Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Memorial Day

Yet another Memorial Day is in the books, a time for us to reflect on all those who have served and a signal that the summer season is just about upon us. Besides being a good time to reflect, it was also a good day for me to rest: I love days with little planned, probably because my restaurant days are so structured. I scrambled all week the week before just so that I wouldn't have to work on Monday and could just stay home with Ann. And that is always a good day!

We did have plans to go check out a wine bar in Warrenton, but Ann hasn't been feeling all that great and was not up for the trip. So, she came up with plan B: Bloody Marys at home. While we were out erranding, we bought a can of chipotle salsa (two actually) and a can of tomato purée (and some ribs for dinner). I love horseradish in mine, but I forgot we didn't have any at home, but still, these bloodies were not too terrible, seasoned with chipotle salsa, sriracha, a touch of Old Bay (for the celery seed in it), lemon juice, lime juice, and olive brine. We always start with tomato purée (or make our own in the blender) rather than tomato juice so that the drink still has some thickness and body once we add the vodka. We do not like watery drinks. Or small drinks!

Chipotle Bloody Mary! Happy Memorial Day!

For Memorial Day dinner, Ann had mentioned ribs a few days ago and I thought it was a good idea, but then on Sunday, she started talking about some cold good-for-you cellophane noodle salad. No! Not on Memorial Day! It's gotta go on the grill and it is not supposed to be remotely good for you. I didn't have time or the opportunity to score some decent ribs during the week, so we had to put up with what we could find at the market. Ribs, American-style St. Louis ribs thank you very much, are not much of a hit with the largely Hispanic and Asian crew that shops at FoodMaxx, so we settled for some chopstick-friendly spare rib nuggets, the same cut that I wanted, just cut into pieces.

Barbecue Riblets
I threw a quick dry rub onto the riblets and put them in a very slow oven (200F) for about five hours, covered with foil. The dry rub is a bit of this and that—nothing planned in advance—from the spice cabinet: cumin, pimentón, oregano, basil, cinnamon, dry mustard, salt, and pepper. And probably a bunch of other stuff that I have forgotten. Yes, I slow roast the ribs in the oven and then smoke them after they are done. I am not a professional ribmeister nor do I have a rig in which to slow cook my ribs over hardwood all day, nor am I inclined to get one. But I make damn good ribs regardless.

Dry Rub Before Roasting
After they came out of the oven, I threw together a quick three-ingredient sauce that was simply outstanding. A can of chipotle salsa, a third of a can of rice vinegar, and a couple squirts of agave nectar. A sauce to remember. I've made a lot of sauce in my life. This one is awesome!

Best Three-Ingredient Sauce Ever
At dinner time, I heated the outside grill to very hot and put the ribs on to smoke and crisp up. Once they were good and crisp, I tossed them in the wet sauce Buffalo Wing style and we devoured them at the table out on the patio. I have always been a dry rub kind of guy and sometimes I like a little sauce on the side if the sauce is not too sweet. This was an excellent compromise: great flavor and no burnt sauce!

Post-Barbeque Soft-Serve
And after dinner, Ann suggested (insisted?) that we run up to the neighborhood soft-serve joint and stand on line to get a cone: vanilla waffle cone for me, raspberry-vanilla swirl with sprinkles for Ann. Junior pain-in-the-ass-boy was in a full-fledged teenage snit (we "forced" him to eat ribs with us: he should be so lucky again!) so he didn't want to go and we didn't feel disposed to bring him anything back. As lactose-intolerant as I am, this will probably be my one and only cone of the year. But it was so worth it!

Annie, great day and great ideas! Bloodies, ribs, and soft serve: all your ideas. I'm always happy to oblige and if I don't have to think about what to make (like I do all day every day at the restaurant), that is just fine by me!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Strawberries!

