8.22.2009

Dad's Recoup Din-Din in the Old Dominion.

As previously mentioned, I'm back home, in Virginia. I'm helping my dad recover from a lil' back surgery. A large part of my duties exist in the shopping, cooking, and feeding realm. And what better to do with my time while he naps and trips out on the painkillers than write about all this foodness happening, here in the dirty south?


Joel Salitin is pretty much The Man. He is a self-described environmentalist capitalist lunatic farmer, or as the New York Times calls him, “the high priest of the pasture.” You may remember him from The Omnivore’s Dilemma, in which he was profiled at length by Michael Pollan. Salatin’s innovative farming system at his Polyface Farm —where the animals live according to their “ness,” the earth is used for symbiosis, and happiness and health is key—has gained attention from around the country, and he travels in the winter giving lectures and demonstrations. He is the author of a number of books including Holy Cows and Hog Heaven, Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal, You Can Farm, Pastured Poultry Profit$, Salad Bar Beef and Family Friendly Farming.

So you may imagine my absolute delight to be able to be able to purchase his farm's bacon whilst shopping here, in Richmond. I prepared a meal, for my dad, incorporating said bacon and/or its fat in a number of ways.


Dad's Special Meal:
  • Hanover Tomato, Butterhead Lettuce, and Bacon with Blue Cheese Dresssing
  • Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro
  • Will's Awesome Lamb Chops with Cumin, Cardamom & Lime (lamb from the Belmont Butchery)


Hanover tomato, Butterhead Lettuce, and Bacon with Blue Cheese Dresssing

Serves 4

Ingredients:

6 bacon slices, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp whole milk plus additional if necessary
2 Tbsp cider vinegar
1 scallion, chopped
1 cup crumbled blue cheese (1/4 lb), divided
1 (1/2-lb) head Bibb or Boston lettuce
1 large Hanover tomato, cut into wedges


Directions:
  • Cook bacon in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until crisp. Transfer to paper towels to drain, reserving fat in skillet.
  • Whisk together 1 Tbsp hot bacon fat, sour cream, milk, vinegar, and 1/4 tsp each of salt & pepper until smooth. Stir in scallion and 2/3 cup of blue cheese. Thin with additional milk if desired.
  • Quarter lettuce lengthwise (through stem) into wedges, then remove core and arrange each wedge on a plate with tomato wedges. Stir dressing and spoon over top. Sprinkle with bacon, remaining 1/3 cup blue cheese, and pepper to taste.
Printable Recipe

Cheesy Creamed Corn with Cilantro
Serves 6

Ingredients:
• 1 tablespoon bacon fat
• 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 cups chopped scallions (about 6 large)
• 12 ears corn, kernels cut from cobs
• 2/3 cup heavy cream
• 2 teaspoons cornstarch
• 1 large garlic clove
• 6 oz queso fresco or mild feta, crumbled (1 1/3 cups)
• 1 cup cilantro sprigs


Directions:

  • Heat bacon fat and butter in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until foam subsides, then cook scallions, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add corn and 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes.
  • Stir together cream and cornstarch in a small bowl until thoroughly combined, then add to corn and simmer, stirring, until slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer 1 1/2 cups corn mixture to a blender with garlic and purée until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Return to skillet and cook, stirring constantly, until just heated through.
  • Transfer corn to a large shallow serving bowl and sprinkle cheese and cilantro over top.

Will's Awesome Lamb Chops with Cumin, Cardamom and Lime (lamb from the Belmont Butchery)
Ingredients:

12-16 cloves of garlic
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cardamom
1/3 cup FRESH lime juice
1 tbsp salt
2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
16 rib lamb chops (If you're willing to spend the extra money, the American really are quite superior - better meat/better fat)

     

    Directions: 

    • In the food processor, drop garlic, add cumin, cardamom, lime juice, salt, pepper and oil.  Pour into a large bag or container to marinate (a coupla hours or up to 2 days).

    • On the grill is a must, and with a medium flame they'll be done in about 2 minutes per side.  Perhaps a bit more but rarer is better.


