Thursday, April 30, 2015

Ed Food: Artichoke, Tomato, Prosciutto, and Olive Pasta

Artichoke, Tomato, Prosciutto, and Olive Sauce for Pasta
Thursday of our vacation week was a long but ultimately very successful day. We were back from Snowshoe to babysit Carter and we couldn't really take a day trip because my daughter Lillie was coming to town to be a princess in the Apple Blossom parade and we were to meet her at her hotel in mid-afternoon.

So, we tackled the garage. And what an undertaking that was. Over the years, it had become a general dumping ground: Ann's craft stuff, lots of old paint, old Boy Scout supplies from when Carter was a boy, and boxes and piles of my tools, just dropped in the garage post-divorce. In short, it was a mess. Long story short, it is now a functional, neat, organized, and useful space and we both feel much better for having bitten the bullet.

But it was hungry work and at some point during the day, Ann said to me, "Make me a pasta with artichokes." OK, so twist my arm. Two of my absolute favorite things together? So on our way back from seeing Lillie, we stopped at the neighborhood Food Lion, a generally horrid little store, and grabbed a can of artichoke hearts. I am shocked that they even had artichoke hearts, but pleasantly shocked.

There were a few grape tomatoes on the counter and scrounging in the refrigerator yielded some prosciutto, some olives, and garlic. And there you have it. Plain, simple, direct, and flavorful. I'd rather have this dish than all the foie gras and caviar in the world. This is Ed food.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Snowshoe WV Tuesday

Tuesday morning when I took the dogs out, while the sun had not yet come up over the mountain behind us to the east, and even though it was cold and windy, I could already tell that the clouds and humidity from the day before were gone and that it was going to be a lovely, if cool, day, a great day for our planned walkabout and subsequent picnic.

Eggs with Broccoli, Cream Cheese, and Dill
After a delightful breakfast of scrambled eggs with cream cheese and broccoli, we headed out to go see the sights at Snowshoe. Once we passed the golf course on the right on the way up the hill, I could see acres and acres of hillside covered in ramps. Mark said that a couple weeks prior when the ramps first started coming out that cars were parked all over the shoulder of the road and the hillside was covered with foragers.

Top of Snowshoe Mountain Looking Due West
At the top, we toured the resort, bringing back memories from years gone by, and we stopped at this clearing on the steeper west side of the mountain. You cannot see it in the picture but way down as far as you can see grass is a big whitetail doe happily munching away. This ski run has not been used for whatever reason, probably because it is super steep.

It Was Cold on Top
The wind was very stiff, coupled with temperatures in the 40s up on the ridge, and it proved to be chilly when we were exposed, severely limiting the time we spent gazing about like the tourists we were. We moved along to the top of the hill and a grove of spruce trees under which the ground was covered in moss or "green snow" as the locals have dubbed it. We walked along the mountain bike trail under the trees with the dogs and eventually came to the USGS marker at 4848 feet, marking the highest point on the mountain and the second highest point in West Virginia. What surprised me is that it looked like slightly to the west, parts of the hill were actually a foot or 18 inches higher than where the marker was located. The spruce grove was a great break from the wind and a great diversion for the dogs.

Green Snow
After circling back through the main village, we took West Ridge Road back along the west side of the hill and looked at some of the crazy condos with impossibly steep driveways, ultimately circling back to the east side of the hill and making our way down to the valley and Shavers Lake. While it was warmer in the valley by the lake, the wind was screaming right up the valley and so after watching the deer wander around within feet of us, we sought shelter at the picnic tables on the deck in the lee of the Boathouse restaurant just opposite the Ballhooter ski lift.

Shavers Lake

Picnicking in the Sun
We had a long, leisurely lunch of cheese, crackers, and salame while basking in the sun. Mark, Kelley, and I set out on a trek around the lake on the mile and a half loop trail. While we walked for about 45 minutes, Ann and the dogs soaked up the sun on the Boathouse deck. Grace was a very happy dog: outside doing her favorite thing, being passed out in the sun.

Still Snow on the Ski Runs
About two thirds of the way through the hike, we crossed the earthen dam that creates Shavers Lake. I took this photo near the water intake for the pump house that runs the snowblowing equipment and you can see that even at the first of May, there is still a bit of snow on the ski runs.

