Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Hot Dog!

It is quite amazing how in tune to each other Ann and I can be sometimes (and vice versa!) Yesterday morning, we were trying to figure out dinner and she mentioned hot dogs. And I exclaimed "Yes, that is exactly what I have been wanting!"

Ready for the Grill

A good hot dog is an absolute thing of beauty and so, so hard to find. The dog has got to be a decent size, have amazing flavor, and the casing has got to have that "Snap!" that dog aficionados love. We have tried some dogs over the years (including these) but none has been what we were looking for.

Until now.

This winter, Costco started carrying smoked beef sausages from San Antonio-based Kiolbassa Provision Company. They looked pretty decent so on a whim (which is exactly what Costco wants and something I almost never do), I brought a pack back to the restaurant whereupon we were blown away by the quality of the sausages. And that is saying something in a kitchen full of cooks who make a lot of sausage.

I was so blown away in fact, that I sent an email to the company telling them how great their product is. And I received a personal reply from their president Michael Kiolbassa inviting me to tour the plant if I get back to San Antonio. I intend to go next chance I get. How coincidental is it that a family with a surname that means sausage is in fact in the sausage business!

Later in the day, Ann called to say that Mark and Kelley were coming by and so I grabbed an extra pack of dogs, not that we needed them. Now that Mark and Kelley have moved to and work at Snowshoe, we rarely get to see them. This was a great treat!

Salivating Much? You Should Be!

Mustard and Onions, What Belongs on a Dog

Dry Furmint, Floral and Sappy

Montepulciano with Dogs. Why Not?

Surprise Visitor to our Party, Right at Dusk
And I guess I just gave away a secret of the restaurant business. Now you know what fine dining chefs eat on their days off!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter 2014

Like other such Easter mornings, I was awakened far too early by the sunrise service at one of the two nearby churches (or maybe both). Amplified voices are just what I need at sunrise after a long, hard dinner slog the night before. But I'm used to it and I don't really begrudge the churches their once-a-year celebrations. They didn't really get the dogs too riled this year, so it was possible to sleep on-and-off through the service. And bless Ann for getting up before me and taking the dogs outside. Not having to do that one day in my life is priceless, not that I really mind, but just this simple luxury was wonderful.

Anemones in the Morning Light
Easter to me means spring flowers, but this year, everything is 2-3 weeks late on account of our long, hard winter. So this year, I had to suffice with our earliest late winter/early spring flowers, anemones, which are quite stunning in the bed out front of the house.

Duck Eggs: Breakfast of Champions
Now that we have a steady supply of duck eggs, four weeks later than in any prior year, Ann asked me to bring some home for Easter breakfast. What a great idea! Duck eggs are so fabulous! These ended up scrambled and eaten in breakfast burritos.

Bob and Mary, Guests of Honor
After attending Easter Mass, Bob and Mary drove out from McLean to have lunch with us. Ann did a fantastic job of putting together a very simple menu that we could execute with very little effort, a good thing because I am now 51 weeks without a vacation and am whipped. My tolerance for large crowds and complex cooking is nil.

Dolmades to Start
We started with dolmades and really delicious goat cheese and green olive crostini.

Along with Green Olive and Goat Cheese Crostini
Ann picked up a recipe somewhere for the olives and they turned out wonderful. We pitted and roughly chopped them, then Ann added orange zest, fresh thyme, and garlic chives. That little pop of orange is really marvelous. Keeper!

Milk-Braised Pork Shoulder, the Main Event
For our main course, Ann decided on milk-braised pork, always a delicious thing! On Saturday, I sliced a few steaks off of a pork shoulder and braised them in milk on a bed of crushed garlic cloves, fresh thyme branches, and a couple of bay leaves. About six hours this pork spent in a slow oven, six hours of becoming super unctuous.

Twin Food Processors
To go with the pork, she decided that we should have pommes Anna, that amazing French classic potato dish. It is an old-school dish and I am an old-school kind of chef. Here you see my twin food processors: a knife and a mandoline. Even at the restaurant, it is very rare that I use our big Robot Coupe.

