Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Noodles with Pork, Green Onions, and Snow Peas

I wasn't feeling well yesterday and the weather was turning chilly again: I needed comfort food. In the morning, when Ann and I were discussing dinner—isn't that a primary topic of conversation for all couples?—she said, "It's getting cooler; let's have something wintery one more time before it gets hot." Both of us on the same page is always a good place to start. "Or let's go out!" Oops, maybe both of us not on the same page.

I just didn't feel up to going out and so I brought home a few things to make a bowl of noodles. Noodles and soup noodles are my go-tos when I am not feeling well. Here you see my mise for dinner: wheat noodles, green onions, doenjang, preserved vegetable, sambal oelek (the jar just barely in the photo), snowpeas, garlic, ginger, and ground pork. I didn't bring the snow peas home; they were a lucky find in the refrigerator. Doenjang is a Korean soybean paste. I like it better than most Chinese bean paste because it still has some whole or partial beans in it for texture. Preserved vegetable is a mustard green that has been cured in salt and chile. Sambal oelek is ground fresh red jalapeño chiles.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Hot Dogs and Garnacha?

Sunday, Kelley and Marco Due came out to the house first to give us some pointers on training Grace the Wonderbeast and then to visit Linden Vineyards. Many thanks to Mark for being the DD! This was Mark's first visit to Linden and Kelley's first since she came with us during our spring break two years ago. Ann and I were just there two weeks ago with Karen.

On the drive down, the red buds could not have been any more glorious! Entire sections of road were swathed in pink, just phenomenal! And the weather was nice enough, despite the brisk northerly breeze and the threatening rain, for us to sit outside to enjoy the spectacular view from the winery deck. With no windows between us and the outside world, we got an earful of cheerful spring bird songs, including a virtuoso serenade by a male bluebird.

Before heading outside, we did the obligatory tasting—Oh darn, another tasting? Twist my arm!—and this one yielded a couple of surprises for me. The 2009 Claret that was all angular and disjointed two weeks ago has really come around full circle and is drinking so well now. But there was something funky with the bottle of Vidal-Riesling: no nose and acid out of balance. It may just have been too cold because I tasted another sample from a bottle that was opened the day before and it was a lot warmer and a lot more open. So goes it. I am convinced that some bottles just develop differently no matter how careful you are.

After a plate of cheese and sausage, some bread, and a couple of bottles of 2008 Hardscrabble Red (I kept mumbling, "This wine is awesome!"), we headed back to Winchester and stopped by the restaurant for some provisions for dinner.

This is one time I wish I had a better camera with a faster lens. This is a great portrait of Kelley and Mark, but would have been better with a better lens. Oh well!

We started with a little guacamole from a bunch of avocados sitting on the counter trying to get overripe. It seemed like everyone pitched in bits of prep for the guacamole. You see it here with some tortilla chips that we had leftover from Saturday night dinner service at the restaurant.

And the main attraction! Some weeks ago, we were watching DDD on Food Network and just got a major hot dog jones going, seeing all the great dogs being served all over this country. So I asked my specialty supplier to see if he could locate some good dogs for us. And he did. We got a case of huge 4-ounce dogs from Berks of Reading, PA. The flavor of these dogs is just wow! I would have grilled them outside but it was dark and a bit rainy. Crisping them in a pan is not so bad either. The casing isn't the best, but without fail, everyone who tastes these dogs is just blown away by the flavor. And what wine to serve with a hot dog? Whatever you like! We opened a spicy Spanish garnacha that was just delicious with the dogs.

Ann wanted pasta so I grabbed some gemelli, goat cheese, roasted red pepper, and hard Spanish chorizo. I lightly caramelized some onions and slivered garlic, then added the chorizo, roasted red peppers and a touch each of basil and pimentón. Once the veg were good and cooked and the pasta was just al dente, it all went into a big bowl with 5 ounces of goat cheese and some salt and pepper. How simple and how fantastic!

Another great Sunday with friends!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Fish Tacos

I don't know why catfish gets a bad rap. It's inexpensive. It's very mild. It has enough fat that it is one of the more forgiving fish to cook. What's not to like? We used to serve a lot of it at the restaurant in fish tacos on our lunch menu. And here we reprise them for a quick Monday night dinner. Ann made the salsa. I marinated the catfish in lime zest, black pepper, ground cumin, cilantro, and minced garlic and then seared it on both sides.

