Roast and Toast

Hey guys. What’s that? Where have I been for almost 10 months? Wrapping up my 20’s, that’s what. And this weekend we hosted a “Roast & Toast to 30” party to celebrate me and my cousin, Ellis, turning 30. We roasted 400 Eastern Shore oysters , toasted marshmallows and, of course, raised a few glasses.

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A crowd favorite of the evening was an Apple Cranberry Sangria I had dreamed up that was festive, but refreshing; sweet but not sugary. Everyone kept asking for the recipe, but as usual I didn’t have one – I just sort of thought of it and mixed it up with what felt right. However, I think I can reverse engineer it enough to give you an idea so that you can mix it up for your next festive feast or casual get together (or Sunday afternoon).

Apple Cranberry Sangria

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Ingredients:

  • 1 bag of fresh cranberries
  • two fresh apples (we used Fuji)
  • 1 bottle of Dr. McGillicuddy’s apple liqueur
  • 1 liter Ginger Ale
  • 1.5 liter bottle of pinot grigio
  • 1 large bottle of cranberry juice

Method:

  1. A few days ahead of time, put the bag of cranberries in the freezer and chill the wine, juice and ginger ale.
  2. A few hours before you want to drink the sangria, mix it up in a large decanter (I have a big one I use for parties that has a spigot – it’s great. Every consummate hostess should have one). Cut the apples into rounds and put in first, then top with the frozen cranberries. After you’ve put in the fruit – no matter what size container you’re using – whether it’s a large pitcher or a decanter – fill it up with about 2/3 of the way with equal parts wine and liqueur, then top it off with equal parts ginger ale and cranberry juice.
  3. Mix well and let sit in the fridge until ready to serve. Then serve in glasses filled with ice and/or garnished with more apples and cranberries.

I hope you all enjoy this fun, fruity drink with your friends and family this holiday season.

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Pinterest Perfection

I’m sure many, if not most, of you have heard of Pinterest. I first heard about this little site where you could “curate” your own visual boards over two years ago when the site was still in Beta testing. I did some quick researchpinterest-logo on the trusty interwebs and lo and behold, I was able to track down the Pinterest CEO to his person twitter page, where I began a barrage of direct messages begging for a beta tester invite. I got it. His name is Ben, by the way, and he’s super nice. I was one of the first few thousand people to use the site, and use it I did. I currently have over 30 boards, 981 pins and 125 followers. When Pinterest first started it was much more of an art and design crowd. The cool kids who were developing the site had no doubt invited their other cool kid friends who I’m sure were all interior designers, graphic artists, and web developers in San Francisco (that’s where the company is based, not the valley, which is why the site and its people are so cool) to give it a whirl. As Beta opened up to user invites, and the site became a real, live thing, it became much, much, much more crafty, crock potty and crap to do with your kidsy. But you know what? I still love it. Despite the fact that I have to sift through hundreds of pins of maternity photo sessions to get to the thing I’m looking for, despite the fact that when I search the food category I have to ignore a million recipes that suggest throwing four different kinds of canned Campbell’s crap into your slow cooker and feeding it to your family of 10 for less than .30  cents a serving, I still think it is an awesome, amazing thing. And every once in awhile, you run across some real gems.

On Wednesday of this past week, I made THREE recipes for one meal that I found on Pinterest: A Roasted Garlic salad dressing, a rosemary and Parmesan overnight bread, and an Italian style beef and butternut squash stew. They were all the kind of things that keep me obsessed with the site. Diamonds in the rough.

The Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette is a MUST try to anyone who loves garlic on the level that I do. Two heads of garlic go into this dressing. And while you do have to roast the garlic for a good half hour, the dressing itself is really easy to make, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand. I’m currently obsessed with making my own salad dressings and have tried several I’ve found on Pinterest, but this one is my favorite.

From Fat Girl Trapped in a Skinny Body:

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

pinterest meal salad dressing

Ingredients:

  • 2 heads of garlic, roasted and peeled
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp honey

Method:

  1. Cut the pointy top off of the garlic. Brush them with olive oil and roast them in a pan in the oven at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes, until it is starting to turn golden brown and soft. Remove from the oven, allow to cool. Once the garlic is cool, peel the skin off. Discard the skins, save the garlic. *Skin peels off really easily after they are roasted.
  2. Add all the ingredients to the food processor and process until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve.*If some of the skin get processed with the rest of the dressing, no big deal, it won’t change the flavor.