Killer Pasta
Back at the house, Kelley and Ann went in the kitchen and created this pasta while Mark and I sat and yacked. It has spicy sausage, mushrooms, and zucchini in it and Kelley says she modeled it on a pasta I once made. Whatever the origin, it was a great bowl of pasta. I just love this cavatappi/cellantani/spirali shape. This was a great dinner for our final meal in West Virginia before heading back to Funchester in the morning. Great job ladies!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Snowshoe WV Monday

From the moment I took the dogs out on Monday morning around 6 am, before the sun got up over the mountain behind us (if we could have seen it through the clouds), it was clear that there would be no morel hunting that day. The ground was covered in frost and the mist was so thick around that it seemed that it was nearly raining. That was a harbinger of a cold, gray, and rainy day, an inside day.

Although I was looking forward to foraging for morels, given how tired I was from a year without a vacation and from an incredibly busy week before we closed, I was OK with a day of doing little to nothing, of worrying about what to eat and drink and nothing more serious than that.

Later morning found us all sitting around the table in the bay window in the kitchen taking in the day and sipping coffee while chatting and catching up on life. Now that Mark and Kelley live three and a half hours from us, chances to visit are few and far between. Now that the resort is closed between ski season and the summer season, Mark and Kelley are kicking it, waiting for work to pick back up in a few weeks, and it was a good time to catch up. During the seasons, they are extremely busy doing ski patrol, guiding bike rides and hikes, and working in the bars and restaurants up on top of the hill.

We finally got motivated to make breakfast,  closer to lunch time than to breakfast time, and it was a group effort with all of us pitching in.

Cooking Bacon

Bacon and Ramps

Beating Duck Eggs

Duck Eggs with Ramps
I had brought along a dozen duck eggs from the restaurant because we were drowning in them: the girls are laying hot and heavy now. We slowly caramelized chopped ramp bulbs in duck fat and then scrambled the eggs to which we had added chiffonaded ramp greens. The plate of eggs, bacon, and slices of Ann's bread made for a wonderful late breakfast/early lunch.

Scallop Seviche
By late afternoon, I am sure that a little bit of wine had been consumed and we were starting to get a little hungry. I had brought some seafood from the restaurant, 3 scallops and 8 crab cakes, that needed to be eaten and eaten soon. The seviche came as the answer to the question, "How can I feed four adults with three scallops?" I knew there was leftover cilantro from the chili the night before and with Kelley's help, I had soon gathered a lime, some grape tomatoes, some celery, and some garlic together with some chile flakes. Quite a tasty little nibble or two if I do say some myself.

Asparagus and Crab Cakes
For dinner, we ate the asparagus and the crab cakes that I brought from the restaurant. We used Mark's big 14-inch cast iron skillet to cook all of the crab cakes at one time. Brilliant! More board games ensued after dinner and more wine was consumed as we discussed going on a hike and a picnic in the morning, to take advantage of the forecasted sunny weather.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Snowshoe WV Sunday

Sunday morning the 26th was a bit of a groggy affair for me after a really late night at the restaurant with a lot of business and a lot more work to get the place tidied up for a week off. It really was hard to get moving that morning. Even looking forward to driving down to see our friends Mark and Kelley at Snowshoe Resort and a big cup of coffee were having a hard time getting me motivated.

Road Food
But motivated both Ann and I gradually got, aiming for a noon start to our big adventure. I had been studying routes to Snowshoe from Winchester (there are a dozen or more ways) and it's a good thing too because little did I yet know that the GPS in the car had crapped out. What was clear from all the routes is there aren't many opportunities for food between here and there. Ann had wanted to stop some place for lunch along the way, but I don't think she realized how slim the pickings are.

Depending on how you count, Snowshoe is two or three ridgelines west of us and a couple hours south in the middle of Pocahontas County, WV. You have to go through the middle of nowhere to get there, no matter which route you take. And middle of nowhere translates to not much in the way of food, so I made some ham, salame, and provolone sandwiches for the trip there. I have to say that I make a pretty awesome sandwich and each time that I do, I wonder why we do not have a great sandwich shop in Winchester.

First Aid Supplies, in Case of Emergency
Both dogs were on edge all morning because they could tell that something out of the ordinary was happening. As we started to gather our things, including the dog beds, into a pile, Grace made sure that she was not too far away from the pile. And when I started loading the car, she bulled her way past me and into the car, making damned certain that she was not getting left behind. That dog loves and adventure. Charlie, not so much. He barfed three times on the way to Snowshoe, not a pleasant thing for any of us.

"You Are NOT Leaving Without Me!"
Mark has pretty good navigational skills and he had sent us an email with a suggested route which I decided to follow. It had us heading out 55W in our own county and heading up and over North Mountain and down into Wardensville WV where we picked up Corridor H and followed it to just west of Moorefield where we cut south coming in just west of Petersburg, missing the traffic in both those towns.

