Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ribs and Gougeres

Last week I attempted two new cooking feats for our annual holiday meal with Shannon and John.  They graciously donated six pounds of pork ribs from their stash for the occasion, and I found a promising recipe for oven-braised ribs.  

I put the rub together the day before and coated the ribs with it.  The combined ingredients gave off a delicious smell, and I have enough left over to save for grilling season.  

The next day, I mixed the braising liquid and poured it into the foil packet the ribs had been resting in for twenty-four hours.  Unfortunately the foil let out a lot of the liquid, and there wasn't very much to use for the sauce.  Instead of reducing everything for ten minutes and then using the glaze to brush on the ribs, I mixed the cooking juices with the sauce ingredients and drizzled it over the ribs.  The meat was incredibly tender and full of flavor from both the rub and the sauce.    

I chose an unlikely accompaniment for the ribs - parmesan and gruyere gougeres.  Gougeres are essentially a non-dessert version of a cream puff.  The dough, choux pastry, is exactly the same, but gougeres are normally enhanced with cheese and other savory ingredients.  

I was able to try one fresh out of the oven, and it was unbelievable, but they also reheated beautifully later that night and a few days later.

The twenty or so gougeres I made were about the size of a golf ball, but the same recipe can also be formed into eight to ten large rolls.  These delicious little dough puffs taste amazing, and are impressive to serve to company, even when everyone is eating something as messy as oven-braised ribs.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


The picture to the left was taken on my birthday in October, on one of Richmond's last Indian summer days.  I'm getting ready to eat a freshly shucked raw oyster at the Richmond Folk Festival, after watching a phenomenal shucking contest between two sisters. I hadn't ever thought about how difficult it is to shuck an oyster, but it really takes practice and skill.  A couple weeks ago, during a cooking class, I had the chance to try it for myself, and I don't think I had even finished one in the time it took Deborah and Clementine to open more than twenty oysters. 

Everyone knows that time flies when you're having fun, or when you're too busy to finish anything, or when you think you have all day to accomplish one task and all of a sudden it's 5 o'clock and you haven't worked at all.  The holiday season is a combination of all of those, and the days of impatiently counting down to Christmas are long gone.  

I haven't been able to cook very much lately, so I'm trying to make it worthwhile when I do.  I found a nice looking spaghetti squash at Ellwood Thompson's, and since I'd never eaten spaghetti squash before, I decided to try it with this recipe from Smitten Kitchen.  The spices in this dish have a luxurious taste that really elevates a simple ingredient into a noteworthy one.

I made Israeli cous cous and spinach with cumin seed and lemon on the side, and added chickpeas to the squash like Deb suggests in her recipe.  We ended up combining everything before we ate.  There's something comforting about one bowl meals, and the flavors in this one really worked together.  It also feels good consuming something homemade and healthy amidst never-ending holiday treats.


Speaking of treats, Davy and I were lucky enough to try Aziza's on Main for the first time with some good friends over the weekend.  Deterred by the high entree prices at Millie's (where I also haven't eaten), we went west just a few blocks and settled into a cozy table.  Aziza's isn't fancy, but it has an air of sophistication and confidence that carries over into the food.  I'm going to have to try hummus next time, because I'm a sucker for a hummus platter, and theirs looks amazing.  

I split a sizeable spinach salad with Davy, which had plump cranberries and a generous sprinkle of goat cheese and walnuts.  Everyone at the table got their own pizza, and we were all happy with our selections.  My choice was the wild mushroom pizza with truffle oil, which was a white pizza that had just enough truffle flavor and spice.  None of the flavors were overwhelming, and the mushrooms were beautiful and earthy.  If it weren't for 8 1/2, this would arguably be the best pizza in Richmond. 

After seeing the tempting, homemade desserts when we walked in, I couldn't resist a gigantic cream puff doused in ganache.  I couldn't even finish all of the decadent cream filling, but thoroughly enjoyed trying.      
It's hard to believe that Thanksgiving already came and went, and that Christmas is merely a few weeks away.  I have so much to look forward to, edibly and otherwise, and I'm hoping to appreciate every fast-paced minute of it.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

CSA Meals - Finale

I have been putting off writing the last CSA post because I'm still not ready for it to be over.  Luckily, I still have a bag of potatoes and butternut squash left from the share, and we did pretty well with the final two weeks of produce.

