Author Archives for A Capitol Contessa

About A Capitol Contessa

A woman who loves parties - both political and full of friends. I hope to inspire people to cook, entertain and have fun by sharing tips, tricks and mistakes along the way!

Swiss Chard Pasta

Pasta and cream – oh you are so yummy but oh so bad for me.  Honestly any kind of carb covered in any kind of cheesy or creamy sauce is something I can get on board with, but know I should limit.  So what if you add a ton of dark leafy greens and lean white meat chicken to the mix?  Still not healthy?  Ok fine maybe not healthy but this one pan meal is super satisfying, delicious and not nearly as bad for you as it tastes.  A scant 1/2 cup of cream for 4 servings means only 2 tablespoons of cream per person, which is the smae amount you probably sloshed into your morning coffee anyway.  My mom passed this one down to me (though I have taken some creative liberties) and I loved it from the first time she made it for me.  If you have never cooked with swiss chard before it’s that beautiful green you may have seen at the market with the vibrant red or multi colored stalks.  Most recipes will tell you to just use the leafy parts and cut out the tougher stems but I love their flavor and the bite they give to this pasta.  If you want to mellow them even more you can add the stems first and then the leaves later so you cook them down more.  The red from the chard stems also turns the onions pink which is just fabulous in and of its self.

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The key to chard or really any green is making sure its nice and clean.  Grit can easily find its way into greens and the last thing you want to do is chew down on sand when you are eating.  Prewashed and bagged greens help with this but for all other greens I really like a salad spinner.  It’s an easy way to get them clean and can double as a storage vessel for greens in the fridge.  When you come home from the store just wash the greens, run them through the spinner (I have and really like this one) and then keep in the fridge, they will last a lot longer and be ready to use when you want them.  For this and most recipes where you want to wilt down greens I also like to leave just a little water still clinging to the leaves – this will help create some steam in the pan and move along the wilting process.  This is a really fast dinner, made more substantial by the addition of chicken but it could easily fill vegetarian folks up without.  And the smell of the onions cooking in butter…mmmmm so good.

Swiss Chard Pasta 

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large bunch of swiss chard, cleaned and chopped
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • 8 ounces penne or other short cut pasta
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1 to 2 rotisserie chicken breasts, chopped or shredded into bite size pieces (optional)

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a skillet.  While butter is melting also bring a pot of water to boil for pasta and cook the pasta while making the sauce.  When the butter is melted add the onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until the onions are translucent.  Start adding the swiss chard in handfuls, tossing with tongs if necessary to wilt the greens and get them all to fit.

Season with salt and pepper.  Cook the chard down until wilted, about 5 minutes, then throw in the white wine and allow it to all cook out, about 2 to 3 minutes.

When the pasta is ready toss it in the pan along with the red pepper flakes, the nutmeg and cream (and chicken if including it).  Toss the pasta and sauce together and let cook together for a couple of minutes more allowing the cream to coat the pasta and the flavors to meld.

Chicken Enchiladas

I know I have mentioned our Fiesta Friday tradition.  I am not sure exactly when it got started but it did come about pretty organically.  I realized I was doing tacos and margaritas on Fridays a lot because it seemed like such a great way to cap off the week.  Of course then I made the mistake of naming it and making it a thing so DSC04503that my husband, friends and colleagues were asking me every Friday what was on the menu for Fiesta Friday.  The pressure was on and while I like the idea of a fiesta to unwind after a long week, cooking a full meal can also be daunting after a week of work.  I knew enchiladas would be the answer to this problem.  Somewhat time-consuming to make but they freeze great and can be cooked right from the freezer so basically all you have to do when you get home on Friday is turn on the oven and pour the margs.  I got the cooking method for this one from Cooking Light magazine but the rest is a creation of my own.  Cooking Light often has great ideas on how to freeze things or do them in advance but I find a lot of their recipes almost too dumbed down.  That’s why its good to scavenge inspiration from a variety of sources – meals eaten in restaurants, magazines, friend’s cooking etc.  This recipe is a chameleon –  make it with shredded pork instead of chicken, tomatillo sauce instead of enchilada sauce, swap the corn for beans – you get it.  I made my own enchilada sauce but guess what?  Totally not worth it – turns out this is one of those times that the store-bought is just as good, if not better.  I would budget 2 enchiladas per person but if you were super hungry then someone could easily polish off 3.

