Friday, February 8, 2013

Bethesda Foodie goes budget friendly!

A few weeks ago Joana Bragg, the marketing team leader from Whole Foods Market Bethesda, contacted me about doing a $100 challenge. The challenge was to spend just $100 at WF and prepare meals with my purchases for 7 consecutive nights. I discussed it with my husband who enthusiastically encouraged me to give it a try. We all like a good deal but most of us fail to take the necessary steps to spend wisely at the grocery store.

Being able to feed your family for 7 days on $100 is certainly a challenge. Most of my friends thought it would be impossible, stating that they often spend $200-$250 for a week's worth of food. The first step to making it successful is PLANNING. I'm not going to sugar coat this... planning meals in advance is time-consuming. It took me over an hour to think of a week's worth of meals, compile recipes, and come up with a shopping list. When planning my meals, I had to take into consideration our schedules. My husband and I both work full time and often have after-work commitments as well. We're also in the midst of a home renovation and are constantly having a parade of contractors in and out of our house. So, needless to say, I was looking for budget-friendly meals AND a collection of foods that I could cook easily at the end of a long workday.

Easy doesn't have to be blah either. Sure cooking pasta and serving it with store-bought sauce is easy and budget-friendly but it's no fun. I like to take pride in my meals. I cook mostly from scratch with as many fresh ingredients as possible. I try and mix it up with a variety of seafood, meat, and poultry too. I wanted to throw in a luxury item or two while still maintaining a budget.

So after some serious planning, we came up with this menu:

 Day #1: Saturday
Pumpkin cranberry muffins
Seared tuna

Day #2: Sunday
Poached eggs with toast
Roasted chicken

Day #3: Monday
Chicken sandwiches
Balsamic-marinated hanger steak

Day #4: Tuesday
Steak salad with Parmesan
Chive Risotto and roasted shrimp

 Day #5: Wednesday
Risotto with steak
Semi-homemade pizza

 Day #6: Thursday
Turkey meatballs w/ celery root potato mash

Day #7: Friday
Meatball subs
Thai mussels and frites

I have to admit that we went over budget just a tad. On our initial visit, we spent $107.26. I had to swing back through at the end of the week to get mussels so we spent about $112 in total. Not too shabby considering what we ate for the week.

Embassy Chef Challenge 2013

Unlike any other DC gala, the Embassy Chef Challenge takes you on a global tour with world-class embassy chefs.  Sample cuisine served to heads of state and regional delicacies from around the world while embracing your inner “foodie”.

The annual benefit supports the free programs and events provided by Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting Washington DC’s art, culture and heritage.

Renowned embassy chefs will serve hors d'oeuvres showcasing their countries’ cuisines. Attendees can look forward to sampling dishes, mingling with the diplomatic community, enjoying a top-shelf open bar, and bidding on auction items offering unique culinary and travel adventures. Local celebrity judges, including Bravo’s Top Chef All-Star Finalist Carla Hall, will select a winning chef, and each attendee will also vote for the People’s Choice.

Proceeds from ticket sales and the live and silent auctions will benefit the free programs offered by Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the art, culture and heritage found in Washington’s diverse neighborhoods.

Don’t wait to get your tickets, as last year’s event sold out quickly. Here for tickets and information.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Chicken meatballs with blackberry balsamic glaze

Some of the ingredients...

They were quite wet; hard to form perfect balls...

Extra blackberry balsamic glaze!

Fresh out of the oven and ready to eat

Served with smashed potatoes and spinach

I've been doing a lot of cooking around here recently. After months of regular eating out, I decided my wallet and waistline could use a break. I've starting planning menus for the week, making a grocery list, and budgeting to the best of my ability. Things are going well - I've found a lot of great new recipes, saved a bit of money, and had a lot of fun.
A few days ago, I got a delivery from Gold'n Plump chicken. Gold'n Plump brand chicken products are raised on family farms in the Midwest and are now available for purchase in DC-area Target stores. My delivery included a pound of ground chicken, something I don't often buy or cook with. "What should I do with my ground chicken?", I asked a friend of mine while doing a little March Madness martini tasting at Assaggi one afternoon. Immediately she suggested trying Once Upon a Chef's recipe for chicken meatballs. I looked it up on my iPhone and was impressed with the simplicity of the recipe - I already had all the ingredients I needed at home in my pantry. Perfect!
This recipe strongly resembles meatloaf, right down to the sweet tangy tomato sauce on top. My husband hates meatloaf. Hates it. So I was imagining I might be eating a pound of meatballs on my own but, to my delight, he loved these! He ate seconds and even took the leftovers to work the next day for lunch. Success!

