Jul 22, 2012

Roasted Red Bell Peppers with Mozzarella

From the kitchen of: Isabel  Makes: 3-4 servings
Total time: 5 min to prep, 45 min to roast plus 1-2 hours to marinate

Jared’s mom came into town for her birthday not too long ago. She loves visiting us in Richmond. But just between me and you, I think it’s because of the food Richmond has to offer! Just kidding, Barbara! Either way, we wanted to take her out to dinner to someplace we knew she would love. Richmond is a mecca for good eats. It was hard to narrow it down, but ultimately we decided to go Italian. Now, the tough part, deciding which Italian restaurant to go to. Drum roll please. We decided on Edo’s Squid! So that’s a no-brainer for a lot of Richmonders. If you haven’t been there yet, shame on you! Go call them now and reserve a table.

This recipe I’m showcasing today was inspired from the appetizer we ordered at Edo’s Squid. It was simplicity at it’s best. It was roasted red bells peppers marinaded in olive oil served with the freshest mozzarella. The sweetness and delicate flavors in the peppers paired so nicely with the mozzarella. We all loved this combination of flavors and I knew this was something that could be made ahead of time when throwing a dinner party. This dish is what I love so much about Italian/European cooking. It’s just a minimal amount of ingredients that allows the food to really shine.

2 red bell peppers
1 ball of fresh mozzarella
olive oil
garlic powder
salt + pepper

1. Roast red bell peppers.
Preheat oven to 350º. Meanwhile, rinse and pat dry the red bell peppers. Place the peppers on a medium tray with sides because juices will release from the peppers. Coat the peppers with some olive oil and season with a few pinches of salt. Place in the oven, uncovered, for 45 minutes until skin is wrinkled and blistered.

2. Skin and de-seed red bell peppers. Remove the roasted peppers from the oven and immediately cover the tray with foil. The steam will help loosen the skin of the pepper. After 5 minutes, uncover the tray. On a cutting board, remove the skin and de-seed the roasted red bell peppers. Cut the peppers into quarters.

3. Marinade peppers in olive oil. Once the peppers are completely cooled, place in an air-tight container. Add more olive oil just to cover the peppers. Allow the peppers to marinate at room temperature for 1-2 hours. If done the day before, place in the fridge. To serve, cut thick slices of fresh mozzarella and place them on a serving plate with the marinaded peppers. Drizzle a little more olive oil and season lightly with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Can be served with warm, crusty bread and kalamata olives.

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Jul 9, 2012

Kiernan’s Baptism Filipino Feast

On Sunday, July 1, our nephew Kiernan was baptized at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart. Service began right at 11 a.m. and the baptisms coincided with regular Mass. There were about 10 babies getting baptized that morning. Call me biased, but I think Kiernan was the cutest! LOL. He was such a good boy throughout the whole thing. He didn’t cry or fidget at all. Not even when it was time for photos after the hour-long service had ended. Kiernan was happy as a clam and cute as can be. Just look at him! It was truly a wonderful day for the Donahue and Ramos families.

We went back to the house and my parents started cooking up a huge Filipino feast for lunch. They had brought all the ingredients from home, already prepped and ready to go. It was pretty smart of them to prepare everything the day since there was only a short window between Mass and lunch time. They cooked four dishes enough to feed about 10-15 people. Just look at that plate of food and tell me that doesn’t make your mouth drool. I got a little bit of everything — Pancit, Beef and Broccoli, Lumpia and Breaded Shrimp. I think the whole family went back for seconds. I just love it when my parents cook!

My parents were the chefs in the kitchen. My dad was the executive chef, while my mom was the prep cook. LOL. I learned to love cooking from my dad. He and I would watch on PBS, Yan Can Cook, together waayyyy back in the day. If only I can cook Filipino food just as awesome as he can.

So the first thing on the menu is a staple in any Filipino household. Can’t have a Filipino party without the best lumpia in the world. My mom prepared these a few weeks ago and froze them. All she had to do was fry them up in batches that afternoon. Believe me when I say this plate of food was the first one to go.

My dad made breaded shrimp coated in a pre-made packaged frying mix and Panko bread crumbs. He prepped them that morning before church and my mom fried them similarly to the lumpia. Both the lumpia and shrimp were gone within minutes.

We served a sweet chili sauce and dark soy sauce as condiments to the lumpia and shrimp.

My dad made two main courses. On the left is a traditional Filipino noodle dish called Pancit. It’s made with very thin noodles and incorporates veggies, chicken and shrimp. On the right is my dad’s version of beef and broccoli. Oh good Lord. This may be better than any Chinese restaurant version. My dad has made both dishes a million times, but I never know how he actually cooks them. All the recipes come straight from his head so it’s hard for me to figure out how to cook them since they usually require lots of ingredients and lots of steps. I need him to write all his recipes down for me!

And for dessert, my sister ordered a yellow cake with white frosting from Kroger. It was actually pretty good for a grocery-bought cake.

