Monday, December 18, 2006

Roast Beef with Onions

Marcella Hazan, or at least her cook book, The Essentials of Italian Cooking, first introduced me to this recipe. It is so very easy, but make sure you are spending some time at home. It does take about 3 hours to cook.

Roast Beef with Onions

1 large onion, peeled, halved, and cut into thin slivers
2-3 pounds beef (such as a rump roast), if the roast is very tall, I usually cut it in half
salt and pepper to taste

Place slivered onions in the bottom of an enameled cast iron pot (I use Le Creuset). Place beef on top of onions. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover pot and put in the oven. Turn oven to 325 degrees. Let beef cook for about 3 hours. Remove from oven. To serve, pull beef apart and place on plate. Top with onions and juice. I serve with green beans and shallots and mashed potatoes.

If you have leftover beef, make beef and onion soup the next evening.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

pjpink's Egg Nog

What is Christmas without a little Egg Nog? I’ve tried the grocery store carton variety. That stuff is way too thick with natural or artificial thickeners. They left me feeling like I needed to cough up phlegm for the rest of the evening. The only cure would be to add an exorbitant amount of alcohol and then act like an utter drunken idiot. I searched for an egg nog recipe. Many of them do not “cook” the eggs; they let the alcohol do the job. But I wanted a recipe that could be served with or without alcohol. After a few attempts at following a “cooked” egg recipe, I gave up the Christmas ghost and started experimenting. The recipe that follows is fairly simple, cooks the eggs, and is flexible enough to serve to friends that imbibe or not.

pjpink’s Egg Nog

10 egg yolks (save the whites for meringue, etc.)

1 cup sugar

4 cups skim milk, scalded (microwave until hot, but not boiling)

½ cup cream (or more, to taste)

1 tablespoon vanilla (please, use the real stuff!)

Nutmeg, to taste

Bourbon (I prefer Wild Turkey) or your preferred liquor (my 2nd choice would be Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum)

Whisk egg yolks and sugar in a metal bowl or the top of a double boiler. Place bowl over a pot half filled with water over a burner. Turn the burner to medium high to boil the water and then turn the burner to medium low. Heat the egg mixture for about 5-10 minutes, whisking constantly. Begin mixing the scalded milk by spoonfuls, always whisking. Be careful not to scramble the eggs. Once a few spoonfuls have been mixed successfully, begin transferring the milk by ¼ cups into the bowl. When all of the milk has been transferred, stir constantly with a metal spoon until the mixture coats the back of the spoon. This will take 15-30 minutes. Take the mixture off the pot and let cool for about 30 minutes. Pour the mixture through a strainer into another bowl and place in the refrigerator uncovered until completely cold. At this point you can cover and serve within the next 3-5 days. Right before serving, stir in cream and vanilla. To serve, fill egg nog mug with desired amount of alcohol, add egg nog mixture, sprinkle with nutmeg, stir, and enjoy.

Happy Holidays!

Zed Cafe Redux

We were back at Zed Café on Lakeside. This time for lunch. The Richmond Times Dispatch had just come out with a so-so review of the place. I had had a good dinner experience, thus, I was a little surprised. Unfortunately, RTD has a correct assessment. Once again I ordered a Love Potion #9 (pomegranate juice and lemonade). Instead of the tall vase-like glasses that were such a big hit with us last time, we were served the mixture in regular glassware…and we were served a mixture of pomegranate and orange juices. When I asked the waiter, he seemed to not have a clue about what was on the menu (the blond dye from his somewhat Mohawkish coif hair may have had an unexpected effect?). He did return with the correct ingredients. My hubby ordered the herbed bison burger, which was good meatwise, but, apparently, part of the “herbs” included a ton of whole-grain mustard (undisclosed on the menu), which is not a favorite of my spouse, thus, spoiling his enjoyment of the meat. The menu also said the dish came with home fries. The waiter asked what side dish my husband wanted. No side dishes were on the menu to select (again, I chalk it up to the dye job). My husband said home fries. About 5 minutes later the waiter came back to say they were out of home fries and would sweet potato fries be okay. How can a place run out of home fries??? (Unless they are the frozen not fresh variety.) I had the chicken pesto panini with roasted peppers and a side salad. My sandwich was very tasty, but did not make up for all of the other mis-steps. What a disappointment. Both the wait staff and the kitchen need work to turn Zed Café into the place it aspires to be.

Carrabba's Italian Grill

We were on Midlothian around dinner time one evening last week and remembered that Carrabba's Italian Grill was located at Chesterfield Town Center. We were pleased to see that the entire restaurant is non-smoking (kudos to the owners!). Bread was served with a olive oil poured over an herb mix. Absolutely fantastic! I could have eaten bread and olive oil all night. Our waiter was very attentive albeit too over-zealous for us. Since we had never dined here, we decided to order the Antipasti Platter – Fried Calamari, Bruchette, and Mozzarella Marinara. The calamari was decent, but the breading kept popping off, making I difficult to eat. We enjoyed the mozzarella, but had to admit that Maggiano’s was better. The bruchette did not impress anyone. For the entrée I ordered the Mezzaluna – Half moon ravioli stuffed with chicken, ricotta, and spinach in a tomato cream sauce. Very nice dish. The ravioli were not drowning in sauce, and the sauce itself had just a touch of cream, thus, ensuring the dish was not overly rich. I enjoyed it and also enjoyed the leftovers at lunch the next day. My husband had the Spaghetti with Italian Sausage. The spaghetti tasted like a dried out of the box grocery store variety. He did enjoy the dense meaty sausage. We passed on the wine for the night, but Carrabba’s does have a decent variety at decent prices. Although we would not go out of our way to return, if it were convenient, we would go back – maybe we should try something from the grill next time.

