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May 2008

Weekly Blog Round Up

Honey_bee_275 Heard around the DC Foodies blogosphere this week... I think a good rule of thumb when it comes to portion size is never eat anything that is bigger than your head, or a bread box. But, if you do, make sure it's for free. Bethesda's The Burger Joint is doing just that, according to the Washington Post's Weekend section. Weighing in at 15 pounds, including 9 pounds of beef, the monster burger, at nearly $80, comes with a bottle of Maalox. Finish it off, and it's free. The cardiologist's bill is another matter.

The decline in honey bees has been all the buzz for the past two years. Colony worker bees have been leaving their hives, never to return. This phenomenon, called colony collapse disorder, eventually starves the egg-laying queen bee of warmth and food, causing the colony to die. According to 'Replenishing Hives Stung By The Loss Of Bees' in the WaPo Home section this week, bee clubs in the Washington DC region have seen a significant increase in membership as concern for the effect of bee loss grows.

Local honey and other bee products can be found and supported at several area farmers markets (some also sell online). At the Kingstowne farmers market, Bees and Blossoms (Providence Forge, VA) joined the roster of vendors this year, with a wide variety of bee products, including honeys, honey jellies, honey cream, bee pollen, candles and skin care products.

Counter Intelligence's Mellisa McCart wrote about making her favorite pizza in an article entitled 'My Own Weekly Slice of the Jersey Shore'. In it, McCart describes the lessons she learned about making pizza at home, which enables her to enjoy her own Clam Pie whenever she needs a 'slice'. Check out McCart's article, along with several more pizza recipes and make a pie of your own. For a short cut, buy pizza dough from The Italian Store in VA ($1.99 buys a ball of dough which makes 2-10 inch pies), or Vace in DC.

This week, Washington City Paper's Tim Carmen writes about the tribulations of Latino food truck vendors in Maryland's Prince George and Montgomery counties. Seemingly, they are chased from one area only to find extensive rules and regulations (read:money) which prove prohibitive to maintaining a lucrative business in another. Being from Philadelphia, where food truck culture is as much a part of the culinary scene as cheesesteaks and hoagies, I gravitate towards cheap,authentic, homemade dishes from these mobile mavens of Latino food. Like the truck at a nearby Latino Mercado-where the carne asada, papusas and tacos are dirt cheap and absolutely soul satisfying.

Finally, we've got a great recipe round up from our talented local food bloggers. The Garden Apartment tells readers that the secret to making good bruschetta is using the freshest ingredients possible. Hot house tomatoes from Sunnyside Farm and Orchards, fresh mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy, garden basil and garlic-flavored olive oil are a recipe for success.

Foodie Tots had a great farmers market haul this week, and made an Asparagus and Chive Quiche, followed by a Chive and Carrot Pesto. The Houndstooth Gourmet also makes a pesto from garlic scapes, while The Food Scribe shows readers how to make a refreshing drink of Lovage and Vodka. Hmm...I love greens in a Bloody Mary, but this I'll have to try!

Puglia: Backward and Beautiful

With the world now catering to the American market, shopping has become a much easier chore for the novice wine buyer. All over the globe, obscure native varietals are being torn up and replaced with Cabernet, Chardonnay, and other so called "International Varietals." Producers of such wines now make a point of presenting their products in the American manner, by varietal, rather than by the more obtuse traditional regional designations — even the famously reactionary Bordeaulais are getting into the act, such that it is now not uncommon to see a Bordeaux labeled "Merlot" or "Sauvignon." From a wine lover's perspective, this state of being must be viewed with ambivalence; while it's great that people are now more easily invited into our fold, this trend towards homogenization sort of cheapens the whole affair. What good is a love of wine if the field of suitors is whittled to a handful?

Puglia_3 Though it seems that all of wine is drifting towards this inexorable end, certain regions have proven more behind the curve than others. Puglia, the "heel" of Italy's "boot," continues to be dominated by its numerous native varietals. Until very recently, Puglian wine was almost exclusively of the table variety, enjoyed by the locals with their meals and sold to tourists visiting the fabulous Adriatic coast. To be fair, this is still largely the case, as only about a quarter of the fertile region's wine is ever bottled, and a mere 2% achieves DOC status, the government's benchmark for quality wines. The climate is changing, however, with outside investment, vineyard care and modernization are on the rise, and stateside consumers are finally beginning to see the fruits of this labor. Though highly fertile — Puglia is the second largest producer of wine in Italy by volume — the region remains relatively indigent, and it is not bound to be a major world player for some years. That said, Puglia is blessed with what I think are some of the most interesting grapes in the world, and due to a lack of fashion and awareness, they are all very well priced.