    We both agreed, this was a damn good meal.

    8.21.2009

    Hanover tomatoes mean RVA is in the hizouse!


    I'm back in the old stomping ground, y'all. And as such, am inspired to wax on a bit about some local culinary gems. One in particular, the Hanover tomato. Did you know this tomato has it's own festival?


    Nestled slightly north of Virginia’s capital city of Richmond is Hanover County, which, up until a few years ago, was a largely rural expanse populated by family farms. A drive past former farms now sprouting subdivisions and shopping complexes reveals the same loss of farmland to development that is plaguing many areas surrounding growing cities. The few agricultural holdouts against this trend continue to turn out plentiful harvests of wheat, corn, soybeans—and juicy, succulent Hanover tomatoes. Virginia is the third-largest producer of fresh market tomatoes in the country, and Hanover County yields the second-largest harvest of tomatoes in the state.

    One of the largest producers of Hanover tomatoes, and also one of the few family farms remaining in the area, is Kirby Farms near Mechanicsville, where Tommy Kirby has lived and worked all his life. Now his son Kevin has joined him in growing these highly prized plump tomatoes, known for their vibrant color and full flavor.

    Kevin Kirby attributes the tomato’s characteristics to the “sandy, loamy soil” that is prevalent in Hanover County. Another prominent area tomato farmer, Robert Dodd of Dodd’s Farms Acres, concurs. He claims that “you could grow the same tomato plant 30 miles away,” and it might taste different because the soil in Hanover County is “the best there is.” Kirby adds that while many tomato varieties are brought to market too early, Hanover tomatoes are “vine ripe,” meaning they are never picked until fully ripened. The naming of Hanover tomatoes goes back to “old-fashioned word of mouth,” according to Kirby. It probably harkens back to bygone days when Hanover farmers would bring their harvest to Richmond markets. Today, the tomatoes can be found at most central Virginia supermarkets, farm stands and country stores throughout the summer, and they are usually labeled as such. However, unlike Vidalia onions, which by law can only be so named if they are grown in seven specific Georgia counties, Hanover tomatoes have never received official designation.


    I still maintain that the best way to enjoy a choice tomato is simply; sliced with salt, pepper (and a dollop of mayo?), or in a sandwich. But if you’re in the mood for a more adventurous treatment, here is an appetizing summer soup supplied by Richmond-area chef Martin E. Gravely.

    * This soup features another regional specialty—lump crabmeat.


    Food = Love, and Virginia is for lovers...

    Charred Hanover Tomato Soup With Lump Crab
     
    Roasting the tomatoes before adding them to the soup intensifies their flavor.

    Ingredients:
    4-5 ripe Hanover tomatoes, halved
    ¼ pound pancetta, diced
    2 medium red onions, quartered
    3-4 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
    ¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
    ½ cup white wine
    2 quarts chicken stock or broth
    Salt and pepper
    3 tablespoons cornstarch
    ½ pound lump crab meat
    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice


      Directions:
      Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place the tomatoes, cut-side up, on a sheet pan and roast until blackened around the edges—about 30 minutes.

      Meanwhile, over medium heat, cook the pancetta and onion together in a one-gallon kettle until the onions turn deep golden brown. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper, cooking an additional minute. Add the wine and bring it to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot to release any accumulated browned bits. Add the stock and blackened tomatoes and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour. Using a food processor or a blender, purée the soup in batches, and strain it into another large kettle. Season fairly generously with salt and pepper.


      In a separate bowl, whisk together ½ cup of cold water and the cornstarch until well dissolved, then whisk in one cup of the hot soup. Add the mixture back to the soup and bring to a boil for 10 seconds to thicken, stirring well. Turn to low heat and gently stir in the crab along with the lime juice.


      Serve immediately, or chill the soup and serve it cold. Serves 4 as an entrée; 6-8 as an appetizer.

