Battle of the food subscription boxes – Round 1

Curated subscription boxes are hot right now, and for good reason.  The carefully-chosen products within these monthly boxes offer a way to try new things without breaking the bank.  This month, I tried three subscription boxes:

  1.     HelloFresh – This weekly meal delivery service offers a Classic or Veggie food box for 2 or 4 people.  Inside the box, you’ll receive instructions for three dinner meals and step-by-step instructions to help you prep and cook each meal.  I cooked the Pan Seared Steak with Cipollini Onions, Roasted New Potatoes and Tomato Pan Sauce.  All ingredients were included, with the exception of salt and pepper, and the instructions were clear and detailed. The end result was a restaurant-quality meal that I made at home, in my own kitchen.  Use referral code

    FTUR2U and you can get $40 off your first meal!

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  2. Graze Box – A weekly snack box offering single-serving packs of sweet and savory snacks based on preferences you select when you create your account.  My initial box included pizza margherita snack mix, mocha walnut cake snack mix, Vitamin C Crush snack mix (pineapple, mango and coconut) and cocoa and vanilla protein flapjacks (snack bars).  The snacks are the perfect size to throw in a purse or bag and munch on throughout the day, and the constantly-changing variety of snacks means there’s plenty to choose from to tide me over until mealtime.  Blog followers who use the code 5PGJ65WTP can receive their first and fifth box free.  IMG_1183 IMG_1184 (1)
  3. Cuisine Cube – A curated assortment of artisan food products from small producers.  My first box contained Italian specialties:  whole wheat pasta, vodka pasta sauce, a bag of Italian breadsticks, hard cured salami and Italian lemon cookies for dessert.  I received a free box to review for my blog, and the products inside were good, but didn’t really blow me away.  The salami and lemon cookies were standouts, but the pasta and sauce weren’t anything to write home about.  The company offers Artisan, Vegan and Gluten-Free cube options.  I tried the Artisan box.  If you try that or one of the other boxes, let me know what you thought!  IMG_1297 IMG_1298 IMG_1299 IMG_1363

The winner:  HelloFresh!  The farm-fresh ingredients, step-by-step directions and delicious meals make HelloFresh the tastiest option and the best value.  Use the referral code above to get $40 off your first box!

Whirlwind Foodie Weekend in DC

For my birthday this year, my husband and I took a quick weekend trip to DC to attend the MetroCooking show. While we were there, we decided to try out a local brewery in Silver Spring and to go out to dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant ever – Daikaya in downtown DC!

Denizens Brewing Co. is located in South Silver Spring, MD, next door to an auto repair shop. It’s a quick walk from the Metro stop, and features an outdoor beer garden, indoor bar area, and a downstairs bar with additional seating. Guided tours are offered on Saturdays for a small fee. Opened in July 2014, Denizens features a rotating lineup of craft beers. On our visit, I had a tasting flight that included the Third Party Tripel, Ponch’s Patch Pumpkin Porter, Sex Panther India Black Lager and Mildly Soba, an English-style brown mild beer. My favorite was the Ponch’s Patch Pumpkin Porter, but I’m a sucker for pumpkin beers.  My husband preferred the Third Party Tripel!

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(The wall art in the downstairs bar was fun and funky.)

On Saturday, we visited the MetroCooking DC show at the Convention Center. The show had a lot going on:  a tasting pavilion, a beer, wine and spirits pavilion, a barbecue competition, cooking demonstrations, VIP visits and cooking classes.  We attended the beer, wine and spirits pavilion, where we checked out A. Smith Bowman Distillery’s table and sampled their whiskey and rum.


We also checked out some Flying Dog beers, Cupcake Vineyards wines and some amaro’s and artisan Italian liqueurs from Don Ciccio & Figli.


The DC Brewers Guild, which represents DC-made beers like DC Brau, Right Proper Brewing Co. and Three Stars Brewing Co., offered samples of their brews and some locally-made cheeses.


