Thursday, June 29, 2006

Book Club Supper

We spent a delightful evening discussing Marley and Me by John Grogan. Since the gathering was at my house, I prepared the food.

Chicken Casserole

1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil

4 to 6 boneless chicken breasts, cut up into bite-sized pieces and salted & peppered

3 strips of darned good bacon, cut up into ~1/4 inch strips

1 sweet onion, chopped

5 to 6 carrots, diced

dried herbs of your choice (parsley, thyme, or lavender would be my choices – or any combination of the three)

¼ cup flour

2 to 4 cups chicken broth, heated (nuke for a couple of minutes before using)

4 to 6 Yukon gold potatoes, diced



Warning: All measurements are approximate. Results may vary.

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees. In a largish heavy bottom pot that can go into the oven (make sure it has a top – I like to use Le Creuset), pour in the olive oil. Heat oil to medium-high, dump in the chicken, and sauté for a few minutes. Use a nylon or silicon spatula to move the chicken bites around. At this point the chicken does not need to be done. Take the chicken out and put in a bowl out of the way. Dump in the bacon, onions, and carrots. Sprinkle some salt. Stir around and let cook until onions are tender. Make sure to stir occasionally so the onions do not burn (if you want to turn the heat down to medium, go ahead). Sprinkle in the herbs. Stir some more. Once the onions are tender, add the flour and stir some more. The flour will soak up the oil and juices and make things a little gloppy. This is a good thing. Before the mixture really browns the bottom of the pot, pour about 2 cups of chicken broth. Scrape the bottom of the pot and stir to incorporate the flour. Put the chicken back into the pot and dump the potatoes into the pot. Pour more chicken broth in until it’s about even with the height of the mixture. Turn the heat up and let the stuff come to a boil. When boiling, cover pot and place in the oven (please, use pot holders!). Keep in oven between an hour and an hour and a half. Take out and serve.

This dish was served with Italian peasant bread from the Metro Bakery and a salad made with my Famous Dressing. If you want my salad dressing recipe go to the pjpink’s famous salad dressing entry.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Dinner, Movie, & After-Dinner Drinks

Yes, you, too, could have a wonderful evening. Our evening began with an early dinner at Bin 22 at Betsy's. This wine bar located in Carytown was perfect for our movie agenda. We quaffed a 1/2 bottle of a Hess 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon ($22) and dined on paninis ($8 each). My pressed sandwich consisted of Black Forest ham, Gruyere cheese, and sliced pears. My husband had the smoked turkey, Gruyere cheese, and sliced apples. While hubby's had a tart flavor because of the apples, mine was more sublime with the pears melding into the ham. Both were accompanied by a mixed green salad with balsamic vinaigrette.

And, now, on to the movies. At the Byrd Theatre, of course ($2 per person). We watched Thank you for Smoking. Very tongue in cheek. Don't forget popcorn, beverages, and Snowcaps ($11). During the Byrd commercials, we espied an offer too good to let go: bring your ticket stub to CanCan after the movie and receive a 1/2 glass of house wine for free.

After the show we made a beeline to CanCan. We ordered the house red, a Cotes du Ventoux (free!). And while it would not be our top choice, Bob, the wine director, does a great job with selecting all of the wines for CanCan. The 1/2 glass pour was 3 oz. and people-watching and eavesdropping at the bar is always fun. Of course, CanCan gets you in the door and as we watch other orders being prepare, we want something else, too. My spouse ordered the Cafe Francais and I have a small Cafe Creme ($10 including a nice tip for the barkeep).

A great evening, all within Carytown. And all for ~$70. Yeah!

