Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Shrimp and Vegetables

"I want something light!" Ann said on Monday when I asked her what she wanted for dinner. "Your choice, but make it light." We were both suffering from overindulging in meatball subs on Sunday evening. Knowing that we had some shrimp in the freezer, I stopped at the market on the way home and picked up some vegetables.

Shrimp and Vegetables
And knowing that we had a meeting that would keep us out until nearly 8pm, when I got home from the market, I marinated the shrimp in garlic and a couple of packets of sweet-and-spicy pickled turnips and steamed the larger gai lan (Chinese broccoli) stems, then refrigerated them for later. The other vegetables are sugar snaps and baby corn.

When we got home, it was not more than five minutes on maximum flame to bring this stir-fry to the table. We each finished our own bowls with a bit of soy sauce and a touch of spicy chile paste.

Light, bright, easy.

Meatball Subs

Meatball Subs, Marinara for Dipping
Ann and I kicked around a few ideas about dinner early Sunday morning and very quickly, Ann decided she wanted meatball subs. Although we just had them recently, why not again? Meatballs make a great sandwich. Eating them is something of a mess what with all the marinara dripping out of the sandwich, so I made these a little drier and served a bowl of marinara on the side for dipping. Win!

These meatballs are ground pork shoulder with a bit of Salvadoran chorizo left from breakfast, mixed with olive oil, panko, basil, oregano, garlic, and salt. The meatballs go raw into a baking dish and I pour over a quick marinara made in the blender. They bake covered at 350F until they're done or we're ready to take them out, whichever comes first.

To assemble the sandwiches, split the bread and open it up. Brush the cut side with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil until the cut side of the bread is brown; alternatively, grill the bread or cook on a griddle, whatever works to get the bread toasted. Lay in the meatballs, top with marinara and then with provolone and then run back under the broiler until the cheese melts. Try not to burn yourself on the first bite!

Writing this made me think of something I hadn't thought of in decades. I used to live on meatball subs in college at UVa, back in the day, at the now demolished university-run snack bar called the Glass Hat. I loved these subs then and I love them now.

Potato and Chorizo Breakfast Scramble

It was noon on Sunday and Ann and I were at the restaurant foraging for ingredients for meatball subs for dinner and we were starving, not yet having eaten. We needed to eat and were discussing what to make for breakfast when she mentioned that we had a bunch of yellow potatoes at home. From there, we got pretty quickly to "Let's pick up some chorizo on the way home and do a breakfast scramble."

Delicious Potato and Chorizo Breakfast Scramble
Dice one yellow potato per person and cook it three-fourths done in a sauté pan. Crumble the chorizo into the pan and brown it. By the time the chorizo is done, the potatoes will be done. Beat well one and a half eggs per person, season to taste (I use salt, pepper, and sriracha), and pour over the potatoes and sausage. Stir occasionally until done.

There is something quintessentially breakfast about potatoes, sausage, and eggs and I'd eat this for breakfast every day if my belly wouldn't grow to be the size of a house!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Linden Vineyards/Pig Out

A few weeks ago a letter arrived at the restaurant inviting us to come to the Linden Preview Tasting on the 22nd. I suppose that this is in lieu of the traditional barrel tasting after all the hoopla with ABC in 2012 about giving people samples of untaxed wine. Seriously. ABC couldn't see that all these people who had a few samples of untaxed wine then went and spent a small fortune on wine and generated some serious sales and excise taxes. Bureaucrats in action. After all the to-do, I am not sure where the law stands, but it seems that barrel tastings are back in swing, though this one only featured a single wine in barrel (or egg, as it were).

The Preview Tasting Line Up
Just before we left the house to drive down to Linden, I rubbed a pork shoulder with my special pork dry rub, placed it on a bed of onion slabs, and put it in a slow oven to roast while we were away, intending on having pulled pork for dinner when we returned. Once at Linden, we chatted with Jim Law for a minute and then headed down into the cellar, where we were joined a few minutes later by Kenny G, our sommelier.

