Saturday, November 8, 2008

Baba's Kitchen - It's Falafel-tastic

by Erin

Last week, I went to dinner with law buddies Jami and Melissa at a brand new Mediterranean restaurant in Federal Hill, Baba's Kitchen. We had these plans for a long time (need to plan ahead with our busy schedules!), and I was excited to try out the new place. But, I must admit, I sort of jumped the gun: while shopping for our ridiculous Halloween party, Xani and I went to Baba's for lunch! Oops! We had a great time - we met Farid, the owner of the place, and tried some of their awesome mediterranean eats. Also, we tried their coffee, with the amazing addition of cardamom! So delicious and interesting. So, I was excited to get back there and bring Jami and Melissa.

Melissa, Jami, and I met up at Baba's on a chilly weekday night and grabbed one of the (few) tables just in the nick of time. Since I knew Farid from my visit only a week earlier, we were treated as VIPs right off the bat!

As we were perusing the menu, we saw lots of people coming in and ordering/picking up take-out -- good thing to remember the next time I am tired of my local Chinese joint around the corner.

As is my custom, we ordered lots of things to share. We got the "Med-ley," with dolmas (stuffed grape leaves), falafel, hummus, spanikopita, and olives. We also got extra dolmas (love those things) and some baba ghanoush.

Extra dolmas - for good measure

Everything was amazing - almost as good as in Israel! The falafel was freshly made, crispy on the outside and tender and delicious on the inside. The dolmas were very flavorful from the mint, rice, and olive oil. The spanikopita was delicious and you could really taste the spinach and feta, plus the layers of buttery phyllo dough added a great bite and crunch. The hummus was smooth and classic; the baba ghanoush was also good, and had a good amount of tahini in it. A very good start to the meal.

Baba's baba ghanoush

We also got the Quinoa Tabouleh, made with quinoa, parsley, tomatoes, scallion, mint, olive oil, and lemon juice. This was a nice twist on the classic tabouleh, usually made with bulgur. Very fresh and refreshing.

Last, we got the Meditteranean (Pita) Pizza, with artichoke hearts, roasted red peppers, spinach, kalamata olives, feta, and basil.

I liked this pizza, but I definitely preferred the Syrian Pizza, which I got when I was there the first time with Xani. The Syrian pizza is made with oregano, sumac, English thyme, and sesame seeds. Farid gave us some fresh tomatoes and feta cheese to put on top. This pizza was really herby, and I loved the sesame seeds and olive oil. The pita underneath was crunchy, and the tomatoes and feta added texture, temperature, and of course taste. Yum!

At the end of the meal, Farid came over to chat with us since it was towards the end of the night. There had been a slight delay with our pizza, so he hooked us up with some fabulous baklava. It was sweet and crunchy and just the right little bite to end the meal.

Check out that crushed pistachio garnish

Mmmm flakes of deliciousness (and honey)

The food at Baba's is pretty spot-on if you are looking for some great Mediterranean fare. Since they have only been open for one or two months, they are still working out some kinks with their service, but that is to be expected with any new place. I am so glad to have this non-bar-food place around - we have plenty of those in this part of town and we need a little variety.

We had a lovely time at Baba's, eating, drinking (water), and of course gossiping. What better way to blow off some steam than with some hummus and really great gossip?? Thanks to Farid for a great meal, and to Jami and Melissa for the wonderful company!

Happy falafel-ing,


Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween 2008: Seven Deadly Sins

by Erin and Xani

As some of you long-time readers might know, we. love. halloween. And we don't eff around. From our Blood & Gore Gala in 2005 (including an indoor graveyard), to our haunted gingerbread house-making party of 2006, to spooky caramel apple ghosts last year, we love to cook and craft and top it all off with a fabulous costume (the gorier the better)!

This year we were able to carry out an idea we've had for quite some time: a Seven Deadly Sins party! We were inspired by an episode in season 2 of Top Chef, were there were 7 contestants and each had to design a dish around one of the sins. We decided to do each sins as a different hors d'oeuvre (except one that one ended up being a drink), and also ask each of our guests to either come dressed as their favorite sin or in their "goth finery." As this party also served as Xani's first major party in her new home ("Clementine"), we decided to invite LOTS of folks. To our surprise, many, MANY of them showed up!! We approximate about 60+ people came to the party to eat, drink, walk the runway, dance, and otherwise sin it up-- that is a lot for one rowhouse!