Seneca Rocks
From Petersburg, we jogged west along the Potomac River through Cabins WV and through Spruce Knob-Seneca Rocks National Recreation Area, a part of the larger Monongahela National Forest. Cabins appears to be named for the seemingly endless collection of cabins on both sides of the highway as it winds along with the river; the primary attraction would seem to be fly fishing for trout in the Potomac. Dominating the landscape is Spruce Knob, impressively high for the East, being the tallest peak in both WV and in the Allegheny Mountains and only 15 feet higher than Snowshoe Mountain that we would see up close and personal later in the trip. Seneca Rocks is equally impressive and we stopped to have a look at it from the valley floor by the river.

As we left the Potomac and started to climb, we went back in time a month. Where the floor along the River looked like spring with plenty of redbuds in bloom and the newly-mown grass flaunting its vibrant spring lime green, down towards Judy Gap where US 33 comes in from Harrisonburg to the east, we seemingly went back to the first of March. The grass on the sides of the road was still mainly brown with tufts of green here and there and the trees were absolutely bare of leaves and with no hint that the red buds were blooming down at lower elevation. It is just amazing to go through a month or more in time by climbing up a mountain.

Leaving Pendleton County, we headed south into Pocahontas County, our ultimate destination, heading from Bartow into Green Bank, the home of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and the heart of the National Radio Quiet Zone. There's only one AM station on the radio and cell signal is non-existent. This would set the stage for a great few days away from cell phones, Facebook, and TV. Significantly taller than the Statue of Liberty, the big 100-meter Green Bank Telescope is visible for many, many miles away. It must be huge up close.

Just south of Green Bank, we made the familiar turn onto 66 west and headed for the big switchback in Cass and the start of the climb up into Snowshoe. It's been a long time since I have been skiing at Snowshoe, but the route from this point on was extremely familiar.

The View at Mark and Kelley's Does not Suck
Much to the dogs' happiness, we arrived at 4 p.m. at Mark and Kelley's up on a big hill just west of Snowshoe. As soon as we arrived, Ann let the dogs run free and naturally, they immediately ran away. Grace came back on her own while Charlie led Mark and me on a wild goose chase. While I was bushwhacking up the mountainside looking for Charlie, I suddenly found myself in a large patch of ramps and blooming trout lilies. The ramp patch would prove to be a teaser for the vast acres of ramps we would see in a couple of days.

Ultimately Ann and Kelley found Charlie much closer to the house and Kelley drove out to find us. While working up the mountainside I saw her car on the switchback above and cut down through the woods to the road below to flag her down and find out that they had the dog. All reconvened back at the house, we sat on the front steps drinking wine and picking thorns out of Charlie's hide. The poor bastard tore himself up pretty good running through the brush. Grace seemed none the worse for wear.

Digging Ramps
While looking for Charlie, I had picked a ramp and while sitting on the porch enjoying the spring sunshine, I showed it to Ann. Somehow it was decided to have ramps and duck eggs for breakfast and so Mark and I wandered about 100 yards from the house and pulled a few more ramps for breakfast. All scratched up and tired from his big explore earlier, Charlie did not stray more than 15 feet from us.

Lots of Tadpoles in this Pond
I got a few moments to wander around the property which is nestled up against a mountain to the east and I took advantage of the beautiful weather to take some shots, including this one of the clouds reflecting off the little pond. As the sun was going down, we headed inside where the scents of the pot of chili that Kelley had made were starting to make us ravenous.

Annie Showing off her Bread
Just before dusk, we watched a lone hen turkey grazing in the back yard. In my experience, it is pretty unusual to see a lone hen unless she is with her poults. Given that it is just spring mating season, I am guessing that this hen is bred and is laying or just about to lay nearby.

Hen Turkey in the Yard
We made quick work of Kelley's delicious chili and then they broke us virgins in at Cards Against Humanity. It was a hilarious evening and we learned very quickly that you do not have food or wine in your mouth when playing. We went to bed not too late with the idea that we were going to get up in the morning and forage for morels.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Glen Manor Comparative Barrel Tasting

On Sunday the 19th, Ann and I drove down to Glen Manor Vineyards south of Front Royal to participate in their comparative barrel tasting, which is one of the most informative tastings that I have ever done. Before we get into that, we should back up a couple months when Jeff and Kelly and I  had a flurry of email conversations about the event and what to pair with each set of wines.

The concept for the tasting as Jeff explained to me in an email was that there would be three stations at which he would pour two wines that differed by only one variable so that we could see the effect (or not) of that variable on the wine. The wine geek in me loves that idea.

