Homemade Candy

There are only a few days left until Christmas and the malls are packed. Apparently there is even a Macy’s out in Tyson’s Corner that is open 24/7 up until Christmas Eve. If shopping for sweaters and coffee table books at 3a.m. doesn’t strike your fancy than perhaps you can follow my lead and give your friends, family, and co-workers a homemade gift.

Last year I spent the better part of a weekend making my friends and co-workers cookie boxes. This year I decided on homemade candy. The three recipes below are so much fun to make and are decadent and delicious. Even better a bunch of the recipes can be made days in advance, so you can make them tonight, sit down with a glass of eggnog, and then package them up right in time for St. Nick to arrive. Your loved ones will appreciate the personal touch—-and all the chocolate!

Happy Holidays!

Chocolate Truffles

16 ounces dark or semisweet chocolate (or a combination), finely chopped
1 2/3 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ teaspoon coarse salt
Unsweetened cocoa powder and assorted crushed nuts, for rolling

1.    Place chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan heat cream until it begins to simmer; pour over chocolate. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand 10 minutes. Uncover and whisk chocolate mixture until smooth. Mix in vanilla and salt. Pour into a 9-inch pie plate and let cool 15 minutes. Cover with plastic and refrigerate until completely set, about 3 hours.
2.    With a melon baller or a teaspoon scoop out chocolate mixture and place on parchment paper. Coat hands with cocoa and roll truffles into balls; place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until set, about 15 minutes. (To store, cover with plastic and refrigerate, up to 2 weeks). Roll in finely chopped nuts or more cocoa powder before serving or packing.

Makes 70 truffles
Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Everyday Food

Peanut Butter Cups

2 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ cups smooth peanut butter, preferably all natural
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
36 1 3/8-inch paper candy cups

1.    Combine sugar, peanut butter, and butter in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or electric mixer). Beat on medium-low speed until combined. Set aside.
2.    Melt chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water. Keep melted chocolate over hot water near work area. Use a small spoon or small paintbrush to coat insides of the paper candy cups with the melted chocolate, making sure to cover the bottom and sides well. Transfer cups to a rimmed baking sheet or muffin tins (which will keep the cups from sliding around). Transfer to freezer until set, about 10 minutes.
3.    Remove cold chocolate cups from the freezer. Either using a pastry bag or a small spoon, pipe/spoon peanut butter filling into each cup until three-quarters full. Spoon melted chocolate into each cup to cover. Return to the freezer until set, 15 to 25 minutes. Peanut butter cups may be served right away or kept tightly sealed in the freezer for 2 to 3 days. To serve remove from freezer and serve, slightly cold.

Makes 36 cups
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Double Chocolate Bark

8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
7 ounces salted cocktail peanuts (about 1 ½ cups)

1.    Place white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat.
2.    Melt bittersweet chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally. Stir in peanuts. Spread on parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet, spreading peanuts in a single layer. Drop spoonfuls of white chocolate on top, and swirl chocolates with a skewer or chopstick. Refrigerate until set, about 1 hour. Break bark into large pieces. Bark will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 1 ¼ pounds of bark
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

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State Dinner’s Foodie Gift Guide for the Holidays

The holiday season has approached once again and if you are looking for that perfect gift to give to your favorite foodie you’ve come to the right place. My shelves are covered in cookbooks. I have well over 50 of them. I think cookbooks are the perfect gift for the food lover. They last a long time and provide learning and adventure in the kitchen.

I have put together a list of cookbooks for every type of chef. So head out to your local independent bookstore and pick up a gift for your favorite chef (and just maybe they will thank you with a delicious meal).

For the First Time Cook: The Joy of Cooking– My Mom has a tradition (passed down from her Mom) of giving me a cookbook every Valentine’s Day. The very first cookbook she gave me was The Joy of Cooking. This is the bible of all cookbooks. Whenever I am in doubt about something simple or basic I turn to TJOC. For new cooks it is perfect: it’s divided up in to clear cut sections, allows the cook to build on what they learn from previous recipes, and if you follow all the steps you are bound to have an end result that is delicious.