The salad dressing can be vegan if you sub the honey for agave. And it is dairy free, with no substitutions!

This dressing is tangy, but has that deep, rich caramelized taste from the roasted garlic. It’s a vinaigrette, but it’s creamy because of the garlic being processed right into it. Keep this for a week or so in your fridge in a covered container.

The bread recipe I comes from Simply So Good. I used her basic bread recipe, and put in my own additions. This bread is baked in your cast-iron enameled Dutch Oven (you have one of those, right??). I have a big, blue Le Creuset that is the Pride and Joy of my kitchen. Jeremy gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago. They are usually in the $300-$400 range, but sometimes you can score them at T.J. Maxx for half the price, which I believe is what he did (smartly). Other cast-iron enameled pots are fine for this recipe also, but when you have a Le Creuset, you tend to brag about it. Here is a view down on mine to give you an idea of the size of the vessel you might want to use:

I ❤ Le Creuset

OK, enough about my awesome piece of iron. Here’s the recipe.

Crusty Bread

Crusty Overnight Bread

Crusty Overnight Bread

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water

 Method:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, salt and yeast.  Add water and mix until a shaggy mixture forms.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 12 – 18 hours.  Overnight works great.
  2. Heat oven to 450 degrees.  When the oven has reached 450 degrees place a cast iron pot with a lid in the oven and heat the pot for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, pour dough onto a heavily floured surface and shape into a ball.  Cover with plastic wrap and let set while the pot is heating.
  3. Remove hot pot from the oven and drop in the dough.  Cover and return to oven for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes remove the lid and bake an additional 15 minutes.  Remove bread from oven and place on a cooling rack to cool.

To this recipe, I added 1/4 cup of fresh grated Parmesan Cheese, 1/8 cup of fresh rosemary (from my garden), and several cloves of smashed and roughly chopped garlic. I added that in to the dough at the very beginning and then proceeded as normal through the recipe.

pinterest meal bread cut

This thing turned out beautiful. There is nothing quite like making your own bread from scratch and this is really a pretty easy way to do it.

Finally, the main course – Beef and Butternut Squash Stew from Closet Cooking. I’ll be honest and say there are a few things wrong with the way this original recipe is written, so the recipe below has a few very minor changes from myself, just to make things more clear.

Italian Style Beef and Butternut Squash Stew

pinterest meal stew 2

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 ounces pancetta (diced)
  • 1 pound beef (cut into 1 inch cubes) (My Note: he doesn’t specify what kind of beef to use here. My suggestion is to get a sirloin roast, if you can find one – that’s what I used. Otherwise a small round roast is fine or chuck if nothing else is available)
  • 1 onion (chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, to taste)
  • 1 tablespoon rosemary (chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon thyme (chopped)
  • 1 cup Italian red wine (My Note: I used a Zinfandel. It doesn’t have to be Italian, don’t stress out, just use a decent red wine that’s not sweet)
  • 3 cups beef broth
  • 1 splash balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sundried tomatoes (chopped)
  • 1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (My Note: He doesn’t specify drained vs. undrained. Because he does not, I put them in without draining them. It gave my stew a more “soupy” consistency, which I was OK with. If you want this to be more like a traditional stew, then drain the tomatoes before adding).
  • * parmigiano reggiano rind (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 pound butternut squash (peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes)
  • parsley (chopped) (My Note: optional for garnish. I used a bit of grated Parmesan instead).

Method:

  1. Cook the pancetta in a large pan on medium heat. (My Note: or Dutch Oven. Again, with my Creuset)
  2. Add the beef and brown on all sides in the grease from the pancetta and set aside. (My Note: I coated the beef cubes in flour first. I’ve always done this when searing beef that is basically going to be braised later. It also helps to thicken the sauce a bit, but it’s up to you).
  3. Add the onion and saute in the pancetta grease until tender, about 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and thyme and saute until fragrant, about a minute.
  5. Add the wine and deglaze the pan. (My Note: deglazing means you add a liquid to absorb the browned bits from the pancetta, beef and aromatics. When you add the wine to the hot pan, it will steam up. Take a wooden spoon and use that moment to scrape up all the bits in the bottom of the pan, stirring them into the liquid to create a flavorful base).
  6. Add the beef, broth, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, diced tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano rind, oregano, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the beef is nice and tender, about 1-2 hours.
  8. Add the squash and simmer until it is tender, about 15-20 minutes. (My Note: more like half an hour, at best).

