CSA - Community Supported Agriculture

Recently, at a friend's holiday table, we were discussing apples.  And I said, "Oh it's not apple-picking season yet!  It's too hot!"  And friend's friend said, "It is too.  My CSA has been full of apples!"  Then, a little silent reflection on how funny that statement sounds, or at least would have sounded 5 years ago.  And then smiles all around.

CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  Even if people aren't sure of that at first mention, they usually get what I mean when I continue with "it's where you sort of buy a share in a farm and get some fruits and veggies every week for a season," and I usually only get halfway into that before the nodding and the "OH YEAH THAT, I HAVE HEARD OF IT."  I wanted to try using a CSA a few years ago thanks to major raves from F, but I kept shying away.  Cost (and no income, as a student), work (finding time and recipes to use the produce), and travel (I always wanted to do it for summer, and I'd look at the calendar and see we'd be gone half of it).  So this fall I said no more excuses, let's do this.  On the sage recommendation of Evan the Carnivore I signed us up for a half-share for fall at Normans Farm Market.  $120 for fall.  A slight discount if you do all three seasons.

A handful of my pals have blogged their CSA adventures, including The Dirty Radish and The Proudfeet.  I'm following in their footsteps. 

First, Normans is pick-up.  The pickup I chose isn't far from where we live, and it's easy for me to pick up on my way home because I drive.  When I arrived on the first day, I was given a small basket from a stack of small and large options.  I could fill it up once with my choice of veggies (zucchini, onion, tomato, eggplant, potatoes sweet and not, cucumbers, peppers), then again with fruit (pears, peaches, plums, apples), then I get 2 "options."  2 acorn squash = one option, 1 pt grape tomatoes = one option, 1 butternut squash = 1 option, 2 heads of broccoli = one option, etc.  I just ask someone who works there what is what and go from there.

Here's my goods from the first week.  Very little planning went into what I chose.  It was mostly OMG I GET TO CHOOOOSE SO MANY CHOIIIIICES YAY. I am easily entertained.

glamour shot:

Decoded: Black plums (that at first looked to me like figs), white eggplant, yellow zucchini, acorn squash, pears, sweet potato, tomato, grape tomatoes, peaches.

I sauteed some of the vegetables and added a can of no salt diced tomatoes, white wine, garlic, quinoa and chicken breast pieces into a big bowl of steamy food.  Mmmm food.  I want to try to make this quinoa squash gratin next time. 

I sort of wish I was picking up on Tuesday so I could have the haul at the beginning of the week.  But I usually have the most time to cook on the weekends, and fall/winter food usually takes roasting and simmering (I'm talking to you, roasted squash and hearty stews).  Also, I find myself busy after work this past Tuesday, next Tuesday, and the one after.  So I guess Thursday was meant to be. PS click that link and watch the trailer if you know what's good for ya.



If Kefi were to be broken down into an equation wherein Kefi = X, then X = Delicious + nice (read: sit-down, real plates, good service) + takes reservations + good portions + affordable in NYC.  Are you with me?  It seems totally impossible, especially on this typically expensive island

The scene is Upper West Side, rain, and one special birthday.  We needed some comfort and warmth.  Kefi to the freakin' rescue people.  Sorry about the dark photos--I have trouble staying steady and the lighting is low!  When a gal like me sees a chunk of feta that large, I'm bound to be impatient.

First we had an unbelievably spread of--er--spreads. The dips were taramosalata,a caviar; melintzanosalata, eggplant; revithia, chickpea (like hummus); and tzatziki--needing no explanation, right, yogurt fans? Each one was so so good.  I was least familiar with the taramosalata but I could not get enough of it.  Dangerous spreads.  We also shared a salad of the day that had eggplant along with large chunks of tomatoes and feta.

