Sunday, March 29, 2015

Food Travel Porn: Charlottesville, VA

For those of you who know me well, food is only one of my passions. Travel also ranks pretty high and I make it a point to combine these two as often as possible. Since 2009, I've made a pact with myself to travel internationally each year. I've kept that promise to myself each year since. Last year I upped the ante and also vowed to get out of town every quarter. It didn't have to be far, but it had to be at least for an overnight. Last year, this pact took me to Austin, Peru, Ecuador and San Diego.

My first quarter trip for 2015 was an overnight to Charlottesville, VA. Despite living in the D.C. area for 11 years, I had yet to make the trip despite countless people telling me it was right up my alley. Only a 2 1/2- hour drive from DC, this needed to happen. And I found the perfect excuse when Doug, who went to law school there many years ago, commented on the great food scene and how we wanted to go back for a quick visit. Despite a busy, and at times nasty winter weather-wise, we found a weekend to go. Here are some of our favorites food stops from the trip. And yes, we will be back and hit the wineries once the nice weather decides to stick around for good. Next up? NYC for a weekend and a long weekend in New Orleans in April. I cannot wait.

Marco & Luca - We went there for what Doug has repeatedly said are his most favorite dumplings. The place has grown a little in size since he was in school, but still only sits a modest 15 people or so and the dumplings remain cheap.

Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar - After we walked around the pedestrian mall and checked out some of the sites, we paid two visits to this tea shop, which reminded me a lot of the places I visited in Boulder, Colorado in the mid-90s. Both trippy, and tree-like, the inside d├ęcor took you to a far off place and provided a sanctuary of hot beverages on a blustery day, as well as Board games to pass the time. If you like tea and may be a bit of a hippie (such as myself) spend some time there on one of their cushioned pillows with a nice, hot cup of tea.

Commonwealth Restaurant & Sky Bar - There are A LOT of awesome places to eat in Charlottesville, or so I'm told from all of the amazing recommendations we received. This of course means we'll just have to come back! We settled on Commonwealth which not only had great ratings online, but also a lot of personal praise from several friends. The menu did not disappoint. We started off with a Ahi Tuna Tartare, and follows with two amazing entrees. I must admit, I think Doug made the better choice here. Doug had the Seared Diver Scallops with Pork Belly, Mashed Sweet Potato and a cider reduction. This was a beyond amazing flavor combination and I wanted to eat off more of his plate, and fortunately he was happy to share. I ordered the Braised Beef Brisket with Horseradish Potatoes, Carrot Frites and an Onion Gremolata. The desserts also looked amazing, but there was just no room left at the Inn. Speaking of Inns...we stayed at the South Street Inn. Quaint, convenient, and they offered a wine and cheese happy hour!

Bodo's Bagels - I'm a tough critic when it comes to bagels. I feel nothing competes with a New York bagel. Or a Montreal bagel, which comes in a close second in my book. But these were some damn good bagels. We grabbed two on our way back to DC and I only wish we'd picked more up for the week. Next time, for sure.

Next up in my quarterly pact? NYC for a weekend trip with my mom and a long weekend in New Orleans with Doug in April. I cannot wait. And will no doubt eat a ton and write all about it!

Friday, March 13, 2015

Guinness for Strength...in Cooking!

In 2009, I traveled to Ireland for an 8-day vacation with my friend Jeanine. While there was a lot to highlight there (though sadly, as you can imagine, the food is just so-so...one can only eat so much fish & chips) there were two standouts.

1) This picture which has come to signify all that is amazing about St. Patrick's Day, each and every year. He's disgruntled. He is fortunately never nude (but look at the sign behind him). I mainly put this here because it makes me happy without fail, every year.

2) The opportunity to visit the Guinness Storehouse and Factory in Dublin. What they say is true-it tastes better over there. I'm sure so much goes in to the transportation to the States and while the differences may seem minor, there's just something to be said for fresh beer. This is not to say I still don't enjoy a good Guinness here, but I really enjoy a good Guinness there.

In celebration of the upcoming holiday, here are two great Guinness food recipes to get you in the holiday spirit.

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes - I will be making these for a St. Patrick's Day house party next weekend.

Maple Stout Bread - If you like maple syrup, this is a great breakfast bread. It's easy to make and remains moist, which isn't the easiest thing to achieve with breakfast breads as they tend to dry out fast.

