Wine, rum and chocolate for Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is on the way, and what better way to celebrate with your special someone than by sharing some fancy chocolate, delicious red wine and spicy sweet rum?

Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago-based chocolatier crafting interesting and elegant “experiential” chocolates, is where we start. With studies at Paris’ prestigious Le Cordon Bleu and an apprenticeship in Spain under Ferran Adria, Vosges’ head chocolatier, Kristina Markoff, brings a worldly and refined palate to the creation of some of the finest chocolates available. My husband and I sampled the Smoke & Stout Caramel Bar and the Black Salt Caramel Bar, paired with Witching Hour, a California red blend I picked up after tasting it at our local Total Wine, and with Old New Orleans Cajun Spice rum.

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The bitterness of the stout and dark chocolate in the Smoke & Stout bar paired very well with the dry but slightly sweet red blend. On the contrary, the Old New Orleans Cajun Spice rum’s sweetness brought out the lighter chocolate flavors and intense caramel sweetness in the Black Salt bar.

If you’re looking for a simple way to make your Valentine’s Day special, why not pick up some fancy chocolate for your love and pair it with a wine, a special spirit, or both?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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NYC Weekend Getaway – East Ville des Folies & more!

What better time to get away to New York City than a freezing cold January weekend? This past weekend, my husband and I hit the road to check out a whiskey and beer tasting event in Manhattan and try some of the food and drinks the city has to offer.

We arrived Friday evening and checked into our hotel, The Comfort Inn near the Financial District.  The hotel was right next to Chinatown, and my Best Parking app found a private parking deck in the same block, which made for a convenient, secure place to leave our car for the weekend. The Comfort Inn was a perfect value choice for a quick visit. The rooms are small but clean, the staff is friendly, the lobby and decor are modern and the hotel offers a complimentary hot breakfast. With rates around $100 a night and a location a block away from a subway station, this hotel was a great place to stay.

Earlier in the week I’d gotten an email from Blackboard Eats with a special deal on a four-course prix fixe meal for $40 a person at Red Hook Lobster Pound in Brooklyn. A few subway stops and a leisurely stroll later, we arrived at the restaurant:  a laid back and rustic oasis in the midst of docklands, industrial warehouses and storefronts. Red Hook has a long and storied past, beginning in docks and seafaring (hence the great location for a seafood restaurant), and encompassing historical figures like Al Capone, H.P. Lovecraft, Arthur Miller, Harlan Ellison and more.

Our meal was, quite literally, the most delicious seafood meal I’ve ever eaten. It started with a cup of clam chowder, which was velvety-smooth, with chunks of potato and clam that were just the right size – not so big they choke you but not so small that you feel like the restaurant is cutting corners.

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Next came peel-and-eat shrimp, steamed with Old Bay and served with house-made cocktail sauce. The shrimp were plump and tasty, and the sauce had just the right amount of kick.

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The crown jewel of this meal was the whole lobster, served with an ear of corn, potatoes, cole slaw and plenty of drawn butter (bib and claw cracker on the side).  The only thing to be said about this lobster was “Wow.” So fresh it was probably in the water that morning, huge and cooked perfectly.

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Dessert was a carnival favorite:  funnel cake a la mode topped with blueberry compote. The contrast of crispy and doughy, with the sweetness of the blueberries and the cool vanilla ice cream was just divine – the perfect ending to this amazing meal.

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On Saturday, we had tickets for East Ville des Folies: Acte Quatre, a Prohibition-era beer and whiskey tasting event spanning four floors at historic Webster Hall. Dressed in our 1920’s best, we waited in the line that ran around the block for our VIP admission – an extra hour of tasting with a slightly smaller crowd than the regular three hour event.

Attendees received a complimentary tasting glass and could wander among the different floors to sample bourbon, scotch, whiskey, beer, cider and root beer. Citi card holders had access to a special “speakeasy” lounge with a victrola dj and complimentary appetizers. Burlesque dancers and aerialists performed, along with several different musical acts.

Standout drinks for me were:  William Wolf Pecan and Winter Spice bourbons, Rekorderling Passionfruit and Strawberry-Lime ciders, Jonas Bronck pumpkin porter and Redemption Rye.

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After the event was over, we headed back to our hotel to change out of our 20’s garb and into something a bit more modern before Uber’ing further downtown to world famous bar The Dead Rabbit. I’d been wanting to check this place out for years, and it did not disappoint. The wait for a spot in the upstairs Parlor on a Saturday night was nearly an hour, but we had beer and the lively atmosphere of the tiny Taproom to fill the time until our buzzer alerted us that there was space for us upstairs.

