Monday, December 30, 2013

Steelhead Trout with Orange-Bean Sauce

After pigging out for the holidays, we're both feeling the need to eat lighter and so I brought home some salad fixings and a side of Steelhead Trout.

I Love Salad
I don't fix that many salads, which is a bit odd, because I love them a lot. This one is very simple: torn butter lettuces, grape tomatoes, blanched haricots verts, and some croutons I made from a piece of stale baguette found on the counter, all tossed in balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Steelhead Trout with Orange-Bean Sauce
Many people are not familiar with Steelhead Trout, a sea run form of Rainbow Trout. For all intents and purposes, you treat it like salmon, which is to say that I left it skin on after pulling the pin bones and then seared it hard on the skin side to crisp and gently finished it on the other side, so that it was still medium in the middle.

I'm not usually a sauce guy: I like to buy the best proteins I can find and let them stand on their own merits, so it is highly unusual that I made a sauce for this trout. In retrospect, not sure why I did. It was fine, but the fish didn't need any help. The sauce is a reduction of orange juice with finely minced fresh garlic and fresh ginger, thickened with a tablespoon of soy bean paste, and glossed with a teaspoon of sweet butter.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

French Toast

French Toast from Leftover Stale Baguette
Carter and I were starving and Ann was still abed—how do I put this delicately?—trying to survive after a movie night with her girlfriends. I remembered a bunch of baguette rounds that I had put away the night before while washing wine glasses and clearing away dead soldiers after arriving home from Saturday night dinner service to find the house looking like we had hosted a frat party. A splash of milk, a couple of eggs, and voilà: French toast. We devoured it! It is amazing how something so simple can be so good.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Feast

Ann decided that we should do a low-key Christmas Day, so she invited Tom and Ann over for movies and we munched on a lot of salame and cheese. Although Ann says I grumbled about watching Love Actually for the umpteenth time, I think I was a good sport about watching it yet again. I fall neither into the lover nor the hater category. I think there are parts of the screenplay that are very good and there are parts that are equally ridiculous. And so it is not on my list of must-see-again flicks.
I made a pork and bacon terrine which you see in the top middle of this photo. Also we had venison summer sausage, chorizo picante, two quasi-local cheeses: a Valençay clone (the white goat cheese) and Grayson (the washed rind cheese with the golden paste). Also, a 5-year old Gouda that is fantastic.
We love Olympic Provisions salame (to my knowledge, they make the best salame in the US) and we got three of our favorites: Loukanika, Nola, and Salchichón. Everyone loves Salchichón; it is the best salame that OP makes: the spicing is incredible. And naturally, it was the first to go.
My Ann baked two loaves of her fabulous bread on which we spread this little crock of nduja, that I got from La Quercia in Iowa, a leader of the American cured meat renaissance. I'm tasting as much nduja as possible, gearing up to cure my own. This, I am sad to say, is not a great effort, being made from prosciutto scraps and not raw meat. It takes like slightly stale spicy ham salad. Not what I hoped for.

Olives, Peppers, and Lupini
I have found a marinated olive mix that contains lupini, often called lupini/lupine beans in English. I really enjoy them and tried making them once. They are the seed of the beautiful lupines that you see growing roadside all over Europe. The raw seeds contain toxic alkaloids that are leeched out of the beans via continual soaking in many changes of salted water over an extended time, just like curing olives. And then they have to be peeled like favas. Can you say giant pain in the ass? I knew you could. Buy them already prepared; too labor-intensive to do yourself.


While at 2400 Diner in Fredericksburg recently, I ordered creamed chipped beef on toast, aka SOS, and discovered that Ann had never eaten it, this staple of my childhood. I loved it so when my mother would make it, which she rarely did: it was decidedly a treat. In any case, Ann tasted mine at the diner and asked if I would make her some at home.

SOS on Bagels
Now I know, having grown up eating the stuff, that SOS has no business on bagels and properly belongs on white toast. But, now as an adult, I have no use for an entire loaf of white bread at my house, so I got a bread that I knew we would have no problem eating and that would toast up just fine: some crappy supermarket bagels.

Through the years, I have seen many treatments of this dried beef product. Some people rinse or soak the beef first but, although my doctor probably hates me for it, SOS is supposed to be salty to remind us that it is unhealthy eating, so I do not rinse mine. Some people chop the beef. My mother used to sweat the beef first in butter, then throw in the flour and make the roux with the beef already in the pan. I make a nice béchamel sauce first, unseasoned, then pitch the beef straight in for a few seconds until it has wilted. End of story.

