Friday, December 22, 2006

Pancakes are every day food

I know that weekday mornings can get a bit frantic, and grabbing a banana or granola bar on the run seems like the best we can do some days. Mark Bittman makes a compelling case for bringing back the pancake into our weekly repetoire. When my 2 1/2 year old insisted on pancakes on a Wednesday morning a few weeks ago, and an 8:30 meeting loomed ahead, I found out how quickly the process goes. And it was strangely satisfying to know that I could whip up a batch and have them on the table in less than 10 minutes.

Go ahead.. try it yourself.

Click here for a link to Bittman's story.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Color me in and feast on my carcass

AdFreak has a Richmond connection this week. Check out the link below to the RTD's coloring contest for Charlotte's Web. Kids can color in the picture and winners of the competition get to savor their victory over Barbecue at Famous Dave's.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

A Tale of Two Festivals

Two recent Richmond events offered a glaring glimpse at just how wide a range of food options are available to Johnny Festival Public. The State Fair of Virginia offered up its usual range of greasy specials like corndogs and deep fried oreos, gyros and spaghetti and meatballs on a stick. The most interesting food at the Fair is unfortunately only for the few select judges who weigh in on the best cakes, pies and cobblers that the state has to offer; Johnny Public must be content to gaze longingly at the winners through pane glass and go back to the standard fair fare on the midway. Most of it leaves much to be desired. Are corn dogs and gyros the best that we can offer as a reflection of our state's culinary pride?

Last weekend's National Folk Festival proves otherwise.
Amidst some of the usual festival fare like funnel cakes and burgers, visitors were treated to a wide range of ethnic delights that included Indian fare from India K Raja( great curry and samosas), African food from Ma Musu's (incredible spicy greens and grilled chicken), Fried fish and shrimp from Jackson Ward's Croaker's Spot, tasty veggie spring rolls and dumplings from Ginger in Carytown and the list goes on. All washed down with an assortment of cold and warm beverages. Bravo to the Folk Festival organizers who wouldn't settle for normal festival fare and included the rich diversity that this town offers up every day.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Importance of Eating Local

As we all know, the further we are from the origins of the food we eat, the more chance for contamination of one form or another. The recent e. coli spinach scare reminds us all how dependent we have become on certain areas of the country to supply our demands to eat everything we want, whenever we want, instead of eating locally and seasonally.

Local favorite Ellwood Thompson did not waste time in both "educating its customers" and also providing alternatives to bag spinach.

"Greetings Ellwood Thompson’s Customers,

We know you are concerned about the recent E. coli outbreaks and we want to give you the following update from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) dated September 17, 2006. We would like to mention that we began to carry the pre-packaged produce items, like spinach, to meet increasing customer demand for them.

As an independent, local business, we are strong supporters of locally-made or locally-grown products so naturally it is our preference to offer you more local items and encourage you to buy local when it is available.

As a consumer it is your responsibility to make informed decisions about your purchases, and we want to provide you with an alternative to the affected products mentioned in the FDA's spinach recall. For an alternative to those products, you may consider the vine-grown Malabar or Indian spinach from our local farm liaison, OG Roots Produce in Farmville. Only 63 miles from Richmond, OG Roots uses vegan farming operations and sustainable methods. We will receive a delivery from OG Roots Tuesday, September 19th. OG Roots is an independent, Virginia farm and is not a part of the corporate entity, Natural Selection Foods, LLC, whose products are in question....."

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Rivah

Last weekend I was down at "The Rivah" with some friends and my family for the weekend in Whitestone. On the way down we stopped at The Virginia Street Cafe in Urbanna for lunch and a visit with my 92 year old aunt. The Virginia Street Cafe offers a nice selection of local seafood- I loved my softshell crab sandwich and my two year old dug into the fried shrimp special. They make a point of using local seafood.

The next day, Ed and I stopped for a bite at a local roadside food shack, Rocket Billys for a second breakfast. Had a great ham, egg, and cheese sandwich. Had a nice chat with Rocket Billy himself about his business, food sourcing and the world in general. I was very surprised to hear that 99.9% of his product comes from the corporate behomoth Sysco- the only local ingredients are oysters, but even then its not all of the time. For a modest operation such as Rocket Billy's, he relies on the consistency (both in availability and pricing) that a large distributor can offer. It's too bad though- the "localness" of a place like Rocket Billy's loses some of its cachet with this revelation. But I guess only higher end restaurants can afford to buy local. But the day before in Urbanna I was told otherwise. What's really the driving force? Convenience ?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Figs, Glorious Figs

My fig tree, just 4 years old, loves its home next to my stucco house where the summer sun warms it doubly, even when night falls. I have had two crops this summer with the new batch ripening as I write. I can hardly get them from the back yard to the kitchen before they disappear.