This stew was filling, hearty and really quite healthy. Serve it with a glass of the same wine you used in the soup – superb! Always cook with wine that is good enough to drink. When you cook with wine, you are cooking off the alcohol, but intensifying the flavor. If you intensify a crappy wine, you will just get really intense crap. No Bueno.

Pinterest Perfection

Pinterest Perfection

The dressing, served over a bed of Organic romaine lettuce, the garlic, rosemary and Parmesan bread and this stew altogether? Perfection. Pinterest Perfection.

 

The root of it all

I just gave myself an award for the most clever blog title ever.

i ❤ beets

It is a shame, I realized, that this blog’s namesake has never really been examined thoroughly. I think in my very first blog post I may have posted a picture of a beet dish I had done, but I’ve never really delved into this amazing little root that inspired me to make this blog. There are a few reasons that beets are the thing I happen to heart. They are available locally, they are available at several times throughout the year and many people don’t like them. Why is that a reason to make beets the central theme of a blog? Because I think I can change people’s minds. I think a lot of foods out there that deserve our attention but suffer general distaste have just been presented wrong all this time. Like the poor Brussels sprout, which I will post about later . . .

Take, for instance, my husband who insisted he hated beets. So I asked in what format he had experienced beets in the past and he said either canned, pickled or boiled to death. Well, no wonder. He also hated Brussels sprouts for similar reasons. But there is a simple answer to both of these food fears and it is this: roasting. Roasting, which uses dry, indirect and diffused heat (such as an oven) increases flavor by caramelization and the Maillard browning reaction. Essentially, roasting enhances the sugars in foods through a process called pyrolysis, which I will not get into, because I barely passed chemistry. But here is what I do know: it makes food delicious. Especially foods like beets, which already have a high natural sugar content, just waiting to be released.

Beets are also so nutritious. Here are some facts from Nutrition and You about beets:

  • Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the  property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • They are also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • The root has very good levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root has 325 mg of potassium or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

And while us die-hard beet fans can eat a beet canned, pickled, boiled, grilled or anything else, for those skeptics out here, this is my GO-TO beet recipe. I’m not sure where it originated from…I think a friend may have suggested this method and I’ve just sort of made it my own over time, I’m not really sure. My hope is that you will love it enough to make it your own, adding, subtracting and substituting to your liking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Beets in vinaigrette

  • One bunch beets (as seen above)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs vinegar of your choice (balsamiq, red wine, champagne, whatever you like)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tbs dried herbs (Italian, Herbs de Provence, fresh or powdered garlic or whatever else you’d like)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Cut the beets off their stems and trim off the tops and the “tails” of each beet. Clean each beet so they are free of dirt. Wrap each beet in individually in tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven, directly on the center rack. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until each beet is easily pierced with a knife. 
  2. While the beets are roasting, create your vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember here is the a vinaigrette dressing always 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can use any combination or any measurement (tsp, tbs, cup, etc), as long as you keep that ratio the same. Pour your oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper into a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are emulsified. Set aside until beets have finished roasting.
  3. When beets are easily pierced with a knife, unwrap from tinfoil and allow to cool. Take an old dishtowel and peel the beet’s skin off with the towel – if it’s roasted to completion, the skin should slide off easily. Do this with each beet.
  4. Cut each beet in half or in quarters, if large, and cut into thin slices. Re-whisk your vinaigrette so it is well blended, then add your beets to the bowl and toss to coat. Plate, then top each serving with a spoonful of feta cheese.
Trim and wash beets

Trim and wash beets

A well emulsified vinaigrette

A well emulsified vinaigrette

Beets

After roasting, remove skin with a dish towel

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

If you don’t like beets like this, then I grant you the right to dislike beets. But before you file them away in things that are gross and that you refuse to eat, please try this recipe. Please. Give beets a chance.

Note: these beets were purchased from Westside Produce and Provisions where they were sourced from New Earth Farms in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, where they use sustainable and organic growing methods. 