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Chicken Enchiladas 

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 5 chipoltes in adobo, chopped
  • 4 ounce can chopped green chilis
  • 14.5 ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups corn kernels (frozen is fine)
  • 4 scallions
  • chicken from 1 chicken breast, shredded (I used rotisserie chicken or you could roast 1 skin on bone in breast)
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups enchilada sauce
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded jack or cheddar cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (do this even if you are freezing them as you need to par bake before freezing).  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.  Add the chipotles, green chilis, tomatoes and corn.  Turn up the heat to medium high and cook for approximately 8 minutes until everything has combined and some of the liquid from the chilis and tomatoes has cooked off.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in the chicken and scallions.  Remove from the heat.

Spray the pan or pans with cooking spray and put the enchilada sauce in a shallow bowl.  Microwave the tortillas for 20 seconds (do 6 at a time so they stay warm).  Microwaving the tortillas makes them more pliable and easier to stuff.  Spread several tablespoons of enchilada sauce on the bottom of the pan/pans to cover with a thin layer.  Dip a tortilla into the enchilada sauce and shake off the excess.

This is a messy job so just get into it.  Stuff the tortilla with several tablespoons of the chicken mix and fold over the two sides.  If you have over stuffed the tortilla theends won’t meet, so then just scoop out a little and keep moving.

Put into the pan with the seam side on the bottom.  Keep going with the rest of the tortillas – if you are making two pans, 6 tortillas will fit in each.  Don’t worry if you have to squish them in to fit, it’s actually better if they are tightly in the pan.

Microwave the second batch of tortillas and repeat until there are no more tortillas or stuffing.  Spoon over any remaining enchilada sauce and then cover with cheese.  If eating now: bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  If freezing: bake for 15 minutes then remove from the oven and allow to cool.  Once room temperature, tightly cover with foil and freeze.  Then to reheat bake it straight from the freezer at 400 degrees for 45 minutes.  I baked one to eat immediately and one to freeze which was perfect.

Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna

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I have already mentioned that I am a reformed ricotta lover, previously eschewing it in any form until I had good ricotta.  Maybe that is why I also was never a big lasagna fan as so often it was stuffed with a ton of bland crumbly ricotta.  Also I think back in the 80’s lasagna was just plain boring – always the same fillings, always meat sauce with ricotta and rubbery noodles, always overcooked and heavy.  I have come a long way since then, as has lasagna.  Now you see more and more veggie options, using bechamel sauce, different cheeses, less pasta and more fillings.  There are several recipes I like, some heavier than others but for the summer a lighter flavor profile seems appropriate.  The best thing about lasagna is that you can make several in advance and freeze them.  I will admit that putting them together can be sort of tedious but then just make a whole bunch at a time so you have a quick dinner any night of the week.  There are two schools of thought on freezing lasagna – to pre bake or not – and I fall in the not category.  Assemble the lasagna, cover it with saran wrap and foil and then when you want to bake it off just leave it in the fridge over night and bake the next day.  I find if you bake then freeze then bake again it can really dry out but try it for yourself and see what you like better.  This recipe would make one large lasagna for about 8 people, or 2 smaller ones for 4 each.  I like to serve it with an arugula salad tossed with a lemony dressing to add some sharp notes but it would also be great with sautéed escarole or a caesar.

Goat Cheese and Prosciutto Lasagna 

  • 2 1/2 cups tomato sauce (either homemade or a good quality like Rao’s)
  • 16 ounces ricotta cheese (either homemade or good quality)
  • 4 ounces goat cheese, room temperature
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil
  • 4 ounces prosciutto, chopped
  • 8 sheets of no boil pasta
  • 16 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

If baking right away preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a bowl mix the ricotta, goat cheese, egg, basil and prosciutto together then season with salt and pepper.  Put a 1/3 of the sauce in the bottom of the large pan or distribute equally among the 2 smaller pans, using the spoon to spread out the sauce.