L had the lamb burger (as if there was ever a question), which was very tasty.  But I was feeling burger-y, and in a change of pace, I didn't feel like eating with my hands.  Ta da!  Sheeps milk dumplings, ricotta, and spicy lamb sausage (some tomato and pine nuts too).  This is the dish people talk about, and that's why I tried it.  I originally had my eye on the flat pasta with braised rabbit.  I'll try to get the rabbit next time, if I can manage not to order the dumplings.  I want to go to sleep right now and dream that I'm eating them.  Cool, fresh cheese, spicy savory sausage, soft pillowy dumplings--HOW IS IT POSSIBLE!?!?  If there was a recipe for warm happiness, the chefs at Kefi have it.  And the proof is in the dumplings.

505 Columbus Ave
Hopstop it

Kefi on Urbanspoon


Top Chef Episode 14 Recap: The Finale

We start at The Elimination Challenge.  The chefs are tasked with making a four course meal wherein they all use the same proteins and must make a vegetable dish, fish, meat, and dessert.  And they get sous chefs--previous winners Hung, Mike Voltaggio, and Ilan the half-Israeli minx.  Ilan and Hung don't get last names because--please.  Ilan and Hung.  Fun fact:  Ilan is Hebrew (or to get real, Aramaic) for "tree."  And that's enough linguistics for now.

2/3 finalists got their top choice to work with--drawing knives didn't change destiny.  Hung + Angelo; MVolt + Kevin (and turns out they know each other from a previous life, in a good way); Ilan + Ed.

Eric "The Ripper" Ripert and Tom are picking the proteins at the market, and they come back with some doozies and some snoresies: pork belly, cuttlefish (or cuddlefish, right Lauren?), duck, cockles, lobster, and rouget.  We've heard a lot about cockles, but I've never seen one (except on TV).  What are they like?

So I haven't mentioned yet that Angelo was ill.  It's unclear what the diagnosis was, but he was aching all over, he had migraines, and he looked like crap.  Somehow his 7pm shadow stayed well-groomed and in line.  I feel bad for him because he's sick, and the other cheftestants do a great job of being like "Oh I wish he was at his best because I want to compete against everyone at 100%" etc.  BS.  You are happy he is aching like me 1 week into swim practice circa 1999.  Hung and Angiepie communicate by phone for menu planning, shopping, and prep. 

Speaking of shopping, VIVOMART: GIANT SUPERMARKET.  That's all about that.

Angelo gets clearance to cook on the day of service, and he springs into action.  I did feel for the guy.  I've been sick during crunch time and had to keep my game face on. 

Meal-time.  First thing is first, Padma is wearing her favorite color dress, but no bib necklace.  Instead, a bumpit

Overall the meal went really well for all for all of them--no major disappointments.  A few complaints though: they didn't love Angelo's cherry shooter "palate cleanser."  Tom didn't like Ed's too-safe dessert.  Ripper wanted Kevin's vegetable terrine to have more heat, but they loved his duck.  They loved his Singapore Sling. 

Favorite veggie dish was Ed's, Angelo's fish dish seems favorite, I think both Kevin's and Ed's duck, and Kevin's dessert.  They keep talking about how important dessert is, which is hilarious.  Obviously "Just Desserts" premiers next.  And Kevin wins.  He took the most risks.  He brought his A game.  He worked really hard, went with things he knew but did stretch outside his comfort zone, and at the end of the day he works in New Jersey and that makes him great.  I'm not surprised at all.  In fact, the editors didn't try to twist and turn us in this episode.  Listen to the judges' discussion and you'll hear "we thought Kevin had the 2 of the best dishes out of four."  And he took risks that paid off.  P

So to recap the recap:  Kevin Sbraga, the self-identified "first African-American Top Chef," executive chef at Rat's Restaurant at the stunning Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, NJ, is Top Chef.  I've been there!  Well, Grounds for Sculpture, not Rat's.  When I lived in the Garden State I wasn't so blasé about spending big cheese on fancypants dinners. Hah!

Best quotes:

"I liked it when I used to fillet the fish and you pulled out the bones.  Remember those days?" MVolt to Kevin.

"I want to sacrifice every part of me to be Top Chef."  Angelo, keep the limbs attached.  We don't want 'em. 

"Very complicated dish.  I need a user menu."  Seetoh on Ed's dish.

