Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Wine Tasting in NoVa: Virginia Wine Factory

On a trip to a vineyard a couple months ago, I picked up a Virginia Wine newsletter.  The cover story was on the opening of the Virginia Wine Factory in Brambelton, VA.  I did a scan over the article and then went to the website to check it out.  Although mostly intrigued by the name and the curiosity of what a “Virginia Wine” factory would include, the website further intrigued me with mentions of customizing tastings.  

Brambelton is not really in my neck of the woods, so it took me a while to follow-up.  I finally made it over in early November when visiting my best friend, Kathy, in Arlington.  After telling her about it, we decided to take the afternoon and travel over.

Though knowing is half the battle, I definitely could have saved myself a trip.  I don’t often write bad write-ups and this isn't a full compliant.  My thesis about Virginia Wine factory is that it is suffering an identity crisis.   
 As a wine and food bar . . .
  • The website mentions a great combination of foods and intriguing wine bar sides with a living room-like atmosphere.  Kathy and I had already eaten lunch, but I did overhear another patron asking about food.  The response was the only food available at that time was olive tapenade and one other side.  So, as a full-rounded wine bar and food experience, it fell a little short.  I'm sure this isn't always a problem, it just happenrf to be so on the afternoon I was there.    
 As a wine bar the offers tastings . . .   
  • The tasting costs $10 for four wines and you pick either four whites or four reds.  They are large tastes and end up being about one glass.  However, I’m used to getting to try 8-15 wines for $5, so this seemed a little steep.  Yes, things are more expensive in Northern Virginia, but even at NoVa wineries you get at least 8-10 for $10. 
  • When I first read Virginia Wine Factory's website, it mentioned customizing tastings to you.  That is evidently no longer true.  With Kathy, when I mentioned to the owner (who was doing our tasting) that Kathy likes sweet wines, she swapped one out and replaced it.  With me, she didn’t really ask about preference.  My misreading, I guess.  It is a shame, though, because that to me would be worth the trip.   
  • Although the previous two observations are really more my issue, what I find to be the most problematic about the tastings is that tastings are supposed to be educational.  At winery tastings, there is a sheet that lists each wine and provides a description to tell the taster something about the wine.  In a tasting at wine shops and stores, in the absence of a write-up, there is usually a lengthy verbal description of each wine before you taste it.   At the Virginia Wine Factory, each wine is poured in a glass, brought en-masse to the table, and that’s it.  No write-up.  No description.  No educational experience.  I even asked for information about the wines and the owner just replied in a sentence or so.  They like it to be a surprise. 
 As a Virginia wine bar. . . . 
  • For me, this is the biggest identify crisis issue.  The website reads, “The time has come to show the world exactly how good Virginia wines can be! A full international wine list is available, virtually all served by the glass.”  To me, this means that Virginia Wine Factory is dedicated to Virginia Wines.  If that is true, then why also have a full range of international?  If Virginia wines are so good, then isn't that all you need?
  •  Being the “Virginia Wine Factory” means a specialty in Virginia Wine.  This was particularly exciting for me because though I’ve gotten to sample lots of wine from Vineyards around me, there are a lot of Virginia’s wineries I haven’t tried.  In visiting Virginia Wine Factory, I was looking forward to a wine bar that would further my exposure to Virginia wines.  Yet, of the four reds I tasted, only one was a Virginia wine.  Of the four white’s Kathy tried, again only one.  In revisiting the website after my trip, I noticed that the rationale is that they want you to compare Virginia wines to international to see how good the Virginia is.  But 3 against 1? Can those odds really pan out?  I have had some great wines in Virginia, but of my tasting and Kathy's, the Virginia wine wasn't the winner. 
 Take these observations for what they are worth.  On the positives, the owners seemed friendly, the environment was attractive, and the potential is there.   For me, I can’t really say that it was worth the trip, but who am I to whine. 
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

Gobble! Gobble!

To say good-bye to Thanksgiving, here are pictures of some creative little turkeys my two cousins, Taylor and Zachary, made from cookies, candy corn, chocolate, and rice krispies treats.   

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Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving Leftovers

If you are looking for something to do with those turkey leftovers, check out this recipe for Turkey Risotto from my archives. 

Hope you had a great feast!!!!

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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Food and Happiness

In December 2010, Psychology Today posted “Top 10 Psychology Studies of 2010” written by Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson. The article describes psychology study findings that could improve your life: i.e. breaking bad habits, making things seem easier, time management, gaining willpower, etc. One of the tips, “how to be happier,” validated something I’ve always known. That being a foodie improves my life.

Beyond the usual reasons of eating better or being more mindful of the food I eat, the study, entitled “Money Giveth, Money Taketh Away,” said that the secret to being happier is learning to savor life. Halvorson phrases it that “Savoring is a way of increasing and prolonging our positive experiences.” When you eat a great meal, enjoy it. If you see a beautiful sunset, take a picture. Instead of waiting for great things to happen, you rejoice in what you have.

