Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Meatball Mania at Via Umbria in Georgetown

Via Umbria is a cute import Italian store and café in Georgetown off of Wisconsin that I probably would not have heard about had it not been for Lisa who I connected with on twitter @lisacomento. She invited me to check out a cooking class offered by Via Umbria - Meatball Mania, which I quickly agreed to attend, because hello, meatballs!

I didn’t get much time to look around the store (probably for the best – my wallet would have been a lot lighter), but as I was leaving I checked out some prices and they are very reasonable for imported goods, especially for being located in Georgetown.
Meatball Mania$25 a person, featured a tasting of 3 different meatballs with a hands on experience of making one of the meatballs. The class started with a meat grinding demonstration, showing that it is indeed possible to grind your own meat without having fancy pants machinery, although using a kitchen aid with a grinder attachment is still a pretty piece of machinery.
We then moved on to learn how to make Mondeghili meat balls (fried meatballs - I'll share the recipe in a later post). Chef Johanna took us through her process of making meatballs and asked for a volunteer to help finish mixing the ingredients so she could focus on talking to us. I nudged Brandon to volunteer and he bravely stepped up to the plate. After the meat was mixed, a few more of us helped out with rolling the meatballs.
After the demonstration was over, we gathered around the table and got to eat the other two meatballs that were prepared while sipping on water/wine/cocktails (half off during class! – I had a lovely rose prosecco and a red). We both were surprised that we favored the Mozzarella Stuffed Chicken (Johanna managed to make it pop full of flavor and keep a moist texture) meatball over the traditional meatball, but both were delicious.  

For the price of $25, this class is definitely worth it. It’s fun, informative and you get some delicious food. Perfect for date nights, friend nights or even alone. I heard from Via Umbria that they will continue to have $25 classes on Wednesdays on a variety of subjects, as well as keep the Meatball Mania to once a month. 

Now...onto some exciting stuff. I have decided to partner with one of my friends who loves writing and loves food. His writing presents itself more like a story and it's wonderful, much better than mine! He will be popping up on this little space a few times a month with a guys perspective on drinks/food in the DC area. Introducing the unofficial Hawaiian T-shirt guy of Arlington, Brandon....!!! 


We arrived at Via Umbria just as it was closing. The cooking demos takes place upstairs after hours which really gives you this cool, VIP feeling. Cocktails and certain wines were half off for the event. I normally am not much of a wine drinker, but I have never turned down cheap booze in my life. I ordered a glass of their Adanti Arquata Nispero Rosso Dell’Umbria 2012, which in the proper Italian is pronounced by pointing at the menu and saying “that one.” April and I then headed upstairs to start the demonstration

We were first introduced to the butcher, who explained the importance of using freshly ground meat. He told us that in order to get best results, everything has to be cold. Put the meat in the freezer to the point of it almost freezing (approximately 15 minutes) and chill the bowl and the grinder for an hour or so before us. When making a ground meat meal where the meat has to keep a shape such as burgers or meatballs, it helps to grind right before cooking because the meat will do better job sticking together.  He spoke with such conviction and confidence that I completely had my heart set on buying a meat grinder when I got home, until I checked them out on Amazon and realized that I have to pay rent every now and then.
We then got a demonstration on how to make Mondeghili. Our chef added all the ingredients while carefully explaining what everything was. Then the real fun began. She asked if anyone wanted to help mix up the ingredients, which I obviously volunteered for right away. I threw on some gloves and got right to mixing. There is something weirdly satisfying about mixing various meats, spices, and cheeses with your bare hands. It immediately took me back to those silly haunted houses you’d do in grade school where a bowl of spaghetti or something was “zombie brains” and grapes where “eyeballs” or whatever.  Soon other people hopped in and started helping me mix and roll the meatballs.  She then took them over to the deep fryer.
These were by far the best of the 3 meatballs I tried that night. The concept of a fried meatball is pretty foreign to me, but the crispy outside and the soft, slightly cheesy, inside was amazing. There was also some marina sauce, which the chef said they normally used on their pizza there. (Oh you guys also serve pizza? Guess I’ll be coming back pretty soon then.) A comment that was made pretty often among the group I was that “these would be a hit at a party.” 
Finally, the main course was ready. They had Rontini pasta, better known as “those twisty ones that aren’t macaroni or bowties in those Costco pasta 3 packs you bought in college,” which they imported from Italy. (It was mentioned that Via Umbria had its own import license which is a thing, apparently? Either way, it sounds cool.) The import really showed. Every time I eat real pasta I am shocked by how good it taste. Mass produced, American, pasta tends to be without flavor and with a forgettable texture, but this pasta had an almost dough-like consistency, and tasted so delightful that it felt like I was getting away with something. But the real stars of the show were the two different meatballs she made, a chicken and cheese meatball and a more classic veal one.
The chicken and cheese one was my favorite of the two. The chicken was moist and the cheese added a soft texture that was incredibly appealing. The second meatball was nothing to scoff at either, in fact, I felt a little bad for it. While it was a completely delicious and incredibly meatball, the other two of the evening were so much more unique and incredible, that this one fell to the backburner.

