Thursday, April 28, 2011

Veritas Vineyard

Veritas Winery was the last stop on our wine tasting adventure. Veritas is probably the largest and most well-known of all the wineries we visited that day. They have very extensive grounds with lots of gazebos and tables tucked away for you to go and enjoy a glass of wine. In addition to beautiful grounds, they have a very impressive tasting room that is an updated, more contemporary looking lodge.

Veritas’s tasting was the most expensive--$5.00 for six wines. According to the woman doing the tasting, they do more wines earlier in the day, but cut back near the end. The tasting experience was also markedly different in tone. The women who conducted the tastings at Wintergreen and Hill Top were so friendly and hospitable and made you feel connected to their product. Veritas Vineyard was a little busier, and so the woman who did the tasting was a little more reserved and to the purpose. This reserve created a different sense of connection and made the experience a little more systematic.

I’m not sure if it was because it was the last vineyard and our palettes were exhausted, or if it was because the connection to the vineyard wasn’t quite there, but my car wasn’t as blown away by the wines as we expected. The Claret, Merlot, and Vitner’s Reserve were all good, but had a similar finish on the palette that was a little bitter. The Claret was sweeter and bright, the Merlot was chewy and peppery with a dry finish, and the Vitner’s Reserve was a little smokier and dryer.

Although I wasn’t so blown away by the reds, I was a little more excited by the whites. They start with a Scintilla which is a brute sparkling wine that is part Cab Fran and part Chardonnay. I really enjoyed it because it had the tartness and crispness of green apples, but wasn’t sweet. Although I didn’t really care for the Chardonnay “Harlequin” because it was almost pure butter on the finish, I did like their Viognier. We had tried a Viognier at Wintergreen Winery and I was underwhelmed. Veritas’s Viognier had a great apricot nose and tangerine notes on the palette. Whereas Wintergreen’s Viognier was a little too sweet, Veritas brought in more brightness and fruit.

Veritas’s big star for all of us was their Othello. I blogged about Othello in my Staunton Grocery post because this was the Virginia wine they paired with their dessert course. Othello is a ruby-style Port that has vanilla, caramel, plum and black cherries. I normally have a hard time getting into dessert wines, but this one is really satisfying.

Although it was fun visiting Veritas, the experience lacked the welcoming and friendliness of Hill Top and Wintergreen. Because of that, it was harder to develop the connection with Veritas that I had with the other vineyards. I’m thinking that the best way to experience Veritas would be to come during their “Starry Nights,” a summer concert series that combines wine, music, and scenery. Once I test one of those concerts out, I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery

Outdoor Sitting Area with view of blackberry wines
(which are thornless and pesticide free)
This vineyard was the second stop and my favorite of the day.  I love the idea of fruit wines and meads, but all my adventures with them have been really disappointing.  The fruit wines I’ve tried usually were too sweet, like Capri sun but with alcohol, and the mead encounters tasted like honey turned wrong.    
Just one afternoon with Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery changed all my associations with fruit wine and mead.  They are “true to the fruit” which means that they just use fruits to make the wine.   Their meads are also unique and complex.  The offer traditional meads as well as melomels (fruit and honey co-fermented) that include fruits like strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, and pomegranates.  The tastings include four fruit wines and six meads and is only $2.00, but they will waive that fee if you end up purchasing any wines.     
Besides the tasty wines and meads, another reason I enjoyed Hill Top was how educational the tasting was.  Mendi, who was leading the tasting, did such a thorough job talking about each wine.  With every one she poured, she offered insightful options about what to do with the wines.  She mentioned using the Peach Wine with “peal and eat” shrimp, using the Cyser (an apple and honey mead) to marinade venison, and eating bleu cheese or garlic with the Perry (a pear and honey mead). 
The other way Hill Top makes their tastings educational is by providing foods during the tasting for you to see nuances in the product.  Mendi gave us smoked almonds with the Cyser and encouraged us to take a sip, then eat the almond, and try the Cyser again.  I never would have thought that the smoky almond would go with meads and was further surprised to hear that the effect of pairing meads with smokiness make mead a very natural accompaniment to cigars.  She also gave us ginger snaps to try with the Perry and that helped enhance the pear tones of that mead.  The last one was pieces of chocolate to eat with the Blackberry Delight, a sweeter blackberry wine, to help balance out the sweetness and bring out more of the tartness. 

