Saturday, July 28, 2007

Planning Ahead

D.C. Restaurant Week is Augst 6-12. Make your reservations now!

We're going to do lunch at Chef Geoff’s Downtown

Here's what OpenTable had to say...
Chef Geoff’s Downtown celebrated the beginning of its fifth year with a brand new menu featuring more than fifty new dishes. Sensational starters include Lump Crab and Corn Chowder, Wild Mushroom Spring Rolls, and Crispy Cornmeal Crusted Oysters. Favorite entrees include Grilled Salmon with Pineapple Salsa, Rack of Lamb with Mint Pesto, or Saffron Seafood Risotto with Mussels, Shrimp, and Scallops. Chef Geoff’s Downtown also features lighter far with unique burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, and salads. Every Sunday Chef Geoff’s Downtown has a Live Jazz Brunch which includes choice of bloody mary, mimosa, or juice, brewed coffee, fresh fruit, brunch breads, and any brunch entrée for only $25. Chef Geoff’s Downtown is just three blocks from the White House, across the street from the Warner Theatre, and around the corner from the National Theatre. The Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington nominated Chef Geoff's Downtown "Best New Restaurant" in 2003.

My review...coming soon.....

Food & Wine Article Published June 2007 in WomanScope Newspaper

For those who didn't get a copy of the paper featuring my article, I've posted it for you to read.
Food & Wine By Natasha OrtizFortier

Welcome to the debut issue of WomanScope. I am truly delighted to be apart
of this venture. In this “Food and Wine” column, I will share thoughts, inspirations, ideas, and (yes!) recipes about Food, Wine and Spirits. In this column, “Recipe Round-up” includes some of my family recipes as well as recipes of my “foodie” friends. The goal is to keep prep time to a minimum
so you can get to the good part…eating!

When I was 20-something and single, I had more expendable income than bills.
Now that I’m 30-something married with child (mortgage, etc.), the reverse is true. Budgeting is a part of my everyday life. I’ve been forced to re-evaluate my ‘wine snob’ ways. What I’ve discovered are a lot of great wines of good quality that won’t negatively impact “the budget.”

In “Sipping Notes,” I will share some great wine finds for under $20. It will occasionally include cocktail recipes as well as notable liquors (scotch, rum, gin, vodka, etc).

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must share that I am completely in love with food, and eating even more. It’s my mothers’ fault; she’s a phenomenal cook and quite food curious. It wasn’t unusual to find 5 different types of mushrooms in our icebox. Or for us to eat red snapper stuffed with shrimp and crab on a Wednesday night. While I didn’t inherit “the golden spoon” it was passed down to my sister. I do share her culinary curiosity, love of good food and passion for quality ingredients. There are those who will spend hours shopping to find the perfect pair of pumps or a sparkly pair of earrings to compliment that cute little black dress. I stalk produce departments (and sometimes the managers) for premium red Holland peppers for shrimp kabobs. I am quite the CSI when it comes to examining and selecting meat, seafood or poultry for a week night dinner. And I’ve been known to travel great distances for a good slice of homemade pie, pizza or bakery fresh vegan cupcakes. I consider it a healthy obsession. You gotta eat, right?

With the warm summer months approaching, I am giddy about the bountiful delicious brightly colored fresh produce to come. The abundance of complex culinary tastes and textures to be offered by farmer’s market, wine festivals and other ethnic food fairs.

I have a particular affinity for summer. Warm weather and outdoor activities aside, it’s grilling season. Nothing sings sweet music to my soul like the crackling and sizzling of cold meat on a smoky hot grill.
The savory fragrance of hardwood charcoal released by the fiery embers makes my mouth water. Grilling is so multi-purpose. Fish, chicken, steak, veggies even fruit--can be grilled. It can even make those of us who didn’t inherit
the ‘golden spoon’ into a crowd-pleasing cook.

Recipe Round-up:
The fresh ginger and red pepper flakes really spice up the
flavor of the meat.

