Monday, June 30, 2014

A Beautiful Mediterranean Sunday

Sunday was a fantastic day to be outside and Ann and I headed out around 11:30 to wait for Karen to arrive, talking, sipping Pinot Gris, and sitting on the patio in the shade of the pergola. Karen arrived a little while later and we spent a most enjoyable afternoon on the patio catching up, until after we ate lunch late afternoon and headed in to cool off in the air conditioning.

My Two Lovely....

....Dining Companions

Thank You Karen!
Karen brought a couple bottles of Willamette Pinot of which this Boedecker was the superior. She knows exactly what I love to drink.

Mezes: Olives, Hummus, Grape Leaves, Red Pepper Salad
Earlier in the day, I put together this platter of dolma/dolmades, red pepper salad, olives, and hummus. I make the hummus fairly loose with lots of lemon juice, olive oil, and for a special flavor, sesame oil rather than tahini. Try it some time. I took my meal cues from the beautiful breezy warm Mediterranean weather and created a meal that would be recognizable almost anywhere in the Eastern Med.

Turkish Chopped Salad
Early in the day, I chopped red peppers, cucumbers, red onions, and tomatoes. Just before dinner I dressed the salad with lots of chopped parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper.

Pork Kofta with Feta, Dill, and Mint
I had a hankering for kofta on the grill, but I didn't have any lamb I felt like grinding so I used pork (frown if you must) and seasoned it the same way with feta, dill, mint, garlic, oregano, and various spices (such as allspice, coriander, etc.).

Dinner is Served: Kofta, Salad, and Tzatziki/Cacık
And here you see our dinner, ready to eat, with the kofta, the salad, and a bowl of thick tzatziki that I made the day before. Turkish cacık is rather thinner than this in my experience: I like it thicker.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Naan Pizza

Early Monday morning as I was getting ready to leave work to head out on my usual restaurant-related errands, I got an emphatic text from Ann to the effect of "let's have veggie naan pizzas for dinner (and I don't want to hear any arguments from you)". Well, OK, then. Let's have naan pizzas.

Fortunately, Costco has OK naan in stock, so I grabbed them and a ball of fresh mozzarella. At the market, I got a bulb of fennel and a couple of red peppers. Back home, I sliced the fennel, peppers, a mound of garlic, and two huge onions and put them on a low flame for about three hours. The veggie pizza topping was nice and soft and caramelized by dinner time.

Naan, Caramelized Onion/Fennel/Peppers, Fresh Mozzarella
Carter seems to be squeamish these days about certain vegetables including peppers and fennel, but I notice that if I bury them on a pizza, he eats them. Maybe not enthusiastically, but he does eat them. Besides being a great way to get some vegetables into your teenager, naan pizzas are quick and delicious!

A Lazy Summer Sunday

Money being tight these days, we are spending a lot more time at home cooking and playing on Sundays that we would normally do during the summer. I really, really wanted to go to Glen Manor Vineyard this weekend, but that costs money we don't have, so I shut my mouth and we put together a great menu for the day.

Wine Line Up: Argyle Pinot Noir and Elk Cove Pinot Gris
It ended up being an Oregon wine day. We had Elk Cove Pinot Gris with our shrimp croquettes for lunch and Argyle Pinot Noir with our mussels for dinner. We had a local Catoctin Creek Petit Verdot on hand as well, but it never got opened.

Annie Frying Her Shrimp Croquettes

Shrimp Croquettes: Roux and Shrimp, Chilled and Breaded
Sometime this past week, Ann had made shrimp croquettes by folding cooked shrimp into a thick roux, chilling it, molding into croquettes, and rolling them in panko. She fried them up for lunch on Sunday. They were delicious with the Pinot Gris.

Watermelon Salad with Mint, Feta, and Red Onions

Mussels with Chorizo, Red Onions, Fennel, Garlic, and Orange Zest
For dinner, I made a watermelon salad by dicing seedless watermelon and feta and mixing that with thinly sliced red onion and chiffonaded fresh mint from the garden. A pinch each of salt and pepper and a splash each of extra virgin olive oil and Sherry vinegar finished the salad.

A big bowl of mussels accompanied the watermelon salad. I started by cooking the onion, garlic, and chorizo, then adding a bit of fennel confit (grilled, slow poached in oil, and covered in a tangy vinaigrette) and white wine. The mussels went in and finished steaming in a couple of minutes. I pulled them out and then reduced the sauce just slightly and poured it over the mussels. A good loaf of crusty bread hot out of the oven finished our lazy summer Sunday supper. A great day at home with my wife!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Father's Day

My Father's Day this year started out pretty rough: I'm juggling too many balls right now and that's got me in a miserable frame of mind. But my Annie and the prospect of having my daughters over for dinner helped me crawl out of my hole a bit and in the end, it was a good day for me.