Primitivos Primitivo, one of Puglia's most widely grown grapes, prized for its productivity and early ripening, has an interesting pedigree. Until the mid-nineties, the grape was thought a local anomaly, when scientists found that it is genetically equivalent to Zinfandel; "America's Grape" has a cousin! While possessed of a depth and fruit-forward quality similar to its domestic counterpart, wine made from Primitivo often has a high acidity and rustic earthiness uncommon of Zinfandel. A-Mano produces the most widely known example of this wine, and though a bit jammy for my taste, it is more than fine for $9 a bottle. More interesting is the Villa Fanelli 'Zeta' Primitivo; six months of barrel aging give this wine a full, round texture not common of the varietal, though this does not subdue the dark berry and cherry fruit expected of the grape. Commonly available for about $12 a bottle, this wine makes a great cookout wine, and would not be amiss with a plate of Eggplant Parmesan. For those looking for a richer experience, $20 will buy you a bottle of Rosa del Golfo, whose Primitivo's purple berry fruit and distinctive earthiness and balance make it a great match with red meat, or practically any dish heavy on the mushrooms.

Troia Keeping within the trope of "American" grapes, where Primitivo is in fact a Mediterranean Zinfandel, Puglia's native Nero di Troia is not unlike California's Petite Sirah: big, dense, and tannic. Where Petite Sirah may be characterized by a certain flabbiness, however, Nero di Troia, like most Italian grapes, pushes through with a winning acidity. Nero di Troia is still relatively uncommon on domestic shelves, but a few examples of this obscure grape have found their way to our area. The Parco Grande Castel del Monte Rosso combines organically grown Troia with Montepulciano and Aglianico to make a medium bodied, brightly fruited cuvee with a pleasing burnt quality on the finish — I have had this wine as an accompaniment to oil cured olives, and the combination was amazing. As for a pure incarnation, Alberto Longo produces the only 100% Nero di Troia I have found in the form of the 'le Cruste' (About $20). This dark purple, bitingly tannic monster is in need of a bit of aging, but I've no doubt that given a few years of cellaring it will make a perfect pair with hard rind aged Italian cheeses.

Though EU subsidies have caused a major decline in its planting, Negroamaro is still one of the region's most widely planted grapes, and easily its most versatile. Negroamaro is used up and down the coast as a base for all types of wine, from light and breezy pinks to dark and brooding reds. It is in the southern third of Puglia, known as SalentoTaurino_2, where Negroamaro reaches its incredible heights. When well executed, Negroamaro is reminiscent of a chunkier, more lascivious Chateauneuf-du-Pape; herbaceous and dark, with a lush mouthfeel and lengthy, fruit filled finish. Negroamaro's most familiar example is probably known in the form of the Taurino Salice Salentino, one of the first of its type to be imported into the country by Leonardo LoCascio several decades ago. This perennial favorite exhibits a delightfully backward nose of black cherries and dried herbs, leading to a full bodied presentation of the same, with a lengthy, dry finish. At $12 a bottle, this remains a surprisingly good buy, and pairs very well Copertino_3 with cured meats and pizza. Taurino's neighbor Apollonio, in nearby Copertino, has been producing regionally correct wines of the highest caliber for more than four generations. For incorrigible Cabernet lovers, the Apollonio Copertino Rosso (About $16) is a fine introduction to the wider world of wines, offering similar cassis and bramble notes to domestic Cabernet, but with a woodsy, tarry finish. If you've got a bit of time on their hands are willing to throw down $30 on a bottle of wine, the same producer's 'Divoto' Reserva is sublime. This full bodied, dense black wine will not show much at the beginning, but given time it will give up notes of black pepper, tar, licorice, raisins, and more! This is a wine to sit and linger over, but given a good hour of decanting, it will certainly make a great match with your heartier cuts of red meat or ripe cheese.

Everona Dairy - Sheep's Milk Cheese from Virginia's Piedmont

Too_much_meat_012For more than a dozen years now, Dr. Pat Elliott has been crafting a range of quality, artisanal sheep's milk cheeses just a few hours' drive from Washington in Rapidan, Virginia.  Until recently, these delicious cheeses from Everona Dairy have been hard to find for most D.C. Foodies, as they were sold primarily on-site and at Farmers' Markets in Charlottesville.  Those who were able to chase down a wedge of Stony Man or Piedmont at Arrowine or another local shop were rewarded with cheeses that offer deep, nutty flavors; rich, buttery color and a texture that progresses from firm to pliant as it warms.

Thankfully, this month has seen a welcome addition to the lineups at the Thursday afternoon Penn Quarter market and the Sunday morning Dupont Circle market.  Dr. Elliott and her staff have added these two FreshFarm Markets to their weekly rounds, giving us the chance to try their full range of cheeses direct from the source.