Wine Tasting Spittoon

In terms of the wines and meads, the two stars of the day were the Nectarine Melomel and the Lavender Metheglin.  The  Nectarine Melomel was like taking a bite of nectarine and the citrus really brought out the floral quality of the mead.  The Lavender Metheglin was not one that was part of the tasting, but was one on the list that I just had to try.  Instead of just getting a glass, a friend and I went in together to get the bottle to enjoy with the picnic that she packed.  Several others of our group also tried the Lavender and were all impressed.  I’m intrigued and leery of lavender infused foods and beverages because the most often remind me of soap.  The Metheglin was bold and floral with a lemony sweet nose.  It is enjoyable to sip, but would also make a great white sangria. 
If you are interested in having your opinion of fruit wines challenged, then put Hill Top on your must visit list.  If you want to make a bigger adventure of it, you can come in July and August to pick your own blackberries or on Aug. 6th for the Blackberry Festival, featuring bands and blackberry wine sangria. 
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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Wintergreen Winery

My friend Ellie was on Spring Break and planned a day of wine tasting in Nelson County, VA.  We went to three vineyards, which I’ll be blogging about throughout the week. 
 The first vineyard on the trip was Wintergreen Winery, a charming vineyard tucked away at the foot of Wintergreen Resort.  They have picnic tables, a cozy stream, and a great deal of scenery.  Wintergreen Vineyard encourages you to feel at home on the grounds, offering cheese plates and picnic baskets to enjoy with a bottle or glass of wine.  Marian, who did the tasting for us, was sociable and very knowledgeable about all the wines.  Her welcoming personality coupled with the homey appearance of the tasting room has a feel of going to visit friends. 
 Wintergreen’s tasting is free and we sampled eight wines.  The offered some older vintages because they are currently in the middle of a bottling period and some of the noteworthy wines are being replenished.  Of the eight wines, there were 2 whites (Black Rock Chardonnay ’09 and Viognier ’08), 4 reds (Cab Franc ’08, Cab Franc ’04, Merlot ’04, and a Three Ridges Red), and 2 fruit wines (Mill Hill Apple and Mill Hill Raspberry). 
Of the whites, the four of us in the car picked the Chardonnay as the favorite.    The tasting sheet mentions that the wine has notes of pear and apple with a little citrus.  I definitely got the tartness of the apples and the citrus gave the chardonnay a lot of brightness. 
Of the reds, my car chose the Three Ridge Red.  This wine has just recently been bottled and was chewy, bold, and with plum notes.  It was great to sip but would also be fantastic with a juicy steak.  The other car of our friends chose the Merlot as their favorite.  This was also a solid wine that had a nose that starts off sweet and then finishes smoky.  The palette of the wine mirrors that dynamic because it starts cherry and finishes smoky.
The fruit wines were also noteworthy.  Between the seven of us, we were fairly divided on which of the fruit wines we preferred.  Some liked the raspberry.  Wintergreen gives you some chocolate morsels to eat with the tasting and that influences the flavor, reminding me of eating a piece of raspberry-chocolate candy.  Without the chocolate, it was a little too sweet with not enough tartness.   I preferred the apple wine which was tart and sweet and really rang of apples.  After tasting it, I tried to talk Ellie, who is a wiz with an ice cream machine, into experimenting with an apple wine ice cream.  She liked the idea and thought about adding caramel.  I was in full support.
 Wintergreen Winery was a great start to the wine trip.  They have quite a range of tasting options so there is a wine for everyone.  The wines also are unique; the ’08 Cab Franc had lavender notes, which I’ve never experienced in a red.  The beauty of the setting and the welcoming feel of the staff and the tasting room go a long way to making you feel just as excited about the wine as they are.