Famous Fortíer Family Marinade
4 Steaks or Chicken breasts
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 fresh lemons, juiced
1/2 cup Extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar (can sub apple cider)
1 Tbsp Dry cooking sherry
1/2 cup Lea & Perrins Steak sauce (or Worchester)
2 Tbsp of honey
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Place meat in ziploc bag. In a bowl, whisk ingredients together. Pour liquid over meat inside ziploc bag. Shake well to ensure all meat is covered with marinade. Marinate for 1 hour. For best results, marinate overnight. Grill to your liking.

Salad is a dinner-time staple during the hot sticky months. I love to
experiment and make my own salad dressing. There are a variety of fresh
vegetables (and fruits) available to create your own signature salad. I once
had a salad made of watermelon, red onions and feta cheese tossed in
vinaigrette. It was delicious! It completely reinvented the way I thought of
salad. Try something new. Be creative. Don’t limit your self to just lettuce.
The vinaigrette below is simple to make and tastes great. You probably have
most of the ingredients in your pantry.

*Champagne Vinegar is a fabulous flavorful alternative to apple cider and
regular vinegar. I use the Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar from Trader Joes.

Summer Salad Dressing
1/2 cup Champagne Vinegar*
3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Fresh strained Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 tsp Italian seasoning (dried)
1-2 packets of Splenda®(more if you like a sweeter vinaigrette)
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated (optional)
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste

Pour all ingredients into a bowl and use a wire whisk to mix.
Feel free to adjust the ingredient amounts to suit your taste.
Pour mixture over your favorite salad and enjoy.

My foodie friend, Chef Kevin Bryan created this succulent recipe. It’s a guaranteed crowd pleaser. Even the kids gobbled it up. At our last bbq, it disappeared faster than the ribs!

Chef Bryan’s Grilled Parmesan Zucchini
3 Large zucchini
1/3 cup Champagne vinegar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/4 cup dried basil
Sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
3/4 cup dry parmesan

Cut zucchini lengthwise (about half inch thick). Set aside.
In a bowl, mix ingredients together, adding parmesan last.
Pour mixture over zucchini and place in a Ziploc.
Marinate for 30 minutes (no more than an hour).
Grill over medium heat until brown.
About 2-4 minutes on each side.

Sipping Notes:
2004 Avalon Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon ($12)
This wine made me reconsider my position on cabs. I tried this one completely by accident at one of my favorite local wine shops (Grand Cru). You will find it light, fruity and flavorful. It’s great compliment to grilled foods (especially bbq ribs…yummy).

Writer Bio___________________________________________________
Natasha OrtizFortíer is a writer, educator and creative marketing communications consultant living in Baltimore City. It’s not unusual to find her sipping green tea or a glass of vino while pouring over several “food sections” and a stack of culinary rags at a local coffee shop or wine bar. Please feel free to share your thoughts, inspirations and culinary finds by e-mailing

Take a few minutes to visit the Yummiest Blog on the Web:

Friday, July 27, 2007

Organic Greens at Waverly; Peaches Under the Bridge

This weekend, I'm hitting both markets--Waverly and Jones Falls (under the bridge).
In my test kitchen this weekend, I'm doing a repeat performance on the peach cobbler. I promise not to "freak-out" and pick my own peaches! I'm hoping the blueberries are still outstanding. I want to use the peach cobbler recipe and sub the berries.

I'm also sauteeing up some organic greens (from the Waverly Market) with garlic and red peppers.
A recipe I overheard from the Rozz at Finishing Touches Hair Salon (Laurel, MD).

I know, short post. I'll blog more later. Back to the grind.

Yippee. It's friday!

What's your favorite friday happy hour drink?

A Margarita on the salt will work any day of the week for me:-)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

When I get that feeling...I need a chocolate healing

I don’t know about you ladies but once a month I fiend for chocolate like a crack-head for the pipe. And today, thank my lucky stars, I found a fabulous fix. At $6 per was money well spent! I had the Chocolate Lasagna at XS located in midtown (a block down from Penn Station).

