Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Myret: "What are you doing for Christmas Eve?"
Ed: "Eating caviar and drinking Champagne."
Myret: "What are you eating the caviar on?"
Ed: "A spoon."
Myret (spluttering in her Scottish way): "But, but...."
Ed: "It's called gluttony, my dear."

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cocktails, Anyone?

Kelley came over this weekend and what better opportunity to craft a new cocktail from the bottle of St. Germain that I just got? Over the last year, I've been reading a lot about St. Germain, an elderberry flower liqueur just launched in 2007.

I had no clue what elderberry flower liqueur might taste like. I was imagining something kind of floral and lilac-like, something that I might not like. Wow, was I wrong! This liqueur has a gorgeous perfume of passion fruit, pears, dried peaches, and dried apricots, but mainly of passion fruit.

I can see lots of dessert and sauce applications for this liqueur. How about a splash of it in a fruit salsa, or crème anglaise, or crème brûlée? But mostly I can see excellent cocktails and I devised one that is still unnamed.

1-1/2 parts vodka
1-1/2 parts St. Germain
1/4 part Campari
2 dashes orange bitters
1/2 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup
Float of prosecco

Rim a chilled martini glass with colored sugar (this cocktail is tart). Shake all ingredients except the prosecco and strain into the glass. Float prosecco on top. Cheers!

Finally, I was taking some bottle photos for the restaurant blog with one of my trusty assistants. Have you ever had just too much help with something? Here then is Martini in action.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Lobster Risotto

To celebrate my day off on Christmas Eve, we decided to splurge with a lobster risotto. I took advantage of the boiling water at work the day before to cook the lobsters so that all I had to focus on was making the stock on Christmas Eve. And stock is what lobster risotto is all about: all the flavor comes from the stock. This stock is made from lobster stock (yep, a double stock), lobster shells, carrots, celery root, tomato paste, garlic, leeks, fennel from our garden, and a shot of pastis. The stock cooked just about all day coming down from well over a gallon to about a quart.

And here is Ann stirring away after adding the butter (mantecare). No cheese in lobster risotto. Started with yellow onion and celery root in the pan, then the arborio, then Champagne, the lobster stock as necessary, then lobster and butter.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Ed's Style

Here is the latest Wednesday night dinner. I was in the mood for something light given that we are going to feast heavily the entire upcoming Christmas weekend and I just happened to have some Rockfish fresh in from Virginia waters. You can call it Striped Bass wherever you are, but here, we call it Rockfish. Always have, always will.

There is no better preparation for rockfish than Ed's Style, although there are fancier and more elaborate. It is so good that it is the only dish that I have ever put my name on, of the tens of thousands I have cooked in my career. When it goes on the menu at the restaurant, it just flies and with good reason. It is simply fantastic. And I cannot believe that this is the first time (this is our third Christmas together) that Ann has had Rockfish Ed's Style. Now that she has had my best, what will I cook for her?

Ed's Style is about a sauce—in fact, it evolved from a pasta sauce fifteen to twenty years ago, basically a dumbed down putanesca sauce. It still appears on the lunch menu daily in the guise of Ed's Pasta. The sauce's marriage with fish came early on in the history of the restaurant and it appears on the menu with some regularity, most usually corresponding to the various rockfish seasons. This dish tells you all you need to know about what I like to eat: simple, direct, bold food.

A basic sketch. In a roasting pan, caramelize some garlic to light brown in extra virgin olive oil with a generous pinch of pepperoncini (crushed red pepper flakes). Add white wine, diced (skinnned and seeded) tomatoes, artichoke hearts, capers with a little brine, a generous bit of basil chiffonade, and a touch of salt and pepper.

Place in a blazing oven and roast, stirring every so often, until the liquids are almost evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to caramelize. Top with the fish filets rubbed with extra virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, and salt. Back into the oven until the fish is just done.

In this version, I also threw some mussels onto the roasting pan and served the whole with a bit of sautéed spinach. Don't be afraid of garlic: I used a half a cup of minced garlic in this dish!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Steamed Yellowtail Snapper

I was [sent] on a mission to the international market on the way home yesterday, to get a fish to roast for dinner. You know, a nice Italian roast fish, the one stuffed with lemon and rosemary. And I happened upon a beautiful two-pound Yellowtail Snapper and that snapper just did not want to be roasted with lemon and rosemary. It was fairly screaming "Steam me!"

What is it with the market on Monday afternoons? I ran into fellow restaurateurs Tom and Joy Frerotte from Chop Stick Cafe and Frank d'Alessio from Winchester City Bagel. After chatting with them, I wandered out with banana leaves, lemongrass, and baby Shanghai bok choy as well as the fish.

