Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pigs and Oysters

Jeff and Kelly put on a terrific to-do at the winery on Monday for friends and family and we could not have asked for better weather. I don't think anybody expected such a gorgeous day, especially post-Thanksgiving, but who could have asked for a better day than we had? Kelly roasted a couple of very delicious pork shoulders, made butternut squash soup, a tremendous kale salad, and a bunch of other things as well. I brought a couple of boxes of oysters. Everybody brought wine.

Strong Sun, Blue Skies: Perfect Weather for a Party
Skyline Drive above Jeff White and Tony Wolf

We Started with White Wines with the Oysters

Engrossed in Conversation

Battle of the Oysters: Virginia

Battle of the Oysters: Prince Edward Island
I brought one box each of local oysters and cold water oysters from Prince Edward Island so we could taste the local Sewansecotts against the PEI Salt Grasses. I just love oysters from the Chesapeake because they are super briny. But I have to admit that the shells are extremely fragile and that makes them very hard to shuck cleanly. I also love the lovely cupped oysters from PEI with their clean mellow flavor. Although I have a decided preference for a saltier oyster like a Chincoteague or a Sewansecott, others prefered the sweeter PEIs. I would never turn either down!

Shucking Away

Huck: Ever the Opportunist

Art Shot

Surprise Wine of the Day
With so many people from or closely associated with the local wine industry bringing wines to the party, we had a wide variety of very unusual wines to sample. It was great fun for me as I got to taste two wines from Connecticut (a forgettable but drinkable Riesling and a delicious high-acid orange-colored rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon), a Maryland Merlot, and a bunch of other off-the-wall wines.

The two most surprising wines of the day were from Bernd Jung at nearby Chester Gap Cellars, a 2010 Roussane and a 2009 Petit Verdot, both clocking in at 16% alcohol, though neither of them felt that hot. Not surprising because whenever I have asked Jim Law or Jeff White about who else is making good wine, Chester Gap has always been mentioned. But surprising because I have tasted at Chester Gap twice in the last five years (2011 most recently) and have not come away impressed. These two wines, however, are both very good and that makes me happy. I'm always happy whenever I taste a good local wine. Note to self: need to go back to Chester Gap and retaste. And perhaps put the Roussane on the restaurant wine list.

Kelly put on a Gorgeous Spread of Fruits, Cheeses, and Salame
When we got there, Kelly and Jeff had already set up a couple of high top tables out in the side yard that were literally groaning under the weight of the cheeses, fruit, and salame that you see above. Everything was arranged to a 'T'. Kelly never does anything halfway!

Bread and Butter Pickles: Awesome with Pork Shoulder!

Kale with Croutons, Bacon, Pecorino, Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Of all the phenomenal food that Kelly made, this kale salad takes the prize. It was truly one of the best salads I have ever eaten. Love, love, loved it!

The Fire was Much Appreciated by 4:15 as the Sun Set

Moon over Glen Manor

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Garage Wine

Our friend Maggie Malick is the best garagiste that I know. If truth be told, she's the only garagiste that I know! Nonetheless, Ann and I have had several vintages of her wines that she has made literally in her garage and they are among the best wines coming out of Virginia. And she has won tons of medals for her wines over the years, not that I believe too much in medals, but her wine is seriously good.

She and her husband Mark came by the restaurant on Saturday night with Jim and Betsy Dolphin of Delaplane Cellars. Maggie was bearing a 4-pack of wine which she gave to me to take home to Ann as a wedding gift. Wow, what awesome friends we have!

2007 Petit Verdot, 2006 Merlot, and Barefoot Bordeaux '06 and '07
Sunday afternoon while lazing around the house (the first Sunday at home in a long time), we drank the unfiltered Fortissimo! Petit Verdot from 2007! Delicious!

Maggie's about to open her own show (Maggie Malick Wine Caves) in the spring at her farm/vineyard in Loudoun County and we can't wait! We'll be among the very first visitors!

