Friday, July 27, 2007

Hangin' Out at Havana 59

Mojitos. Avocado Salsa. Plantain Chips. Key ingredients for an evening of girl-talk. SMO and I trekked to Shockoe Bottom to enjoy the breezy open-air atmosphere of Havana 59. The $7 Mojitos were refreshing, but also packed a punch (about an hour later!). We scarfed up the Avocado Salsa served with thinly sliced and salted plantain chips ($6.95) so fast that we ordered another one. Very addictive. We then had a Spinach and Goat Cheese Salad with lardons, pistachios, and a guava vinaigrette ($9.95). The goat cheese was mild and pleasant with the spinach and lardons, but I could not detect much in the way of guava. We finished the evening sharing a pumpkin flan topped with grilled pineapple and vanilla bean whipped cream ($5.95). While all of the ingredients were fine in and of themselves, the grilled pineapple was spectacular.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Sour Cream and Dill Potato Salad

This recipe makes enough potato salad for a crowd.

Sour Cream and Dill Potato Salad

4 pounds red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces (skin still on)

2 teaspoons salt

8 ounces of sour cream

2 teaspoons of whole grain Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons of fresh dill, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Salt to taste

Black pepper, freshly ground, to taste

Place cut up potatoes in a large pot, cover with water. Add 2 teaspoons of salt to pot. Boil for about 30 minutes until potatoes are tender. Drain potatoes and let cool. While the potatoes are cooking combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and place in the refrigerator until ready to use. When the potatoes have cooled, place in large bowl, add sour cream mixture and combine until potatoes are coated. Cover bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least two hours before serving.

It’s important to add enough salt to the pot when boiling the potatoes so the cooked tubers taste slightly salty. In this way, the salt has permeated the potato and I do not need to add much of it to the sour cream mixture. I liked this recipe even more because I was able to use dill and parsley that we had grown in our garden.

Fresh Corn and Zucchini Sauté

This summer I have reveled in zucchini and now sweet corn is making its way onto my dinner plates. I decided to put the two together as a yummy side dish.

Fresh Corn and Zucchini Sauté

3 small zucchinis, diced

Fresh white corn kernels sliced from 5 ears of corn

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Salt and pepper to taste

Dice up the zucchinis about an hour before cooking. Place the diced zucchini on a paper towel in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with another paper towel and let sit until ready to use. The salt will dry out the water and any bitterness in the zucchini. Place the butter in a pan. Place the corn kernels in the pan, sprinkle with the cumin. Sauté the corn on low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently (more or less depending on how cooked you like your corn). Add salt and pepper, to taste, and stir. Add the zucchini and sauté for 5-10 minutes (again, depending on how cooked you like your zucchini). Serve immediately.

If No Power Is Available, Let Them Eat Pheasant

Thanks to a short but powerful thunderstorm and the inability of Dominion Power to complete a task the first go round, my house remained without electricity for 28 hours. In some ways I was blessed to have little of consequence in my refrigerator. The prolonged power drought gave me the opportunity to throw out old, crusty condiments. However, my freezer held a few precious commodities – a variety of bones for stock (beef, veal, chicken, turkey, duck, pheasant) and three pheasants that my father had given me after a hunt. We kept everything in the freezer for as long as possible, but after 16 hours, action was required. I made beef and poultry stock with the bones. And I made stew with the pheasants. Just as we were finishing up everything and deciding which friends we could prevail upon to cram all of this day’s work into an operational refrigerator, Dominion Power arrived to turn on the lights. Throughout this ordeal, I was thankful to have a gas stove. My pheasant stew recipe follows:

3 whole pheasants

1 large onion, chopped

2 large Yukon Gold potatoes, diced

Fresh white corn kernels sliced from 3 ears of corn

12 ounce can of tomato juice

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried marjoram

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot place pheasants and fill pot with water. Let water come to a boil and then reduce heat to medium. Let pheasants cook for about an hour and a half, until tender. Remove pheasants to a bowl. (At this point I strained the water that was in the pot and wiped the pot clean to account for any extraneous feathers and the returned the water to the cooking pot.) Add the onions to the water in the cooking pot and simmer for half an hour. When the pheasants have cooled, debone and shred the meat. (Be extra vigilant about deboning a pheasant. Pheasants have small needle-like bones in their legs. It is easy to miss these.) Add the shredded meat to the pot and cook for an hour. Add the potatoes and more water and cook for half an hour. Add the corn, dried herbs, salt, and pepper. (I also added two cups of chicken broth that had defrosted in my freezer.) Cook for half an hour. Add the tomato juice and cook for an hour. Taste to adjust salt and pepper levels. Turn off heat and let pot cool. Wait for Dominion Power to show up. When the electricity is back on and the refrigerator is working, place the cooled pot in the refrigerator with a lid. Heat the stew the next evening. Drink with a 2000 Brunello di Montalcino from Castello Romitorio.

The pheasant stew was not too gamey and I liked the addition of fresh corn. Since this recipe was adapted from a family Brunswick stew recipe (Granddaddy Stew) that I usually make, my husband kept saying that it was missing something, like butterbeans and beef. Still, very tasty. The Brunello had mellowed a bit in the bottle and complimented the ever-so-slight gaminess, but did not overpower the stew. And the bottle sported a very cool label. It is a painting from Sandro Chia created in 1984 entitled Bread and Wine.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Get Your Lift

We went to Lift Coffee Shop and Cafe. The Iced Hazelnut Latte is to die for on a sultry evening. Not too sweet, very nutty, very cool.

Lift also serves breakfast and lunch items and is open 7AM-7PM Mon-Fri and 9AM-3PM on Sat. Located at 218 W. Broad Street.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Bistro Twenty Seven

On Friday my husband and I headed downtown to First Fridays. We decided to eat early somewhere before the crowd set in. With a little trepidation we entered Bistro Twenty Seven. This restaurant with large floor to ceiling windows and an airy atmosphere had garnered somewhat mixed reviews in the past. In particular a very smoky bar that infiltrated the non-smoking dining room. I was pleased that upon entering we were greeted with breathable air. Of course, this may have been because we were very early. And we needed to be early (6 PM). Any later and reservations would have been required. The hostess was very upbeat. Channel 12 had just been by featuring the restaurant and the restoration shop across the street for First Fridays. We were seated in at a wonderful people watching table with the air conditioner going full force (probably another reason why the dining area was truly smoke free).

Katy, our waitress, cheerfully greeted us and was very attentive. The wine list was divided into wines $27 and under and wines over $27 (more in the $40-$70 range). We could not resist a 2003 Cotes du Rhone. However, that bottle was able to resist us – it was not available. (A word to the wise – snap up the 2003 Cotes du Rhones now – they are playing hard to get.) We settled for a 2005 Rioja ($27) – more fruit than body, but adequate.

While we sipped our wine we were presented with fresh bread with a Portobello mushroom tapenade. I liked the bread, but the tapenade did not have a lot of flavor.

One of the appetizer specials was a fennel and radicchio salad with balsamic vinaigrette, dried figs, and grilled shrimp ($12). We requested to split the appetizer and we were gracefully accommodated and presented with two plates. This was a fantastic salad! The dried figs toned down the bitterness of the radicchio with the vinaigrette serving as a flavor bridge. The shrimp were large, sweet, and succulent. Bistro Twenty Seven should consider putting this on the regular menu offerings.

For entrees my husband selected the Paella ($18) with chorizo, squid, clams, mussels, fish, chicken, shrimp, and short grained rice in a tomato broth. This dish had the hold on spiciness. The chorizo was almost too overpowering, but the squid were small and very tasty. He was not a fan of the brothiness of the dish. He generally likes his paella somewhat drier.