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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Best Dang BBQ in Virginia

If you have driven Highway 81 from Staunton to Lexington, you may have noticed a large yellow sign boasting, “The Best Dang Barbeque in VA.”   I’ve seen the sign many times and been intrigued, but have never gone.  Last Sunday my boyfriend and I decided to go to Hull’s Drive-In and wanted to pick up something for a picnic.  We had intended on a place in Staunton, but on finding it closed I asked Dennis how adventurous he was feeling.  When he was intrigued, I suggested we go on a Down Home Foodie quest. 

Smiley’s Fuel City and Barbeque is located in Raphine off I-81 exit #205.  Tucked in the back corner of the store is the window for BBQ.  They offer pulled pork plates and sandwiches, brisket plates and sandwiches, wraps, sides, and other usual convenient store fast-fare.  Dennis ordered the brisket sandwich and I got a sandwich with pulled pork that was North Carolina style (Smiley’s also gives a “Texas” option).  For sides, we got coleslaw and sweet potato fries.   Sandwiches, sides, and two drinks all came to around $15. 

We took are BBQ to the drive-in, but upon realizing they didn’t start letting people in till an hour later, we drove around and found a bank with a nice bit of grass.  I had expected the pulled pork to have sauce on it because most bbq sandwiches in the area are covered in sauce.  Although initially disappointed, this was a great way of trying it for the first time because you really get a sense of what the meat tastes like.  Although I do love bbq sauce, that can hide a lot of sins and it is with a lot of faith in your product when you let the meat speak for itself.   Smiley’s faith in its product is well earned.  Both the brisket and pulled-pork was moist and juicy with a great smoky flavor. 

The sides were also pretty fantastic.  The coleslaw is not for amateurs.   It is pretty much just cabbage, a hint of onion, and a tangy sweet dressing.  I usually end up trying my best to bring a lot into my coleslaw, but Smiley’s just let the coleslaw rely only on the cabbage while having a dressing that was neither too sweet, too vinegary, or had too much mayonnaise.  The simplicity and purity of the flavors stand out in a way that some might find too much, but I was a huge fan.  The sweet potato fries were crispy and had good sweet potato flavor with a savory quality. 
If I had been sitting in Smiley’s eating my meal, I might have said it was darn good.  But, sitting on the bank lawn with a wonderful man, the satellite radio playing classic rock, the effect of the golden hour of sunset on the green horizon, and the soft glow of the Dollar Store sign, the romance of the moment swayed my opinion.  I’d say it just might be up there with the best dang barbeques in Virginia. 
Smiley's Fuel City on Urbanspoon
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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Loaded Baked Potato Salad

Garrison Keillor has a pretty funny rant about potato salads and the lost art of making it homemade. At the end, he has a great statement in to the honor of potato salads: “make a good potato salad, one with some crunch, maybe accompanied by a fried drumstick with crackly skin -- the humble potato and the stupid chicken, ennobled by diligent cooking -- and is this not the meaning of our beautiful country, to take what is common and enable it to become beautiful?” 

This is a recipe that I am hoping would make Keillor proud.  In the quest for a potato salad that stood out, I invented it as a somewhat decadent crowd pleasing side.  I tend to do a little prep cheating by using the salad bar for the broccoli, green olives, cauliflower, celery, and cheeses.  It is much easier than doing all the chopping yourself plus you can get more suitable portions than getting a whole cauliflower and only using a fourth of it.  You may need to cut things up a little smaller, but it depends on how chunky you want the potato salad and how much time you have. 

Salad Ingredients:
2 lbs. potatoes, cubed but with skin left on
1 tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. Cumin
1 tsp. Chili powder
1 tsp. garlic salt with parsley
¼  tsp pepper
½ cup brocolli, chopped
½ cup cauliflower, chopped
½ cup celery,. chopped
2/3 cup cheddar, shredded (but not finely)
¼ cup feta
¼ cup parmesan 
½ cup bacon (this would be about 5 strips or so)
¼ cup green olives, sliced

Dressing Ingredients
1 cup sour cream or greek yogurt
¼ cup ranch dressing  
1-2 tbls horseradish (more if you like)
¼ cup olive oil (or bacon fat)
½ cup apple cider or rice wine vinegar
¼ cup dried leak flakes (that you can rehydrate in the vinegar, of just substitute ¼ cup onion of your choice)
1 small jar pimentos with liquid
Salt and pepper to taste

1.   Preheat oven to 425°F.  In a roasting pan, sprinkle the potatoes with a little olive oil, cumin, chili powder, garlic and salt.  Roast at 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  When potatoes are fork done, set aside to cool.  *Recommended doing a day in advance so they can cool in the fridge. 
2.   In a bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients.  Then, add the cauliflower, broccoli, celery, cheeses, bacon, olives, and potatoes.  Mix together and store in frig till the picnic. 

