Tuesday, June 26, 2012

A Lazy Sideways Sunday

As we were driving along back country roads on Sunday afternoon, it struck me what a wonderful day we were having. We had just left Chrysalis Vineyards and made our way back into Middleburg and had turned off on a side road looking for the Boxwood Winery. The GPS wasn't working and we found ourselves meandering about some beautiful farm country when it struck me: Ann had put the soundtrack of the movie Sideways in the CD player. How appropriate for a cruise through Virginia wine country on a spectacular day!

The day started early. Trying to beat the heat, I hit the back yard around 8am (thank you dogs for letting me sleep until then!) and put in 2-1/2 hours of gardening. Ann joined in a little while later. It's quite the chore trying to grow things in solid shale that was scraped bare by the contractor who then just threw sod on top of the shale. After getting a lot of work done, I sat in the shade and started putting together a plan for the remainder of that gorgeous day.

Ever since Boxwood announced a month ago that they would be opening to the public, we had wanted to get over there and see their state-of-the-art winery. So, that had me thinking in the direction of Middleburg. I thought we might go to the east side of Middleburg and visit Chrysalis, then start heading back towards Winchester and perhaps stop at Swedenburg and say hi to Marc before touring Boxwood. By then, we'd be good and hungry and could stop at Hunter's Head for a late lunch before heading to Berryville to pick Carter up from his father.

Breakfast of Champions: Pluots and Porchetta

The plan having come together, we hit the shower and then the restaurant to grab the camera and a quick bite to eat. No wine tasting on an empty stomach! We each grabbed a pluot and a slice of my porchetta, cured Berkshire pork loin stuffed with black garlic and fennel sausage that I made from the loin trimmings. Ann couldn't resist the temptation to snap a photo of me tasting tasty salted pig parts while wearing my shirt that says "tasty salted pig parts."

Tasty Salted Pig Parts Indeed!

Camera in hand and stomachs sated, we started off on the leisurely drive out route 50 through horse country to Middleburg and Chrysalis. I was surprised to see that there is a new vineyard going in just west of Chrysalis on the north side of the highway, a vineyard called Cana. Wineries seem to be popping up everywhere these days, a good sign for the industry even if it will be 5-7 years before this new winery comes on line with its own grapes.

Entry Portico at Chrysalis Vineyards

Outdoor Tasting; Norton Vines in Background

Tastings at Chrysalis are held outdoors in nice weather under canopies like the one above. We did the reserve tasting of 12 wines. We weren't wild about any of the reds, but of the reds, the Norton and the Norton reserve were the best of the bunch. I'm not crazy about the flavor or the abundant acidity of Norton; it's just not a grape that appeals to me. The other reds, such as Petit Verdot and Tannat, seem like they were abused during pressing: the tannins are way out of balance. Perhaps new winemaker Alan Kinne is turning things around: his whites seem much better than those of his predecessor (who is now at Swedenburg). Of the whites, the 2011 Albariño and 2011 Viognier are both pretty good. The Viognier in particular is much, much better than the overoaked and overwrought Viogniers that Chrysalis had been making previously.

From Chrysalis, we headed back to Middleburg and as you read already, starting poking about back roads looking for Boxwood. I decided not to stop at Swedenburg in part because three wineries is one too many in a day and I really wanted to see Boxwood. The first thing I noticed at Boxwood is how immaculate everything is, from the boxwoods outside the tasting room to the grounds and the gleaming stainless steel in the winery.

The Chai, from the Outside
Tastings are Outside at Boxwood in the Courtyard
We sat out in the courtyard where we were quickly joined by manager Amanda Galanis whom we haven't seen since the Linden barrel tasting back in April. We tasted the current roster of wines: rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant Boxwood, Cabernet Franc-dominant Topiary, and their blend of leftovers and declassified wines, Trellis. I had tasted all these wines about 6 weeks ago and they have all come around very nicely. I'd happily drink any of them.