I chose Filete de Cerdo ($18) - Roasted pork tenderloin served with bosc pears and Calvados brandy along with mashed potatoes and a vegetable medley. I had chosen well. The pork was extremely tender. The pears were sautéed like I would cook apples at home. The Calvados sauce was sweet and paired well with the pork and pear. While the mashed potatoes were a bit plain, the rest of the dish constantly delighted the tongue and mouth. And I had so much pork, that I was pleased to be able to take home leftovers.

Katy was one of a select few Richmond waitresses (or waiters, for that matter) to continue to pour our wine until the bottle was empty. I raise a glass to her!

While we still may be reluctant to give Bistro Twenty Seven a whirl on a cold day due to the possibility of a smoky atmosphere, we would definitely go again when it’s hot outside and the air conditioner is circulating cold air.

Oven Roasted Corn

I purchased some ears of white corn from a vendor at the Byrd House Market last Tuesday. When I got around to preparing the corn, we had decided not to grill and I did not want to boil the corn. So, I tried oven roasting it. I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. After I cleaned the ears I placed them in a sheet of aluminum foil. I sprinkled some salt and pepper and then threw in a couple of pats of unsalted butter. I wrapped the corn up and placed them on the oven rack (make sure the foil is closed up tight enough so the butter does not drip). The corn roasted for about 30 minutes and this technique worked very well. I served the corn with London Broil that had marinated in olive oil, balsamic vinegar, crushed garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and fresh thyme and parsley and then broiled for about 5 minutes a side.

Alas, no picture of the corn or the cooked London Broil. Suffice it to say that we enjoyed it.

Elevated to goddess

I want to thank in vino veritas for elevating me to goddess for my La Petite Auberge post. The food at this Fredericksburg locale certainly was ambrosia.

Free Wine Tasting Today at J. Emerson

J. Emerson will be tasting two wines today, Saturday July 7 from 2-8 PM. These wines are part of the July specials that the wine shop is featuring. The wines are:

2005 Lawson's Mt. Vernon Chardonnay, New Zealand
2005 Pago De Los Capellanes Joven Ribera del Duero, Spain

For this month the Chardonnay is selling for $8.95 ($1 less than regular price). The Spanish red is priced at $15.95 (regularly $18.95).

Kitchen Renovation Saga Part 6

We finally finished the tile floor about a month ago. The line of blue tiles delineates the kitchen from the hallway.

One wall with the door trim was next. The trim on the door made use of some of the old 1920’s studs that we pulled out of our house when we added on. The picture below is a bit brighter than the real thing. The blue in the floor tile and the wall basically match.

Our next tasks include deciding upon cabinets and installing a barn-like door between the kitchen and the dining room.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

A Splash of Orange

Yesterday, I performed numerous food-related errands. First up was the Byrd House Market. Mike Wiblin from Hanover Farms (my go to farmer) continues to have the sweetest, most tasty zucchini around. Needless to say, I bought zucchini as well as some nice looking cherry tomatoes (they actually look like baby Romas). I also purchased some chive and garlic goat cheese from Faith Farms. From other producers I picked up a blue/black bell pepper, red skinned potatoes, and white corn. From there I popped up to the Belmont Butchery for ground veal and chuck for hamburgers for the 4th of July and a couple of bone-in pork chops for dinner. On my way home I stopped by Sammy’s Bakery for a baguette. This guy has the best baguettes in town. I was tired, hot, and thirsty. And Once Upon a Vine had what I needed – a bottle of Grandin Brut. This sparkling wine from the Loire Valley is crisp and dry and it was uncorked as soon as I got home. But on this day it was missing something. I decided it was missing a splash of Cointreau. The slight orange flavor added just the right touch for a refreshing late afternoon cocktail. And spurred me on to fix dinner: pan seared pork chops stuffed with fresh sage and Fiore Sardo (pecorino cheese); red skinned potato salad with sour cream, whole grain mustard, salt, pepper, fresh chives and marjoram; and zucchini sautéed in olive oil and thyme.