Thanksgiving 2012

I did something different this year for Thanksgiving: I closed the restaurant on the Wednesday before. The paltry amount of business that we have done historically the night before Thanksgiving has never made it worth the aggravation of being open. And so, the whole crew took a much needed break. The luxury of having two consecutive days of not having to go to work is something that very few people can appreciate and is something that I was super thankful for this Thanksgiving, that and the opportunity to get in the kitchen and cook with my wife. I haven't been able to say that before, have I? This is the fourth Thanksgiving we have cooked together, but our first since getting married back in September.

Gracing our table this year were Bob and Mary, Donald and Terry, and Mark and Kelley.

Donald Decorating his Cake

Queen of the Ball!

Bob in Great Spirits

Admiring Mark's Apple Pie Handiwork

Mary Helping Herself to Ann's Delicious Dressing

The only person I couldn't photo was Terry. He kept hiding in the one corner of the kitchen where there wasn't enough light to shoot him.

Sweet Potato Latkes: So Easy, So Good!

Sweet Potato Latkes with Horseradish Cream/Smoked Salmon
These latkes didn't photo so well in the very low light, but they were delicious. Topped with horseradish cream cheese and pepper-crusted hot-smoked salmon, they were devoured very quickly.

Turkey and Black Truffle Rillettes under Duck Fat
I decided to make turkey rillettes this year for an appetizer. I made turkey stock from bits and pieces of turkey: necks, wings, and a couple of drumsticks. From the gallon and a half of stock, I took a quart and reduced it to something less than a cup: let's call it a five-fold reduction. In this highly reduced stock, I poached the livers from two turkeys along with a shot of cognac, some shallots, and thyme. The stock and livers went into the blender to become liquefied. After I shredded all the meat, I poured the stock over the meat and mixed in black truffles, butter, and duck fat. Seasonings are salt, white pepper, thyme, and nutmeg. I put the rillettes in canning jars and covered them with a layer of duck fat.

Turkey and Black Truffle Rillettes with Cranberries

Crostini with Goat Cheese, Fig Jam, and Prosciutto
Ann made these crostini with local goat cheese, her fig and grape jam, and prosciutto. This is the fig and grape jam she made from the fresh figs and Corinth grapes left over from decorating our cheese wedding cake.

Champagne and Hibiscus Cocktails
To go with our appetizers we had Champagne cocktails made with candied hibiscus blooms.

What do you Stuff your Bird with?

The Obligatory Bird Photo
Here's our little farm-raised turkey. I brined it for two days, then stuffed under the breast skin with pancetta-rosemary butter, and stuffed the cavity with fresh herbs from the garden: parsley, sage, thyme, and fennel fronds.

Root Vegetable Gratin
So this ridiculous dish is a root vegetable gratin. I diced and roasted root vegetables from the farmers market: carrots, turnips, parsnips, celery root, and yellow potatoes. I infused herb stems and bits (parsley, thyme, rosemary, sage) with three lightly crushed garlic cloves and a quart of cream. I then strained the cream and added all the yellow potato scraps (from blocking off the potatoes to get perfect dice). Once the potatoes were soft, into the blender with the lot and out came a smooth custard that I augmented with eggs. I poured the custard over the root vegetables and baked until it was golden on top.

Cranberry-Orange Relish

Collard Greens and Guanciale

Hash of Brussels Sprouts, Shallots, and Pancetta
These sprouts were amazing. I slivered lots of shallots, some pancetta, and a bunch of brussels sprouts, then caramelized the shallots and pancetta, tossed in the sprouts, and tossed them a minute or so, just until the sprouts turned bright green. Then in to the pan with a bit of butter, touch of sugar, and a splash of white balsamic vinegar. Spectacular!

Ann's Mashed Sweet and Redskin Potatoes

Mark Made This Gorgeous Apple Pie

Terry Made These Fabulous Almond-Cranberry-Caramel Tarts
And in the dessert department, we cannot forget the three-layer cake that Donald made and is frosting in one of the early photos in this post. It is Deb Perelman's Red Wine Chocolate Cake and is quite amazing. I don't love sweets, but this bitter, slightly sweet cake really hit the spot.