Davy and I used the remaining tomatoes to make a fresh sauce with chicken sausage to eat with pasta.  We ate sliced cucumbers with several dinners, or as an afternoon snack with hummus.  

I went to Yellow Umbrella, a seafood shop, for the first time a few weeks ago, and we picked out a nice piece of red snapper to grill at home.  It was seasoned very simply with olive oil, pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Davy and I also made a trip to Tan-A to stock up on Sriracha and buy some ingredients for fish fragrant eggplant.  It was fun trying new flavor combinations, and I can honestly say that I would make this again and like it. There was a lot of spice in the dish, and the only mistake I made was tossing some rice noodles and edamame in the wok when the eggplant was finished.  The noodles absorbed a lot of the sauce and were intensely spicy.  They calmed down after a few days, but in the future I would probably just eat the eggplant with plain rice. 

We cleaned out our fridge a little bit more on Saturday with a chicken sausage, sweet pepper, green tomato green onion, and queso fresco frittata.  

A few nights later we made a fried rice dish, loosely based on a Cooking Light recipe, with chicken and edamame.  The black sesame seeds were one of my superfluous Tan-A purchases, and they added a nice crunch to the rice, as well as color.

The CSA may have ended for this year, but it has, as in the past, inspired me to patronize independent shops and buy more local food...especially now that eggplant season is over.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Restaurant Week 2010

At the first mention of Richmond Restaurant Week, I start stalking any site that lists participating venues and what they're serving.  There's always a tough decision to be made between restaurants at which I've already eaten and loved, and restaurants I want to try.  The next step in the process involves getting expert advice and calling for a reservation.  

None of the restaurants that we haven't tried were really jumping out at us, so  Davy and I decided that Restaurant Week would be a good opportunity to go back to Acacia, where we had an amazing first meal over the summer.  When I spoke with someone on the phone about availability during the week, the times were either too early, very late, or not on a night we could go.  Our next choice was Helen's, which we'd also enjoyed once before, and we managed to get an 8:00 reservation for Tuesday night.

Naturally, I'd already memorized the menu and chosen both my and Davy's courses.  For our starters, I ordered the Arugula Salad (with toasted pistachios, coriander-lemon vinaigrette, shaved Romano) and he ordered the Braised Pork Belly (with seared Napa cabbage, cider jus, chicharones).  The salad was very fresh with above-average Romano, but overall it was a little too salty.  I had high expectations for the other starter because we had heavenly pork belly on our last visit to Helen's.  The Restaurant Week version was just as noteworthy: crisp on top, rich and meaty underneath, with delicious accompaniments.  

For the main course, Davy ordered fried chicken (with buttermilk & chive mashed potatoes, collard greens, black pepper gravy) which was tasty but not outrageous.  I had a tough time deciding between the macaroni and cheese with crab meat and bacon and the Vegetarian Risotto.  Ultimately I went with the risotto because the mac and cheese had smoked gouda in it, which I'll eat but don't really like, and the risotto had mushrooms and swiss chard.  I was pleased with my choice; the mushrooms were meaty and the chard was tender, and there was plenty of the greens throughout the rice.  Similar to the chicken, I wasn't really wowed by the risotto, but that could be because I enjoy making it at home so much.

There were just two dessert choices: "Granny smith apple cobbler with vanilla bean ice cream or Chocolate-pistachio torte with fresh fruit compote."  We each got one, and I ate nearly all of the torte.  It was deep without being too sweet, and the fruit compote (I don't usually like fruit with my chocolate) really brought out the chocolate flavor.  I have no complaints about the cobbler either, other than the fact that I was too full to finish it.  It was served warm with a generous scoop of ice cream, and it was everything an apple cobbler should be.

Helen's is a cool restaurant, not only because of the enticing menu choices, but because the interior is chic and has an antique, diner feel.  The bartender mixes solid drinks, and the service is gracious and consistent.