And here are the chefs! Thanks again to my parents for making an incredible Filipino feast! Now, I expect this when I come home next :)

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Jun 26, 2012

3-ingredient ice cream sandwich

From the kitchen of: Isabel  Makes: as many as you’d like
Total time: minutes to prepare

Three of my favorite ice cream truck treats were Super Mario Bros ice cream bar, the Bomb Pop and the ice cream sandwich. Whatever few coins we had in our pockets, my siblings and I would hear the truck roll through our neighborhood and we’d run out, literally, and hail them down. Life was so incredibly simple back then. Not a care in the world when we’re savoring our ice cream. If we didn’t have enough money for ice cream, we’d get a box of Lemonheads just to get something sweet, or in this case, something tart. I will say that the Super Mario bar was my top choice. However, I would occasionally break out of my box and get an ice cream sandwich. The basic ice cream sandwich was simple. There was no fuss involved. Everyone had their own way of eating it, but I always licked the vanilla off the sides and then I liked to squish the ice cream out and ate the chocolate part last. It was the best.

The recipe is a tribute to my childhood and to the classic ice cream sandwich. I cut some corners mainly because when I entertain I like to enjoy my company and allow them to partake in making their own dessert. With store-bought Italian pizzelle cookies that can be purchased at specialty stores, mini chocolate chips and vanilla bean ice cream, I made my own version of an ice cream sandwich that literally took minutes to prepare. This is certainly a twist to my childhood favorite, but still just as delicious and memorable.

Italian pizzelle cookies
mini chocolate chips
vanilla bean ice cream, or your favorite flavor

1. Gather ingredients.
Create an assembly line with all three ingredients. Remove the Italian Pizzelle cookies from the packaging and set aside. Next to the cookies, place the mini chocolate chips onto a plate, and then have your ice cream ready with an ice cream scoop.

2. Scoop ice cream. Lay two cookies on the counter. Scoop a large round of ice cream and gently place it on one cookie. Take the other cookie and lay on top of the ice cream applying a little pressure to flatten it. Be gentle, the cookie will break.

3. Add chocolate chips. With your fingers, sprinkle the mini chocolate chips around the edge of the ice cream while pressing the chips down so that they adhere to the ice cream. Make to serve and eat immediately. Enjoy!

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Jun 21, 2012

Charlottesville “Lipstick” Wine Tour

If you haven’t done this before, I highly recommend it. First things first, pick a person who doesn’t drink that much. They can be the driver. Haha. Pick 3-4 wineries in the Charlottesville, Virginia area. Map them on Google, copy and paste the map into something like the “Paint” application on your computer. With the spray can tool, which comes out looking like lipstick, connect the wineries. That’s how we designed our wine tour with our friend, Aaron, coining the term, “Lipstick Map.” Not as complicated as you think.

We went on our wine tour with another couple. It was actually their fabulous idea to go to Charlottesville and check out a few wineries with a brewery mixed in there. Our journey started with Veritas, then Blue Mountain Brewery for lunch, King Family and saving the best for last, Pippin Hill Farms. It was one of the best Saturdays with good wine, good friends and some beautiful Virginia mountains you’ve ever seen.

First stop: Veritas Vineyard & Winery {151 Veritas Lane  Afton, Virginia 22920}

I know a few people that have gotten married at Veritas. They have a beautiful indoor reception covered in lace drapery. I’m also very familiar with their wines because Veritas always makes an appearance at wine expos in the Richmond area, and I’ve actually bought a bottle or two of their red. The winery was really nice and sweet-looking. There was a wrap around deck that allows guests to sit outside to enjoy the scenery and weather. We went inside because it was a hot May day and we needed some wine to cool off. When we walked inside the tasting room, it was a drastic change from the exterior. The colors were bold. The atmosphere was very rugged and quite masculine. The wine itself was quite impressive. We sampled 8 very lovely wines, all I really enjoy. One in particularly we loved and got a glass of was the Mousseux. It’s a sparkling wine in a deep pink color. It was crisp and refreshing on a very warm day. The strawberry, cherry and raspberry flavors were clean and fresh. I could have drank a whole bottle.

Verdict: The wine here definitely didn’t disappoint. I highly enjoyed both the whites and reds, especially the Mousseux. The flavors were bold and distinct. The scenery though was not my favorite of the trip, mainly because it was a little hilly. Other than that, I’d go back for their wines! One recommendation, I wish they had ceiling fans outside…note that Veritas!

Second stop: Blue Mountain Brewery {9519 Critzer Shop Road  Afton, VA 22920}

As far as food and beer experience are concerned, Blue Mountain Brewery was our least favorite on the tour. We rolled up to the Brewery, packed as can be for a typical Saturday. They even had parking attendants directing traffic. Getting seated was not an issue, which was surprising. We ordered a flight of beer for everyone to share and ordered lunch. Well, sadly the beer was very very disappointing. I’ve drank my fair share of beer, good beer, and these Blue Mountain beers were terrible. There were about 8 different brews, all of which we did not enjoy. Jared, Mr. beer drinker, had to fight through to finish the beers. The food itself was just OK. My crab cake sandwich was tasteless. Didn’t have that fresh crab cake flavor that I love so much. Jared thought the description on the menu was tastier than his actual burger. The couple that did score was Aaron & Cyndy who ordered the pizza. If you do go there, just stick with the pizza.