 Potato salad 

 photo bfdac910-178a-4ee2-a5fd-c9a902184f1f_zpsc381b36d.jpg
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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

BBQ/Picnic Sides Tip #4: Try a Little Pizzazz

There are lots of ways of giving a little something surprising to bbq/picnic salads.  These are my three favorites. . . .
  • Alcohol--My brother did this for his coleslaw once and now I don't make coleslaw without it.  Cook the onions and then when the onions are almost done, add about a scant fourth of a cup of white tequila. Let the alcohol cook off and then mix it into the coleslaw dressing once it has cooled.  I also add a small splash of tequila to the coleslaw and add substitute lime for lemon juice for a better flavor pairing. When using alcohol the main two things to remember are to cook off the alcohol so it isn't too strong and adjust other acids in the dressing.
  • Horseradish—I love adding horseradish to macaroni, coleslaw, and potato salads.  Especially potato salad.  The biggest tip with it, a little goes a really long way.  With horseradish you want the heat and the hint, but not enough that you clearing out your guest's sinuses
  • Caramelized onion puree—For this you just caramelize some onions and puree it in the blender with your other dressing ingredients.  This works well with macaroni salad. 
Hope these hints inspire you to rethink picnic salads.  Stay tuned for tomorrow for my favorite potato salad recipe to get you started. 
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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

BBQ/Picnic Sides Tip #3: Find the Umami

There has been a lot of emphasis lately on bringing savoriness, or umami, to a dish.  However, by its very nature, umami is often associated with meatiness and so seems a challenge to bring to picnic salads.  I've played around with a couple of things and have had luck with these two additions. 
  • Anchovies: Although you could just throw anchovies in, I like to hide them a little by breaking them down over heat.  To do this, you sauté onions with anchovy fillets, let that cool, and then add that to whatever dressing I'm using.  This worked best with macaroni salad where I added this anchovy mixture to oil, vinegar, mustard, and yogurt.  Don't use too many anchovies (two is a good number), because you may end up with fishy macaroni salad.  But, a little anchovy goes a long way to providing salt and meatiness.
  • Parmesan Rinds: The second tip is something I do mainly with macaroni salad, but it could work with any side that involves boiling in water.  What I do is cook my macaroni in a parmesan broth.  This sounds complicated, but isn't.  Most grocery stores that grate their own parmesan are stuck with the rinds that are often thrown away.  I just ask that a couple be set aside, take them home, and I leave them in a bag in the freezer.  Then, when I go to boil macaroni, I put one of the rinds and some salt in the water, bring it to a boil, and then let it simmer for about 45 minutes.  Then, I take a sieve and get out the rind and the bigger chunks of cheese and boil the macaroni in that water.  It gives the macaroni a really toothsome and savory quality that is a great flavor base for the macaroni salad. 
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Monday, April 18, 2011

BBQ/Picnic Side Tip #2: Get Rid of Mayo

Mayonnaise wasn’t a big deal in my family and so was never something I sought out that much.  Because of that, mayo often turned me off of some people’s picnic side dishes.  With my dad being a minister, pot luck Sundays were a big part of my life and so I have had many encounters of mayonnaise and cream of soup concoctions gone wrong.  Although I never saw this urban legend first hand, I remember my mom telling me a horror story of a woman who put mayo in her jell-o salads.   

Although mayonnaise has gone through some great incarnations by embracing horseradish, wasabi, red peppers, olive oil etc, there are more people than just me who don't find big globs of mayonnaise appealing.  The first time I made coleslaw and potato salad, one of the repeated compliments I got was how much people liked that they couldn’t really tell I used mayonnaise.    

