Last month, I wrote about a competition that I was invited to attend as a media person, and the breakfast meet and greet that went with it. Well, the finale event of the competition was 3 weeks ago, and it was wonderful! I apologize for the delay in writing about it, but 2 days after the event I flew to Texas to keep my mother company while she recovered from surgery, and I just got back! So let's talk about this thing!
As I mentioned before, Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market to give culinary entrepreneurs a jump start. The winner of the competition would take over the Ris stall in Union Market for 6 months.
I had never been to Union Market before this, so I got there early in order to wander around. This place is so cool! They were having a farmers market outside, with live music, and inside is a series of stalls with all kinds of food. What a foodie dream!
I really wish that I lived closer to this market, because it is really cool. I hope that you DC dwellers are appreciating this!
The Launch Pad event took place in Dock5 - the event space at Union Market. It really is a big industrial loading dock that you can set up any way that you like for your event.
I was making dinner for a vegan friend of mine and found this quick and easy recipe that sounded good. Using mostly canned products, I was not expecting it to turn out as well as it did (hence no preparation photos). We were both surprised at how much flavor this chili had. I added in some chopped leftover steak for Jasper, and he loved it too. This is definitely going into my records as cheap, easy, customizeable, and well-loved.
Vegan Three Bean Chili with Pesto
adapted from Real Simple
1 tbsp plus 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 carrots, diced
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with Italian spices, including liquid
kosher salt and black pepper
1 15.5oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 15.5oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 15.5oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp pine nuts (you can use a less expensive nut)
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the tomatoes and their liquid, 2 cups water, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/2 tsp pepper and bring to a boil.
Add the beans and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.
Either finely chop the garlic, pine nuts, and parsley and combine with remaining 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper in a small bowl OR put everything into a mini food processor and pulse.
Divide the chili among individual bowls and top with the pesto.
This week, July 12-19, is Restaurant Week at the newly renovated Springfield Town Center in Springfield, VA. You can check out the menus for the 5 participating restaurants here. As a member of the NoVA Yelp Elite Squad, I was invited to try out the restaurants ahead of time. We had such a fun time and ate SO MUCH FOOD, it was insane. Check out what we were served below, and make sure to stop by Springfield Town Center this week for great deals on yummy food!
Our first stop was Yard House, an American restaurant with a huge menu including a big vegetarian section, and tons of beers on tap.
They served us an Ahi tuna salad, mac and cheese, and a Moscow Mule. The tuna was really well seasoned and perfectly cooked, but I didn't care for the greens. The mac and cheese was AWESOME - the pasta was the perfect texture and it was loaded with chicken, bacon, mushrooms, and truffle oil. So good - I definitely recommend it. The Moscow mule was light and refreshing, and really lovely on a hot day.
Next up was Chuy's - OMG CHUY'S!!! Words cannot express my excitement. You see, I am from Texas and this Austin based chain is my jam. The fact that it has migrated with me to VA is just the best. The manager here was super on point and spent a lot of time talking about how they make everything fresh in house. And yes, that is a giant strawberry margarita and pina colada swirl you see there.
A few weeks ago, I talked about Cauliflower Crust Pizza and showed you a basic tomato and mozzarella version. Now I want to tell you about this amazing version with creamy ricotta cheese and garlicky sauteed chard.
It all starts with the chard - and luckily Melissa (Smells Like Brownies) was growing some in her yard!
Saute the chard stems in olive oil - I love how bright and colorful they are!
Then add in garlic and the leaves, which cook faster than the stems, and finish with red wine vinegar.
Top a fully cooked cauliflower crust with fresh, whole milk ricotta and the chard mixture. Enjoy!
Last week I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast in order to meet the finalists of the Launch Pad Culinary Entrepreneur Competition. Before I tell you about that breakfast, I need to explain what it was for, and that may get a little convoluted - so stick with me! Launch Pad is a competition sponsored by Mess Hall, Ris, and Union Market.
Union Market is a revitalized indoor market area and collection of restaurants near Gallaudet University in DC. It opened in September 2012 and has about 40 shops. There are plans to add multiple levels and expand it greatly to include retail, restaurants, hotel, entertainment, and incubator space for new food concepts, as well as wholesale space.
