September 26, 2010

hello, fall: ham and bean soup

Today is the first day of fall that actually feels like fall!  We woke up to a cool, drizzly Sunday, and after three days of 90-degree weather, it’s a welcome change.

As my self-proclaimed idea guy, Brian is always dreaming up things he’d like me to cook.  Often they’re inspired by ingredients we have on hand and other times they’re dredged up from childhood memories in his parents’ kitchens or restaurants around St. Louis.  When the weather turned cooler a few weeks ago, Brian decided that he wanted ham and bean soup like his dad used to make.  Since we recently decided to try to avoid canned food, I was excited to cook with dried beans for the first time (super easy and cheaper than canned beans).  The search for a smoked ham hock for the base of the soup brought me to Eastern Market for the first time in over 2 years (and the second time since I’ve lived in DC).   I appreciate the market even more this time than I did two years ago, and I’m planning to make it a regular stop!  It’s so refreshing to find real butchers.  (Not like the ones at the grocery store, who looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language when I asked for a ham hock.)

The recipe below is based upon instructions from Brian’s dad, with a few of my own tweaks.

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Ham and Cannellini Bean Soup
printable recipe

1 pound dried cannellini beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 bay leaves
2 cups fully cooked ham, diced (about 1/2 pound)
freshly ground black pepper
salt, as needed

The night before making the soup, pick through the beans and discard any that are wrinkled or discolored.  Then rinse the beans and soak overnight in a pot with 6 cups of water. 

Drain the beans.

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In a large pot or Dutch oven,  cover the ham hock with water by about 2 inches.  Bring to boil.  Reduce heat slightly and maintain a gentle boil for 1 hour, adding water as necessary to cover ham. 

    After about 45 minutes, sauté chopped vegetables over medium heat with about 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, until vegetables are tender and just begin to brown.

Add the vegetables, bay leaves, and drained beans to the pot with the ham hock.

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Cover and boil for another 1.5 to 3 hours, until the beans reach desired tenderness and ham hock is falling off the bone, like so:

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During approximately the last 1/2 hour of cooking, add the diced ham. 

Before serving, remove bay leaves and ham hock from soup.  Discard skin, fat, and bone,  Chop remaining ham and add back to the pot. 

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Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt, if needed (ours didn’t need any additional salt).

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Serve with cornbread, an onion wedge, and a small mound of sea salt.*

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*The McCue method for eating ham and bean soup:

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- Take one layer of onion wedge.
- Dip onion in salt.
- Bite onion.
- Take a bite of soup.
- (I was scared at first, too.  But it was quite tasty and fun!)

Happy Autumn!

September 22, 2010

goodbye, summer: okra-corn fritters

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Despite my Southern upbringing, I had never cooked with okra before tonight. Most of my experiences with okra are concentrated in my early childhood.  It stands out because my younger sister – the pickiest eater of us all – loved okra.  I remember her saying it was her favorite vegetable.  It baffled (and impressed) me that she liked it so much when there were so many other foods she wouldn’t eat.  Not to be out done by my little sister, I ate okra with very little protest even though it certainly wasn’t one of my favorite foods.  I’ve eaten okra plenty of times since then, but I had never sought it out and cooked it myself until this week. 

I supposed I didn’t seek it out this time either.  When we came across it at the farmers market recently, my mid-westerner husband told me how much he loves okra.  I can’t think of a vegetable that Brian doesn’t like, but he rarely gets as excited as I do about anything at the market, so I was happy to oblige.

I went back and forth over what to do with the okra for most of the evening and perused a number of online recipes before finally deciding on fritters.  This recipe is adapted from Scott Peacock’s “Okra Fritters,” as featured on the Today Show a few years ago. 

Okra-Corn Fritters
printable recipe

2 fresh ears of corn (or 1 cup frozen, in a pinch)
3 cups thinly sliced okra
1/2 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2/3 cup finely ground corn meal
1/2 cup flour
1 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 egg
freshly ground black pepper
oil for frying

Peel husks and silks from the corn and discard.  Remove the kernels from the ears by standing the ear vertically on a large cutting board and carefully running a sharp knife down the length of the ear until all kernels have been removed.  Set kernels aside.  Extract remaining corn from ears by running a spoon down each ear until all is removed.  This should yield about 3-4 tablespoons between the two ears.  Set corn “pulp” aside.

