenderloin I had in the refrigerator.  Brushing my tenderloin with a tablespoon of grapeseed oil, I spread the rub on and coated it using my hands on both sides.  I heated my George Foreman grill to high (yes, don't laugh because it works!), and I heated it for 7 minutes on each side.  And, it turned out fantastic.  
Pipelchuma Rubbed Pork Tenderloin

The initial bite carries a lot of heat in the front part of your mouth, not the kind of heat that makes your head sweat, but spicy enough that it makes you say "Wow".  Let it sit though because the after-taste is a heavenly smoky taste that lingers in the back of your mouth and leaves you wanting that next bite of heat.  It's a vicious cycle meant for those who can't say no to just one more bite.

Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad
Beautiful Colors
Having my pork set I set about to make a salad that would go perfectly with my chili flavored pork.  I had tons of corn that I'd bought in bulk last week and it needed to be used before the week was out.  I also had a can of black beans, an avocado, a red pepper, basil, and parsley from my garden.  Perfect blend!  All I needed now was a dressing that would bring all of the flavors together.  

The latest craze in cooking seems to be miso.  The Wall Street Journal recently featured this fun ingredient as a secret weapon in desserts, and David Lebovitz recently featured it in his blog while making miso ice cream.  I am finding it all over the place in many different recipes, but my favorite use so far is in salad dressings.  It kicks up the flavor very subtly and gives a nice depth of buttery saltiness in otherwise bland foods.  A little goes a long way, so you do have to be careful.  In this case, a simple blend of grapeseed oil (which is a very mild oil and won't clash with the miso fighting for the flavor trophy), white wine vinegar, and half a teaspoon of white miso. Mmmm...perfect and not overpowering.  

Check out the Pipelchuma sprinkled over top
I sprinkled it over my salad, stood back and admired all of the pretty colors.  And, then, I mixed it all up and took a bite. Perfect, except it was missing something.  I went back for my Pilpelchuma and sprinkled a bit over the top of my salad, added some lime peel, and now it was ready for consumption.

Note: I had trouble finding miso initially, thinking it would only be in specialty sections in Wegman's.  I actually found it in the international food section in our very own Harris Teeter.  And, then, I found it again in, but where else, Trader Joe's near their pre-made salads and sushi. Trader Joe's does it again!

For a print-friendly version of the recipe, click: https://sites.google.com/site/blackbeancornandavocadosalad/.

Ingredients:
2 ears of corn, kernels cut off the ear
2 Tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 teaspoon of lime peel
1 15 ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1 Red Pepper, diced
1 Avocado, peeled and cubed
1 Tablespoon, fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 Tablespoon, fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons grapeseed oil
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon white miso

Directions:
In a medium skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add the corn kernels and saute until they are a nice yellow, no more than five minutes.  They will be slightly tender but maintain their crispy, juiciness.  Sprinkle lime peel and mix in, removing pan from heat.
Corn is nice and shiny with lime peel adding a sprinkle of green


In a medium bowl, add the black beans, red pepper, avocado, parsley and basil.  Stir to mix the ingredients together.  Add the corn and mix it in.


In a small bowl, combine the grapeseed oil, vinegar, and miso. Whisk until all of the ingredients are combined and it has a smooth and creamy appearance.  Pour your vinaigrette over the salad ingredients and stir to mix it all in together.
Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad, Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin, and Fried Grit Fingers



Black Bean, Corn, and Avocado Salad

Friday, June 6, 2014

Nutmeg Muffins

Nutmeg Muffins
I have many recipes to share, but I've been so busy lately that it's been hard to find the time to share them with you.  Much, much, much going on with the end of the school year approaching, school concerts, recitals, soccer tryouts, colds, and new puppies. "What?", you say. "New Puppy?" Well, yes, indeed! We got a new puppy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Beef and Cheese Macaroni

Beef and Cheese Macaroni
Chances are you are having one of those nights when you have no idea what to cook.  You're tired. It's the end of the day, and you really don't feel like eating out again, but you don't feel like going to the grocery store either.  You also want something that everyone will eat with no complaints.  I can't tell you how often this happens to me.