Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Like most holiday weekends, this one started out in the smoker. 8 pounds of wings were smoked down into spicy goodness.

Since I've gone over the basic recipe previously, I won't re-hash it again- except to say that the smoking makes it even better.

The wine was a special bottle shared by my father, who received it hand-carried by a friend from Italy. The Tenuta Dell Abate Giffaro 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Syrah is one of those powerful, muscular wines that held an enjoyable balance of fruit and earth. Loamy, berry-filled goodness that stood up nicely to the fire and spice swirling about.

After that barrage of fire, spice, and fruit, it was time to tone things down with a little palate cleanser. Fresh strawberries were whirled through the food processor, along with sugar and a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice, before hitting the ice cream maker, then the freezer.
The strawberry flavor shone cleanly through, proving that sometimes it really is best to end the night on a light, bright note.

But the party didn't stop here. While DucCat and I have grown quite comfortable with hosting duties, we couldn't turn down an invitation the following evening at a friend's house. With promises of fresh crab, killer food, and the cacophony of fireworks exploding in the air, how could we say no?

We began with a hearty chili dip, deep in flavour, and complemented by crunchy blue corn chips.

The celebration continued with a wonderfully bright and fresh strawberry salad.

As for the rest of the meal, I'm really not sure what I liked best...

...was it the succulent, crispy soft shell crabs-

...or perhaps the largest and meatiest Alaskan Kinig crab legs I've ever witnessed.

Really, it's too close to call.

But, if I have to settle on something, it would be the perfect strawberries that just seem to keep popping up at this time of year.

Yeah, that's the good stuff.

Fresh Strawberry Sorbet

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup white sugar
1 quart strawberries, cleaned and hulled
lemon juice, to taste
Grand Marnier (optional)

Combine water and sugar in small saucepan on stove over medium-high heat. Bring to boil, stirring so sugar dissolves, and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, puree the strawberries in a food processor until smooth, then press through a sieve to remove seeds/pulp.
Add half the sugar syrup to the puree, along with 1/4 cup lemon juice. Taste, and continue adding until you've reached the proper balance of sweet and tart.
If you like, throw in a bit of Grand Marnier as well.
Process according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

The Real Deal

Click here to read my Daily Press review of "FDR- Food Done Right".

Monday, May 29, 2006

You're Welcome, My One True Love

I usually steer away from cookies at this time of year, but due to some extenuating circumstances, I've made some exceptions.

Recently, though, it was a late-evening plea from my loving husband. For something hot, a rich, soul-sustaining mouthful of chocolate. Luckily, I had gleaned a cookbook from the second-hand store, and had just the recipe to fulfill such a craving.

Filled with rich, dark cocoa, and sprinkled with white chocolate chips, these cookies emerged from the oven soft, warm, and oozing in comforting vibes. Just the way DucCat requested.

Inside-Out Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 3/4 cups unbleached AP flour
1 1/4 cups Dutch process cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 stick unsalted butter (1/2 pound, plus 4 tablespoons), softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
10 ounces white chocolate, broken into 1/4-inch chunks (or use chips)

Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Line several cookie sheets with parchment paper. You may need to use each cookie sheet more than once. Cool cookie sheet completely after each baking, and reline with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt
In bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. On low speed, beat in the flour mixture until completely incorporated. Remove bowl from mixer, and fold in the white chocolate chunks with a rubber spatula.
Drop tablespoonfuls of the batter onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between each cookie. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until cookies are puffed, but still soft to the touch: do not overbake! Let cool for 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer to racks to cool completely.
Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Yield: about 5 dozen cookies
from "Chocolate For Christmas", by Maria Robbins

Friday, May 26, 2006

My First Weekend Herb Blogging Post

Now that I have some herbs kicking again, I figure it's time to finally join in the fun and festivities- thank you, Ilva, for graciously hosting this weekend.
Now, for the herbage:

Parsley. Frequently used as a garnish, unless you hail from Argentina, where it steps into the starring role of national condiment: chimichurri.

Like many points of pride, the ingredients vary from kitchen to kitchen. Typically, it contains parsley, peppery spices, and enough garlic to keep the vampires far away. Piquant and vibrant, it's the perfect partner for grilled meats, which is just how I used it.