Photo from Via Umbria - you can't tell but we are enjoying our meal!
It was a great event and I would definitely do it again. I really feel like I gained a better understanding of the cooking process, the food was amazing, and the atmosphere was friendly, fun, and authentically Italian. I thought the price ($25) was pretty reasonable and the half off wine isn’t bad either.  I would definitely come back.


Eventually we will do a follow up to this post with the recipe given for the Fried (Mondeghili) Meatballs, documenting the process and seeing if the recipe is doable for a novice/experienced cook. Stay tuned!  


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Thursday, June 9, 2016

Cleveland Park: Brunch at Ardeo + Bardeo

Brunch, Brunch, Brunch. Starting early, ending early. #almost30 as some of my younger friends refer to me when I express these feelings. But, hey, I never wake up the next day feeling like crap and I usually can get a delicious meal and some crazy adventures out of a good brunch. Case in point, we popped into the zoo for a bit after to check out some pandas.   
Our brunch of choice the other weekend was Ardeo + Bardeo and it was a worthy choice.

To start off your brunch they bring you a warm basket of mini chocolate chip scones and some sort of raisin bread. While the raisin bread looked good, I avoid raisins whenever possible and stuck to the scones. Wow, the scones were PERFECT. The chocolate was melty, and the scones were a perfect balance between moist and dry/crumbly.
We got there a bit earlier then the rest of our group, so Carrie ordered a bloody mary while we waited. It was tomatey, horseradishy and she enjoyed it. The rest of us stuck to their bottomless deal, 29.95 for bottomless mimosas or bubbly for 2 hours + an appetizer + an entrée. The bubbly was legit – not too dry or too sweet, and their mimosas were a perfect ratio of juice to bubbly. Fun fact, they will let you get the bubbly sans the oj. 

What they don’t tell you online is that certain dishes are “Grand” aka have a $8 surcharge. Totally fine, I just it was mentioned online.
The Grand dishes that our party tried were the Shrimp + Grits and the Steak + Eggs. Both dishes were enjoyed and worth the surcharge. 
I ordered the Grilled Burger. Juicy, meaty burger of your dreams. The sauce, caramelized onion jam was out of this world. This can get a little messy as the juices were running down my face. Worth it. Fries were also perfectly crispy and kept on getting eaten after we were all stuffed by our meals. The Eggs Benedict and Garden Pasta were also ordered and were good, but nothing special. 
For the appetizers, we tried the Deviled Eggs, Parfait, Caesar Salad and Broccolini and Quinoa Salad. They were all delicious, the parfait coming in as the favorite. Tip for the Caesar Salad - get it without the fried anchovy on top, it affects the areas it touches with its fishy flavor. 

Would I come back? Service was great, food was pretty great (weaker dishes were the benedict and the pasta) and mimosas were PERFECT. I will be back. 
3311 Connecticut Avenue NW, 
Washington, DC
metro: Cleveland Park
Ardeo+Bardeo Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 

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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kale, Cheddar and Sourdough Strata

Could there be a better breakfast than eggs, bread and cheese? Throw in some kale for a feel good kick and you have the perfect combination for breakfast/brunch with friends or for meal prep for the week. This strata seriously kicks butt – I have been making it for about 2 years now. I love the combo of crispy kale, sharp cheddar and tangy, toasted sourdough. The crispy kale on top gets me EVERYtime, kale lovers need to make this ASAP.
If you are serving for brunch – it cuts nicely into 9 squares. For meal prep, I cut it into 6 rectangles and wrap in foil. I usually reheat it in a toaster oven and found it lasts for 3-4 days quite nicely. *Warning*, don’t let the kale get too close to the top of the toaster oven…I found out the hard way it might start burning and cause smoke in your office kitchen. I usually leave it wrapped in the foil for a few minutes and then uncover for the last minute or so. If you want to make ahead, you can just prep everything the night before, cover with foil, and stick in the fridge until ready to bake. 
It’s been FOREVER since I’ve posted a recipe (I just checked – almost a year, but it’s a delicious one…a Zoodle recipe). I have decided to start only sharing my signature recipes – one that I have made multiple times and love. I’m starting to put all my favorites in a lovely little recipe book my mom got me so if it makes it in there, it will make it on here.

Kale, Cheddar and Sourdough Strata

1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 10 oz bag of kale
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 sourdough baguette, cubed (day or two old is best!)
6 eggs
1 oz Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cayenne* (optional - I like the hint of heat)
1 cup milk (2%, whole, half and half all work)
1 1/2 cups shredded white cheddar (about 4 oz/half of a normal block of cheddar)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
2. Heat pan to medium heat and place in olive oil and shallot. Cook for two minutes. 
3. Add in kale and salt, saute until lightly wilted. Approximately 5 minutes. 
4. In a bowl, whisk together eggs, black pepper, cayenne and milk. 
5. Spray 9x9 pan with cooking spray, then layer half the cubed bread, half the kale, half the cheese and repeat. 
6. Pour egg mixture over the kale combo
7. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until egg mixture is solid. 
-If you want to use more eggs you can through in 2-3 more, it will make your egg mixture rise a little more.  
-Switch up the cheeses if you feel, I love white cheddar, particularly cracker barrel sharp white or the unexpected white cheddar from trader joes. 
-If you are using a fresh baguette, I usually toast the cubes for about 5-10 minutes until they are a little crispy

*loosely adapted from Buzzfeed

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