Kenny G
The first wine was part of the 2014 rosé which is not yet blended. We sampled straight out of the concrete egg and I must say that this is the best Virginia rosé that I have ever tasted. Jim told me that it is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from certain blocks purposefully picked early. Contrast this with prior years when the wine has been made largely via saignage: a vast difference.

Next we tasted the 2013 Chards: Avenius, Boisseau, and Hardscrabble. Avenius is still angular and disjointed showing lots of grapefruit and citrus and acts more like a Sauvignon Blanc than a Chard; give it 5 years to come together and I bet it is awesome. Boisseau is pretty decent this year again as they are picking earlier to preserve acid. Hardscrabble is a mouthful, bountiful neutral oak, sappy acid, and lots of flavors going on. On balance, I love the 2013 Chards.

Then the reds from 2012 in the same order. Avenius has this superior blueberry nose and again is disjointed: the fruit, the acid, and the tannins are all separate. It's a really interesting wine to me and I am looking forward to when it comes together in a few years. Boisseau is a young but ready-to-drink crowd pleaser. The wines from this hot site are always forward. The 2012 Hardscrabble is a baby for sure, tasting youthful and grapy, with a nice underpinning of acid and tannin. I love this wine now, but give it 10 years: it will be a thing of beauty.

Annie is not Happy!

Our Own Private Rosemary Plant
After the tasting, we ordered a bottle of Hardscrabble 2010 and some food and ended up sitting upstairs because it was too chilly outside and the main room was jammed. It is some serious hardship to have to drink Hardscrabble red.

After an hour or so over a leisurely lunch with Kenny, we headed back to the house, not really wanting to be out all day. As we pulled into the garage, the wondrous scent of pork assaulted our senses. We managed to hold out for an hour or so, but not much longer than that.

Look at the Bark on this Beast
After a total of five hours in the slow oven, I pulled the pork shoulder out and gave it a poke with my tongs. Ready for sure! I left it on the counter to cool while we watched a bit more TV and continued to drink more Hardscrabble red. Next thing I know, my wife is at the counter pulling the pig to bits and stuffing face! I joined her. So much for a proper dinner. We stood at the counter and jammed way too hot pig in our faces until we could no longer stand! Damn I make some awesome pig! Pig out!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Squid Ink Linguine with Nduja and Shrimp

Squid Ink Linguine with Nduja and Shrimp

This month's bon appétit has on the cover a gorgeous Marcus Nilsson photo of a gorgeous plate of squid ink spaghetti with nduja and shrimp. I am so not one to steal a recipe out of a magazine: magazine recipes seldom intrigue me enough to want to cook them. Borrow, sure, I borrow ideas from all kinds of sources, but cook a recipe basically as-is? Never happens. But I was really struck by the cover photo and so I decided to make it more or less as-is.

You know nduja don't you? It's a Calabrese soft salame that seems like a mash-up of rillettes and pepperoni, seasoned with fiery Calabrese chile peppers. What's not to love? After many years in obscurity, it is slowly moving into the hipster spotlight and I hate that one of my favorite foods is headed for trendiness. And I'm also kicking myself: "Why didn't I think of using it in pasta sauce?"

Now my photo doesn't look at all good compared to the cover photo, but then I didn't have a food stylist artfully arranging six strands of pasta on a plate, a $4000 camera, and all kinds of nice light boxes and reflectors. Can you imagine if I had artfully arranged six strands of pasta on a plate? My Italian wife would have been screaming, "Where's the pasta?"

I did add a tablespoon of sambal oelek to the dish because there wasn't enough spice in the nduja for my liking. And next time, well, there's no next time. The shrimp for me didn't add much of anything, nor did the squid ink pasta. Blindfolded, it's just pasta. But, I will rip off the nduja in tomato sauce trick again and again.