In case you were wondering, here are some historical and scientific facts from our friends at Wikipedia interspersed with my musings. Fig Trees are a species from the genus Ficus, which includes about 800 species of woody trees, shrubs, and vines.
There is circumstantial evidence that figs were among the first cultivated crop, based on preserved specimens in Jericho.The figs were grown some 11,400 years ago, and because they were of a mutation which could not reproduce normally, it is proposed that they may have been planted and cultivated intentionally, one thousand years before the next crops domesticated (wheat and rye).

It has been suggested that the Tree of Knowledge from the Garden of Eden was a fig tree, famous for its large leaves that came in handy for Adam and Eve to cover themselves in the first recorded moment of shame. It is interesting that they are purported to have aphrodisiac qualities and the fruit when split open has certain similarities to a woman’s sex. Is it not ironic that a tree with the leaves used to cover Adam and Eve from self-conscious shame in the Garden of Eden yields fruit with such lovely qualities?

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Gourmet Baby Food

Today's New York Times has an interesting article about a new trend in feeding babies alternatives to the usual bland jarred fare that is the norm for most people.
The author brings up some interesting issues around eating patterns, organic, fresh vs frozen vs jarred and the role of food in kids' lives.

As I wrote in a previous post, "No Chicken Nuggets in my house" but I try not to make a big deal out of eating so my kids don't develop neuroses around food. I try to give them what we are eating, but don't press the issue. Tonight I proudly watched my two year old tackle his first ear of corn. He had eaten some cut off the ear, but insisted on having an ear as well. And I should mention that they were grilled and then topped with a lime adobo butter. He ate the whole thing.

Duro is hard to like

A restaurant that proclaims itself as a unique pasta experience sets the bar high, especially in a town that claims as its own the magical Vasaio trio of Mamma Zu, Edo Squid, and 8 ½, The Franco’s family of restaurants, the LoPresti empire and even the simple pastas and takeout from Mainly Pasta . My experience at DURO was far from being unique and Duro can’t be included in my Richmond Pantheon of Pastas. While the name Duro is a reference to the Durum wheat that pasta is made from, a more apt connection may to an alternate definition of duro, “hard, ” as in “hard to get a waiter” or “hard to like.”

To be fair, the appetizers that we had were okay. The house calamari was palatable- a combination of sautéed squid with onions, capers and olives, but the soggy bread that it sat upon took away from the dish. Perhaps it had sat too long before arriving at our table. The other appetizer we had was our first taste of “the unique pasta experience.” And it was good. Little “bags” stuffed with pear, a mild cheese of some sort and topped in a white sauce. My only lament is that we had only enough for a taste. My main course included one of my favorite pairings, lamb and rosemary. The dish advertised braised lamb shanks over rosemary pasta. When I think braised I think moist and juicy. Not so- the braising liquid must have run dry, as was the lamb. And I couldn’t find much evidence of rosemary in my pasta.

I expected more from a seasoned chef, especially one that created the expectation of a “unique pasta experience. “

Sunday, July 30, 2006

New Hampshire- the Pancake State ?

During a recent trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire, we had the opportunity to visit a few historical foodie spots- the old Gristmill in Littleton, and Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill.

The building which houses "Polly's Pancake Parlor" was built about 1830. It was originally used as a carriage shed and was later used for storage of firewood. During the depression of the thirties Polly and Wilfred (Sugar Bill) Dexter converted the building to a small, quaint tea room (capacity - 24 people). When they started serving in 1938 they offered pancakes, waffles and French toast - "All you can eat for 50¢." The idea was to stimulate sales of their maple products.

The original menu has been greatly enlarged to include Buckwheat, Cornmeal, Oatmeal Buttermilk and Whole Wheat pancakes and waffles which are varied by combining them with blueberries, walnuts,coconut, or chocolate chips, along daily pancake specials such as gingerbread or cinammon! They also serve country style patty sausage and smoked bacon and smoked ham made by their friends at North Country Smokehouse here in New Hampshire. It tastes like you're standing in the smokehouse.

These ensure proper and consistent batter portions

After a great meal one is treated to a view like few others.....

