Jun 5, 2013

Broad Appetit, Round 3.

Broad Appétit is not new to me or Richmond. Now in it’s fourth season, it draws a huge crowd of Richmonders eager to try what local restaurants have to offer. And for $3 a sample, you can’t beat that! I’ve been to Broad Appétit three times now, and I’m sad to say that this year was a little more of a disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I had some good dishes this year, I just wasn’t impressed with any one in particular. I would have loved to see more of a variety and more restaurants not doing the same dishes each season. Even so, this is one of my favorite food festivals in Richmond. And if you haven’t been, you should definitely go next season!

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Now lets take a look at the dishes we decided to try out:

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1. Tomato and mozzarella skewer from Bistro 27:
Very refreshing on a hot day. The mozzarella was super fresh and soft, covered in basil and olive oil. A nice way to start off the festival.

2. Chicken and waffles from Tarrant’s Cafe:
I am not new to this dish at all. I’ve had it before and was amazed that they were serving this. Portion size was awesome and the waffle was very crispy. As always, it’s one of my favorites at Tarrant’s.

3. Crispy shrimp over polenta:
I totally forgot where this dish from. I liked the concept, but surprisingly it was on the bland side even with all the sauces. The polenta was very creamy and the shrimp had a nice tempura-like batter. Just needed more salt or seasoning!

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4. Crab cake sandwich from Martin’s:
Martin’s crab cake was as just as good as last year. Lumps of crab meat and not a lot of filler always makes me a happy camper.

5. Asian beef taco from Boca Truck:
One of my favorites from the Boca Truck, I knew this would be good. I just love the kimchi!

6. Fried green tomatoes from Comfort:
I probably shouldn’t have gotten these because I’ve had them many times before. I was just a little underwhelmed with the lack of creativity from Comfort. Wish they did something different this year!

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7. Truffle pizza from Grate:
There were so many different flavors on this pizza that I wasn’t sure if I liked it or not. It had corn, mushrooms, caramelized onions, two different cheeses and truffle crema. Maybe one too many ingredients on the pizza? The crust was a little soggy too, but overall a very creative pizza.

8. Beef empanada with rice from Happy Empanada:
Really, really solid empanada. The dough was light and crispy. Perfectly baked. The beef filling was flavorful and moist. The rice though was bone dry. I took one bite and was really disappointed about that.  

9. Pork belly from Savory Grain:
Who wouldn’t love this tender piece of pork covered with a sweet and savory sauce? Executed really nicely and the arugula salad added a nice pop of color.

10. Pork lettuce wrap:
By far my favorite dish from the festival. Loved the contrast of textures and flavors. The crunch from the vegetables, with the tender pork and herb sauce was outstanding. It was the epitome of Thailand. And of course, I forgot where this came from! Sorry!!

After 10 dishes, we were spent. We ate like champs and enjoyed the company with our family. Did you go to the festival? If so, what was your favorite dish?

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Remember this kid? Look how big he’s grown since last year’s Broad Appétit! Kiernan is with his mom, Sheila, pictured above. My other sister, Sharon, and her boyfriend, Jeff, came along as well and they’re pictured below.

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Jun 2, 2013

A bonfire fit for any cowboy

Last week we had some ideal temperatures. Some nights dipped down pretty low. Low enough to leave the windows open, letting that cool breeze come into the house. I live for days like those. The cooler temperature sent me back to a night back in late Spring where good friends, Aaron and Cyndy, threw a cowboy bonfire at their house. Believe me when I say that this wasn’t just any bonfire. It was THE bonfire of all bonfires. Aaron and Cyndy live in Hanover with plenty of land. He built his own fire pit on his property and gathered all the wood from his backyard. The fire pit was roughly 6 feet wide so just imagine a blazing fire with flames reaching 4-5 feet tall. It was awesome. This bonfire was too good not to share with you all. It may be too warm for a bonfire now, but fall is just a few months away!

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Look at all that wood. That’s what she said!

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Now that is a pretty solid fire. Good job, Aaron!

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Meanwhile, cornhole games were had while we wait for the fire to roar and the food to cook.

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We were able to bring our puppy, Kevin. He wasn’t allowed to run around since there was a road nearby, so he was leashed up. He didn’t like it very much and later chewed his way out, but he enjoyed being with us :)

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What’s a cowboy party without cowboy food? Jared and I were in charge of the cornbread. From Jared’s boyscout days, he camped out a lot. Fortunately, he had this huge cast iron skillet we used to cook the cornbread. I tried a new recipe from well-known chef, Hugh Acheson. We placed the cast iron skillet over the fire to heat up. We added loads of butter and once that melted, we added the cornbread batter. We covered it allowing to cook for 15-20 minutes. It came out perfect and paired very well with the chili.

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Cyndy made two types of delicious chili. One with steak and the other with chicken. Both equally as good, super flavorful and very tender. Because chili takes all day to cook, she had to prepare them ahead of time in crock pots. I don’t think there were any left at the end of the night!

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We also roasted some hotdogs which were surprisingly difficult to do since the fire was SO incredibly hot and our sticks weren’t long enough.