The Perfect Pommes Anna Pan
And likewise, I eschew the fancy copper cocottes for pommes Anna in favor of the old Griswold cast iron frying pan. As you will see, it does an amazing job at this and many other tasks. I don't understand why everyone doesn't have a cast iron pan. Well, I do. They take work to keep up and most people are lazy.

Ready for the Oven

We Really Need Smell-o-Vision for These Pommes Anna!
And so our dinner was very simple, yet with outstanding flavor. The plates, as Ann commented, were very pedestrian and a great departure from what we do at the restaurant, but the flavors were outstanding: fall-apart tender pork, sensual pommes Anna, and the first broccoli of the year. Easy to prepare and even easier to eat.

"The Most Boring Plate Ever," says Ann; but How Delicious?
Ann decided to make for dessert a batch of lemon cupcakes (because her mom loves lemon cake) with cassis buttercream.

Gearing up for Buttercream
And the result was gorgeous! I am not a dessert eater and these were outstanding. Brava Ann!

Awesome Finale! Cassis Buttercream on Lemon Cupcakes

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


Monday was a glorious day—the most glorious of the year so far. Ann and I both got home in the late afternoon and just before 5:00 she said, "Make us a cocktail and let's go outside on the patio and listen to music!" And so I rummaged the liquor cabinet (almost never used) and the refrigerator and came up with a pretty decent tangy cocktail made from freshly squeezed clementines and limes, agave nectar, Campari, St. Germain, Absolut Citron, and the tail end of some girly bottle of mango-blood orange flavored cordial called X-Rated.

Clementine, Campari, St. Germain, and Vodka
We had planned to have burgers on Sunday after visiting Linden, but through a miscommunication, I thought Ann was getting the burger and she thought I was getting the burger. OK, so I f*cked up. No burger in the house on Sunday, but rectified on Monday.

Yes! Jimmy Buffet: Eat Your Heart Out!
This burger was really, really good and perfectly cooked, I might add. These are two things that don't seem to coincide when going out for burgers: good burger and good cooking. My only regret is that it is not tomato season.

Chief Burgermeister!
What to Drink with Burgers

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Forlano's Market/Linden Vineyards

After a three-week stretch without a real day off, I needed a break; Ann wanted to go out and sit on the deck at Linden Vineyards and do nothing. It was a beautiful spring day best enjoyed outside and I did enjoy it even if it seemed I did not. I'm afraid I was more of a zombie than she bargained for: a sad reality of the restaurant business.

After a bit of much-needed winter cleanup in the yard Sunday morning, we got in the Jeep and headed south. I thought it might be nice to grab lunch before heading to Linden and I wanted to try Forlano's in The Plains. I've heard a bunch about this place: we buy from a lot of the same local purveyors.

Sadly, I don't have much good to say about the experience, so I'm just going to let the photos speak for me and move on to Linden.

Embarrassing. I'm Embarrassed for the Virginia Wine Industry.
We left this bottle of Merlot-Cab Franc blend for our server. It was pretty terrible. And the glass of house sparkling wine that Ann ordered was either corked or just plain bad. In any case, it got left on the table.  Are we wine snobs? Not so much that, but more that life is just too short to drink bad wine.

Italian Hoagie. My Italian Wife Begs to Differ.

Steak Breakfast Burrito. Dry. No Steak. No Garnish.

Ann Holding Court on Forlano's Front Porch

At Last! Decent Wine!

