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23Apr/140

Vinifera Wine Bar & Bistro

I actually ate here a while ago, but the experience was so bad that I have been putting off writing about it for a long time.  Vinifera is located inside a Westin hotel near Reston.  I decided to head out there for some wine and tapas before picking my husband up at the airport, and it ended up being a huge mistake.

I sat out on the patio, which was totally gorgeous, but it took 20 minutes before I could flag down a waiter to take my order.  I put in an order for a whole bunch of tapas at once, and also some wine.  The wine arrived pretty quickly, but the food didn't even start arriving until 40 minutes later.  40 minutes!!!  And then it was only the little one bite skewers; the rest of the food took even longer.  That is totally unacceptable.  And the food wasn't even that good.  Less than average, I would say, and I tried a whole range of things.  I won't even break down for you what I ordered, because it was all so forgettable.  The $1-2 "pintxos" seemed like a great bargain, but they are literally tiny toothpick bites like you would find passed around at a party.  Tiny, not that good, not worth $1-2 each, and definitely not worth a 40 minute wait.  The rest of the food (and wine) was also overpriced.

I would maybe, MAYBE, say that it would be a nice place to grab a glass of wine on the patio, but not if you are on any kind of a timeline and watch out for a steeper than average mark-up.

20Apr/140

Spring Vegetable and Tortellini Salad

Well Dined | Spring Vegetable and Tortellini Salad

 

Happy Easter!  It has been a long, crazy winter.  We had just a hint of spring before a cold snap hit again, but it looks like we are on our way back and hopefully it will last this time!

herbs

 

I took advantage of the nice weather to plant my container herb garden.  I've got chives, French thyme, English thyme, lemon thyme, and oregano thyme in one pot.  The big one has common sage, purple sage, rosemary, spearmint, tarragon, Greek and Italian oregano, and dill.  And the last one has sweet basil, thai basil, amethyst basil, lemon basil, and parsley.

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I also cleared out and cleaned up my tiny backyard, and while I was removing dead leaves, I accidentally uncovered a nest full of baby rabbits!  I was totally shocked and didn't know what to do.  I yelled for my husband to bring me a box to put them in while I hit the internet for advice.  Leave them alone and put them back was the unanimous decision.  Mama rabbits only visit the babies 2 times a day to feed very quickly (1-2 minutes) so that predators won't know where they are.  So baby rabbits have not been abandoned and they don't need to be rescued (unless injured by lawnmower, dog, cat, etc...).  In fact, trying to take care of them yourself will likely kill them!

14Apr/140

Miso Butter Four Ways

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This innocent looking container holds a magic ingredient that will take your food to the next level.  What is it?  Miso butter.  Two ingredients - miso and butter - combine to make a perfect substance.  So simple, but so good.  You could just slap this on some toast and call it a day.  But if you want to get a little more creative, I have a bunch of ideas for you.

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First up - scallops seared in miso butter.  That's it, it's that easy.  I served these with my other miso obsession - miso creamed kale.

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Next - broiled salmon topped with miso butter, served with miso butter glazed baby carrots and coconut-miso barley.

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Moving away from seafood for a bit, I made this coconut chicken recipe and replaced the regular butter with miso butter.  It made it so much better than the original, which I was already a fan of.  I also used cherry preserves in the sauce because that's what I had, but apricot or peach would work better.  I made a side salad with romaine, sliced radishes, blanched green beans, and a carrot-ginger dressing to go with it.

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Lastly, we have a stir-fry made with miso butter.  Fast, easy, and delicious.  The salmon was broiled with a store-bought red miso and yuzu glaze.  I'd say it wasn't any better than the salmon topped with the miso butter.

Best of all?  All these meals are healthy and low-carb.  Most of them are grain-free!  What would you do with your miso butter?

11Apr/140

Spiced Cauliflower “Couscous”

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You guys, I am in love... with a recipe.  A recipe for cauliflower that is pretending to be cous cous and filled with herbs, spices, buttery cashews, and plump golden raisins.  It's so good it's stupid.  And easy, did I mention easy?  And low-carb and healthy and gluten-free and vegan and all the things.

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I am desperately trying to move away from grains and starches, but it is so hard when my brain had been programmed to think that dinner is meat, starch, vegetable (in that order in terms of importance).  So anything like this that I can find that satisfies my need to have a starch, without really being one, is awesome.  Oh yeah, and my husband LOVED it.

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I served it as a side to some store-bought kebabs because of the distinctly Middle Eastern flavors.  But I'm wondering if I can use the same technique and change up the flavorings (a la this post) to do some different things.  Speaking of flavorings, this recipe uses a spice blend called za'atar that is super yummy.  You should be able to find some in the spice section of your store, but if not here are two recipes to make your own.