Verdict: Not a place I would recommend nor have any desire of returning. Sorry, Blue Mountain. I wish your beer and food were better!

Third stop: King Family Vineyard {6550 Roseland Farm Crozet, VA 22932}

One of the coolest thing about this vineyard is the fact they have polo matches on the property. So, off behind the building were the horse stables. I was surprised as hell to see actual horses just chilling in the stables. It was pretty entertaining. But back to the wine. We arrived at the vineyard and immediately went inside the tasting room only to be bombarded with tons of people. It felt very touristy especially with the several bachelorette parties and tour groups. It felt crowded inside, so I wish it was a little larger and not as cramped. I guess we weren’t in the mood to compete with the loud crowds. But, we found a spot at the bar, started to taste and soon we couldn’t care less about the noise. The wines were solid. They went with fewer wines and perfected them really nicely. In this situation, their philosophy was “less is more.”

Verdict: The wines were solid, maybe not that memorable, but enjoyable. I think the bachelorette parties inside the winery annoyed me a bit. I did love the endless view. The mountains and a well-maintained property with the greenest grass would probably make me give this place another shot.

Fourth and last stop: Pippin Hill Farms {5022 Plank Road North Garden, VA 22959}

There aren’t any words to describe my love for Pippin Hill Farms. Literally, I am in LOVE with this place. Pippin Hill Farms is probably two years old. Because my day work involves weddings, I’m always looking at wedding photos and I’ve seen some gorgeous ones taken at Pippin. First off, the owners definitely designed this vineyard correctly. They were smart about the placement of the building. It sat on a hill overlooking the most breathtaking view that I take for granted living in Richmond. They certainly planned this place with weddings in mind. When you arrive, they have a deck overlooking the mountains with chairs facing outward. Couples can get married right on the lawn. There’s a reception area inside the barn. And then a tasting room where you can eat, drink and relax. If you don’t believe me, just look at the photos!

Verdict: If I were to renew my vows, I would do so here. If I were to get married for the first time, I would do so here. If I wanted to visit just one winery in Charlottesville, I would go here. Everything about this vineyard is absolutely breathtaking. From the views, décor, furniture, food and wines, this place is freakin’ unbelievable. Hands down, Pippin is my ultimate favorite.

We decided not to do a tasting of all their wines, rather just ordered a glass and ate more food. They serve small plates with seasonal local items designed to pair with their wines. We ordered a cheese platter which had some candied nuts, several fig jams and an orange marmalade. Besides the portions being a little small, there was nothing to dislike. I just wish there was more! We also ordered the hummus which was incredible fresh. Definitely tasted like it was made that day. As you can see, we left nothing behind. I will be honest with you, this place is not cheap. A glass of wine was $9. I recommend buying a bottle and splitting it.

Thanks so much Cyndy and Aaron for inviting us to Charlottesville! We had a wonderful time and I’m already thinking about the next 3-4 I want to visit next. This time, Jared can drive :)

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Jun 19, 2012

Roasted Balsamic Vinegar Red Onions and Blue Cheese Burger

From the kitchen of: Isabel  Makes: 4 burgers
Total time: 10 min to prep, 30 min to cook

The combination of blue cheese and balsamic vinegar packs a huge punch in this burger. Literally. I took a bite of it and the flavors were unbelievable strong, but so amazingly delicious. I love blue cheese. It has a very pungent taste. The blue/green veining in this cheese may not look too appetizing, but don’t let that scare you. The cheese is texturally creamy, it has a sharp and tangy bite. Blue cheese has an acquired taste, so if it’s not your favorite, there are hundreds of other cheeses to choose from. The red onions roasted in balsamic vinegar adds another dimension to the burger. The slight crunch from the onions gives it more texture. The roasted balsamic vinegar adds some sweetness and tartness, which help cut the sharpness of the cheese. Everything about this burger is bold and flavorful. So, if you love blue cheese and balsamic vinegar, this combination is for you.

1 large red onion, sliced
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar, plus a few more dashes
1 pound ground sirloin
1 tablespoon worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic power
blue cheese
olive oil
salt + pepper

1. Roast red onions.
Preheat oven to 350º. Meanwhile, slice the red onion about 1/4-inch thick. Place the onions on a baking sheet and season with 1/8 cup of balsamic vinegar, 1/8 cup olive oil, salt and pepper. Mix to combine and roast in the oven for 30 minutes, turning occasionally. Once the onions are roasted, remove from oven and add a few more dashes of balsamic vinegar. Mix together.

2. Grill the burgers. While the onions are roasting, heat a grill pan at medium temperature. Place the ground sirloin on a cutting board. Season with worcestershire sauce, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Mix together and then divide the seasoned beef into four equal parts. Flatten each portion to desired thickness. Place the patties on the hot grill pan and cook for 3-4 minutes each side.

3. Assemble burger. While the burger is cooking, slice the blue cheese into relatively-thick slices. It will crumble, but no worries. It’s good either way. On a toasted hamburger bun, place the burger and top with sliced (or crumbled) blue cheese and balsamic vinegar roasted onions. Add a touch of mayo and enjoy!

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