New Cheeses Since our Last Visit
Neither of us was in the mood to taste at Linden, so we got a bottle of 2009 Hardscrabble Red and headed out to the deck under the wisteria vine. Jim came and chatted for a couple of minutes. We decided that we needed lunch, so we tried the three cheeses that are new to us, from top to bottom: FireFly Farms' Black & Blue, a crumbly blue goat; Everona Dairy's Earthquake, a sheep's milk cheese similar to a young Manchego in texture with an ash layer a little reminiscent of Morbier; and Caromont Farm's Plank Road Round, a bloomed rind cow's milk cheese.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Ginger Chicken Soup with Lop Cheung and Gai Lan

Yesterday was supposed to be a beautiful day (being April 7) but it was not. It was a chilly 50 degrees and raining all day. My joints were aching. That beautiful Thai Beef Salad I was going to make for dinner? Yeah. No.

Who says the weather doesn't influence how we eat? Yesterday was a soup day if I have ever seen a soup day. And so it didn't take very long for us to abandon the beef salad in favor of a big bowl of soup.

Ginger Chicken Soup with Lop Cheung and Gai Lan
A big family pack of piernas de pollo (all the meat is labeled in Spanish at my preferred market), a pound of ginger, a bunch of gai lan (Chinese broccoli), a pound of udon, a small pack of lop cheung, a bunch of green onions, a bunch of cilantro, and a little bit of pickled mustard stems followed me home from the market.

The soup couldn't be any simpler to make. Into the bottom of the pot went about 8 crushed garlic cloves, half a bunch of cilantro (whole), the tops of a bunch of green onions, and about six ounces of slabbed ginger. On top went the chicken and all was covered with cold water, brought to a simmer, skimmed from time to time, and left to poach for 3 or 4 hours: we weren't keeping track of time.

At dinner time, I sliced half a lop cheung per person and the bunch of Chinese broccoli. And then dipped the solids out of the soup pot and brought the remaining stock to a rolling boil. The chicken was cooling a bit while I was seasoning the broth with fish sauce, soy sauce, and salt. Into the pot went the sausage, the broccoli stems, and the udon.

Meanwhile, I pulled a bit of chicken and put it into the serving bowls along with the sliced broccoli leaves, pickled mustard stems, and cilantro leaves.

Once the udon were done, I used tongs to take noodles straight from the pot into each bowl and then ladled the boiling broth over the top.

And it just couldn't be any simpler or more flavorful!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

"Spaghetti and Meatballs"

Linguine with Meatballs, with Apologies to Secondo
To quote from the awesome scene in Big Night where Stanley Tucci has to take the order from a woman who wants both risotto and pasta, two primi, for dinner:

        Lady: "There are no meatballs with the spaghetti?"
        Secondo: "Sometimes the spaghetti likes to be alone."

I chuckle about this every time I make pasta and meatballs. But at home, where we have to wash the dishes, one-dish meals are paramount and when we're watching a movie with dinner, a necessity. So, forgive me Secondo, but our meatballs last night were not alone: they needed company! But I say no to spaghetti. I need more substance in my pasta. My preference in long pasta is for bucatini/perciatelli, but Barilla fettuccine is the closest we can get at the two-bit store next to the house.

The tricks for good meatballs are: you can rarely have too much fat, you need more liquid in the meat than you think you do, a little panko does wonders, and only work the forcemeat enough to mix it and no more.

Raw Meatballs
If I say so myself, I make fantastic meatballs. I make so much charcuterie at the restaurant that working with forcemeats is second nature by now and it really is nothing to throw together a batch of meatballs. This is two pounds of ground pork-veal-beef mixture (I wanted ground pork, but the two-bit store next to the house doesn't carry it: the guy behind the counter says that nobody cooks anymore.) with minced garlic, dried basil, salt, pepper, a touch of pimentón, a cup of panko, and maybe three ounces of heavy cream.

I never use a recipe for meatballs: pretty much anything goes. Same for the marinara. I fill a blender jar with chopped tomatoes, some minced garlic, a fair amount of basil, a couple ounces of extra virgin olive oil, and a bit of salt. Blend just until the sauce becomes fluid and over the meatballs it goes. Braise in a moderate oven (350F) for a couple of hours. Timing is certainly not critical.

And Two Hours Later Aftter Braising in Marinara

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...