Awesome Burgers: I Ground Them Myself
These burgers don't look like commercial burgers because they are not. I ground them myself from some really fantastic skirt steak from Martin's Angus Beef, our suppliers at the restaurant. They also don't taste like commercial burgers. They have amazing beef flavor.

Burger, Caramelized Onion-Bacon-Stout-Blue Cheese Jam, Chipotle Mustard
I decided to do a couple of different condiments this year (and at the last second, I decided that my burger was just too good to go on a bun). The first is a caramelized onion-bacon-stout-blue cheese jam made from two very large yellow onions caramelized with a pound of diced bacon then cooked in a bottle of Tröegs JavaHead Stout until the beer evaporated, and then a half pound of really good blue cheese stirred in until melted. The other condiment is a chipotle mustard made from half Maille whole grain mustard and half adobo from a can of chipotle peppers.

No Complaints about the Burgers Here...

...or Here

A Fitting Finish to a Fine Father's Day Dinner

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

A Relaxing Weekend

This past weekend was about feeling good about getting some work done in the yard and then rewarding ourselves by relaxing. Sunday we made a trip to Delaplane Cellars after a morning in the yard. And Monday, after a morning in the yard and a short trip in to work, we ate and sipped wine during the afternoon. I needed a slow leisurely weekend to start to feel good about the yard and to just slow down and enjoy. It was a great weekend!

Relaxing Lunch on the Deck at Delaplane Cellars
Sunday morning started sunny and pleasant but the humidity was up and by 10:30 or so, it seemed like the clouds were building for afternoon thunderstorms. But the nice morning let me get a lot of needed work accomplished in the yard. The younger wisteria are growing like crazy now and need weekly work to train them to our pergola. And since we are gardening on a budget, I was able to transplant a volunteer maple tree and a volunteer crape myrtle from one of the front beds to our property line out back. It felt good to finally get something accomplished in the yard rather than merely trying to recover from the damage from last winter.

In the afternoon, even as the clouds piled up in the sky, we made the quick drive to Delaplane Cellars where we tasted through the current line up and then retired to the deck with a bottle of 2012 Left Bank Bordeaux blend. Left Bank is the blend from the winery's own grapes and though the fruit is very young, it makes for a delicious and easy drinking red.

We saw Jim mowing grass between rows as we lunched and ultimately he and then Betsy joined us out on the patio where we chatted for a couple hours before we had to head home in the late afternoon.The wind got up a couple of times forcing us to furl the umbrellas and we got a few stray raindrops, but it didn't ever amount to enough to force us in. Back home in Winchester on the other side of the Blue Ridge, we saw that it had rained in our absence. Good luck for us!

Monday Lunch: Chipotle Black Bean and Mango Tacos
I worked hard all last week to keep my Monday workload to a minimum and that let me work a couple more hours in the yard before heading in to work to finish up my Monday chores. On the way home, I stopped at the market and grabbed some things for lunch and dinner. Lunch, out on the patio under the umbrella, was these black bean and mango tacos that took all of five minutes to put together from canned black beans, a mango, a bunch of cilantro, a bunch of green onions, and a can of chipotle salsa.

Shrimp, Lop Cheung, and Vegetable Lettuce Wraps
Dinner was another outdoor affair, this time, lettuce wraps with a dipping sauce. For the dipping sauce, I used the white parts of the green onions and the stems of the cilantro from lunch, along with garlic, sambal oelek, lime juice, fish sauce, and agave nectar just to take the edge off the lime.

I threw together a quick stir fry of lop cheung, tiny shrimp, sugar snaps, lime leaves (discarded before we ate), garlic, white pepper and fish sauce. This I mixed with the raw ingredients: pineapple, roasted peanuts, fresh tomato, orange sweet pepper, and lots of Thai basil. As you can see in the photo, the wraps are mostly vegetables with a tiny bit of shrimp and sausage for flavor.

What a Great Day!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Bucatini

The photo below doesn't do last night's dinner justice. You have to imagine bucatini wallowing in melted goat cheese comingled with chorizo oil and pretend to smell the heavenly scents of roasted red peppers and fennel confit coming off of it. Sorry you weren't there. This is a spectacular bowl of pasta.