I can see it now: nduja tomato sauce, grilled eggplant, fresh basil, and ricotta salata on pasta. That's where I am heading next time. Borrowing, but not stealing.

Monday, March 16, 2015


It's not very often you'll see junk food on this blog, but Ann wanted nachos and we had a bunch of stuff around from which to make them, so nachos it was. They were delicious even if they did conjure up distant memories of college and pitchers of really bad beer!

Nachos with Nopalitos and Black Beans
Right out of the Oven

I cut up some old tortillas and Ann and I tag-teamed frying them. Then they got topped with black beans, nopalitos, pickled jalapeños (but only a little because our last batch is screaming spicy), cheddar cheese, queso Chihuahua, and green onions. After the nachos came out of the oven, I sprinkled on a bunch more green onions, a handful of cilantro leaves, and squirted the top with a smoky pimentón sauce.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Quick, Midweek Dinner

Grilled Scallops on Risotto of Israeli Couscous

Last night was Thursday March 12 and the first beautiful evening after the spring clock change, the glorious first evening of the year when the weather and the light were both good enough to grill out. From long years of experience at the restaurant, I know that this means an empty dining room. I used to get so twisted up about this phenomenon and the cashflow implications, but after more than a decade of it, I now subscribe to the old adage, if you can't beat them, join them.

Accordingly, I left the restaurant to the crew (poor, poor bastards) at 5 p.m. with a few scallops and stopped by the store on the way home, searching for something. I left the restaurant with the idea that I would grill the scallops and serve them over an Israeli couscous risotto, something that would take 20 minutes or less to execute, but I needed something to go in the risotto or at least a vegetable garnish. Being in a very spring mood, I grabbed some sugar snaps, a leek, and some dill for the risotto.

Scallops, Sugar Snaps, Dill, Pecorino, Israeli Couscous, Leek, Saffron

Risotto of Israeli couscous is shorthand for saying that I cooked the couscous, a small, round pasta, in the same manner as I would have cooked Arborio rice for a risotto. First, I sweated the leek and saffron in some butter and once the leek had gone translucent, I added the couscous and water to just barely cover. As the couscous absorbed the water and the water evaporated, I added more water bit by bit until the pasta was cooked and the liquid incorporated. Next I added the raw chopped sugar snaps (chopped to mimic peas and to not be significantly larger than the pasta), a handful of chopped dill, and a half a cup or so of grated pecorino romano cheese. I stirred well, seasoned to taste with salt, and added a bit more water to achieve the texture I wanted.

Before I started the risotto, I fired up the grill and let it get good and hot for about 15 minutes while I prepped and started the risotto. Then I sprayed the grill down with Vegalene and placed the scallops on for about 4 to 5 minutes. They turned out as you see in the initial photo above.

Tips I have learned from years of grilling scallops (they are not the easiest thing in the world to grill because they want to stick mightily):

1. Start with dry scallops. Dry is a trade term for a shucked and rinsed scallop. Wet is a trade term for scallops that have been treated with a chemical (sodium tripolyphosphate) that acts as a preservative. Not only does it extend the shelf life of the scallops, it helps it retain water, and a scallop that retains water is a heavier scallop and one that nets more money for the seller. Unfortunately, when you cook said scallop, it oozes that retained water back out and you'll never get that scallop to brown.

2. Start with large scallops. U-10s to be exact. That is under 10 to the pound. You need a big scallop to stand up to the heat of the grill.

3. Start with a very hot grill. The grill bars need to be very hot to sear the scallop. Once seared, the scallop will release from the grill.

4. Just before placing the scallops on the grill, spray the grill and the scallops with Vegalene, a commercial pan spray. Don't screw around with inferior grocery store pan spray. If you're serious about grilling, go to the Internet and get some Vegalene.

5. Leave the scallops longer than you think you should. As I said, for these big boys, they were on the grill 4 to 5 minutes. It takes time to get that great sear so that the scallop will release. Don't rush it.