To see the recipe, follow the link: Once Upon a Chef's chicken meatballs. I followed the recipe with a few changes - I added extra garlic, used shredded Parm instead of Romano cheese, used Secolari's blackberry balsamic, and tripled the glaze recipe.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Brunch at Mussel Bar

If you follow the Bethesda Foodie on Facebook or Twitter, you know that we visit Mussel Bar pretty regularly. My husband is a huge beer connoisseur and I've been developing a taste for Belgian beer, especially since our summer vacation in Brussels (more on that later). Anyway, we've been to Mussel Bar at least 60 times for drinks or dinner but we'd never been there for brunch until just recently. We received one of the "Buy One, Get One" coupons from the bar manager, Leslie, and decided to put it to good use one Saturday. At Leslie's suggestion, we ordered the huevos rancheros and the eggs benedict with chorizo (a special). Both brunch items were very good. And in typical Mussel Bar style, they were meat-centric and a little spicy. Huevos rancheros is the most popular brunch item at Mussel Bar and I can totally see why. Poached eggs, spicy pork, peppers, and onions are served on a grilled spinach tortilla and smothered in hollandaise sauce. Ohhhh, the hollandaise sauce. MB's hollandaise has sriracha in it, making it a beautiful shade of orange and kicking up the heat. Yum. All brunch items are $12 and with our BOGO coupon, we paid $12 total. What a deal. Well, okay, we paid more than $12 because we got bloody marys.
We had such a good experience we decided to go back to Mussel Bar for brunch again last weekend. My husband couldn't resist getting the huevos rancheros again. I tried the omelette with chicken, spinach, and goat cheese. It was HUGE and tasty... but I gotta say, it's not as good as the huevos rancheros.

Mussel Bar is located at 7262 Woodmont Avenue, Bethesda. Brunch is available on Saturdays and Sundays from 10-3.

Winter Plates Lunch @ The Capital Grille, Chevy Chase

Wagyu Cheeseburger with fried egg, onions. Truffle fries with Parmesan.

Lobster roll (yes, it's HUGE) with roasted root veggies

I visited The Capital Grille, 5310 Western Avenue (Chevy Chase), on a chilly Monday afternoon a couple weeks ago with a friend of mine. Freezing cold and starving, we were ready for a big, hearty meal. We tried the new "winter plates" lunch menu, a collection of nine mix-and-match "plate" offerings - three soups or salads, three sandwiches, and three sides. Guests choose one from each category, creating a customized meal all for only $18. The plates menu is designed for busy professionals who only have an hour to spare for lunch. In fact, The Capital Grille promises to provide this three-plate lunch along with top notch service and have you on your way in just 45 minutes!

I decided to try the clam chowder, lobster roll, and roasted root vegetables while my friend ordered the roasted red pepper soup, wagyu cheeseburger, and truffle fries. After trying everything on the table, we decided that the wagyu cheeseburger was hands down the best option on the winter plates menu. It is most definitely as delicious as it looks in the picture above. After breaking the yolk of the fried egg, each bite of the succulent wagyu burger gets nicely coated. The truffle fries dusted with Parmesan are outstanding also. The truffle flavor and fragrance is easily detected without being overpowering. On the lighter side, the red pepper soup was very nicely done - not too heavy and just a little spicy.

Our waiter, Josh, was superlative and deserves mention. My friend, a resident of Chevy Chase, had dined at the restaurant recently and received a genuine warm welcome from Josh as soon as we sat down. He was extremely attentive throughout our meal and then tried to decline a generous tip as we were leaving, declaring the pleasure was all his. Of course I insisted but I was impressed by his statement. How charming.