Although I originally just halved the mayo, I’ve pretty much gotten rid of it completely in my potato and macaroni salad as well as my coleslaw.  The other plus of getting rid of mayo is you get more complex flavors that are fresher and tastier, and, in some cases, even cut down on fat. 

So instead of mayo, consider any of the following . . . 
  1. Greek yogurt = This substitute is thick and tangy and is fat free.  Greek yogurt is the one I use most often because I really love the effect it has.  It is adaptable to potato and macaroni salad as well as coleslaw because it gives an extra subtle flavor.  It is also a great flavor bridge in that the tanginess helps link creamy to vinegar or whatever acid you choose.  
  2. Plain yogurt = This has all the tanginess, but isn’t as thick as Greek yogurt and so works better for things like coleslaw and chest box cucumbers that have runnier sauces.    
  3. Sour cream = Gives body as well as being rich and tangy.  Sour cream does up the fat content, but it gives even more savor than the yogurts while also adding richness.  
  4. Cream cheese = Cream cheese works with half cream cheese and half mayo.  The cream cheese comes in so many interesting flavors, like herb, vegetable, fish, and garlic, so it can substitute smoothness while also giving extra flavor nuances. 

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

BBQ/Picnic Sides Tip #1: Honor the Classics

Over the next week, what you are going to notice is that all of my tips are about taking the components of coleslaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad, and just “upping the ante” or providing a slight modification.  This is because what I have learned is that ultimately every picnic side is someone's favorite.  They came to your bbq looking forward to it and are going to be a little sad when it is there in an unrecognizable form

The time I really learned my lesson in terms of trying too hard at revamping a classic was an experiment with replacing potato salad with sweet potato salad.  I made what I thought was a great sweet potato salad, a savory/sweet play on the classic vinegar based potato salad.  It pretty much tanked.  Although a thoughtful combination of sweet potatoes, apples, celery, peas, and an apple cider/apple juice/balsamic dressing, I didn’t get nearly the compliments that I normally do.  Although sweet potatoes are trendy in foodie circles, that doesn’t mean that someone hoping for potato salad is going to be particularly thrilled with its oranger, healthier, cousin.  

However, honoring the classics doesn’t mean that you have to follow the rules completely--the classics aren’t perfect.  Also, as someone once said, “The discovery of a new dish does more for the happiness of mankind than the discovery of a new star.”  If you can present a potato salad that no one has ever tasted the like of, you will have one memorable foodie accomplishment. 

So, when making your mark on coleslaw, potato, and macaroni salad, think “reinvent,” “update,” and “tweak,” but avoid “metamorphosis,” “overhaul,” and “transformation.”  If you ever start getting too crazy just imagine yourself having to single-handedly eat sweet potato salad made for a crowd.     
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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Barbeque Week with Down Home Foodie

Last Sunday my boyfriend and I celebrated the recent warm front with the first barbeque of the season.  His apartment has a great balcony and we got in the habit last summer of having people over on a regular basis to eat, drink, and grill.  These are great social times because everyone usually brings some contribution, whether it be food or stories.  One barbeque a friend brought beer can chicken, which I had never had before.  Another time, my friend Erin made this amazing marinade that made anything it touched a million times better by just enhancing the natural flavors of the meat or vegetable it soaked in.  This Sunday, my friend Ellie brought an incredible homemade ice-cream made from ricotta, cardamom, and lemon and a bag of ginger snaps to eat with it.   

My boyfriend is a mean griller and likes experimenting with marinades and soaking methods.  The big hit from Sunday was that he soaked the brauts in beer overnight and then grilled them.  The brauts were juicy and smoky. He also made some amazing chicken legs that were marinated in buffalo sauce. You always have to bring a big appetite to our barbeques because you usually will end up with several different meat courses.  On Sunday, it was perch, chicken legs, brauts and Italian sausages, and then pork.

 Although I normally don’t hold to gender stereotyping, the quote “Men cook outside. Women make the three-bean salad,” is somewhat true in my relationship.  My contribution to the bbq event tends to be in the supporting cast role of sides and alcohol concoctions.  The tricky thing about bbq side dishes is that one of the odd things about being a foodie is a desperate need to make your mark on the old standards.  I'm fortunate in having an audience that allows me to experiment on them, and some experiments are better than others. 