Feeling No Pain!

Detritus from our Debauchery
We like the Cab Franc-Based Topiary
After we drank a bottle of Topiary and ate some cheese and salame, Amanda gave a quick tour of the facility. It is hard not to be impressed at this Rolls Royce of wineries and the hundreds of thousands of dollars of stainless steel.

From the Catwalk above the Fermenters
The Barrel Cave
Ann, Reflected on the Side of the Bottling Line
In the very dim light, I really couldn't shoot the barrel cave without a tripod. All the barrels are in a single layer in concentric circles around the center of the round room. Reluctantly leaving the delightfully cold winery and heading back out into the muggy June weather, we had to take our leave of Boxwood to keep on schedule to get Carter. Boxwood is definitely on our very short list of wineries whose wines are worthy of return visits.

I had worked up a pretty good hunger by the time we reached the Hunter's Head Tavern in Upperville. A pluot, a slice of porchetta, and a few nibbles of cheese and sausage do not fortify an Ed. I was ready for a burger and so was Ann. I have bought Ayrshire beef for the restaurant for a good while in the past and was always having to fight the Hunter's Head for the prime cuts, so I know how good their beef is.

Hunter's Head Tavern, Upperville
We Ate Inside; Too Muggy Outside
We ordered our burgers with Stilton at the bar along with a plate of delicious calamari that was delivered almost instantly. We were going to order wine, but the selection wasn't great and when in a pub, beer is the order of the day. I had a Bass Ale and Ann had a Lindeman's Pêche Lambic which I've never seen on tap before. There were a couple of let downs with our lunch. The lettuce (radichetta?) garnishing the calamari should have been thrown out days before. As for the burgers, Ann's first was ordered medium rare and was delivered well done. The server cheerfully and quickly replaced it though. My rare burger was great. But the Stilton on the burgers wasn't really Stilton; it was some very dry, crumbly white paste inexpensive blue. Real Stilton is soft and moist and noticeably golden with an inimitable flavor. If you say you are going to put Stilton on your burger, by God, you ought to put Stilton on it. Still, the burgers were really good and we're happy we stopped.

Leaning Against the Phone Booth
We wrapped up our little tour by driving back through Millwood and Boyce on our way to Berryville to get Carter. What a great day for a drive, a little Virginia wine, and a burger!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Pasta Carbonara

Monday late afternoon was overcast and really pretty cool, a great day to be out in the back yard watching the birds and seeing the sights, while drinking a glass of Albariño.

First Trumpet Vine of the Year
Brown Dog is just back from a big explore
My very first batch of pancetta (pancetta tesa, flat pancetta) was ready to sample and what better way to showcase pancetta than in pasta carbonara? I know it is traditionally made with spaghetti, but can I just say that spaghetti is not my favorite cut? I like a pasta with more bite and the linguine that you see below and all over the floor when it escaped from Ann is about as thin a cut as I like.
World's Simplest Pasta: eggs, cheese, pancetta
What to drink with carbonara? I would drink Brunello if I could afford it, but I cannot, so the next best thing is Rosso di Montalcino, baby Brunello.
52 card pickup?

Linguine alla Carbonara
And the verdict on my pancetta? The best I've ever eaten and it cost me less than half the price of buying it already made. I don't think I'll ever be going back to commercial pancetta.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bistecca alla Fiorentina

Many weeks ago Ann said that she would like to have her parents and some friends over for Father's Day and would like to do a big porterhouse on the grill and serve it sliced over a bed of arugula with shaved parmigiano reggiano. What she was really saying is that she wanted me to get the steak and grill it! On Father's Day, she wanted me to cook, of all things! ;) No matter! I love to cook and I really get to do so very little of it at work that I don't mind cooking on my days off.

Ann's parents Bob and Mary joined us along with Jen and Dewi and Donald and Terry. Jen spent the morning baking and brought another of her infamous shiitake and fingerling tarts along with cheese- and herb-filled puffs and puff pastries layered with mustard.

