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‘gramming the day away

Memorial Day weekend approaches and along with it summer. But before jumping into hazy heated days and escapes from the city, I’m looking back on some of my favorite [Instagram] moments from spring. Wishing you a wonderful weekend!

bad banana

chocolate banana bread

Perfection. A heady concept. And an unobtainable one. Yet I’ve spent years working in an industry where it is a catch phrase, a standard-issue sell. The event will be perfect, we say with authority. And on the face of it, if you are doing well, an evening can truly feel perfect. The ideal setting, the superlative meal, the best music to set the mood. But pull back the curtain and the mechanics at work never resemble perfection. Mayhem, often. Perfection, no.

Baking, to me, has always seemed a practice in perfection. A chance to take things that are raw and turn them into something divine. A luscious dark and creamy chocolate cake: often called perfect. The light and brittle puff of pastry: often called perfect. The smooth crackle then subtle chew of a macaron: the taste of perfection. I rarely achieve it (really, have never achieved it where macaron are concerned), but the opportunity – the possibility – is always there.

But what of the times when the imperfect, the battered, the bruised, are essential. Are the key ingredient. The result, while perhaps not perfect, is even better. It is simple. It is comfort. It is exactly what you are craving and the only thing that will satisfy. In our house growing up that meant one of three things: mac & cheese; popovers; banana bread. The first two are delicious, yes, but today, in honor of Mother’s Day, #3 is the winner. Not extravagant or elaborate. Not complicated, not fussy. But an example of when banged and beaten up is the start to something not just perfect, but truly good.

chocolate banana bread

chocolate banana bread

Chocolate Banana Bread, courtesy of my mom

3 large overripe bananas, mashed (NOTE: seriously – you can’t make banana bread with yellow bananas. Take the ones you never got around to eating, the ones that are dark and super soft, toss them in the freezer until you are ready, then warm them up in some water, snip off the tops, and squeeze out the mushy goodness – yup, it looks kind of gross but it is key to this recipe.)

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp salt

2 eggs

2 cups all-purpose (unbleached) flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp allspice

1 {heaping} cup of chocolate chips

chocolate banana bread

1. Pre-heat oven to 350.

2. Cream butter, sugar, vanilla and salt in standing mixer. Beat in eggs one at a time.

3. Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, and allspice together in bowl.

4. Add 1/2 cup of flour mixture to wet ingredients.

5. Mix mashed bananas into batter.

6. Gradually mix in remaining flour mixture until fully incorporated.

7. Stir in chocolate chips.

8. Pour batter into lined muffin tins or lightly-greased bundt pan.

9. If making muffins bake for 30 minutes. If making bundt cake bake for 45 minutes.

Makes approximately one dozen muffins or one large bundt.

why, hello. again.

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

Pssst…still there? Perhaps not, after all this time. And I don’t blame you one little bit. We disappeared without a peep, just as the new year – last year! – was getting underway. Rather abruptly, and quite reasonably it turns out, my appetite for all that I once considered delicious died. The smell of garlic sautéing, once the omen of good things to come, turned my stomach at the slightest whiff. I forsook all things for a pb&j sandwich and a tall glass of ginger ale. And doughnuts. A mad quantity of doughnuts. While, certainly, those staples of foodstuffs do have and deserve a dedicated following, my aspiration to muse on them ad nauseam for nine months died before it even started. Throw a gaggle of sizable life changes into the mix and here we are, resurfacing after almost a year and a half, with a completely different attitude towards food and a successful recovery from a two-week Oreo addiction. It’s a whole different world over here.

Situations like this require adaptability. A little flexibility. Ken has still managed to squeeze a cassoulet or two into our routine and I’ve snuck some chocolate decadence in when I can, but our focus has broadened. And so now has two bites’. We’ll do a little bit of food, sure, but also a little bit of life. This is one of those snippets. A throwback, on this Thursday, to a beautiful day last May.

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

The first Thursday of every May marks the day when the Trust for the National Mall hosts its annual Benefit Luncheon, a fete under the most enormous tents on the National Mall. Supporters of the Campaign for the National Mall gather for the purpose of raising funds to tackle maintenance and repairs that have been deferred for decades.