7Apr/143

Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini

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I've been pretty lazy about blogging this past week, so I'm bringing you another vegetarian lunch with Melissa back to back with the last one.  I know that you don't mind, though, because our lunches are AWESOME.  This one, in my opinion, is one of the best we have done recently.  Lentils, chickpeas, raw onion, and feta with tahini, sesame, and herbs.  So good, so satisfying, creamy and crunchy, nutty and sharp, it's everything.  And so, so healthy.  Let's also take a second to appreciate how gorgeous Melissa's platter is.  She has the best dishware!

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The only thing that takes time in this recipe is cooking the lentils, but they are pretty hands off and you can do them ahead of time and keep them in the fridge til you need them.  This recipe has you cook them with sage and garlic to infuse the lentils with flavor - I love it.

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While the lentils are cooking, toss red onion with olive oil, lemon juice, feta, and herbs.  I was a little unsure about this at first - so much raw red onion?  But it became my favorite part of the dish.  The lemon juice kind of cures the onions as they sit and mellows them out.  They become sharp, crunchy bits of awesomeness in the salad.  Also, feta - I love feta.  I especially love Mt Vikos Traditional Sheep and Goat feta.  I swear they are not sponsoring me, but they really should (hint, hint) because I use their feta all the time.

2Apr/141

Farro Stuffed Portabellas with Goat Cheese

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Who would stuff a mushroom with more mushrooms?  Melissa from Smells Like Brownies and I, that's who, for our weekly vegetarian lunch get together.  Melissa had a ton of farro given to her by a neighbor that she needed to start using, and she was craving mushrooms.  So she found a recipe for balsamic roasted mushrooms with goat cheese to mix with the farro, yum.  You know how much we love goat cheese.  But then she thought, what if we put that inside of a portabella and grilled it?  And I said, why the heck not!  Mushrooms inside of mushrooms, people - it's inception with fungi.

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Mix up some baby bellas and tomatoes with olive oil, balsamic, thyme, garlic, and red pepper.  Careful there - we thought we just added a pinch, but it turned out spiiiiiiiiicy.  Thank goodness for goat cheese, amirite?  Then roast those babies up.

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Once they are roasted, mix them together with cooked farro, spinach,and goat cheese and spoon the mixture into portabella caps.  The baby bellas are going inside the mamma bella!  No?  No one else finds that funny?  Just me?  Fine.

28Mar/140

Pearl Brewery, San Antonio TX

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San Antonio has become a really hip place since I moved away, and that is due in large part to the Pearl Brewery area.  The original brewery was opened in 1881 and ran until 1985 when Pabst Blue Ribbon took over, and then shut down in 2001.  The land was purchased and slowly developed into a shopping area, which is now booming.  With a weekly farmers market, boutique shops, new apartments, and amazing restaurants - this is now the place to be.  It reminds me a lot of Mosaic District, actually.  They even built a new section of Riverwalk nearby!

Anyway, when I came to visit - all the places my family wanted to take me to ended up being at Pearl, so I have lots of reviews for you!

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The night I flew in, my family took me to Cured, located in the historic administration building of the brewery.  As you can guess from the name, cured meats are a large focus of the menu, but they also have cooked main dishes under the categories vegetable, seafood, fowl, pork, beef, and goat or lamb.  My dad ordered a selection of cured meats for us, and they were delish - especially the country style pate and lamb/citrus terrine.  I also had the pork cheeks poutine, which was AWESOME.  The pickled cauliflower they put in there is totally unexpected and is what makes the dish, I think.  For dessert I had a beet twinkie with meyer lemon curd - yum.  The drink menu includes cane sugar sodas from much-beloved Dublin, TX; craft cocktails; and a killer beer list.  My brother is going to have to get on here and tell me what local beer I had, because it was fantastic.

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The next night, we went to The Granary - a modern BBQ joint located in the original brewmaster's house.  I have never seen a concept like this before - super modern, artistic BBQ - very cool.  Apparently my father comes here for lunch at least once a week, because the waiter greeted him by his nickname and knew his favorite dishes.  We thought that was pretty funny.

21Mar/140

Classic Pot Roast

Well Dined | Classic Pot Roast

Pot roast is a pretty standard American meal.  Many folks have their own recipes that they love.  But just in case you don't, here's mine!  An herb crusted beef roast goes into a pot with potatoes, veggies, red wine, and beef stock until it is super tender - yum.

Well Dined | Classic Pot Roast

First step - rub that beef.  Combine kosher salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Italian seasoning to make a rub.  Sprinkle over and press into the meat.

Well Dined | Classic Pot Roast

The you are going to brown those veggies and sear that beef.  Heat olive oil in a heavy dutch oven until very hot.  Then add an onion and carrots and cook until really browned.  Remove the veggies temporarily, add more oil, and sear the beef on all sides.  Then take that out, too, because you need to deglaze.