Monday, June 19, 2006

pjpink's famous salad dressing

What a scorcher yesterday! And, alas, only the beginning of wicked hot weather. So, salad time is upon us, and everyone should have a kick-ass salad dressing. This one is mine:

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 garlic clove mashed
1 teaspoon dried basil or 1 tablespoon fresh basil, chopped (or more or less to taste)
salt and pepper to taste
2 heads Romaine lettuce, torn into bite size pieces
1/2 head radicchio, sliced very thin
1/2 cup cashews

Pour the oil and vinegar into a medium bowl and whisk until incorporated. Add sugar and whisk again. Add the rest of the ingredients and whisk. Place in refrigerator for half an hour or so.

Place lettuce and radicchio in large salad bowl. Whisk dressing one more time, extract the garlic, and pour over salad. Toss to coat. Sprinkle cashews over salad.

If someone asks you for the recipe, feel free to share, but please give pjpink some credit!

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Kuba Kuba

We got take out from Kuba Kuba last night. Located in the Fan at Lombardy and Park and a staple of the community for years. I didn't feel like cooking and my spouse did not want to go out to eat. I love this hole-in-the-wall place. I walked in, put in my order, and sat on one of the counter stools and enjoyed a limeade while I waited. Kuba Kuba's limeades are more tart than the ones at Croaker's Spot. As I waited I surveyed the kitchy items on the wall and watched the laid back wait staff deftly handle more limeades, meals, and espressos. When I arrived home with the goods, we ate outside on our deck (probably one of the last times we will be able to eat outside without sweltering). Dinner was Cuban Pork sandwiches. It had been a while. Tender roast pork, thin slice of ham, melted cheese, sliced dill pickle, yellow mustard - what a great combination. And don't forget, everything is stuffed into a generous Cuban sub roll and then pressed. Panninis have nothing on this. We washed it down with a 2000 Muga Rioja Riserva. Divine. The only thing missing was the Cafe con Leche (with sweetened condensed milk) for dessert.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

London Broil with Vegetable Medley

Vacations are behind me. The cook stove is once again a-burnin’. For tonight London Broil strikes my fancy (and hopefully, hubby’s, too!). And away we go…

Get yourself a London Broil. Mine tonight weighs about 1 1/3 pounds. Make slashes across the top of the slab of beef like so…///////. Don’t slash all the way through. Turn the meat over and repeat for the other side…///////. Set the beef aside. Grab 2-4 cloves of garlic; peel them and then smash them (I like to use a meat cleaver to smash the garlic. I think of it as a way to work off road rage tension.). Get a gallon size plastic zip-loc bag. Pour in about ½ cup of olive oil, then pour in about 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar (all portions are approximate – you can also use other types of vinegar). Toss in the smashed garlic and then throw in some dried herbs (tonight, I am using dried rosemary sprigs that my sweetie grew for me last year). Mix everything up by gently shaking the bag. Be careful not to let it spill out, the oily mess is a bear to clean up. Put the London Broil in, seal up the bag, shake it around to coat the meat, set the bag on a plate or bowl, and set the stuff in the refrigerator. Leave it alone for about ½ hour and then flip it over. After flipping, let it stay put another ½ hour. Take it out of the refrigerator, flip again, place on the counter and let it come to room temperature (usually about ½ hour). Preheat the oven using the broil setting. Take the meat out of the marinade and place it on a broiler pan. Salt and pepper the up side. Broil for about five minutes. Flip the meat, salt and pepper that side, and broil for another five minutes. This should give you a medium rare hunk of beef. You can adjust to your tastes accordingly. Slice the London Broil as thick or as thin as you like (or as sharp as your knife is). Serve with veggies.

I’ll be serving this bad boy with a vegetable medley. My medley consists of onions, fresh white corn sliced off the cob, red bell pepper, and zucchini – all diced. When you dice up the zucchini, put the slices on a paper towel and sprinkle with salt; cover with another paper towel. This draws out some of the water and any bitterness in the green squash. Sauté the onions in a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Add the peppers. When the onions have softened (10-15 minutes, maybe?), add the corn. Keep stirring occasionally. At the very end add the zucchini and cook until the right tenderness for you.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Pork in Tomatillo Sauce with Cumin Rice

Here's what I'm fixing for dinner tonight:

First of all here are the ingredients (more or less) – 4 boneless country style pork ribs, 5 tomatillos (peeled – does one peel tomatillos? and cut in half), 4 cloves of garlic, fresh oregano sprigs, juice of one lime, chicken broth, jasmine rice, whole cumin seeds, salt, and pepper, peanut oil.