The Parlor was a bit more roomy than the Taproom, with The Dead Rabbit’s many awards displayed on a shelf behind the bar. The cocktail menu is centered around the life of Lewis Pease, a Methodist minister of the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 19th century. The bound cocktail menu encompasses a range of cocktails from each of the four seasons, eighty drinks in all. An additional drink menu added about twelve seasonal cocktails to the mix. Each drink seemed to consist of ten or more ingredients carefully chosen to create drinks that rise above the typical Old Fashioned or Mojito.

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I had the Moby Dick first:  Remy Martin 1738 Cognac, Power’s John’s Lane Irish Whiskey, Pale Cream Sherry, Fig, Elderberry, Lemon, Orinoco Bitters, Vanilla and Vanilla Soda. It was delicious! Served in a teacup with a big hunk of ice (which I learned from eavesdropping on another customer’s conversation with the bartender comes from a local artisan icemaker), the drink was the perfect mix of flavors. This is what The Dead Rabbit does perfectly, and why they have received so many awards and accolades. They elevate the art of mixing cocktails the same way a James Beard award winner or Michelin-starred chef does with food. These drinks aren’t even in the same universe as the whiskey sour or mojito.

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My husband had the Bloodlust first:  Ron Zacapa 23 Solera Rum, Fernet Branca, Ginger and Raspberry.

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For our next drinks, we both ordered off the smaller menu. I had the Sweet Talker: Bulleit Rye (my favorite!), Applejack, Cranberry, Rose, Ginger, Lemon and Grapefruit Bitters. My hubby tried the Poker Face:  Chief Gowanus New Netherland Gin, Novo Fogo Aged Cachaca, Oloroso Sherry, Carrot, Paprika, Orange and Lemon.

At $15 per cocktail, the drinks are not cheap. But as the reigning best bar in the world, the masterfully created and mixed cocktails are worth every penny. Their burger is great too!

Sunday morning was spent decompressing from a day’s and night’s worth of drinking and packing to go home.  With a six hour drive ahead of us, we waved goodbye to NYC until next time and drove through the Holland Tunnel to Jersey City to track down some White Castle before we got on the road.

All in all, we had an awesome time in New York City. We decided we have to make it back for next year’s East Ville des Folies.

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Virginia food and wine fun in winter!

Just because the weather is cold, that’s no excuse not to do some fun foodie things in Virginia this winter! Bundle up and get out there.

Jan. 30 – Oyster Festival, River District Art Center (Sperryville) – With tastings from Little Washington Winery, the new Pen Druid Brewery and Copper Fox Distillery, this free event (you pay for only what you eat or drink) features the bounty of Virginia’s best oysters.

Jan. 30 & 31 – Heart of Virginia Wine Trail Chili Cook-Off (Central Virginia) – Get your wine tasting passport from HOVA’s website or any participating winery, then visit Cooper Vineyards, Grayhaven Winery, James River Cellars, Mattaponi Winery, Weston Farm Vineyard and Winery and Lake Anna Winery to taste chili and wine. Vote for your favorite chili and turn in your passport to be entered for a chance to win some fabulous prizes!

Feb. 5 – Bacchus Wine and Food Festival, Virginia Living Museum (Newport News) – Enjoy the Peninsula’s best food and some of Virginia’s best wine while celebrating the Virginia Living Museum’s 50th anniversary.

Feb. 6 & 7 – Chocolate Lovers Festival (Fairfax) – The entire downtown Fairfax area celebrates all things chocolate on the first weekend in February. There’s even a “Chocolate Express” bus that runs between the various sites. The highlight of the weekend is the “Taste of Chocolate” event at Old Town Hall, which showcases the best chocolate treats from all over Virginia.

