Menomalé: simply a must

Of all the food in the world, pizza is one of the most simple. We see it presented by the face of Peyton Manning and bubbling with cheese-stuffed crust laden with fruit, but in reality, it is best when made with a handful of quality ingredients. In Italy, pizza is an art form. Pizzaioli know that to make a perfect pizza is a serious study. In Italy, this is common, but to find a true Neapolitan pizza here in the US isn’t easy. I think that Menomalé of DC is the best I’ve had this side of the Atlantic.

Everything about Menomalé is true Italian: the tiny water glasses (no room for ice), the limited seating, and, of course, the wood-fired oven. Go to Menomalé and take some time to enjoy the experience. Their select beers are all great pairings with pizza and they also boast a decent wine selection. Their antipasti platters are standard – meats, cheeses, breads – and you can tell that everything is hand-picked to resemble Italy’s finest. Share the antipasti, enjoy a beer, order a pizza, and then imagine. I’ve spent time in Italy and I’ve made memories around the table. The pizza served by Pizzaiolo Ettore Rusciano makes me nostalgic. Served in whole on specially made plates, the perfect Neapolitan pizza, the one that can be found so effortlessly in Italy, is bursting with the flavors of tomato and mozzarella di bufala. The dough has a bit of charring, but is soft and slightly chewy. The traditional toppings, often representing more than initially considered, are the perfect after note. This is Menomalé. Maybe I’ve been away from Italy for too long, but if I close my eyes, there is no distinction.

Menomalé upholds my love affair with pizza. The whole experience is genuine: the staff is knowledgable, the atmosphere is comfortable and the ingredients embody the best of Italy.

Located in the Brookland neighborhood of Northeast DC, it should not be overlooked. If you’ve been to Italy, it will take you back. If you haven’t, just don’t ask for it sliced.

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 I suggest: Affettati Misti della Casa, the Quattro Stagioni, the Diavola, Nastro Azzurro (draft), Curieux (bottle)

 Menomalé, 2711 12th St, NE, Washington, DC 20018

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Baked Flautas/Taquitos

There seems to be some debate on the difference between a flauta and a taquito, so I’m not really sure what to call these, but they are good. Really good. I’m sitting here thinking that I really wish this were a Sunday Funday and I was eating them amongst friends and margs. But I digress. I got this recipe from a Pinterest post, but made a few small changes based on what I had in the house/what I forgot to buy at the grocery store.

Baked Flautas/Taquitos (Flaquitos?)

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1 pound chicken breasts

3-4 cups spinach

1 jalapeño                             

1 pack of burrito-sized flour tortillas

1 tsp cumin                            

1 tsp garlic salt

1 tsp Old Bay                        

1 tsp chili powder

1 pack of Mexican cheese

Poach the chicken by bringing to a boil and then letting simmer for about 10 minutes. I added some salt to the water. Meanwhile, mince the jalapeño and shred the spinach. Remove the chicken and shred it (it should be easy enough to do with two forks) and then mix with all of the seasonings. Throw the spinach and jalapeño on the stove with some olive oil for 2-3 minutes– just until the spinach is wilted. While this is cooking, cut your tortillas in half.

Line an edge of each tortilla half with some chicken, spinach, and cheese. Rolling the tortilla once full is the trickiest part. I found it to be easiest by lining everything up along the straight edge and then tucking it over to start a tight roll. Be sure to place the flauta/taquito with the edge down on the cooking sheet so they don’t unroll.

I sprayed the sheet with cooking spray and then gave a light spray over all the flaquitos once they were on the sheet. I baked them on one side for 10 minutes, then flipped them and baked for another 5. I made 8 flautas/taquitos + a burrito with all the remaining ingredients. They’re perfectly crispy and would be great to dip in sour cream / salsa / guac!

Things that could be added to make the flaquito even more delicious: some tomato (maybe a bit of pico de gallo??), corn, black beans.

“Gumbo” … ?

I think what I created today can be classified as gumbo, but whether or not it would garner approval from a gumbo afficionado I am not 100% positive. It tastes nothing like the kind my Louisianian aunt makes, but we’ll roll with it. There was a moment in making this that I was sure that it was going to be non-edible (hey! I made roux for the first time today! and I didn’t mess it up!), but it turned out just fine. Taste-tested by a friend, I’ll count this as a success. PS. is gumbo a soup? Let’s say no, for variety’s sake.

“Gumbo” 

1 lb andouille sausage              1 rotisserie chicken

6 hardboiled eggs                       2 cups chopped onion

2 cups chopped celery               1 large green bell pepper (chopped)          

28oz can of diced tomatoes    4 cups chicken broth                

2.5 cloves pressed garlic          7 tbs flour                                    

3 – 4 tbs vegetable oil                2.5 tsp Creole seasoning          

Hot cooked rice

Hard boil six eggs and then set aside. In a large bowl, combine celery, onion, pepper, and garlic. In a small bowl, combine tomatoes and Creole seasoning. Chop the chicken and toss it in another bowl. I used an entire rotisserie chicken, but it was small.