Then add 4 sheets of the no boil pasta on top (4 laid in the bottom of the large pan or 2 in each small pan).  Then add half of the mozzarella on top of the pasta.

Next you add half of the ricotta mixture – don’t worry if your layers of sauce or cheese don’t cover the whole surface, once these get in the oven everything pretty much melts together.  As you can see I just sort of dabbed  the mixture on.

Then comes another 1/3 of the sauce, 4 sheets of pasta, the remainder of the mozzarella and the remainder of the ricotta mixture.  Finish it all off with the rest of the sauce and then top with the grated parmesan cheese.

If you are going to freeze them cover with a layer of saran wrap (tomato sauce plus tin foil makes for a bad reaction and the saran adds an extra layer of protection from freezer burn anyway) then a layer of tin foil.  They should freeze well for 6 months – take it out of the freezer the night before you want to bake it and let it defrost in the fridge.  You could also just assemble these and leave them in the fridge for a couple of days (3 max) and then bake.  Once you are ready to bake put the lasagna in a 400 degree oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes, maybe 40 if it’s coming from the fridge.  It should be brown and bubbly on the top.  Let cool for 5 minutes or so before cutting into slices.

Chocolate Chip Cookies on Crack

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Yes that’s right – I said it – chocolate chip cookies on crack.  When this amazing recipe ran in the Washington Post back in 2009 I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Kim O’Donnell was, I believe, the first food chat on Washingtonpost.com and had a genius way of making accessible food seem fancy and special.  I tucked this one away immediately and met my husband-to-be only two months later.  I can still remember the first time I made this for him and his BFF – not only did I secure his heart but got his buddies to think I was the. best. girlfriend. ever.  Even better?  It is stupid easy, you probably have all the ingredients on hand, and its ideal for making ahead of time.  Quite simply the best dessert recipe.  This was confirmed when my friend Matt asked to come over so I could teach him how to make CCConC- his first time baking and it was a smashing sucess.  Any dessert that is so good it gets a single guy to go out and buy ramekins is a winner in my book.

Chocolate Chip Cookies on Crack or CCConC 

  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
  • ½ cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 6 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons milk (original specifies whole but I never have that on hand so I use skim and it works fine – just use what you have)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chocolate chips (I like the classic semisweet here but you could do dark or milk chocolate to mix it up)
  • 1 pint of vanilla ice cream (coffee is also good here – really any kind but please don’t skip the ice cream!)

Mix flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl and set aside.  Beat butter and sugars together with a stand mixer with paddle attachment (regular hand mixer is ok as well) on medium speed until well mixed, about 1 minute. Beat in egg and milk until absorbed, then mix in the vanilla.  Mixture might look a little chunky but don’t worry.

Slow the speed (please do this otherwise you will end up wearing the flour) and add in the flour mixture.  Stir in the chocolate chips and you are done with the dough.  From here you can proceed and make the CCConC or scoop into a plastic container and freeze (or store in the fridge for a couple of days).  Just defrost in the fridge overnight if you want to serve (or cheat and just take it out before making dinner and leave on the counter).  The recipe makes enough for 6 people so pull out as many ramekins as you need.  Spray with cooking spray lightly and fill about ½ full.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place the ramekins on a cookie sheet (this isn’t necessary but makes life much easier when trying to get them out of the oven).  Bake for about 15-20 minutes, more so if the dough is really cold or semi frozen.  Basically you want a golden yummy cookie looking top.  Do not insert a tester cause it will come out all gooey – and that’s how you want it.  This is basically a molten cookie.  Let them cool a bit, then top with a scoop of ice cream.