Here was the menu, by sin (but to see some REAL insanity, check out our ridiculous planning document here.):

GREED: 20+ spice-rubbed pork shoulder, and greedy for more spices!

Admittedly, we started out with an idea for mini pulled pork sandwiches as the sin of sloth because it's slow-roasted, but we switched it to greed so we could rub it with an obscene amount of spices. We actually started this dish the weekend before the party while we were out at Blackacre making Dad's birthday dinner. We used this Tyler Florence recipe for the technique, but basically did our own thing for the rub and the BBQ sauce.

Mom picked up the pork shoulders (14 lbs in total!) for us and we rubbed them down with lots of spices, including chili powder, cumin, cayenne, oregano, brown sugar, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, ground mustard, turmeric, etc. etc. etc.

Then we roasted them for about six hours at 300 degrees until the thermometer read 170 degrees (basically until they were falling apart). This was the first time we used the convection oven function at Blackacre, and it was a big success. Then we let them cool a bit, and then got to shredding! Once it was all shredded, we put it into bags and froze it until we needed it for the party.

The day before the party, we defrosted the pork and made up the BBQ sauce. Instead of starting from scratch and making the BBQ sauce in the same Tyler recipe, we took prepared sauce (gasp!) and added the things in the recipe that the prepared sauce didn't have, such as cider vinegar, hot sauce, and cayenne. We ended up with a pretty vinegar-y sauce that nice and tangy; not too sweet.

We served this with the....

SLOTH: "Cole Sloth" to go with the pork

We again used the Tyler Florence recipe for this cole slaw, which turned out to be really delicious. Again, instead of shredding a bunch of cabbage and carrots from scratch, we just bought the prepared cole slaw mix (which is just shredded cabbage and carrots-- go figure) and jazzed it way up. We added red onion, scallions, and red and green peppers to the mix, and then made the dressing from mayo, Dijon mustard, cider vinegar, lemon juice, a pinch of sugar, celery seed, and hot sauce, plus of course S&P to taste. We let it sit for approximately 3 hours before the party started.

It turned out really crunchy and spicy and tangy, and great with the BBQ sauce-dressed pulled pork on a mini potato roll. Yum - never knew greed and sloth could be so delicious, did you??

PRIDE: Prideful mushroom stuffed brie en croute...stuffed full of itself

Next up we have Pride. We really struggled with what to make for this. We wanted to do something "stuffed full of itself" and thought of stuffed mushrooms, deviled eggs, and other adorable hors d'oeuvres, but then we remembered there would be MUCHO people at the party, and we were not interested in making 180 deviled eggs (3 each?). So, we did one of our classic dishes: a baked stuffed brie filled with a delicious mushroom filling. We use an Epicurious recipe by Sarah Moulton. For this recipe, you saute up some onions in butter, then add chopped mushrooms, sherry, nutmeg, and salt and pepper and cook until the mushrooms have given off their liquid and it is evaporated.

Once the filling was done and cooled, Xani assembled the brie. She split the huge 2-lb brie horizontally, placed the filling on one half and added the other half. Then she rolled out some puff pastry dough and wrapped it around the brie. Now, you'd think we would stop there, right? Wrong. We of course had to cut out the letters P-R-I-D-E out of puff pastry and put it on top, just so everyone would know what it was. Duh.

It was, as always, so delicious - how can you go wrong with brie, mushrooms, and puff pastry??

ENVY: Green goddess sauce with green crudites - green with envy!

For Envy, like Pride, we turned to another one of our tried and true favorites: Green Goddess Sauce. Like hollandaise and bearnaise, GGS is a classic sauce, typically served with cold shellfish. It's so good, though, we chose to serve it with veggies - green veggies, in particular.

For the recipe, we turned to Craig Claiborne's The New York Times Cookbook, also a classic. The sauce is very simple: put mayonnaise, parsley, tarragon, green onion, garlic, lemon juice, anchovies, salt, pepper, and white wine vineagar in a food processor and process until smooth. Fold in sour cream. Then we got all of our very green crudites together. We had broccoli, sugar snap peas, green beans (which we blanched and then shocked in cold water), asparagus (ditto), and cucumber.