1 cup fresh parsley
2 large cloves garlic
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
juice of 1/2 lemon
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon chipotle powder
pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 good grinds of black pepper
5 cherry tomatoes (add at the very last, so you can still see chunks of tomato)

Place all ingredients in food processor, and pulse until emulsified and thick. Be certain to taste and adjust as necessary. Make at least one hour before using, but keep in mind, this gets better the longer it sits.

s'kat's notes: This recipe is adapted from 'Eating Well' Magazine. I believe I added a touch more oil than they called for, which is not reflected in this rendition, so be certain to taste it! This tastes really 'green' initially. In time, it mellows and grows in complexity. While I've used it here to slather on meat, it would also be great as a marinade, dipping sauce, or on sandwiches.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

How To Eat Like a Local

Weeknight Eats

You know, sometimes life just gets in the way. Instead of being able to coax along a slow, stirring mushroom risotto, you find the day almost done, and dinner still a yet-formed thought. In these cases, like most folk, I turn to the irresistable lure of convenience foods. Luckily, Cavanna Pasta has made those moments much easier to bear.

The stall at the Williamsburg Farmer's Market may be new, but they've been playing the retail game up in Richmond for a couple of years now. Lucky for us Tidewater folk, we get all-access for a few sweet, short hours on Saturday morning. Offerings include fresh cut pastas, tortellinis, pansotis, mini-tarts, vodka sauce, ragus, and an incredibly ethereal-tasting lasgana. Certainly words that I never thought could acurately describe such a typically heavy dish.

Get Domino's off the speed-dial, folks, 'cuz convenience food ain't what it used to be.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Smoke 'em If You Got 'em

See my Daily Press Taste article here.

(Free registration may be required after today.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Government Food

First of all, I'd like to thank McAuliflower for pointing out this project to me.

A group, just going by 'Government Food', put out an open call to photographers. They send you an MRE, you send them back two shots. The first, of the unopened package. The second, with all the contents opened, and prettily plated. The goal is to make these life-sustaining rations look palatable- without adding anything else edible to the pictures (i.e. no cute little parsley garnishes, etc.). 12 people will be selected to have their pictures published in a calendar, proceeds of which will benefit natural disaster vicitms. You can read more about the project here.

And now, for MRE No. 5, "Grilled Chicken Breast".

Fun stuff. You can see the whole set here; or, look here for a photo that contains notes detailing the funky little foods.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

A Winning Strategy

It's a lot like the first day of school. Spiffed out in your shinies, hair parted just so, you stride out with the empowering words of Mom running through your head. Somewhere along the way, it begins to break down. The stomach goes all aflutter. Your breath has a funny cadence, and suddenly your legs seem to jerk like a marionette. Will the cool kids like me?

Lunch hour comes, and you plop next to someone who looks like they may be friendly. Unfolding your brown bag, out comes sandwich (cut on the diagonal), carrots, apple. At the very bottom of the bag- two glorious, fat, chocolate-chip cookies. With a grin, glancing slyly at your table-mate, you offer a cookie towards her. "I have too much- you want it?" She smiles, and accepts. "My name's Mandy," she murmurs through chocolatey crumbs.

So recently, I went walking into my new part-time job. While it's not exactly my first visit, it would be my first time really being part of the team. Thinking of that long ago schoolday, I'd spent the previous day browsing through a cookbook of tried-and true recipes. Cookies have always been a favourite, especially since so many of the ingredients tend to be in my cupboard at any given time.

Finally, my eyes rested upon "Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chunk" cookies. A killer combination, heavy on the peanut butter, and liberally laced with quality bittersweet chocolate. I was certain it would break down barriers, and drum up confidence. Did it work?
I'd certainly say so. Holla!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

adapted from Recipezaar's PetitFour

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup peanut butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup ap flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
pinch of salt
11.5 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips or bittersweet chocolate chunks

Cream the butters together until completely incorporated. Add sugar, cream on medium. Add the egg and vanilla, mix together. Add the flour, baking soda and salt; mix until no white remains, then add the chocolate and hand mix until everything comes together. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto parchment lined baking sheets, and bake at 350-degrees for 9-11 minutes.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Mel Walks... With Me

The garden is good. The garden is wise. This garden- it shall be conquered, and Mel, wreathed in victorious roses.