Nutty’s French Toast

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I am not sure when brunch became synonymous with Mother’s Day but every year I get an avalanche of special menus or deals from restaurants trying to get me to over pay for eggs to celebrate Mom.  Do dads not like bubbly drinks and high calorie food?  I say celebrate Father’s Day this Sunday with a brunch in his honor and what better way to do that then with Nutella stuffed french toast??  My dad is a Nutella fan – in fact we had a hamster when I was a kid that I named after Nutella (RIP Nutty).  When I saw this recipe in House Beautiful of all places, I knew it was a must make item.  Usually I am not a huge french toast person, as I think the syrup ends up competing with the doughy toast so this is the perfect solution as it requires no syrup at all.  The recipe comes from John Besh, an unbelievable chef with a small restaurant empire down in New Orleans.  Last time Patrick and I were in NOLA we managed to eat in two of his restaurants in one day and his jalapeno grits are something I still dream about.  He says you can stuff these with peanut butter or jam if you prefer, but I think the Nutella is really perfect.  When you punch out the toast rounds don’t worry if they don’t look perfect.  As you can see mine weren’t but once they get a dunk in the egg mixture and fried up they look just fine.  Also sometimes the sandwich got a little stuck in the glass, just poke it up from the bottom and it will come lose.  I decreased the egg mixture and nixed the oj as I didn’t feel it added anything and I ended up throwing a ton of egg away.  If your bread really soaks up a ton then you can just beat in another egg and some milk.  One note – french toast is a pretty tough thing to make for a crowd but you can at least make some of these elements in advance so you don’t spend all your time with your guests in the kitchen.  I made the sandwiches and the egg mixture hours before and just dunked and fried them when ready which takes about 5 minutes.  You definitely want to serve them right away while the Nutella is nice and melty.  Happy Fathers Day to my dad and all the dads!

Nutty’s French Toast 

  • 1/2 cup Nutella (or other yummy filling)
  • 16 slices white bread – approximately 1 loaf (I used Arnold’s Country Bread – basically something with a little more texture than Wonder bread – also I used the heels of the loaf to no ill effect)
  • 4 eggs
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons canola oil

Lay out all 16 slices of bread and then spread approximately 1 tablespoon of Nutella in the middle of 8 of the slices.  Top those slices with the non Nutella slices to create a sandwich.  Using a pint glass, cut a round sandwich out from the middle, pulling the excess crusts off before lifting the glass.  This step can be done ahead several hours or the day before (if so store sandwiches in a tupperware).

Whisk together eggs, milk, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt in a large shallow bowl.  Again, this can be done in advance just let it come up to roomish temperature before dipping.  Heat 2 tablespoons of canola oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Depending on the size of your skillet you may be able to do all the sandwiches at once (I did) if not fry them in batches of 4.  Dunk the sandwiches untill they are fully coated in the egg mixture.   Add sandwiches to the pan and cook until browned on both sides – about 2 to 3 minutes per side.

Take Your Travels Home – an Italian Dinner Party

In April I travelled to Italy for 2 weeks with my mom and Patrick.  We started our trip in Bologna, which is in the region considered the “food belt” of Italy, and then made our way down to Florence and Rome with stops in Ravenna, Parma, and Siena.  At first we started counting how many delicious bottles of wine and bowls of pasta we consumed but it was starting to get ridiculous by day five so we stopped.  Needless to say we ate very well and have a true appreciation for the amazing fresh food products there.  Whenever I am travelling in a place like Italy, busting with fresh vegetables and cheeses in all the lovely outdoor markets, I am desperate to just cook and cook.  Until I get a villa in Tuscany that’s probably not in the cards but I do bring as much back with me as possible.  I try to pack as light so we have room to bring back the good stuff you just cant get here in the states – its tough leaving that extra pair of shoes behind but its worth it when you can drizzle fresh green olive oil straight from the fields.

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Our amazing friends watched the kitties while we were gone and I figured what better way to thank them then dishing up some of the goodies we smuggled in along with a menu full of our favorite dishes.  I also had brought home some beautiful entertaining pieces like this amazing cobalt blue acrylic pitcher.  In Florence I purchased small Chianti bottles and then repurposed them as salt and pepper shakers.  To add a little elegance to the evening I bought place cards from one of the beautiful paper stores in Siena.

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Of course lots of delicious Italian reds were drunk and both Dave and Ashley and Devin and Erica went home with hand painted olive dishes from Florence as a thank you.  Honestly, no one wants to sit through a slide show of your vacation no matter how awesome it was – but here is a delicious and fun way to share your experiences with folks back home.