There are three days left to enjoy Restaurant Week, and while they may be the busiest three nights so far, it may be worth your money to check out a new spot, or just support an old favorite and a good cause.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Final Week

This is the last week of our CSA, which makes me very sad.  We received: 

- eggplant (I'm not even upset about it because I don't want the CSA to end)

- butternut squash

- cucumbers

- sweet peppers

- potatoes

- tomatoes

- radishes

Thursday, October 14, 2010

CSA Meals Week 18

One of my recent (several month long) food obsessions is Mekong's rice noodle salad with beef.  I'm holding onto a Splendid Table recipe that looks like it could be similar, but haven't gotten around to making it yet.  Instead, I channeled my desire for crunchy cucumbers and fish sauce into a Thai cucumber salad since we had most of the ingredients lying around.  The salad is simple, but it's refreshing and the colors are stunning in any serving dish.

All of the tomatoes from our share were used in a penne dish with chicken breast, basil, and parmesan.  I sauteed some garlic, let the tomatoes simmer, added a little chicken stock and pasta water for depth, and stirred in the cooked chicken.  I really enjoyed the combination of ingredients in this dish, especially because the flavors were big but it was healthier than it tasted.

My birthday was last Saturday, and Davy graciously made me a beautiful dinner: grilled jerk tilapia with mushroom sauce, grilled broccolini and carrots, and rice.  He's not into mushrooms at all, so this was a special treat.

As a bonus, I also got a birthday veggie frittata with some of the leftover mushrooms, broccolini, onion and sweet peppers.  

On Sunday we had a few friends over to watch football, and Keith, who hunts regularly and always shares his rewards, made impressive skewers with sweet peppers, red onion, mushrooms, and chunks of goose meat wrapped in bacon.  They were then grilled to perfection, and what seemed like a huge pile of food was easily consumed by the end of dinner.

In the next segment of my ongoing battle with eggplant, I attempted to make baba ganoush, a dip involving roasted eggplant blended with olive oil, tahini, garlic, salt and pepper.  I guess I accomplished a minor victory because I didn't hate it and I got to use my immersion blender, but I still didn't really want to eat it and ended up giving most of it away.  My friend Lyndsey also made baba ganoush over the weekend, and she used lemon juice instead of tahini in hers.  I'm not sure that I would bother with this again unless someone requested it, but I might try the lemon juice variation if we get more eggplant.  Or should I say when we get more eggplant?

Thai Bell Pepper, Cucumber and Peanut Salad
Modified from Southern Living


8 servings (serving size: 3/4 cup)
  • Dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Thai fish sauce
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • Salad:
  • 2 cups sliced peeled seedless cucumber
  • 2 cups red bell pepper strips
  • 3/4 cup julienne-cut carrot
  • 1/4 cup vertically sliced red onion
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (I used basil instead)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped peanuts
PreparationTo prepare the dressing, combine the first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, and stir with a whisk.
To prepare the salad, combine the cucumber, bell pepper, carrot, onion, and mint.
Drizzle the dressing over cucumber mixture, tossing gently to coat.
Sprinkle salad with peanuts.

More Eggplant...

I'm going home for the weekend, and my parents are going to be stuck with it.  We also got:

- garlic

- cucumber

- salad tomatoes

- green tomatoes

- sweet peppers

- carrots

- Tokyo bekana

Thursday, October 07, 2010

CSA Meals Week 17

I'm still trying to like eggplant.  I've had it in things that are delicious, like the Pizza Grille's Grilled Eggplant Rolls and Mama Zu's eggplant parm, but I haven't really liked it in anything I've made. 

A month or so ago I participated in a cooking lesson for my friend's bachelorette party, and one of the dishes we made was ratatouille.  Normally I don't knock myself out trying to eat ratatouille, but I wanted to try everything and it was pretty tasty.  Unfortunately, when I tried to recreate it with the same recipe, it looked better to me than it tasted.  It was still a decent dish, with a subtle wine flavor and a little bite of parmesan cheese, but I avoided and picked out the diced eggplant when I ate it for lunch.

The addition of braised pork definitely improved the vegetable stew, and both seemed to last forever.

Our last green beans of the year were eaten roasted, and still tasted fresh enough to brighten dinner on a cool night.

