Meatless Tuesday

I’m trying to stick with my ‘Meatless Monday’ routine, now that I’m not traveling for my day job anymore.  That didn’t work out so well last night due to a badly needed nail appointment, so this week it became ‘Meatless Tuesday’.  Honestly, I just made what is probably the best risotto I’ve ever tasted.  It’s not hard to make risotto, just kind of a pain because you can’t walk away from it.  I had some morels, so I chopped them up and made a broth, then sauteed a Spanish onion and started up the risotto.  I picked up a bottle of 2006 Louis Latour Marsannay at Wegman’s (where I found some ramps….my farmer’s market doesn’t have ramps!), added that to the risotto before adding the broth, then polished off the rest of the bottle with SQ.  The day we’ve both had really demanded some wine with dinner – maybe more than one bottle.  Now I’m too tired to really type much more, and he’s on the phone with his business partner having an intelligent conversation.  The mellow music coming from iTunes (I think it’s Jamie Cullum) isn’t helping me much either.   I really love risotto, and I know that’s so cliche, but I really love risotto.  Especially with yummy morels.  And imported parmesan.  Go make something delicious – I’m going to continue plotting my future move to a foreign country.  Hopefully France.

A French Easter Dinner

I don’t celebrate Easter, but I had a strong desire to have lamb today.  It’s a good excuse to do some French cooking…uh-huh, like I need an excuse to do some French cooking.  After dropping off all of Syd’s summer clothing cast-offs at the White Elephant down in Warrenton (yes, she’s spoiled and has grandmothers who buy her way too many clothes), I came back through Middleburg to get a rack of lamb at Home Farm Store (the retail arm of Ayreshire Farms).  After my chicken experiment I was eager to try something else, so I picked up the lamb and a dozen eggs to make a Dutch baby for breakfast.  I’d picked up some berries Harris Teeter.  Yes, out of season, but I was desperate for something fruity and I hadn’t made a Dutch baby in a long time.  I also had some thick-cut bacon that I was going to coat in maple syrup and brown sugar.  But I forgot that I was out of brown sugar.  So I just baked it in the oven straight up, which is my favorite way to cook bacon.

When I cracked open the eggs this morning they were so pretty and so perfect – really nice orange yolks that didn’t blob out once I dropped them in the bowl.  Exactly the way eggs are SUPPOSED to look.  The Dutch baby was delish, but it really stuck to the bottom of my cast-iron skillet this time.  I also burned my tongue on the berries…wow, do they hold heat for a long time!

For the lamb, I roasted it in the oven using a favorite recipe out of Barefoot Contessa’s ‘Barefoot in Paris’ cookbook, Rack of Lamb Persillade.  She never steers me wrong.  I’ve never made anything from a Barefoot Contessa recipe that wasn’t completely delicious.  I also adore asparagus, so spring is a favorite time of year.  I had a large bunch of it that I roasted with some olive oil, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction and shaved parmesan.  I dropped some grape tomatoes in a really hot skillet and cooked them until they were hot, charred, and wrinkled…..then mixed in some chopped basil. Arugula salad with lemon juice and extra-virgin olive oil, pain de campagne, and a bottle of Virginia Cabernet Franc to round everything out.  Yes, as much as I love France, and French wine, I also like to keep it local and support the good Virginia wineries.

*Sigh* A week off in which I got nothing accomplished except a family visit to Ohio, some birthday shopping, watching the Capitals beat the NY Rangers (yeah!), and freshly vacuumed carpet.  We were supposed to be in Montréal this week, but alas, was not meant to be.  So, back to my day job tomorrow, and a meatless Monday dinner.  Hmmmm, what should I make???