Shop Locally

I write a monthly column for a local publication called Tidewater Women called “What’s in Season” (you can see all my other publications and press on my MORE BEETS page). The column usually just reviews whatever local produce is around that month, where you can get it and then a few recipes on what to do with it. But for December, I was inspired to write something more . . . well, inspired. More like my holiday mantra, if you will. The column is below, in it’s entirety and can be found in its original form on the Tidewater Women Website.

Shop Locally

The holidays are upon us, and there is no escaping them. As I contemplate what I love about the holidays, I must confess that shopping is not one of my favorite things. It isn’t that I hate giving people things or that I’m not generous. It’s just that the materialism of the whole thing really weighs me down. After my 15th trip to Target or my 5th Amazon order of the season, shopping just starts to feel meaningless. What is this stuff? Does the person I’m buying for need it? Where did my money just go? What multinational, billion-dollar corporation did I just stuff the pockets of?

I know I’m not the only person looking for a more meaningful way of giving, and so I offer up a solution: shop local. There are several reasons to shop local this season. The gifts are more likely to be unique or one-of-a-kind. Shopping local helps support your local economy. It helps support an artisan, farmer, producer, or craftsman, therefore ensuring that these members of our community have a better holiday season. Finally, the gifts will seem thoughtful and creative.

My 30+ person extended family does a Pollyanna-style gift exchange every Christmas, and last year the gift I contributed was a locally themed basket of goodies, which included goat’s milk soap, locally produced wine, jam, peanuts, and other items representative of Hampton Roads. My cousin Sara ended up getting the basket, and I told her if she didn’t like it, I would switch gifts with her. To my delight she loved it! She even texted me a few months later when her soap ran out, asking where she could buy more. She appreciated the thought, creativity, and uniqueness of the gift. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t the latest and greatest piece of technology or a gift card to her favorite store or that it didn’t hold the highest dollar value. The basket of locally sourced gifts meant way more than that because it represented a half a dozen family-owned companies or producers, all being supported by my local purchases.

Here are some great ways to shop local this season. Many farmers markets are holding special holiday markets including Old Beach Farmers Market on 19th street at the Oceanfront in the Croc’s parking lot, which will have a holiday market on December 15. Additionally the Portsmouth City Farmers Market will be open every Saturday through December 22, the Smithfield Farmers Market will be open for holiday markets on December 1 and 15, and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Dam Neck Road is open every day, year round.

Several retail outlets also carry locally produced items, such as Heritage Natural Market on Laskin Road, Westside Produce & Provisions on Colley Avenue, and any of Taste Unlimited’s six locations. You can also sign up for Coastal Farms Co-op, which sources products from over 50 area farms and producers and uses an online ordering system with weekly drop-offs all over Hampton Roads. A co-op membership or CSA subscription would also make a great gift for the person who has everything. And while there is not a lot of variety in fresh produce at the moment, there are still wonderful local food items that make great gifts—like fresh baked bread, homemade dried herb seasoning, jams and jellies, salsas, cheese, honey, peanuts, wine, and more.

So this holiday, skip the long lines at the store and start a shop-local revolution! The person on the receiving end of your gift is sure to be delightfully surprised and possibly inspired to support, shop, and give local themselves next year.
For more information on the markets and businesses listed above, visitwww.buylocalhamptonroads.org

Rachel Burns
 is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit 
www.buylocalhamptonroads.orgwww.facebook.com/buylocalhr, and www.twitter.com/buylocalhr.

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

For you Tom Haverford fans out there . . .


ANYways. I’m a horrible blogger. Two weeks in between posts? Blogging suicide. But I have an excuse. The days/weeks/months have been FLYING by lately, have they not? I’m not sure if it’s because of the election and how much of the past several months I’ve had to just tune out and hum songs in my head while I consider moving out of a swing state to Texas before the next major election, or if it’s about daylight savings time and so the days just seem shorter, or if it’s just that ramp up to the holidays where we all sort of run around like chickens about to get their heads cut off, but in any case, the time between my blogs feels like hours. The last one was right before Halloween, which was like, yesterday, right?

In any case, I present to you: eggy eggy parm parm (aka Eggplant Parmesan):

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

This is a super fun joke for you Parks and Rec fans. For everyone else I just sound a little spastic.