      Printable Recipe

      8.17.2009

      Nebulous Misadventures (aka The Lost Weekend)


      Del Mar, Trains, Horses, Gambling, Beer Fest, Sunburn, Flaming Lips, Bus Rides, Weeble-Wobbling, The Mysterious Loss of a Jean Jacket, Cabs, Ocean, A Pedicab and San Diego
      .

      Oh, and a little bit of food and a lot of drinks.


      Day 1:

      1/8 Cup of Coffee
      Pitcher of Sangria (shared)
      1 Large Bloody Mary

      3 Corn Dogs
      (shared)
      Beer Fest: 5 Beer "Tastes"

      Tri Tip Sandwich, Black-Eyed Peas, Potato Salad (shared)
       
      White Wine
      Red Wine
      Plate of Meat
      (not much for me) 
      No Water



      Day 2:
      Coffee

      Orange Juice
      (shared)
      Double Shot of Espresso
      Chilequiles
      (exceptional)
      Mimosas

      Cava

      White Wine
      Red Wine

      French Dip
      Sandwich, Potato Salad
      Pickled Pig's Foot
      (horrifying)
      A Negligible Amount of Water

       
       
      But at least I lived to document it (albeit like a caveman).

      8.13.2009

      The Village Idiot *A Brunch Review*


      I have been to the Village Idiot on a scant few occasions. These visits have only been during random times, however, always in the evenings. I have seen it packed out with people and I have seen it moderately empty. I have had a few glasses of assorted wines and I have had a couple of appetizers from the evening menu. It is a lovely space that boasts lofted wood beam ceilings, chalkboard menus, brick walls, skylights and large street-facing windows. It’s located along the touristy Melrose stretch of boutiques, tattoo parlors, fetish shops and cafes. While this is not exactly my nook of the city, The Village Idiot has been a convenient meeting place, a convenient watering hole, in a convenient location.

      This past Sunday I met a friend there for brunch. Normally I would poo-poo the idea as I’m not extremely familiar with Idiot’s (as the cool kids refer to it) food but what I do know is no great shakes. HOWEVER, I am always willing to try a new brunch spot and I heard it would be practically empty (a plus for me on a Sunday morning). Meaning, I could camp out and spread out at either the bar or a table, do my crossword, have a few bloody mary’s, and eat whenever it suited me.


      The rumor was true; there were only about 6 other people in the place when I arrived. So, I sidled up to the bar, slapped the paper down and ordered my bloody and a coffee. The bloody appeared in a pint glass, which is always a plus. But what’s this? It was also really good! It was spicy and thick and strong. The coffee was from Intelligentsia and quite exceptional, as is widely known. So far, so good.


      I might add that at this point, that I like to sip my beverages (of which I have three, now, counting my water), and toil with the crossword while I work up to the food. I appreciated the bartender (as I sat at the bar) giving me my space and distance, never hounding me to order. And he was an incredibly affable chap.

      The brunch menu is really going for the Brit style. Traditional English breakfast: bangers, mash, beans, toast, rashers, etc. It is actually a pretty extensive menu beyond that as well. Everything from homemade breakfast bread to cherry-cashew granola… from whiskey cured ocean trout with toasted brioche, crème fraiche and pickled beets to fried duck eggs, chorizo, tomato, chiles & yellow corn grits… from tomato ricotta tart with poached eggs and herb salad to lemon ricotta pancakes with sliced bananas and honeycomb butter. The Idiot’s (see, I'm cool, now) brunch menu also has, among other items, a selection of English pies; sandwiches, including “Breaux & Sheftell” filet-o-fish, butter lettuce, house tartar sauce & slaw; a pub burger; salads; stuffed bacon wrapped dates with a roasted pepper tomato sauce and steamed mussels.


      I ordered the Fried Duck Egg over Polenta and Grilled Vegetables. It was quite good. I am not a huge bell pepper fan and found there to be a few too many of them scattered about in the polenta. But at least they were the red and yellows, not the greens. The dish had a nice, rich flavor, the polenta’s texture was spot on, and the egg was a resplendent specimen. I also ordered a side of bacon, which was delicious, thick, peppery and smoky.