It's been great recapping with y'all.  I was a bit apathetic about this season, but I thought this was a really fun finale.  My hope for next year is that Padma gets a new favorite color and we get some more lovable personalities (like JEN!).  Maybe less crying/yelling, too. 


Art & Soul

Chef Art Smith, former personal chef to Oprah and proprietor of Table Fifty-Two in Chicago, has been wowing DCers left and right since Art & Soul opened about two years ago.  I had no idea how close it was to Union Station--it's a little hidden, connected to the Liaison Capitol Hill hotel.  What a name.  It's asking for trouble.

The space at Art & Soul is sleek and sophisticated but doesn't feel stuffy at all.  It's funky! I also like the outdoor space. We recently went for brunch, because, you know that's how we roll. 

 And now, I give you this pull-apart monkey bread, hot, sweet, and sticky out of the cast iron pan.  Now THIS is how we should all start our days.

My corned beef hash was unlike some of the past (in PittsburghDenver, DC, and Brooklyn), these were one-inch cubes of corned beef and thin slices of potato, none of that chopped up shredded situation.  So delicious, so filling, and also--I'm sure we can agree--so beautiful.

Corned beef hash
ohlord mac & cheese
Ohhh the mac & cheese.  I've been wanting it ever since I saw it on the TV (either Best Thing I Ever Ate or 101 Tastiest Places to Chow Down: Presidential Edition), in all it's cheesy bubbly cast iron glory.  It was as good as I wanted it to be.  Let's go again!

Now for J's chicken & waffles.  Soooo delicious.  The chicken was awesome--crispy, meaty, slightly sweet, and piping hot.  The waffle was great, a little crispy on the edges and pillowy elsewhere.  The portion is also extremely generous.

J2 went a little light with the lemon ricotta pancakes and a side of fruit--named after Gayle King.  This prompted a lively discussion about whether Gayle is indeed Mayor Cory Booker's ladyfriend beyond casual state dinner date.  I say he's married to the Brick City.  I thought these were okay from my bite, but I'm not the biggest pancake person to begin with.  Unless it is covered with stuff.

I really liked Art & Soul, and I feel like it's a place I can add to the "no-fear" recommendation list.  It will be good, I don't have to worry.  And for an upscale but reasonably priced brunch the portions are more than generous.  They are downright huge.  And how about that monkey bread?  A complimentary little muffin or something goes a long way in customer happiness when this customer is concerned.  AND they are open for brunch on Saturday, unlike some other places I know.  I will be back for sure.

Art & Soul
415 New Jersey Ave NW
Metro: Red Line to Union Station

Art and Soul on Urbanspoon


Top Chef Episodes 12 and 13

 [This photo has nothing to do with anything except for the US National Whitewater Center and my personal Labor Day weekend.]

Why are we watching two episodes several days before we'd be 3 eps back?  Because we just don't find this season that exciting.  I wouldn't wait this long to watch Mad Men, that's for sure.  Below is the low-down in case you want to just skip 'em and clear out the DVR.

So.  Only 5 chefs are left at the start of Ep 12.  Kelly is crying because she misses her husband--never a good sign! 

The Quickfire: Dana Cowin is in the house.  Create an amazing dish to pair with one of the wines in front of you.  Prize is a trip to London.  All you need to know is that Padma's weird tuxedo jacket/skinny tie situation was unattractive and Angelo took the trip to London with his sauteed foie gras with fennel salad and blacksalt something or other. 

The finale is in...SINGAPORE!  Which I knew from my Twitter feed for the past week and a half.  And it's my own fault, I waited this long to watch--can't whine about spoilers on this one.

Elimination Challenge: NASA.  The chefs head to the Goddard Space Center to meet with the head of dining.  Obligatory video of weightless people.  The winning spaceworthy dish must be freeze-dry-able, and it'll go to the training center in Houston.  Big pieces don't freeze-dry well, and the astronauts lika the spiiiicy.  Table of 8 will include the judges, astronauts, and scientists.

Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, and Buzz Aldrin are among the guests.  Ed's Middle Eastern lamb dish and Kelly's halibut are both well-received, but there are questions about the freeze-drying process.  Kevin's NY strip had the same result.  Tiffany was bummed about her mussels being absent from the plate, and the guests didn't love it (except Bourdain, who said the fish sauce "sung to [him]."  Angelo's short ribs may have been too sweet, and the pickled mushrooms were too acidic for The Ripper

So nobody bombed.  But somebody has to go home.  It's not Angelo--he wins!  Double-winner!  His food is going to outer space and he gets a brand new Toyota Avalon.  This is fitting, because I'm pretty sure he's an alien.  The judges barely have anything negative to say about anybody.  Tom is being particularly complementary, and then Tiffany has to pack her knives and go. 

"I'm shocked by Ripert's dark, cynical, snarky, negative worldview."  Anthony Bourdain.

"Have you been to Provence?"  Perhaps the best compliment ever, from Ripert to Kelly.  He loved her artichokes.


Welcome to Singapore!  Ed already has sunburn 5 minutes in.  We're in an open market checking out chefs cooking in tiny stalls. Seetoh (see here, here, and here).  Ed is wearing v-neck, which is probably a mistake.

The Quickfire: Padma in ANOTHER bib necklace and navy dress.  Enough.  Obviously the next street food she'll taste will be from the chefs, using a wok and only a wok.  Winner gets immunity, which is huge this late in the game.  Obviously Angelo is pumped to use a wok.  He decides to make frog legs.  They are all sweating profusely.  Padma is mad at Kevin for never using a wok despite his knowledge that he was heading to Singapore (I gather they were home for a bit).  Ed wins with his elevated street food flavors, and he secures his spot in the finals.

Elimination Challenge:  A team challenge to create a cohesive menu for 80 guests of Dana Cowin, made a la minute, made to order.

Tom questions their plans to do one dish apiece, and that's when Ed drops the bombshell that he was always planning on doing two (despite that the chefs agreed to each do one because of a time issue).  Damn, Ed!  Jerk.  He acts like a dick the entire episode, basically taunting everybody--especially Angelo--by gloating about immunity and being super sarcastic.  Not classy. 

The judges really like everything.  They honestly say something positive about every single dish.  Nobody bombed.  Service did have its issues though--the chefs had no time to train the waitstaff, and their lack of training + language barrier = confusion. Ed wins, a double.  Of course, see above, Angelo won the Quickfire and Elimination in Ep 12.  Kelly heads back to Vail, and it's an all-male final. 

"Everybody's heart's on the line.  This could be the last beat."  Deep, Angelo.  DEEP!


Guest Post from Denver

Now WE were in Denver a little over a year ago.  Even though D-town was the last little piece of our trip, it was memorable for both it's adorableness and an epic brunch line (that yielded delicious results).  When EG (not to be confused with EM of Harry Potter fame) went to Denver on business, she came back like any good friend/relative of mine would--armed with photos, descriptions, and serious opinions about the chow and the experience.  Thanks for sharing EG!  Have a great holiday weekend, everybody (if you aren't gone already)!

Dining alone can be a great experience.  Some places did it well, others didn't.

Best Meal: Sam's No. 3.  Found it on Yelp, got a vegetarian skillet.  Was amazing: potatoes, cheese, peppers, onions, a little kick.  So delicious.  Have photos for you.  Got to sit at old school counter, the staff was fast, attentive, and gave me a full carafe of water for myself. 

[Ed. note: I want that.]

Worst Meal: El Chile Rojo.  Food wasn't terrible (wasn't great either), and took forever and they sat me AT THE SAME TABLE AS A COUPLE!!  So awkward for them.  I just read my book and drank my Corona. Later met up with friends and walked to this old school taco stand that looked like a MUCH better choice.  Our buddy had tongue tacos and they looked amazing.  I have photos of this place, because it was funky and memorable, although I sadly did not dine there.  Why did I not Yelp that night?!

Most Overpriced Omelet: Marlowe's.  Started at $6.50 and then they charged me for every veggie they added!  And I ordered a side of potato latkes (which tasted like the McDonald's breakfast potato things) and they charged me extra for the sour cream!  A reasonable breakfast for one person should never be $22.  The worst part was they didn't mix anything in the omelet!  All of the avocado was in the middle and I took one bite that was all onion.  Yuch.