I love this stuff!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fredericksburg, VA

I have lived in Virginia most of my life and have visited quite a lot of it, but I had never spent any time in Fredericksburg until the Monday before Christmas. Sure, I have passed through it on US highways 1 and 17 heading to DC and to the beach respectively and sure, I have driven by hundreds of times on I-95, but I have never stopped to take in the city until just now. The restaurant being closed on a Tuesday (Christmas Eve) afforded us the opportunity to get away from Funchester for an evening of adult fun.

Our friends Pete and Laurie moved from Gainesville (within visiting range) to Fredericksburg (outside visiting range) about three years ago when Pete was able to buy an insurance agency down there. And in the interim, we just haven't found a way to get together. We finally did manage to get together and because they live right downtown in an old converted factory, we got a great look at downtown Fredericksburg all decorated for Christmas as we made our way to their house. It's quite a beautiful town full of colonial and Civil War history and lots of historic architecture. I'd like to go back and see more of the town than we saw on our 18-hour whirlwind visit.

Venison Summer Sausage

Old Gouda, Always a Favorite
They had munchies all laid out for us when we arrived and after 90 minutes driving through the pouring rain, we were happy to be warm and having cocktails. Believe it or not, Pete made me my first Martini ever. I am not a liquor drinker and the thought of drinking gin up in a glass didn't appeal too much to me, but I really didn't mind it: it was much better than I thought it would be.


...and Ann Kibitzing over Cocktails
This sign is appropriate: we took our two beasts to meet Sadie, Pete and Laurie's lab mix who was a good sport and shared her beds and toys with our dogs.

Don't All Dog Lovers?
After cocktails, we bundled up and walked a couple of blocks to kybecca for dinner. Given that it was Monday night, our options for dining were limited and I for one am very thankful that others were working so that I could play for a change. It doesn't happen very often. And the place was hopping busy, clearly much busier than they expected and were staffed and prepped for. I'm guessing that so many people had the night before Christmas Eve off that they wanted to go out and socialize. Our server handled it like a champ though and I certainly tipped her well for running all night long.

kybecca is primarily a small plates concept, something that I have tried to get to fly without any success in Winchester for years, and so we ordered all the small plates on the menu, except for the boquerones which were 86'ed when we got there.

We ordered lobster spring rolls, shrimp and pork cigars, apples and Manchego, crispy pork belly, frites with cilantro aïoli, Spam and kimchee sliders, and fried Brussels sprouts along with a beet salad from the salad portion of the menu. The spring rolls and pork cigars are standard drinking food. The pork belly was just barely OK; the product we make at the restaurant would embarrass this. The frites were among the best I have ever had and we had to have two orders, they were that good! The Spam sliders were awesome drunk food, but we each only got a nibble because they too were 86'ed when we tried to reorder. The sprouts and the beets were good enough but not memorable. The apple and Manchego salad really was a throw away. I would either rework it or take it off the menu.

Lobster Spring Rolls at kybecca
They have a great selection of wines in Enomatic machines for glass pours, but we ordered off the bottle list, which, compared to what I am used to is a little small and mostly composed of wines that are not my style. Rather than push my palate with one of the many fruit bombs on the list, we had a couple bottles of 2008 Linden Hardscrabble, tried, true, food friendly, and always delicious. I don't usually play it safe when going out, but our server was clearly way too busy for us to play 20 questions in the process of finding a palate-friendly wine. Next time.

Our boy Pete likes to eat so we also ordered a couple big plates: a hanger steak and a confited duck leg. The steak was well enough cooked, but didn't do anything for me in that I am totally spoiled by the local beef that we get at the restaurant. Moreover, the duck confit was just passable and well intentioned but didn't have the depth of flavor that it should have. I should give classes in how to confit things.

In any case, we had a great time at kybecca, great service considering the circumstances, and it is a concept after our own hearts. We'd certainly give it another shot.

Pete and I finished the night back at the house with a touch of whiskey, a local small batch product from Bowman's (known in my day across Virginia colleges as suppliers of some really bottom end aka "affordable" stuff) called Abraham Bowman Pioneer Spirit, a very nice bourbon-like whiskey and as good as any bourbon that I've had recently.

Breakfast at 2400 Diner

The next morning, Christmas Eve, we started by clearing cobwebs with coffee. After coffee, we got a mini-tour of town from Pete on the way to his office, which sits oh-so-conveniently cater-cornered from the 2400 Diner, where naturally, they know him by name.

After checking in at Pete's office in a repurposed historic hotel, we popped across the street around 11:15 to the diner, thinking that we had good timing: after breakfast and before lunch. No such luck. It was jammed and we had to leave a phone number and take a walk down the hill to the Rappahannock River while waiting on a table to clear.