This meal came together in some fun ways. The sauce is my tomato sauce I’ve posted about twice, and now thrice, cause I’m obviously obsessed with it. And the eggplant came from Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Last weekend the organization that I direct, Buy Fresh Buy Local  Hampton Roads, helped organize a local food tour on the Eastern Shore. Several farms, restaurants and wineries participated and opened their doors to the public, gave free wine tastings and specials, etc. I’ve been up the shore a few times in my life, but never to spend any real, good quality time, so I was excited to spend the day up there. We took the dogs with us, and they even got a behind-the-scenes tour of Mattawoman Creek Farms, a beautiful and incredibly well run Organic Farm that produces what I think is probably world-famous lettuce, among lots of other things. They have an incredibly long season because they use green and hoop houses very efficiently. I’m really sorry I didn’t take any pictures there, but I was wrangling two dogs in a muddy field just a few days after hurricane Sandy blew through.

We also visited two wineries, Holly Grove Vineyard and Chatham Vineyard. They are both really great and we bought a bottle of Petit Verdot at Holly Grove and the Church Creek Chardonnay at Chatham. Also, they have winery dogs, so you can’t hate that:

Anyways, back to the parm. We didn’t get a chance to go grocery shopping yesterday, so when I went to put dinner together a box of spaghetti, an eggplant and my frozen tomato sauce just made sense. As per usual, I do not really have a recipe for this, but I can tell you my process.

First, I peel the eggplant and cut it into 1” thick rounds. This was a huge eggplant, so I took two of the rounds and diced those pretty small to add to the sauce.

I took the rounds and dredged them in egg, then a breadcrumb/flour mixture and put them on a baking sheet. They went into a 350 degree oven for 20 -30 minutes or until they were easily pierced with a fork. Tender, but not mushy. About 2 minutes before they were ready to come out, I topped them with shredded mozzarella.

The diced eggplant pieces went into olive oil in a large pot and were sauteed with garlic and Italian seasoning until they were tender. Then the thawed tomato sauce went into the pot, maybe two cups? But use however much you need for however many people are eating. To this I add tomato paste to thicken the sauce. Remember, the sauce I make is more like tomato sauce in a can than pasta sauce in a jar, it’s the base for sauces, so it needs to be thickened in some way before putting on pasta. I let this simmer while the eggplant baked.

Cook your pasta according to the directions, drain, then mix into the tomato sauce to keep warm while the eggplant finishes up. Serve the eggplant over the pasta, top with Parmesan and parsley or a little more mozzarella. Do not eat this without wine. Preferably a cab sav, shiraz or chianti.

Yes, those are Halloween napkins. See, I really think Halloween was just yesterday.

I know this is not the traditional way to make eggplant parm, where you bake it with the sauce and big slices of mozzarella right on top and then served without pasta, but I’m not Italian, so there ya go. I also know I have posted a lot of eggplant related dishes. I just love it. People are scared of it, I’ve realized lately. They think it needs to be salted and rinsed and fussed over and that if you don’t do it just right it’s bitter or tough. I have never found any of this to be true. I don’t salt or sweat mine, I peel it, roast, bake or saute it, and I’ve never had one that tasted anything but delicious. And because I like to eliminate meat where I can in our diet, eggplant is the perfect substitution for chicken in this dish, or for sausage or ground beef in the sauce. It just makes the meal heartier while also making it healthier. I also like to use my method above of peeling, cutting and then breading the eggplant slices, then I put them on a baking sheet and freeze them. Then you can take out individual slices of eggplant straight from the freezer to the oven and bake them whenever you want them throughout the winter. I use them in this dish, or baked and put on a sub roll with marinara and provolone in place of meatballs or just as eggplant “filets” topped with bruchetta, cheese, olive tapenade – whatever you want!

How do you like to prepare eggplant? Are you scared of cooking with eggplant? What eggplant myths have you been told?

Virginia is for Wine Lovers

Let me just say here that although I grew up in North Carolina, and will always consider it home, I have been a legal resident and part-time physical resident of Virginia since I was 15, and a full-time resident since I was 18, and I will admit that I love this “Commonwealth” (it’s not a state, they are real picky about that  . . . ). And Virginia’s wine growing region is not the least of the reasons why.