And here’s what I did: put tomatillos, garlic, and oregano in food processor and puree the stuff. Let it sit on the counter. Take a small pot (or a small frying pan with high sides) and pour in a little peanut oil, not too much. Turn the burner on medium high and let the oil heat up. While the oil is heating, salt and pepper the ribs, back and front. Place ribs in hot pan/pot and sear for about a minute a side (I used tongs to do this). Since my pot was tiny, I did one rib at a time. When the last rib has been seared and is out of the pot, immediately pour in the lime juice. Be careful! Don’t burn your self. When the juice is in and bubbling scrape up the left-behind pork bits with a wooden spoon/scraper/spatula. Put the ribs back into the pot. Add the tomatillo stuff and pour in a little bit of chicken broth to barely cover the ribs. Wait for the liquid to boil, put a top on the pot and leave it askew, and then turn the heat down to low. Let it simmer for about an hour.

Make some rice to serve with this concoction. Get another pot. Pour in a small amount of peanut oil. Add some whole cumin seeds. Heat the oil and seeds over medium high heat and stir. After about a minute (don’t burn the seeds!), add a cup of rice (no Minute Rice, please) and stir. When the rice is coated with oil, add 2 cups of chicken broth. Let mixture come to a boil, cover and turn the heat to low. The rice should be done in about 15-20 minutes depending on your stove.

Serve rice and pork separately or serve pork over rice, depending on how picky your family is. This dreamed up dish is good for about two people. And the verdict? My husband liked the fact that the pork was tender to the point of falling apart, yet the tomatillos added a bright freshness even after being cooked for an hour.

One more thing...what to drink? We are, generally, die-hard red wine drinkers. Tonight was no exception. We had a 2003 Savigny-Les-Beaune Les Picotins from Burgundy producer Domaine Jean-Luc DuBois. Very light with bright fruit. When accompanied by the pork and tomatillos, the fruit increased and the mouth feel seemed fuller. The changes to the wine were amazing with this unorthodox pairing. Experimentation can be a good thing.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Cookbook Raves

I enjoy cooking and wanted to share some of my favorite books with you.

THE book that taught me how to cook:
Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

For the first 7-8 years after I got married, I never cooked. If I attempted to cook, the results were disastrous and highly frustrating. One day I decided I wanted to make true spaghetti sauce from scratch, not from a can. I bought Marcella’s book (yes, we are on a first name basis) and tried one of her recipes which turned out to be a fabulous success. I have never looked back. She deftly weaves in culinary technique into her recipes. The other thing that I highly prized is that she would tell you what not to do or what to avoid and the reason why. I finally learned how to use real frying and sauté pans. Marcella introduced me to roasted red peppers, delicious roast beef, and the joy of zucchini. She also taught me how to pan fry a New York Strip. I now prefer to eat steak at home because my preparation is better than most restaurants (I can also imbibe a less expensive, but better wine with my meal). Here are some of my favorite recipes:

Roast Beef Braised with Onions

Tomato Sauce with Garlic and Basil

Sautéed Green beans with Parmesan Cheese

Sautéed Zucchini Rounds with Oregano

A cookbook I used to read before I learned how to cook and then actually used:
The Heritage of Southern Cooking by Camille Glen

I loved to read this book Camille Glen’s stories of a long-ago Southern past sprinkled about the old-timey recipes were tasty morsels that I sopped up with glee. The vintage photographs of this bygone era just add to the books charm. Some of the recipes that I enjoy making…

Windfall Apple Pie

Sour Cream Corn Muffins

Roast Quail with Country Ham

A German cookbook:
The New German Cookbook by Jean Anderson and Hedy Wurz

I have no idea what possessed me to buy this book years ago, but I’m happy that I did. Some of the recipes that I have bookmarked:

Braised Red Cabbage with Onions and Apples in Red Wine Sauce

Medallions of Pork with Mushrooms and Cognac-Cream Sauce

Shredded Carrots with Lime and Rosemary

The Ultimate French cookbook:
Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume One by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck

I had been cooking for a few years before I purchased this book. How the recipes were organized was very different from most books. Everything seemed way too complicated. I finally made some time to really delve into the book and discovered how easy it was to make whipped cream. Growing up all we ever had was Cool Whip. Occasionally, I would have a taste of Redi-Whip at someone else’s house. I was flabbergasted at how easy it was to make…and how much better it tasted. A few items that made me and my husband shout “C’est magnifique!”:

Steamed Shrimp

Potage Parmentier (Leek and Potato Soup)

Coq au Vin

Boeuf Bourguignon

For the ultimate in smart-ass cookbooks:
Les Halles Cookbook by Anthony Bourdain

When describing how to prep a chicken he admonishes “Don’t rip the freaking skin!” One section is called “blood & guts” (not for the squeamish). In the middle of the directions for Coq au Vin he says “Have a drink. You’re almost there…” Yes, my kind of guy. If you like his style, check out Kitchen Confidential. If knowing what really goes on in a restaurant kitchen will forever change your dining habits, avoid at all costs.

My favorite wine book:
The New Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson

I own the 1st edition which was published in 1997. The 4th edition came out in 2005. This is more of a wine reference than a what-to-buy-now guide. And that’s why it has stood the test of time. I particularly like the extensive French section which details each region and has blurbs on almost every AOC in the country along with varietal percentages and top producers. Since French wines can be so hard to decipher, this is a great book to have. We have also referenced Spanish and Italian wines. The North American section is not as robust, at least in the 1st edition.

And finally, I just finished the novel The Food of Love by Anthony Capella. A story set in Rome intertwining food and romance. He even prefaces his sections with quotes from Marcella Hazan. Delicious!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Northside Ladies Chow Down at Croaker's Spot

I belong to the Northside Ladies Dining Club. In fact, I am a charter member. Originally, it began as a group of women living in the Northside of Richmond. We would gather together every couple of months and try different restaurants. We have had as few as three members attend and on one memorable occasion we packed a place with 13 (members and guests). Last night we headed for Croaker’s Spot. Located on the corner of Leigh and 2nd Streets, it has garnered rave reviews both locally and nationally. They claim to be “the soul of seafood in the soul of the city.” And it’s all true! Five of us partook in the festivities. The restaurant itself is divided in the middle by a wall with bar on one side and a cozy eating area on the other. The hostess stand also does a brisk take out service. There is a very tiny brick patio with three tables. Since the summer evening rains were holding off, we opted for the patio. Most of us ordered fresh pressed limeades – a little tart and oh so sweet. Perfect for a warm evening. All of our meals came with huge slabs of cornbread. I could have made a meal just from the cornbread. Here’s a rundown of what we ordered and reactions:

MJ – Twin Crabcake Medallions (appetizer portion) – “Excellent. Lots of crab meat. A little spicy.”

BT – Egglestons Fried Fish Boat (fried lake trout fillets with sautéed green bell peppers and Vidalia onions and house potatoes) – “Fabulous.”

JW – Two Cheese Fish Boat (fried trout fillets topped with melted mozzarella and cheddar cheese and served with peppers and onions) – “Amazing. Not as much fish due to all of the toppings. Beware of bones.”

SMO – Shrimp and Scallop Broil (served with rice and cabbage) – “Yum, yum, yum. Tender but not overdone. And great cabbage.”

And yours truly, PJPINK – Butterfly Shrimp Dinner (served with cheese grits and cabbage) – “The shrimp was lightly fried and meaty with a touch of spice. Just what I had been craving. The cheese grits were okay, but I am not a grits fan, so my opinion may not count for much.”