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

For two years I was lucky enough to bring the Luncheon to life, along with my colleagues at the Trust and an army of dedicated vendors. We built an event, tucked between the Washington Monument and the Capitol, to draw attention to the work the National Park Service has dedicated to the Mall and the help that they need to continue to do so.

trust_2013_0061

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

Today the Trust is hosting the 7th Annual Benefit Luncheon and while I wasn’t walking the tents first thing this morning, double checking all of the final details and counting down to the arrival of the first guests, a part of me is still very much with the team who put together such a beautiful day for such a great cause. Once you spend days orchestrating – shall we even say finessing – seating for 1000 people under a 15,000 square foot tent, you can never quite go back. Or break the caffeine addiction.

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

And so, embracing my moment of nostalgia, I’m sharing with you some pictures (courtesy of ImageLink) of my last Luncheon, last year’s 6th Annual Benefit Luncheon. There’s a little bit of food. A little bit of luxe. A whole lot of work. A few snippets of life. And a whole lot of love for the team working their magic under the tents today. Don’t worry, everyone always finds their seat.

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

(photo by ImageLink)

6th Annual Benefit Luncheon (photo by ImageLink)

The truly awesome team who helped create the 6th Annual Benefit Luncheon:

Planning partners: Linder & Associates

Decor: Design Foundry

Invitations & design: Suann Song, SimpleSong

Catering & linens: Design Cuisine

Flowers: Philippa Tarrant Floral Design

Tents: Sperry Tents

twelve months of two bites

recap one

Every holiday season we get together with some of our extended family, people who, more often than not, we see only once a year. Conversation is the catch-up kind. And while the details of the recent months are still vivid and easily recalled – and I know everyone wants to hear about how to navigate a successful (read champagne included) intermission at the Kennedy Center – months long-since past are, well, fuzzy. Sure, a few things stand out: an epically stunted start to a trip abroad; sleep lost and never regained during stressful weeks at work; the feeling of peace one finds on the shores of a lake in northern Norway. But the details, the nuances of the year, have faded away. So what was intended to be a simple compilation of this past year’s posts, turned into a serious memory jump-start, and included more than a few pleasant surprises. Celebrations that had dimmed a bit, recipes tried, trips taken, seasons enjoyed, and fun had. All in all, it might have been a long year, but it was a good one. If 2013 is anything like it, I can hardly complain. Here’s wishing you a joyous – and delicious – new year!

Looking back at 2012 -

We kicked off the year as part of the party at Rogue 24. And we learned a thing or two from Frankie upstairs at the Gibson. With February came a fireside obsession at the Inn at Perry Cabin. I decided to get into the Valentine’s Day spirit with some cake love while Ken indulged his love of duck confit in the best way possible. (pictures above)

recap two

Come spring friends indulged my entertaining whims with an afternoon soiree and we were lucky enough to enjoy a meal at home with Sidra. Perhaps it was a winter’s worth of indulgent meals, but we were also feeling the need to lighten things up a bit. So out came the spinach for breakfast. But Ken, crafty as he is, snuck in some cheese-stuffed roasted dates. True, I wasn’t complaining.

recap three

A long-anticipated trip to Charleston, SC, arrived in April, as did our excuse to indulge at Husk and Bin 152 all in the same day. As summer set in in the city, so did the picnics on the patio. To battle the hazy, hot summer days we did what anyone else would do – tossed together some summer cocktails and cooled down our coffee with cardamom affogato. Weekend trips brought us together with friends over tables at Whitehall, Sarabeth’s, not to mention some hometown brunch time at Boqueria. And excitement for food-related innovations in the city brought out some DC love.

recap four

And while the trip lasted no more than a week, we did our fair share of eating while on holiday in Rome and London. We discovered that muddling our way through Italian was well worth it if the reward was dinner at al Moro. And while reconnecting with old friends in London – and following recommendations from new ones – we covered some delicious and low-key culinary ground at La Fromagerie, the Grazing Goat, Ducksoup, and Canteen.