About the yumminess--It's a triple layer moist chocolate cake, with layers of white and chocolate mousse in between the cake layers and topped with a dark chocolate granache. And did I mention? They drizzle it with chocolate sauce and serve it with a swirl of whipped cream and a fresh strawberry.

You must be in a “chocolate mode” or the intense richness will be too much. I intended to only eat half but found my self licking the plastic container in which it came wondering…should I go back for another piece?

Word on the Street: If it's your birthday, you may be entitled to 'a hook-up' of extra berries and more chocolate sauce.

Two Words: Flippin’ Amazing!

Be warned. The service isn’t so good. The waitresses are grumpy and rarely smile. Service is slow. I try to cut them some slack. Hell, if I had to hump 2 and 3 flights of stairs to fetch extra napkins and ketchup, I wouldn't be so pleasant either.

What’s great is they have free wireless access and really good food--makes up for the not so good service.
All different types of sushi, yummy noodle dishes, and the sausage quiche rocks.

Check it out. Let me know what you think.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Sipping Notes: Cashew Wine

Mr. P's
Cashew Wine

Three words for this one: WTF!
Absolutely awful! Even back in my college days, when we mixed our own "moonshine" we never concocted anything as putrid as this. I didn't purchase it. My sister bought it back from her trip to Belize. She claimed what they had in the restaurant was good.

Hmmmm, I have my doubts. I don't know if they retail this stuff in the states.

Do yourself a favor, if you see it, keep walking!

Sipping Notes: Sori' Gramella 2006

Sori' Gramella 2006
Moscato D'Asti

This is one of the best moscato wines I've had in years. I tend to stay away from this type of wine. I've had my fair share in the past. Just wasn't a fan. They are usually so syrupy sweet--it was like drinking sugar packets. But every now and then I want a crisp, fruity wine with lots of fruit flavor.

The Gramella Moscato D'Asti was a perfect choice. It has more fruit flavor. It's not sickeningly sweet. It's fizzy and fun to drink. I will def. keep a few bottles to finish out the rest of the summer.

Made Your Reservations Yet?

Baltimore Restaurant Week

July 30 to August 5, 2007

So far we've only booked with the Osbornes at Roys.

I think I'll reserve the Rusty Scupper for lunch.
I've heard it's dreadful but it's the one restaurant I haven't been to that I do want to try.
Anyone care to join for lunch? Let me know...

Tagged?...I'm It?...whatever...

I've been tagged by Candyce ... so here are her requirements for the game

1. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
2. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
3. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
4. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
5. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

My 8 things...
8). I love taking naps in mid-afternoon. One of the great benefits of higher education...summers off.
7). Parasite Hilton and Lindsey BLOhan annoy me!
6). Schramsberg Brut Rose-Sparkling Wine makes any occassion a celebration.
5). Trying to think of 8 random facts to fill this space...more difficult than I expected.
4). Blogging, potty training (j/k), baking and scrapbooking are my new favorite things.
3). Candyce (nate and slam) wassup with all the ketchup?
2). I don't think I know 8 people who have a blog. The ones I know I doubt would do this...hence, I'm opting out on rule #4.
1). I read food sections from 6 major daily newspapers every Wednesday. I find it quite entertaining and oddly relaxing.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Picking Peaches

Sunday, the boy and I headed to the Jones Falls Farmer's Market in search of peaches for my first cobbler. We did our customary lap around the market. Sampling Bean Soup from Ms. Gene. We purchased the vegetarian black-eyed pea soup. It was a little sweet for my taste. I usually get the navy bean but wanted something different. I skipped the donuts and Zeke's coffee, the lines were just too long. We opted instead for a "WOW" from Wayne, The GingerMan. It includes his special ginger brew with mango sorbet--very refreshing.