Delicious, no? And definitely bound to be a part of our summer routine.

Monday, March 19, 2012

A Silver Oak Kind of Day

Sunday will go down as one of our best days ever. After Ann and I got into a scrap the evening before, Sunday unfolded as a fantastic day from the get-go. After a delicious breakfast, we headed south to Bentonville to spend time with Jen and Dewie and new (85-pound Dobie) puppy Austin at their beautiful house on a hill looking out on Signal Knob.

Ann and I were given our marching orders a couple of weeks back: Bring sparkling wine, we were told. And sparkling wine we did bring, a bottle of Bailly-Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne, a light and lemony sparkler that is very, very good, and a bottle of Roland Champion Champagne Chouilly Grand Cru, a golden blanc de blancs with a nose of yeast and mushrooms, more wine-like than Champagne-like. Our first order of business was to open the crémant, because to quote Dewi, "It would be rude to start with anything else!" This wine is light and beautiful and dances across the palate. I love it. And I love the Roland Champion as well—this particular wine is a recently disgorged blend of the 2005, 2006, and 2007 vintages. It's not the fresh, lightweight wine that the crémant is, but then grand cru wines are seldom lightweight.

Just look at this spread! Prosciutto from mutual friend Derek Luhowiak who along with his wife Amanda is now selling his wares at the Whole Ox inside the Marshall IGA, crackers, Marcona almonds, and a lovely burrata. Missing is a photo of Jen's crispy ciabatta.
And grapes, a Manchego cheese, a slab of Meadow Creek Dairy's Grayson—possibly my favorite cheese being made in the US now, and some killer salami from Derek, this one a really spicy pepperoni style. I loved this sausage.
Here's a close-up of the Grayson, a cheese that we serve at the restaurant when we can get our hands on it. It's a real stinker and super delicious. A customer once called it "the most disgusting thing ever," so you know it's not for everyone. Me, I can't get enough and Ann loves it as much or more than me. It is a very seasonal cheese and made in limited quantities, so it can be tough to find. I am hoping to get some for the restaurant in the near future.
Did somebody say burrata? I love burrata (even though it doesn't love me)! I can hardly wait until August when we will be making mozzarella and burrata daily at the restaurant!

And Jen's delicious shiitake tart, which I absolutely adore.

After we had our fill of these delectable goodies, we took advantage of the beautiful spring weather to sit out on the screened porch and admire the light green fuzz on the poplar trees and the fuchsia buds just popping out on the red buds. Dewi went back inside and returned with four mystery glasses of white wine for us to identify. The petrolly oxidized nose, the golden color, and the clear burst of Chardonnay acidity pretty well convinced me that this was a white Burgundy of about 8 to 10 years old. White Burgundy it was (Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne "Les Sétilles") but I was really wrong about the vintage. This was a 2009, that super hot year that cooked a lot of wine prematurely and one that we skipped at the restaurant. With its Meursault-like richness, the wine is drinking beautifully right now but it tastes like it has ten years on it. I would be drinking all my 2009s now if I had them.

Imagine seeing this tantalizing array of glasses and a couple of brown bagged bottles on your counter. One had a huge dark berry nose; the other was fairly closed, even after being open for hours and after decanting. One was deep purple, but showing the fading ring of lighter color around the edges that older wines take on. The other was brick red and clearly showing its age. One was clearly new world, California in style, with prominent black and blue fruit. The other seemed much more old world in style with less fruit, more acidity, and a streak of lean vegetal flavor that I associate with cold climate Cabernet Sauvignon (imagine Russian River Cabs from the 1980s) or some Virginia Cabernet Franc. The wine seemed fairly similar to some older (early 1980s) Bordeaux that I have tasted recently. Ann really liked the bright berry one.

Both wines were paired with the main course, an exemplary sirloin steak that Dewi grilled. The beef came from a farm in Middleburg and was as tender as it could be. To say that I rarely eat beef is a gross understatement—I pretty much never eat steak—so this was a special treat!
The sliced steak was served on a big bed of arugula, which worked really, really well with the vegetal flavors in the seemingly older wine, the one that I thought was a Bordeaux. We all loved the roasted onions that Jen served with the steak.