Bucatini with Chorizo, Roasted Red Peppers, Fennel, and Goat Cheese

Monday, all afternoon I had planned to do a shrimp, pineapple, and chorizo filling for tacos for dinner. But as we got to dinner and after having watched a couple episodes of The Sopranos in which everyone was eating pasta, Ann begged for me to make some bucatini. I'm trying to be good and limit the amount of pasta that I eat until I can shed a bunch of this winter blubber, but I let her sway me to the dark side. I combined the chorizo that I brought home for tacos with last night's leftover pizza toppings (fennel confit, marinated roasted red peppers) and some fresh local goat cheese. This was an incredibly good pasta!

I'm not a big fan of thin, long pasta cuts (spaghetti, fettucine, linguine, etc.), liking a cut with more body to it. For long pasta, bucatini or perciatelli as it is called by some, is my cut. I have been whining here on the blog about the dearth of decent pasta in the local groceries, so I bought a case of bucatini for the house. Problem solved!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Pizza!

Last week, we decided to have no plans on Sunday, to work in the yard in the morning, to be lazy in the afternoon, and to grill pizza for dinner. Mission accomplished!

In the morning, we got some much needed work done in the yard and in the garden. New rosemary to replace the ones that the winter killed, much pruning and weed pulling, and cucumbers and squash planted in the garden. And much admiring of the clematis which are now in full bloom.


6-7" Wine Colored Clematis Blooms in the Early Morning Sun

These Clematis Blooms are Small but Beautifully Shaped
Ann made a batch of dough on Saturday morning and let it sit overnight. In the afternoon, I started working it into small balls for pizzas.

Ready for Their Final Rise
Once the heat of the day got going (and truth be told, our neighbor's kid got the lawnmower cranking) we reluctantly headed indoors from sitting around the patio, post gardening. We've just started watching The Sopranos, so we put on an episode of that, in which Uncle Junior tries to whack Tony, and then Ann wanted to see The Godfather, which she had never seen before. All this indolence is thirsty work so we opened this lovely bottle of Ponzi Pinot, a gift from dear customers Gerry and Mary Elizabeth Greenwood who have just returned from Oregon and for whom we cooked a tasting on Saturday night.

Being one of the original wineries in the Valley, Ponzi is not unknown to me and although I have tasted many bottles over the years, 2011 is a new vintage for me. And I was excited to try it because 2011 has proven to be my all time favorite Oregon vintage, the cool weather attenuating the fruit and amplifying the acidity, right in the sweet spot of my palate. Ann said, "This is a fabulous wine." Smelling of dark cherries and leather, it reminded me so of Burgundy, my original wine love. Gerry and Mary Elizabeth, my most sincere thanks for your kindness and generosity.


Awesome! Tasted Blind, it Could be Burgundy
With my wine, I do love some cheese on a lazy Sunday and how fortuitous it was that Suzanne from Shepherd's Whey Creamery messaged me to let me know that she had some Valençay cheeses on the "ripe side that are screaming your name." She knows that I love my cheeses ripe, ripe, ripe. And so I got three of them at the market on Saturday that were beyond the sell-by date. The damned government and its sell-by dates. What the hell do they know about good cheese?


Phenomenal Valençay-Style Cheeses from Shepherd's Whey Creamery
Towards 8pm as the sun was getting low in the sky, we headed outside again and I started up the pizza factory, having already prepped the toppings: roasted red peppers marinated in olive oil, garlic, and basil; smoked sausage; fennel confit; sliced grape tomatoes; fresh mozzarella, and grated pecorino romano.

Pizza Toppings Ready to Go

How Good Does This Look?

She's a Happy Girl!
Grilling pizza is unlike baking it in the oven. It turns out to be a wholly different procedure as I found out some years ago when invited to grill pizza at the farmers market, something I do each summer now. You want fairly moderate heat, unlike when baking pizza when you want it as hot as you can get it. My grill has four burners, two on the left side of the grill and two on the right. I only light one side of the grill and I only have the flame about 2/3 of the way up.

Spray the hot side grill bars really well (and do this for each pie) with pan spray before putting a stretched dough on the hot side of the grill. Close the lid and leave it closed for a minute. Open and rotate the dough with a spatula (it should be firm enough by now to move easily). I rotate the dough because I have yet to see a home grill without hot spots and I want to distribute the heat a little more evenly. Another 45 seconds to a minute should do it.

Once the bottom-side is cooked, flip it over and drizzle the cooked side (now the top) with a little olive oil and sprinkle it with salt. Then apply your toppings and close the grill. A minute with the lid closed should cook the bottom. Move the pizza to the cold side of the grill for a couple of minutes to finish cooking the toppings while you make the next pie. Enjoy!

Our 52-Hike Challenge 2017

On January 1, 2017 as Ann and I were headed to Harper's Ferry WV for our first hike of 2017, Ann told me of something she read about on ...