Bring a medium pot of water to boil.  Add corn kernels and cook for 2 minutes.  Reserve 1 cup of corn cooking water; then drain blanched kernels in a fine mesh strainer.

In a large bowl whisk together cornmeal, flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and baking powder.

Whisk together egg, 2/3 cup cooking water, and corn pulp.  Stir egg mixture into dry ingredients just until combined.  It should be the consistency of a thick cake batter.  Add a little more cooking water if batter seems too dry.

Toss okra, corn, and onions in remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and several grinds of black pepper.  Fold vegetables into cornmeal mixture. 
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Preheat oven to 175°F.

Heat 1/4-inch of oil in a cast iron skillet(or other heavy pan) over medium-high heat.  Adjust heat to maintain a temperature between 340°and 350°F.  (Use a candy thermometer to monitor temperature.) 

Drop heaping tablespoons of batter one at a time into hot oil.* (I used a 1-oz./#30 cookie scoop and flattened the fritters slightly with the back of the scoop.) 
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When the fritters are well browned on the underside (about 3-4 minutes), carefully turn them over and cook for another 3-4 minutes.

Remove cooked fritters to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm in oven until ready to serve.
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*I’m not a very experienced at stovetop deep- (or not-so-deep-)frying. (We always had a dedicated appliance for that.)  Maybe I was doing something wrong, but I had a little trouble with oil splattering up at me without warning.  (I have hot oil to thank for a new – thankfully tiny – burn on my arm.)  I highly recommend using a splatter screen if you have it.

September 20, 2010

Grapefruit Sunrise Martini

This is a little concoction I came up with a few years ago when Brian and I were both living in New York.  It was a lazy, around-the-apartment kind of summer day (sans air conditioning, might I add), and we thought we'd have a breakfast martini...just because we could.

I haven't had this drink in quite some time because, sadly, I haven't kept limoncello stocked in our kitchen.  I was reminded of it last night when Brian tweeted the recipe in response to a request for creative cocktails.

Our impending trip to Europe(!) has me thinking about limoncello a lot.  I have to resist buying it every time I'm in a liquor store.  I'm holding out for the local stuff, for which there is a nice roomy space reserved in my return suitcase.  This will be the first cocktail on my list when we return, and I'll post a picture then.  In the mean time, enjoy!

The Grapefruit Sunrise Martini
printable recipe

2 oz. fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, from 1/2 medium grapefruit
2 oz. vodka
1 oz. limoncello

Combine the first four ingredients in a shaker and shake to thoroughly blend and chill.  Serve in a martini glass rimmed with honey.
September 19, 2010

better bran muffins

One of my favorite breakfasts growing up was the “Six Week Bran Muffins” my mom used to make – so called because the recipe makes a lot of batter that will keep in the refrigerator for up to six weeks.  (I’m not sure where the recipe came from, but there are countless variations on the web.)  One of the best things about these muffins – besides the fact that they’re delicious – is that it takes about 2 seconds to pop them into the oven to bake while you get ready for work/school/life/etc.  (It’s even quicker if you have an oven that can be set to start preheating 10 minutes before you get up.)  Fifteen to twenty minutes later, voilà!  You have a warm, cozy, fresh-baked, relatively healthy – and might I add portable – breakfast!

Here are ingredients for “Six Week Bran Muffins”:

6 cups All-Bran cereal 
1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter, softened
3 cups sugar
4 eggs
4 cups buttermilk
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups boiling water
Raisins and/or walnuts, optional

I’ve been baking them myself for years.  Imagine my dismay when I discovered that the requisite All-Bran cereal contains high fructose corn syrup.  Yuck.  (By the way, there’s a campaign in the works to rebrand it as “corn sugar.”  Don’t be fooled.)  Some will say there’s nothing wrong with HFCS and that it’s just like sugar, but I just don’t want to eat something that processed, over-subsidized, and unsustainable.  Plus, unprocessed wheat bran is cheaper than All-Bran.