In a large Dutch oven, cook the sausage over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Remove the sausage with a slotted spoon, leaving the drippings behind; drain sausage on paper towels before adding to bowl with chicken. Add the oil and flour and whisk constantly for 5 minutes. Add the vegetables and cook on medium-high heat for about five minutes, stirring often. Stir in the chicken broth and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Then cover and reduce the heat, allowing it to simmer for another five minutes. Finally, add the chicken and sausage.

Cook the rice. I have a fancy rice cooker, so I just popped the rice in once everything was on the stove

Keep it simmering until ready to serve. At some point before eating, peel and add the hardboiled eggs (whole) to the gumbo. These are totally optional, but my aunt does it this way! You can make as many as you want, depending on how many people you are serving. When you’re ready to eat, serve over the rice.

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Bread bowl totally optional! I just ate mine over rice, but it makes for a pretty picture!

Perfecting sweet potato soup

A few weeks ago, pretty charged up about my new immersion blender, I tried a sweet potato chipotle soup recipe. The soup was good, but seriously spicy hot. I have been wanting to perfect it ever since and finally had the chance when I was gifted with two of the world’s largest sweet potatoes this week. I decided to make two batches: one without the chipotle chili and one with. The result made four lunches and I like both. The chipotle version has the perfect bit of spiciness and a hint of sweet smokiness. Bonus: (almost) zero fat… I’m a fan.

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Sweet Potato Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil                   1 medium white onion
2 cloves of garlic                              4 carrots                                            
2 tsp ground cumin                        salt and pepper
2 extra large (or 3-4 medium) sweet potatoes
6 cups vegetable broth (I actually used 4 + 2 cups chicken broth)
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce

Heat the oil in a dutch oven (or large soup pot) over medium heat. Add the chopped onion, seasoned with salt & pepper, and saute until lightly browned. Stir in the cumin and garlic (minced). Add the sweet potatoes and carrots– chopped in about one inch pieces– and broth. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20-25 minutes. Once the potatoes are soft, remove from heat and let cool. When the soup is still slightly warm, use your immersion blender until it is smooth. If you don’t have an immersion blender, scoop the soup into a blender and puree in batches.

At this point, the soup is good and ready to eat! I split it into two batches and added about a quarter of a chipotle chili to what was still remaining in the pot. I blended in the chile and eventually added about a teaspoon or two of the adobo sauce. This part is all about personal preference so just adjust until it fits to your taste!

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It’s time to start documenting my “culinary” adventures

Acknowledging the plethora of food bloggers out there, I’m doing this mainly for my own personal benefit. Pinterest has opened us up to a world of recipes and food porn, yet only occasionally does the recipe turn out the way it “should.” Pinterest Recipes always seem to require a bit of tweaking and they never look exactly like the picture that accompanies them. I’ve also decided that in my next life I want to be the next Top Chef and I figure soup is a good starting point. It’s pretty hard to mess up and pretty much always delicious. One day I will graduate to more involved dishes. Until then, I will be experimenting with easy, post-grad, budget-friendly recipes.

Taking advantage of a free morning (yay, President’s Day), I decided to make a big pot of soup to get me through the rest of the week. Side note: after all of the foodie posts I have done in the past, I am coming to the realization that soup is actually my favorite food. Sad? Maybe. At least there’s a lot of variety.

Italian Vegetable Soup (can anyone think of a more creative name?)

1 lb ground beef                                         1lb Italian sausage (I like it hot)
1 28oz can of diced tomatoes                1 can red kidney beans (drained)
1 can cannellini beans (drained)        3 carrots
3 stalks of celery                                      2 large russet potatoes
1 yellow onion                                          1 jar (almost) of Prego traditional
3 cups beef stock                                      1.5 cups water
2 tsp black pepper                                  2 tsp Italian medley seasoning blend
1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
In a large skillet, brown the ground beef and Italian sausage. Drain. In a large dutch oven, combine the ground beef/sausage with all of the other ingredients (chopped– doesn’t have to be perfect… you’re throwing them all in a pot together). Bring to a boil. Let simmer for another hour to hour and a half. Finito! It’s actually that easy. The soup can simmer for longer, but at this point all of the vegetables are perfectly tender and ready to eat. Even better with toasty bread and a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.

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PS. This recipe makes A LOT of soup. I’m talking I have enough to eat it every day this week and also freeze some. Make sure your dutch oven is big enough (my 6 qt was nearly overflowing!) and that you are really in the mood for soup!