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Summertime..... and the living is easy

It doesn't get much better than an ice cream cone on a hot summer day. As Wallace Stevens once said "The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Taking Root

Sunday afternoon provided the rare opportunity and treat to visit several organic farms outside of Richmond in New Kent County. The main attraction for me was having the chance to visit Amy's Garden and see exactly where our farm share dollars are going and where all of our delicious produce comes from. I get a delivery every Monday, and it always seems to be an immaculate vegetation- now I can visualize where it all grows. Rye (my 9 month old) and I made the rounds of a few farms, an impromptu one-day-only farmer's market that included fresh pastas from Richmond's West End ( go figure) and some of the most beatiful sunflowers around. We even saw a demonstration of border collies at work herding sheep. One of the highlights was picking some turnips right out of the ground. Amy said that most people bitch about the turnips- I can't get enough of them- they are as sweet as an apple. I was dubbed Turnip Man.

Monday, June 12, 2006

No Chicken Nuggets in My House !

That's a refrain that I used to chant before we had kids. This is me checking our collective food pulse.

Eat to Live or Live to Eat- how will the kids turn out ? It seems like it must be more nurture than nature.

My two year old is generally a good eater, although he's gotten quite a bit pickier in past two or three months. He started eating solid food at about 7 months and would eat anything I put in front of him for a while. I tried to expose him to lots of things so that he is comfortable with a variety of flavors and textures. These are some of the more interesting delicacies on his life list thus far:

Liver and onions
steamed oysters
bok choy
tofu (last night for the first time)
snap peas
melons of all kinds

He absolutely loves fruit of any kind, candy (dandy to him), and probably leans more sweet than savory (mom's influence)

We were at a friiend's tonight and the witching hour came and he had Kraft Mac and Cheese for the first time. For some reason I have been protecting him from eating mac cheese and chicken nuggets because of a deep-seated fear that he'll become addicted somehow like so many kids, But then I thought, he's only 2 and he won't be eating it every night, and besides all that, I snuck a bite when he wasn't looking and had forgotten how good it was !

Sunday, June 11, 2006

The Lexus and the Olive Tree

This may sound like a fairly obvious statement... "so much about cooking is the process." Granted, hands down, ingredients trump process, but in many endeavors, bad process can destroy the best ingredients, I tend to be more on the experimental throw it all together side of cooking- I have some kitchen experience and pretty good intuition, so I am usually ok with process. I want to share one recipe that I make where I am superstitious about how I make it.

My grandmother originally taught me and my mother reinforced the process for making hummus, a staple in an arab kitchen, more common than peanut butter growing up. The process my mother taught me always struck me as the merging of two worlds- the traditional one that my father grew up in during the 40's in Palestine and then the 50's and 60's in Beirut, and the more modern one that Williams Sonoma has ushered in over the past 20 years.

The most important step for me, and the one that takes me back in time, is the mashing of garlic cloves with sea salt in an old wooden mortar and pestle. And then rinsing it with freshly squuezed lemons into the bowl of my cuisinart, where this sour garlicky soup is ground smooth with chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), olive oil, and my personal touch,ground cumin. The results are almost perfect every time- a little different each batch depending on the proportions I use, the intensity of the garlic and lemon, and the position of the moon. I have to smile to myself every time I witness two generations and technologies mixed together in a dish of chickpea spread.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Strawberry Fields Forever

WOW. I can't tell you how happy I am that my farm share has started for the season- I just got my first delivery yesterday from Amy's Garden. Amy and her husband have a farm in New Kent County and every Monday during the season deliver us ( and about 50 other families) some of the best produce that I have ever tasted. Our first share included 3 different types of lettuce, baby bok choy, swiss chard, sugar snap peas, spring onions and the sweetest (read both ways) and most gorgeous strawberries that I have ever tasted. My two year-old Raine, after tasting one shouted "dandy"- (read candy), a from the soul of a child indication of how good they really are. And the chard was beautiful too , a deep green, ribbed in red for our pleasure !

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Wilco and Williamsburg

I celebrated my 39th birthday a few weeks ago-not a big deal, especially since my wife turned 40 a week later. We celebrated my birthday a few days early in Williamsburg, first at a great little bistro, The Blue Talon, and then with Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. First things first.

