Friday, December 30, 2005

BBM3: The holiday edition

My own sweet blogging by mail package arrived from Jess several weeks ago. In the meantime, I anxiously watched for my partner's posting at the BBM3 update board over at Cathy's, to no avail.

The package had a long way to go, all the way over to the Netherlands. At 5 weeks, I was definately nervous. At week 6, I created an annoymous email to let my partner know that she hadn't been forgotten, something was on the way.

Then one fabulous morning, I woke up to the news that it had landed on her front doorstep, a whole seven weeks later. Since my partner didn't have a blog, I photographed everything before packing it up, and offered her this space for a bbm3 posting.

In the meantime, I'll go over some of the package contents.

Click here for a closer look.

The detailed contents, beginning with the back row, and going left to right:

A bottle of Horton’s Norton- Norton is a grape variety native to North America, and one which Virginia has intensively pursued. Pigman’s BBQ Sauce (Regular): this, or actually the hot sauce, is the same that DucCat uses on ribs or pulled pork. While it’s technically from North Carolina, it’s close enough that we consdier it local. Beneath that, Hubs Peanuts. Virginia is known for its large, flavourful peanuts, and in my opinion, Hubs are the best of the bunch. Pure wild local honey sits perched atop Tuscan Seafood Sprinkle. This is some seriously intense stuff- be careful opening that jar, Mickey! A small jar of the famous Fuller’s Mustard, perfect for slathering on ham sandwiches or pretzels. Finally, Rowena's delectable Lemon Curd Sauce, and the hopefully sturdy Rowena’s Genuine Gingerbread Cookies.

Next row: a postcard of the slightly scary Virginia State Seal (is it really necessary to be stepping on somebody’s head?); King's Arms Tavern Sally Lunn Bread Mix , a slightly sweet yeast bread; a state magnet with my location marked upon it; a piece of fudge, the ubiquitious Brunswick stew, once upon a time made with squirrel (though this rendition uses chicken); a jar of hot jalapeno jelly (it’s very southern to serve this as an appetizer on crackers, with a good schmear of cream cheese); First Colony Coffee’s Southern Pecan blend; Crab’In Nuts, seasoned with a spicy Chesapeake Bay style seafood blend; Edward’s Virginia Ham Pate (because I couldn’t send the whole pig; and in front of all of that, a chocolate bar bearing the slogan: VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS.

In front of that, a smattering of local food and city related magazines. The first one on the left is Portfolio Weekly, and the cover features Cowboy Syd’s sous chef, Sara, proudly holding an Easy-Bake Oven (the article was about women working in professional kitchens).

Admittedly, I got a little carried away when creating this package. I lived in the Netherlands many years ago, and have profound and undying love for all things Dutch.

So, everytime I went out and about here, I kept picking up 'just one more item' for my Dutch partner. In the end, what you see in the photo is quite representative of Virginia foods.

Since I already had photos of my kitchen up on the internet, I simply directed Mickey to the album. You can start here, and tick 'next' through the photos. If you're curious, the colour is called 'Bikini-bottom Blue'.

The theme had been holidays and baked goodies, but I didn't have any personal recipes that I felt would make it that far. Before discovering my partner was Dutch, I'd decided to make my Seven Layer Pound Cake, which has been compared to local favorite Rowena's famous pound cake. In lieu of the cake, I sent a package of Rowena's gingerbread cookies, and their rightfully fabulous lemon curd. I also sent the recipe to my pound cake, with personal notes for optimum flavour.

I'll amend this post with whatever Mickey would like to add at a later date. Tot ziens!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

...and the debauchery continues

Looks like posting 'round here will continue to be erratic until next week.

'till then, always keep it merry and bright!

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Et Tu, Fondue?

Last month, I discovered a fun little blog by the name of Twelve Tu Tu Fondue. Amidst the very colourful tales lay an invitation to a late December fondue party- 'cuz nothin' says lovin' like toasted hunks of bread being dipped into piping hot, melty cheese. Uh, and not in the oven.

Fondue was something that DucCat and I discovered a couple of years ago, after I returned from a thrifting with not one, but two fondue sets! As it turned out, we even had a great recipe tucked away in his Mom's James River Kitchen Cookbook, the 'Snack Suppers' chapter: Gourmet's Welsh Rabbit.

I can assure you , no actual rabbits were harmed in the making of this dish.

The recipe calls for this to be served drizzled over toasted bread. I mix and melt the cheesey goodness on the stovetop, then pour it into the fondue pot. We dip in rough chunks of toasted bread, and are always amazed at how much we put away.