Savoring life is why being a foodie enriches my life. Even the word “savor” rings so strongly with the rhetoric of the foodie world. Being a foodie means rejoicing in a unique beer from a microbrewery, a new twist on a classic dish, and a vivid plate with texture and depth.

In this line of thought, even being a food blogger enhances and enlivens the every day. Having a food blog encourages me to take the time to write about the meals I’ve eaten, the dishes I’ve made, and relive those meal, turning each bite into each word and savoring the experience. To make my write-ups accurate, I have to eat slowly, thoughtfully, so I can take notes about what I taste, smell, experience. Plus, the blog creates an archive of meals worth reliving through the act of being read and re-read.

When you sit down to dinner this Thanksgiving, take the time to really savor it. It just might improve your life.
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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Height of Flavor Season

I look forward to October, November, and December as the yearly appearance of so many of my favorite seasonal dishes:  pumpkin spice soy milk, pumpkin spice lattes, peppermint lattes, gingerbread coffee creamer, mint chocolate everything.    

However, it feels like companies, when it comes to flavor creativity, shoot the wad this time of year.  For three months, the aisles are pouring with seasonal things.  The dairy section can’t contain all the coffee flavorings.  Starbucks menu can barely transition the overlap of pumpkin spice to eggnog latte to gingerbread.  Pumpkin loaves and bagels fight cranberry packed breads for space on the counters. 

And, oh yes, the eggnog.  If you can put eggnog in it, it will be there.

I even saw on Huffington Post that you can get seasonal flavored seltzer water in Eggnog, Candy Cane, Pumpkin Spice, and Granny Smith.  I’m sure there are great cocktails out there using such seltzer flavors, but does the world really need Pumpkin Spice flavored water?

If the stores aren’t bursting enough, the recipe machines are at their height.  Everyone is generating Thanksgiving and Christmas must have dishes.  Magazines and food sites are overflowing with pictures and ideas.  Everyone is rushing to get you ready for the season.     
Then, January will come.   On the arrival, it will be like the air goes out of the flavor production factory. We go back to the standards of hazelnuts and French vanillas.  Starbucks used to launch their Cinnamon Dolce Latte in January, but now those are year round.  Is there even a post-Christmas seasonal drink in Starbucks?
Although, in all fairness, the Fall is a great time for flavors.  Pumpkin and Fall squashes have so much adaptability.  Sweet, savory, spicy, filling, they do whatever you want them to.  Fall also lends itself to the warm spices of ginger, sage, cinnamon, thyme, rosemary--all such strong and familiar spices.    Then, there are the December seasonal favorites of peppermints and eggnong and gingerbread that are so completely tied to Christmas that it feels like heresy to have them any other time. 

I say enjoy it all while you can.  Get your fill of pumpkin and cranberries.  Relish the burst of cinnamon and rosemary and thyme.  Take in the creativity and nuances and variety. 
Because come January, you better have you tastebuds satiated.  When December ends, the weight loss begins, and the flavors sleep-off the three month bender until the next holiday.  

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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thanksgiving Zen

So it is the week of Thanksgiving, and foodie fear is probably mounting.  Today, Food Network is hosting a live special to help deal with last minute panic.  Blog sites are filled to the brim with recipes and advice.  To help you with this Thanksgiving performance jitters, I’d like to offer a different perspective. 

That of a Zen priest and chef. 

I recently watched a documentary, How To Cook Your Life, by Doris Dörrie.  As a documentary, I have mixed feelings; but, in terms of great advice for chefs, it was well worth the watch.  The documentary is a series of interviews and documentary surrounding Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown who wrote, The Tassajara Bread Book, Tassajara Recipe Book, and a couple others.  Brown was the chief chef, or tenzo, at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in San Francisco.  Now he does cooking classes that offer one part cooking, two part Zen teachings.   