The beast in question with all the aromatics: some very ratty cilantro from last week's cellophane noodle salad, lemongrass, ginger, and garlic.

Vertical slashes along the sides hold ginger and garlic slivers; the cavity is stuffed with cilantro stems (more flavorful than the leaves) and lemongrass. Lots of minced lemongrass, garlic, and ginger that will make a slurry with olive oil, salt, and pepper to rub over the sides of the fish.

Sushi rice on a banana leaf with more lemongrass stalks and the bouquet garni (mostly buried in the rice) of cilantro stems, ginger, and lemongrass that I cooked the rice with.

The before shot of the fish (tail removed) and bok choy piled around.

All wrapped up and ready for 40 minutes in a 425F oven. I prefer to use string rather than strips of banana leaf: string is much easier to tie. The packet does not have to be hermetically sealed; it just needs to contain enough moisture and steam to cook the fish. Small gaps here and there are OK. Note: you'll need more than one set of hands to tie the packet. Thanks, honey!

And the after shot. I just loved the rice all flavored with the aromatics and the juices from the fish.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Linden Vineyards

Yesterday, I had to deliver some cheesecakes to Linden Vineyards, so we made plans with Jen and Dewi to meet us there and taste some wine. Here you see my three co-conspirators.

Our first move was to taste the featured library wine, the 1998 Rush River Red. I wasn't aware that Jim had used grapes from the Rush River Vineyard in Washington, VA, until today, but then I really only started seriously drinking Linden wines in around 2000. This red is a blend of 69% Cabernet Sauvignon and 31% Cabernet Franc and to me, the Franc seemed to dominate both the nose and palate. The wine still has good color and good fruit, but seems to be going the way of a southern Rhône, soft and sippable, wanting to wrap itself around a nice oxtail braise.

I've got to say that Linden always has my kind of lunch to go with a glass of beautiful wine. Here you see a bit of a baguette, so crisp and crunchy, that is just the perfect foil for wine and cheese. This outstanding bread is from the same company in north Jersey (formerly in NYC) that supplies all our bread at the restaurant. Outstanding.

Here's a photo of our feast featuring Virginia cheeses and summer sausage. Many of these same vendors supply us at the restaurant and it was Jim Law that turned me on to most of them. It is always great to taste Pat Elliot's great sheep cheeses. I would love to serve them at the restaurant, but as she and I have discussed several times, the price is just too dear.
After a glass each of the Rush River Red and the 2007 Hardscrabble Red, it was off to the cellar for the comparative tasting. I love the cellar tasting at Linden and it is well worth the price. There is nothing like trying two wines side-by-side to see the effect of vintage, terroir, or oak regime.
We started by tasting two 2009 Chardonnays side by side, Boisseau and Hardscrabble. The Boisseau is from Richard Boisseau's vineyard in Front Royal, on the west-facing hillside above the flea market on 522. Hardscrabble is the estate property on which the winery is built and it is largely east-facing and much higher/cooler than the Boisseau property.

And this site difference is easy to discern. The Boisseau has bigger, much more tropical fruit and much less acidity. The 2009 Hardscrabble is what we are serving in the restaurant right now and so I am very familiar with it and its crisp acidity ("sappy green apple" to quote Jim). You can see from the prices in the photo above how Jim values these wines. I agree. The Boisseau wine is interesting technically in that it is a good demonstration of hot site chard, but it is not my cup of tea. [During the cellar tasting, Ann and I met fellow blogger Jane from The Borrowed Abode; to the left in the picture.]

Next came two of my favorite reds right now. I've had both of these wines within the last two weeks, so there was no surprise in this pairing of 2006 versus 2007 Avenius Red, both of which come from Shari Avenius' property just to the north of the Hardscrabble property. Her exposure is more northerly and the site a bit higher than Hardscrabble and the wines that come from her property appeal to me because you can taste the minerality coming from the shale on that site. Today, these largely Petit Verdot blends are no contest for each other. The 2006 is at peak form and I find it to be beautifully balanced. I'm thinking it will not get better from here, though it will likely remain in form for a few years to come. In tasting the 2007, which as any student of Virginia vintages will tell you was the hottest and most intense vintage ever here, I found it still to be very fruit forward. I'm thinking another five years in bottle will not hurt this wine and I'm excited to see how it evolves as the fruit starts to drop off.