La Petite Auberge

My husband and I were driving back to Richmond after a day at Ikea and Potomac Mills. We had had enough of cheap Swedish meatballs, horrendous interstate traffic, and the never ceasing wail of little kids. We needed decent food in a quiet place that caters to adults. We found our oasis at La Petite Auberge in downtown Fredericksburg. We arrived around 6:30 PM without reservations and were promptly seated. We would have had difficulty obtaining a table if we had walked in any later. The place was divided into an enclosed smoky bar with red-checked tablecloths and a non-smoking dining area with more formal white cloths. The dining room space soared up two stories with rustic beams and exposed brick. Large contemporary oil paintings bedecked the upper part of the brick. White fence trellising was set along the lower part of the walls.

Marti C. took great care of us. She was an experienced and fantastic waitress. The wine list held a fair number of “House Wines” (such as House Cotes du Rhone or House Chardonnay) which was a bit confusing, at first. Make sure to ask what these bottles are. The Cotes du Rhone turned out to be a 2005 Perrin Reserve. We drooled over a 2003 Perrin Chateauneuf du Pape, but the restaurant did not have any more of the 2003 vintage, so we ordered the Cotes du Rhone ($22). Once the wine was open we received a basket of baguette-like rolls served with unsalted Plugra butter. Yum!

La Petite Auberge carried a regular menu as well as an extensive dinner special page. On this night lump crabmeat seemed to be the main feature. Appetizers ranged in price from $5.25 (Ripe Avocado and Golden Delicious Apple Vinaigrette) to $22 (Hudson Valley Foie Gras with Poached Pear and Stan Keel’s Date and Nut Bread with a Glass of Loupiac). Regular menu selections offered a wide variety - Blackened Mahi Mahi with Bananas and Spring Onions ($19), Cajun Andouille Sausage with Basmati Rice and Black Beans ($13), and Filet Grille Bearnaise ($29) – to name a few. Dinner specials boasted Soft Shell Crabs Amandine ($30), Halibut with Crabmeat and Piperade ($22), Pan Roasted Pork Chop Grand Mere with Lardons, Mushrooms, Pearl Onions, and Natural Jus ($17), and Roasted Rack of Lamb with Dijon Mustard Crust and Mint Jelly ($22.50).

We had a difficult time deciding. We shared an appetizer – Smoked Trout with Betty Poole’s Sweet Red Pepper Jelly, Bagel, Crème Fraiche, Capers, and Minced Onion ($9.95). What a fantastic starter! I had envisioned little slivers of smoked trout. I was wrong. We received a whole trout filet, smoked to perfection. The condiments subtly enhanced the flavor of the dish. I loved the intense smokiness of the trout. The capers and onions added a strong counterpoint with the jelly contributing a sweet tang. The crème fraiche bound everything together. The bagel was the only so-so part of the dish. My husband preferred to eat his trout portion with the baguette rolls. Thank goodness we shared the trout. This appetizer could easily have provided enough tasty morsels for four diners.

For dinner proper, I ordered Poached Eggs Benedict ($10.95) from the regular menu. It is unusual for restaurants around here to serve any type of main course egg dish for dinner. It was nice to see this as part of the regular offerings. And very tasty, too. The Hollandaise sauce was well prepared with only a hint of lemon. The eggs were of the proper runny consistency, and the ham added that touch of smoky salt to the dish. The eggs were also accompanied by scalloped potatoes. Very rich and creamy. My husband went for one of the specials for the evening – Baked Stuffed Shrimp with Crabmeat ($22). He received three jumbo shrimp with the equivalent of a crab cake on top of each of the shrimp. The shrimp were wonderfully sweet and the stuffing contained mostly crab with a few breadcrumbs sprinkled on top to achieve a browning effect. The dish also came with a side of scalloped potatoes, much to my husband’s delight.

We had no room for dessert.

What an unexpectedly wonderful meal after a weary day of mall shopping! We were very pleased and plan to return again, soon.

La Petite Auberge
311 William Street
Fredericksburg, VA