Too_much_meat_013And what a range it is!  In addition to the mainstays (Piedmont and Stony Man), Everona Dairy produces a baby Swiss-style cheese, a wine-soaked cheese they call Pride of Bacchus and a wide range of what could be considered 'infusions' -- varieties of Piedmont featuring add-ins like chives and dill, vegetable ash (for the 'Marble' variety), cracked black pepper, and even sun-dried tomatoes.  In each case, the flavors of the additions are immediately noticeable, and most harmonize easily with the smooth flavor of the Piedmont.  The Tomato Torta caught me a bit off guard, but a second tasting helped me appreciate the surprisingly tasty combination.

Too_much_meat_020On my first visit, I decided to branch out a bit and I purchased a wedge of the Pride of Bacchus.  Unlike softer, washed-rind cheeses, this one lacks a pungent aroma and instead offers a vaguely wine-like smelling the inside of a retired barrel that had been used for aging.  The cheese itself is dense and snow-white, looking and tasting a lot like an aged Parmesan (but without the hard, crumbly texture).  Tasting the rind, I was surprised to find some flavorful notes mingled with the normal earthiness, yet you wouldn't be missing out if you passed on the rind altogether.  A subsequent visit resulted in the purchase of a section of the Marbled Piedmont, and the vegetable ash served to give the normally nutty Piedmont an earthier flavor.  Its appearance reminded me a lot of Morbier, the soft French cheese with its own layer of ash in the middle, but its taste was more like a Manchego.

Img_4646 So how does a rural doctor end up running a dairy that produces more than 4 tons of cheese a year?  She buys a dog, of course!  As the story goes, Dr. Elliott purchased a border collie pup on a whim back in 1992, and she soon found that she needed something for the energetic dog to do.  Since collies are working dogs, she decided to buy some sheep.  Sheep led to milk, milk led to cheese, and soon enough Everona Dairy was producing award-winning cheeses made from the milk produced by more than 100 Friesians and other sheep she raises on site.

Though none of her cheeses are inexpensive (wedges are priced by weight and tend to run in the $12 to $18 range for 1/4 to 1/3 of a pound), Dr. Elliott's passion and the story behind her entry into the world of cheesemaking stand out and make Everona Dairy a local producer I'm happy to support.

Simple Pleasures: Green Garlic


So this is my first year really doing the farmer's market thing. I've been to them in the past, but I've never considered using them as my main grocery source. This new commitment came out of some combination of post-college idealism and a genuine distrust of the mass-market food industry. Perhaps its part of my evolving politics, the desire to get back to American food, grown in America, by Americans and not by corporations. Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania – I live between states that produce tons of varied and delicious produce (not to mention locally raised meat, which is where this change really came from), so why not actually consume it? So I did. I changed my habits completely, and as a result this week I've got myself some green garlic.

Green garlic is young garlic, garlic that is plucked from the ground before it has matured into the pungent bulbs we know and love so well. As a result, the flavor is sweeter and milder, ranging from the gentleness of a leek in the green stalk to the familiar bite of mature garlic right at the base. I'm not one to try to blend that kind of exquisite flavor into a mish-mash of a dish, so I went as simple as I could.

You need two pots for this: one for boiling the pasta, and a large saucepan for the garlic, deep enough to be able to mix the pasta into the sauce on the stove. Because my kitchen – and subsequently my stove – is so incredibly small (and because almost all my burners are crooked), I made the pasta before starting the sauce. If you have more room, or more than one flat burner, I'd recommend cooking pasta and sauce simultaneously.

Now, I understand that not everyone keeps bacon fat around. I make breakfast for friends on a fairly regular basis, and fat does not go down the drain, so I happen to have a can of bacon fat in the fridge. The fat's great for adding bacon-y goodness to anything, and I love me some bacon-y goodness. If you don't have it, don't want to use it (oh, come on, low-fat cooking is so passe), or don't like it, by all means leave it out.

Please to enjoy:

Green Garlic and Angel Hair

2 medium or 1 large stalk(s) of green garlic
3-5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon bacon fat (optional)
1/3 cup of dry white wine
1/2 tablespoon butter (or a decent-sized pat)
Parmesan cheese, grated (quantity to your taste)
Angel hair pasta

Garlic_in_panSalt your pasta water well and put on to boil. While the pasta water is coming to a boil, dice your garlic medium-fine. Heat the olive oil in your saucepan over medium heat and add the bacon fat. Heat bacon fat until the it has melted completely but before the oil is so hot it would fry. Add your pasta to what is now surely boiling water. Add the butter to the garlic. Let the garlic cook until it is soft and translucent, 5-7 minutes.