First Strawberries of 2014!
It was a long, brutally cold winter in which we lost a lot of plants and shrubs and which delayed our strawberry season later than I have ever seen before. But it was so worth the wait! Ann and I ate these for breakfast, straight out of the bowl with two spoons, on Sunday.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Barbequed Chicken with Tom and Ann

Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, Tom and Ann invited us out for barbequed chicken. Tom is a master of his Big Green Egg ceramic kamado grill and I was really looking forward to our ride out to Capon Bridge to taste his chicken.

I'm really, really disappointed in my camera. I made a special trip by the restaurant to pick it up on the way to Tom and Ann's and it let me down. Of the 40 frames I shot, only two were in focus. I don't understand it: all the frames I shot the next day were in focus. It's almost as if the focus indicator doesn't work at times. I had a gorgeous photo of Tom's corn dish in a deep cast iron pan and all four frames were out of focus. Grr.

White Bean Spread
When we arrived, Tom had set out a batch of a hummus-like white bean spread and a tray of cheeses. Carter ate well over half the white bean spread and all the bread himself, the little glutton. It was a great afternoon to sit back, relax, sip some wine, and entertain Mr. Levi, who is really blossoming since coming to Tom and Ann's from the shelter.

Speaking of wine, Tom opened two California Sauvignon Blancs, an Oregon Pinot, a Central Otago Pinot, and a Bordeaux. I brought along a sappy green apple Cötes de Gascogne Blanc for a starter wine.

Levi is Most Happy

Tom Grilling Chicken
After snacking on cheese and white bean spread, we moved on to lunch proper of barbequed chicken (dipped twice in Tom's homemade sauce and caramelized on the hot grill), a delicious corn bake with bacon and cider vinegar, and some potato salad that I made. My Ann made some delicious chocolate cupcakes with a goat cheese frosting.

My Ann Made These Chocolate-Olive Oil Cupcakes with Goat Cheese Icing
Great afternoon spent on a gorgeous day with good friends. Thank you once again Tom and Ann for your great hospitality.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Steak Salad

We set out last evening to have skirt steak, grilled corn, and a salad, yet by the time we got hungry enough to worry about dinner, Ann suggested just making a salad out of everything, which we did. While I was slicing the corn, Ann made the salad and the dressing (which was really, really good: lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper). I'm not much of a steak eater and I love salads, while Ann loves steak, so dinner worked out pretty well: Ann ate the steak and I ate the salad!

Skirt Steak Salad with Raw Corn and Tomatoes

Pork and Snow Peas

I got up super early yesterday and as a result, I was home from doing all my paperwork by noon. My last stop before home was FoodMaxx where I scored some ground pork and snow peas for lunch.

Pork and Snow Peas
I got a large sauté pan hot and tossed in a half pound of prepped snow peas* along with a splash of water so that they would steam. Removing the steamed snow peas to a big bowl, I then put a half a pound of ground pork in the pan with a touch of oil and stirred while cooking. When 2/3 done, I added about an inch of ginger root, finely minced, and 6-8 garlic cloves (this is what we call a little), also finely minced. After stirring for a minute, in went the remaining ingredients: a diced orange pepper, a half a cup of mustard stems preserved in chile oil (cutely labeled "tasty-vegetable-go-with-meal"), half a bunch of green onions in one-inch slices, and about a dozen to fifteen garlic chives from the garden, sliced. After tossing together for a second, I splashed the pan with a touch of soy sauce and plated.

Delicious, light, low carb, quick, and moderately healthy. Not bad for a Monday lunch out on the patio with my wife.

*To prep all edible pod peas, snap the ends off, being sure to pull any fibrous strings running down the seams.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Crab Guacamole

Life is Good! Crab Guacamole and Pacíficos
It was a busy day in our backyard yesterday. Baby rabbit was hopping in and out of the brush line behind the house and all the birds were making various runs at the feeder to secure food for their babies. Barn swallows were constantly winging the backyard trying to nab bugs on the go. The chickadees kept ferrying loads of suet from the feeder back to their babies in the nest box around the corner of the house. Swarms of goldfinches flitted from the feeders to the treetops and back-and-forth and all over, serenading us non-stop.

