Monday, March 31, 2014

Date Night

This winter has been pretty devastating for restaurant business and as a result, money is super scarce right now so Ann and I haven't really been able to dine out for a while. With the weather turning nice, though, we needed to get out and spend some adult time together and so Monday night, we decided to go get some sushi.

Ann likes a cocktail before dinner, so I decided to surprise her with one of my newest creations called "A Passion for Whiskey" made from Maker's Mark bourbon, St. Germain, passionfruit syrup, lemon juice, and Old Fashioned bitters. This is probably the best cocktail I have ever devised!

Here's to Spring!

The sushi restaurant that we decided to go to is just a few hundred yards from our restaurant, so we parked at the restaurant, where our dishwasher and some of his friends were scrubbing the deck and getting it ready to open for the season. While Ann was chit-chatting with everyone outside, I nipped in and made us cocktails. It was way too nice, the first nice day of spring, to sit inside and after yesterday's snow showers, a glorious, glorious opportunity to take in some warmth outside, so I brought the cocktails outside. All the deck furniture was in the parking lot, so we sat in the parking lot and toasted the season!

Cocktails over, we moved on to Awabi where friend, owner, and sushi chef Marcus Doe made us some of his delights.

Random Rolls Ann Ordered; I'm More of a Nigiri Fan

Neat Little Wasabi Dishes with Chop Stick Rests; Fresh Frozen Wasabi

Whelk and Squid: Best Bites of the Night

Toro Maguro

Monday, March 24, 2014

Chorizo, Pineapple, and Chipotle Tacos

Chorizo, Pineapple, and Chipotle Tacos
Today, I planned to be at work most of the day mostly babysitting a contractor but also getting my usual Monday deskwork done. I had no plans to be at home by noon and no plans to eat lunch with my lovely wife, but the moon and the stars aligned: I arrived at 7:30 and powered through my paperwork and glory of glories, the contractor arrived at 8:05 and was out before 10am!

My errands all complete, I stopped into FoodMaxx on the way home. I wanted to make something light and full of flavor and had pretty much decided on crab tacos when I realized that I failed to grab crab from work. No worries. I grabbed a tray of Salvadoran chorizos along with a pineapple, some green onions, cilantro, and a can of chipotle adobo.

At home, I cooked the sausage and mixed it with the other raw ingredients, tossed with the adobo and salt. Ten minutes of work yielded these most awesome of tacos! Because I used a slightly green pineapple (can you really find a ripe pineapple in the US?), I didn't need any lime juice to cut the richness of the sausage.

These are so good that I am salivating as I type! We're probably going to do these at the restaurant for our street food extravaganza during Rally in the Alley in April!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Chicken Cacciatore

Tom and Ann invited us out to their house in Capon Bridge again on Sunday for a leisurely lunch and Carter came along too, to make sure no food remained. And in their fashion, even with Carter, there was way too much food and too much wine! Clearly Tom had been cooking for a good day before we got there!

Crimini Mushroom and Fennel Pâté

Salmon Canapés with Mustard-Chive-Dill Butter
We started with two appetizers, one a mushroom pâté and the other a smoked salmon canapé. To go with our meal, Tom had selected four wines: a California white Rhône blend, a Sagrantino di Montefalco from Perugia, and two 2012 Oregon Pinots, St. Innocent's Villages Cuvée and Ken Wright's base level Willamette Valley of which Ann and I have been drinking a lot recently.

One of the Many Wines of the Day
St. Innocent is a property that I have heard of a lot but whose wines I haven't tasted much, I think because they are located in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA and those wines are generally my least favorite of the valley. The Van Duzer corridor influence on this location results in wines that are softer and riper than I generally prefer. 2012 was a great year and this wine is delicious with plenty of spicy acidity to finish with. But there was no denying that the Ken Wright had it beat hands down, but that's pretty much true of a lot of wines. Ken Wright is a Pinot master.