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For dessert, we roasted marshmallows over the fire for good old fashioned s’mores. Our friend, Kara, brought a homemade fruit cobbler that she prepared at home, but cooked it over the fire in a cast iron skillet. It came out so hot that it warmed us up on a chilly night.

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After dessert and a few more nightcaps, the fire finally died down. It was a great night with some great company. Thank you so much Aaron and Cyndy for having us over. Aaron, you certainly win for best bonfire. And Cyndy, you win for best chili. Thank you guys!!

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Mar 24, 2013

Wedding Italian Soup

From the kitchen of: Isabel  Makes: A potful, feeds up to 4-6 people
Total time: 45 min to 1 hr

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Spring has finally arrived … in the form of snow. Seriously? I love a good snow storm and all, but it’s almost April and I need some warm sun in my life. Why won’t Winter die already?! I’m crossing my fingers that today will be the last day of this white stuff. Well, to cope with this very odd weather, we made this Italian Wedding soup for dinner tonight. It was just what we needed on a very cold day and since Mother Nature is highly confused this season, you still have some time to make this! The first time I made this soup was actually when my husband was hit by a very viral infection back in January. He was a poor sick puppy, helpless on the couch and had to stay home for four days. I felt so bad for him that I made this soup to make him feel better. He and I both fell in love with this hearty and rich soup. It had everything — noodles, homemade meatballs, kale and yummy broth. It was salty and delicious, perfect for his sore throat. So whether sick from a viral infection or sick of this wintery weather, this soup is sure to cure any ailment.

Ingredients:
for how to make the meatballs please check my recipe!
1 lb of ground beef
1/4 cup Italian bread crumbs (heaping!)
1/4 cup shaved or grated Parmesan cheese (heaping!)
1 egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper
olive oil

for the soup
olive oil
1/2 red onion, diced
1 bunch of kale, sliced 1-inch thick
salt & pepper
2 – 49 ounces of low-sodium chicken broth
1 bouillon cube or powder
1 3/4 cup of dried elbow noodles (or any noodle of your choice or even gnocchi!)
1 egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:
1. Prepare meatballs.
Follow this recipe for my version of homemade meatballs. Form them into gumball-size meatballs. Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium temperature. Add a heavy drizzle of olive oil. When oil heats up, cook the meatballs for 10-12 minutes rotating every few minutes to brown all sides. Place cooked meatballs on a plate and set aside.

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2. Sauté kale. While the meatballs are sautéing, heat a large pot over medium temperature. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Brown the diced red onions and season with some salt and pepper. Add the chopped 1-inch slices of kale that have been thoroughly rinsed and dried beforehand. It’s important to rinse the kale since it has a lot of grit. Sauté kale for 5-7 minutes.

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3. Add broth and meatballs. Add the chicken broth, meatballs, plus 1 buillon powder or cube to enhance the flavor. Stir to combine. Allow this soup to simmer uncovered at medium temperature until soup get hots. About 20-25 minutes.

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4. Add noodles. Add the dried noodles, stir and allow to simmer for 6-8 minutes until noodles are al dente. If you use a different type of noddle, check the box for appropriate cooking time.

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5. Add Parmesan cheese and egg mixture. To finish off the soup, mix together an egg and Parmesan cheese in a bowl. Slowly stir it into the soup, which thickens the soup slightly while adding more flavor. Serve and enjoy while hot!

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And voilà! A bowl of delicious Wedding Italian soup!

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Mar 10, 2013

Anchor’s Away! Kiernan’s 1st Birthday

My sister, Sheila, is obsessed with all things nautical. Really obsessed. Just check out her nautical inspired baby shower we hosted for her back in 2011. She continued the same theme for her son’s 1st birthday this past February, but just styled a little differently. Sheila designed an “Anchor’s Away!” birthday party filled with sailor hats, an ocean backdrop, boats and flags all in a bright blue and green color scheme. This time around it was a little more playful for a kid-friendly crowd. For all the work Sheila put into this birthday, it’s sad Kiernan won’t remember any of it. But at least he’ll have this blog post to look back at his very first birthday party. Lets take a look at all the details Sheila created and hopefully you can be inspired for your child’s birthday.

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Most of the graphics was based on a printable kit design Sheila purchased through Etsy. Printastic Design was the shop she worked with. She first selected the birthday invitation, which set the tone. She then purchased the signage, cupcake toppers and menu cards to continue the theme throughout the party. She printed all of it on her home printer, cut them out and assembled it.

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Sheila repurposed a few things including the flags were from her bridal shower and artwork were from Kiernan’s room. Saved money on additional decoration.

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As a thank you gift to each guest, Sheila ordered buttons with cute little nautical designs on each of them. She put six in each package. The kids could pin them onto their book bags or jean jackets. They were very cute.

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Downstairs in the basement, Sheila created an ocean photo backdrop by cutting out the circles and shapes to create the waves, clouds, sun, sky and even a whale. So talented! Kids definitely enjoyed themselves in front of the backdrop posing with some props she also created like a fishing pole with fish cutouts and their sailor hats.