You could also take a class. From international cuisine to wine to food history, there’s a wealth of ways to learn about food in Virginia in the winter:

  • Southern Season – Richmond’s outpost of this classic Southern shop, cooking school and restaurant offers a wide variety of classes this winter. From pasta, cakes and biscuits to cuisines of India, Vietnam and Switzerland, plus special cooking classes just for kids and couples’ classes for Valentine’s Day, there’s something to please every palate. IMG_1057
  • FoodieU at Little Washington Winery – Between Culpeper and Front Royal in the Blue Ridge Mountains sits one of the finest restaurants in the country, the Inn at Little Washington. And just down the road from the inn lies Little Washington Winery. Offering a Wine Bootcamp, a class on wines from around the world, classes specific to great wine regions (like Bordeaux and South Africa) and a class on wine and cheese pairings, the winery gives even the most novice oenophiles the knowledge to feel confident in their wine choices.
  • Sur la Table at Stony Point Fashion Park – Fancy cookery store Sur la Table offers cooking classes throughout the year. In January, you can learn how to cook “Dinner in Tuscany” or “Winter Dinner in France,” how to make tasty Thai and Indian dishes, croissants and macarons and much more.
  • Williams Sonoma – One of the best deals in cooking classes are Williams Sonoma’s FREE technique and kids’ technique classes. Yes, you read that right: WS offers FREE cooking classes. From knife skills to sweet and savory crepes to game-day favorites, adults can learn from skilled Williams Sonoma staff. Kids have it even better! They get to make yummy waffles and apple snacks.

2016 Goals

Flipping the calendar to another year is always a good time to reassess and make changes. 2015 has been, for me, an exciting, stressful, life-changing year. So many things have happened this year – personal and professional – that it’s one of those years I’m sure I’ll look back on as a turning point in my life. 2016 is a big year too, and I’m looking forward to a lot of fun! In 2016, my husband and I will celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and our 20th anniversary as a couple. We’re planning a nearly two-week vacation to France, Germany and the Netherlands as a special treat (so you can look forward to posts on French, German and Dutch food!).

I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions per se. It’s too easy to give up on your goal once you’ve slipped up. Instead, I’d rather lay out my goals for the year, which gives me something to work towards instead of ways to let myself down.

Here are my goals for 2016:

  • 3 HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts plus 1 strength training workout per week – There is no better way of working out for weight loss than high intensity interval training, according to professional trainer Michael Matthews (as well as tons of other trainers). My favorite HIIT workouts are from YouTube channel “Fitness Blender.” My husband and I also do HIIT runs once or twice a week with a six-minute warmup jog then alternating 60 seconds at full speed and 60 or 90 seconds walking until we reach 2 miles.
  • Do yoga on off days – Instead of vegging on the couch in front of the tv or laptop on off-workout days, I need to get moving enough to do a quick yoga routine. I’m a huge fan of YouTuber “Yoga With Adriene.”
  • Dress better – I’ve cleaned out my closet of all the super cheap but not very flattering items of clothing taking up space there. Following plus-size bloggers and vloggers has given me so much inspiration for great-looking outfits for work and play. My favorites are Girl With Curves, Loey Lane, Katana Fatale, Gabi Fresh and The Curvy Fashionista.
  • Cook healthier – Some things going on in my personal life led to several months of pretty unhealthy eating for our family at the end of the year. In 2016, I’m getting back into my old routine of researching recipes, buying better ingredients and batch cooking on weekends. I love love love The Pioneer Woman, especially making healthier versions of her recipes. Tori Avey is another great food blogger who has tons of quick and easy recipes for family cooking. I’d love to go back to basics this year and revisit some historic recipes with a focus on making them more healthy.
  • Blog more – This practically goes without saying, and I think all bloggers set this goal with each new year. With so much going on in my life in the year ahead, I want to make sure to capture important food moments to share, so be sure to follow me on Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram to keep up with all my food adventures in 2016!
  • Love myself more – And document it! For practically my whole life, I’ve hated nearly every single picture ever taken of me. I come from a long line of women who hate pictures of themselves (I’ve watched both my grandmother and my mother tear up and throw away photos of themselves). As a plus-size girl, I have a lifetime of body-issue baggage that I had never really started to unpack until this year. Combined with feeling like I wasn’t photogenic, that made for many years of hating my body and hating almost every picture of myself. It has taken a lot of soul-searching and a husband who absolutely adores me and my body for me to start to truly love myself and my body. The body positivity movement and the rise of backlash against fat shamers are so important for girls and women who don’t fit mainstream society’s view of what beauty is. Despite running regularly and doing 8k’s and 10k’s, doing kettlebell and HIIT workouts, eating healthy and avoiding junk food and soda, I am still a size 16. For the first time in my life, I’m ok with that.

Here’s to a year filled with food, drink and culinary history adventures, and here’s to more photos like this – of me being happy and healthy!

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So those are my goals for the year ahead. What are your goals? Do you make New Year’s resolutions?

 

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.

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

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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.

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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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