Smoked Gouda and Caramelized Onion Quesadillas

Chicken Cacciatore on Parmesan Polenta
Who doesn't love some braised deliciousness on a pile of creamy polenta? I quite enjoyed this bowl of Chicken Cacciatore.

Sauternes with Bread Pudding for Dessert
And for dessert, Tom made a bread pudding with a bourbon sauce which I neglected to photograph. A touch of Sauternes never hurt!

Handsome Mr. Levi
Great Sunday afternoon. Thank you Tom and Ann! Sorry to leave you with all the dishes!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Cá Nướng

"Something light and Asian." What is "What Ann wants for dinner, Alex."? Actually, just her texted answer to my inevitable Monday question. After the big pork feed on Sunday, we were definitely in the mood for something light, especially with the weather having finally broken after a long, long winter.

Rockfish are running in the Potomac right now and the season won't be open very long, the fish getting ready to spawn and off limits once that gets under way. Rockfish is what everyone around here calls Striped Bass. Try asking for Striped Bass in Virginia and you are likely to get stares. Rock as it is known is what we call this king of American eating fish.

There is no place I can quench my metaphorical thirst for Vietnamese food around here, so I am relegated to doing it myself. Not a problem, but sometimes a guy would like to go out to eat once in a while. Being in a Vietnamese mood, I decided to do my take on grilled or roasted whole fish, Cá Nướng.

Here you see a 3-pound rockfish that I butterflied, rubbed with honey, and coated with lots of ginger, garlic, and lemongrass, all finely minced. I put it in the oven until it was just done then topped it with green onions that I just blanched in hot oil (mỡ hành) and toasted peanuts, a pretty usual garnish for roasted fish.

Roasted Butterflied Rockfish with Peanuts and Oil-Blanched Green Onions

When I do this with whole catfish (awesome by the way), I like to highly caramelize the fish. When I am working with the king of our eating fish, I want the wonderful rockfish to shine through. So I have kept the caramel to a minimum by cooking the fish as little as possible. With catfish, I will often slather the cooked fish with more honey and put in back in the oven or grill to become deliciously brown.

Herbs (cilantro and Thai basil), Lime, and Nước Chấm
We decided to eat the fish rolled with fresh herbs in rice paper (bánh tráng). While the fish was roasting, I prepped a plate of Thai basil and cilantro. If we had decent other herbs at this time of year, I would have used them too, but this was it. I also threw together a quick nước chấm while the fish was in the oven (fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, garlic, and Thai chiles).

All a Roll Needs is a Bowl of Nước Chấm!

Monday, March 10, 2014


Our friends Pete and Laurie, with whom we visited in Fredericksburg back in December, came up for the weekend to stay with us. After they and Ann dined at the restaurant on Saturday night, I cooked breakfast for all of us back at the house on Sunday morning. It might have been nice to go out for a good breakfast, but good breakfasts are in very short supply in Winchester.

The first thing I did was to stick a bread-butter-and-jelly bread pudding in the oven to bake while I made and we ate breakfast proper, so that the bread pudding would be just done when we were done with the savory part of breakfast which was basically leftovers from the restaurant, repackaged as breakfast.

Grits, Chile Verde, Pork Belly, Poached Egg, Pimentón Sauce, Radishes
Breakfast proper was a pile of golden Anson Mills grits topped with a strip of crispy pork belly and a little pork chile verde. On top I perched a poached egg and garnished with pimentón sauce, fresh baby radishes from the farmers market, and cilantro. Yeah! When I eat breakfast, this is howI like to eat.

Focaccia and Cassis Jam Bread Pudding
I have been missing my maternal grandmother of late, though she has been dead for around a quarter century. When I would come visit her during college in the last years of her life, she would often make me a simple bread pudding by buttering white bread, smearing it with jam, layering it in a gratin, and pouring a custard over it. Louise, this bread pudding of focaccia smeared with butter and cassis jam is for you!

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...