Buzz and Ned's For Ribs

Last weekend my extended family decided to see the lights at Lewis Ginter. But where do you go to eat with a group ranging from small children to grandparents? I guess the traditional way would be to eat at the Tea House at Lewis Ginter but that requires reservations (and we did not decide upon this until the previous week) and the horrors of dressing up. The next option would be the cafeteria at Lewis Ginter, but that could mean long, slow lines when all of the kids want to immediately see the lights. We took a somewhat non-traditional approach: We went to Buzz and Ned's Barbecue. The joint is located on Boulevard next door to The Car Pool car wash place and across the street from River City Tattoo. The kids sat at the “high” tables. The adults sat at the low ones. We ordered racks of ribs for all as well as onion rings, hush puppies, and fries. These kids love ribs (and so do I!). Buz and Ned’s has the best ribs in Richmond, hands down. They are smoked (a must!!) with a sauce that blends a little sweetness with a very subtle hint of heat. The kids marveled at the lighting – inverted galvanized buckets with a light bulb and the décor was sturdy enough for childlike activity. It was a big hit for all.

And for adults, Buz and Ned’s lists all manner of adult beverages to go with your barbecue or ribs from beer to tequila to whisky to wine (Red Zin, Shiraz, and Cotes du Rhone, mainly).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Butternut Squash Soup

A few nights ago I made a Butternut Squash soup. I found the original recipe – Butternut Squash Soup with Cider Cream – on www. Of course, there were a few things in the recipe that I wanted to change, like, not using as many apples, leaving out the apple cider, and adding crème fraiche instead of the cider cream. My version follows. But just a note of caution on the butternut squash. This was the fist time I had worked with butternut squash. The gourd was very hard to cut and peel. The flesh was so hard that I thought I had purchased one that was not ripe (this was not the case). On top of it all, where I had handled the squash flesh, my skin dried out so much that my fingertips looked like they had been burned. Handling the squash with gloves may be prudent for next time.

Butternut Squash Soup

5 tablespoons butter
1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into small pieces
3 leeks, diced (white and pale green parts only)
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
½ of a fennel bulb, chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried sage
6 cups chicken stock or broth
½ cup whipping cream
Crème fraiche
Fresh chives, chopped

Melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium high heat. Add squash, leeks, carrots, and fennel. Sauté until softened, about 20-30 minutes. Stir in apples, thyme, and sage. Add stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for about 30-45 minutes. Turn off burner and remove soup from heat source. Using an emulsifier (aka boat motor), puree soup (you can also use a blender or food processor). Return soup to burner and heat on low. Right before serving, stir in whipping cream. Ladle soup into bowls. Place a dollop of crème fraiche in the middle of the soup. Sprinkle with chives.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Chez Max Highlights

Last Friday my husband and I spent a delightful evening with two other couples at Chez Max (way out west on Patterson). And while all of us ordered differing appetizers, entrees, and desserts; and while Ricci, our server, took decent care of us, I want to concentrate on four distinct items.

1. Chateau Haut Surget 2003 Lalande-de-Pomerol: 70% Merlot, 15% each of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Plenty of red cherry notes here as well as bacon and tobacco. So, this wine was part of the tasting at River City Cellars on Friday (they had a spectacular Bordeaux tasting last week!). Hubby and I really liked it. When we arrived at Chez Max – voila! – the wine list carried it. River City Cellars price: ~$25. Chez Max price: $48 (since twice retail is usually the going rate, we weren’t complaining and we knew exactly what we were getting).
2. Tuna Tartar ($12.95). This was a special appetizer for the evening. Sushi grade tuna chopped and tossed with minced shallots and capers. My husband ordered this and I had to take numerous bites. Before ordering the Haut Surget, we had a glass of Grandin Brut, a Loire sparkling wine ($8.95). The two paired very well together.
3. Duck Breast with a Green Peppercorn Sauce ($26.95). Tender, sliced duck breast, prepared medium with a cognac peppercorn sauce – not too overpowering on the peppercorns. Very lovely, served with mashed potatoes and sautéed green beans.
4. Molten Chocolate Cake ($6.95). A few years ago hubby and I had dined at Chez Max for an anniversary celebration. For dessert I had ordered Crème Brule. It was sheer heaven. The best I have ever eaten. Since the memory of this dish left such dreamy thoughts, I assumed that all of the desserts would be equally as delightful. Sadly, I had a lapse in judgment. While the cake had a great chocolate flavor, it had not been heated enough to melt the chocolate inside, leaving me with a somewhat chocolate gelatinous interior to slice through.

I would recommend Chez Max as far as appetizers and entrees. If you want dessert, always order the Crème Brule.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bin 22 in Carytown

I just heard from Greg Pullen of Bin 22 (restaurant located in Carytown). The home of wine flights, great salads, and panninis has teamed up with Belmont Butchery to offer a Charcuterie Trio. I can't wait to try it out.

Salsa & Chips

Tis the season for Bowl Games. And while I believe college football should implement a playoff system, I also believe a football game should have good food.

Bowl Game Salsa

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
2 jalapeno peppers, diced
2 tablespoons onion, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 cup corn, cut fresh from the cob (if you can’t get it fresh, use frozen white corn)
1 tablespoon peanut oil

Sauté corn in peanut oil for a few minutes to desired tenderness. Place in serving bowl. Add all other ingredients and mix. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips or make your own…

Quick Tortilla Chips

Flour or corn tortillas
Peanut or olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Stack tortillas 3 high on a cutting board. Cut into strips using a pizza cutter. Place strips on baking sheet. Brush each strip with oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake until slightly brown. Serve with salsa.