Beef & Guinness Stew - Can't say I've made this, but I pulled this from the Guinness Storehouse website to I have high hopes for its awesomeness.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Pucker Up: Part 2 of 2 - Sea Scallops with Citrus Butter

As a follow up to last week's lemon post, I wanted to share another recipe that we learned to make as part of our Culinaerie class called: "Pucker Up - Cooking with Lemon." I remain optimistic that Spring is just around the corner and during this time, I like to gravitate toward lighter meals and move away from the heavier soups and stews of winter. This dish really hits all the marks. It's a relatively simple dish with simple ingredients. Sure, there is a little cream and butter involved, but I'm a firm believer that a little fat can really make a dish. We served it with a lemon pepper couscous.

Sea Scallops with Citrus Butter Sauce (serves 2)


Ingredients:
  • 8-10 scallops
  • plain oil for sauteing (I prefer olive oil)
  • salt and pepper
Citrus Butter Sauce
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and chopped
  • juice and zest of one orange, half a lemon and half a lime
  • splash of heavy cream
  • 4 oz. butter, cubed, cold
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Lemon Pepper Couscous
  • 1 cup couscous
  • zest of one lemon
  • juice of one lemon and enough chicken stock to equal 1 cup liquid
  • 1 TB butter
  • salt and coarsely ground black pepper.

Directions:

To cook the scallops, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Heat a saute pan over high heat, add a thin film of oil.

Saute the scallops, turning once, to brown both sides. Then reduce the heat to medium and continue cooking for a minute or two until the scallops are cooking through (opaque and slightly springy). Serve hot with the sauce (recipe below)

To make the citrus butter sauce, zest and juice the citrus fruit and add this to the shallots in a small saucepan. Reduce over high heat until nearly dry. Add a splash of cream.

On and off the heat, add the butter to the pan one chunk at a time, whisking constantly to emulsify.

Place the pan on and off the heat as necessary to melt and incorporate the butter without bringing the sauce to a boil. Adjust the seasoning and keep warm until serving.

To make the couscous, bring the chicken stock/lemon juice mixture to a boil with the butter, salt and pepper. Add zest of lemon to the couscous. Pour boiling liquid over the couscous, cover and let steam for 10 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed and couscous is tender. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Pucker Up: Part 1 of 2 - Lemon Poppyseed Cake

I have always been a fan of cooking classes. In fact, I usually seek them out when I'm traveling abroad because I think they add a nice element to the cultural and culinary immersion experience wherever I go. Thus far, I've taken cooking classes in Peru, Spain, and Thailand.

But you don't need to travel far to find great cooking classes! From "Cooking with Bacon" (I've taken two of those) to "Cajun Cooking," there are a bunch of great places to take cooking classes either by yourself, or with a partner in crime. My typical go-to places in the DC-area have included Sur La Table (which isn't just local, I believe they offer classes throughout the country) and the former Living Social event space (RIP). This time around, I went to Culinaerie, which I'd been to only once before in my 11 years in DC and that was for a sushi rolling class. February's venture to the class focused on a very specific ingredient: lemons.

During the course of the three-hour class, we learned to make three dishes that highlighted lemons. On this snowy Thursday, I'll focus on one that might make for a nice snowy day breakfast. I'll follow up with a second recipe from this class in my next post.

Lemon Poppyseed Cake (2-4 servings)


Ingredients:
  • 4 TB butter, soft
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 tsp. lemon extract
  • 1/2  tsp. lemon zest
  • Lemon juice plus enough buttermilk to equal 1/4 cup
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • pinch baking soda
  • 1 TB poppy seeds
Syrup
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
Glaze
  • 3/4 powdered sugar
  • Combination of water/milk/cream/lemon juice/limoncello to make a glaze
Directions:

First, let's make a cake!  Cream the butter and sugar until light. Add egg and blend. Then add the lemon zest and lemon extract.

Combine flour with baking powder and baking soda. Add flour mixture to butter, alternating with buttermilk/lemon juice. Start with the flour mixture and end with the flour mixture.

Fold in poppy seeds.

Pour batter into greased pan and bake at 350 degrees until the blade of a knife pulls out cleanly. Time will vary depending on what size of pan you use.

Here's how to make the syrup. Combine 1/4 cup sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved and mixture is syrupy.

Here's how to make the glaze. Combine 3/4 powdered sugar with the liquid combo I mentioned above. It will need to be a balanced amount to make a heavy yet pourable glaze. Add liquid gradually to the powdered sugar, stirring well, until proper consistency is reached and no lumps remain.

Soak with syrup while still warm (this is optional, but we found the syrup kept the cake very soft for a few days in the refrigerator). Glaze if desired or simply dust with powdered sugar.