For the Food Politician: Food Matters by Mark Bittman– The food politics movement has taken off in recent years, starting with The Omnivores Dilemma. Mark Bittman’s book is perfect for those who care about how their food habits affect the world around them because not only does the book include Bittman’s argument on how to lead a more balanced, healthy life through food while helping the environment and economy, but it also includes great recipes.

For Someone Living Alone: The Pleasure of Cooking for One by Judith Jones. Judith Jones is a legend in cookbook publishing because she is the woman who discovered Julia Child. I discovered this cookbook while on a trip to New York and immediately read it cover-to-cover. Jones wrote the book after her husband passed away. Her philosophy behind cooking for one is very inspiring. She doesn’t believe that you should skimp on delicious meals, just because you are the only one dining at the table. As someone who lives alone but still likes to cook every night I have found this to be the perfect cookbook. You don’t have to worry about having tons of leftovers and cutting the recipes in half….every recipe already is adapted to feed one person.

For the Home Cook With Limited Time: Every Day Food: Great Food Fast by Martha Stewart. This is probably the one cookbook I use the most in my house. I have cooked almost every single recipe and they have all turned out delicious. Some of my favorites include the cashew chicken, butternut squash soup, and skirt steak with spicy green salsa. Most of the recipes can be prepared in under an hour and use easy to find ingredients. The book is broken down in to seasons, which I really appreciate since I like to shop at my farmers market and eat what is fresh and local. And every recipe has a beautiful picture to accompany it. Trust me….Martha will never steer you wrong.

This photo courtesy of ThisIsNaive

For People Who Love Brunch: Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook by Dede Lahman and Neil Kleinberg. The Clinton St. Baking Company is one of the hottest spots in New York City to find comfort food. Over and over again they are named the restaurant with the best biscuits, pancakes, brunch, and breakfast. Lines stretch around the corner just to get a taste of their blueberry pancakes. The place also just happens to be owned by a longtime friend Dede Lahman and her chef-husband Neil. All the hype about the restaurant is justified and now you can sample a little taste of their magic in your own home. I first learned about this cookbook over a year ago when Dede asked my Mom and I to test out some of the recipes (I tested out the scone recipe…yum!). It was very exciting to get my hands on the finished product. These recipes are delicious and run the gambit from Huevos Racheros to vanilla buttermilk waffles to red flannel hash. And yes Neil’s recipes for biscuits and pancakes are included.

For Those Mourning the Lose of Gourmet Magazine: The Gourmet Cookbook and Gourmet Today both by Ruth Reichl. Foodies worldwide took a major hit in the past few years when Gourmet Magazine suddenly shut down and stopped publishing. If you are anything like me, you grew up looking at the delicious pictures in your Mom’s monthly copy of Gourmet and then tried to spend your adulthood recreating these masterpieces. Lucky for us Ruth Reichl and her friends at Gourmet have put together two spectacular encyclopedic cookbooks to tide us over until the publishing world comes to their senses and brings us back our beloved magazine. These cookbooks are made up of years worth of Gourmet recipes and are a treasure trove for pretty much any situation you can find yourself in.

For Those Coming From A Melting Pot Family….Or Just Want to Cook Like One: The New American Table by Marcus Samuelsson. When you looked around your Thanksgiving table this year did it look a little bit like a meeting of the UN? If so than this is the perfect gift for the cook in your family. In celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson’s new cookbook he draws inspiration from the melting pot that is the United States of America.  He has Fish Goulash that could delight your Hungarian Grandma, miso-rubbed rack of lamb for your Japanese cousin, and yellowtail ceviche for your South American wife. Each recipe includes a description and story behind his culinary and ethnic inspiration.

Photo courtesy of Chow.com

Giving Back This Thanksgiving

Photo courtesy of Phoenix Rescue Mission

Throughout the year on State Dinner I celebrate food in abundance. I am blessed to be able to have a well-stocked kitchen to cook in every night and the ability to dine out at the area’s newest restaurants whenever I please. I try to count my blessings often. As we approach the season of Thanksgiving, we collectively take stock of all the things we’ve been provided with throughout the year. Which quickly leads one to think about those who are doing without (and with the current economic situation, there are more families than ever that are struggling to make ends meet).