Your pasta should be done by now -- drain, toss lightly with oil, and cover with a towel. Turn up the heat on the sauce to medium-high until you hear a pronounced increase in the volume of your sizzle. Add the wine and a hearty pinch of salt and stir around until its well combined with the garlic bits and garlicky oil in the pan. Turn off the heat and stir in a small handful of the cheese. Pour the drained pasta into the pan and toss to coat. I happen to have an herb garden and topped my pasta with a handful of parsley and some more parmesan.

Finished The garlic turns out incredibly sweet, delicate, and recognizably garlicky. The salt is important to balance out the sweetness, but it was a real treat the get to play with the aroma of garlic without the bitterness or bite that so often happens when your stove is as unreliable as mine.

All I had when I made this was one medium stalk of green garlic, and so my pasta turned out very mild. Another stalk would have been perfect to get the flavor up to the intensity I wanted. If you’re not the biggest garlic fan, but want to try its milder, younger self, you can go ahead and use less than the amount in my recipe, or you can feel free to use more. Toss in some minced clams and it’s a fantastic twist on linguine with clam sauce. Add a couple egg yolks and you’ve got green garlic carbonara. Green garlic is a versatile ingredient, but it is best when allowed to shine at the center of the dish. It’s not a vegetable to be wasted in the background.

Weekly Blog Round Up

Chives_soft_focus_300_2 Heard around the D.C. Foodie blogosphere this week...Thank you to Lea for letting D.C. Foodies know about Cuisine des Artistes: A Feast For The Senses, benefiting the DC Arts Center. The event will be held on May, 28th at the Meridian House and will feature local chefs and artists, collaborating to create works of edible art.

When it comes to edible art, nothing beats Mother Nature. This week, Counter Intelligence's Melissa McCart tells us about how peonies on New Hampshire Ave. got her thinking about edible flowers. She suggests enjoying Tallulah's lemon verbena cocktail and Vermilion's baccala stuffed squash blossom with pan roasted sablefish and saffron froth. Or, you may be treated to an amuse bouche of carrot soup with chive blossom like I was when dining at Vermilion recently.

To cook and garnish with edible flowers and fragrant herbs, check out New Morning Farm's fresh chives with blossoms (pictured above) at the Dupont Farmers Market, and DeBaggio's Herb Farm, in Chantilly, VA.

While you're at the farmers market, keep an eye open for cardoons. This week, April at The Food Scribe tells readers about this vegetable, which looks like a scruffy piece of celery, but tastes like asparagus and artichokes. April bought a bunch of cardoons at Next Step Produce and made a delicious-sounding Chicken and Cardoon Tagine. You can check out the recipe here.

Speaking of the farmers market at Dupont, the Washington Post reported on Dupont Market in this week's Food section. Called a scrappy little market with soul-satisfying soul sandwiches, Dupont Market's Kevin Sheridan has built a loyal following during the 14 years he has owned the place. Among the 20 or so sandwiches on the menu are the Debra, with fresh mozzarella, artichoke hearts and sun-dried tomato pesto, and the El Umberto, with turkey, Swiss cheese, avocado and alfalfa sprouts.

Cosmo-schmazmo. Before you head out to see the highly-anticipated Sex In The City-The Movie, strap on your Manolo Blahniks, grab your girlfriends, and have a swizzle stick soiree at these DC area bastions of booze, picked by Washingtonian Magazine. WM suggests the Basil Lemontini at Poste, the Blair Drink Project at Liberty Tavern, and the Bermuda Triangle at H Street Martini Lounge. But please, leave the garden-inspired hat at home. Unless, that is, you plan to garnish your own drinks.

Washingtonian Magazine's Best Bites Blog turned the camera on Corduroy this week. Stalked Staked outside of Chef Tom Power's new digs on 9th Street, WM interviewed several patrons as they exited after dining. Critiques for the food included "fantastic" for the seared scallops on garlic mashed potatoes and "very good, highly recommended" for the tuna tartar the the lobster carpaccio. Comments on the decor ranges from "it looks and smells new" to "comfortable".

Finally, DC Foodies reported on The French Laundry at Home's interview with BlackSalt Market's fish monger, Scott Weinstein. This week, Ed at The Slow Cook reports on a sustainable seafood dinner he attended at Blacksalt restaurant. The post, entitled Sustainable Seafood--Really?, addresses the dilemma of eating seafood that is offered as sustainable, yet is on the "avoid" list by the Blue Ocean Institute.

DC Foodies wants to know your thoughts-When you eat or buy seafood, is your decision guided lists that tell you what seafood is endangered by over-fishing? Do you avoid farm raised fish and seafood?