recap five

We squeezed some adventure into the final months of summer. While Ken thought the trip would be all work he was surprised by some delights in Israel, including the at-home restaurant Spoons and a vineyard set in the precarious lands of the Golan Heights. I ventured north of the arctic circle for the most activity-packed three and a half days I’ve ever had, but trading sleep for learning how to forage for mushrooms and catch fish for breakfast is always a good idea. But we learned that we don’t have to travel to such far-flung locations to enjoy a bit of adventure. Sometimes it comes to you: sharing tiny urban kitchens and staying out of the way of friends with sharp knives; a new food hall crammed to overflowing on opening day; or a night spent Outstanding in the Field.

recap six

No sooner had Labor Day arrived and I was ready to jump into autumn. Give us some cooler weather and fall celebrations and we’re ready for some comfort food: apple spice cake, lamb ragu, and the simplest chocolate mousse around. A pre-Thanksgiving gathering of friends started off the chain of celebrations in November and December. Pies dominated, as usual, at Thanksgiving and we revisited some old favorites for the holiday: reindeer gingerbread and bacon puree anyone?

Not together. Obviously.

Happy 2013 friends!

bacon puree – part two

two bites at a time

bases waiting for the puree

If one were to go by search terms alone, it would be safe to assume that we – that is the royal we – have an obsession with bacon. “Bacon puree,” “how to puree bacon,” “bacon whipped cream,” “bacon infused cream.” Those are just four of no less than twenty-five bacon searches that have brought folks to two bites at a time. On the back end of this blog our server (quite handily) tracks the search terms that bring readers to our site. Bacon puree is #2. Of all time. I think it is safe to qualify it as an obsession. And while I love that slightly more random searches bring folks here – “emotion happy” and “deep-seated Anglomania” among them –  I thought we should chat about the bacon. I’m going to be an enabler. So here we are, revisiting one of our very first posts: whipping up bacon puree.

Armed with the knowledge of its popularity, I set about crafting a follow up post for all the fans of bacon puree – starting with me. Since my last undertaking required many attempts and resembled a [very rough] test kitchen, I was hoping this time would be more straight forward – just follow the recipe and go. So I dutifully diced and cooked the bacon, drained it, poured off the fat, deglazed the pan with some cream, and put the cooked bacon in the cream. For good measure I also added the small amount of cream that I used to deglaze the pan. The resulting liquid appeared quite thick, but I was undeterred. I set the bacon and cream in the fridge and let it steep overnight.

two bites at a time bacon puree

corn bread, bleu cheese, and bacon puree – a perfect bite

When I returned the next day, however, I found the cream and bacon mixture to be practically solid. I was able to pick the bacon out of the thick cream, but that took a long time and I would not recommend it for habitual use. The flavor was absolutely amazing though, and by the time I had separated the bacon, added a little whole milk to loosen it up a bit, and got it in the whipper, it was perfect. It was so similar to what I remember from my first encounter with bacon puree at Restaurant Eve.

But how to solve the problem of the cream solidifying overnight? I thought that the cream I used to deglaze the pan had picked up too much bacon fat and caused the base to thicken in the fridge. But I picked up so much bacon flavor with that step that I couldn’t justify skipping it. So, to get the best of both worlds, keep the cream used to deglaze the pan in a separate container overnight and only add it to the bacon-steeped cream after the bacon is removed. If the cream is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of whole milk to help loosen it up. And you’re ready to whip.

bacon puree

sweet bases help to balance out the saltiness of the bacon – fruit and sweet breads. here we served on pear.

So here is my slightly revised version of my original recipe for that all-time two bites favorite bacon puree.

Bacon Puree Recipe

1 lb good quality bacon, diced

16 oz heavy cream, divided

1/4 cup whole milk

1/4 tsp salt, depending on saltiness of your bacon and to taste

1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat until well browned. Remove bacon to paper-towel lined plate to drain, pour off bacon fat, and deglaze pan with small amount of cream. Pour cream used to deglaze pan into a small container. Pour the rest into a large container and add bacon and seal. Place in refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.

2. After the bacon has steeped, skim off any fat that has collected on the top and strain cream into a large bowl, discarding bacon. Combine the  two containers of cream and add milk, a tablespoon at a time, to loosen up and allow the cream to whip. Taste the cream and add salt, but since the saltiness of different types of bacon may vary, add as much or as little as necessary to bring out the full flavor. Add cream to the gas-whipper and follow instructions for your particular device.

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