19Mar/140

Grown Up Tuna Noodle Casserole

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Okay, I am not a huge canned tuna fan.  But I saw this recipe for stuffed shells with tuna, spinach, and roasted garlic topped with bechamel and buttery bread crumbs and I had to try it.  I even had a couple of tins of really nice smoked albacore (pretty much the only canned tuna I like).  You guys, this is not your grandmother's casserole.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

The first thing that makes this dish special is the roasted garlic, which is super easy to make.  Just chop the top off of a whole head of garlic, place it on a sheet of foil, drizzle it with olive oil, wrap it up, and roast away.  When it's done it becomes creamy and sweet and is delicious spread on bread, but we will be using the whole thing in this recipe.  Just squeeze to pop out all the cloves - I find this to be creepy but fascinating.  All that sweet roasted garlic goes into a creamy bechamel sauce.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

The filling is tuna, spinach, and breadcrumbs - simple, but good.  After it is all mixed up, half of the garlic bechamel goes in to make it nice and creamy.

Well Dined | Tuna and Spinach Stuffed Shells

Then that mixture gets stuffed into cooked pasta shells.  I tried to find whole wheat shells, but no luck.  Then you are going to frantically lick the bowl, and the spoon, and your fingers - because this filling is soooooo good.

17Mar/140

Grapes of Spain Wine Dinner at Marcel’s

You should know by now how much we love Marcel's - the restaurant where we got engaged and where we spend many of our special occasions (previous posts here and here).  So when I saw a post about an amazing looking wine dinner on their Facebook page, I immediately called and made reservations.  The dinner was four courses (plus Amuse and cheese) designed to pair with seven wines from Grapes of Spain, a Spanish wine importer with a focus on new talent and modern wines.  Grapes of Spain president Aurelio Cabestrero, and winemakers Javier Candon and Isaac Fernandez were in attendance.  For each pairing, we were given an in-depth description of the wines from the type of land the grapes are grown on, to how they are harvested and prepared, to the tasting notes.  It was incredibly informative and a lot of fun, especially as we got to know the other people at our table.  The best part?  These wines are incredibly reasonably priced, I would even say cheap - most were between $15-$20 a bottle!  And we got a discount for being at the dinner, and an even bigger discount for buying a case (mix and match, too).  Such an insanely great deal!

Without further ado, I present to you the pairings:

Amuse Bouche - Lobster Egg with Osetra Caviar.  This was a lobster bisque topped with custard and caviar, served in an egg shell - delicious.

Biutiful Cava Brut Rose NV - 100% Garnacha.  A delicate, subtle, dry, sparkling rose with notes of raspberry and citrus.

First Course - Diver Scallop Tartine, Aged Sherry Shallot Butter, Smoked Trout Roe.  Excellent, my favorite course.

Adras Godello 2012 - 100% Godello.  My favorite wine of the night - earthy and funky like my beloved French whites, but with more floral and citrus notes making it super balanced and perfect for pairing with food.

Second Course - Saddle of Rabbit Stuffed with Cumin Scented Rabbit Sausage, Butternut Squash Puree, Chanterelle Mushrooms.  Very earthy and yummy (I think we can acknowledge that all the courses are going to be yummy).  I was starting to get tipsy already at this point, yikes!

Adras Mencia 2012 - 100% Mencia.  A light bodied but velvety fruit-forward red.

Third Course - Breast of La Belle Farms Duck, Duck Confit, Valrhona Chocolate, Brandied Cherries.  I really liked this course, and boy were those cherries boozy!

Acentor Garnacha 2012 - 100% Garnacha Tinta (Red Grenache).  Dry and spicy, Jasper preferred this wine with the duck (and overall - it was his favorite).  We both thought it was the most drinkable of all the wines (meaning on it's own, not necessarily with food).

Bovale 2011 - 100% Bobal.  Jammy with ripe berry and chocolate notes.  I thought this was the better pairing with the duck because of the chocolate in the dish, but I was definitely in the minority at the table.

Fourth Course - Herb Brioche Encrusted Rack of Border Springs Lamb, Scarmoza Polenta Cake, Madeira Lamb Jus.  I think I ate this really fast because I needed food at this point, haha.

Finca La Mata 2011 - 100% Tinta del Pais (Tempranillo).  Medium-bodied and fruit-forward with depth.  Very satisfying, but not a standout in this group, especially since it was more classic versus unusual.

Arrocal Selection 2010 - 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo).  This was deep and rich with notes of black cherry, vanilla, and spice.  This wine was the outlier in terms of price point - at $40 it is well above the others.

Cheese - Reblochon Cheese Cake with Green Gauge Plums.  There was no wine paired with this course, so we all took our time finishing whatever we hadn't been able to yet.

Then came a few petite fours and the filling out of the order forms.  The wines were ready to pick up in just a few days.  We got ours yesterday and I am so excited!  The dinner was lovely and I highly recommend looking to see if any of these wines are available near you.  The quality is wonderful on they're own, but paired with the price they're unbeatable.