Another wonderful Thanksgiving and I am so thankful to have great friends and family to celebrate with.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Delaplane Cellars

Sunday, with the temperatures just above 50 and the sun shining, we decided to get out and enjoy the day. I thought last weekend was a bonus, but this weekend before Thanksgiving to be outside is a real bonus. Delaplane is kind of our home winery, being that it is the closest winery to us with excellent wines, and yesterday was some kind of event for club members, which we are. We didn't go for the event, but rather to sit in the sun and marvel at the views. We started a trend. After we set up shop out on the patio, a few other tables joined us and ultimately, owner Jim Dolphin came and sat and chatted with us for about 20 minutes. This is why we do the bulk of our winery visits after harvest and during the winter: more time for everyone to sit and chat and catch up.

2010 Williams Gap Reserve is Delicious!

You Don't Want to Know What I Said to Get This Smile!

Awesome Bread from Bakery de France
As Ann says, "Wineries should have good bread." Some do and some don't. This is the only winery that we frequent that uses product from Bakery de France in Rockville. It is really good bread and as good in its own way as the bread that we use (from NYC) at the restaurant.

Local Cheeses/Salame from Croftburn in Culpeper
We first became acquainted with Andrew Campbell and his salame that he markets from his store, Croftburn Market in Culpeper, at the Linden barrel tasting this year. I am really happy to see that Delaplane is selling this delicious sausage.

How's This for a Still Life?

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Shrimp, Snow Pea and Lop Cheung Chow Mein

Shrimp, Snow Pea, and Lop Cheung Chow Mein
What to make for dinner isn't usually hard for me to figure out, but in the last few days, I just haven't had the cravings that send me in a particular direction. Nor has Ann. And so it was that I found myself at FoodMaxx yesterday before coming home, wandering the store quite aimlessly trying to figure something out. I know the guys stocking the produce were wondering why I, who generally gets in and gets out in 10 minutes, was wandering back and forth for 45 minutes.

I knew I wanted something fresh and crunchy but fairly light. I selected some snow peas even though they are woefully out of season knowing that Ann loves them so. For myself, I would have used gai lan, Chinese broccoli. Then I spied a beautiful orange Bell pepper and a bunch of garlic chives with buds, which for some unkown reason FoodMaxx labels Q Flower.

Over in the freezer case, I needed to see if I could find some lop cheung (sweet Chinese sausage) that didn't contain pork for a dinner I am doing later in December. No such luck: all five brands contain pork. While that means that I am going to plan B for my upcoming dinner, I did get introduced to a new brand of lop cheung from California Sausage. This sausage looks really nice and different from the other brands, so I put it in my basket to try.

Then back to the produce aisle where a few shiitakes caught my eye. Then I wandered to the seafood counter where they had beautiful large white shrimp at a great price. Into the basket with them. Meanwhile a stir fry of some sort was materializing in my mind and as I wandered by the noodles, I grabbed a package of udon thinking then about chow mein. I grabbed udon because I prefer them to the Chinese-style noodles that FoodMaxx stocks.

Back home, the assembly was easy. While Ann peeled the shrimp, I prepped the vegetables, a lot of fresh ginger, a big mound of slivered garlic, and thinly sliced lop cheung. Then I mixed some soy sauce, agave nectar, crushed red pepper flakes, and Chinese Zhenjiang black vinegar (Chinkiang brand).

I fried the noodles en masse in a skillet and then flipped them to crisp both sides. The resulting pancake I slid onto a platter where it waited while I stir fried the topping and then added the sauce and reduced it.

After all the work I put into figuring out what to have for dinner, I think I got it right! It was just what the doctor ordered. And the new brand of lop cheung was fantastic, the best I've ever had!

Glen Manor Vineyards

After having eaten brunch at Claire's in Warrenton, we took a leisurely drive out 211 west towards Washington, VA and then headed north on 522 up through Chester Gap to get on the west side of the mountains so we could visit with Jeff and Kelly and talk about a party that is coming up in a couple of weeks. But that was just really an excuse to go find a chair in the warm sunshine and a nice glass of wine and enjoy what will likely prove to be the final outdoor day of 2012.

Sadly, everyone else was out enjoying the day including hundreds of motorcyclists including one who, after driving quite insanely recklessly, dumped his crotch rocket in the middle of 522 between Flint Hill and Chester Gap. We waited for 45 minutes at a standstill while they sent the medevac chopper in for him. That put a bit of a damper on the day.