It has always been a tradition in my family to volunteer year round, but most importantly during the holiday season. My Mom donates a turkey every year to a local area food bank. And for the past few years I have either donated money or volunteered my time at DC-area charities. Below you will find a couple of  food-related ways you and your loved ones can volunteer your time this holiday season. Please remember that these organizations need your help year-round, so while it is important to help out needy families during the holiday season, please consider also stopping by in June as well.

Photo courtesy of the DCJCC

DCJCC

Everything But the Turkey November 22nd and 24th 6:30pm-8:30pm. 500 volunteers meet at the DCJCC (1529 16th Street, NW at the corner of 16th and Q Streets) to prepare 10,000 servings of food for people in need in the Metropolitan area. Over 100 social service agencies (part of DC Central Kitchen) benefit from the side dishes prepared during Everything But the Turkey. I volunteered here last year and had a great time preparing lots and lots of bread stuffing. EBTT is appropriate for all age groups as well, so feel free to bring the entire family!

Note: There is a requested $13 donation to cover some of the supplies used during the volunteer days.

Food and Friends

Food and Friends provides nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-challenging illnesses. I have been donating to Food and Friends for years because I find their mission particularly compelling. They don’t just provide food for those in ill-health but also provide companionship and company. There are a number of opportunities to assist Food and Friends during the holiday season:

  • Slice of Life is a holiday fundraising event where people in the DC area can buy pies and the money will be donated to Food and Friends. Fellow food blogger Dining in DC is selling pies in various flavors like sweet potato, pumpkin, and chocolate cheesecake. Consider helping out her efforts. In addition to buying a pie you can volunteer on November 23rd from 10:30am-8:30pm (various shifts are available) at one of the 22 pie pick-up locations through out the DC/MD/VA area.
  • Turkey Box delivery will take place November 22nd-24th. The Turkey Boxes include everything a family will need for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner (turkey, side dishes, dessert). Flexible schedules are available and you will be given a couple of different addresses to deliver to.
  • On November 22nd-24 at 8am, 10am, 1pm, and 5pm, groups will be gathering to prepare food for Thanksgiving meals. Also on Thanksgiving Day you can volunteer to prepare and deliver meals.

Photo courtesy of creativeloafingdotcom

Bread for the City

Starting now through December 24th Bread for the City is welcoming volunteers in to their Northwest Center (1525 7th Street, NW) and Southeast Center (1640 Good Hope Road, SE) from 1-3pm, Monday-Thursday to help pack up turkey dinners (fully equipped with all the classic fixings). Bread for the City plans to distribute these meals to over 8,000 families in need.

There are also options for larger, corporate volunteer days, so consider gathering taking a half-day at the office and give back to your community.

If you know of more Thanksgiving volunteer opportunities in the DC area please feel free to list them below in the comments area.

Thanksgiving….Out

Thanksgiving is a very big deal in my family. The only time I ever missed a Thanksgiving at my parent’s house was when I was studying abroad in Denmark, and even then my Mom sent me a package with everything I would need to host Thanksgiving dinner overseas (minus the turkey—which is apparently

Photo courtesy of ConstructionDealMkting

impossible to find in Copenhagen). We always have a traditional New England Thanksgiving at home with family and friends. It’s wonderful, but I recognize that not everyone wants to deal with the planning, the cooking, and most importantly, the dishes.

This is one of those situations where outsourcing is not so bad. A number of DC-area restaurants host wonderful Thanksgiving dinners with lots of options and all the fixin’s. It’s just a matter of deciding what style dinner you want…and making reservations (which are highly recommended). Here are some of my choices for Thanksgiving dinner out.

Classic Thanksgiving:

*Equinox– Hot off a new post-fire renovation and review from Tom Sietsema, spend your holiday with Chef Todd Gray and his New American Mid-Atlantic cuisine. Start off with a glass of champagne and an oyster roast on the patio. Then move on to the 3-course ala carte menu featuring kobocha squash soup, Ayrshire Farms Red Bourbon Turkey with cider-cranberry gravy, and heirloom pumpkin seed cake with mascarpone ice cream. After dinner you can take a short walk to the White House and around the various monuments.