I was also suckered into buying some "whack-ass" corn. The man yelling "have you tasted our corn, here try some...then stand in line." I cooked it up last night, it was the scariest batch I've ever purchased. Barely any kernels and lots of 'bad spots."

We did purchase some beautiful flowers. The sunflowers were gorgeous!

As I mentioned, this was my first cobbler. Of course, I expect perfection. I did an informal survey. Which peaches do you use to make a cobbler? Yellow or White? The majority recommended yellow peaches. Some said because they are sweeter.

A word of advice, always pick your own peaches.
I began to terribly over think the peach selection process. Should they be large or small, firm or soft? What if it has soft spot? is this ok? Decisions, decisions....I gave up and let the blonde girl with glasses pick them for me. She claimed she "made cobbler all the time" and not to worry. I should have known something was up when she said she didn't skin the peaches. I must have been delirious from the heat. Sigh, it happens to the best of us.

As fate would have it, I get home and come to my senses and realize I've made a terrible mistake. Blonde selected a several that were entirely too mushy and way to many soft spots of my liking. The flesh wasn't as sweet as when I pick them. Maybe next weeks batch will be better. The white peaches were wonderful. Firm, sweet and juicy. Maybe next time, I'll mix the two and see how it comes out.

I adapted the Peach Cobbler from Ms. Wilkes Boarding House recipes.

For the fruit mixture, I didn't add the grated lemon peel. I just couldn't bring myself to purchase the one at Giant. It was entirely too cheap-looking and feeling. I used fresh peaches.

I only used a half cup of sugar. However, I think I should have used what the recipe required. The peaches just weren't as sweet as I like. I also added some cinnamon to the peach mixture.

For the topping, I also used butter instead of shorting. I prefer to use half and half over milk in this recipe.

My oven is old and cranky, so it needed more time to bake than 40 minutes.

This is an old school style cobbler. Like the cobbler your great aunt who lives in Alabama would make for you. The warm delicious fruit on the bottom and biscuit-style crust on the top. I highly recommend getting some vanilla bean ice cream to go with it. Actually if you can find it, get frozen vanilla custard. Totally yummy!

Tip: Super easy way to skin peaches. Boil a pot of water. Remove from the pot from the fire once boiling starts. Drop the peaches in for a few minutes. Remove peaches from the pot. Run cold water over the peaches and the skins will rub off.

Preheat oven 350 degrees
Bake: 40 minutes
Serves 8

Peach Cobbler
6-8 fresh peaches, skinned
3 Tbsp corn starch
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp grated lemon peel
2 Tbsp butter

1 cup sifted flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup milk
1/4 cup shortening
1 tsp vanilla
1 large egg.

COMBINE butter, lemon and fruit in a pot on the stove over low heat.
ADD (slowly) corn starch and sugar.
COOK stirring constantly until thick
POUR fruit mixture into 10x6 baking dish (I sprayed my pan with PAM)
LET STAND while making the topping

TOPPING directions
SIFT flour, sugar, baking powder and salt into a bowl
ADD mile, shortening, vanilla and egg
BEAT at medium speed for 2-3 mins.
SPOON over fruit mixture

NOTE: my topping mixture was very ‘soupy’ after mixing but it baked fine.

One day, I'll get a camera and have photos to share. Until then bake and enjoy:-)

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Chocolate Cake

I just woke from an afternoon snooze with (of all things) chocolate cake on my mind. I prefer the yellow (and sometimes) white cake variety with thick rich chocolaty frosting. To date, I have yet to taste a YC cake that could hold a candle to my great aunt Floras.

Her son and my mum share the same birthday. Each year (for as long as I can remember) she would bake them a cake. Half YC with chocolate frosting and half coconut cream cake. What made the coconut cake stand apart were the sweet tender pieces of coconut imbedded in the frosting. I swear, my poor mum might have only gotten a sliver of each. We (my siblings included) would devour it. Her cakes would tower three layers. Always moist, sweet and delicious. It wouldn't crumble or fall. Always kept it's shape until the last crumb.