Cesco Osteria

Cesco Osteria, 7401 Woodmont Ave, opened its doors back in December amidst lots of hype. I walked through the space shortly before it opened and was wowed by the beautiful atmosphere inside.
The Food - In January, I had dinner at Cesco and was delighted with my entree, wild Alaskan salmon with goat cheese served on a bed of spinach and sweet onions. It was perfectly sized, well-presented, fresh, and light. When I ordered, I was concerned that this entree would show up smothered in goat cheese but I was pleasantly surprised to find a nice unobtrusive dollop under the salmon fillet; not too much, not too little. My appetizer, the butternut squash soup special, was also light and fresh. This soup, along with others prepared by Francesco and his team, are made without heavy cream. Thank you. Don't get me wrong, I love a decadent cream-based soup now and then, but shortly after the holidays I was thankful for the cream-less option. I also tried the crab and avocado salad appetizer; this was good and well-presented but not the best I've ever had. The desserts are outstanding - every last one of them. And, like the dinner options, there were healthier options to choose from here too. Try the strawberry flower - sliced strawberries (arranged as a blossoming flower) served atop a sweet pear puree. Yumm! If you are in the mood for something more sinful, the bomboloni (Italian chocolate or custard-filled doughnuts) are outta this world. Seriously, delish. I don't have dessert pictures because everything was devoured too quickly at our table.
The Drinks - I ordered two different cocktails with my meal, the balsamic strawberry mojito ($15) and the lemon crush ($14). Both cocktails were tasty but very, very weak. For those prices, I was expecting a strong drink so I was a little disappointed there. I decided to return to Cesco a couple more times and try the drinks again before blogging about them. Sooo, since my meal in January, I've been back to Cesco a few times just for drinks. I went on a Sunday evening with some girlfriends when the bar was totally empty. We ordered a couple rounds of cocktails and the calamari. The calamari was very, very good. We requested our drinks be served "strong" and tried the balsamic strawberry mojito and lemon crush again. Much better. Perfect. At $15 and $14, that's still a little on the expensive side, in my opinion, but at least I felt like I was getting a decent amount of liquor in my drinks. We also tried the Se7en and the Succo di Pompelmo, both $14.
Probably the best trip to Cesco to date was when I visited around 11:30pm on a Saturday night after having dinner with my husband and father-in-law at Jaleo. The hubs and FIL were looking for a night cap before we took a cab home... you know, a nice glass of scotch or something. Cesco didn't have much selection with regard to scotch but we decided to stick around anyway because the place was HOPPING and the people-watching was spectacular -- international DJs were spinning back-to-back hits, women were dancing provocatively in the Co2 Lounge, the bar was packed, and architect/partner Mitch Weber was circulating the bar with an enormous grin on his face. My sweet FIL ditched the scotch idea and drank rum instead while we all watched a young woman straddle a handrail and shimmy up and down it while singing along to Michael Jackson.

Overall, I give Cesco a B+. I love the salmon, the atmosphere, the chef, Mitch Weber's outstanding personality and positive outlook, and the Saturday night people-watching. I think the prices are a little steep, especially for drinks. Cocktails are $14-$18, wine by the glass is $10-$15, beers start at $6 (think Miller Lite).

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Fishermen's Grill: Best Lobster Roll Evah!

The Fishermen's Grill is the epitome of a New England hole-in-the-wall restaurant. I have been researching lobster rolls for years. I really like the Red Hook Maine-style lobster rolls here in the DC area but have yet to find the perfect lobby roll in Maine (where I should be able to find a great roll for breakfast, lunch, and dinner... right?)! Well, to be honest, I don't eat out a lot while I'm in Maine. My mother-in-law likes to cook and most meals are spent happily at home around the family dinner table. After Christmas, however, we made a special trip to Portland, ME, and I got the opportunity to try a famous Fishermen's Grill lobby roll.
Fisherman's Grill is the real deal - located next door to a fish market, this place has no problem getting fresh seafood. The interior is tiny and dated. Order your lunch from the counter and then sit at one of the few tables that line the wall. If you need to use the restroom, owner/manager Tom Hincks will yell from the kitchen, "it's small but it's clean, I promise". Speaking of Hincks, it's important to note that he seems to be the only person who works at Fishermen's Grill. He takes the orders, makes the food, and cleans up after you-- all with a smile on his face. That said, patience is appreciated. Hincks had a full restaurant when we were there and we waited about 20 minutes for our food to come out. While we waited for our meals, I flipped through Adam Richmond's book, America the Edible, and noticed that he had reviewed Fishermen's Grill and described the lobster rolls there as "pure ecstasy". This is when my mouth started to water.
When the food was finally delivered, we were pleasantly surprised by how delicious the clam chowder was. With more clams than anything else, the soup rivaled any I've had down here as most of them are heavier on potatoes than clams. The amount of lobster inside the lobster roll was thoroughly impressive. It was spilling out from the sides of the bun, making it difficult to eat. Speaking of the bun, it was the only place I saw room for improvement. The Red Hook rolls are really nicely grilled (like the outside of a grilled cheese sandwich) while the Fishermen's Grill roll was just lightly toasted - perhaps only to make it sturdy enough to withstand the pound of lobster inside rather than for flavor. The quality of the lobster meat was undoubtedly terrific and there was just the right amount of mayo to complement but not overwhelm the meat. Superb. The Fishermen's Grill is the frontrunner in my ongoing search for Maine's best lobster roll. Thanks, Tom.