Monday, January 29, 2007

Escape from the Fan

My favorite new coffee shop to frequent (aside from my standby, World Cup) is Captain Buzzy's Beanery in Church Hill. It's small, cozy, and, while it offers a variety of brunch options, isn't in-your-face with vegan products. I only feel the need to point that out is that my first visit to Captain Buzzy's occurred immediately following a trial run at another coffee shop.

The Harrison Street Coffee Shop, located among other VCU venues and residences, was closed the first two times I tried to go there - once for "vacation" in the summer and once before 11 am on Saturday morning. I guess students don't normally get up for coffee before that hour anyway, it just seemed a little strange for coffee shop to open that close to noon. When I finally succeeded in entering the unassuming shop, I was confronted with various meatless and vegan culinary menu items, including "fakin'" and "soysage." I guess I should give them credit for the creative names, but even the pastries were unappealingly vegan, with not a bagel in sight. Was I asking too much of the Harrison Street Coffee Shop? The tea I got was very tasty, but my boyfriend's coffee was watery. We decided not to purchase any food and moved on to Church Hill, having been to World Cup the day before.

Richmond was named for a view of the James River in Church Hill, making the neighborhood one of the most historic in the city. There's also a distinctly eerie feeling about it, considering the gruesome murder of the Harvey family that occurred last winter, and the "rougher" areas that are only a few blocks away. Church Hill is slowly being revamped from run-down into a popular up-and-coming area; the cute, colorful houses are gradually catching up with a handful of quality dining options.

Captain Buzzy's Beanery, which has been in business for two years, is one of the aforementioned local establishments. It occupies a quaint corner of East Broad Street, and has an inviting, cozy atmosphere with an eclectic blend of furniture and decor. A big glass case next to the register contains bagels and a wide variety of baked goods - muffins, scones, cupcakes and chocolate layer cake. The thought of applesauce scones with cinnamon cream cheese filling lures me back to Captain Buzzy's even though I haven't taken the plunge and tried one yet.

On my first trip to the coffee shop I tried one of three types of quiche - spinach and three cheese - which was tasty and supported by a dense yet flaky crust. Last weekend when I returned, I was craving a breakfast sandwich and tea, and I wasn't disappointed. Captain Buzzy's Beanery is everything it should be - quiet, relaxing, and satisfying to a variety of needs. I'm anxious to go back to try some of the soups, lunch sandwiches, and sweets, although I may steer clear of the vegan options.

Friday, January 26, 2007

3 Food-Related Items

  • My brother is currently studying abroad in Paris, and is keeping a blog that occasionally includes moouth-watering descriptions of his meals. He also posts pictures, so if you have any interest in Paris or what he's doing, check it out:

  • An ESPN writer called "The Sports Guy" (Bill Simmons) started letting his wife make football picks. In exchange, she writes a short column about whatever she wants, and often mentions food - donuts, cookies, etc. I've picked up some unique tips from The Sports Gal:

  • My parents made prosciutto-wrapped breadsticks (a Giada de Laurentiis recipe) for their holiday party, and the results were stunning:

Friday, January 19, 2007

Big Names in Italian Cooking

Just as popular songs are remade or "covered" by other musicians, classic recipes have several versions, which have been revised over time to be more conducive to contemporary equipment and home cooks' time constraints. Recently I've made a few such "updated" recipes - risotto, meatballs, and veal Marsala (see below for links to the recipes).

Since I first learned about the method for making risotto, which is endlessly stirring the ingredients over a hot stove, I never thought there could be a short cut (aside from a pre-made packaged mix). While searching for a way to use some leftover goat cheese, I came across a recipe for "Baked Risotto" on, and there's no mention of stirring aside from adding some of the ingredients to a pot on the stove.

Usually when I make risotto I like having it as a one pot meal, so I tend to include vegetables and meat with the arborio rice, garlic, onions and cheese. For this recipe, I omitted the asparagus and added 10 ounces of hot Italian turkey sausage, which is a staple in my standard risotto dish. I squeezed the meat out of the sausage casings and browned it in a pasta pot (I don't have a dutch oven, which the instructions call for, so I had to use a pot and a casserole dish), then proceeded with the recipe. The only other change I made was a splash of white wine, and it only added to the various flavors of the dish.

My resulting meal was better than I could have hoped for, and just different enough from my standard risotto that I will happily cook either one in the future. The tiny amount of nutmeg was a surprising compliment to the spices in the turkey sausage, and using stock with a small amount of wine emphasized but did not overwhelm the other ingredients.

Giada de Laurentiis' veal Marsala is lighter and simpler than some versions I've seen, which is what originally attracted me to it. It's an elegant meal without overexerting oneself in the kitchen. My only problem with the recipe was my fault, because I forgot to get mushrooms, and I know they would have contributed texture and absorbed all of the earthy aromas from the different ingredients. I don't normally eat veal, so I'll probably try again with chicken, but I was pleased with my efforts.

Meatballs and pasta in tomato sauce are one of the ultimate comfort foods, and my mom always used to make chicken pesto meatballs. I got the recipe from her, and it may have originally come from Gourmet, so if you're at all interested you can contact me for the directions. What makes the meatballs so appealing, aside from the bonus of the pesto, is that they're made with breadcrumbs and an egg white, and are substantial without being too dense.

Italian cuisine is probably my favorite to cook at home, and while I know that I can't replicate the wonderful meals I ate there, I can experiment and revise to my heart's content.,,FOOD_9936_26986,00.html?rsrc=search

Thursday, January 04, 2007

All or Nothing

After a few days at home for the holidays, I was ready to give up beef for the next six months. I think I ate more red meat in ten days than I did in all of 2006. This is not to say that I didn't enjoy every minute of it, because prime rib and lamb chops are not something to complain about (especially when someone is doing all the work for you), but my stomach wasn't prepared for an onslaught of meat.

Despite my holiday indulgence, I know that the only way I could ever give up meat is if I could eat the Vegetarian Special at the White Dog Cafe for dinner every day. Unless I'm excited about a pasta or risotto dish at an Italian restaurant, it's rare for me to order a meal without meat or fish when I'm eating out. Strangely enough, I've ordered vegetarian food twice out of five dining experiences at the White Dog.

On my most recent visit, the cuisine was so rich and satisfying that I didn't miss having animal flesh to compliment the starches and veggies on my plate. I started the meal with a bruschetta trio - artichoke spread, hummus, and sun-dried tomatoes and feta on toasted bread. The bread at the White Dog is textured and great with olive oil, but it wasn't the best choice for the bruschetta because it was a little too heavy and not chewy enough. In addition, none of the toppings on the bread were exceptional, but it was still a decent appetizer. One nice addition to the plate was a selection of vegetables - fresh, roasted or pickled - seasoned with dill.

My entree, on the other hand, was beautifully presented and equally delicious. The waitress described the special as a "spinach, tomato, and artichoke heart struedel with parmesan cheese and a side of potato gnocchi." When she served it, it looked more like a bowl of pretty gnocchi in a creamy sauce, with thin green beans and a long slab of vegetable pie resting above the other food. The pie, or "streudel," had a thick buttery crust encompassing the filling, and a professional-looking criss cross design composed of puff pastry on the top. In other words, it was a vegetarian masterpiece, and I congratulated myself mentally for my choice with every bite.

I guess I have to conclude that I'm a true omnivore, and that I don't intend to eat only meat or no meat if I can help it. Luckily, when I need to get rebalance my diet, there are fulfilling and tasty vegetarian meals only blocks away.