Menu

Cheese plate with Parmesan and fennel sausage from Florence

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Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce

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Porchetta Style Roast Pork

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Fennel Salad

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Affogato with chopped chocolate covered espresso beans

The cheese and sausage we got from the incredible Mercato Centrale in Florence.  I had been there once before and described it as my version of heaven but they have managed to make it even better.  The first floor food market, which has been in operation for hundreds of years, has everything you can imagine from cured meats, to vinegars and fresh vegetables.  However, now you can take an escalator to the 2nd floor and a whole new layer to the market opens up.  It’s as if the next generation of the families that operate downstairs decided they needed their own new hip spot to play.  There is a cooking school, a small Eataly outpost and amazing spots to have pizza, a beer or watch cheese being made.  The bolognese was inspired of course by our time in Bologna but honestly it was not the best version I have ever made.  The taste was really rich and deep but I didn’t love the texture so stay tuned and hopefully I will find a version I like that’s blog worthy.  The porchetta is my attempt at a version we had at Il Latini in Florence.  This is a unique Italian experience that’s a little confusing at first (definitely get a reservation) but so incredible.  Food just keeps coming and coming including this ridiculous meat plate with porchetta, Florentine steak and a whole duck!  It was delicious and one of the best nights we had.  I threw in a fennel salad with lemon dressing just to lighten things up, basically fennel sliced thinly with a little red onion, lemon, olive oil and shaved parmesan.  To finish things off we had Sambuca we brought from Rome and affogato, the world’s easiest dessert.  Scoop vanilla gelato into bowls and pour over hot espresso – done.  I added chopped chocolate covered espresso beans for crunch.  It was a great night and a terrific way to remember our trip.  Buon appetito!

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Crusted Pork Tenderloin

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I honestly don’t know what I used to do before I found this recipe.  We must have it at least once every two weeks for dinner because it’s so easy, healthy and versatile.  Pork tenderloin is the king of weeknight meals as its quick cooking, portion controlled and cheap – but don’t sleep on it for a nice dinner party either.  It’s the perfect main protein when you really want to fancy up the sides or appetizers.  It’s also incredibly easy to scale up if you want to make 3 or 4 tenderloins for a crowd.


Everyone can get their hands on djion mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil – I bet the only thing that would trip folks up here is having to grind your own coriander seeds.  I realize most people don’t even have ground coriander in their spice drawer let alone the whole seeds but this is definitely worth some real estate in your kitchen.  First off ground coriander will not work here – all it will do is burn and leave a bitter taste to the pork.  But secondly the seeds are so much more fragrant and delicate than the ground powder or horrors of all horrors the coriander plant better known to some as cilantro.  Such a controversial herb – my best friend Karin is a cilantro hater so I basically removed it from my repertoire for years – but coriander and coriander seeds have no “soapy” or cilantroy flavor.  If you are really adverse then I would recommend using fennel seeds which I do on occasion just to mix it up.  However that still leaves us with the dilemma of having seeds we need to crush!  How is that making your life easy?  Well if you have a spice grinder it’s incredibly easy.  I have this one and love it.  Cheap and small it does the job.  If you have a mortar and pestle old school style that will work too.  Dont want to buy special equipment?  Just throw the coriander seeds into a plastic baggie and wack away with the bottom of a pot to crush them.  This pork is so delicious and easy you will be glad you made space for these seeds and I will hazard a guess you will find other uses for them like these insanely good looking fries from Bon Appetit.  This time around I served the pork with some roasted asparagus and my favorite whole grain mustard on the side but this pork can go with practically anything.  Roasted veggies just make a good side because you can throw them in the same oven.

Crusted Pork Tenderloin

  • 1 pork tenderloin
  • 2 teaspoons dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil

Preheat the over to 450 degrees.  Grind the coriander seeds onto a plate (I like to throw the peppercorns into the spice grinder and do them together but by all means just grind pepper directly onto the plate, as much as you want).  Grind pepper as well if you havent already and add salt.  Toss spice mixture around to mix (this can be made in bulk and kept in a baggie so you can use it anytime).  Rub the mustard onto the pork and then roll it on the plate with the spices making sure they stick all over.  You can do this in advance as well and just store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before but honestly this process is so easy I usually just do it right before cooking.