Savoring Savor

Savor1 As previously reported, this past weekend the Brewer's Association graced our fair city with "Savor — An American Craft Beer and Food Experience." During three four-hour sessions spread over two days, some 2,100+ ticket holders converged on the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium for a stunning array of beer and food pairings. I had the good fortune on Saturday of being one of those patrons.

The first thing that must be said is that if the BA was going for spectacle, they couldn't have picked a better venue. Besides being well situated on the Mall, the Mellon Auditorium is giant and opulent; velvet draped and gilded walls surround three-foot thick marble columns supporting a cathedral ceiling over a room the size of a soccer field. The 48 brewers were arranged around the room's edges, with sponsoring breweries in a large circle occupying the treasured space at the room's center. Even with so much stuffed in, the space felt airy.

Savor2_2 Another feather in the BA's cap is superb organization. Though the place was packed (the event having been sold out ahead of time for all three sessions), it never felt crowded, and there were plenty of open spaces in which to escape and regroup. After taking a few minutes to get my bearings, I set upon some of my favorite brewers' tables and found myself served an ample portion in a matter of moments. In fact, despite a sold out crowd, I never spent more than two minutes waiting at any given kiosk. My greatest fear — the devolution into feeding frenzy so common of liquor based events — was quickly assuaged.

As promised in the promotional literature, the breweries let out all the stops, all showing the best of their best, with brewing luminaries present in the dozens. On the whole, the brewers and reps were friendly, if groggy. (Considering that this was an afternoon session following, what I know by word of mouth, was a loooonng night for some of the folks, I was not offended). That said, Savor's thesis was always at the heart of the conversation: that the beer would be best enjoyed as an accessory to accompanying food.

In the food department, I am conflicted. On one hand, most of the pairings were rather adept. As I understand it, participating breweries were given a preliminary menu, and were asked to make a set of matches between their available offerings and the forty-some-odd dishes offered by the caterers. Most breweries did a bang up job matching their unique beers with what was on hand. That said, the quality and quantity of said food was mixed. The Christopher Elbow Chocolates were universally great, as were the selected artisanal cheeses, but the prepared foods were often cold, sometimes bland, and too often unavailable at time of tasting.

Savor3 The food situation, though, was by no means a wash: some of the pairings were downright orgasmic. Great Divide Brewery of Denver, Colorado made a fantastic match of their Hercules Double IPA with Romano Padera cheese — the slight sweetness of the beer offset the cheese's saltiness completely, and the strong hop character mingled well with the aged cheese's ripeness. Local favorite Dogfish Head made an impressive showing with their little known Palo Santo Marron paired with Steak Tips in Blue Cheese/ Shitake Sauce. This is the only beer in the United States brewed in Paraguayan Palo Santo wood, the hardest known wood in the world. Holding 10,000 gallons apiece at a cost of $110,000 a tank, this beer's vessels are a testament to Dogfish Head's commitment to producing innovative world class beers. This brown ale tastes of varnished wood and incense, with a sweetness quite slight given its 12% abv; combined with the chewy texture of steak and tangy sharpness of the well executed sauce, the effect was extraordinary.  Finally, New Holland, a Michigan brewery who will hit the DC scene in the next month, made my night with their combo of Maytag Dairy Farms'  Blue Cheese with their Dragon's Milk Oak Barrel Ale. Any of my friends will tell you that I am not the biggest fan of blue cheese, and often choke at its smell! That said, when paired with this lovely strong ale, the Maytag blue lost all its moldy edge, and a gestalt of creaminess was achieved the likes of which I would never have expected. Color me a convert!

Savor4 In addition to the hubbub of the main floor, Savor offered up a series of Salons; hour long, food themed lectures hosted by celebrity brewers. As befitting my love of crab and all things local, I attended one entitled "Beers and the Bay: How to Enhance the Bounty of the Chesapeake Bay with Your Favorite Beers," hosted by Hugh Sisson of Baltimore's Clipper City Brewing Company. Though I love Clipper City's beers, I am sorry to say that the Salon was a bit of a disappointment — though irreverent and entertaining, the number of pairings was reduced without notice from four to two, and most of the hour was relegated to questions from the audience. The crabcake and Oxford Organic Raspberry Ale was a fine pair, but the subsequent duck dish was limp and over spiced — I would love to have seen what Sisson planned for oysters, but unfortunately, logistics laid that by the wayside. Though this Salon proved for me underwhelming, I was told by some attendees that others were a smashing success. For those that are interested, full podcasts are available of of all six Salons through Craft Beer Radio.