We caught a cooking demonstration featuring DC-area chef Victor Albisu of Del Campo and Taco Bamba.  He walked us through cooking his roasted pumpkin risotto with grilled arugula, goat cheese, sage and pepitas.  The cooking demonstration was a highlight of the show – Victor’s witty personality enlivened the presentation and kept the audience engaged, and the end result was delicious!  My husband even promised to try his hand at cooking the pumpkin risotto for me!

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The icing on the cake of our perfect Washington weekend was dinner at my favorite Japanese restaurant on the planet, Daikaya.  The restaurant encompasses a ground-level ramen shop and a second-floor izakaya (traditional Japanese drinking spot serving comfort food).  What I love about Daikaya is how the chef, Katsuya Fukushima, effortlessly blends classic French methods and preparations with Japanese dishes and ingredients, such as the grilled octopus with “Robu-chan” potatoes, an homage to Joel Robuchon’s classic mashed potato puree.  The dish combines a Japanese preparation of grilled octopus with the European potato preparation, topped with pimenton and olive oil.

We started with drinks:

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For dinner, my husband and I enjoyed grilled oysters with butter, parmesan cheese and teriyaki sauce, chilled cucumber with rayu vinaigrette, crispy garlic, ground sesame seed and chili thread, crab croquettes with Old Bay, corn, tonkatsu sauce and nori salt, a skewer of grilled beef tenderloin with broccoli and yakitori sauce and a chicken thigh skewer.  We each ordered our own mini domburi rice bowl – warm, sweet, sticky white rice topped with fish roe, green onion, nori and soy-Kewpie.

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I have to say:  Daikaya’s mini domburi rice bowl is tied with Bonchon’s salmon avocado ball as the most delicious thing I’ve ever eaten.

All in all, we had an amazingly fun weekend.  We got to visit a new brewery and revisit our favorite Japanese restaurant.  We got to check out lots of new food and beverage products, and we even squeezed in a run on the Capital Crescent Trail in preparation for the Richmond Marathon 8K.  We had a great time!

MetroDC Cooking Show – Oct. 24-25, 2015

This weekend, my husband and I will be adventuring in DC. We’ll be hitting up the MetroCooking DC food show, as well as some local bars and restaurants.

Get your tickets for MetroCooking DC 2015 online now! There are a number of special events taking place during the show, including a BBQ Bash, Beer, Wine and Spirits Garden, RAMW Tasting Pavilion, LADC Pop-Up Cooking School and a number of VIP meet and greets with the show’s celebrity guests, including Giada de Laurentiis, David Guas, Michael Symon, Christina Tosi and Bryan Voltaggio.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest to see my picks from the MetroDC Cooking Show!

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It’s Apple Season Again!

Fall in Virginia means gorgeous trees in brilliant reds, golds and oranges. It also means it’s time to pick apples!

This year, I took my kids to Carter Mountain Orchard in North Garden, just outside Charlottesville. Since both school and my work were closed on Columbus Day, we picked that day to visit. LOTS of other people had the same idea, as the place was pretty crowded. Carter Mountain has plenty of apple varieties across a large orchard area. We picked Winesap, Stayman, Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and Fuji apples.


At the orchard, there are several barns where you can taste local wines and ciders, shop for cold cider, apple cider donuts and other baked goods, and find local crafts and souvenirs. There was also a small pumpkin patch, a hayride through the orchard and an apple and worm cutout for my goofy kids to pose with.


For lunch after a morning of apple picking, we visited historic Michie Tavern, just down the mountain from the orchard. Built in the late 1700’s, the Tavern likely hosted Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and any other visiting dignitaries. The interior is low-ceilinged, with exposed beams and numerous fireplaces. You feel as if you’re stepping back in time as you enter one of the tavern’s gathering rooms.


A delicious buffet lunch of fresh fried chicken, smoked barbecue, string beans, stewed tomatoes, cole slaw, mashed potatoes, cornbread, fresh-baked biscuits and more was the perfect meal after a long day tromping through orchards. Everything I ate was delicious, and the tavern’s atmosphere made me feel like Thomas Jefferson himself could barge in at any moment to discuss the day’s politics.