6. Cook the scallops on one side only. After you have left the scallops on the grill long enough to get great stripes on the show side, they don't need any further cooking.

Beautiful U-10 Dry Scallops

These scallops are gorgeous and you'll notice that some have a pink, orange, or coral tint. If you've ever shucked a female scallop and you've seen the bright coral color of the ovary (which we call the roe and is delicious), you have a good idea where this color comes from. Sometimes the females produce too much of the carotenoid zeaxanthin that colors the ovary and it leaches into the adductor muscle, the part that we eat. Hence, the colored meats are from female scallops. There is no difference in taste.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup

Shrimp and Lemongrass Soup
Monday I was in the mood for light fare and I wanted soup too, so I combined the two into a very colorful bowl for dinner. This soup is all about the broth as are most soups. I made a stock from water, chicken stock, galangal, kaffir lime, smashed lemongrass, smashed garlic, shiitake stems, and snow pea trimmings. The stock simmered for 90 minutes, at which point I strained it, seasoned it with fish sauce and lime juice, brought it to a slight boil, and added the shrimp and shiitakes. Once the shrimp were nearly cooked, about two minutes, I added the fresh rice noodles for another minute.

Then I transferred some rice noodles and shrimp to each bowl, garnished with sweet pepper rings, snow peas, and cilantro, and then ladled the boiling broth over the top.

Linden Vineyards in Snow

Sunday was a good day and a bad day all rolled into one. A good day in the sense that it was the first spring-like day of the year and a bad day in the sense that we have been going through some struggles of late. I'm not sure either of us really felt like getting out of the house, but in the end, we navigated our way to Linden and took advantage of the beautiful weather to sit out on the deck, even while the vineyard was covered in snow.

Linden is Beautiful in all Seasons
Feasting out on the Deck
One reason we like to go in the off season is that Jim picks a wine from his library to open to pour by the glass and that gives us an opportunity to taste some of his wines with a bit of age on them. In this case, we both enjoyed a glass of the 2006 Boisseau Red.

This Week's Library Pour

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Arugula and Duck Salad

Arugula and Duck Salad
I love a good salad and seeing some baby arugula at the farmers market on Saturday caused me to want a salad, so I grabbed a bunch of random salad things on my way home Saturday night: a pomegranate, a roasted duck breast, a few orange segments, some shaved fennel, some toasted pine nuts, and a little grated Manchego cheese. I made a dressing of mustard, balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. I ate three helpings!

Pasta Fagioli

Pasta e Fagioli
"I had an open can of cannellini in the walk in."

Alex, what is "Why did you decide to make pasta fagioli tonight?" Saturday evening, for Sunday dinner, Ann asked me to surprise her because we were staying in and cooking, a decision taken directly from the weather forecast which predicted a wintry mix all day (but, typical of such forecasts, never came to be). From making another batch of minestrone last weekend, I had the bulk of a huge can of cannellini in the cooler that needed to be used.

While trying to decide what to make, I remember Ann telling me that I went the entirety of 2014 without making her a batch of pasta fagioli, (clearly, she forgets this batch), so I thought that I would  surprise her with one of our favorite comfort foods.

All the Ingredients Save White Wine and Cannellini
Each batch, and there are at least four batches documented here on this blog, is different. In this case, there was too much snow in the garden to go hunting for thyme and sage, so I was content with parsley and rosemary from the cooler. And no time or desire to go shopping for a box of ditalini, so we made do with orzo from the pantry. The mirepoix for this batch was onion, carrot, celery, and a fennel bulb. I always add fennel if I have it, but I usually don't have it. Pancetta is de rigueur, but sausage or bacon would do in a pinch. Lucky for us, I always have a slab or two of pancetta hanging in the cooler and another in the cure. And finally, I cooked the pasta directly in the beans. Ordinarily, I cook them separately. All this is by way of saying, it is a simple pot of beans and pasta and no matter how you make it, it will be delicious.

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...