We finally got going and skirted around the north end of the mountains and down to Glen Manor just before 3pm. The tasting room was as busy as we have ever seen it and Kelly said that everyone who visisted that day bought wine. A lot of times people come to taste and move on. But why wouldn't you buy wine at Glen Manor, which is on my very short list of the best wineries in the state?

South Side of the Winery

After tasting with Jane and visiting with Kelly and Jorge as much as we could while they were busy with other guests, we took our bottle of Cabernet Franc outside and comandeered two Adirondack chairs. Compare this view with the one just before harvest.

The Vineyards in Late Fall

Doesn't This Look Like a Jigsaw Puzzle Photo?

It's a Rough Job but Someone Has to do it!

With My Beautiful Wife
Towards closing time and just before we had to run to Berryville to get Carter, Jeff showed up and then Randall and we all stood around the tasting room catching up. Jeff went in the back and brown-bagged a bottle and poured it all around. Just smelling it, I thought old school Bordeaux. And judging from the deep color, abundant black fruit with dried raspberry leaf highlights, good acid, and fine firm tannins, I figured mostly Cabernet Sauvignon. I am proud of Ann for saying that it was a Bordeaux! It proved to be a 2004 Cos d'Estournel and a very nice bottle of wine in the classic Claret style. Jeff, many thanks for letting us share the mystery wine!

Claire's, Warrenton

I met Claire some years ago when we were both at the studio in Harrisonburg shooting some TV shows and have been meaning to get down to her restaurant in Warrenton ever since. November weather does not get any nicer than it was yesterday, so I had the idea to visit Claire's and then run by Jeff and Kelly's to confirm some details about a forthcoming event, but mostly to sit outside and enjoy the glorious view on a glorious day with a wonderful woman and a great glass of Glen Manor wine.

We arrived at Claire's ten minutes early for our table and Ann asked if we could sit outside, out back of the old refurbished train depot that houses the restaurant. Despite a 2/3 full restaurant, we were the first table of the day to sit outside and we had to battle the falling red maple leaves all during our brunch, but that was part of the beauty of sitting out on such a glorious day. Behind the old depot is a beautiful backyard of sorts that gives on to what appears to be a public pocket park just behind the restaurant. We saw dozens of people out there walking their dogs and enjoying the delightful day.


The back yard was framed by a raised bed garden on one end, a trickling water feature overlooked by a threadleaf maple along the park fence, and by an old caboose on the other. It was against this backdrop that we sat and ordered a bottle of Argyle sparkling wine. It's not a bad bottle of sparkling wine. I've had a lot better and a lot worse, but I wouldn't go out of my way to order it again. It just didn't have any personality: it could have been a bubbly from anywhere.

Argyle Brut 2008
For food, Ann ordered fried oysters to start. They were plump and tasty, but the fryer wasn't up to temperature and they came out really greasy and needed salt. I kept tasting fryer oil for the rest of the afternoon and that is not a good thing.

Fried Oysters
For brunch proper, I had rainbow trout and grits and Ann had a portabella Benedict, one of the off-menu specials, both of which we enjoyed. Everything on my plate wanted a bit of salt or other seasoning. The eggs were tasty enough and apparently cooked in clarified butter—a nice touch—but were slightly overcooked to my liking. Granted, it is very hard to manage quality of scrambled eggs in a restaurant setting with such a long time between plating and delivery to the customer. My grits were really nice and coarse and probably the same ones (Anson Mills) that we serve at the restaurant, but again, they were screaming for salt. The trout was well done although I would have preferred that the kitchen remove the ventral and pelvic fins on the butterflied trout before cooking it.

Both Ann and I had envisioned her portabella being stuffed with the artichoke and spinach mix. It was instead cut up and mixed with the artichokes and spinach. A stuffed portabella would have plated a bit nicer, but Ann had no other issue with her meal other than a lack of seasoning and that her English muffins were not toasted. She liked her hollandaise which she called "light and lemony." Bottom line, we had a good time, an enjoyable meal, and an OK bottle of wine. We'll go back.

Trout and Grits

Portabella Benedict

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...