The Blue Talon Bistro
is located right in the heart of Williamsburg on the edge of the William & Mary campus. It's a comfortable space, polished woods and shiny metal in the tradition of a French bistro. And the chef David Everett has been successful in serving up "serious comfort food." We started with the chef's homemade charcuterie platter, with fresh country pate, and other sausages, served with a crock of coarse mustard. Perfect with a pint of cloudy Belgian beer. I opted for comfort food in my entree choice- a pork schnitzel, lightly breaded, fried, and served with fresh sauerkraut. A light Shiraz was a great accompaniment. We even stayed for dessert and I indulged in a creme brulee- good, but not exceptional.

Wilco played a great show-very solid all around- Tweedy even preached a bit.

1. I Am Trying To Break Your Heart
2. War On War
3. Company In My Back
4. Hell Is Chrome
5. Handshake Drugs
6. A Shot In The Arm
7. At Least That's What You Said
8. Jesus, Etc.
9. Ashes Of American Flags
10. Theologians
11. Spiders (Kidsmoke)
12. Hummingbird
13. Walken
14. I'm The Man Who Loves You

Encore 1:
15. Via Chicago
16. Kingpin
17. The Late Greats

Encore 2:
18. Heavy Metal Drummer
19. I'm A Wheel

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Cooking Styles

My wife and I both love to cook, are passionate about food, and are most definitely "live to eat" kinds of folks. Our home routine has changed significantly since she "retired" last fall to stay home with our two boys. She is now the house frau, and cooks dinner more regularly. And that has definitely cut into my kitchen time. Don't get me wrong-- it's nice to come home to dinner-- but it has meant my giving up a lot of control in the kitchen. I still cook on the weekends and occasionally during the week. Dinners are somewhat more interesting now-- Susannah has been collecting recipes for 15 years and has them filed in a way that would make Dewey himself proud. And now that she is cooking more, recipes are being tested- they only get saved if they are "great"- a "good" doesn't cut the mustard around here.

My style couldn't be more different. I am an open the refrigerator and cupboard to see what we have. I have a mental triage system I use as well. I try to keep tabs on what we have on hand. The relative freshness of the ingredients at hand often play a big part in my decision as to what we are going to eat. If I notice that there are some really ripe peaches that need to be use, I will build my menu around that ingredient. And I rarely follow a recipe. I may search using a few ingredients as elements to get some ideas, but I more often wing it. A few weeks ago I made a pasta sauce using roasted tomatoes (they were the core ingredient), kalamata olives, feta cheese, pignoli, and onions. About a week after I had made the dish, I came across this picture of my pasta in an issue of Bon Appetit.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

A sharper palate indeed

I had the opportunity to attend the American Cancer Society's benefit fashion show, Cure by Design a few weeks ago. My client, Bon Secours, was a presenting sponsor for a truly lovely first time event in Richmond. La Difference was a funky backdrop for what was ultimately a fairly conservative fashion show. The runway was interesting- in the shape of a ubiquitous ribbon, but lined with grass and peppered with daffodils. A champagne reception launched the evening hosted by Miss America, Deirdre Downs and Susan Allen among the glitterati. Passed hors d'oeuvres included fried oysters.

But lets talk about the food- for a 300+ party, A Sharper Palate did a nice job- a huge sushi spread with sashimi, a nice selection of rolls and eye watering wasabi; an antipasto station with fresh mozzarella, carciofi, olives....; skewered duck satay, grits with andouille and shrimp and a host of desserts. Mojitos were a big hit as was the martini bar- never mix never worry.

Monday, March 13, 2006

A Capital Delite

A road-trip to D.C. to see Beth Orton play at the 9:30 club was a good excuse to take in some of the cultural and culinary landmarks of Washington. We arrived at high noon famished and as our first stop was the National Galleryto see the DADA show, we decided to try the cafeteria. A pleasant surprise awaited, and I have to say that the choices were amazing for this type of fare. Sushi and noodles, salads and panini, soups and pizza. I decided to try the regional French specialties that accompanied the Cezanne show- braised fennel and a gratin of courgettes were both palatable and a far cry from the soggy french fries of days past.

As good as lunch was, we were saving ourselves for dinner, and had been talking about it all week. Mexican fare in Richmond is pretty average, just north of slop, and not very interesting. Lauriol Plaza is a real treat. As we relaxed in the cavernous two level restaurant, heaving with people and buzzing with noise, we started the night with margaritas, frozen and on the rocks. The chips are thinner than most, and perfectly salted. The salsa, a warm combination of tomatoes, cilantro and spice. A bowl of queso is studded with real peppers and is a far cry from melted velveeta that is often the poor excuse for queso. My entree was one of the best I have ever had- "Masitas de Puerco"- Cuban style morsels of pork, marinated in criollo sauce, roasted in Sevillas' bitter oranges. Slightly crispy and tender at the same time. Slightly spicy but sweet at the same time. An enigma. A thing of beauty. More than just "the other white meat."