Meanwhile, the mockingbirds chased off anything to get anywhere near their little cedar tree where they must have a nest. Poor squirrel had most of the fur on his back plucked by the time he could get away from the angry mockingbird. The robins patrolled the grass and caught lots of worms and then stealthily worked their way around us to the nest right overhead in the pergola as red winged blackbird proclaimed one of the feeders his very own, flashing his epaulets and making his "chack chack" call. It was a very busy day in our backyard. And a great day to be alive and sharing it with Annie.

Ann asked me to make crab guacamole, so we grabbed a can of jumbo lump and some cilantro from the walk-in and stopped by the supermercado for a couple avocados, a couple limes, and a six of (I want to say cheap at this point, but $10 is not cheap) Mexican beer. I rarely drink beer and I never buy it at retail, so I kind of had sticker shock. I'm not advocating Pacífico as a good beer: it isn't. But as a vehicle for a wedge of lime on a warm day outside, it hit the spot!

Food Porn! Chipotle-Garlic Guacamole, Cilantro-Lime Crab, Tobiko
I make crab guac from time-to-time in the summer at the restaurant as an appetizer, and as something to munch on outside on the deck, it is hard to beat and couldn't be any simpler to put together. At the restaurant, we make big batches of cilantro-lime vinaigrette with which to dress the crab and we plate it in a ring mold so that you can see the layers better. But at home, who cares?

Cilantro-Lime Crab

1 pound jumbo lump crab
2 tablespoons very finely minced cilantro stems
zest of one lime
juice of half a lime
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt to taste

Mix all the ingredients well and season to taste. Let stand to marinate while you assemble the guacamole.

Chipotle-Garlic Guacamole

I kind of feel stupid giving a recipe for guacamole. Basically, you throw in anything you want with mashed avocados.

2 avocados
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 chipotles in adobo, finely minced
1/2 cup finely minced cilantro
3/4 cup diced tomato
lime juice, to taste
salt, to taste

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and mash together with a fork. I like my guac with a little texture. You can make yours as smooth or as chunky as you like. I like a little spice in my guac and I like the smoky flavor of chipotle, so I put in one entire chipotle per avocado. You may not want that much. I would have put in some green onions, but I didn't have any. There are no rules. Make your guac how you want it.

For plate-up, ring mold discarded as too fancy for the back yard, spread the guac out over a plate and mound the crab on top. I like to throw a little tobiko and cilantro on top for garnish and I just so happened to have a tub of tobiko in my fridge from last week's summer rolls.

Enjoy with somebody you love!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mother's Day/Fettucine ai Frutti di Mare

Yesterday was a kind of lazy Mother's Day and the unfortunate day when soon-to-be 15-year old Carter decided that spending time with his mother was not in his game plan, so Ann and I spent a pleasant afternoon in the back yard, sipping Vinho Verde and watching the robins and doves come and go from their nests on the nesting platforms attached to the top of our pergola.

Hamming it, Movie Star-Style!
When it got too hot in the late afternoon sun, we came in and watched a movie and then I started in on this dish of fettucine ai frutti di mare after the bucatini version on the cover of last month's Saveur. Ann specifically requested this dish for Mother's Day and I was fortunate to have the necessary ingredients in the walk-in.

Speaking of Saveur, if you look closely at the cover version, it appears not to be the same recipe as described inside the magazine, while the photo accompanying the recipe does appear to be from the actual recipe. These things happen, the logistics of photography and editorial writing being what they are. But the recipe and photos I don't care about, just the idea. I don't need a recipe to make this dish.