Keep it green!

The sauce turned out really delicious, with lots of bite from the garlic and anchovies, and a nice herbiness as well. It went well with the veggies, as predicted, and everyone really seemed to like this dish!

WRATH: Wrathfully spicy Thai curry soup

We have always toyed with the idea of doing a soup at our parties, to be served in small cups. We thought a super-spicy curry soup would be a great dish for Wrath. We ended up finding a recipe for a roasted red pepper soup with red curry. We charred the red peppers over the gas flame and let them steam in a paper bag. Then we removed the charred skins of the peppers, meanwhile we cooked some chopped red onion, ginger, garlic, and of course red curry paste in a little butter. Then we added lime zest and juice, the chopped peppers and lots of vegetable broth and let it cook for a while. Then we busted out the immersion blender (aka "boat motor") to blend the soup until it was smooth. Then we added the best ingredient ever: coconut milk.

During the party, it took a while for the soup to heat up in the crock pot, but once it did, it was pretty tasty. However, it was not as spicy was we wanted and it was outshined by some of our other, more fabulous dishes.

GLUTTONY: Every dessert you can think of...feast you gluttons!

For Gluttony, we wanted to have a ridiculous spread of dessert, displayed on Xani's dining room table and therefore one of the first things guests would see. It was a bit of a "show piece" but it was comprised of lots and LOTS of delicious treats! We purchased everything instead of making things from scratch to save time and money. We had quite a spread: we had brownies, cookies, cupcakes, lots of halloween candy, donut holes, cream puffs, whipped cream, chocolate sauce, and peanut butter. It was VERY gluttonous and a great success!

LUST: Lusty Shooters a la "lick it, slam it, suck it": lick off some chocolate sauce, do a shot of Cosmopolitan-esque shooter, and down a maraschino cherry

We added a shooter to the menu instead of another food dish, and we brought it old-school with the "lick it, slam it, suck it" format, originally for tequila shots. We used BCD Dad's cosmopolitan recipe for the shooters, which was 2 parts vodka, 1 part triple sec, 1/2 part cranberry juice, and the juice of one lime. We then got some chocolate fudge sauce and paintbrushes so people could paint either themselves or a friend with chocolate for licking. Finally we had a huge bowl of maraschino cherries for the last step of the process.

The shooters were a hit! And we saw more than one sinner drinking them by the glassful-- lusty, indeed.

Signature Cocktail: 7 & 7s, of course! One part Seagram's 7 Whiskey, one part 7-Up.

In addition to our delicious overly-themed foods, we also had lots of decorations! Most important: signs for our food (see above), a fog machine, a very spooky mantle, and of course: jack-o-lanterns!

Our "7" Jack-o welcomed our guests

Spooky Clementine Jack-o!

Finally, we had our costumes! EP went as Vanity, and was a beauty queen who had lost her tooth so she killed herself (very straightforward, I know). Xani did not go as a sin but went as a Goth princess, and she put a LOT of thought into her costume!

Most everyone showed up at the party in costume, including BCD Mom and Dad! They brought friends Deb and Allan (also in costume) and helped us out in the beginning as we were putting the finishing touches on everything. Here are some shots of the sinful costumes!

The BCD Family

Xani and Jessica goth it up

Sinful runway show

Whew! It was a lot of work but it was lots of fun! Thanks to all who could make it!

Keep on sinning,

EP & X

ps. We went to another Halloween party on actual Halloween, where we brought to life one of EP's greatest ideas for a group costume: the cast of Clue, each murdered by a different weapon!! It was very gory and everyone looked great! Xani was Mrs. Peacock, killed by a lead pipe in the conservatory; EP was Ms. White, killed by a candlestick in the dining room. See also Mr. Green, killed by a rope; Ms. Scarlett, killed by a wrench; Professor Plum, shot in the face with a pistol; Colonel Mustard, stabbed by a dagger, and Yvette, the maid, who was the murderer. Thanks to Kim and Ben who throw a super-spooky party!

EP holding our "Best Group Costume" prize-- Alas, poor Yorick, Halloween is over! 'Til next year!

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