I’m sure there are a number of good bran muffin recipes out there, but I’ve never had one that quite rivals my mom’s.  A few months ago, I broke down and bought a box of All-Bran to make a batch of muffins.  When I found the remaining cereal still in my pantry several weeks ago, I thought it would be a great opportunity to develop a new recipe.   I would use the rest of the All-Bran cereal to make a small batch of muffins and taste them side-by-side with the new All-Bran-free recipe in an attempt to recreate the same finished product.

In order to accomplish this, I couldn’t simply replace the All-Bran in the recipe with an equal amount of unprocessed wheat bran because the All-Bran has added ingredients (like sugar and salt) that would be missing from the plain wheat bran and change the final result.  So, I would have to figure out what exactly was contained in each 1/2-cup serving of All-Bran and add equivalent amounts of those ingredients (or substitutes) to my muffin recipe.

I started off by examining the ingredients on the All-Bran label.  Luckily, there aren’t that many that I needed to worry about:

Ingredients: wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt flavoring, calcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, salt, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid  (vitamin C), reduced iron, niacinamid, pyridoxine hydrocloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), folic acid, thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), vitamin A palmitate, vitamin B12 and vitamin D.”

I disregarded most of the latter ingredients as supplementary vitamins and minerals appearing in trace amounts and dealt with just five of the ingredients:  wheat bran, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, malt flavoring, and salt.  Four of those ingredients are self-explanatory.  I did a little online research on the “malt flavoring” and discovered that it is probably a malt syrup of some sort (often in the form of barley malt syrup).  So the “malt flavoring” is just a third type of sweetener. 

A 1/2-cup serving of All-Bran cereal has a mass of 31 grams

In order to find out how much of each ingredient is included in that 31 grams, I would have to compare the nutritional value of the cereal to the nutritional value of unprocessed wheat bran.  Let’s say 1 gram of that 31 grams is the “disregarded” ingredients, that way we’re working with a nice, round 30 grams. 

Let’s start with sweeteners:

The high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and malt flavoring are all sweeteners whose entire mass (and caloric content) is sugar.

Unprocessed wheat bran contains 0 grams of sugar.  All-Bran contains 6 grams of sugar in a 30-gram serving.  That 6 grams of added sugar is either in the form of high fructose corn syrup, granulated sugar, or malt syrup. 

But how could I translate 6 grams of sugar into a recipe?  (How many teaspoons is 6 grams of sugar?)

One teaspoon of sugar is 4 grams.  So, 6 grams of sugar is 1 1/2 teaspoons and each 1/2 cup of All-Bran contains 1 1/2 teaspoons of sugar (or other sweetener, since they’re about the same mass per teaspoon).

I obviously wouldn’t be using any corn syrup, so the sugar and malt flavoring were the only two contenders.  I happened to have barley malt syrup in the house from the last time I made bagels, but you could probably substitute molasses with similar results.  (Either will give the sweetness of the muffins some depth.)

I could tell by the order of the All-Bran ingredients list that there is more sugar than HFC and more HFC than malt flavoring, so I thought that a sugar-to-malt-syrup ratio of 2:1 might be reasonable. That translates to 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of malt syrup per 30 grams.


Wheat bran contains 0 mg of sodium. A serving of All-Bran contains 80mg of sodium. 

1/4 teaspoon of the sea salt we use contains 530mg of sodium, so All-Bran contains a negligible amount of salt (something like 1/100 teaspoon of salt per 1/2 cup cereal)

Wheat bran:

6.08 grams of every 30 grams of All-Bran is added ingredients.  So,

30g – 6.08g = 23.92g

There are about 24 grams of wheat bran in each 1/2 cup of All-Bran cereal.

24 grams of wheat bran (at 15g per 1/4 cup) is 0.4 cups, which translates to about 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons.

And, finally, the totals:

So, for each 1/2 cup of All-Bran called for in the original recipe, I would substitute the following:

1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons All-Bran

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon barley malt

1/100 teaspoon salt

Since the recipe is rather large, these work out to much more manageable numbers.