We ate the pork as nachos and also tacos with chopped Tokyo Bekana.  The greens had a quiet enough flavor to blend with other components, and also had enough of a taste to stand alone in a saute.  

If I didn't know any better, I'd think that the eggplant in our produce drawer were regenerating.  There are three more currently sitting in the fridge, and I'm going to try to warm up to them with a different preparation.  One that (hopefully) doesn't involve me picking anything out of my bowl.

Real Garlic

I'm always thrilled when we get garlic in our share because it's far superior to anything sold in the grocery store.  It has a deeper flavor and more texture, both of which make a huge difference in cooking.  We also got:

- eggplant (up for grabs)

- basil, parsley, rosemary

- sweet peppers

- cucumber

- arugula

- kale

- tomatoes

Friday, October 01, 2010

CSA Meals Weeks 15 and 16

I've been putting this post off because it seems like it was so long ago, and in Week 15 there were a lot of repeats and cop-out meals.  The non-recycled dinners were a delicious pappardelle, tomatoes, roasted green beans and mozzarella dish; grilled skirt steak from the butcher with an arugula and tomato salad, grilled peppers and onions, and baked potatoes; and a braised pork shoulder with rice, mustard greens and carrots.  Below are pictures of the pre-grill steak prepared with different rubs and the beautiful golden cherry tomatoes on top of arugula.  Week 17 will hold more adventures with the pork shoulder - stay tuned!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Time for Apples

We got some beautiful, rustic apples yesterday, along with: 

- eggplant

- basil

- arugula

- tomatoes

- sweet peppers

- jalapenos

- cucumbers

- Tokyo Bekana (a flavorful green that can be used for salad or quick stir frys)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Secco and Sprout

I can never say enough about River City Cellars, my favorite wine and cheese store, and I'm ashamed that it took me so long to get to Secco.  The atmosphere at the wine bar is exactly the same: casual and unpretentious, but still sophisticated.  Sara, our server, who is also the cheese expert at the store, treated us like guests in her home.  We could tell how enthusiastic and proud she was of the food and wine, and her attitude enriched our meal.

My favorite thing about Secco's menu is the mix and match cheese and meat plate.  You have the option of one, three, or five meats and cheeses of your choice, and they're served on a slate board with the names of each written above in chalk.  There was an abundance of crostini (Sara brought us a fresh basket) and a nice dollop of spicy pear chutney on the side, which paired well with all of our selections.

We also sampled the flamenquines: tender pork rolled around ham, breaded, fried, and served with wisps of fried potatoes and a meyer lemon mayo.  I was impressed by the lightness of this dish.  The strong citrus flavor in the mayo really cut through the meaty flavors, and the texture combination with the thin, crispy potatoes, and smooth, cool sauce made every bite pop.

Our last choice was the panzanella, which is a bread and tomato salad with basil, capers, onion, and cucumber.  Again, the vibrant flavors and various textures added to the overall impact of the salad.  There is nothing fancy about panzanella, but the balance and quality of ingredients made it seem extra fresh and special.

After reading about it in Style, I couldn't wait to try Sprout Market & Cafe.  Davy and I ventured there with another couple for a late Saturday night dinner, and despite some reservations by the male members of our group, we all left happy.  When we walked up to the door, our soon-to-be server was relaxing on a bench outside.  The restaurant, which is cozy and rustic on the inside, was empty aside from another server.

David, who took care of us, made us feel very comfortable and welcome.  He brought the chalkboard drink list over to our table so we didn't have to strain to see it, recommended a reasonable and tasty beer, and chatted with us about the songs he was playing.  The menus were fastened to different record covers, which makes me think he's the owner or at least very involved in Sprout.

Our food, which is made almost solely from local products, matched the environment.  We shared an order of cheese hush puppies, which were crisp and delicious, and the rest of our food ranged from good to amazing.  The surprise standout ended up being the sliders, which was garnished with an incredibly ripe, juicy tomato.  The burgers themselves hadn't dried out despite their size, and the greens sandwiched between the small rolls were a mix of fresh lettuces.  I opted for a roasted squash and zucchini panini, which did not disappoint, and the vegan ricotta was a pleasant spread to complement the roasted vegetables and greens.