      My friend had the full English breakfast which included eggs (he had his scrambled) & beans on toast (again a nice thick slice of homemade bread), rasher & banger, roasted tomatoes and mushrooms. The rasher was not your ordinary ‘rasher’ of plain smoked bacon, but a ‘bacon’ made of thinly sliced pork loin.


      The pace at the Idiot started to pick up as the day wore on but it was never even remotely crowded or loud. I felt it was a bit dark and, obviously, smelled like a bar. I appreciate the British pub effect in the menu, but again, it’s not entirely my style. On occasion, perhaps. But even while I was in England, it was never exactly the food that thrilled me. Yorkshire pudding downright scared the b’jeezus out of me (although I think I’d really fancy it these days). I’m telling you that I definitely won’t be a regular – at any time of day – at the Village Idiot. But I know a lot of other people are and the good folks that run the place are doing a damn fine job. I’ll just say that although it’s not in my circulation, I’m glad it’s in the world.

      The Village Idiot
      (323) 655-3331
      7383 Melrose Ave
      Los Angeles, CA 90046
      Village Idiot
      Village Idiot in Los Angeles

      8.12.2009

      For the love of TOMATOES!


      You say tomato, I say perfection. I have always loved tomatoes, in almost all of their incarnations. But when they are in season and perfectly ripe, I say, why reinvent the wheel? Slice them up with some salt and pepper, or just eat them like an apple! However, with friend’s plants, my mother’s plants and even my own, this season has proven to be The Summer of the Tomato, so I have been tinkering…

      Recently, a friend with an over-abundance of beauties shared a mass of his harvest with me. This gave me pause. I mean, how many salads and tomato sandwiches can I eat? The answer is 2947985687465, but how uninspired would that be?


      I first wanted to prepare a chilled tomato soup with a fresh crab garnish (inspired by Palate). Then I set my sights on an heirloom tomato salad with opal basil and torn croutons (inspired by Suzanne Goin). A tomato tart? Tomato aspic (No. Everyone thinks that's gross, except me)? Tomato sauce?? I settled on Baked Tomatoes with Goat Cheese, Fresh Herbs and Hazelnut Breadcrumbs; a version of a recipe I found in Bon Appetit (August, 2009), with a few of my own modifications.
      This was pretty tasty and quite beautiful, but I must stick to my guns as far as the importance of tomato purity. With the one, lonely tomato left behind from this dish, I tossed it with a bit of salt, pepper, oil and basil. I can’t think of anything that would have enhanced that tomato more.


      Baked Tomatoes with Goat Cheese, Fresh Herbs & Hazelnut Breadcrumbs

      Ingredients

      2 cups coarse fresh bread crumbs (from country bread, preferably whole-wheat)
      4 to 6 large heirloom tomatoes (about 3 pounds total)
      1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh lemon thyme or regular thyme, divided

      1 tablespoon fresh oregano

      2 tablespoons of fresh basil/opal basil, mixed, divided

      3-4 tablespoons chevre
      1/2 stick unsalted butter

      1 cup hazelnuts, toasted , any loose skins rubbed off, cooled, and coarsely chopped



      Preparation


      Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Butter a 2-quart shallow ceramic or glass baking dish.
      Spread bread crumbs in a 4-sided sheet pan and toast in oven until dried and pale golden, about 15 minutes. Cool crumbs. Increase oven temperature to 450°F.

      Thickly slice tomatoes and arrange, overlapping, in baking dish. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and sprinkle with 1 tablespoon thyme, oregano, and 1 tablespoon of the basils. Sprinkle chevre throughout. Melt butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, then cook nuts and crumbs, stirring frequently, until golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon evenly over tomatoes.


      Bake until tomatoes are bubbling and crumbs are browned, 15 to 25 minutes. Cool to warm or room temperature and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 tablespoon thyme and the remainder of the basils.



      Cooks' note: Bread crumbs and nuts can be toasted (but not cooked in butter) 1 day ahead and kept together in an airtight container at room temperature.