Warts and all, I can't call a Savor ticket purchased anything but a smart buy. The lines were swift, the beers were great, the characters were plentiful, and, let's be honest, the volume of beer alone made the $85 ticket a bargain. I asked every staff member I could find whether they would be hosting a similar event next year, and the best answer I could garner was, "We'll see." Considering that this, the BA's smallest ever event and their first in Washington, was met with such a resounding response, I can't imagine that they won't give it another go. Assuming the organizers learned anything from this well executed trial run, any beer and food lover with some extra cash about would be foolish not to attend the anticipated "Second Annual."

Pork Chops and Apple "Sauce" - Broke in the Farmer’s Market

Kitchen_1_2 I’d like you to meet Bob. Bob is a small, slender kitchen, with three hopelessly skewed electric burners (they rest at between a 20 and 45 degree angle at any given time; the fourth, and smallest, is thankfully flat). He has an oven, but it’s also terribly small, and terribly inconsistent. He’s got less than two feet of counter, thanks to his sloped sink. He’s a small, short-tempered beast, but I think I’ve grown to love him. But enough about Bob.

I was in Chicago last weekend, and so missed my normal Sunday stop at the Takoma Park Farmer’s Market [side note: If any of you are in Chicago and you like cocktails, do yourself a favor and spend $11 on something from The Violet Hour. Just do it. Trust me, trust me!], which is how I found myself driving to Georgetown on a Wednesday afternoon in an effort to find some produce to accompany the pork chops I purchased nearly a month ago from Smith Meadows Farms.

The question was what to combine with the pork chops and that all depended on what I found when I got to the market. I’m not joking –- there was nothing in my fridge. Since deciding a few months ago that supermarkets were only for emergencies and non-perishables, I've been rather good at buying small quantities of fresh things and being done with them by the next market day. So all I have now is cheese and ten dollars.

Ten bucks in a farmer’s market isn't easy, especially when you have no idea what you're going to cook, so I played it safe. I got four sweet golden delicious apples for $4, a bunch of spring asparagus for $3, and a hunk of cheddar cheese for $3. By the time I got home the pork was ready for its rub and I was stuck with one option...applesauce. Even though my family was never one to like pork chops and applesauce, I did have those apples, but I didn’t want to make just an applesauce. I wanted something brighter.

So while the pork’s rub of kosher salt, cracked black peppercorns, fresh thyme, and olive oil soaked in and oven preheated to 450, I turned to Orangette. The woman behind Orangette publishes a regular flow of delicious French recipes and is known for her phenomenal desserts. After looking at her recipe list, I noticed a link to Bratwurst with Creamy Apply Compote. Ding, ding, ding!

Pork Chops with Creamy Apple Compote and Roasted Spring Asparagus
Compote adapted from Orangette

Ingredients for the apple compote:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 golden delicious apples, sliced (8-10 slices per apple)
1 medium Vidalia onion, quartered and sliced
1 bay leaf – Orangette calls for Turkish bay leaf; if you’re using the regular kind, use more than 1 leaf
A hearty pinch of salt
1 cup dry white wine
2/3 cup table cream
1 tablespoon packed brown sugar (here, substituted with 3/4 tablespoon white sugar)
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Coat pork chops with the rub. Heat the oil in your pan until hot but not smoking. Place pork chops in the pan and give them a good sear (a little over a minute on each side). Transfer the chops to a hot pan in the oven (put it in the oven during the sear and it will come up to temperature just fine), and add the butter to the first pan. Adjust the heat to medium-high. When the butter is melted, add the onions, apples, bay leaves, and salt and cook, stirring and shaking the pan regularly, for 5 minutes or so.

Next, add the wine (if the sauce is getting slightly vinegary that's good. The acid is essential to this dish.) Bring the sauce to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 6-8 minutes.

While the sauce is simmering, check the temperature of the pork chops. Depending on their thickness, they should be done. Take them out of the oven and cover with foil.  Also, toss the asparagus with garlic salt and olive oil and place in the oven on a baking sheet to roast during the remaining cooking time.

Plate When the apples are ready (tender, yet solid), remove the lid and increase the heat to reduce the sauce liquid by half. Then add 2/3 of a cup of cream, a packed tablespoon of brown sugar, and at least a tablespoon of cider vinegar (I was out of brown sugar, so substituted about 3/4 of a tablespoon of white sugar and added extra vinegar because my only leftover white wine was not as dry as I wanted). Stir this together and cook until the liquid starts getting thick, about 2-3 minutes. Turn off the heat; the residual pan heat will finish thickening the sauce on its own.

All that’s left is to take out the asparagus and assemble the plate. One yummy pork chop, some fresh roasted asparagus, and tons of delicious creamy apple compote spooned on top of and next to the pork. My cupboard may still be bare, but damn if dinner that night wasn’t delicious!