It's a classic Greek diner with a few stools at the counter and booths around the outside. The Greek influence becomes apparent on the lunch and dinner menus, but we came for breakfast. I ordered chipped beef and the server asked me what I wanted it served on. Seriously? Toast. Duh! I then asked her why it was even a question and she said some people like it on biscuits, but then she opined, "Biscuits are for gravy." And so they are. Ann ordered scrapple because she had never had it before and it was pretty decent scrapple, though I like a touch more cornmeal to mine so that it is a touch firmer. Not sure that Ann would ever order it again, but I am so happy that she is open to trying anything.

Prices are extremely reasonable for breakfast and the food is decent enough; needless to say, the portions are vast. We did have to wait about 45 minutes from order to food arriving, so the kitchen was clearly backed up and I didn't really see the reason for it. I could have knocked out breakfast for all the tables in the house in 20-25 minutes. Maybe they just work in slow-mo there. If I lived nearby, I might visit once or twice a year, but I cook a lot better breakfast at home, though that's true for most things.

After breakfast, we got another little tour of the downtown and then we finally had to hit the road back to Winchester, driving through a few crazy snow squalls as we crossed into the Shenandoah Valley and home territory.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Bruschette

My dear wife made these awesome bruschette the Sunday before Christmas so that I could sit back and relax after a long holiday season at the restaurant. The loaf of bread that she made was so pretty that it was a shame to slice it for bruschette, but the result was great! Thank you baby!

Almost Too Beautiful to Slice for Bruschette

Christmas Colors or Colors of the Italian Flag?

Needs Drinking

For wine, we opened a 2006 Linden Petit Verdot. The slight vegetal flavors in the wine worked with the peppers, but overall, the wine wanted more acidity to work with the goat cheese. I would say that this wine is no longer improving and it would be time to start drinking what bottles we have left. And pairing it with something softer and braised.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ragù Bolognese

Ann accompanied Carter and the local high school choir to their performance at a Christmas concert in downtown DC on Sunday, so I had the day to myself. I planned for this by buying a 15-pound pork shoulder from which to make ragù and during the course of doing nothing all day, I made a vast pot of sauce and froze the majority of it for later this year.

Browning the Pork Shoulder (critical for flavor)

Mise: Mirepoix, Tomato Puree, White Wine, Basil, Garlic, Cream

About Twenty Minutes into an 8-Hour Cook Time

Oh Hell Yes!!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Lamb Loin and Chickpeas

We found a random lamb saddle in freezer this weekend. Seriously. Doesn't everyone have random things in the freezer? And we have no recollection why it was in there. But still, a lamb saddle is a great thing to have just hanging around. I took the loins off the saddle and served them over a sauté of chickpeas.

Lamb Loin with Chickpeas
A whole lamb saddle looks thus, with the loins running down the top side of the back bone and the tenderloins underneath. I took the tenderloins to work to use for a tasting menu. Because these muscles don't get a lot of exercise, they are very tender.

The Whole Saddle
And very expensive. You can see the tiny yield of meat, 4 portions, from the huge saddle. What you see below is the top loin, the bit that is the larger side of the T-bone chop, the part that is cut into New York strips on a steer. The opposing tenderloin from the underside of the backbone is the tiny eye on the T-bone or the bit that gets cut into filet mignon on a steer.

Skinned and Pan-Ready
Steaks like this take almost no time to cook. These were in the pan on super high flame for about two minutes on one side and one on the other. I sliced them after about five minutes of resting. I seasoned them simply by rubbing with olive oil, salt, and pepper before they went into the pan.

Never fear for the remainder of the saddle. The tenderloins went to a tasting menu; the remainder went into stock for soup along with all the bits of lamb that we pulled off the bones and out of the belly flaps. Nothing wasted.


At the restaurant, the week after Thanksgiving is always painfully slow and we're very prone to getting out relatively early, say home by 9:30 rather than 11:30. And so it was last Saturday. As I was getting ready to leave, Ann texted me to bring home something for dinner. Cool. I usually stuff something cold and leftover in my face on the way in the house. Actually having a warm dinner with my wife on a Saturday night of all nights? Priceless.

Carnitas, Sauté of Maíz Morado, Salsa Verde
So I brought home some carnitas, cubes of Berkshire pork shoulder that we have seared and then braised with beer, canela (Ceylon/Mexican cinnamon), garlic, cilantro stems, and bay leaves. We braise them in minimal liquid and we let the liquid evaporate to the point where the pork is finally cooking in its own lard. A few turns in the lard and all the sides are crispy while the center is meltingly tender. Yes, you do want to eat these, very badly, unless you're a hater, in which case, why are you reading this?