Heat the olive oil in a ovenproof skillet large enough to hold the tenderloin over medium-high heat. Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes until brown, turn it over and then put the skillet into the oven.  The original recipe called for browning on all sides but the bottom gets really crusty in the oven so the double browning seemed like overkill.  Cook until the pork registers 155 degrees on a meat thermometer  about 18 to 20 minutes. Cover with tin foil and let rest for  5 minutes before slicing thinly.

In honor of National Wine Day – pick your own house wine

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Several years ago I decided to undertake a wine cork project just as most craft inclined drinkers have.  It was a wine cork wreath modeled after a cute one I saw at Screwtop Wine Bar in Arlington, VA.  Thinking that I couldn’t drink enough wine to produce that many corks in time for the holidays I enlisted my mom to save her corks too.  When I got her rather impressive sized bag of corks I noticed that 75 percent of them were from the same bottles.  When asked she casually explained that those were her “house wines.”  Brilliant!  Only my mother would know to appropriate such a term and make it so chic in her own home.  Pick one red and one white that you really like, doesn’t have to be expensive, actually better that it’s not, that goes with most things and stock up.  Then you will always have a bottle or two squirreled away that you can pull out for guests and not have to worry.  Also over time people sort of naturally start to associate your home with that wine, good food, fun memories and being well taken care of.  Like a good restaurant if the customers leave happy and full you are likely to have them back.  Now for those of you who associate “house wine” with jammy yucky stuff poured out of a jug please know that I am referring to is akin to the lovely wine usually sold by the carafe in France or Italy.  This stuff is just amazing, local and so cheap.  More and more American restaurants are getting into this notion, especially with the advent of wine on draft so I suspect house wines will be coming to more menus over time.  

If it helps think about the wines sold by the glass sold at your favorite restaurants.  Sommiliers always suggest you look towards that list if you are unfamiliar with wine or are nervous about what to order by the bottle because usually its a list of wines that are easy to drink, not outrageously priced and tasty.  The theory being that if something isn’t well liked they won’t sell enough of it to warrant selling it by the glass and it will disappear from the list.  Ok if I have sold you on having your own house wine the logical next question is – which ones?  Well of course you should pick wines that you really like but also make sure they are crowd pleasers.  Don’t pick anything too strong or controversial (looking at you oaky chardonnays and heavy cabs).  My advice is go to a place with a good selection of mid priced wines and buy a bunch to try.  This kind of research is pretty fun so enlist some friends and figure out the crowd favorite.

For my white selection I totally cheated and picked my Mom’s.  For years we just called it the “green wine” and still do – but its official ridiculously long name is Les Costieres de Pomerols Hugues Beaulieu Picpoul de Pinet.  Years after we started drinking it we discovered that the Inn at Little Washington serves it so we must be doing something right.  It’s light, with a hint of citrus and is delicious on its own (especially when its hot) or with food.  The bottle is just so French and gorgeous – how about that color???  Also the price is right – in D.C. I can find it for $8 a bottle at most Whole Foods and Wegman’s but you can also get it on sale sometimes at World Market or Total Wine dropping the price as low as $6 a bottle.  In Boston it seems to go for a bit more but for a French import you really cannot ask for anything better.  Some of you may have noticed that it has a screw top – this is a recent change and one I embrace.  Don’t turn your nose up at screw tops – they actually keep oxygen (the enemy of wine) out better than cork.

For reds I just sort of instinctively go towards Italy – their lush, balanced reds are so drinkable.  If I had the budget people would be drinking barolos every time they come over but alas it’s not to be.  I haven’t quite picked the perfect one yet but there are a couple of contenders at Trader Joes.  So celebrate National Wine Day and kick back and have a glass or two – I just heard the pop of a bottle of bubbly that I am going to share with my BFF.  I hope everyone has a great long weekend – let me know if you end up picking your own house wines so I can add them to my cellar.