Ricotta Cheese - Make It Yourself!

It took one bad pie to spark my curiosity about ricotta cheese; the “re-cooked” Italian classic most commonly used in desserts and baked pasta dishes. It was Easter Sunday, my mom was serving and tasting the ricotta pie – my rendition of a family recipe – and it hit me that the pie was grainy. Mealy, even.

It had to be the cheese, right? The eggs didn’t make it grainy, nor did the vanilla. It had to be the cheese.

Fate presented an old stack of magazines piling up on my kitchen table a few days later, and when I opened a 2005 copy of Cooking Light, I was drawn to an article about ricotta. The author wrote when purchasing ricotta, there’s a risk of a grainy texture (which I was all too familiar with) but making it at home was simple, and ensured a fresh, creamy consistency.

This I had to try.

The ingredients are simple:

  • 1 gallon of milk (I used 2%, but any should be fine)
  • 5 cups of buttermilk (I used full fat, as it was all I could find at my beloved Whole Foods)
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fine sea salt
  • Cheese cloth

Cut your cheese cloth into five pieces and run it through cool water. Squeeze out the cloth, and drape the cloth over a colander, covering it completely. Place the cloth covered colander in a mixing bowl.

Pour the milk and buttermilk into a large stockpot. If you have a candy thermometer, attach it to the edge of the pot. I used a meat thermometer, which worked fine – I just got a stiff arm from holding it in the pot. When attaching the thermometer (or checking the mixture periodically with another type of thermometer) make sure it extends at least two inches deep into the milk so you get an accurate reading.

194Cook the milk over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the thermometer reads 170 degrees Fahrenheit. Stop stirring now, as thick curds will appear before your very eyes! (It looks like cottage cheese.) Reaching 170 degrees took about 25 minutes on my stove. I may have had the heat a little low – I was nervous about scorching the bottom of the pot.

After you stop stirring, keep the thermometer submerged in the milk, and when it reads 190, take the pot off the burner. The curds should be completely formed.

Using a strainer or slotted spoon, lift the curds out of the pot and place them into the cheese cloth. Remove as many of the curds as you can. You’ll notice the leftover liquid is practically clear!

197 Drain the curds in the cheese cloth over the colander for about five to 10 minutes. Then, gather the edges of the cheese cloth up around the curds and give it a squeeze; tie the edges together, forming a ball of cheese with the cloth around it. I used a rubber band to secure the edges together as well. Take the bundle and hang it from your kitchen faucet. The curds will take about 15 minutes to completely drain; you’ll notice whey (milky liquid) dripping from the bundle.

Remove the bundle from the faucet, open it up, and spoon the cheese into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt, stir gently with a fork. Take a taste, and relish in the fact that you just created the creamiest ricotta you’ll ever eat.

While the finished product should last about four days in the refrigerator, we devoured it in two. First, in the form of a creamy crabmeat manicotti; next, stuffed and baked in zucchini shells with herbs and panko breadcrumbs.

My confidence is up – I’m ready to try that pie again.

Weekly Blog Round Up

Heard around the D.C. Foodie blogosphere this week...The Capitol Hill coffee caper continues with news from Metrocurean that Peregrine Espresso will replace Murky Coffee by the end of the summer.

Sometimes things go your way, and sometimes they don't-it just depends on how the ball bounces. The ball,Ping_pong_225_2in this case, is a Ping-Pong ball and it won't be bouncing on the outdoor table at Comet Ping Pong. Last week, the Washington Post's Marc Fisher and local blog Apples and Bananas reported that the Neighborhood Advisory Commissioner prohibited the public Ping-Pong table.

Recently, the Washington Post highlighted royal red shrimp in its Wednesday Food section, which led to a wave of patrons flooding D.C.'s Blacksalt Market for these succulent crustaceans. The French Laundry At Home recently interviewed Blacksalt's fish monger, Scott Weinstein. Read about a day in the life of a fish monger and what fish Washingtonians eat most here.

Is sourcing the new black? Washingtonian Magazine's Todd Kliman addressed the popular, and perhaps trendy practice of detailing where food items hail from. See his Word of Mouth and chatter responses in this week's Washingtonian chat, and local food board, Don Rockwell.

Northern Italian cuisine will be coming to Northern Virginia, according to The Houndstooth Gourmet. La Strada, with Executive Chef Stephen Scott (formerly of Galileo, Zola and Argia's), along with his family, will open a restaurant in Alexandria's Del Ray section. Communal dining, a la carte menu and take-out will focus on family recipes influenced by family matriarch, Nonna Argia.

Finally, strawberries and pea shoots are at the farmers markets, although, depending on where you go, you might want to arrive early to ensure you get some. Here's a recipe for strawberry jam, from The District Domestic, and a recipe for pea shoots and yogurt from The Food Scribe.