Jeff White in Action
The three stations were, in order of tasting, Cabernet Franc, then Cabernet Sauvignon, and finally Petit Verdot. At each station, Kelly had set out bread and/or crackers, water, a dump bucket, and individual portions of Meadow Creek cheese and the charcuterie that I had made to accompany each set of wine.

And His Lovely Wife Kelly
In the photo above, you can see the grissini and crackers that Kelly baked. She killed herself bringing this event off. She decorated each station most artfully and Ann and I both remarked that she did a wonderful job of making the drab and utilitarian cellar come alive.

The two Francs came from the same block and have been in the same barrels, but were vinified with two different yeasts, the one that Jeff uses traditionally for Franc and another that is used for wines of more structure, such as his Cabernet Sauvignon. For Jeff's Franc, which always tastes of bright cherry, I paired a terrine of local pork and dried sour cherries, topped with a cherry mustard. I find when pairing wine that it often helps to echo the predominant fruit in the wine. There are other ways to pair wine, but this is generally safe and since I had no opportunity to taste the wines beforehand, safe is good.

I appreciated the deep cherry flavors in the wine made with the traditional yeast and I appreciated the more tannic structure of the other wine. In fact, I did a glass blend of 60% of the fruitier wine and 40% of the more structured wine and came up with a great glass of Franc. I suspect that both these barrels are destined for the Hodder Hill blend and will not be bottled as Franc.

Kelly Makes my Food Look Good
You see my pairing above for the Cabernet Sauvignon, a bison and blueberry terrine with a cassis mustard. Cab almost always tastes of blackberries and cassis, black currants. In addition, I made a mushroom pâté so that non-meat eaters would have something good to pair with their wine. The two Cabs differed only in that they came from two different blocks with perpendicular row orientation, North-South and East-West.

I expected to like the N-S version best because it would get roughly equal sunlight hours on each side of the row and would likely be riper. What I didn't plan on was that I really enjoyed the structure of the E-W version better. I was amazed in the differences in the two wines from blocks just feet apart, due mainly to row orientation. Live and learn.

The final station had Jeff pouring two Petit Verdots, one of which was aged in a barrel made from oak air-dried 24 months before cooperage and the other whose oak had been air-dried for 36 months. Petit Verdot can be a tannic beast and so I decided to throw some fat at it to tame the tannins. I made duck rillettes with lots of duck fat and butter. I appreciated that the 24-month barrel imparted an oakier flavor to the wine. I liked the 36-month barrel slightly better.

My hat is off to Jeff and Kelly for letting Ann and me come to this wonderful tasting. I learned a lot.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Thai Chicken Salad

On Monday, Ann and I were both running different directions and we missed the opportunity to discuss what was for dinner, so I ended up making an executive decision. Given that it was a warm day, I wanted something cool, light, and highly flavorful.

Thai Chicken Salad
And so I decided to grab a pre-roasted chicken, some herbs, some lettuce, some vegetables, and throw together a salad. I'm calling this Thai Chicken Salad, but I doubt seriously that it has a counterpart in Thailand, though Thai cooks would recognize the spirit of the dish.

Salad Fixings
The first thing I did was to throw together a quick dressing, which you see in the bowl at the top of the photo, of freshly squeezed lime juice, fish sauce, sambal oelek, and agave nectar. Agave isn't used in Thailand but it has the benefit of dissolving readily in a cold dressing. It works better than sugar and I am all about works better.

Then I diced some of the chicken breast and gave it a quick marinade in the dressing while I tossed cilantro and Thai basil leaves with some lettuce leaves. I put the undressed leaves on a platter and then put tomatoes, sweet orange peppers, cucumber, and red onion rings over that. Then I spooned on a good bit of dressing and tossed the chicken on top.

I love crunchy bits in a salad, so on top of everything, I scattered some roasted peanuts and crispy fried shallots.

This was a delightful salad that we gorged ourselves on while sitting in a chair and eating right out of the platter with two forks!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Beef Short Ribs and Orzo Casserole

Sunday April 12 was dedicated to one thing: getting to 9pm and episode one of the fifth season of "Game of Thrones." But we still had to eat. During our morning coffee ritual, Ann asked the question, "Do you have any meat?" As in, were there any unloved proteins in the cooler at work?

Poking around the cooler at work yielded some local beef short ribs: the amount Martin's delivered last week was just too much to fit in our braising pan. And Ann had a plan to make an orzo casserole, so we grabbed some of that too while we were in town. I sensed that the short ribs pleased Ann greatly: she's definitely the carnivore in our family. I could live pretty happily without any meat at all, except for pork. But if I have to eat beef, there is none better than our local beef from Martin's Angus Beef.