“He was a bold man that first eat an oyster”- Jonathan Swift

The night could not get much better- a birthday cookout with normal fare became extra-special with the surprise arrival of some oysters from Chincoteague courtesy of Zac and Amber. Lightly steamed over a fire to just take off the chill rendered these sweet oysters heavenly- a mouthful of the sea with every bite. And the work that it takes to get one open makes the reward that much sweeter.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Hog Jowls

One of my favorite Italian dishes is the spicy amatriciana sauce- a perfect blend of crispy pork (more on that later), tomatoes, hot red pepper flakes, and pecorino and parmesan cheeses. Mama Zu makes an outstanding version in Richmond, rivaling any of Mario Batali's New York creations.

So when I started to make some sauce at home, the recipe lamented that most folks can't make a truly authentic version at home because its so hard to find "pork jowls" or as the Italians say, "guanciale." Pancetta is a nice substitute, and it has become rather easy to find. Lo and behold, I was happy to remember that a fall purchase at the Richmond Farmer's Market had included smoked hog jowls from a local farmer. I wasn't sure exactly what I was going to use them for at the time, but you just never know when hog jowls will come in handy.

Monday, February 20, 2006

When 8 1/2 is really a 10 !

Valentine's Day is always the worst night to dine out- hordes of people looking for a romantic night out with soft light, fine wine, and mostly mediocre food. The numbers work against you. There are just too many people out for restaurants to truly shine, hence the prix fixe dinners in the can.

So we opted for take-out. And where better than from one of the most "we take our food more seriously than anything else" places in town. In the same family as Mama Zu and Edo Squid,
8 1/2 offers a nice albeit small range of some of its sibling's menu favorites. We had a simple meal, with all 4 of us around the table:

Arugula salad with shaved parmesan
A white pizza ( the perfect mix of cheese, garlic, spice amd texture in town)
Spaghetti alla carbonara
canoli for dessert

Saturday Morning Huevos

Saturday mornings are my time with my boys Raine and Rye. Lately we have been meeting my friend Eric and his daughter Stella at Kuba Kuba for some daddy time, strong coffee(juice boxes for the kids), and Huevos California- the perfect combination of fried eggs, black beans, bell peppers, salsa, spices and cheesy goodness served over corn bread and topped with thick slices of avocado. A great way to start the day. And Lombardy Park is right across the street so we can usually stroll over and play with the kids for a while.

Friday, February 17, 2006

where are the whopperettes?

On a recent quick trip up to Charlottesville with ed riley to watch UVA beat VA Tech in basketball, our plans to eat in a favorite local diner were dashed by snowfall and a "closed "sign on the door. On a snowy night, there were not many culinary options that worked in our limited timeframe. So we punted and pulled through the Burger King drivethrough, perhaps enticed by images of the "Mad King" or more likely visions of ladies in lettuce and tomatoe costumes falling from the sky. Let's call in snowflake induced hallucinations. On the 10 minute walk I wolfed down fries and 2 cheeseburgers as I looked around to make sure no one was watching me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Reception food

Last week Susannah and I went to two different events, The Maymont Flower and Garden Show Preview Party at the Convention Center, and the Historic Richmond Foundation Auction at Plant Zero in Manchester.


Ok, so the focus was on the flowers and not the food, but give me a break. Presentation should have been much nicer and I am not sure who chose mini cheesburgers with limp onions and vats of condiments. There was a random soup station that had decent red pepper soup- we turned around and gulped down our soup only to turn around and see that the whole "station" was gone. Was it an illusion ? Did they fall down the rabbit hole? The one saving grace was the cake- "Cakes by Graham"- a nice marzipan flavored moist layer cake.

Historic Richmond Foundation

A much humbler affair, but superior hands down. Local beer and wine, and a nice assortment of hot hors d'ouevres including meatballs, a piquant BBQ, an artichoke dip, roasted veggies with dipping sauce...

After the auction the Rileys and Pettys joined us at Bin 22 in Carytown for a nightcap. A nice bottle of Shiraz and some little bowls of olives to nibble on.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

breakfast of champions

Oatmeal has become part of my morning ritual, instant usually, on the fly at work, and studded with a box of raisins. Had no idea that McCanns came in the instant variety until I stumbled upon a box at Trader Joes in Bethesda.