The verdict:


The non-All-Bran muffins (pictured right) turned out deeper in color than the All-Bran version (left).  They also had a slightly grainier texture (because of the bran itself), but the flavor was very close.  The non-All-Bran muffins had a slightly richer, deeper sweetness (probably attributable to the barley malt), and the All-Bran muffins had a more honey-like sweetness.  The more Brian and I ate them, the more we preferred the non-All-Bran variety.  I’ve included a few different sweetener options in the recipe below to adjust for different tastes.

So without further ado:


Better Six-Week Bran Muffins
printable recipe

5 cups unprocessed wheat bran
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
3 1/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons barley malt syrup (or molasses or honey)
4 eggs
4 cups buttermilk
5 cups flour
5 teaspoons baking soda
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups boiling water
Raisins and/or walnuts, optional*

In a medium bowl combine 2 1/2 cups wheat bran with boiling water.  Stir to combine and set aside.

In a very large bowl, cream together butter and sugar.  Add barley malt, eggs, and buttermilk.  Beat until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine flour, remaining 2 1/2 cups wheat bran, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Beat together the first and second bowls.  Add the third bowl and beat until well combined. 

Use a measuring cup or large cookie scoop to drop batter into a greased or lined muffin tin. Bake at 350°F for 12 to 20 minutes (depending on muffin size),  until a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out with just a few crumbs clinging to it.  (A 1/2-cup muffin tin requires about 17 minutes.) 

Allow to cool slightly in pan before removing to cooling rack.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  (They are particularly good served warm with a bit of butter.)

Leftover batter will keep in the refrigerator for up to 6 weeks.

*If using raisins or walnuts, only add them to the portion of batter that you are ready to use (just before baking, not in stored batter).

September 16, 2010

basil-grapefruit sorbet

Enough already with the frozen desserts, right?  It’s mid-September!  Maybe it’s my natural inclination to cling to the final days of summer, but I’m on a frozen dessert kick lately…That and I had a few grapefruit that had been in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks and didn’t seem to be going anywhere unless I took action!
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Basil-Grapefruit Sorbet
4 medium grapefruit
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
10 basil leaves
2 tablespoons (citrus) vodka
Scrub the grapefruit thoroughly.  Remove zest and set aside.
In a small saucepan, combine water and sugar.   Bring to boil and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved and liquid is clear.  Stir in basil leaves and 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest. 
After about 10 seconds, turn off heat and allow basil and zest to steep in syrup until ready to use (at least 10 minutes).
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Halve grapefruit and juice.  This should yield about 1 ½ cups of juice. 
Add simple syrup and vodka to grapefruit juice in a medium bowl.  Stir to combine.  Pass the mixture through a find mesh strainer to remove any solids. 
Allow mixture to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  Or chill in salted ice bath:  fill a large bowl about 1/3 full with ice.  Add about 1 cup of water and 1 teaspoon of salt.  Set medium bowl containing sorbet mixture in larger bowl and stir occasionally until mixture is cold (about 10 to 15 minutes). 

Pour chilled mixture into ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s directions. 
The final product will probably still be a bit soft.  For a firmer texture, allow sorbet to freeze in freezer for at least 8 hours. (I found that the basil flavor was more pronounced after resting, as well.)  For a firmer texture immediately, use half the amount of vodka in the recipe.
And since you’ve been working so hard….
Use a little extra basil-grapefruit simple syrup to make yourself a drink!
Basil-Grapefruit Cocktail
3 basil leaves
2 tablespoons basil-grapefruit simple syrup (strained)
1 ½ oz. (citrus) vodka
splash of grapefruit juice 
club soda

In the bottom of an old-fashioned glass, muddle basil leaves.  Add simple syrup, vodka, and ice.  Top with club soda (several good splashes or to taste).  Stir.  Garnish with a grapefruit twist or slice and a sprig of basil, if desired.