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As another activity to keep the kids preoccupied, Sheila also had an art table for kids to design their own sailor’s hat with fabric crayons.

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As for Kiernan’s first experience with eating a cupcake, it was picture perfect. Look at this adorable kid. His mom is blowing out his candle for him. He is licking his finger clean. I just love this kid.

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‘Do I have something on my face?’

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Kiernan absolutely loved these cupcakes I made for him. I found a recipe on Pinterest for vanilla bean cupcakes with vanilla bean frosting. These cupcakes were a huge hit amongst Kiernan and all the guests. Sheila decorated each stick with a cupcake topper from the nautical template she got from Etsy.

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cupcakes

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Lets dive right into the spread. My-oh-my. My parents went all out for Kiernan’s birthday. First nephew = golden child. Haha. There was so much delicious food. I know everyone loved it even the kids!

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Their famous lumpia, which I’ve had a million times, will always make an appearance at any celebration.

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Pork adobo, pork stewed in vinegar, soy sauce and garlic.

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My dad’s awesome, awesome beef and broccoli.

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Pansit, the Filipino version of lo mein.

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Andddd fried chicken. Haha.

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At the end of the celebration, Kiernan opened up all of his gifts. Well actually, it was more like Sheila opening up his gifts while he played with tissue paper. He was showered with tons of toys and clothes from friends and family. Definitely spoiled! :)

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Instead of toys, Jared and I decided to make him his “First Year” book with the images I had taken of him from birth up until he turned one. Being a Moleskine fan, I saw they also create photo albums at a fairly reasonable price. I used their template online to upload the images and text. It was pretty straightforward. The quality of the book and photos were really nice. Kiernan couldn’t care less about the book, but he’ll appreciate it when he gets older. Sheila loved it!

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In the end, he enjoyed this plastic hanger. LOL.

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Happy 1st Birthday, Kiernan! Love you always!!

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Feb 17, 2013

Vanilla Bean Cupcakes

From the kitchen of: dinnerordessert.com  Makes: 20-22 cupcakes
Total time: 30-45 min to prep, 18-20 min to bake

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I can’t believe that it’s been a year since my nephew Kiernan was born. It seemed like yesterday I held his little 8 pound body in my arms. Now, he’s trying to walk! Why can’t they just stay small forever? To celebrate his first birthday, my sister invited many friends and family to their home for a nautical themed birthday. She is obsessed with all things nautical. She recycled items that she had from her baby shower, but added some new décor. Of course, she asked me to make 60 cupcakes for his birthday party which was definitely a fête. A single batch of cupcakes I can do, but making three batches was something I’ve never really done before. So I scoured through Pinterest to find a recipe for a simple, but flavorful Vanilla Bean cupcake. The morning of the party, I woke up at 8am and literally baked for 3.5 hours straight. I will NEVER try to make that many cupcakes in such a time crunch. Lesson learned. It was a challenge for me, but luckily everyone enjoyed the cupcakes especially the star of the event, Kiernan, who devoured it. He definitely has a sweet tooth like his Momma. The only thing I changed in the original recipe was the amount of powdered sugar in the buttercream. I dialed it back because it was wayyyy to sweet for my taste. Otherwise, it was a moist and sweet cupcake. The vanilla bean flavor definitely stood out. Enjoy!

Ingredients:
for the cake
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup whole milk, room temperature
4 egg whites, room temperature
1 stick of butter, softened
1 1/2 cup sugar
seeds from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

for the buttercream
3 sticks of butter, softened
seeds from one vanilla bean
2 teaspoons clear vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
4 tablespoons whole milk

Directions:
1. Dry ingredients.
First, preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Tip: Sift dry ingredients onto parchment paper to make it easier to pour into the batter in step 3. 

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2. Wet ingredients. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk and egg whites. Tip: to separate the egg white from the egg yolk, crack the egg on the edge of the bowl. Carefully, open the egg and allow the white part to fall into the bowl. Gentle move the yolk back and forth while using the sharp edge of the egg shell to separate the white part.

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3. Batter. In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and vanilla bean seeds at medium speed until butter and sugar become light and fluffy. Tip: Be sure the butter is soft and at room temperature to achieve correct fluffiness. Add in the pure vanilla extract and one third of the flour mixture. Mix together. Beat in half of the milk/egg white mixture and then beat in half of the remaining flour mixture. Add the rest of the milk/egg white mixture. Mix well. Then add the last of the flour mixture and mix well until you reach a smooth consistency.

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4. Bake cupcakes. With an ice cream scooper, scoop the batter into lined cupcake tins. Fill each cupcake two thirds full. Bake cupcakes for 18-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Once cupcakes are ready, remove them from the pan and allow to cool on baking rack.

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5. Frost cupcakes. To make the buttercream, beat softened butter and vanilla beans until fluffy. Slowly add sifted powdered sugar and beat until smooth. Add in clear vanilla extract and milk. Blend on low speed until combined. Scoop buttercream in a piping bag and frost all cupcakes. Tip: I used a piping tip #809 that I found through Etsy. It has a large opening. I also found the clear vanilla extract at Michael’s.

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