Since fondue is a touch on the heavy side, I like to keep a bright, crisp salad close at hand, preferably crowned with a spicy batch of pepperoncinis. DucCat pretty much skips the salad in favour of pepperoncinis on their own.

Our wine accompainment was a recent buy at Trader Joe's: the Conte di Bregonzo Amarone Classico 2002.

Click here for larger image.

Now, I've really only experienced one amarone previously. It was some time ago, but I remember, deliciously raisin-y (sorry, MeBeth!), soft mouthfuls paired with luxurious, giggly finishes. It was unusual, fun, and each subsequent sip was happily upheld by a new flood of sensation.

How did this classico hold up? Um, can I just say, "not so much so"?

This wine made my nose crinkle with the alcohol; there was no soft parade, no lingering dalliance. Instead, haughty cherries bearing coiled whips marched saucily by, then promptly exited stage left, leaving not the slightest trace of their passage.

I can't say that I'll be rushing out to pick up another 750 ml anytime soon, but we had already gotten the 3-litre. It's been cellared, and won't be seeing the light of day for quite some time.

But, back to the fondue. What a lovely way to linger over dinner, huddling against the chill in the air, enjoying two of my favourite foods, and one of my favourite people.
I call this 'Retro 70's Self-Portrait'.

Party on, good people of the world, and may your spear never lose its bread.

Gourmet Magazine Welsh Rabbit

Cheddar cheese (or any sharp cheese mixture), grated, to equal 4 cups (this equals one bowl grated in my food processor)
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
scant teaspoon cayenne pepper
scant teaspoon paprika
2 tablespoons butter
1 cup beer

bread. toast it while you do the rest.

Grate cheese, and toss with next four ingredients.
In saucepan, melt butter and add beer.
Add cheese mixture 1/4 cup at a time, whisking until smooth.

Pour into fondue pot, and make sure there's a little fire burning to keep it warm. Look at it lovingly before tearing in.

Cool Beans

Can I just say that I am head-over-heels in love with Trader Joe's coffee?

Sigh. So dreamy...

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Frittata and the Tango

I've always liked the thought of a frittata, but never quite got around to making one.

Recently, DucCat was out for the evening, and I came home late, hungry and ready for something quick. Something spicy. Something... dare I say... easy and eggy. It was frittata-makin' time.

I loosely followed a recipe from Mark Bittman, sauteeing little odds and ends of veggies before adding the egg component. The best part was layering it with cheese, and toasting it just bubbling under the broiler. As you can see, it was a festive enough sight upon my plate.

Verdict? Not as exciting as I would've hoped. I felt like an Atkinser trying to get their soft taco fix sans carbs. Nonetheless, it was definitely filling, and I can see myself whipping one up some future evening.

What does one drink with a frittata? This night, it was our newest house pour, the 2002 Lo Tengo Malbec Mendoza.

For a larger image, click here.

On its own merits, it's a decent enough wine, very fruity and fun. A little swirl of summertime in the midst of winter's chill is okay by me.

But there's more. Check the label out a bit more closely.

From the right you see:

Now swivel on over to the left:

A holographic tango! It's either one of the coolest labels ever, or I'm just far too easily entertained.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

And the Lamb Cried Rosemary

Wandering around Costco, I came across a saucy little six pack of lamb loin chops, tightly packaged, impatient to come home with me. I had homey visions of quickly searing them, then cooking 'em slowly for hours, much in the manner of beef short ribs.

Obviously, I'd never cooked a lamb loin chop. It seems the preferred method of cookery involves the hot flame of the grill. Not exactly what I'd had in mind for a chilly evening.

Lightbulb. I suddenly remembered the cast-iron stove-top grill plate I'd gotten for DucCat last Christmas.

Epicurious, as ever, proved a great source of inspiration. I finally settled upon Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops - with so many glowing reviews, what could go wrong?


Well, it's as simple as not reading the instructions precisely through from start to finish. I could've sworn I did, but had apparently missed the portion that read, "place on grill, then cover".

Ooops. DucCat did his best, and boy did they look great sitting up there in all their rosemary-drenched glory.

The cats began to circle, and even Shishi, our little lacto-ovo vegetarian feline, began sniffing with a curious nose.

Meanwhile, I pulled out my secret stash of brussles sprouts from the fridge, and set to cooking them up. The recipe was simple enough, and taken from Mark Bittman's "How To Cook Everything" (aka, My Bible).

These were quickly boiled until just tender, then pan-fried in butter with garlic and breadcrumbs. Once removed, they're doused with lemon juice and parsley, and ready to visit the table. In retrospect, I would have followed his suggestion for varying the recipe by topping this with some freshly grated Parmesan, but it was still quite good.