There was only one choice for dessert, half of a peach baked with oats and brown sugar and served over a raspberry sauce.  It was just the right amount of indulgence to end a healthy, conscious meal.

Dinner at both Sprout and Secco reminded me why I love going out to eat.  While it is nice to have special occasion dinners at fancy restaurants, I truly enjoy feeling at home in someone else's dining room.  These two venues offer a relaxing vibe and food that will keep me coming back.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Eggplant is still up for Grabs!

We seem to be steadily accumulating eggplant in our produce drawer.  The other items we received this week are:

- green beans

- arugula

- cherry tomatoes

- salad tomatoes

- sweet peppers

- dandelion greens

Thursday, September 16, 2010

CSA Meals - Weeks 13 and 14

As we continue the transition between summer and fall, I'm trying to find dishes that highlight warm weather produce as well as the hint of cooler temperatures.  There are two noteworthy dishes from the past few weeks, outside of the normal salads, pasta, and frittatas, that are worth sharing.

I made the first dish with four delicious tomatoes from my parents' plants.  They had gotten just a little too ripe, but they were perfect to stuff.  I sauteed zucchini, shallot, the tomato insides, and sausage and combined the mixture with parmesan and breadcrumbs.  Once I spooned it into the tomatoes, and miraculously came out with the perfect amount of filling, I topped everything with shredded mozzarella.  I don't remember now exactly what the baking temperature was, but I think it was somewhere around 400 degrees for 25 minutes.  With a tasty salad and foccacia, the tomatoes made a comforting and light meal.

Along the same lines, I made veggie chili this week that yielded enough food for a hungry family of ten and also used a lot of our share.  I chopped and steamed our pumpkin squash in place of the yellow squash called for in the recipe, and lessened the 1/4 cup of brown sugar to account for the sweetness in the orange squash.  

Jalapenos, four healthy looking peppers, also went in, seeds and all. 

I threw in the pak choi close to the end of simmering the chili, but we couldn't really taste it.

We used petite diced tomatoes, chickpeas, zucchini, sweet peppers, and corn as well, and a variety of spices that made us think of chili.  By the time everything was in the Dutch oven, it was nearly full, but after 30 minutes of simmering it had reduced and there was just the right amount of liquid. 

We'll definitely be eating the other half of this chili out of the freezer, hopefully on a chilly fall day when we're reminiscing about hot weather and missing our CSA.

Anyone Need Eggplant?

This week we took home:

- green beans

- arugula

- tomatoes

- eggplant

- butternut squash

- sweet peppers

- basil

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Second September Share

This week's veggies are similar to last week's, with the exception of a squash that looks suspiciously like a pumpkin:

- sweet peppers

- green beans

- sungold cherry tomatoes

- eggplant

- pak choi

- arugula

- unidentified squash

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Welcome Return

I was thrilled to be back at the market on Tuesday to pick up our share:

- salad mix

- sweet peppers

- jalapeno peppers

- green beens

- cherry tomatoes

- eggplant (which I gave away to Josh and Caitlin)

- okra

Happy September!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Eating in August

We're more than halfway through the CSA hiatus, and to say that I've been eating well for the past few weeks would be an understatement.  I will say that this is one of the best times of the year for food, between vacation, festivals, and eating out just because. There's something about the time before the students return and while everyone is regrouping for fall that makes me feel lucky to not have to think about school for myself or anyone else.  It's almost as if I have an extra few weeks of summer to enjoy.

Going to the grocery store at the beach is more fun for some reason (Davy said it first and I agree wholeheartedly).  We ate very well in the Outer Banks: roast chicken, lobster, grilled soft shell crabs and tuna, homemade pizza, and a summery risotto that I think was one of my best.  Local tomatoes, green beans, corn and chicken sausage from Harris Teeter were wonderful together with the creamy rice and parmesan cheese.  The kernels of corn added the perfect amount of sweetness to the dish, and also gave it another layer of texture that was very pleasant.  