PPS. CAN SOMEONE PLEASE BUY ME A CAMERA THAT TAKES PICTURES OF FOOD

“Tuscany untied the knots in a man’s intestines, wiped out the ills of his world.”

“Tuscany is a state of grace. The countryside is so lovingly designed that the eye sweeps the mountains and valleys without stumbling over a single stone. The lilt of the rolling green hills, the upsurging cypresses, the terraces sculptured by generations that have handled the rocks with skillful tenderness, the fields geometrically juxtaposed as though drawn by a draftsman for beauty as well as productivity; the battlements of castles on the hills, their towers standing gray-blue and golden tan among the forest of trees, the air of such clarity that every sod of earth stands out in dazzling detail. On both sides of the road the grape-heavy vines were espaliered between the horizontal branches of silver-green olive trees, composing orchards of webbed design, rich in intimation of wine, olive oil, and lacy-leaf poetry.”

-Irving Stone, The Agony and the Ecstasy

comfort foods

After deliberating for most of the night (thanks, Mom / Cooking Light for the pain and inspiration), I have finally compiled my top ten list of comfort foods. It was harder than expected, but brought back some awesome memories. As a self-proclaimed “foodie,” these may not be the most amazing dishes I have ever tried (next blog?), but they mean something. And I could probably live off of them.

1) Mom’s mashed potatoes. A staple at every family holiday and they are perfect in every way.

2) Panzerotti from Gina’s in Mola di Bari, Italy. They’re kind of like fried pizza pockets, but better. They can also be stuffed with ricotta and cinnamon. So they’re a win-win sweet & savory situation.

3) Fried Dumplings. There’s never really a time when a fried dumpling isn’t delicious.

4) Pizza Diavola. This is my all-time favorite pizza. It’s basically just a cheese pizza with Italian salami, which is essentially pepperoni, except it’s not. It’s really only available in Italy and that’s awesome.

5) Tortellini al Brodo. This is weird. Tortellini in broth? I know. But I love soup and this was one of my favorite comfort meals in Italy, whether I made it at home or ordered it at a restaurant.

6) Chicken Enchiladas. Just because.

7) Bacon-Cheddar-BBQ Cheeseburger. I could possibly eat one of these three times a week. Maybe four.

8) Bread. Because when you’re having a bad day, nothing is better than stuffing yourself full of carbs. Spread with butter, covered with cheese & garlic, dipped in parmesan & olive oil, whatever.

9) French Fries. Only the breaded, extra crispy, dipped-in-bbq-sauce kind like from Spanky’s in D-town.

10) Cool Mint soft serve ice cream from Soft Stuff. An explanation for this is impossible. If you would like to try and understand, drive to Route 40 in Ellicott City and ask around.

7 Reasons why Jack & Rose are one of the Greatest Love Stories of All Time

1) Their story encompasses all elements of a perfect romance. Jacks sees Rose from afar, knows he can’t have her (You’re as likely to have angels fly out your arse as to get next to the likes of her). Rose is initially annoyed by Leo (This is my part of the ship! You leave!) They then fall headfirst into a forbidden, whirlwind romance (Mother looked at him as if he were a dangerous insect that must be squashed quickly; Your exertions below decks were no doubt exhausting). They fight (you’re so stupid, Rose!) They make up (I’ll never let go) Their love spans lifetimes (I’ll meet you at the clock…. when I’m a hundred and one).

2) Jack is a true renaissance man. He’s an artist, a rambling man, a free spirit. He is very well-educated in the climatology of arctic waters. He can ride a horse, he’s a great spitter, and he’s a phenomenal dancer. He also apparently understands the intricate workings of a large ship and knows exactly the way in which one would sink to the bottom of an ocean. I mean, c’mon, he knew there would be suction? The man’s a keeper.

3) They trusted each other completely. Which stems from the fact that they were literally madly in love. Because seriously only a crazy person would allow Rose-can’t-hold-an-ax-properly to hack into a two inch wide chain between his hands.

4) They transformed grave robber Brock “Treasure-Hungry” Lovett into a pensive gentleman with a soul. Just the memory of their love caused him to forget about the billion dollar necklace he had dedicated his life to and consequently inspired him to jump into a tugboat with Rose’s granddaughter (because we all know that’s what happened next).

5) They were the inspiration for “My Heart Will Go On.” Celine said it best.

6) No matter how many times we watch, we always think they will survive. Nobody wants young love to die. Especially after day one. As much as I hate to admit this, everybody has a little bit of eternal optimism in them. We talk about how stupid it was that he didn’t get on the damn door and debate the ways he could have fit, yet we watch it over and over again. It’s also why most of us turn the DVD player off after they hit the iceberg. Because we’d rather just remain in a state of denial where Jack & Rose hang off the front of the ship forever instead of freezing in the Atlantic.

7) This.