And after the grand unveiling, the wines turned out to be both Silver Oaks from 1996. The one that I thought was California was the Alexander Valley bottling and the one that I thought was Bordeaux was the Napa bottling. It is quite amazing the difference in these two wines! And that is why tasting blind is so fun. Thanks to Jen and Dewi for their incredible generosity in sharing these wines with us! And thanks for washing all those wine glasses!

And for dessert, Jen served these lovely dried figs with mascarpone, pistachios, and honey. What's not to love, especially when paired with a beautiful dessert wine? We had the 2007 Rappahannock Cellars Vidal. Although it tasted lovely and honeyed and was a great match, it had turned thin (lost its viscosity) and had turned a lovely shade of amber. I'm guessing that the cork was faulty, because I have seen Vidal last a lot longer and still maintain its color and vigor.
What an incredible meal and day from start to finish! We are blessed to have great friends! Truly blessed indeed.

Leftovers for Breakfast

Breakfast isn't a big deal with me; I don't generally get hungry until much later in the day and honestly, the idea of facing food soon after I get up is just not for me. I've seen people who could tuck into a huge meal—in fact, need to do so to get going—but I'm not one of them. So breakfast is a rarity at our house and usually happens late morning on Sundays when we don't have anything else planned. But after two consecutive Sundays of wining on an empty stomach, we were not going to repeat that!

Ann made a really great chicken dish with poblanos, salsa, lime, and cilantro in the crock pot on Saturday: the house smelled fabulous when I got home. And there were a lot of leftovers in the fridge, so when breakfast came around, I suggested scrambling some eggs and tucking them with some chicken into a breakfast wrap. Ann vetoed that: she wanted poached eggs.

Heading down to the kitchen, I didn't figure a poached egg was going to work too well inside a wrap but was about to do it anyway when I remembered that there we had some stale tortillas. With visions of huevos rancheros dancing in my head, I set about frying a couple of tortillas, poaching a couple of local chicken eggs, heating the leftover chicken, and getting some fresh chives and cilantro from the garden. It actually took less time to put this breakfast together from leftovers than it has taken to write about it.

¡Que delicioso!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Chinese Egg Noodles

Last night, we had no book at the restaurant and it being a gorgeous day, I said to hell with it and left Tony to handle the kitchen. The day had been crazy warm (over 80 degrees on March 14th) so we could eat outside for the first time in 2012. I figured with it being grilling weather, Wednesday—historically the slowest night of the week, and March (just before the dreaded Madness starts) that I could get home for an evening, and I was right.

I called Ann earlier in the evening to probe offhandedly what she might like for dinner, not letting on that I might be coming home later. In fact, I told her that coming home would be impossible. Devious me! I wanted to surprise her by showing up out of the blue and also making something for dinner that she really wanted.

All the dishes she mentioned were pastas and I knew we had a package of fresh Chinese egg noodles, thinner than but about the same width as taglierini or fettucine, in the fridge that we needed to use. I haven't had pasta—my favorite food—in months as I am slowly working off the winter gut. Actually, the gut didn't come from the winter but from the pasta orgy we had all last summer.

And so here you see our pasta made with all the bits laying around in our refrigerator: rendered pancetta, tomatoes, mashed avocado, thinly sliced garlic, green onion, toasted panko, and sautéed shrimp.

Good? Did I hear you ask if it were good? I made enough to feed four people and we sat on the patio whisking away the pesky fruit flies trying desperately to drown in our 2006 Linden Petit Verdot and we.....ate.....the.....entire.....bowl!

And what a great time it was too, sitting outside on the patio on March 14th, barefoot and wearing shorts and a t-shirt, eating pasta, drinking great wine, not being in my windowless restaurant kitchen, and having great conversation with my best friend!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tapas and Paella with Don and Terry

Wow! Wow! Wow!

That's all I have to say after visiting friends Donald and Terry on Sunday: "Wow!"

Ann and Donald with a bottle of Glen Manor Hodder Hill 2009, the wine that just won the Governor's Cup as the best wine in the state. Damn good it is too!

Carter and his mother in one of Carter's calmer moments, a rarity these days.

Check out the tapas spread the guys had awaiting us!

White bread cut-outs with olive oil, cheese, and smoked salt—addictive!