Beef Short Ribs
Back at home, I rubbed the ribs with salt and pepper and put them in a 350F oven so that they would be done by dinner time. They ended up in the oven for 5 hours and were as tender as could be.

Meanwhile, the kitchen full of great smells was driving us crazy. There is nothing to stoke hunger more than something delicious roasting away in the oven and perfuming the entire house with hunger-inducing scents. We desperately needed to eat some lunch as we binged on the new season of the "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul" before watching the last couple of episodes of "Game of Thrones" season 4 in preparation for the season opener, so I warmed up some focaccia in the oven and pulled out a local goat cheese crottin and a salame. If you feel like you've seen this before somewhere on this blog, you might be right. Bread, cheese, and salame is one of our favorite casual meals.

Orzo Casserole with Gruyère and Dill
Ann wasn't feeling super well, so I made her orzo casserole by tossing cooked orzo with a quick chicken stock velouté, grated Gruyère, and fresh dill. The sprinkle of grated pecorino on top browned very nicely after about 45 minutes in the oven.

Orzo Casserole, Roasted Beef Short Ribs
When I say that beef doesn't float my boat, I really mean steak doesn't float my boat. Braised or gently roast beef is a very different matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this delicious meal and judging from the lip smacking sounds across from me, I would say that Ann did too. Even Carter made a rare appearance to eat something other than peanut butter or cereal.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Chipotle-Marinated Grilled Pork and Pineapple Salad

Shockingly yellow daffodils in full glory on Monday at dawn heralded a beautiful spring day, signaling from the moment that the dogs and I stepped outside that morning that we were going to eat dinner outside on the patio for the first time this year, as long as the weather gods did not send us a late afternoon thunderstorm. And I knew then that I was going to grill something for dinner. I am not immune to that same urge to put meat to fire that infects everyone else this time of year. It has been how many cold, dreary, months of leaden skies since I have fired the grill?

And then just after noon while I was at work, the text arrived, "some kind of huge salad for dinner?" Hmm, well, that did kind of put a kink in my plans for something grilled, and by something grilled, I meant a burger, a big, fat, voluptuously delicious, grease dripping down the chin, burger.

Chipotle-Marinated Grilled Pork and Pineapple Salad
My burger-lust unsated and shelved, I started working plan B. Plan B was some means of combining grilled meat with a salad. And Plan B happened to be formulating just as I walked by a huge pile of pineapples at the market. Grilled pineapple? Yeah, I'm a fan. Now what? Heat and sweet? Yes sir! Chipotle and pineapple. It just has to be pork. I'll get some thinly sliced pork shoulder, marinate it in chipotle, grill it, some pineapple, and a sweet pepper, and then build a salad on that. Perfect!

Grilled Pork, Pineapple, Peppers and a Salad on Top
Feeling these same spring urges that I felt, Ann put a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge so that it would be cold by the time we both got home. We sat out on the patio and drank our first bottle of white wine of the year. There is something special about that first bottle of white out on the patio, the same patio that had been covered in snow for so many months. Spring, it seems, is finally here!

This dish was beautiful and a good choice for outdoor dining, but damn it, I want a burger!

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Crab and Smoked Salmon Benedict

Crab and Smoked Salmon Benedict
I'm really not much of a Benedict fan, but Ann is and so I set out to make one for her on Easter Sunday. She wanted to put the Benedict on a crumpet, but there are no crumpets to be found in our town, and I did not have the desire to make them, although I have promised to make crumpets for her sometime soon.

Lacking crumpets, I borrowed a little bit of creamy Arborio rice pudding from work and mixed in a good bit of grated Pecorino Romano cheese and some fresh chives from the garden. I formed the rice into perfectly circular forms using a ring mold and then seared them in a black steel pan, hot holding them in a very slow oven while the rest of lunch was cooking. Next up were the crab cakes, which also went into the oven to stay warm.

Then I attempted to make a hollandaise and failed utterly. It happens even to us professionals. I was trying to make too small a batch with the wrong equipment. So I went for the handy dandy squeeze bottle of pimentón sauce in the fridge.

The assembly was very straightforward: rice cake down, finely minced smoked salmon next, then crab cake, then poached duck egg, then pimentón sauce, and finally, a few snipped chives.

Although it looks great and was well cooked, the dish didn't really work for me. All the flavors and textures were too similar, a white on white experience for me.

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...