Virginia Wineries: Orange County, Part 2

Being so rich in viticultural treasures, I felt that the Orange county region requires a little bit more attention. To this end, continuing in last week's vein, I have here outlined my experiences at a couple more of the area's fine wineries.

Keswick Vineyards

 KeswickA few miles up Route 22 as it winds its way from Charlottesville, just over the border into Albemarle County, signs pop up in the green pastures for Keswick Winery. The winery is set a good ways off the road up a long and winding path, and our drive up said path was like being transported into some pastoral poem. To the left, farm dogs frolicked amongst the vines, while rabbits popped their heads in and out of their warrens; to the right, gnarled fruit trees stood stark in the tall grass, and on an a small and swampy looking pond, a Great Blue Heron made a majestic marine landing. Hand to God.

Up on a nearby hill, set behind a copse of trees, a large barn-like structure houses the very modern tasting room. Inside, a large L-shaped tasting bar dominates the large, dark-wood furnished room, otherwise occupied with books, T-shirts, and other tasting room knickknacks. Near the door is a fascinating little glass table displaying artifacts uncovered during the vineyards' planting.

Being rather early on a Sunday the place was empty, so we were eagerly greeted by the two young women behind the bar, probably happy for the diversion. We chatted pleasantly as we paid our $8 and sampled the ten or so wines being offered that morning, most sourced exclusively from the surrounding 40 acre Edgewood Estate Vineyard. The 2006 Rose was lovely -- light, with just a hint of sweetness on the raspberry fruit palate. By and large the whites did not impress me, but it was interesting to see that Keswick grows the Spanish varietal Verdejo -- several VA wineries have been experimenting with this suddenly popular varietal; expect to see many more in the near future. The reds were solid, if a bit lower in acidity than I would have liked. The 2006 Norton was rather impressive, though, showing a classic profile of burnt fruit and earth, a full body, and none of that grapey or foxy quality for which the grape has been derided. We picked up two bottles for $20 apiece.

While there is not much in the way of food to be had, Keswick makes some good wines that you may consume in undeniably gorgeous environs. If you find yourself in the neighborhood, pack a picnic and pay a visit.

Keswick Vineyards
1575 Keswick Winery Drive
Keswick, VA 22947
(434) 244-9976
Food: N/A
Wine Availability: Widely Available in Virginia

Horton Cellars


I have only visited this winery once, and briefly, but I certainly plan on visiting again. It was kind of late on a Sunday, and after a rather lengthy tasting at Barboursville, I thought it would be a good idea to see what Horton was about, being only a few miles up the road. As it was threatening rain and about 20 minutes till closing, my companions disagreed. After a bit of whining, I got my way.

We pulled up to the tasting room just as the drenching rain began, and rushed under useless umbrellas to the welcoming Tudor style miniature castle. Inside, the tile floored, vaulted ceilinged room was a bustle of activity, with four tasters running back and forth serving some 20 or so guests. I soon learned what all the commotion was about: Horton offers their entire portfolio, 40 wines strong, open for tasting, free of charge.

With only about 15 minutes to taste and so much on hand, we quickly moved through a few solidly made  fruit wines and then went for the dry reds. The Stonecastle Red, an unusual blend of French and Portuguese varietals, was a pleasant surprise — lots of gamey flavors and depth of fruit given the light body and $12 price tag. The Cotes d'Orange, a cleverly named Cotes du Rhone inspired blend was similarly appealing, though a bit more tannic than its brother. The Malbec, an almost unheard of grape to see at a Virginia winery, was much lighter than its South American counterparts, but satisfyingly fruity, Hortonnorton and also well priced at about $15. Though we skipped it on that particular outing, Horton's Norton (pictured right) is also perennially solid for under $15, as well it should be, being the first commercially released example since prohibition.

I could go on, but honestly, we were in such a rush and I consumed so much wine that my memory is a bit fuzzy. Suffice it to say that a winery that offers such a breadth of esoteric wines, and is willing to let the public try them on the house, is a bit of an anomaly. I have no doubt that a good number of the wines are mediocre at best — that said, the best way to learn about wines is to taste as many as possible, and Horton offers a unique opportunity to get a good number under your belt. Though, even if you are spitting, a designated driver might be in order.

Horton Vineyards
6399 Spotswood Trail
Gordonsville, VA 22942
(800) 829-4633
Food: N/A
Wine Availability: Distributed all over the mid Atlantic and in Chicago

Again, please chime in with your own experiences at these and other Virginia wineries. Cheers, and keep drinking locally!

Winery pictures courtesy of the respective vineyards' websites.