Shiitake and Fingerling Tart from Jen
Herb- and Cheese-Filled Puffs; Puff Pastry
With the appetizers we started with Prosecco and then moved to the bottle of Philippe Portier Quincy that Dewi brought. I have had more Pouilly-Fumé and Sancerre than Quincy in my life, so I was expecting a dry and crisp wine and not the big rich super-ripe Sauvignon blanc with a hint of residual. It reminded me much of Jean Thévenet's Mâcon-Clessé inasmuch as it stands so far out from its peers.



Donald Brought us Flowers from his Garden
What to serve with beef? Potatoes of course! And it is prime potato season right now in Virginia. These beautiful baby red potatoes were just dug and are at their peak of flavor. While I was grilling the beef, Donald and Ann tended the potatoes. There is no better dish in this world than a dish of new potatoes, simply boiled, and then mixed with butter, salt, pepper, and lots of fresh Italian parsley. That we used truffle salt on the potatoes just did not suck!
The First New Potatoes of the Year

Boiled, with Butter, Parsley, and Truffle Salt
Way back in May, I started talking with Keith Marx at North American about custom cutting me a couple of gigantic porterhouses from his grass-fed Angus beef. They arrived about the first of June and have been dry aging on this rack in the cooler ever since. You can see that I lost a little weight by dry aging the steaks, but that only concentrates the flavor. But Holy Steak, Batman! These Fiorentinas are 4" thick! I don't eat much beef, but when I do, let it be said that I don't screw around!

Awesomeness! Dry Aged Grass Fed Porterhouses (yep, that's 4"/10cm thick)

Liberally Rubbed with Olive Oil, Salt, and Cracked Pepper

Charred on one Side
I only lit the two right burners of the four burners on the grill and let the grates get hot for 30 minutes before putting the steaks on. I gave the steaks two turns of about five minutes each before flipping them and giving them another two turns of about 10 minutes total. At this point, I moved them off the direct flame and onto the two unlit burners on the left side of the grill and let them bake for a few minutes longer, checking the temperature with a thermometer every couple of minutes. I pulled one steak at 110F (rare) in the center and the other at 120F (medium rare). After this, they sat for 30 minutes on the cutting board before slicing.
Resting for 30 Minutes

Top Loins on Left; Tenderloins on the Right

Sliced, on a Bed of Arugula with Tomatoes and Shaved Parmigiano
For dessert, Ann made great use of a loaf of focaccia and our local berries (strawberries, red raspberries, black raspberries, and blueberries in a dessert that she calls a Summer Pudding, like a trifle without the cream. Most delicious and not too shabby with a glass of '77 Warre's Port.
Ann's Summer Pudding
The Label Says it All
My photography was really off this weekend. Almost none of the candids I snapped were worth a darn. I can understand that towards the end of an evening, the photo quality might go to hell, but the candids were the first things I shot. Go figure.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pad Thai

Pad Thai
Yesterday was one of those rare days when I just didn't have any idea about what I wanted for dinner. It happens from time to time. Ann and I talked in the morning and she didn't have a lot of input other than she wanted something Asian, something light and refreshing. This didn't spark anything for me until late in the afternoon when I got to thinking that it has been years since I had Pad Thai. While I was writing out a list of ingredients that I'd need to make sure we had on hand, Ann texted me out of the blue, "Carter says he loves Pad Thai." That's kind of freaky coincidental!

It's been years since I had Pad Thai because it's been years since I found a restaurant that actually made good Pad Thai. All the ones in this area serve a dumbed down Americanized Pad Thai. Pity. I love the interplay of tamarind, palm sugar, lime juice, and fish sauce that gives Pad Thai it's wonderful flavor, the flavor that is missing in many restaurant versions of the dish.