Check out Kiri and all the other cool cats over with Clare at Eat Stuff.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Crab Redux

DucCat was only gone for one night. When he returned home, there was still a pound of crab to deal with. "Why not make deviled crab?" he suggested.

While purchasing the fresh crab meat, the vendor also had a hand-lettered sign touting deviled crab cakes. I'd never eaten nor heard of one before, and asked the woman what exactly they were. With a large smile, she listed off several tasty sounding ingredients... at this point, I only remember cayenne, paprika, breadcrumbs, butter, all stuffed back into a crabshell for baking and presentation. DucCat and I glanced at each other with a smile. "We'll take four," he grinned. The woman shook her head, though: they had already sold out.

Since this was a classic dish from my husband's childhood, once home, I pulled out an old, tattered cookbook by the name of "Old Dominion Life Member Cookbook". Amongst the many recipes compiled by home cooks across Virginia, I finally came across an appropriate-sounding deviled crab recipe. There was a little tweaking, including preparing the recipe as crab cakes, instead of baked. Then, that first taste of deviled crab. Pronounced spiciness eased comfortably into the mellow freshness of the crab. Tremendously good stuff, this.

Deviled Crab
from the Old Dominion Life Member Cook Book

2 tablespoons butter
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
2 cups crab meat
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1 cup buttered bread crumbs (or just use plain fresh, if making into cakes)

Melt butter, add flour. Stir in milk slowly to make a sauce. Add remainder of ingredients to crab meat, mix well. Stir into sauce. Put into crab shells; sprinkle buttered crumbs on top. Bake at 400 for 15 minutes.

s'kat's notes: I posted the spices as tweaked, but you may want to back off on the cayenne a bit; to me, it was just right. Also, I used fresh breadcrumbs to gently form into cakes, then pan-fried in butter over medium heat until done.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Day Without Food Blogs

Save the Internet: Click here
It was only a matter of time before big business came sniffing around Internet access points. Read this, make up your mind, fight The Man, and hey, how 'bout a little Free Bird while you're at it?

Oops. Wrong speech.

Anyway, net neutrality: woots!

tagged with: +

Monday, May 15, 2006

Fresh. Crabby. Salad-Like.

DucCat was off to racing school, leaving me facing 2 pounds of fresh jumbo lump crabmeat. I know, tough stuff, right?

The first batch were made into crabcakes, then frozen. As for the remaining pound, I flipped through a few cookbooks. Finally, 'Very Virginia'offered up a light, simple crab salad; best of all, it was mayonnaise-free.

I mixed everything up, and let it sit for about three hours. I'd been expecting more of a bite from the horseradish and paprika, but the flavours had mellowed remarkably. Next time, I'll add a touch more spice, but for a practically effortless Sunday supper, this was just right.
Dockside Crab Salad 1
Dockside Crab Salad

from Very Virginia

1 pound fresh crabmeat, cleaned and picked through
2 cups finely chopped celery
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons prepared horseradish
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
lettuce leaves

In a large bowl, gently combine crabmeat and celery. In a separate bowl, combine salt with next three ingredients. Add horseradish, oil, lemon juice and vinegar to salt mixture, blending well. Taste and adjust as necessary. Pour mixture over crabmeat and celery, and toss gently to combine. Chill at least two hours, then serve on a bed of lettuce.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Star Hill 1999 Syrah

To answer Maureen's question, the accompanying wine was this Star Hill Syrah. Notes are gone on that, as well, but I do remember enjoying it thoroughly.

Veal Saltimbocca with Mushrooms

Some great guesses, and some that were dead-on, but it was terisa who nailed it! Wine! Song! Women! Well, unless that's not your thing.

Still suffering the after-effects of some fiendishly unacceptable 'veal saltimbocca' from a certain local restaurant, DucCat and I set about erasing that tragic flavour from our mouths forever.

While fairly certain of the basics, neither one of us had made it before. As usual, I set off on a wild internet search, while DucCat flipped through a couple of cookbooks. And then, also part of our routine, I lost my print-outs, while DucCat tossed the cookbooks asunder in favour of 'winging it'.

He did indeed do that, and in his usual fine style. Veal cutlets were dredged in flour and a touch of salt and pepper for a quick, browning pan fry. Topped with prosciutto and sage, they went back in 'till the ham, too, turned nicely brown. In the meantime, the mushrooms cooked down in a buttery white wine sauce, made richer by the infusion of good quality veal stock.