Lately we've been having a hard time picking places to go for brunch.  A lot of the fan restaurants don't change their menu and we've gone often enough to get sick of them.  Kitchen 64 is good, but we often leave disappointed and feel that it should have been better.  A couple weekends ago we made our way to Tarrant's for Saturday brunch.  I had a Greek omelet with large chunks of feta, artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, tomato, and roasted red peppers.  There were delicious red potato homefries and fresh fruit on the side.  The omelet had three eggs and the plate was huge, but $9.95 still seemed a little pricey to me. Even the brunch menu is more expensive than the dinner menu, it's definitely worth a return trip, especially since the options are more varied than our regular brunch spots.   

Later that day, in the spirit of branching out, I experimented with a new lemonade recipe I'd seen online.  It's not pretty, but the "Balsamic Lemonade Cocktail" is refreshing and tart, with a little added richness from the vinegar.  Essentially, this is homemade lemonade with vodka and 1-2 teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, but it's tasty enough and different enough to become a mainstay.

Our trip to Tarrant's was a result of going to Black Sheep, finding a long wait, and being too hungry to stay.  The same thing happened recently when we tried to go for dinner.  Neither of us had the patience to wait for thirty-forty minutes for a table, and we detoured to Ipanema Cafe.  I happen to love the mostly vegetarian menu and the basement atmosphere there.  They have great drink specials, especially from 5-7 p.m., and there are always good beers on tap.  As an added bonus, one of the servers was a girl who used to work at Bev's when Davy and I were going regularly (and I'm not embarrassed to say she knew our order).  We ordered beers at the bar and were seated within five minutes.  Davy went with the tried and true grilled cheese, and I ate the chili and corn gratin over rice and lentils, which was unique and delicious. 

The Hanover Firefighters Crab Feast has been a highlight of my summer (year?) twice before, and this year's event did not disappoint.  The crabs seemed to be sweeter and meatier this year, and there were endless amounts of them.  

We were also fortunate enough to eat crabs at our friend Keith's the following day, which were even better because he steamed them himself. The Old Bay-style seasoning he got with them was a perfect blend of spiciness and sweetness, and eating crabs twice in one weekend is the best possible way to end the summer.  If it's really over, that is.  I may try to stretch it for few more weeks.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

CSA Meals - Weeks 11 and 12

I'm leaving for the beach tomorrow and most of the produce from Week 12 has already been used, so I'm combining this week and last week in my post.

Last Tuesday evening we grilled burgers, corn, and summer squash.  It was a fun, seasonal dinner, although the corn from Victory Farms wasn't wonderful.  When I cut it off the cob for a salad on Thursday, however, it fared much better.  We ate it at a friend's house with arugula, cherry tomatoes, feta, and a red wine vinegar and shallot dressing.  The sweet tomatoes, peppery arugula, salty cheese, and the soft crunch of grilled corn kernels is now one of my favorite salad combinations, and I happily ate the remainders for lunch on Friday.

My parents were in town for the weekend, and I took the opportunity to use up some veggies in a frittata.  We chopped and sauteed zucchini, onion, and tomato before adding eggs to the pan and sliding the whole thing into the oven to broil for a few minutes.  Even though we ate it with cinnamon oatmeal biscuits, it still felt like a healthy breakfast. 

The crisp, sweet peppers were all sliced and eaten with hummus for various days' snacks.

When my parents left on Sunday, they'd generously donated several bright red, homegrown tomatoes to our produce bowl on the counter.  We got two heirlooms in the share on Tuesday, so I seized the opportunity to make scalloped tomatoes.  The recipe was adapted by Deb on, and the original was written by Ina Garten.  I can't say enough about this dish.  It's savory and sweet at the same time, with an almost tangy bite from the caramelized tomatoes and a spicy zest from fresh basil.  We made a meal of it with feta-stuffed zucchini bites

and ate the leftovers on Wednesday on crisp slices of bread.  It's definitely worth making if you have extra, nearly overripe tomatoes around, or even if you just want to make something impressive and tasty that doesn't require a lot of work.


As I mentioned in my previous post, there will be a two week CSA hiatus because of the heat and my vacation.  I'm still going to try to post about what I'm making and eating at restaurants, and hopefully I'll make it to some farmers markets too.   Happy August!