Friday, December 28, 2007

Get Thee to the Cheese Shop!

The Cheese Shop in Merchants Square in Williamsburg, VA to be more specific. And when you go, order a smoked turkey sandwich on wheat with extra house (dressing, that is). What a delight! Shaved smoked turkey piled on wheat bread. The bread crust satisfactorily crunches while the inside is extremely soft and fresh. The sandwich already has a smear of the house dressing - a delectable mix of whole grain mustard and mayonaise plus a few other things thrown in - but I need more which appears in a little plastic lidded container. And now to the eating. Over the years I developed a somewhat strange ritual when consuming this sandwich. First of all, I pull the crust off of the bread and dip them in the extra house dressing. Yum! Then I eat the rest of the sandwich dipping each bite into the house dressing. Oh my god - what a truly great taste sensation. And all for $5! (Wow, when I first started eating Cheese Shop sandwiches, they were only $3.)

I admit that if Williamsburg is busy, ordering a sandwhich can be a real pain in the ass - a line to order, an enormous line to wait until it's prepared, and a line to pay. All the while, jostling among tourists who do not have a clue. But the pleasure is well worth it. And if smoked turkey is not your thing - try a roast beef or country ham.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Easy Cranberry Sauce

Around Thanksgiving and Christmas, cranberry sauce returns to my thoughts. Could it be the recipes in all of the food magazines or maybe the prominent display of the bags of Ocean Spray fresh cranberries? I’ve used recipes in the past, but this year I decided to simplify this required holiday table relish.

Easy Cranberry Sauce

  • 1 cup of fresh cranberries (The Fresh Market has their own “cranberry bog” where you can scoop up as much or as little as you desire. I love this feature!)
  • 1 large gala apple, peeled and cut up into chunks (I prefer big chunks to preserve the integrity of the fruit)
  • ¾ cup ruby port (or Riesling or other sweetish wine or water with as much sugar as you desire. And I just thought of something else; if you want a bit of an orange flavor, add orange juice!)

Put all ingredients into a pot. Turn burner on medium high to get the mixture to boil, then turn down to a simmer. Stir frequently and burst the cranberries as they soften. Keep simmering until the liquid begins to evaporate and the mixture begins to gel. Serve warm or cold.

So easy and versatile! My sauce can be very tart (but I like it that way). When I made this at my mother-in-law’s I added a ½ cup of sugar. I don’t need mine spiced up with cinnamon, etc., but if that’s what you like, add it in. If you want a smoother sauce, chop the apple into smaller chunks so they cook down and are incorporated into the sauce. This sauce also can be used as a spread for turkey sandwiches or a jelly for toast.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Foodie Hits and Misses

This past week held both highs and lows in our own little patch of the foodie world. I wanted to briefly share a few:

  • Homemade lamb meatballs and tzadsiki sauce at a friend’s dinner party.
  • Chocolate covered peanut butter cheesecake wedges on a stick, chocolate truffles, and homemade shortbread at same dinner party.
  • Cured English shoulder bacon from The Belmont Butchery and used to make omelets (along with mozzarella and home-grown chives). The bacon was more ham-like (akin to a salt-cured country ham). A bit pricey, but delicious for brunch!
  • Roasted turkey and bacon sandwich at The Edible Garden for lunch. We also liked the squash bisque. We must go back for dinner, soon. However, if the weather is cold, dress very warmly. The “sun room” held little in the way of heat.
  • The lights at Lewis Ginter and a warming Latte from Espresso-a-go-go.
  • A bottle of 2006 Piko Pinot Noir from New Zealand and the Tuna ‘Tini at Osaka in the River Road area. We also enjoyed the Shrimp Tempura Roll and the Christmas Roll. And we also were thankful that they were open on a Sunday evening.
  • The low turned out to be Pomegranate’s in Shockoe Slip. Our main courses were mysteriously delayed. My pork tenderloin had little taste and the potato rosti was burnt. I will say that the roasted pear that accompanied the dish was heavenly. When my husband’s scallops arrived, we looked to see if maybe one had dropped out of the bowl. He received two medium-sized ones, which turned out to be $12 per scallop. While he liked the taste, there was a bitterness at the pit of the stomach when you realized you have been hoodwinked.
  • We ended the week on an up note with a thick bone in pork chop from The Fresh Market that was smothered in crushed green peppercorns, sea salt, and homegrown oregano and sage and olive oil. The chops were pan seared and then roasted in the oven.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