The Rain in Spain Stays Mainly in the Plain

I am trying to keep with my ‘Meatless Mondays’ promise, so I picked up some fresh spaghetti to make Cacio E Pepe.  I already had some really good imported Parmigianno-Regianno, so probably not the *authentic* Roman dish of my dreams, but I didn’t feel like buying a big hunk of Pecorino Romano.  It was delicious anyway.  Syd started digging up some clumps of pepper and cheese that were stuck to the bottom of the bowl and I realized my small mistake.  I told them I had tossed the pasta in a cold bowl.  I should have done that in the hot pot.  I wasn’t trying to rhyme, but once I got the second sentence out we had a hard time doing anything but laughing.  I’m usually only funny when I’m not trying to be.  It’s just a bunch of silliness I’m writing about tonight, but I’m still recovering from my long week in Cleveland, and then a weekend of doing almost nothing.

It’s my party, I’ll cook if I want to

Today is my birthday.  It’s a milestone year, and I’m spending the day in my kitchen.  I have been cooking my birthday dinner for the past few years.  I am even baking my own birthday cake – a big pink one with champagne in the batter and ridiculously sweet icing.  I don’t even remember where I found the recipe.  I’ve probably said this before, but I don’t really care for baking as it’s too precise and fussy.  If I had really gotten into cooking 10 or so years ago, I probably would have really loved baking.  Anyone remember ‘The Anal Retentive Carpenter’ from older episodes of Saturday Night Live?  That was me in the kitchen.  I’ve come a looonnnnggg way since then, and I love the loose measuring one can do in a lot of cooking.  Don’t get me wrong – I adore the whole ‘mise en place’ concept, and I will somewhat clean as I go, but I’m not obsessed with it like I used to be.

So, back to my birthday….I picked up some filets from What’s For Dinner Now? at the farmer’s market, and some really colorful fingerling potatoes.  I really surprised SQ with my meat-and-potatoes dinner, he thought I would go for something else since ‘steak’ isn’t really my thing.  I’ve really had everything but beef over the past couple of weeks, so I was really craving a nice seared filet.  And roasted potatoes with really rich cheese sauce.  The gorgonzola was a little over the top, I think I will do Asiago in that cheese sauce next time.

I started thinking about all my kitchen toys while I was preparing my little feast.  What would I keep if I were to pack up move out of the country tomorrow?  Well, definitely nothing with a plug…  I kept coming back to my chef’s knife, which is a gorgeous 10-inch European-Japanese hybrid made by Misono, and it cuts like a dream (have I mentioned that knife on here before??).  If someone robbed my house, THAT would be the thing that would piss me off the most if I found it missing.  What would you keep if you could only choose one thing in your kitchen?  Tough question, I know.

The day was a little anti-climatic, and I was more than a little pouty and whiny in the morning.  Withdrawal from lack of cooking for most of a month?  Maybe.  I was fine after I had spent some serious time with my kitchen toys.  I got a lot of ‘hope someone cooks for you’ or ‘hope you go out to a nice restaurant’ comments.  They just really don’t know me (well, except for you Gretchen :->).  I’m HAPPY in the kitchen.  Yep, it was MY party, and I wanted to cook.

March Madness

No, not THAT March Madness….my own crazy month of work travel, ergo the  inability to work in my kitchen.  It’s made me kinda crabby, and definitely a little bit heavier as a result of eating out for pretty much every meal.  And I have zero self-control when it comes to making smart food choices at restaurants.  If the candy is in front of me, then I will eat it, so to speak….as well as anything in the bread basket.  I’m trying to recover from it now, and I have a week of being able to control my guilty pleasures before I have to go back to Cleveland.

I did drive over to the West Side Market last Saturday, if for no other reason than to just stare at the fresh produce and meats.  I couldn’t walk away with nothing, so I purchased some smoked sea salt and fleur de sel (both rather hard to find out in the country area where I live) from the herb vendor.  It’s in a gorgeous old building that dates back to 1912, but the market itself has origins going back to around 1840.  The variety is pretty incredible, but I was disappointed that the produce vendors all seemed to be selling pretty much the same thing, most of it shipped in from other parts of the country, or the world.  I liked the meat vendors much better, and there was a definite visible quality difference if you walk around and look at what’s on offer.  There were also several pastry and baked goods vendors, which was pretty tempting for a sugar-fiend like me.  The area around the market has a lot of character, and houses some of Cleveland’s best farm-to-table restaurants.  I also stumbled across a Penzey’s store where I bought some Vietnamese Extra Fancy Cinnamon (thank you Cook’s Illustrated for that tip!) and Aleppo Pepper, which has also been difficult for me to find.  The people working in the store were some of the nicest I’ve ever come across in retail of any kind.  They gave me a nice printed copy of the neighborhood shops and restaurants, as well as a cool bumper sticker that says ‘Love People. Cook them tasty food.’  I seriously love food-related bumper stickers, and this one now holds a special place in my heart.  It really completely sums why I love to cook – yeah, it’s fun to eat the yummy results, but it’s so much more fun to make someone else happy with those yummy results.