818 Connecticut Avenue, NW 202-331-8118 www.equinoxrestaurant.com $55/person ala carte menu. Dinner offered from 2-7pm

*701– Dinner at the classic restaurant will include an ala carte menu featuring venison stuffed sage leaves, eco-friendly turkey and suckling pig, and pumpkin and sweet potato tart. Grab a drink before or after your meal at the bar and listen to the live jazz. 701 will also be featuring valet parking, so you don’t have to worry about a thing.

701 Pennsylvania Ave., NW 202-393-0701 www.701restaurant.com $45/person. Dinner offered from 11am-9pm

An International Take:

*Bibiana– Perhaps you would like to forgo the traditional Thanksgiving meal and head to the Amalfi Coast instead of Plymouth Rock. In that case you might enjoy Bibiana’s 3-course Italian menu. Their Thanksgiving menu includes such tasty items as chestnut soup with grappa cream, Heritage turkey two-ways, and monkfish poached in beet juice.

1100 New York Ave., NW (located on the corner of 12th and H Streets) 202-216-9550 www.bibianadc.com $45/person. Dinner offered from 11am-4pm

*Bistro Bis– Bistro Bis, a Capitol Hill favorite, will be offering a delicious Thanksgiving menu with a French Twist. I imagine Thanksgiving dinner at Julia Child’s house might look a little like this. The ala carte menu features venison carpaccio, roasted turkey with sweet potato mousseline and giblet gravy, lamb shank bretonne and mashed potatoes with truffle butter. Dinner at Bistro Bis also gives the perfect excuse to head up to the Capitol Building after dinner and get the perfect view of the National Mall all lit up and covered in leaves.

15 E Street, NW 202-661-2700 www.bistrobis.com Dinner offered 12-8pm.

Photo courtesy of Tramie's Kitchen

Taking It South of  the Mason-Dixon Line:

*Art and Soul– Head to this restaurant if you want a little taste of the South. Art and Soul offers diners a number of classic Southern dishes including passed plates of deviled eggs, buttermilk mashed potatoes, and spicy collard greens. There will be carving stations with roasted turkey, bourbon maple-glazed ham, and herb roasted prime rib. Everyone gets to choose their own dessert like pecan or apple pie. And as an added bonus Art and Soul gives you a take home leftover turkey sandwich with all the trimmings—just because you’re not cooking the meal, doesn’t mean you should miss out on the midnight snacking!

415 New Jersey Ave., NW 202-393-7777 www.artandsouldc.com Dinner offered 11am-9pm. $65/adults and $25/kids (6-12 years old)

Regardless of where you end up I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Photo courtesy of Vicky's Nature

Mark Bittman’s Food Matters Cookbook

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of seeing Mark Bittman, cookbook author, New York Times contributor and frequent guest on the Today Show, speak at the Sixth and I Synagogue. Bittman was promoting his new cookbook, The Food Matters Cookbook: 500 Revolutionary Recipes for Better Living. The cookbook is based off of the New York Times bestseller, Food Matters.

I really enjoyed Bittman’s presentation. Without coming across as preachy or overly aggressive, Bittman explained how detrimental it is for Americans to continue on the diet we currently maintain. Besides the obvious health problems we have developed as a nation (obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes), Bittman explained that there is an environmental and economic effect on the way we eat. His simple presentation was interesting and different enough that I thought I was learning something new. I also feel that Bittman’s approach to more responsible eating is easier to accept versus others out there that say we must all become strict locavores and vegans. I do the best I can. I try to buy farm-raised eggs, most of my produce from the farmer’s market, and hormone-free, grass-fed, free-range meat. But I’m not perfect—-and I’m not giving up meat 100%. Bittman says that is ok. As he teaches in his new book, perhaps the answer is not giving up meat completely but making our intake less (he calls this lessmeatavore). Perhaps cook a vegetarian dish 2-3 times a week (his veggie dishes are robust and delicious…you’ll be more than full). And most of his recipes significantly reduce the amount of meat on the plate. And guess what? You don’t miss it!