One Pot Chicken and Veggies

A few weeks ago I asked my husband to pick up something for me to fix for dinner. It had been a long day and I would be home later than normal. It's always interesting to see what he brings home. His notions of easy or light, etc. can be somewhat different from mine. On this occasion he had fetched me a whole chicken, frozen white corn, and a red bell pepper. After dragging myself in the door and discovering this array, I decided to forego the sautéing of the veggies. I did not have enough energy. So I diced up the pepper and placed it in the bottom of an enameled cast iron pot (I use Le Creuset). I had an onion lying about and that was diced up, too and placed in the pot. I then put about a cup of the corn in the pot. I added about a teaspoon of dried thyme to the medley. I then rinsed the chicken and sprinkled it with salt and pepper and then placed it breast side down on top of the veggies. I put the top on the pot and placed in it the oven at 325 degrees for about 1 ½ hours until the chicken was done.

A delicious one pot meal! Because I did not have to fool with stirring or watching the stove, I could relax and have a glass of wine, converse with my hubby, and pay attention to my needy little kitties. The chicken came out very moist, as well as extremely tender, and the veggies had a great flavor. If I had had some energy, I would have considered turning the chicken upright, removing the pot lid, increasing the over temperature, and browning the skin…but not tonight.

The next night I stripped the rest of the meat from the chicken and threw the meat and the leftover veggies in a pot. I then poured in some chicken stock and heated it up for soup. Before serving I threw in ½ a cup of rice. Once the rice was cooked, the soup was done.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Mermaid and the Beast

This past Friday we had the good fortune to eat at Pescados once again located on Midlothian Turnpike. I continue to love this place every time I go. This time we were blessed with the Mermaid and the Beast – Grill seared, adobo rubbed, choice filet mignon and a skewer of jumbo shrimp, garnished with a guajillo chili mustard sauce, and served with achoite brown rice. The dish also featured grilled zucchini slices. Although the mustard was a bit overpowering for our tastes, it was easy to work around. The shrimp were colossal, grilled, and very sweet. But the best thing was the steak – cooked to medium rare perfection and extremely tender. It was a bit surprising that a place famous for Latin/Caribbean seafood would have a cut of beef so good that it rivals the upscale steakhouses. And at $26.95 for both the steak and the shrimp – well, what a bargain.

The other wonderful thing about dining at Pescados was the staff. The hostess, bartender (we had to wait about 20 minutes), the waiter, and the chef were all friendly and pleasant making our experience even better. The Southside has such a treasure in this place.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 7 - Amsterdam

The last leg of our journey entailed packing our bags, boarding a bus, and taking an interminable ride to a conference hotel about an hour away from Amsterdam in the middle of fallow tulip fields.

We did see windmills, both modern and traditional, along the way.

After rushing to eat a buffet lunch (the do-it-yourself-espresso/cappuccino machine was a wonder to behold and produced some fine coffee), we got back on a different bus headed for Amsterdam. Upon arriving we immediately boarded a boat and took a canal tour which was extremely pleasurable and relaxing. Both the bay and canals held sights to satisfy. One of the most interesting and unbelievable structures turned out to be a 4 deck parking garage that was designed just for bicycles. And the place was packed! Bikes were heavily used in the city. In fact, Amsterdam had traffic lights just for bikes along with pedestrian cross walks. If you did not use a bike cross walk, you took your life in your hands. You could truly be run over!