September 15, 2010

sweet/tart: homemade frozen yogurt

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After a number of visits this summer to fro-zen-yo (which is a little too convenient to my work), I decided to give homemade frozen yogurt a try.  I always like the opportunity to control what goes into the things I eat, and yogurt is already such a wonderfully delicious, creamy substance, how hard could it be to add a couple  of ingredients and freeze it?  Not terribly difficult, as it turns out, but there are a number of different ways to do it and a lot of junk to sift through before you find something good.  Recipes call for everything from raw egg white to evaporated milk, corn syrup to cornstarch, heavy cream to gelatin.  But I wanted unadulterated, frozen yogurt.   All those additives seemed to defeat the purpose of making it at home.

I finally found a beautifully simple recipe on  101 Cookbooks, adapted from David Lebovitz's cookbook, The Perfect Scoop.   This particular recipe calls for yogurt, sugar, and optional vanilla.  More specifically, it requires either strained yogurt or Greek-style yogurt, the rationale being that straining off the whey (or using Greek yogurt which already has less liquid) yields a creamier, less icy product.  I made the recipe using strained yogurt, and while it was good, I didn’t like having to buy twice as much yogurt to make half as much frozen yogurt.  It was interesting trying to find a use for the leftover whey—because all that lean protein couldn’t just go to waste.  (I ended up freezing it in an ice cube tray and tossing a couple cubes into my smoothies.)

The next time around, I decided I’d try a non-strained frozen yogurt, and I was really happy with the result!  I didn’t find it much – if any – more icy than the previous batch, and it was a much quicker process with almost twice as big a yield.   I got the idea of adding alcohol to the yogurt when I tried David Lebovitz’s recipe for strawberry frozen yogurt.  The alcohol lowers the freezing temperature of the yogurt, so it doesn’t become rock solid in the freezer.

The following recipe is simple, slightly sweet, with just the right amount of tart. It's even better topped with fresh fruit!

sweet-tart frozen yogurt
printable recipe

32 oz. plain lowfat yogurt
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons vodka*

In a medium bowl, stir together all ingredients until well combined.  Return to refrigerator for one hour.
Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.  (For me, this meant about 30 minutes in the ice cream attachment of my stand mixer.)

When freshly churned, the yogurt will be quite soft.  It will freeze hard, but still scoopable.  To soften remove from freezer and keep at room temperature for about 30 minutes before serving.

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* I used citrus flavored vodka because I didn’t want to “waste” my Ciroc on a mixture in which I’d hardly taste it.  The citrus added a subtle boost in the brightness of the final product.

**You may also add other flavors, such as vanilla extract. (I do not recommend peppermint extract in this recipe.)  For a fruit-based frozen yogurt, try David Lebovitz’s strawberry frozen yogurt.  I’d be willing to bet that other fruits (berries, peaches, etc.) would work, as well.  Next time I make it, I am going to try a higher yogurt-to-fruit ratio, but either way, it’s absolutely delicious!

September 12, 2010

DC&U: a 3-day crash course

Sometimes it takes an outsider to really make you appreciate your own backyard.  (Not that we have a backyard.)  When my sister and brother-in-law visited from Austin last weekend, we spent three days seeing our neighborhood and our city through new eyes.  My sister had been to DC a number of times but not in a few years.  Her husband had never been.   Their only request, however, was to do what we normally do.  So that’s what we did—only we crammed into those three days three months’ worth of eating and doing and seeing.   We were lucky that the weather cooperated, bringing us warm sun, cool breezes, and a clear blue sky.  It was so much fun to show our guests some of our favorite spots and experience a few new ones ourselves along the way. 

Friday: We headed over to Duffy’s Irish Pub for wings (DC’s best) and fish & chips—Brian says they’re the best he’s had this side of the Atlantic.  We drank spritz on the roof (one of our favorite pastimes of late), and heard some straight-ahead jazz at Utopia over cocktails, crab cakes, and pan-fried brie with a lovely, warm (and Christmas-y) cinnamon-orange compote.  We always love the crab cakes and the brie was great (although I did find myself wishing that there were some fresh apples to go along with it.)  Be careful how you order the house Manhattan.  For me the Manhattans have been hit or miss, but  they do a great job on Brian’s vodka martini, and the jazz is always just right.