As you can see below, unlike the stylists at Saveur, I spent absolutely no time with my tweezers artfully arranging this joyous mix of pasta and seafood for the camera! But I will tell you this: Chiarello's recipe in the magazine has nothing on this. I guarantee in a blind tasting that my version will whip his, but I sure wish I had a pound of perciatelli laying around for this pasta. Fettucine was the best that our grocery store could provide. Note to self: order a case of perciatelli!

Fettucine ai Frutti di Mare
This is not the easiest pasta for a home cook to try, but I encourage you to try it anyway. The cooking is quite simple, but each seafood, the pasta, and the sauce need to be cooked separately for best results, so the complexity is merely in having to cook a bunch of things.

I handled it by steaming the clams first and then putting them into the pasta bowl, covered with a towel to keep them warm. Next I steamed the mussels. Then in the pan in which I would ultimately make the sauce, I just briefly cooked the squid with garlic and extra virgin olive oil until the squid just plumped up, seconds only.

Removing the squid to the pasta bowl and covering it with the towel, I refired the pan to make the sauce. In went four ounces of Peruvian-style chorizo and a minute later about six cloves of slivered garlic, three Calabrian peppers, a half a cup of grilled and marinated fennel, and a handful of tiny capers. A minute later, I put in the shrimp and two cups of halved grape tomatoes.*

Meanwhile, the fettucine were cooking away and as they neared readiness, I put a half a cup of the pasta water into my sauce, mixed it well, tasted for seasoning, and poured it over the seafood already in the pasta bowl. The drained fettucine went in next with a big handful of chiffonaded basil and I gave it all a big toss.

The result was simply outstanding. One of the best pasta dishes that I have ever eaten. Happy Mother's Day Annie!

*Don't get wrapped around the axle about quantities. This is a "just do it" sauce with no right and no wrong. Just do it.


My New Love: Peperoncini di Calabria
I read somewhere the other day that Calabrian peppers are all the rage on menus this season. I'm not one to follow trends but I am a chile fiend so I decided to discover why people like them so much. I bought a gallon of them and fell in love after I popped a couple in my mouth. They are spicy, salty, and a touch smoky. The heat is great, falling somewhere in the range of Thai bird chiles, but where birds don't have much flavor, these peppers have excellent flavor. Love them!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Black Bean Salad with Chipotle-Marinated Shrimp

Now that we are just back from our annual vacation, we've got to get serious about shedding some of those excess winter pounds. And the warmer weather is pushing us too. When it's warm outside, we naturally gravitate to eating lighter, such as this salad.

Black Bean Salad with Chipotle-Marinated Shrimp
Last night, I decided to make a big salad in the manner of a vegetable seviche that I did at the restaurant week before last. The shrimp to go on top were an afterthought. Most of the vegetables are raw. One ear of corn and the red onion were charred, but still not cooked through. The nopalitos are pickled. I tossed everything together with the juice of a lime, some salt, and a couple tablespoons of chipotle salsa.

Salad Mise en Place
A quick trip to the grocery store yielded the ingredients for a wonderful salad: cilantro, grape tomatoes, black beans, chipotle salsa, nopalitos, lime, red onion, poblano, orange pepper, green onions, Ataulfo mango, garlic, cumin, and fresh corn.

Charring the Red Onion and Some of the Corn
For a change of pace, I decided to char the red onion before chopping it, as well as one ear of corn. Yes, this is directly on the flame. The other ears of corn, I left totally raw.

Shrimp in their Marinade
The shrimp marinade is finely minced cilantro stems and garlic, zest of the lime, salt, toasted and ground cumin, a touch of olive oil, and a tablespoon of the chipotle salsa.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Auburn, AL 2014

For our annual holiday this year, having no cash from coming off the worst winter in memory, we had to keep our vacation on the cheap but we didn't want to do another staycation, so we decided to pack up the Jeep and head for Auburn, AL where I went to high school, where my parents, and my brother and sister and their respective families still live.