Best Salad: Appaloosa Grill.  Felt like I was eating crap all week, so when the waiter mentioned their special that day was a shrimp salad with mushrooms, avocado, tomatoes and oh-so-much-more I got excited.  Except it was made with shrimp, and this girl doesn't do shrimp.  But I asked if the chef thought it would be good with chicken and he made it for me and mmmm there was nothing left on my plate (this is a rarity for salads in my life).

Best Ballpark Meal: Coors Field Helton burger and chocolate milkshake.  This isn't really a fair category because I only ate one ballpark meal and I asked the usher where the best food in the stadium was.  Not only was the Helton burger delish, but the line wasn't too long and it only cost me $7, which is totally a stadium bargain.  (The yummy milkshake was $5!  I bought a $40 ticket that included $10 toward food, which I first used for a $6.50 Blue Moon.  Cheapest stadium food I think I've ever had!)

Best Cheese: Osteria Marco.  Gorgeous place.  Not too expensive at all.  And ready for this, iEat? They make their own cheese!  I had to order it.  Amazing caprese salad that I gobbled up so fast, I had no room for the huge pizza in front of me.  (Luckily, the friend I brought with me, who I hadn't seen since 1995 happily took it home!)  The waitstaff was great - and thrilled that we were having a 15-year-friend-reunion - they knew the menu really well and made recommendations. This place is not crazy expensive, but you'll still feel like you had a fancy-schmancy meal.  (I have photos of this meal too!)

Best Vegetarian Meal: Leaf (Boulder).  Trying to find a place where your vegan friend, your Kosher friend and your meat-eating friend (me!) can all enjoy a meal is tricky, but Leaf hit the spot.  My portabello burger and sweet potato fries were yummy and the waiter knew everything about the menu, what he could make vegan, whether or not something has honey, what was in EVERYTHING.  I had to tell him "brother, I'll eat anything here, it's all good!"  I was actually FULL after the meal for our "hike" (read: shpatzir) around Chautauqua and it sustained me until I ate crap at the airport.

 (Chautauqua in Boulder)


Ah, the challah RECIPE you say??

For Evan, by request. 

I typically use my aunt's recipe that I've been enjoying for 20 some odd years.  And by my aunt's recipe, I mean, she is a person who eyeballs everything, uses a plastic cup to scoop flour out of an enormous barrel, and generally amazes me with the consistency of her food.  This recipe uses a whole 5 lb bag of flour, and I almost ALWAYS half it (using 2 eggs).  I will continue to half it until I have two ovens.  Dear That Day, when will you be here?

5 cups of warm water
1 1/2 cups of sugar
4 packets of yeast
Combine the above and let bubble (5-10 minutes).  If it doesn't bubble, your yeast is no good.

1/2 cup of oil
3 eggs
2 tablespoons of salt
~5 pounds of flour, added gradually.  I use my Kitchenaid with the dough hook attachment until it balls up, then I put it onto a floured surface and knead some more, adding flour until it's smooth and not super-sticky to the touch. 

Take that ball of baby challah flesh and put it in a large bowl (some lightly oil the bowl), cover it (with a damp towel or plastic wrap) and put it in a warm place.  I've let mine rise on the balcony, and also in the cabinet area above our oven--if anything else is cooking (like cookies!) it's toasty in there.  You want it to double in size, pretty much (see above).

Sometimes I let it rise for 1 hour.  Sometimes after an hour I punch it down and do another hour.  I've also just done 2 hours straight with no punching.  Do what you have time for and test it out!  Make sure your  bowl is big enough so the blob doesn't take over your kitchen.

Braid*, then egg wash (I use just egg, some use egg + water + salt) and bake--don't let it sit too long after it's been egg washed, it'll deflate and get weird.

Bake until golden on top at 350 degrees, watch the bottom so it doesn't burn.  When it's done, you will tap the bottom and it will sound hollow.  Also, if you bake challah somewhat frequently, you will burn your forearms.  It's a fact!

*Click here for some background on "taking" challah and the blessing over it.