Over the next week, I’m going to post one tip every day about insights I’ve had about reinventing picnic and bbq sides.  Then, on Thursday, I’ll give you my favorite bbq sidedish recipe, “Loaded Baked Potato Salad.” 
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The New Dining Hall Experience

For my restaurant review this week, I’m combining a review with a “food for thought.”  This entry came about when a comment on my “Food Porn” blog brought up how much he, too, has noticed the many ways food is taking over.  I was thinking about this over lunch on Wednesday when I realized that if you are looking for further evidence of the effect of foodism, you need not look further than my lunch. 

Yesterday, I had steamed Thai basil dumplings with sweet and spicy sauce and served with a sesame dressing salad.  I bought this from a place that also has four other kinds of dumplings and sauces, a Mongolian Grill, and a variety of handmade Sushi.  It is also a place where the tofu was provided fresh by a local farm.   
What fancy metropolitan place am I having lunch . . . a college campus in Harrisonburg, VA. 
Let this point sink in. . . I got an authentic Asian meal in a college dining hall.  Not a teriyaki termed concoction of dark brown and rice.  Not greasy Lo Mein.  Not a cornstarch thickened sweat and sour blob.  Dumplings.    

Display of other Asian dishes
offered by the dining hall. 

And no, these dumplings aren’t made, frozen, imported, and thawed.  These are made by four small Asian women who I can see manning the Mongolian grill, cooking the Pad Thai, sautéing fresh Bok Choy, and shaping each and every one of my dumplings.    Not only is it authentic looking in its preparation, these dumplings are good.  The wrapper is soft, the chicken is spicy and flavorful, and they are served warm and comforting. 
I’m not going to pretend like all the food at JMU is this impressive.  But, what I am going to say is that finding such food inclusion is something that is shaking up the formerly uncomplicated college dining hall.  Last year, I was at a school in Georgetown, Texas, in which you can get water to drink that is infused with either cucumbers or limes.  As a foodie, this intrigues me. 
I once read a really great articled called “From Spaghetti and Meatballs through Hawaiian Pizza to Sushi: the Changing Nature of Ethnicity in American Restaurants” by Liora Gvion and Naomi Trostler.  In the article, the women study menus from 1960’s through the 1990’s.  What they found is that you could trace growing acceptance of ethnic food by the changes in menus, and you could see when certain exotic foods and flavors became mainstream.  For instance, early menus show ethnic foods given American names or denatured of ethnicity with American style ingredients and preparation.  Over decades, menus eventually start to keep the original language/terminology of the dish and its exoticism becomes a selling point.  They also noticed that some menus that used to give an explanation of an ethnic food eventually dropped the explanation because that food had become so mainstream that is no longer needed an explanation.  The two authors even noticed changes in the 80s when herbs, like cilantro and basil, were added to descriptions as selling points. 
Gvion and Trostler’s article further supports my point that you can really see a change in how Americans (and the World for that matter), are seeking out new food.  People are no longer settling for straightforward cooking and upholding the classics, they want to see variation, options, choice, exoticism, and flavors.  I mean, if a dining hall can support local farms and offer homemade Asian dumplings, then that has got to say something about food culture.    
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Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turkey Risotto

Risotto is a labor of love.  There are recipes out there that say you don’t continually stir the risotto, but those recipes are lying.  But, as important as the stirring is to making it creamy, it seems that the real key to risotto is in the broth you use.  This recipe is great way to revisit Thanksgiving leftovers and works really well if you can use turkey broth made with the leftover carcass.  The broth I used for this batch came from the pan drippings of the roasted turkey. 

The turkey itself has a special story.  My brother, Kevin, works on Leaping Waters Farm and was given the turkey by the owner/farmer, Alec Bradford.   Leaping Waters Farm is in Alleghany Springs, VA, and is a 600-acre farm that is committed to raising high quality cattle, hogs, and turkeys.  So, this turkey was literally fresh off the farm.  That gives it a slightly gamier quality, which gives the risotto an extra nuance.   