Best. Mashed Potatoes. Ever.

I’m trying this new thing once a wekkwhere I cook a meal with more ‘meat’ than we need for that one meal so I can use it the next night for a second dish.  I don’t usually care much for brisket, but decided to braise a rather large piece in the oven with some wine, beef stock, and veggies.  Then I caramelized about 1 1/2 cups of sliced shallots to fold into the mashed potatoes (which I also usually find to be on the ‘meh’ side).  There are no words to describe how good those potatoes turned out.  OK, well I guess there are words.  Use Yukon Golds, and make sure the milk and butter are heated up before adding to the potatoes or you’ll end up with a glue-ey mess.  Add some salt and freshly ground pepper…and then fold in those delicious caramelized shallots….YUM!  This meal was mostly for SQ, he’s such a meat-and-potatoes guy, and I was worried that he was going to eat all the brisket.  I’m using the leftovers to make a pappardelle pasta tomorrow night.  Yes, I did this last week with those chickens, and got a spicy Pad Thai out of it.

Well, my wireless just went down as I went to publish this post, so I lost most of what I had typed.  I was blathering on about still needing to re-install my Rosetta Stone French and pick up with using it.  And getting a good idea for another way to practice my French from the movie ‘Eat Pray Love’ (yes, I know, she was practicing Italian….the good idea is transferable).  Oh, and I’m going to Cleveland next week, and will be up there all week every week for pretty much the whole month of March.  SQ’s calling it the ‘culinary dead zone’.  I was thinking that I will miss my kitchen and that maybe one of my co-workers would let me cook a little meal at their house??

Dish on GMOs

If you’ve seen Food, Inc. then you certainly know who Michael Pollan is.  Great writer who presents very fair and well-researched information.  I don’t have a lot of time this evening to write…I didn’t even do much in the kitchen…but I wanted to include this recent podcast from Monday.  The rest of the world doesn’t want our frankenfood, so I’m not sure why so many Americans are complacent about this issue.  Buy organic and know your farmer.  Another great way to voice your opinion about GMOs is to head over to Food Democracy Now, sign their petition, and let the White House know this is completely unacceptable.

http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/2011/feb/21/dish-gmos/

A Tale of Two Chickens

I decided to do an experiment with dinner tonight.  Since I was already roasting one chicken, I might as well roast two and use the leftovers for dinner tomorrow.  I ran out to Wegman’s and picked up an Empire Kosher Organic chicken – priced exactly the same as my Ayrshire Farms chicken purchased yesterday.  I wanted to do a side-by-side comparison of taste…not that I didn’t already know what the outcome would be.  I was a little unprepared, however, for the huge difference in the chickens just from pulling them out of their packaging.  The AF chicken (on the right in the pic below) was very pink and pretty, and had skin that wasn’t fatty.  It had been processed perfectly and it looked healthy.  SQ said it was what a chicken would look like if Nordstrom sold chickens.  The grocery store chicken (on the left in the pic below) was wobbly, had thick fatty skin, and looked like it had been beaten up.  Hmmm, not a good sign so far.  Also, my AF chicken is of known origin/farm and known processing date.  The grocery store chicken is of completely unknown provenance…I certainly couldn’t find anything on Empire’s website about where their farm(s) is located, just a mailing address in Pennsylvania.  You could replace the store chicken with any other brand from a ‘known company’ and the point would be the same.  Though I doubt a Tyson or Purdue chicken would look even as good as the Empire chicken.