My favorite recipe I’ve found so far is the seasonal Cannellini with Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Sausage. I very rarely cook with sausage because I try not to eat pork and find most of the sausage at grocery stores, quite frankly, creepy. But I was able to find Italian-style chicken sausage from one of the meat purveyors at the Dupont Circle Farmer’s Market…score! This is the perfect dish for Fall. I served it over Israeli couscous but I’m sure whole wheat noodles, quinoa, or even a few slices of toast would be great.


Cannellini with Shredded Brussels Sprouts and Sausage

3 tablespoons olive oil
8 ounces Italian sausage (chicken, pork, or turkey), casings removed
3 tablespoons minced garlic
Red chili flakes, to taste
Salt and black pepper
1 pound Brussels sprouts, shredded in a food processor or roughly chopped
½ cup white wine or water
2 cups cooked or canned cannellini beans, drained

1.    Put the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it’s hot, crumble the sausage into the pas and cook, stirring occasionally to break the meat into relatively small bits, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook and stir for another minute or so.
2.    Add the Brussels sprouts and wine to the skillet and cook, stirring frequently, until the sprouts are tender but still a bit crunchy, 5 to 10 minutes.
3.    Add the beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until they are heated through, just a minute or 2. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Serve.

Serves 4

Side note: Mark Bittman also has an awesome How to Cook Everything app for iPhones/iTouches. It’s based off of his famous How to Cook Everything cookbook…I highly recommend it.

The Great American Dine Out

It’s not very often that I get a chance to combine my blog with my daytime job as a lobbyist. In all honesty, I have tried to keep my two lives separate. But for the past year I just happen to be working on an issue that I not only find inspiring professionally, but have also had a strong interest in personally for quite awhile. The issue of childhood hunger in America has reached a critical peak over the past few years. Currently 1 in 4 children are food insecure. This means that they

Photo courtesy of Bruce Tuten

go without nutritious food on a fairly regular basis. It is a travesty that in the richest country in the world a child should want for food.

Part of my job is to advocate for these children. Through my work I have come in to contact with the wonderful group Share Our Strength. Now there is a way that you can get involved, enjoy a delicious meal, and help hungry kids all at the same time. From September 19-25 Share Our Strength will be sponsoring the Great American Dine Out. Thousands of restaurants from around the country will participate and a portion of the proceeds will go to Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign, which works to end childhood hunger in the United States by 2015 (the same goal set by President Obama).

Photo courtesy of Strength.org

75 restaurants in the DC area will be participating, including Proof, Estadio, Ping Pong Dim Sum, California Tortilla, and Art and Soul. A complete listing of the restaurants can be found here.

So gather some friends, make a reservation, enjoy a delicious meal, and help change a life!

Free Dessert Day

What’s better than a free lunch? Free dessert! In honor of the series premier of Top Chef: Just Desserts, Opentable.com is partnering with Bravo TV for a free dessert promotion on Wednesday, September 15th. 83 restaurants are participating in one-way or another. Some pastry chefs are preparing a special dessert for the occasion. You can get red velvet cake at Firefly, vanilla ice cream profiteroles at Mon Ami Gabi, and donut holes with dipping sauce at Darlington House. And many restaurants, like Bistro Cacao, Zola, and Capitol Grille, are

Image courtesy of Kitsunbabe

allowing you to choose a dessert off of their regular menu. Personally, I’m grabbing lunch at Againn, and hoping to check out the sticky toffee pudding I’ve been hearing so much about.

A full list of participating restaurants can be found here. (There are many reservations still remaining).

And don’t forget to tune in to Top Chef: Just Desserts at 11pm on September 15th (tomorrow!). DC’s own Heather Chittum will be cheftestant.

Note: Restaurants around the country are participating in Free Dessert Day. If you live outside of DC, go to Opentable.com to see which restaurants are participating in your city.

Photo courtesy of Alain Limoges