4 cups broth
2 tablespoons lemon
1 bay leaf
1 tsp diced fresh rosemary
2 tbls olive oil
2 tbls butter
½ red onion, diced
½ cup of diced carrots
Pinch of salt and pepper
1 ½ cup Arborio rice
2/3 cup wine
1 cup diced turkey meat
½ cup parmesan cheese

1.   Put the broth, lemon juice, bay leaf, and rosemary in a saucepan and warm it on a back burner. 
2.   In a large shallow pan over medium heat, add oil and butter to pan.  When butter has melted and the oil is hot, add the onions and carrots and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Sweat the onions and carrots for 5 minutes.   
3.   Add the Arborio to the same pan as the carrots and stir until the grain is translucent, except for a white dot in the center (about 5 minutes).  Add the wine and stir until completely absorbed.
4.   Add a ladleful of stock, stirring continually.  Wait until the stock is completely absorbed before adding another ladleful.  Continue to keep adding broth a ladleful at a time, only adding more once the broth is absorbed.  It should take about 20 minutes to get the risotto tender. 
5.   When the risotto is soft and you have added all but the last ½ cup of broth, add the turkey.  Then add the last ½ cup of stock and ¼ cup of parmesan cheese.   
6.   Cover with a lid and let finish over a low heat for about 5 minutes. 

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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Food Porn

A couple of months ago, I watched the South Park episode, “Creme Fraiche.” In the episode, Stan’s dad, Randy, starts becoming aroused by watching FoodNetwork and ends up using cooking as a sexual outlet. Since I am a bit of a FoodNetwork and food-themed show addict myself, I thought the show was particularly funny and, sadly, spot-on. When nothing else is on, I turn to FoodNetwork. Pretty soon, I’m eye-glued, mouth agape, and rapt. Although it isn’t sexual, it has to be a similar part of the brain.

I read two articles about the relationship between food and sex in Psychology Today. The first article, “Are you a Gastrosexual?” by Susan Albers, reports that a study conducted by PurAsia found that people who cook are thought to be more attractive. The second article, “The Relationship between Sex and Food” by Maryanne Fischer, talked about the many ways food and sex are tied. For one, she looks at foods, like avocados, tomatoes, and cheddar cheese, which release chemicals that are similar to chemicals released during sex . The food with the highest concentration of these chemicals is chocolate, which causes the brain to release both PEA, creating euphoria, and Dopamine, a chemical attached to "high" moments, like during an orgasm.
So, next date night you might want to consider cheddar fondue with avocados and tomatoes for the main course followed by chocolate fondue for dessert.
An article written by Mary Eberstadt for the Hoover Institution simply asks, “Is Food the New Sex?" In famous food quotes, Gael Greene phrases this question with the statement, "great food is like great sex. The more you have, the more you want." Garrison Keillor answers Eberstadt's question in the affirmative by saying "sex is good, but not as good as fresh, sweet corn."
Not only is food related by both senses and through brain chemistry, food can even look sensual. I remember in a photography class in high school, the teacher showed us a series of natural studies pictures by Edward Weston who turned mushrooms, peppers, and flowers into erotic objects. My favorite photograph of his is "Pepper #30,” which turns a pepper into a couple embracing. With the right lighting and the right lens, androgynous and asexual vegetables became seductive, sensual forms. What amazed me is how easily a piece of food could become a nude model.
Lately, because of this blog, my life is full of food porn. Photography of food to accompany recipes is a staple of food blogs. There are even several sites just for food photography, or food porn. A new favorite website, FoodFrenzy, is dedicated to "beautiful displays of food." Currently, there is so much food photography on the internet, it makes me wonder if food porn is on its way to becoming second only to real porn in internet hits.