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If you want to get your apple picking on, you’ve only got a few more weeks! Visit Virginia Tourism’s website for other orchards and festival information.

Richmond’s Own Speakeasy

Did you know that Virginia made alcohol illegal a full three years before the rest of the country? In larger Virginia cities like Alexandria, Richmond and Norfolk, this extra three years of “dry”ness made speakeasies a booming business. Virginia’s history as a hotbed of moonshine production, combined with the natural harbor of the Chesapeake Bay (perfect for rum running) and the ingenuity of Virginians in setting up moonshine and whiskey stills (along with a full range of criminal organizations to protect them) meant that Virginia was still quite “wet” despite the 18th Amendment.  Hell, even the Jefferson Hotel housed a speakeasy within its storied walls.

Fast forward nearly a century and witness the resurgence in pre-Prohibition era cocktails, the focus on high-quality liquors and drink ingredients and the creativity of modern mixologists and you can see why the speakeasy is stepping back into the limelight. From Bar PX in Alexandria to The Speakeasy Grill in Richmond, the trend of revisiting the ambience and charm of the speakeasy is evident in today’s bar scene.

Recently, I had the opportunity to check out another Richmond speakeasy: Grandstaff & Stein Booksellers on Main Street a block past the Poe Museum.

The space is nondescript, tucked into a low, commercial-looking white building. When you enter, you’ll be greeted by a host and bookshelves full of books “for sale.”


Whisper the day’s password to the host (which you will have discovered on Grandstaff & Stein’s Facebook page), and the bookcase will be pulled back to reveal a dim and bustling bar, with indoor tables and booths as well as an outdoor courtyard.

The cocktail menu is short but creative. I had the Fist City, and a friend had the Bean Counter.


The food was elegant and tasty. I had a cheese and crackers plate and French onion soup. Our group shared some veggies and hummus and parmesan and herb popcorn.

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I loved the laid back vibe of this place, and I’m a sucker for kitschy bar concepts. Grandstaff & Stein is a great place for creative cocktails and a bite to eat away from the hustle and bustle of Shockoe Bottom. I’d definitely visit again – I’d love to have drinks at the bar or enjoy a meal and some cocktails in the courtyard. Check it out! But be aware that it gets crowded quickly on the weekends. If you have a large group, you may have to wait a few minutes for a booth or table.

My Mild Obsession With “The Great British Bake-Off”

I can’t quite put into words my reasons for adoring “The Great British Bake-Off” while simultaneously being completely turned off by most American cooking competition shows.  Maybe it has something to do with the bad taste I still have in my mouth from the Food Network taking the original cooking competition show – “Iron Chef” – a classic, reverent celebration of the talent and creativity of some of Asia’s best chefs, and turning it into a totally American-style Wild West shootout of food:  over the top, loud and formulaic.

I got hooked on “The Great British Bake-Off” a few years ago, when I discovered the Hola app for Google Chrome.  (Hola allows those outside the UK to watch BBC shows online.)  The show does follow a formula.  Each episode focuses on a particular aspect of baking (i.e. pastry, cakes, biscuits – cookies for the non-Brits, alternative ingredients – gluten-free, sugar-free, etc.).  Competitors from around Britain initially participate in the Signature Challenge, an opportunity for them to create a bake that showcases their own talents and techniques, perhaps making an item they prepare at home for their family and friends.  The bake is timed and judged, then the contestants move on to the Technical Challenge, a bake for which all participants are given the same ingredient list, but with no instructions.  They must use their own knowledge of baking techniques to combine the ingredients properly and accomplish a bake that most closely matches the example provided by the judges.  Again, bakes are timed and judged.  The final challenge each week is the Showstopper Challenge, a go-big-or-go-home occasion for the bakers to let their creativity run wild.  Given a theme, each contestant must do their best to wow the judges with the appearance, taste and complexity of their bake.  At the end of the three bakes, a Star Baker is chosen and the contestant chosen by the judges as the least skilled is sent home.