The red potatoes finished roasting just as the lamb was done resting. We sat down with great anticipation.

I sliced into the lamb, and took a bite.

The marinade had perfectly penetrated the lamb with just the right amount of rosemary and garlic.

Even better, DucCat had cooked it perfectly rare, just the way I like.

I dug in with gusto.

Moments later, I noticed that DucCat had sliced through all of his lamb, but hadn't taken more than a bite. He prefers his meat just a little more cooked through, and it was obvious that not a single piece had reached that stage.

Guess that would be due to not having covered them as they cooked away on our impromptu grill...

Luckily, we had a stash of Stouffer's products in the freezer, and the night ended well.

But, let this be yet another lesson to me-


Simmered Brussels Sprouts

1- 1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed
2 Tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, smashed
1 Tablespoon plain bread crumbs
1 Tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tablespoon minced fresh parsley leaves
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Bring large pot of water to boil and salt it. Add sprouts, and keeping high heat, boil until just tender, about 1o minutes.
Drain and refresh in cold water.
(can prepare up to this point; refrigerate wrapped well, for up to 2 days before preceedingl.)
Place butter in a large deep skillet over medium heat and add garlic.
When butter foam subsides, add sprouts and breadcrumbs. Stir until hot, about 3 minutes.
Remove garlic, toss sprouts with lemon juice and parsley, season to taste and serve.

Note: to vary this recipe, top sprouts with one-quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan just before serving.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

What $100 Will Buy You at T.J.s...

That's right, kittens, Trader Joe's is finally here!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You Are What You Eat: the meme

Ruth, at Once Upon a Feast, began the "You Are What You Eat Meme", a top ten list of one's favourite foods. Culinary Bookworm of Weekly Dish tagged me, and here I am, still trying to compose the ten. Decisions, decisions...

What a damnably difficult meme to wrap my head around. Ten favourites? They seem to change with the season, the circles I run in, and my expanding taste buds. Still, I'll do my best.

Number One: I will agree wholeheartedly with my tagger that PIZZA, glorious pizza, may be my number one food of all time! If you're not so hungry, you can make it paper thin, gently dress it in the lightest of tomato sauces, and kiss it with thin slivers of fresh mozarella.
If you're ravenous, make the crust thicker, and load it up: zucchinis, squash, tomatoes, onions, black olives, roasted red peppers.
Whatever method I choose, it almost always ends sprinkled with a chiffonade of basil. I heart pizza!

Number Two: This entry would have to constitute CHEESE. You see, when I first met DucCat, I was still learning to expand my palate. The first time I came over to his house for dinner, he'd set out a lovely little cheese plate to nibble upon as he cooked the meal.
I smiled politely, trying to simply snack on the crackers.
After many proffered pieces, I finally demurred, "I really don't care for cheese."
I'm lucky he didn't send me packing out the door then and there. Happily, he felt that I was worth the chase, and asked me again to just try it. I did, and had my first piece of meltingly soft brie. Amazed at the new flavours in my mouth, I laughed out loud.
"Cheese isn't so bad, now, is it?", he asked with a laugh.
No, it really isn't. And since then, I've grown to shamelessly love even the stinkiest of cheeses. Why did I wait so long?

Number Three: LIVERWURST. Another recently acquired taste, thanks to
George at the Warwick Cheese Shoppe. I'm very partial to Usinger's peppery style of smoked liverwurst. When serving to a guest who may cringe at the name, we just call it 'pate'.

Number Four: PORK. Again, when I was just getting to know DucCat, I was practically a... a... *swallows*
A vegetarian. I can remember going out to a fairly nice restaurant together, and basically ordering a plate of steamed vegetables. Bit by bit, he worked on getting me through that time.
It all started with that gateway piece of pork, bacon.
He grilled juicy pork tenderloins; meaty, tender ribs; and sultry, fat little sausages. Before I knew it, that wonderful, multi-faceted meat was showing up at all times, in all meals. And I was hooked, baby.

Number Five: GARLIC. Oh, the sweet, stinking bulb! I put it in almost everything, and DucCat will unabashedly tell you that I sometimes even overdo it.
A recipe calls for 2 cloves of garlic? Four would be so much. better. Well, five isn't bad either. You get the idea.

Number Six: APPLES. As classically recommended, I have an apple every day. The crunchy sweetness, the crisp snap of the skin, it's one of my favourite fruits.
Raw- dig it. I have an apple with peanut butter every weekday for lunch.
Baked? Check. Slip it into a pie, chop it up and add to quick bread batter, cook it down with a little butter n' cinnamon- I'm all about it, baby.