Welcome to a Capitol Contessa! Grab a margarita

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I am so excited to get this thing going – what started as a slightly boozy idea at the Fainting Goat on New Years Day, is finally a published product.  The minute I mentioned I was thinking about doing a blog my husband Patrick told me to take 60 days to conceptualize and 60 days to execute which roughly takes us to today.  I would not have even imagined starting this journey without him and his incredible support.  He will always be my number one guinea pig but I am glad that this forum will give me the opportunity to try out new ideas and recipes on a larger universe. My friend Ben brilliantly pointed out that if one is launching an entertainment blog there should be a party involved!  With Cinco de Mayo right around the corner we decided a fiesta with plenty of margaritas were in order.  I was so glad to have my friends and family to celebrate with me. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I tried to keep it pretty simple by grilling tacos and we got super lucky to have a beautiful D.C. spring day.  The cookies, margarita mix, and most of the taco fillings were prepped in advance so all I had to do day of was make the cornbread, guacamole and guacamole salad and have Patrick grill the steak and chicken for tacos.  This kind of party is great for a crowd because everyone can find something they like.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Menu

Cornbread by Martha Stewart

Guacamole Salad  by the Barefoot Contessa

Steak and Chicken Soft Tacos

Homemade Guacamole and store-bought salsa

Alfajores Cookies by Fine Cooking

Grate some cheese, chop some onion and plop sour cream into bowls and you officially have a taco bar.  Aided by the dozen or so hot sauces Patrick keeps on hand we had quite the spread and plenty of leftovers for Sunday.

DSC04510 It’s not a party without a cocktail and for this one we went with a household favorite – Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air.  If you have ever been lucky enough to go to Oyamel in D.C. you will be familiar with Jose Andres’ amazing salt air – it’s the perfect solution to getting a salty little touch with each sip of your margarita without ending up with salt crystals all over the front of your shirt.  I was so happy to learn you don’t have to be a gastronomic genius to figure this out – thank you Washingtonian Mag for sharing this with the masses.  I also gave out the tequilla as a favor because you never get too old for goodie bags right?  People just love getting to take a bit of the party back home with them. DSC04513

Spicy Margaritas with Salt Air

– 1 habanero pepper, stemmed and cut in half
– 2 cups silver tequila (or the whole bottle if you want to infuse it all)
– 3 cups freshly squeezed lime juice, divided
– 4 cups water, divided
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/2 teaspoon soy lecithin powder (get this at a nutrition store or online, I got mine on amazon)
– 2 cups sugar
– 1 cup triple sec or Grand Marnier (which I prefer)

First you want to infuse the tequila – I suggest go ahead and do the whole bottle as it lasts forever in the fridge and is great to have on hand. If you don’t want to go whole hog just pour out 2 cups which is what you will need for 8 margaritas. Place the cut habanero in the tequila carefully as these little peppers are HOT. I use disposable gloves whenever handling hot peppers so taking out my contacts later doesn’t become a painful event. Let the pepper infuse into the tequila for 3 hours or more depending on how much heat you want (if you want less you could also use a jalapeno instead). At this point you toss the pepper and keep the tequila in the fridge indefinitely for when you want to use it.

For the margaritas first make a simple syrup by combining 2 cups of water and 2 cups of sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring it to a simmer and stir until all of the sugar has dissolved. Let cool (this is a good thing to make in advance as well as it lasts forever in the fridge and simple syrup is great in lots of cocktails and iced coffee). Combine the simple syrup, 2 cups of the lime juice, 2 cups of the spicy tequila, and the Grand Marnier in a large pitcher. Stir and taste – if it’s too hot you can add lime juice or water to dilute.

To make the salt air combine 1 cup of the lime juice, 2 cups of the water, the salt and the soy lecithin in a large bowl. Tilt the bowl so the liquid is at the bottom away from you and use an immersion blender until you create a good layer of foam. Pour the margaritas into chilled glasses and top with a scoop of foam. If you run out of foam no worries, just blend again to create more. Enjoy!

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