Mess Hall is the aforementioned incubator space for new food concepts, which opened in October 2014. Their mission is to "support up-and-coming food entrepreneurs by providing commercial kitchens, combined with institutional knowledge and extraordinary opportunities."
Ris is a restaurant in DC that also has a satellite location in Union Market, it is owned/operated by chef Ris Lacoste.
Are you still with me? Great!
Back to Launch Pad - it is a competition for food entrepreneurs to launch a concept in a quick service space in Union Market. The winner of the Grand Prize will receive (according to the Launch Pad website):
- 6 – 12 month opportunity to launch a dream concept using a built out space in a prime location at Union Market
- Free Mess Hall membership
- Full Service Restaurant Pop-up opportunity at Mess Hall’s event space
- Mentorship from Ris Lacoste
- Consultation on lease negotiations with master DC restaurateurs the Hilton Brothers
- Business plan vetting and design services from EDENS
- A luncheon organized with successful restaurant investors
- And a growing list of unique prizes and opportunities courtesy of our event Sponsors.
- PLUS – All finalists will have their knives sharpened by DC Sharp.
Pretty great, right?! This is the second year for the competition, and last year the winner was Mason Dixie Biscuit Company.
You know what else is great? The list of judges and advisers for the finalists:
Al Goldberg – Founder, Mess Hall
David Hall – Investor, Revolution
Ris Lacoste – Chef / Owner, RIS
Drew Nieporent – Restaurateur, Myriad Restaurant Group
Patrick O’Connell – Chef / Owner, The Inn at Little Washington
Aaron Silverman – Chef / Owner, Rose’s Luxury
Audience Vote – Each member of the live audience will receive a single vote. The Audience Vote will count as 5% of the overall vote.
Richie Brandenburg – Directory of Culinary Strategy, EDENS
Terrell Danley – Chef, DC Central Kitchen
Eric and Ian Hilton– Restaurateurs
Kathy Hollinger– President and CEO, Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington
Eric Kessler – Founder / Managing Director, Arabella Advisors
Mike Lenard – Owner, Takorean, Former Head of the Food Truck Association
Winston Lord – Co-Founder, Venga
Spike Mendelsohn – Good Stuff Eatery, DC Food Policy Council Chair
Nick Stefanelli– Chef / Owner, Masseria
Now, let's talk about the finalists and the meet-and-greet breakfast event at Ris restaurant! There were lots of bloggers and media people there, but plenty of opportunity to speak with the finalists individually.
I finally got my act together in time to post for Food 'n Flix, ha! I really need to work on that! Anyway, this month's movie is Butter - hosted by Cheap Ethnic Eats. This hilarious movie is about wealth, race, privilege, power, family, small town America, and (of course) butter. I'd seen it before, and enjoyed it so much that I didn't mind renting it again just to look for food references. Which, by the way, are few and far between other than the ubiquitous butter.
So what was I going to make that would feature butter? I came up with a few ideas, but I kept circling back to these apple dumplings (even though I'd posted about them before). They really are perfect for this movie, though - a little bit redneck, totally unhealthy, and drenched in butter.
The dumplings are actually really easy to make. I like them best when they are fresh and the sugar on top is still crunchy, so I tend to make half a recipe one day and the other half the next day - which is why you will only see 4 dumplings in the photos. Start by peeling and coring an apple, then cutting into 8 slices.
I give full credit to Melissa (Smells Like Brownies) for this idea. I'd heard of cauliflower pizza crust before and thought I should try it, but I never got around to it. So I was really glad when she brought it up and suggested we try it.
It turns out that cauliflower crust is really easy! It doesn't taste or feel like traditional crust, but it is yummy and chewy - I liked it! I was surprised that I could actually pick up a slice and it held together. So whether you are gluten-free, looking for low-carb, or just like to try new things, I highly recommend this pizza crust!
The first step is to pulse the cauliflower in a food processor until very fine. Then place in a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave to steam. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and transfer to a cheesecloth lined colander to cool. Once it is cool enough to handle, twist the cloth and squeeze to release as much moisture as possible. Like really squeeze this thing to death, I'm not joking. You may need to take turns with a cooking buddy like we did.