Number Seven: Speaking of sweets, that reminds me of one in particular: CHOCOLATE. Once upon a time, my infatuation was for thick bars of milk chocolate, a la Cadbury's. As I grew, so did my tastes, and I began to understand the allure of bittersweet and darker chocolates. Someday, I too hope to be lucky enough to taste Michael Cluizel's 99% cocoa chocolate.

Number Eight: The staff of life, BREAD. Yes, I rolled my eyes heavenwards upon seeing people foresake the sacred grain for the late Dr. Atkins. Silly sheeple.
When DucCat has pasta with sauce, I'll take the sauce and drizzle it over wilted spinach, with a toasted slice of bread close at hand for dunking purposes. My number one favourite food, you'll notice, is mainly composed of bread.

Number Nine: SEAFOOD.
I absolutely adore seafood, but DucCat doesn't have quite the same passion as I- unless it's fried. It must be a Southern thing.
Thusly, seafood has become mostly a restaurant treat for me, with a few notable exceptions.

From time to time, his Grandparents give us a small bucket of fresh lump crabmeat, which we waste no time into turning into fat, juicy crabcakes. Scallops have been known to come our way, fresh from the sea, and smelling like little briny pearls. These are definately not to DucCat's taste, but that's okay- more for me to enjoy.

Luckily, we both seeem to agree upon sushi.

Number Ten: Last, but certainly not least, we have TOMATOES.
I have a love affair wtih tomatoes. Their sweet, sultry, summer-hot vibe keeps me coming back for more every year.

Layer e'm with basil, stack 'em on cucumbers, drizzle 'em with balsamic and a bit of oil- can you get any closer to summery heaven?
Of course, the year moves on, and you too move on to canned tomatoes, packed away at their prime. So easy to slip into sauces, stews, any slow-bubbling cauldron on on the stovetop.

In those tough winter months, I've found that Costco actually does a fairly decent job of keeping me in good-tasting tomatoes, with their vine-ripened beautys. Not quite the same as straight-from-the-backyard, of course, but good nonetheless.

And there you have it, a not-quite-in-order list of my ten favourite foods.

Heh-heh... for now, chumps!

I've got to tag five more, and I'm not even sure who has participated in it, so here we go:
Vicki, of the Moveable Feast;
MeBeth, of Hold The Raisins;
Clare, of Eat Stuff;
The Dining Dica, Deetsa's Diningroom;
and last but not least,
'Tanvi', from the pantry.

Good luck, all, trust me, it's a difficult choice to make!

I'm Still Here!

Hey good people, I'd meant to get a post up this past weekend, and wouldn't you know it- I got sick!

I'm already feeling better, so expect something up soon. In the meantime, why have I never before discovered the amazing healing powers of hot and sour soup?!?

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Martha, Martha, Martha

DucCat had been craving ooey-gooey-turtle brownies for weeks. After seeing so many good reports from other bloggers, I caved, and brought home Martha Stewart's Holiday Cookies Magazine. A magazine which housed a Promised Land of cookie recipes- the all-mighty turtles included.

In front of the fire one evening, I finally came across that holy grail of pages: the succulent, deep caramel-chocolate beauty of the Turtle Brownie.

Oof. I immediately thrust open my pantry, and began some serious bar cookie-making.

Whole pecans were cracked, and rendered into comfortable pieces. Other than that, it was an easy mix of ingredients to come together, and in no time, placed in the pan, and popped into the oven. Just lovely.

As the brownie base cooked, I toasted the chopped pecans, then placed them into a stove-top caramel. Candy-making, at any level, has always been terrifying for me; this seemed to come together perfectly.

Finally, the brownies came out and cooled, just in time for the topping to be poured smoothly on top. I popped them into the fridge, and forgot about it until the evening.

And there she was, candy-coated, and ready to go. DucCat took a bite, then looked at me curiously.

I bit down into my own brownie, then replicated the look back into his eyes. This was no classic turtle brownie, full of ooey, gooey chocolate-caramel Utopia. The base was more cakey and light, while the topping had solidified to an uncomfortable crunch. Even after letting this set out for an hour, the topping never relaxed into itself.

Highly un-desirable. Not at all what one would want to taste when confronted with 'Turtle Brownie' dreams. This was turtle brownie for chumps.

Oh, Martha. I believed in you, and I know many recipes out of this mag have worked.

But this, my shining-light-of-baking, has been a sore reminder of your humble humanity.