Meanwhile, we roast, peel, and seed poblanos and roast sheet trays of garlic and tomatillos. These all go into a blender with the juices we get from deglazing the roasting pan and then this smooth green sauce cooks for a few minutes and we season it with salt, lime juice, and cilantro as necessary.

We reheat the carnitas for service in a black steel pan and then put them back into the oven to warm through. Once warm, we toss them in salsa verde and plate them atop a big pile of purple hominy, maíz morado, that we have sautéed with diced onions, poblanos, cilantro, garlic, cumin, and lime zest.

And there you have it: one of Mexico's finest contributions to the world of cooking. So delicious!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Thanksgiving 2013

Darn! I thought we were going to do something different this year for Thanksgiving: a turkey and smoked sausage paella. Now wouldn't that have been fun? But alas, it wasn't to be. After agreeing to the paella, Ann changed her mind and decided we needed to cook the same old meal that I have been doing for about 30 years. I don't really mind the traditional Thanksgiving, but it is no longer something that excites me. Maybe because Ann doesn't cook all that often, she gets excitement and satisfaction from the once-a-year big feast. Speaking only for myself, I regularly cook for lots more people than we have over for Thanksgiving and so not only is it not a big feast, but I am bored with the menu, something we avoid at the restaurant by changing the menu nightly. Alas, maybe next year....

Lest you think I am complaining, I am not really. I had a wonderful time with all our friends and family and enjoyed getting in the kitchen with Ann and making it happen.

Here are some people shots. My camera is useless indoors if there is any motion and people, unlike food, just will not hold still. I couldn't even get a single decent photo of Mary, of the seven or eight frames, not a one was worth a damn. I dislike my camera. My cell phone does a better job.

Love the Light on the Place Cards

Found Centerpiece: Pampas Grass, Juniper, Leeks

Mark and Kelley Brought Huge Antipasti Trays

Cindy Brought Awesome Cheeses

Mash, Half Sweet Potato, Half Potato

Ann's Spinach Salad with Hot Bacon Dressing: Amazing and New!
We did actually have a new dish this year: a spinach salad with caramelized red onions, crispy shiitakes, bacon, and blue cheese with a hot bacon vinaigrette. I think Ann set out to make sautéed greens but picked a salad recipe by mistake. What a great mistake!

Ann's "Burnt" Sweet Potato Torte
Ann called me on Wednesday afternoon to say that she had burned her sweet potato torte and asked me if I could bring a dessert home, so I threw together a quick sweet potato cheese cake to replace it. It turned out she was freaking unnecessarily and her torte was excellent, if a tad brown on top. And so we had two sweet potato desserts, though my cheese cake was two thirds cheese and only a third sweet potato, just to give it some color.

My Sweet Potato Cheese Cake

Another delicious Thanksgiving with friends and family in the books. You should have been there!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Childhood Memories

The weather has taken a very crappy turn recently and we are having some definite winter weather before Thanksgiving, something that is very unusual in these parts. Cold, nasty weather coupled with very early sunsets thanks to our recent falling back are driving my desire for simple comfort foods. Ann's too. Our usual Monday morning conversation about dinner ended when Ann said, "I'd love a good grilled cheese and some tomato soup."

Grilled Cheese: Sexy Beast Isn't It?
Say no more! Grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup take me back to childhood almost faster than anything else. This meal invokes or conjures memories of snow days off from school and hours of tobogganing in the back yard, frozen noses and wet clothes, snowball fights, and chasing the dogs through the snow, days well before children, mortgage payments, and innocence spoiled.

Awaiting Their Turn in the Pan
While I was out erranding, I bought a nice loaf of crusty bread containing a bit of semolina; I love what semolina does for the crunch of the bread after it has been toasted, or in this case, "grilled." And I also picked up a large double cream bloomed rind cheese, very similar to a Brie or Camembert, but one that is square for easy slicing for sandwiches.

Tomato Soup and Grilled Cheese: Instant Comfort
The soup, I put together quickly by sweating a little mirepoix and garlic in butter with a touch of dried basil, then adding canned tomatoes, some heavy cream, and water and letting it all work while we watched a movie. After the movie was off, I blended the soup and adjusted the seasoning with salt, sriracha, fish sauce, white pepper, rice vinegar, and a touch of agave: the chef trick is to get the acid balance just so, so that all you get is bite after bite of creamy tomato goodness without it cloying your palate. Campbell's never did it so good!

An updated childhood memory: just what the doctor ordered for a cold winter day!

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...