God rest her soul. I wish she were alive so that I could stand side by side with her to bake one more cake. As a child, I spent many weekends, with her. She once let me help make the frosting. I honestly only remember licking the bowl and spoon. When I was a teenager, and just starting to really tinker with baking, she did tell me the recipe. But it's not quite the same if you don't write it down. I do remember when I tried to make it. It came out a horrible---a hard, dry crusty mess. Even the icing was disgusting. My family nibbled and picked at it to be kind, but I knew the truth. It's sucked major butt. My aunt was encouraging. She said "keep trying." I never tried to make it again until now.

Over the weekend, I spent several hours searching recipe books and online blogs for yellow (and white) cake recipes. I even made a birthday cake for my neighbor P. The recipe isn't worth sharing. It was passable but not where near the flavor, texture or consistency of my Great Aunt Flora's master piece. The cake was too soft and the frosting while tasty was off. Can't quite put my finger on the why. I think the Mexican cocoa was a bad choice. I should have use a more traditional powder. I plan to bake a lot of cakes until I can re-create ‘the magic formula.' Family and friends, if anyone has a recipe to share, send it to me. I will bake it! Doesn't matter how complex. I have nothing but time these days. Well until the last week in August (classes begin).

I am even willing to use a flour other than King Arthur (gasp!). I know! I know! However, you can tell the depth of my seriousness. I am on a quest to taste the cake of my youth.

On a side note, I am heading to the Jones Falls farmers market in search of those insanely-sick – succulent -white peaches. This weekend in the 'mzno' bakery test kitchen Peach Cobbler and Peach preserve will be made.

Anyone care to have a sample?


Red Velvet Cake

This past weekend, I was on lockdown. I am potty training my toddler. I structured activities to keep me home bound. I baked up a whirlwind. I re-worked my chocolate chip cookies recipe. I baked my frst red velvet cake. I even made my first pan of old-skool mac'n cheese. More on that later.

The red velvet cake was quite simple to make. God I love having a kitchen aid!

Be advised, when you add the red food coloring, the batter will turn a scary bright red. I almost dumped the batter because I thought I messed it up. Don't fret, once the cake is baked it will take on a nice deep reddish brown hue.

Also, keep the mixer on low speed. The creaming process for the sugar and oil will take longer than butter. Be patient.

Red Velvet Cake
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar (270g)
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp white vinegar ( I ended up using cider vinegar )
2 1/2 cups cake flour ( 315g)
1 tsp baking soda
2 to 3 TBSP cocoa powder (i used 3 tbsp)
1 cup buttermilk ( 240ml)
1 tsp vanilla
2 TBSP red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 350F. Cream the eggs, sugar, oil and vinegar. Sift the cake flour, baking soda, and cocoa together. Add the flour mixture to the creamed ingredients while beating.
Slowly add the buttermilk. While still beating, add the vanilla and the food coloring.

Pour into three 8-inch layer pans and bake for about 25 minutes. Press lightly;if the layers are spongy, then the cake is done. Frost the cooled layers, assemble and frost the top and sides.

Serves 12 to 14.

Red Velvet Cake Frosting

1(8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup butter
1 (1 pound) box confectioners sugar
1 cup chopped pecans
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream cheese and butter and melt over very low heat. Add the sugar, pecans and vanilla and mix well. If the frosting becomes too thick, add a little milk. Frost one 8-inch or 9-inch layer cake.

Source: Adapted from Mrs. Wilkes’ Boardinghouse Cookbook: Recipes and Recollections from Her Savannah Table by Selma Wilkes

Friday, July 6, 2007

What was I thinking...

Just returned from a fabulous few days away from the urban jungle. I completely understand why folks flock from the north and retire to the south. It's as if the world takes a deep breath and exhales. Then you just sit, linger and relax. The houses are bigger and cheaper. I could sell my city shanty here and live like "a good gob'ment worker" down there. Ya know like those folks in PG County. We had a wonderful time visiting with my college bf and her family. It was cool to reminisce about our 'mighty bear' years. They were good but I would agree our lives are different and better now. She's expecting her third edition.