It does always impress me to see what amazing things happen to food because of a camera lens. There is such lushness, such colors. There are swirling patterns, perfect drops, and delightfully amorphous shapes. There is life in it. There is sensuality in it. There is beauty in it.
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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Kathy's Restaurant

When I can’t get mom’s pancakes, I go to a local Staunton place called Kathy’s.  Unknowing people will hit Mrs. Rowe’s, which has a little more notoriety and does feature some mean pumpkin pancakes.  But, truth be told, Kathy’s is a better choice and the one that the locals go to.  I lived in Staunton for two years before anyone introduced me to Kathy’s, and I have always regretted the two years of my life when I could have been having breakfast there and wasn’t. 
I am not able to speak with too much authority on their non-breakfast items.  My friend Caroline, who introduced me to Kathy’s, ordered the grilled cheese on multiple occasions, and it always showed up dripping and gooey with cheese.  In the only time I ordered dinner I got a hamburger, which was suitably juicy and tasty, and a slice of cake, that was straight-forward, old-fashioned, moist and frosted yellow cake goodness.
Given that Kathy’s serves breakfast all day and they do it so well, I haven’t felt the need to deter much from that.  On my less pancake driven moments, I have had the French toast, which is awesome.  I’ve also enjoyed their grits with cheese (a southern girl’s breakfast food staple) with scrambled eggs and sausage biscuits.  I like to put the grits and eggs on the sausage biscuit to form a breakfast trifecta. 
But, most importantly, they have lots of gastronomically satisfying pancakes.  There are the traditional (buttermilk and buckwheat), the fruit topped (strawberry, apple, and blueberry, on top and inside if you like), and the decadent (chocolate chip and various roll combinations).  Then, there are the pancakes that set them apart from other pancake joints, and these are the meat pancakes.   You can get your pancakes, or waffles for that matter, with ham or bacon inside.  I tried the bacon ones and they are something to write home about.  The catch is that the bacon doesn’t really integrate into the pancakes and does have the effect of two pieces of bacon hiding under pancakes. 

The holy grail of Kathy’s is one of the meat pancakes not on the menu.  These are the sausage pancakes.  In these, there are little pieces of broken up sausage in the pancakes.  These are far more successful than the bacon because you are more likely for every pieces of pancake to have a corresponding piece of sausage, and that makes me happy.  I joked at the table once that I wondered if they would do a chocolate chip and bacon pancake; but, the table laughed and told me that was gross. Now, those two flavors are part of a flavor craze.  I was just ahead of my time. 
Kathy’s advertises as the restaurant that specializes in home cooking.  Although they can’t replace my mom’s pancakes, the certainly make a good effort. 

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Some of my favorite memories of my mom is of making applesauce with her.  When I was studying abroad in England during my junior year, I even made a batch to remind myself of home.  I usually only make it in the Fall when apples are in season and I can go to Carter’s Mountain to get them fresh off the tree.  But, to continue off Sunday’s theme of pancakes, I went ahead and included a recipe for my favorite pancake accompaniment. 

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour and 15 minutes

7 large apples
1 1/2 cup water*
Sugar or honey to taste
½ tsp cinnamon (more to taste)
¼  tsp nutmeg
Pinch of salt

*I like to experiment with flavoring the water I use to boil the apples.  Sometimes that infusion entails just boiling water and letting a cinnamon stick or ginger root (or both) seep for 10 minutes or so.  When I was making this recent batch, I used one chamomile tea bag and a left over piece of ginger root.  One day, I have some apple infused bourbon that I might try. 

1.   Peel, core, and slice the apples.  I invested in an apple-peeler about a year ago and never looked back.  It peels, cores, and will cut every slice the same size.  Plus, it really cuts back on time.
2.   Place the apple slices in a 4-qt pot.  Then pour in about 1 ½ cups liquid.  Cover with a lid and cook over medium-high heat until the liquid starts to boil. 
3.   When the liquid starts to boil, stir the apples, moving the ones that have been cooking in the liquid to the top and allowing the ones on the top a chance to cook in the liquid. Cover the apples back up and reduce the heat to a low setting.  Cook for one hour.  Try to stir them every 10 minutes or so to get more even cooking. 
4.   At the hour mark, take the cover off the apples.  Break them up a little with a potato masher.  Cook an additional fifteen minutes without the lid to allow some of the liquid to cook off. 
5.   Once the apples are cooked, there are a couple options, use a hand-blender to breakdown the apples and smooth out the texture.    
6.   Add sugar (optional), cinnamon, and nutmeg.  Stir. 

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