When you've removed as much moisture as you can, add mozzarella, Parmesan, oregano, garlic powder, red pepper, salt, and an egg. Use your hands to combine into a dough.
You know what is very summery? Tacos. Especially fish tacos. Melissa and I were looking for something light and fresh, with a lot of flavor and texture. So we cobbled together a bunch of different ideas and came up with these gorgeous tacos!
We started out by marinating mahi-mahi with tequila, lime juice, garlic, red onion, and cumin. Yum, yum, yum! We chose mahi-mahi because it is a mild white fish that will take on a marinade and stand up to searing.
We wanted a good sear on the outside, so we sauteed it at high heat for a short time, let it rest, and then flaked it into big pieces with forks.
We also wanted to make our own condiments, and came up with a lime and crema (Mexican sour cream with tons of flavor) coleslaw and a chipotle mayo, along with avocado, pickled onions, cotija cheese, and cilantro (or parsley for me).
We didn't have any plans for the holiday weekend, but we heard that our favorite local winery (Fabbioli Cellars) was having a 10% case discount, so we decided to do a little wine trip.
We started with Fabbioli, and got a tasting. Apparently it's been 4.5 years since we last went out there, crazy. We normally just order online or through Whole Foods. In that time, their tasting price has gone up from $5 to $15, and the pours are much smaller. But they now include a small bite of food with each wine, encouraging you to sip, eat, and then sip again to taste the difference. I loved that. And the bites were delicious, too! So I'd say it all works out for the better. The tastings are still run in small groups, so that you get personalized attention, and our girl was very friendly and knowledgeable.
The first wine was Una Pera - a sweet white made with Asian pears (they actually place the bottle around a young pear and let it grow inside the bottle, it's pretty cool). This was paired with a pea puff topped with honeyed goat cheese and a sweet potato crisp.
Next was Something White (a joke from people asking the owner when he was going to start making "something white") - a Viogner and Vidal Blanc blend, paired with mascarpone and sea salt caramel on a cracker.
The first red was a light Sangiovese, that is good for hot weather and as a table wine - pared with grilled asparagus and garlic cheddar, wrapped in prosciutto.
Next was a dry Zinfandel (our least favorite), paired with a roasted beet crisp and salted ginger thyme butter.
The Tre Sorelle was also dry - Jasper liked it, I didn't. It was paired with goat cheese, rosemary, and smoked sundried tomato on a saltine.
The first of the dessert wines was the Raspberry Merlot, made with raspberries grown on property. I'm fond of this sweet table wine, Jasper is not. It pairs beautifully with chocolate, and the bite they provided us was, in fact, a dark chocolate truffle.
Last was Jasper's favorite (he orders it by the case, and has been known to drink a whole bottle in one evening) - Rosa Nera, a black raspberry port. They served it with a lemon honey truffle - I wouldn't have thought to go with such a bright lemon flavor, but it really worked.
I love the small bite tasting idea, it makes me really want to host a tasting at my house and do something similar.
We brought some salami and cheese with us, to have a picnic lunch before moving on to the next winery. We got a late start, and spent so long at Fabbioli, that we only got to visit one other place before heading home.
That place was Sunset Hills Vineyard, which Jasper chose because it had won some awards. It was hopping when we arrived - people camped out everywhere, picnicking, listening to live music, playing frisbee. The grounds are large and beautiful, so it's a great place to hang out, plus they had a BBQ truck! There was a wedding going on in the main building, too.
The tastings were in a barn-like structure with some big fans that I appreciated greatly in the heat, making it shaded and breezy. They were $10 and featured 6 wines. Unfortunately, we weren't a fan of any of them. There was one white that I liked (Sunset White - tasted like a sweet Gewurztraminer) and one red that both of us liked (the Cabernet Franc blend), but not enough to warrant buying anything or returning to the winery.
They had these big frozen slushee machines making "wineritas" with Chardonnay and margarita mix. So I tried one of those and it was actually pretty good. We also got some ribs at the BBQ truck and they had good flavor, but weren't very tender. So I think this would be a fun spot to have some wineritas with girlfriends and listen to live music, but it's not really worth it for the wine alone.