For whatever reason, I thought we were going to get out to some restaurants so that I could verify my "tea test." I didn't factor in the 2 toddlers and an infant. Dinner out was--completely out of the question! I mean, we could have gone but we, the adults, would not have had a good time. It's like the kids eat 2 bites, then they think it's party time. They refuse to sit still for longer than 5 minutes.

This is the great part about having friends with young kids. They understand and appreciate the value of eating in. And they had all the creature comforts a traveling parent needs. Plenty of wipes, kid-friendly snacks, lots of toys, extra stroller, a mini-van and the best--a playmate for my boy!!!!! My boy hasn't developed his table manners yet. His god-brother was a slow eater, my boy translated this as "oooo, more food for me."

Poor god-brother, had to move his food all the way to the end of the table so "greedy" would top taking his food.

Another advantage to being a "guest" is the royal food treatment. Her hubby really did it up on the grill. He's a very efficient griller. Not all crazy and cluttered like when Chef B and I grill. Everything was laid out in an orderly fashion. It was quite in line with his military background. I wouldn't expect any less. What was really cool were the dual grills going at the same time.

The kabobs were perfect. Veggies firm yet tender with a delicious wood smoked flavor. The meat was cooked to a nice medium. I'll admit, the man has some skill. (Yes, --Chef B--he's calling you out!) The marinades made the meat dishes. Pretty impressive. And no, he didn't give up the recipe.

Slam (college bf) made some freaky-cranberry-cheesy-turkey-crusty thingy. At first, it looked a bit like baby yak. But then when it was all put together and cooked...yummy! It was like eating an overstuffed croissant with warm turkey salad. The cranberry balanced out the salt of the turkey without being to sweet. I had 2 and half servings. She said it was easy to make, but it looked rather complex to me. I know it requires one of those Pampered Chef stones. Anybody having a party soon? Invite me...thx. I'd like to try that dish with taco meat.

I have always had an obsession with cookbooks. I am not a good cook. Honestly, I don't like to cook. I consider it one of those necessary evils in life. However, you wouldn't think this if you saw my bookshelf. It's loaded with cookbooks. When my Aunt Lois passed, folks were ravaging her place for jewels, crystal, money...I knew what she valued most. Her precious cookbooks. She loved them. She loved to cook and entertain. She once told me (in reference to her cookbooks) "you can't have these now but when I die, they are yours." She was true to her word. There was no way I could load them all on the truck. My sister, mother and other family members shared the lot of them. There were literally hundreds of cookbooks. Even a 1st edition Julia Child's!!!! I love to read recipes, the back story of the writer, the history of the cuisine, look at the pretty pictures, dissect the recipes for accuracy and proper instruction. But I don't like to cook. I know --weird.

Any culinary professional and/or (serious) home cook will tell you, baking is on the other side of the culinary universe from cooking. That being said, I do like...really, really, like to bake. The sweet tooth trumps my laziness in the kitchen every time. It's like grand baking central at my house from Thanksgiving to Christmas. I even have an annual baking and craft day for the kids.

When I visit folks, I often, take a peek at their cookbooks. My BF had an awesome southern style cookbook from a woman who owned a boarding house out of Savannah, GA ( Old-fashioned southern cookbooks are the best because they are real simple. A list of quality easy to find ingredients and very simple cooking instructions. You are not intimidated to try something new and different. They aren't filled with fancy pictures or cool culinary techniques. Most of the dishes in this particular book can be prepped in 7-12 minutes and then cooked in 30 minutes or less.

We are having family dinner on Sunday, I plan to test run a sweet recipe from the book. I'll let you know how it comes out.

I've had way to much screen time today. I'm going to dive into my new (low tech) hobby. Just picked up a magazine on scrapbooking. I heard it's like really good chocolate . . . dangerously addictive!

Just up my alley;-)