The third pairing was of dessert wines, the 2003 versus 2006 Late Harvest Vidal. I have tasted a lot of each of these wines but never together before. The 2003, which if you're a student of vintages you will know was the worst ever until 2011, is in perfect condition with its apricot/peach/pineapple nose blooming all over the cellar. The 2006 by contrast is still very closed and much less tropical in nature. Both were paired with a gorgonzola, lavender, and thyme savory cheesecake made by yours truly. These cheesecakes were the reason we were at Linden today. Despite the random snowflakes, it was a wonderful day with great food, great wines, and great friends.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cookies and Things 2011

I am NOT a sweets person, but my son is. Therefore, every Christmas I bake a bunch of stuff per my sons' request. This year was a bit different as there were a lot more requests for candy type goodies. So yesterday, I spent 6 hours or so, rolling, sifting, baking, coating, tasting the following goodies. I am NOT a baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I do it once a year as my son loves it so. I will admit, I do get into a groove, particularly when my son is in the mood to help, as he was this year. After all, that's what it's all about really. Togetherness...happiness......laughter.....and...oh yea, sweet yumminess. So... I offer to you:


Pretzel Chocolate Mint Bites

Egg Nog Cookies

Oreo Truffles

Ohio Buckeyes

Chocolate Sambuca Cookies (OK, so that was my pick)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Vietnamese Caramel Red Drum on Cellophane Noodle Salad

I think with all the heavy comfort food we've been eating recently, we both wanted to go lighter for dinner. Ann had suggested a cellophane noodle salad on the weekend but we never got around to making it. Cross that with some fresh red drum that just came in and you've got a tasty light meal.

Somewhere along the line, I got it in my mind to braise the drum in caramel just like the catfish in a clay pot that you see in every Vietnamese restaurant of substance.

The salad is cellophane noodles with julienne of carrot, daikon, and cucumber, sliced green onions, and shredded Thai basil and cilantro leaves, dressed with lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and a touch of sambal oelek (crushed chile paste).

To braise the red drum, I first made a caramel of white sugar to which I added fish sauce, a lot of black pepper, and water. Then I added sliced shallots, sliced garlic, and the bulb ends of the green onion along with a little chiffonade of Thai basil. This I let cook down for about 10 minutes and then I added the red drum and slowly braised it, turning it once, for about 10 minutes. I removed the fish to the top of the salad, reduced the braising liquid to a syrupy sauce and poured it over.

Easy and tasty.

Monday, December 12, 2011


We don't eat a lot of meat at our house. This isn't some political statement or health statement. It's just that we love a lot of other things so much better than meat, such as pasta and beans. And mixing pasta and beans, wow! A great pot of pasta e fagioli approaches nirvana at our house. If you lump legumes (ceci or chickpeas, particularly) in with beans, you have about 60-70% percent of my diet. Ann and I, we would be at home in Tuscany with the mangiafagioli, the bean-eaters, as the Tuscans name themselves.

It comes as no surprise that last night, we turned to comfort food in the form of beans, cannellini flavored with herbs from our garden, parsley, sage, and rosemary, along with copious amounts of garlic, and some pork sausage from our freezer. Beans do require meat and I was all set to add some pancetta to the sofrito for these beans, but we had sausage to use. Poor us!

Here is our bean stew just after mixing all the ingredients. Imagine this after having cooked for a half an hour, served with toasted focaccia.

A Good Sandwich is Hard to Find

Sundays are my only day off and our only day to lounge around together, and so it was yesterday. We were just starting to get going around 11 or 11:30 in the morning and trying to figure out what we were going to do. Ann said, "Let's work backwards. What's for dinner?" After a bit of discussion about comfort foods (it was 24 degrees outside), we settled on a batch of Tuscan white beans, cannellini beans and mirepoix flavored with sage and rosemary.

That settled, we both realized that without any breakfast on board, we were starving. And starving is a good feeling for Ann who has been ill since Thanksgiving. Our fooding and drinking have been on hold since then. And since we had to go out to the restaurant to pick up some things for our beans for dinner, I thought we might grab a bite while we were out, always a challenge in this food-deprived town.

I wasn't really up for brunch or brunch food, but had a fleeting image of a really good sandwich running through my brain when I asked Ann what she wanted for lunch. "A sandwich. A really good sandwich." Great minds think alike! Already knowing the answer, I asked her (rhetorically because I wasn't expecting an answer), "Where are we going to get a good sandwich?"

Isn't it sad that in a county that has roughly 100,000 people, that there is not one good sandwich shop or a great deli? Napoli's (now closed) tried for a while and their sandwiches were pretty good, though the bread didn't hold up to the fillings. And César at Sweet Sunset Bakery (now also closed) made a great Cuban, but one sandwich does not a sandwich shop make. And The Launching Pad (also closed) did an OK job as well, but the ingredients were never top notch. So, there isn't any place you can go to get a great sandwich. And knowing that, we resigned to make our own.