Judging the bakes each week are cookbook author Mary Berry and professional baker Paul Hollywood.  Presenters – more like color commentators – Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins add a soothing running commentary to the festivities.  Rather than yelling and running around like lunatics (as I’m sure would be the case if this show were on American television), the coverage of the activities in the GBBO tent have a certain civility without losing the importance of standout techniques or unfortunate mistakes.

The BAFTA-winning British show has gone over so well that it has spawned a slew of international versions, from Australia to South Africa to Ireland to Turkey.  As a French speaker and Francophile, the French version, “Le Meilleur Patissier,” is another favorite of mine.  A short-lived American version featuring host Jeff Foxworthy, original GBBO judge Paul Hollywood and judge Marcella Valladolid (of Food Network series “Mexican Made Easy”) aired in the Spring of 2013, but it was bumped to a new time slot to make way for Big Brother and, going head to head with Fox’s “Master Chef” died a slow, painful death.

The original is still the best though, IMHO.  If you have an interest in baking, download the Hola app for Google Chrome and check it out on BBC.

Bake Off

Local Barbecue, Tacos and Beer – The Cultured Swine and Isley Brewing Co.

I recently had the pleasure of visiting a new local barbecue and taco restaurant and grabbing a beer flight at a local craft brewery.  Both spots far exceeded my expectations.  Here’s why:

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The Cultured Swine, located in the midst of the burgeoning Jackson Ward restaurant scene, offers tacos, sandwiches, tamales and sides that marry the flavors of Mexico, Korea and Jamaica with barbecue.  It might sound strange, but it works.  I tried the taco trio of the Tarheel Special (NC-style pulled pork barbecue with “swine sauce” and cole slaw), the Big Jerk (Jamaican jerk chicken with mango pico de gallo) and the Go Go Gogi (Korean-style beef with kimchi salsa).  My lunch pal had the Tarheel Special barbecue sandwich, and we shared a side of Riri’s Macaroni Pie.  Inspired by Rihanna, the macaroni pie was topped with crushed tomatoes and breadcrumbs and made a crunchy, spicy addition to our meal.

My three tacos were awesome.  My favorite was the Big Jerk – the mango pico de gallo was the perfect accompaniment to the heat of the chicken.  The Go Go Gogi was sweet and spicy, and the Tarheel Special had perfectly-smoked pork with crisp, tangy coleslaw and homemade barbecue sauce.

The spot itself is tucked away on a side street just down from Saison.  They’re open for lunch and dinner.  Their food was delicious – I can’t wait to go back!


My husband and I got a rare Friday evening together sans kids, and we headed to Isley Brewing Co. for happy hour and some beer flights.  I’d tried their Choosy Mother peanut butter porter at Growlers to Go, so I knew they made some interesting beers.  I was not disappointed my my flight choices of Dark Palm (chocolate coconut dunkelweizen), Off the Boulevard red ale, Stunt Dubbel (pumpkin Belgian dubbel), Choosy Mother peanut butter porter (yes, I had to have it again!) and Ruby Red Slippers (grapefruit session).

I am a super fan of the Choosy Mother peanut butter porter.  I love dark beer, and I love peanut butter.  The combination was magical!  The Dark Palm was interesting, but seemed a little like a failed experiment (hence the marked down price of $3 a pint), but the Stunt Dubbel was amazing enough to be a new favorite pumpkin beer, and the Ruby Red Slippers was a crisp, refreshing late summer brew.  Complimentary Cape Cod chips and Snyder’s pretzels are available.  The brewery and tasting room are located in Scott’s Addition.  The space is sleek but comfortable, with a mix of bar space, tables and sofas/chairs to relax in.  Happy hour (4-6 pm) offers $1 off all beers, and there are food trucks and special events too.

If you’re in Richmond and fan of barbecue, tacos and beer, you’ve gotta check out The Cultured Swine and Isley Brewing Co.!