Given how much stress Thanksgiving places on all the poor foodies and cooks attempting to take on the food event of the season, here are some quotes and paraphrases to help give some perspective: 
  1.  When cooking, be in the moment: When you are washing vegetables, wash the vegetables.  When you stir, just stir.  When you chop, chop.  Instead of thinking of everything and dividing your mind, embrace the task at hand. 
  2. “When you’re cooking, you’re not just cooking food, you’re also working on yourself, you’re working on other people.”
  3. This one is an excerpt from the chant the tenzo recites in the morning to remind him/her of the tasks of the day: “treat the food as though it were your eyesight . . . treat food as if it was that precious, as if it was your eyes. . . handle it carefully and sincerely.  . . don’t waste even a single grain of rice.”  The documentary and Brown argue that because food is such a commodity, it is no longer like eyesight, it is no longer precious.  So, when enjoying the meal you spent so much time making, really think about how cherished it is.    
  4. In discussing the types of mind, Brown discusses the stages of mind in relationship to cooking:  “When the cook is joyful then you know everyone relaxes. . . when the cook is anxious then people will get anxious . . .and the food will taste better when the cook is joyful.”
Brown leading a cooking class. 
Lastly, and the one that just might take the stress out of your day, is the understanding that blemishes are a form of sincerety.  Brown tells the story of trying to make biscuits in Tassajara.  He was experimenting with proportions and the biscuits never came out just right.  He finally asked “right compared to what?”  Brown was trying to model the biscuits of his childhood, which were done by Pillsbury.  Instead, he decided to “taste the  biscuit of today” and discovered how wonderful each batch in each day was.  So, if you are fretting about the turkey coming out right, the stuffing being moist enough, remember “Right compared to what?”  Eat the Thanksgiving meal of the day and know that all blemishes and imperfections are just a form of sincerity. 

I hope this helps give a new perspective on Thanksgiving that will help you enjoy the day, enjoy the meal, and enjoy all the food you make. 
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Friday, November 18, 2011

Food Photo Friday: Nov. 18th

For this Food Photo Friday, I'm featuring a picture from the blog Fannetastic Food, written by Anne P.  Anne is working to become a Registered Dietitian and created a blog that reminds readers that being a foodie can be healthy.  Sometimes, in watching things like Top Chef and seeing so much dolloping of butter, cream, etc, it seem like the life of a foodie is antithetical to a healthy lifestyle.  Anne's "fannetastic" recipes and colorful pictures do a lot to remind me that good for you and good tasting aren't necessarily mutually exclusive.

The picture I wanted to feature is one from her post called, "Friend Thanksgiving," a post about having a potluck with her graduate school friends.  Although there is a very tantalizing picture of roasting birds, the picture I chose features my favorite vegetable, Brussels sprouts.  What struck me about the picture, in addition to the rows of little green heads, was the use of focus and pattern.  In a lot of food photos, the pattern comes so much from the table and the fabrics brought in the table decoration.  In this picture, I liked how a sense of pattern and texture just comes from having so many little Brussels sprouts laid out on the pan.  Plus, the focus gives such a interesting sense of detail and scope to make those little vegetables with the bad reputation look a little more epic.
As always, if there is s a food photo you would like to nominate, leave a note in the comment section or send me an email (downhomefoodie@gmail.com) with a link.

Thanks to Anne for letting me feature her picture!
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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cooking Efficiency: Spaghetti Squash Two Ways

Since spaghetti squash was on sale, I picked one up for dinner.  Even though I got a smaller one, I cut it aside and designated it for dinner on two different nights. 
Spaghetti Squash Mediterranean Style
Spaghetti squash is easy to fix in the microwave.  Place cut side down in a microwaveable container with a little water, cover with saran wrap, and cook for 8-9 minutes.  Let it cool, then just take a fork and pull the squash into long, spaghetti strands.  Then, drain it on a paper towel.

The rest of the dish came from the salad bar and seafood department.  The grocery store steams shrimp at the store, so I got about a ½ pound on sale (it was steamed the day before and so needed to be sold soon).  I took off the shell and tails, then cut them in half.  Then, I took the feta, olives, parmesan cheese, and arugula I got from the salad bar and combined it with the shrimp and spaghetti squash.  Finished it with butter, olive oil, salt and pepper.    
Spaghetti Squash and Cheese Sauce
The problem of having to cook with a microwave instead of having a stove or burners is that it is hard to get that sense of gradual building of flavors.  To make up with that, I decided to make use of my coffee maker.

Because I just make tea in my coffee maker and clean it regularly, it doesn’t have that worrisome coffee build-up that could affect fixing other things in it.  Since I wanted to do a cheese sauce for my second spaghetti squash and so needed a gradual thickening action, I made the sauce in my coffee maker.    

To do that, turn on the coffee maker, put equal parts butter and flour in the coffee pot, place it on the burner.  Every couple minutes, stir the melted butter and flour.  Once you have a roux, add milk and a sprig of thyme.  Let the milk, thyme, and roux hangout on the coffee pot burner for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  After 10 minutes, add about a cup of cheddar cheese and return to the burner for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally.  
During that time, microwave some additional vegetables, add those to the spaghetti squash, and season with thyme, salt, and pepper.  Finally, pour the sauce over the squash and vegetables.  Popped it all in the microwave for a minute to come together, and voila!  

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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Cooking Efficiency

I love cooking shows, but when I watch them I am reminded how much easier it is too be a foodie in the cooking show world: people to help with clean-up, large budgets, and all the best equipment. For instance, I love Barefood Contessa, but watching that show usually makes me feel that being foodie is incompatible with cooking on a budget or in a less than fantastic kitchen. 