Saturday: We got out to 14&U Farmers’ Market for some local produce and made brunch at home afterwards: duck eggs (scrambled and fried) from Pecan Meadows, bacon from Truck Patch Farms, a fresh baguette, and a (local) French melon.  I highly recommend giving duck eggs a try.  They are about the size of “jumbo” chicken eggs but have larger yolks, so they are very rich and creamy. Yum!

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After an afternoon working on electric guitar wiring and shopping (you can guess who was doing what), we barely made it to Vinoteca in time for happy hour (a number of wines for $5) and managed to get in a few rounds of bocce.  (The guys shouldn’t feel too bad about losing—it’s in our blood, after all.)  For an inexpensive red after happy hour, I’m a fan of the Marchesi di Barolo “Maraia” Barbera.  Also try the ricotta crostini—you won’t be sorry!


Later, we went to the rooftop at Marvin for drinks and (when that got too loud) Bistro La Bonne for more drinks and some French fare.  We’ve been meaning make it to Marvin for a while now.  I’m glad we finally did (although I still haven’t gotten to try the moules frites).   Before Saturday, we hardly knew that the seven-month-old Bistro La Bonne even existed and happened upon it when looking for a laid-back and not-too-crowded place to sit outside.  I thought their paté was good but not the best I’ve ever had (although maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for paté at 11pm), but the cheese plate was outstanding.  I particularly liked the “double cream” cow cheese they served – so buttery and delicious.  We’re looking forward to going back for some French bistro food.  (We expect to be spoiled by Paris in a few weeks(!), so they’ll have to really impress us. :) ) 

It’s not one of our usual stops, but we couldn’t resist the smell of Jumbo Slice Pizza a couple doors down from Bistro La Bonne as we headed home.  (At least we split it four ways.)

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Sunday: We took a (mostly) unintentional walking tour of the city: from our place near 9th and U to L’Enfant Cafe for brunch at 18th and U (as usual, Brian and I shared two of our favorites: crêpe complete and a Nutella and strawberry crêpe);


then south through Dupont Circle to the White House; down to the Mall, past the Washington Monument, and east for a brief rest at the Sculpture Garden fountain; on to the Smithsonian National Museum of Art at 9th and Constitution; north to Gallery Place and the National Portrait Gallery at 7th and G; northwest via fro-zen-yo to the Cathedral of St. Matthew at 18th and M; then homeward via Whole Foods at 14th and P.



According to Google Maps, we walked over 8 miles that day.  We kept saying we were going to get on the metro, but it was such a beautiful day that we thought, “Why waste it underground?”  Plus, we were getting good and hungry for the grass-fed beef burgers we would have that evening on the roof!  The grill was in use, so we cooked the burgers on the  grill pan inside and brought them upstairs to eat. 

Grass-fed Beef Burgers, a quick and easy method
printable recipe

grass-fed ground beef
kosher salt (1/2 teaspoon per pound)
freshly ground pepper (to taste)

Simply season the ground beef with kosher salt and pepper and shape loosely into 4-ounce patties that are thinner in the middle than around the edges.

Grill for about 3 minutes per side.  Add cheddar cheese to the patties about a minute before they are done and cover the grill pan with foil (or close the grill) to melt the cheese. 

Best burgers any of us had had in ages.  With such a simple preparation, I’m sure this was attributable to the fact that the cows were grass-fed.


Around 11:00 pm, I remembered that my sister and I had planned to make a cake and learn/practice making buttercream roses.  Since they were leaving the next afternoon, it was now then or never.  I whipped together 4- and 6-inch layers of white, almond-scented cake (like the birthday cake I made a few weeks ago).  We did the icing and decorating Monday morning.  I passed on what little know-how I had about making buttercream roses, and after laboring over a few pink and purple flowers apiece, we let ourselves get a bit carried away with the extra icing. 

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It looked like the Barbie Dream House we shared as kids had exploded all over that defenseless little cake.  Nonetheless, it made a great breakfast with a cup of coffee—a sort of final fling before the holiday ended and we went back to our everyday lives.
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