I let Ann dictate the sandwich—I'll pretty much eat anything save for egg salad; not a fan for a lot of reasons, none of which need elaboration at this moment—and she chose prosciutto, roasted red pepper, and fresh mozzarella. So, off to the grocery store where we were able to score fresh mozz (not fresh like we make at home and at the restaurant during the summer, but not horrible either) and some capocollo/coppa, not a bad score for our local grocery store. And thence, by way of the Food Maxx international grocery store, to the restaurant where we were able to get some really good focaccia, prosciutto, and roasted piquillo peppers, perhaps the world's finest red peppers. From our fridge at home, we got some pesto and a casalingo salame. You see the makings below:

And what wine to choose? I had in mind a great Chianti from Castello dei Rampolla, but happened across a bottle of Linden Avenius Red 2007 in the upstairs cooler.

And here you see the finished product in all its glory.

While I was making the sandwiches, Ann was putting together a shopping list of ingredients for her holiday baking while enjoying the wine, our first since she became ill at Thanksgiving. It took a while to toast the bread all the way around and to melt the cheese on hers and to warm her sandwich once assembled. Me, I don't like my cold cut sandwich warmed; if they are cold cuts, why the hell should you warm them? ;) And I put thinly sliced raw onion on my sandwich because I love it. Ann, not today.

Call Me Surprised

I don't get out away from the restaurant much at all, so I mostly miss comings and goings here in lovely Winchester, VA. I do stay pretty much on top of restaurant openings and closings because, well, I am wired into that loop pretty tightly. But as for other businesses, I'm pretty much the last to know. Still, somehow I managed to hear recently that a new international grocery had opened. I don't remember how I heard—probably from my buddy Shiv who owns Sona Restaurant saying that he had bought karela at a store here in town—but somehow it got on my mental list of things to check out when I had a free moment.

That free moment came yesterday and the store was conveniently located between the grocery store and the restaurant, both stops that we had to make as well. I was prepared to find a small storefront tienda/bodega in the little strip mall where I was told to find the store. I was wholly unprepared to see a medium-sized grocery store emblazoned with a Food Maxx/International Foods/Supermercado sign with a lot of cars parked out front.

Inside, it looked like a traditional grocery store, but all the customers seemed to be Latino and there was no shortage of banda blaring on the speakers. But all the signage was in English. How bizarre! How bizarre!

Not only do they stock karela, they have both kinds, Chinese and Indian. Three kinds of loroco. Two kinds of whole mackerel. Gorgeous yellow-tail snappers. Live crabs. Frozen octopus. 7 or 8 kinds of fresh chorizos. All the frozen pig parts a chef could want. Trays of chicken hearts. Call me surprised!

The prices are better than anywhere else in town on meats, vegetables, and canned goods of the varieties that I might buy. They might be higher on national brand stuff; I don't know, I never buy it. And for things like the fish sauce that I buy from my wholesaler, the prices are lower than my wholesale cost. Bonus: they have my favorite Three Crabs brand of fish sauce. Yay! No more Squid brand for me or for the restaurant!

Above is my haul from yesterday, just a few things for the restaurant: Shanghai bok choy, smoked pork neck bones, salted mustard stems, and Chinese chives.

As I said, I'm a little slow on the uptake. The store has been open for three months so I'm a little behind the times. Details:

Food Maxx, 1107 Berryville Ave, Winchester, VA 22601, (540) 722-4604

Thursday, December 8, 2011

My Kind of Christmas Card

Yeah, Baby! My kind of Christmas card! Look at these baby Berkies just waiting to become pork belly!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just a Wednesday Night Dinner

Wednesday evenings are one of the few nights Ed and I get to have dinner together. Sometimes I cook but most nights Ed does the cooking as it is a true labor of love for him, and who am I to complain. Tonight Ed whipped up a roasted pork tenderloin accompanied by roasted haricots verts and wedges of celery root. I had never had celery root until tonight and all I can say is that I have a new favorite vegetable. The flavor is that of a sweet celery and the texture like a potato. I am in heaven as I think of the many ways I can enjoy it - mashed, pureed or maybe even a soup. I am very excited for Ed's next trip to Freight Station Farmers Market so he can bring home some more of this ugly, uninteresting, knobbly root.

Linguini with Clam Sauce

It felt good to get back in the kitchen yesterday, if only for a few minutes to make a late afternoon lunch of linguini with white clam sauc...