Toast of the Town 2011

Last year I went to Toast of the Town 2010 and it was a great way to dive into the world of wine, food, and drink pairings. It’s easy for people my age to feel overwhelmed in the realm of wine–we’re always told it’s an “acquired taste”, but we don’t seem to have the time or money to cultivate this passion. There were hundreds of different wines and I was able to learn more about my preferences for wine and develop my palette. As I became more comfortable with wine exploration, I attended events at the International Wine and Food Festival, the Spirit Festival, and Sweet Charity. Through these great events I learned about many new libations and great places in the DC-area to purchase them at.

This year, I received a pair of tickets from Wine Enthusiast to Toast of the Town in Washington, DC. Upon arrival at the swanky National Building Museum downtown, we received a program for the night and a wine glass to add to your collection at home. The program had every table in the establishment with a space underneath to write notes if you wanted to.

One big difference between Toast of the Town (TOTT) 2010 and this year’s was the balance of food and wine. Though the emphasis is more on the drinks than food, this year had a great balance of small bites to accompany the wines. Eating a hamburger or eggplant lasagna with a wine brings out more flavors on both ends; it started some gears turning in my mind for future pairings. Last year I missed out on some of the food because many restaurants packed up early–this year I only missed Eatonville and SEI. The food was peppered evenly throughout the building, which kept wine lines short and food stocked and fresh.

Since the venue was spacious and airy, attendees were free to wander around at their own pace. I didn’t have to make a battle plan when I stepped in the door, instead I was able to walk up to whichever table I wanted to and strike up in-depth conversations. I learned many things about new restaurants and importers or brands that I had never heard of. One of my favorite parts of the night was when I stopped by Toki Underground to see Erik, the owner, daintily dressing his morsels of tofu and green beans.

I was able to try dessert with wine at Art & Soul, Melting Pot, Zoe’s Chocolate, Crumbs, and Canela Bakery. I was also able to sample some great cheeses from Cabot (trust them when they warn you the Habanero is spicy!), as well as some gin, biscotti liquor, coffee, sake, and beer. Above is the table for Chatham Imports, which was one of my favorite tables. You could try spirits here in their pure form, or in a freshly shaken cocktail. The Farmer’s Gin was too abrasive for me, but I started a love affair with the Faretti Chocolate Biscotti Liquor. The only bad thing–they don’t carry it in DC (yet!).

One of the most interesting things I tried all night was the Shimizu no Mai “Pure Dawn” sake. It was chilled to perfection, fresh, clean, with a creamy aftertaste coating the tongue. Sake is one of the spirits that has burned me in the past and can be expensive to develop a taste for, so I was thankful for the free lesson.

I think that the Wine Enthusiast sums up what I like best about Toast of the Town:

The stage is set for you to sip, socialize, and expand your palate, and to satisfy your curiosity about beverages from around the world not only by tasting them, but also by talking to the people who helped make them.

Wine Enthusiast thinks of wine as a cultural ambassador, providing a window into different cultures, giving you a ‘taste’ of the country. […] Think of this evening as a delicious trip around the world, and think of yourselves as Wine Ambassadors, because when you talk to people about it—in this venue and outside these walls—you spread the word about the joy that is wine.

I encourage you to attend Toast of the Town next year, whether you’re a seasoned connoisseur that’s looking to try new things, or if you’re a rookie looking for an un-intimidating way to make your debut on the wine scene. Either way you’ll have a great time at a classy and unique event.

The full list of participants in Toast of the Town 2010 and what they brought to the table can be found here.

Disclaimer: I received the tickets to Toast of the Town free of charge in exchange for this post. My opinion is my own and un-affected by Toast of the Town or Wine Enthusiast. All photographs courtesy of Nicole Oandasan, Copyright 2011.

Mini Blackberry Cheesecakes

Mini Blackberry Cheesecakes

Several months ago I made some delicious miniature blueberry cheesecakes for a potluck at work. I couldn’t remember the recipe for them, just that the filling was cream cheese, an egg, and sour cream. I was able to combine several different recipes, using mostly this one from The Pioneer Woman. The great thing about cooking miniature cheesecakes is that you don’t have to have a springform pan and you don’t have to wait for it to cook for over an hour. While it was a little bit more of a hassle to transport to work, I also didn’t have to bring a knife and plates to share these sweet bites.

The original recipe calls for pecans to be added to the crust. I just added some more cookies and replaced some vanilla extract with almond extract. I wanted to keep the fruit topping bright and tart, so I added lemon juice into the berries. The side profiles of these bite-size cakes are great; divided into three even layers of crumbly crust, fluffy cake, and tart topping. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of taking a picture while these were being devoured by my co-workers, but I was able to snap the above picture using my phone before the feast began.

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Experimenting with Quinoa

Last April I attended a 29 1/2 minute vegetarian cooking class with my friend Stephanie at Whole Foods. A dish that was made for us and that we got to taste was a dish using pesto and quinoa called “Quinoa Awakening”. This was my first time tasting quinoa and I’ve been interested in it ever since.

Recently, we’ve been bringing quinoa into rotation for meals more frequently. It’s half way in-between rice and cous cous, has more protein, and cooks in the same amount of time (or quicker!). So far we’ve tried plain quinoa and red quinoa. Plain, or white, quinoa is easier to find, but if you can find red quinoa, try it! It has a more nuttier taste and more protein than regular quinoa. Even though I live in a major city, most grocery stores still don’t carry quinoa, and if they do it’s in gourmet “exotic grain” packs. I was able to snag a big pack of quinoa at Costco and I’ve seen it in affordable packages in Wegman’s and in some bulk sections of Whole Foods.

Our favorite way to eat quinoa is curried or in a fresh raw salad. When cooking the curried quinoa, it thickens on the stove like risotto. For the salad, which is a mixture of raw vegetables and cooked red quinoa, I actually cook the quinoa in the rice cooker and it turns out perfectly!

Have you ever tried quinoa? If so, what’s your favorite way to eat it?

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