Mise en Place for Pad Thai
In the photo above, you see most of the ingredients for our dinner. From the little crock of tamarind pulp in the upper left, you see a hunk of palm sugar, garlic chives, a shallot and a lime, bean sprouts, preserved vegetable, firm tofu, peanuts, shrimp, and rice stick. Missing are the egg, fish sauce, white pepper, and sriracha.

The rice noodles need to be soaked, but not all that long. Start them soaking before prepping the rest of the ingredients and you will be fine. I buy tamarind pulp in blocks, then rip off a chunk, soak it in warm water, and then work it well with my hands to separate the pulp from the seeds. I strain the pulp to make sure I have got all the seeds out.

I like to make my sauce separately from my noodles, because palm sugar is nearly rock hard and in the time that it takes to dissolve into the sauce, the noodles would be overcooked. I melt about equal quantities of tamarind pulp and palm sugar together and then add a little sriracha for heat. Traditionally, ground red pepper is used but I find that the liquid sriracha mixes into the sauce better. I adjust the sweet-sour balance according to my taste and then add a little fish sauce to get the salty component to my liking.

Then it is just a matter of stir-frying from here. First go in the ingredients that you want to really sear or caramelize such as the peanuts and shallots and then each item in its turn according to cooking time, save for the soaked noodles which go in next to last. Last in the pan are some of the sauce and an egg that gets scrambled in as I sprinkle in a bit more fish sauce and white pepper. Done.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Hamburger!

Sometimes when the weather is right and that grill gets calling, you just have to have a burger. Last night was such a night for us to sit out on the patio and devour burgers.

Ann's Burger in Progress

Mmm!
Can you tell anything about a person by his burger condiments?

Ann: mayo, arugula, red onion, tomato, cheese, bacon, pickles, and potato chips.
Ed: Dijon mustard, lettuce, red onion, cheese, bacon, and pickles.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Pizza Party

There is not much better casual food than grilled pizzas. All the work (thanks to Ann for doing all the prep work for this party while I was off at a graduation party for my daughter) can be done in advance so that all you need to do is grill pizza dough and let people top their own. Ann made and balled all the dough from the no-knead recipe that we use at the restaurant. It makes a fabulous crust. Tip for anyone reading this who has never grilled pizza: grill the dough on both sides to firm it up, then remove it from the grill and top it, and then return it to warm everything up.

Antipasto
For appetizers for a crowd, a big antipasto platter is about as easy as it comes. We've got five or six kinds of sausage including a couple of kinds of sopressata, hard Spanish chorizo, and hot calabrese from our friends at Olli Salumeria down in Richmond. Four kinds of cheese, grapes, and tomatoes round out the platter. Behind it you see marinated bocconcini of mozzarella, mixed olives, and artichokes marinated in olive oil, white balsamic vinegar, garlic, and basil from the garden.

We started with sparkling wine with our antipasti: Prosecco, Crémant de Bourgogne, and a 2008 vintage blanc de blancs from Thibaut-Janisson down in Charlottesville.

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce, Pesto, Spicy Sausage, Goat Cheese, and Basil
We ate so many mini pizzas that I lost track. For toppings, we had pesto, a roasted red pepper sauce, hot and mild Italian sausage, fresh mozzarella, pecorino romano, local goat cheese, caramelized onions, local shiitake mushrooms, fresh tomatoes, olives, fresh arugula, and fresh basil from the garden.

Chocolate Chianti Cupcakes

Ann made these cute little chocolate and red wine cupcakes for dessert. And speaking of Chianti, we put away a few bottles with our pizza!
Dewie and Pepper
Jen and Pepper

Shawn and Ann

Shawn and Billy

Kelly

Marco Due

Baby Robin
The whole while we were out on the patio, the parent robins kept up a constant airlift of bugs and native honeysuckle berries to the (at least two) babies in the nest in the wisteria on the pergola.
It's not a party until someone is wearing a bra on his ear!

How did the brown dog score pizza?

The beautiful sunflowers Shawn brought us.