So, how do be a foodie when fancy equipment, a carefree grocery budget, and full kitchen go away?   Can you still be a foodie without a stainless steel stove, a pantry full of exciting ingredients, or the latest Le Creuset and Cuisinart? 

I sure hope so.  

Just for the semester, I am renting a backside extension of a house.  When the main part of the house was empty, I had access to the kitchen.  But, on Nov. 1st, the main house took on new tenants and so I now find myself kitchenless.  For the next month or so, this is my kitchen and pantry . . . . 

 my prep space . . . 
 my storage space . . . 
 and coffee area. 
If this has happened in September, I would have bought a two-burner hot plate and lived a fairly easy cooking life.   Since I only have to make it until Dec. 15th when I move out, spending thirty bucks on something I won’t need in the future seems a little gratuitous.   Also, since money is tight, eating out regularly or relying to heavily on TV dinners isn’t really feasible either. 

So, I’ve got to learn the fine art of cooking efficiency.  Over the next month, recipes started with "Cooking Efficiency" will be about fixing dinner with the aid of microwave, slow cooker, and coffee maker.  Any suggestions?  
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Monday, November 14, 2011

Recipe Featured on Pumpkin Blog Hop

A fellow blogger, Deelicious Sweets, has been doing a Pumpkin Blog Hop for the last couple of weeks.  In her blog hop, you enter a pumpkin recipe that you wish to share.  I submitted my Warm Pumpkin Pie Cocktail recipe last week and it was one of the six featured this week.  The Pumpkin Blog Hop is a great way of checking out interesting pumpkin recipes for Thanksgiving, so make sure to go by Deelicious Sweets and enter one of your pumpkin recipes.

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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: Cucumber and Apple Pickles

I love the carb, fat, butter, sugar fest that is Thanksgiving.  Sometimes, though, I wish I did have something to break-up the heaviness and brighten things up.  To help provide divergence from heavier dishes, I put together a combination that takes some of the flavors of Thanksgiving and turns them into a tangy “pickle.” 

½ fennel bulb, cut into slivers
1 apple, with skin and chopped into small cubes
½ English cucumber, with skin and chopped into thin half slices
¼ cup red onions
¼ cup mixed peppers
¼ cup celery
2 tablespoons fresh dill
1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp celery seeds
1 tablespoon salt
½ tsp pepper
2 cups fennel or chamomile tea
3 tablespoon honey
1 cup apple cider
1 cup rice wine vinegar

In the measuring cup where the tea is seeping, dissolve the honey.  Let cool.  
Place all the vegetables, dill, and apple in a large bowl.  Toss together.   Then, place in a sealable glass container.      
In the measuring cup, combined tea, vinegars, and spices.   Pour liquids in the glass container over the vegetable and apple.  Close and shake to mix everything together. 
Let sit in the refrigerator for a couple of days.
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Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thanksgiving Recipes: Sausage and Apple Wine Stuffing

Last time I was at Hill Top Berry Farm and Winery, I bought a bottle of their Mountain Apple Wine. Since I had so much fun playing around using beer to make seasonal scones, I decided to see what I could do with the Apple Wine.  After playing around with dessert ideas, I did a 180 and started thinking about how to use the wine to brighten a stuffing/dressing recipe.   Since so many stuffing recipes pair sausage and apples, I thought a Sausage and Apple Wine Stuffing would be a natural match. 
1 lb. ground sausage
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp red pepper flakes
1 small onion sliced into slivers
1 tsp. fennel seeds
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp. rosemary
2 tsp. sage (about four leaves)
8 cups sourdough bread, cut into small cubes
2 cups chicken broth
½ cup apple cider vinegar
1 cup apple wine
1 cup celery
½ cup dried cranberries
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled and chopped into small cubes
2/3 cups walnuts

  1. In a large ovenproof pan over medium-high heat, add sausage, salt, black pepper, and fennel seeds.  Cook till nice and brown.  Then, remove from heat and drain on a paper towel.
  2. Reduce heat to medium and then, in the same pan, cook the onions in the sausage grease.  If there is too much grease, then sop up with a towel—if not enough, then add a little olive oil.  Keep stirring the onions and continue to cook until caramelized, about 30 minutes or so.  When done, remove from heat.  
  3. In a bowl, throw in the bread crumbs, thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Then, add the broth, vinegar, and apple wine.  Stir till all the bread is moist. 
  4. In the bowl, add celery, cranberries, apples, walnuts to the moistened bread.  Then, add the drained sausage and caramelized onions.  Stir to incorporate. 
  5. Remove mixture to the original pan.  Place in a 350°F oven and cook for 1 hour.  Stuffing will be brown on top.  
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