There are not many photos here. Unbeknownst to me, the whole week I was coming down with a pretty good cold which I am still feeling two weeks later and that sapped my motivation to do anything. I barely remember the first three days down there. Here are the best 20 of the mere 99 frames I shot during the week: most of what I shot on the iPhone didn't turn out: there must have been grease on the lens. :(

Sandwiches for the Road
Trying to keep the budget to a minimum, the drive time as short as possible, and ensure that we had something decent to eat on the drive, I spent a few minutes on Saturday afternoon between lunch and dinner services putting together these Italian cold cut and pesto sandwiches with baby lettuces from the farmers market.

5:10 AM The Brown Dog is not to be Left Behind
After a busy, busy Saturday night dinner service, we finally got the restaurant closed and I was able to leave about 11pm, to come home and load the car, finish packing, and get showered. All hyped up like that, I was lucky to be able to get to sleep by 1am. Both our alarms went screaming off at 5am, way, way too early for words. But better to get on I-81 early and avoid the truck traffic.

While we were stowing the final things in the car in preparation for leaving, Grace decided that she was going to go with us and hopped right in the car. She wasn't at all happy that I pulled her out.

The temperatures were in the low 40's as we left and when we arrived in Alabama, in the 80's. At home, we had no leaves on the trees, but the trees were leafed out by the time we hit the North Carolina border. And towards Charlotte, it looked like mid-summer. South of Atlanta into Alabama, thunderstorms were starting to build in the afternoon sky. We had a bit of a blow during the night, but nothing compared to what was coming the next night.

After a Day of Travel: Gumbo
After a long, long 11-hour drive that was fortunately uneventful, we arrived in Auburn where we drove on streets to my parents' house that did not even exist last time I was there. It is a very surreal experience knowing exactly where you are but not recognizing anything at all. The first order of business after all that driving was to make cocktails and head out onto the deck and enjoy the wonderful warm temperatures (something that we had yet to experience in Virginia this year).

And what does mom feed her chef son for dinner? Something delicious and comforting: a big bowl of gumbo.

Spiderwort

This Clematis Blossom is as Big as a Dinner Plate

Stunning Bearded Iris
My parents are quite the gardeners and I spent the following morning wandering around the yard that I worked so hard to keep mowed and organized when I was a teenager. It looks very different now: for one, the trees and a lot of the shrubs have 30+ years more growth on them. Coming from Virginia where the spring flowers weren't even open, it was quite striking to see gardens full of flowers in bloom.

She Didn't Share with Anyone!
We established our morning ritual quite soon: plant our asses in chairs out on the deck and don't move. I can't think of anything more appealing on my one week off a year than just sitting and doing nothing. Although we spent the majority of mornings out on the deck, our second morning we did not. After the tornado sirens went off at 3:30 that morning and scared the hell out of us, the cool and rainy conditions kept us inside. Two nights of terrible storms and buckets of rain lashed away at us and the entire East Coast.

Carolina Wren, So-Called Loud Mouthed Yankee, Building Nest

Phoebes are Nesting under the Deck
The deck on the back of my parents' house is new since I was living there. The old deck is now a huge sunroom and the new deck extends out over what used to be back yard. The new deck is situated right up in the trees and with bird feeders all over, the avian traffic is astounding. To have a Brown Thrasher land on a suet feeder not three feet away from me is unprecedented in my life. Two of the more amusing birds were the Carolina Wrens, a pair of which insisted on building a vast nest inside a lantern on the deck right by us, lugging mouthful after mouthful of building supplies all day long, and the Eastern Phoebes which showed off their aerial maneuvers chasing bugs on the wing.


How Can You Tell We're in the South?

Pimento Cheese and Ham with Lime Pickles: It's What's for Lunch
I haven't had pimento cheese in years: it just isn't in my culinary vocabulary, not that I don't love it. I had forgotten how ubiquitous it is in the South: I saw it everywhere. And my mother had made a big batch which we used for lunch sandwiches all week. Here you see it with lime pickles, which in the South means cucumbers pickled using pickling lime, not the spicy citrus lime pickles from India.