I know we can get past this one sad,sorry little thing. I'm willing to move on, if you are.


You can call me in the morning. Maybe. *sniff*

Wine Blogging Wednesday... By the Label, Yo!

Derrick Schneider recently came up with a fun idea for Wine Blogging Wednesdays: purchase a bottle purely by the label alone, sample it, and report back. Easy enough. I hit the wine shop with a visiting friend and DucCat; we soon pared down our choices, and walked out with two bottles.

(click on any image for a larger view)

We opened the first bottle, an Eredi Lodali 2003 Dolcetto d'Alba, with a Friday night dinner of tortellinis. I sniffed (rather flat on the nose), and swirled (she wasn’t very leggy), and finally took an extended, gurgling quaff. The wine was exceedingly mild, with perhaps a faint aftertone of harsh berry. Suddenly, the finish came in with a thick smattering of ugly, ragged grape skins that seemed to catch at the back of the throat. After some quick consultation with DucCat, we decided that the wine hadn’t gone bad- it was just nasty. This went promptly down the drain.

Since we still had bowls piled high with tortellinis, DucCat pulled out another bottle (not purchased on label alone), a Musaragno 2003 Selezioni Malbech. This one doesn’t really stand out in memory, but was leaps and bound better than the Dolcetto.

The label was pretty dull, though.

A few nights later, still riding that Florimonte’s high, we decided to make pizza.

As DucCat spun a cutter through the emerging pies, I glanced over the wine racks.

My eyes settled upon the second of our new acquisitions,
an Il Vino Del Lunedi Biso 2003 merlot.
It was fairly dark in colour, with a mellow fruity presence on the nose.
As I swirled, soft red fruits tumbled about, then lazily slipped down the back of my throat.
This wine was definately a wallflower, not at all bad, but nothing memorable.

Thankfully, it perked up a bit when it got around the pizza. This very basic merlot reminded me of the wine that you’d find at your local Mom’n’Pop Italian-American joint, listed simply as “Red”.

What have we learned today? Just like my mamma always told me, you can't go 'round judgin' wine by it's label, girl!

Wednesday Wisdom:
Eredi Lodali 2003 Dolcetto d'Alba
price: $9.28 retail
status: Sucks ass. Big time. Pretty label, though.

Musaragno 2003 Selezioni Malbech
price: unrecorded, but around $10
status: Eh. Won't go seeking this one out again. Label was quite masculine.

Il Vino Del Lunedi Biso 2003 Merlot
price: $8.26
status: Soft and unobstrusive, like your distant Great-Aunt. Would drink if nothing else was available. I want to step into that label!

Monday, December 05, 2005

Friday Night Torts

Ideally, the weekends should be all about cooking, cruising around on the motorcycle, and a generous smattering of fun. Sometimes, though, Friday night finally comes, and you’re facing the weekend wilted and a bit depleted. And not feeling so much like busting out a big meal.

Last Friday was just so, but luckily DucCat had the foresight to cruise by Florimonte's Fine Foods Deli up in Williamsburg (25 minutes away on a good day, but most days here in the parking lot of Hampton Roads- closer to 45). We've no neighborhood Italian-American deli, and as Florimonte's is peerless, we’ll take it in whatever portions we can get.

We're normally unrepentant Florimonte's pizza dough fiends, but have been making a conscious effort to branch into something new. This week, DucCat picked up some tortellinis- meat, and portabella.

While the pastas boiled away, he made a quick and very rustic tomato sauce to laden across them. His bowl, inevitably, went heavy on the meat, and was a beautiful sight to behold.

I laid down a little bed of wilted spinach, and piled it up with the portabellas. A couple of meats snuck in, in the interest of comparison.

I'd been expecting the portabellas to contain chunks of mushroom, but found that these were comprised of something more closely resembling a paste. While good, they didn't have a pronounced mushroom flavour, and unfortunately, ended up being hammered down by the spicy tomato sauce.

The meat tortellinis fared much better, very beefy, garlicky and flavourful. Surrounded by pasta, and floating in a sea of red, they were just about perfect for a chilly, early winter's eve.

Of course, we had wine with this, but the bottle was selected in a special manner. The following post will contain further details.

As we were opening the wine, somebody tried to run a little interference. Oh, the power of meat and mushroom tortellinis...

Happy Happy- Joy Joy

In light of starting the week on a positive note, I’m reminding myself of two things.


A girl needs to get her beauty sleep in order to properly face the day.


(note discovered on a counter after our Fall Solstice Celebration. a good friend, indeed.)
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