I roasted the chickens next to each other with some garlic, tarragon, and lemon wedges stuffed in the cavities.  We carved up the AF chicken for dinner and I shredded the store chicken for leftovers, testing a few bites so I could do a fair comparison.  The store chicken was quite good, and would be a noticeable step up from just about anything else in their case…but the AF chicken was just in a completely different league.  The texture was better, not ‘band-y’ at all, and it tasted, surprise surprise, like chicken.  Probably like ALL chicken used to taste 50 years ago.  Not bland, not watery, not stringy.  It was worth every last freaking penny I spent on it.  So go to your local farm, or go to your local farmer’s market…spend a little extra and support your local farmer.  They produce the best – for both health and taste – and they deserve your support…don’t you deserve to eat the best??

Can you spot the differences?

A Healthy Dose of Guilt

After last night’s pork fiasco I was feeling so guilty that I hightailed it out to Middleburg this afternoon.  I intended to go to Fields of Athenry, but made a last minute decision to head to Home Farm Store (downtown Middleburg) instead, which is Ayrshire Farm’s retail shop.  No idea what I wanted other than a whole chicken.  I love FOA, especially their lamb chops, but I want to shop around some different farms.  And I was looking for an excuse to go to Middleburg, and to drive down Foxcroft Road, which is arguably one of the single most beautiful roads in the state of Virginia – and there are a LOT of beautiful roads in this state.  I got my chicken, which was apparently just butchered on Wednesday, along with some ground veal and ground pork.  I have some FOA ground beef in my freezer and I’m thinking about tackling spaghetti and meatballs next weekend.  Maybe I’ll invite some friends over.  I’ve discovered that the beef from Fields of Athenry is the one thing I don’t care for generally.  Well, it’s really more that I don’t care for 100% grass-fed beef.  I’ve recently been buying beef from What’s For Dinner Now on Saturdays at the Purcellville Farmer’s Market – it’s raised on grass and then finished on grain.  Takes the funkiness out of it.  It’s not cheap, but then again I don’t think beef is something people should be consuming multiple times per week.  I’ve been trying to move us to at least one meat-less meal each week, but my small family is frequently difficult to please as I have a beef-loving husband and a fish-loving daughter.  And neither one cares much for the other’s preferences.  Syd also doesn’t care much for lamb, veal, or pork.  Sometimes I think I birthed a coastal Italian…if she never ate anything again but fish, shellfish, chicken, veggies, or any of those options on pasta, she would be quite happy.  So, I got the chicken for dinner tomorrow night to make her happy.  And tonight we’re treating her to an early birthday dinner at Brasserie Beck, in DC, where she will be able to feast on her favorite – oysters and mussels…which will make her very happy.

Speaking of making people happy…please go out to Food Democracy Now and help support the campaign to end GMOs.  That will make me very happy!

Beer-Braised Pork Tacos

You’d think this would be a good thing…well, not when you have the shittiest piece of pork you could possibly imagine.  The house smelled so good – like a Mexican goddess was in the kitchen.  I should have known better than to buy any kind of meat from Giant, it totally goes against all of my better judgement.  But I wanted Mexican, and I love pork tacos, and I came across a super delicious-sounding recipe from Food & Wine that was sitting in my database and calling my name.  I  purchased a pack of Negra Modelo especially, and cut up limes.  And the house smelled SO good with the pork simmering in this tomato/beer/onion/oregano/concoction!!  I pulled out the pork and it was a fatty, unappetizing mess that was next to impossible to shred.  I managed to separate off about half of it at the cost of my right arm – but I was solidly through my first bottle of beer so I didn’t feel much.  I will be regretting this tomorrow.  I heavily reduced the braising sauce, then whizzed it up in the blender (which was really pretty tasty), then poured it over the pathetic pieces of pork in my Dutch oven.  To cap it off, I should learn never to buy corn tortillas from a non-Latino store….they were rubbery, flat, and tasteless.  But the beer was good!

SQ and Syd are back with candy – I think I’ll go watch Eat Pray Love again and wallow in my shallow, pointless misery like Julia Roberts.  Pouty rant is complete.