All this went into a casserole, topped with mozzarella, and set in a moderate oven 'till the cheese melted just right. The recipe? Sadly, my hastily-scribbled notes appear to have been sucked into some sort of vortex. But the memory of that particular meal is still resplendently rich and soul-satisfying.

Mamma who?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Pop Quiz

Look at my meez, and tell me: what's for dinner?

Okay, here's another clue:

A full-write up on the finished product is around the corner. Including the wine!

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Mama Lina's Ristorante

Check out my Daily Press review of Mama Lina's here. I'm afraid that (free) registration is required.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

I Pita the Fool...

I've tried making pita bread before, with less than perfect, puffy result. Recently in the mood for gyros, I decided it was time for round two, under the tutelage of baking perfectionist Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Since I was doing this last moment, there would be no time for an overnight flavour-intensification. Encased in plastic wrap, it sat for a quick rise while I worked on a few other things.

Now, Rose warns you that it is extremely important to have a hot oven, and recommends that you let it pre-heat for an hour. I let mine and my pizza stone go for about an hour and a half at 500-degrees, before turning it down to the recommended temperature. The inflated blobs of dough were rolled out, and quickly tossed two at a time into an extremely hot oven.
Success! At long last, baby, the perfect puff is mine! Not so much the perfectly round pita, but it's always nice to have something to work towards.

A friend was dining with us that night, and brought along a ZD Wines Cabernet Sauvignon 2003. This was a busty, big wine that reeked of Nero Wolfe's study. Fine leather, cherry pipe tobacco and a dusting of cocoa waddled around my tongue in pleasing harmony. The finish was smoother and far more sensuous than an Archie Goodwin pick-up line. Well done, Diner-Knight, well done!

Palates tantalized, we gathered around the kitchen counter, slicing DucCat's hot-smoked lamb, shredding lettuce, chopping tomatoes and onions. With a little help from Trader Joe's tzatziki sauce and red pepper spread, the gyros were done.

Pita Bread

from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Bread Bible

[Ingredients are listed as volume/ounces/grams]

-unbleached all-purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur, or Pillsbury) 3 cups,plus a scant 1/4 cup / 16 ounces/ 454 grams
-salt 2 teaspoons/ 0.5 ounce/ 13.2 grams
-instant yeast 2 teaspoons/ --/ 6.4 grams
-olive oil 2 tablespoons/ 1 ounce/ 27 grams
-water, at room temperature 1 1/4 liquid cups/ 10.4 ounces/ 295 grams

Begin mixing the dough about 1 1/2 hours before shaping, or for best flavor development, 8 hours to 3 days ahead.

Mixer Method: In the bowl of stand mixer, combine all ingredients. With the paddle attachment, mix on low speed (#2 on a KitchenAid), just until all the flour is moistened, about 20 seconds. Change to the dough hook, raise the speed to medium (#4 on a KitchenAid), and knead for 10 minutes. The dough should clean the bowl and be very soft and smooth and just a little sticky to the touch. Add a little flour or water if necessary. (The dough will weigh 27.75 ounces/793 grams)

Let the dough rise. Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough in to a 2-quart or larger dough-rising container or bowl, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil. Press the dough down and lightly spray or oil the top of it. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark the side of the container at approximately where double the height of the dough would be. Refrigerate the dough overnight (or up to 3 days), checking every hour for the first 4 hours and pressing it down if it starts to rise.

Preheat the oven to 475-degrees 1 hour before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level, and place a baking stone, cast-iron skillet, or baking sheet on it before pre-heating.

Shape the dough. Cut the dough into 8 or 12 pieces. Work with one piece at a time, keeping the rest covered with a damp cloth. On a lightly floured counter, with lightly floured hands, shape each piece into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Cover the dough with oiled plastic and allow it to rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. Roll each disk into a circle a little under 1/4-inch thick. Allow them to rest, uncovered, 10 minutes before baking.