I can report that a good time was had by all, and when I have a hankering for great fried seafood and fish, I know the “Spot.”

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Random Wine Thoughts

I’m sitting here imbibing a 2000 Simi Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley – smooth, heavy body, with just the right amount of fruit, slightly acidic on the finish. I plan to have this with a baked potato and a T-bone steak. We’ll see how much is left for my meal. It’s amazing how utterly delicious a California Cab can be after drinking nothing but French for a while. The same is true in reverse, as well. A decent French Bordeaux or Cotes du Rhone can be sheer ambrosia after lots of CA wine. We are truly lucky to have such a great variety from which to choose. While in Quebec province we drank some phenomenal nectars, but would not be able to afford it on a day-to-day basis. Cheers and huzzah to the US! The wine distribution system may have its flaws (and in TN one can not buy wine in grocery stores), but I truly believe it’s better than anywhere else.

Let us all raise a glass!

Monday, June 05, 2006

Capital Ale House on a Monday Night

We had business around Innsbrook and afterward decided to go to Capital Ale House for dinner. When we first arrived the host stand seemed a bit unorganized. The female hostess was preoccupied and not very pleasant. After she walked away, we almost left. A male host came over; he fumbled around with the menus, but was at least polite. We finally managed to be seated outside on the brick patio. And our waiter was much more knowledgeable and on the ball than the entrance staff, thank goodness.

The beer, ale, brew menu was extensive. 51 brews on tap with over 100 beers in bottle including several lambics and a couple of eisbocks. I'm generally not a beer fan, but I opted for a Franziskaner Hefe Weisse on draft ($4.25). It's smooth with very little of the bitter aftertaste that I detest. It's also served with a slice of lemon. My honey had an Allgauer Furstabt Hefe Weizen ($5.75). Even though this was a wheat beer, it was not as fruity as most wheat beers.

And since this was Monday, it was Burger Night! Hamburgers were a buck. Cheeseburgers, a buck fifty. Specialty burgers, two bucks. And we are talking 1/3 lb of ground beef at least. Hubby had the Cheeseburger with a side of fries (fries served with dill mayo - $1.99). I went for the Smokehouse Burger with bacon and smoked Gouda. A very filling and inexpensive meal.

This was a great way to experiment with various brews and have a decent meal. If you are not into beers, they also have a full bar (in fact, they have three separate bars and one of them is non-smoking). The wine list is short and on the pricey side. Next time I go, I think I'll try another beer.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Anniversary Trip - Part Five: Jim Thorpe, PA

The last leg of our journey was Jim Thorpe, PA. We needed to find a place between Richmond and Montreal. Jim Thorpe is nestled between a couple of mountains and a river. It's very small and boasts a train station, opera house, and a thriving arts community. We stayed at the Parsonage Bed & Breakfast. Maureen was a knowledgable and gracious hostess. She even remembered our anniversary with a heart-shaped orange-flavored cake. This little added touch meant a lot to us. The B&B also had special arrangements with Kathy from Out of the Blue - a house that provided massage therapy upstairs and an art gallery downstairs. Kathy's massages were incredible and since we were staying at the Parsonage, it was only $48. Another special arrangement was with the Black Bread Cafe - safe to assume the best restaurant in town. If you ate dinner at the Black Bread, they would serve you a free drink in the Martini Lounge upstairs either before of after dinner. We chose after dinner and thus began our meal downstairs with a bottle of Silverado Merlot. Of course, black bread was served. I began with a Heats of Romaine salad followed by a Filet Mignon. My husband tried the special Shrimp Cocktail appetizer and then the Grilled Salmon. Wine was great, service was excellent, food was delicious. We opted out of dessert and headed upstairs to the lounge. I had the Chocolate Martini. In fact, the first one was so good, I had another. My spouse went with the Key Lime Pie Martini. The bar tender was friendly and folksy. A nice end to a fabulous trip.