We had about an hour to roam the city before meeting back for dinner. My husband and I headed for the pedestrian only shopping district. A bustling place with shops and green and brown coffee bars. The brown bars served coffee. The green bars (several bearing the name Grasshopper) did not serve coffee. We must have passed over a dozen green bars, many of which had open windows (with enough smoke to almost obtain a second hand high just from passing by). We also admired the gabled architecture of the city.

At the end of the shopping area we encountered a square replete with old, impressive brick buildings. In the middle of the square was a carnival with thrill rides and a haunted house. Definitely, a city of juxtapositions and incongruities. And, for me, fascinating.

After dinner was the obligatory tour of the red light district. This section of the city was bigger than I expected and contained numerous glass doors filled with “merchandise.” The lax and party-like atmosphere really reminded me of New Orleans.

The next day we boarded a plane for home. What an interesting and breathtaking trip. If I had the chance, I would visit each place again, but in depth. This cruise was only able to scratch the surface.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Rhine River Cruise Part 6 - Cologne and Dusseldorf

Upon departing Koblenz we docked ever so briefly at Konigswinter, a health and resort town. We proceeded to board a bus, ostensibly to visit Drachenfels where Siefried slayed the dragon. Alas, we traveled to Petersberg, instead, which the German government uses as a guest resort for foreign dignitaries. From this picturesque mountain peak we could barely glimpse the dragon rock. Petersberg did hold forth a few interesting sites itself – the ruins of a 12th century church and St. Peter Chapel.

On the way back to the boat we stopped at Kloster Heisterbach to view the old chapel ruins.

Back on the boat to land at Cologne in the late afternoon. A large city that was settled by the Romans in 50 A.D., but is now mostly modern.

We anchored in time for us to run next door to the chocolate museum. We learned about the cocoa plant, cocoa processing, packaging, and marketing. And we sampled from the chocolate fountain. Of course, we also picked up some chocolate, including Katzen Zungens (cat tongues) in the gift shop.

We then briefly wandered over to the cathedral, the Dom of St. Peter and Maria. Definitely awe-inspiring. The square surrounding the cathedral bustled with visitors, vendors, sidewalk artists, and skateboarders. We ventured inside and admired the spaciousness of the place as well as the wondrous stained glass. The cathedral began building in 1248, but was not completed until 1880.

That night the dinner on the boat gave us the option of Nile perch or lamb. Neither were appealing, so we ate schnitzel and drank beer at one of the outside cafes along the Rhine. My father and husband tried the local beer, Kolsch, while I enjoyed a mild hefeweizen. Once again, a respite from the cruise fare.

In the morning we opted to skip the official city and cathedral tour and climbed up the cathedral spire for some spectacular views. We went right as it opened at 9 AM. Since the same spiral stone stairs are used for going up and down, beginning the trek early is highly recommended. The sad part about this climb was the inordinate amount of graffiti covering the walls.

Next to the cathedral sat the Romisch-Germanische Museum containing Roman ruins and beyond that the Museum Ludwig featuring contemporary art.

We then hurried back to the boat to depart for Dusseldorf snapping more photos along the way.
As we meandered up the river from Cologne, we espied a shepherd and his flock wandering the sandy shore right outside the city. What an amazing and unexpected sight!

Arriving in Dusseldorf we glimpsed a newer part of town featuring a Frank Gehry apartment building. Numerous eateries lined the river as we approached our dock.

The old part of Dusseldorf claimed the longest bar in the world. Well, not really. Basically, they had so many bars lined up and down the streets that the bar seemed endless. What we really enjoyed was the open air market in the center of the old city that featured all sorts of delights from potatoes to chestnuts to Chinese lanterns.

And the pedestrian only shopping district as well as the rest of the quaint scenery. We did have time to stop in the Lowenserf shop that prepared and sold its own mustard.

And then back to the boat. We had to go back to Cologne so the boat could go into dry dock to repair another propeller problem. We would have to finish the rest of our journey by bus.