Bake the pita.
Quickly place 1 piece of dough directly on the stone or in the skillet or on the baking sheet, and bake for 3 minutes. The pita should be completely puffed, but not beginning to brown. The dough will not puff well if it is not moist enough. See how the pita puffs, then, if necessary, spray and knead each remaining piece with water until the dough is soft and moist; allow to rest again and reroll as before. (However, those that are not puffed are still delicious to eat.) Proceed with the remaining dough, baking 3 or 4 pieces at a time if using a stone or baking sheet. Using a pancake turner, transfer the pita breads to a clean towel, to stay soft and warm. Allow the oven to reheat for 5 minutes between batches. The pitas can be reheated for about 30 seconds in a hot oven before serving.

s'kat's notes: Rose doesn't specify what type of salt to use; I used regular ol' table salt. The salt flavour in the finished product was pronounced, but in a good way- it really made the bread. I also didn't bother transferring the freshly-mixed dough into a different bowl. I sprayed olive oil under, around, and on the dough, covered the bowl with a kitchen towel, and tucked it into the oven for rising. The freshly cooked pitas were not only placed on towels, but covered by one as well. Don't forget to get that oven hot-hot-hot!

Sunday, May 07, 2006

I want to live this life

Whether the twain shall meet over a sun-kissed rumpled sweater...

Or tucked away quiet and alone on a cozy couch...'s all naps, all weekend around here!

Head on over to Clare of Eat Stuff, to catch up on kitties around the world!

(Mom, enough with the pictures already, I'm tryin' to sleep!)

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wine. Cheese. Tuna. Fire.

She comes around here
Just about midnight, (er, I mean, cocktail hour)
Ha, she make me feel so good, Lord
I wanna say she make me feel alright
...And her name is G-L-O-R-I-A...

Van Morrison may not have been talking about a sweet little flute of sparkly, but his enthusiasm was spot-on. Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noir Sparkling Wine ($25?)was a fun, berry-bright glass of bubbly that made for easy sipping. Unpretentious and light, it just fit the bill for chatting with friends on weekend's edge.

As it's never a good idea to wine alone, we noshed on DucCat's newest acquisition from The Warwick Cheese Shoppe: a suitably soft and stinky Taleggio.

Purr it out through the vowels, but don't let the lilting cadence fool you- this is some seriously stinky cheese. DucCat likens the scent to gym socks that have been left in the locker over a long, hot summer. While I suppose I concur on the scent, the flavour is by contrast smooth, mellow and nutty. And utterly addictive.

Somewhere along the line, a bottle of Silver Sands Sauvignon Blanc was polished off by the gang, but I never had a glass. The empty bottle leads me to believe that it was, at the very least, palatable.

As the evening was creeping forth, I switched to red: a Robertson Winery Prospect Hill 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon ($16).

Thick, rich and dark are qualities I enjoy as much in wine as I do in sausage, and this well-balanced cab straddled all three quite nicely. Dark fruits were firmly in check with the tannins, settling into a thoroughly enjoyable glass of wine. Go get 'em, South Africa!

While DucCat fired up the grill, I pulled out the main course.
The tuna was lookin' mighty fine at Harris Teeter that day, and DucCat was in the mood for something light, simple and flavourful. Be still my heart. A little lemon juice, a gentle dusting of wasabi powder, some salt and pepper, and he was soon cookin' with fire.

A short grill session later, dinner was on, rounded out by black sesame asparagus.

A new room, a new wine, right? We opened the bottle brought by our friends, a Patton Valley 2003 Pinot Noir.


While the previous wine had been no slouch, I literally laughed with joy at my first, potent sip. Awash in a black velvet jungle, where cherries and raspberries languidly gazed at the dark side. In my mouth, a smooth midnight tidepool coiled with more elegant dark fruits and a restrained hint of oak. Each wonderful taste picked up the previous note, and re-worked it passionately, eloquently, and intently.

Once again, friends, our thanks for sharing this!

Sadly, not everyone was on their best behaviour that night.
Miffed at waking up too late to join in the fun and festivities, Shishi exacted some uncalled for revenge.

No tuna for you, little one!

Grilled Fresh Tuna

4 fresh tuna steaks
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon wasabi powder

Mix together, and drizzle evenly over tuna steaks. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium-hot fire until exterior is seared, and interior is still juicy and pink, about 3 &1/2 minutes per side. Do not overcook.
Let sit for a few minutes, then slice thinly. Serve with a drizzle of soy sauce and freshly made wasabi.

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