Asparagus frittata. It's pretty cool how the asparagus float in the eggs and separate themselves.

Dates stuffed with Manchego and walnuts.

Olives, walnuts in hickory salt, and Marcona almonds. The olives were my favorite. I can live on olives.

Mushrooms stuffed with corn, chorizo, and cream cheese. Yum!

We started our tapas with the 2009 Amalie Robert Pinot Meunier that I brought and what a neat wine this is! Intense fruit and excellent acidity in such a light-bodied wine. I am not sure that I could tell this from Pinot Noir if tasting blind. And then Terry surprised us by opening a bottle of 2010 Borsao Garnacha "Tres Picos." I know Borsao from the restaurant where we have carried their wines at times over the years. Still I was not prepared for this full-on modern-style prestige Garnacha with its huge fruit and lavish oak regimen. A fun wine for drinking with friends!

After many tapas, much wine, and a lot of catching up, we got around to dinner itself, starting with a fantastic salad of arugula, marinated melon, jamón serrano, and curls of Manchego.

The pièce de résistance was the paella and what cojones Terry has to attempt his first paella ever with a chef in the house! Here is the fabulous concoction both before and after cooking. It was notable for me because Terry used Valencia rice, which I have never had before. I make my paella at the restaurant from either Bomba or Arborio depending on what I have on hand. The tiny little Valencia grains were fantastic.

The guys would never let us leave without an overload of dessert, including a membrillo and pine nut tart, chocolate dipped apricots, strawberries, and grapes.

Just look at this tart! It was as delicious as it looks good.

Naturally, one must have a piece of chocolate for that last swallow of red wine.

And finally, I had to finish with this shot of the grapes just because I like it so much. I guess if you click the shutter long enough, you're bound to take a good photo every once in a while.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Shrimp and Quinoa Salad

Here's a simple 15-minute dish that we had on Monday night before I headed off to a trade show.

Shrimp, Quinoa, Avocado, and Meyer Lemon Salad

For two people, with a little leftover, you will need the following.

8 large shrimp (1/2 pound), peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ancho chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 poblano pepper, diced

1 cup white quinoa

1/2 avocado, diced
12 grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 bunch green onions, sliced
1/2 bunch cilantro, minced
juice of one Meyer lemon
salt and pepper to taste

1. Toss the shrimp with the garlic, chile powder, cumin, and oregano and let stand at room temperature while you prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Cook the quinoa in boiling water until done, about 10 minutes, and drain well.

3. Put the drained quinoa, avocado, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro in a bowl.

4. Heat a sauté pan over high heat and film with olive oil. Add the shrimp and poblanos and cook until the shrimp are just done.

5. Add the shrimp to the quinoa and add half the lemon juice. Toss well and taste for seasoning. Add more lemon juice as needed.

Linden Vineyards

Sunday was a pretty nice day; high 40s, mostly sunny, with a bit of a breeze. Not a bad day at all to head down to Linden to drink a bit of wine with our friend Karen. You can see from these photos that it is still late winter: nothing doing yet on the Chardonnay vines and the witch hazel wreath at the front door.

My partners in crime:

We did the obligatory tasting which was my first chance to taste the 2010 Seyval Blanc, which is a lot bigger, fatter, and more tropical than the 2009 that we're currently pouring at the restaurant. This is all due to the hot, hot 2010 summer. And it was also my first taste of the finished 2009 Claret; it seems a bit disjointed now and needs some age (which it will probably never get) to come together.

From there, we moved on to the library wine, always a highlight of our winter visits to Linden. They were pouring the 2004 Boisseau Red, a mostly Franc blend from Richard Boisseau's really warm west-facing site. It really was drinking superbly and a lot better than I imagined that hot site wine would be drinking at this point—I was really thinking it might be beyond prime, not so at all. And it has developed the most unusual cinnamon bun flavor right in the mid-palate, very cool.

After this, we had some sorely needed breakfast, whose detritus you see here, first with the 2008 Petit Verdot, which is simply wonderful with its dried blackberry leaf and big dense black fruit, and then with the 2008 Hardscrabble Red, which has more structure than the more opulent hot weather 2007.

And finally, the two of us, thanks to Karen, staring into the brutal late afternoon sun.

Feeling no pain, no pain at all!

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...