A Taste of Home: Shad Roe with Surry Sausage, Capers, and Lemon
My mom let me know some weeks before our visit that my dad would very much appreciate some shad roe, a delicacy in Virginia that is just not available in Alabama. Both my parents are native Virginians as am I and for us, the appearance of shad roe at the market each spring is something that we look forward to with great anticipation. I roasted it on a sheet tray in the oven (the best way of handling the delicate roe so that it does not explode) and served it with a sauce of local Virginia Surry Sausage from S. Wallace Edwards, capers, green onions, lemon, and butter. I really enjoyed it: although we serve a lot of roe at the restaurant, I never get to eat it and this was the first I have had in a couple of years. Delicious!

Ann Cajoled Mom into Making Biscuits
About mid-week, Ann conned mom into making biscuits, not that my mother is ever shy about showing off her biscuit skills. You might note that the flour on Ann's chest is from her not listening to my mom to get her hands out of the dough! The two of them had a good time mock scrapping with each other.

Mr. P., Hardly Working as Usual

Acre Restaurant: Roscoe and His Doughnut Holes
Wednesday, we went out to eat at Acre Restaurant in downtown Auburn after watching my niece Rachel's high school team play and win a playoff soccer game. Knowing that it was graduation week in Auburn, we wanted to go out mid-week before all the families started coming to town for the weekend's celebrations. We almost goofed. My sister insisted that we were going to need a reservation so I called from the soccer stadium and although there were no seats available in the dining room, we managed to secure two seats at the Chef's Bar a few minutes after the soccer game was scheduled to end.

When we arrived at Acre, it was like a circus. Three or four valets were scrambling to park the cars and the one that came up to our car asked if we had a reservation (because we weren't getting in otherwise). Apparently the weekend was getting started early.

We ate nearly the entire appetizer menu in our best restaurant meal so far of 2014. Unfortunately, the light was too dim and none of the food pictures were decent enough to use. We ate a terrific shrimp and grits with a deep-fried grits cake, bresaola, lamb chorizo, cotechino meatballs, spicy mussels, and lamb fries. At one point, Chef David Bancroft mentioned to me that they had Rocky Mountain oysters as a special and I heard Ann pipe up behind me, "Oysters! I love oysters! We've got to have some!" And so I let him put the order in for us. Only after the order was back in the kitchen did I tell her what she really ordered!

In total, we spent about a half an hour chatting with David Bancroft. He tries to source his ingredients locally just as I do and we really enjoyed his food. Sitting at the Chef's Bar facing the garde manger station, we also got to chat with the two garde manger cooks all night. It's a great restaurant with a crew that really appreciates where they work and the products that they serve.

Dad's Smorgasbord
A couple of times during the week, my dad put himself in charge of lunch and apparently he has quite the fondness for canned goods. You see here a smorgasbord of canned pickled green beans, marinated artichoke hearts and six different kinds of canned fish including smoked oysters, sprats, kippers in tomato sauce, sardines, and tuna.


Niece Rachel and Sister-in-Law Laura


Hors d'Oeuvres at John and Kathy's
Late in the week, we went to my sister's house for a small bash for her husband John who just graduated with his MPA from Auburn after retiring from the Navy. They live in the middle of town and have chickens running around the back yard!

Steak and Grits
I ended up bringing a flatiron steak from the restaurant and we grilled and ate that with grits one night for dinner, along with a salad made from lettuces from dad's garden. It is amazing that we just set out our lettuces at home and their lettuces in Alabama are about to bolt now.

Play Ball! Auburn vs. Mississippi State
Our final stop before hitting the road back to Virginia was to take in the Saturday Auburn and Mississippi State baseball game, which the visiting team won handily, much to my parents' chagrin.