I should also mention that I love wine. A lot. Like, almost as much, and on some days more than food. Jeremy and I have been visiting Virginia wineries for the past five years or so, and this past year we took our dream trip to Napa Valley. We are winos, plain and simple.

Finally, I should mention that October is Virginia Wine Month which is really fortunate, because as the saying goes – grapes don’t grow in ugly places. And Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley in October is the opposite of ugly. So we took advantage of several situations this past weekend: the peak of the fall foliage season in Shenandoah, the fact that my cousin and her husband just moved to Staunton, VA, and Virginia Wine Month = wine-tasting weekend!!

Virginia wine is pretty amazing, and I can say this even more confidently now, having been to Napa and having tasted some of the best wine the USA makes (I’ll post about that trip later, but I’ll just note here that we tasted and toured Opus One in Napa, which might be one of, if not the, most exclusive wine in the region and while MOST impressive, it still does not outshine the beauty, character and body of Virginia Vino). I fully believe that in the next 10-20 years, Shenandoah Valley will be the East Coast equivalent of Napa Valley. According to VirginiaWine.org “By 1995, Virginia had 46 wineries. By 2005, 107. At 192 wineries and counting today, only California, New York, Oregon and Washington have more wineries than Virginia. The persistence of generations of winemakers is paying off. And the vision of one of Virginia’s most renowned native sons, Thomas Jefferson, is now coming true.”

I could write, and several people have, a book about the influence Thomas Jefferson had on Virginia’s agricultural economy, and specifically wine growing, but we won’t get in to that here. The bottom line is, it’s a historical industry that is finally getting its due, and will continue to flourish in years to come as the wines become more well known and the industry continues to improve.

Here was our wine itinerary for the weekend:

Stop 1: Barren Ridge Vineyards

This very small, but well designed winery with amazing views was a great way to start the day. More low-key than some other wineries we visited, we did not feel rushed and tasted several great wines, the highlight of which was their Traminette and Vidal Blanc. Then we took some cheesy pictures:

We were going for a “Saved by the Bell” pose here.

Stop 2: Afton Mountain Vineyards

Afton has a great selection of wines and offers a classic and reserve tasting. I splurged for the reserve tasting (seriously it’s only $3 more, so just do it), and was really impressed with their reds, particularly their Festa di Bacco, a Tuscan style blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, and their Cabernet Franc, which is a grape that grows particularly well in Virginia – you’ll find a bottle of this at almost every winery in the state. Jeremy, Sara and Bryan (my cousin and her husband) did the classic tasting and all agreed the Riesling, which was semi-dry and not too sweet (less than 2% residual sugar – a number very important to those of us who detest wines that taste like grape flavored corn syrup) was a winner. So we shared a glass of the Riesling on their beautiful patio. Did I mention the weather was perfect? It was perfect.

It was impossible not to take advantage of this photo opp.

Stop 3: Veritas Vineyard & Winery

Veritas blew us all away. It was shocking to me and Jeremy because it was busier and crazier than anything we’d seen in Napa. The inside of the farmhouse style building was decorated beautifully, tastings are done in groups throughout the house – either at the bar, or in big, overstuffed leather couches, and they have a fantastic yard with a beautiful view where you can picnic or just hang out or nosh on a house cheese tray like we did. There was a line out the door to taste that never disappeared while we were there – although people were being moved through and seated pretty quickly. Far and away the star of the show here is their Saddleback Chardonnay (2011). This is an “old-world” style Chardonnay that starts in stainless steel and is matured in neutral French oak barrels for 4 months. The results is a smooth wine that is not “oakey” or buttery the way many barrel fermented Chards are. It’s light and smooth but still has a lot of body. We bought a bottle, grabbed a cheese tray and set up camp for a while. And wouldn’t you know it, I found the only pug visiting wineries that day in Shenandoah?

Their decor was pretty awesome. Also, I have enough wine corks to do this in my own house.

I found the pug!

I never miss an opportunity for pug play.

It’s just too pretty everywhere up there.

 

Stop 4: Pollak Vineyards

Our intention had been to stop after Veritas, but at the tasting bar a gentlemen informed Sara that Pollak was very close and a must-taste, so we hit the road again and headed to this fairly new, but well done vineyard that grows enough grapes that they actually sell some of their crop to other local wineries. The owners here originally owned a winery in California’s Carneros region of Napa Valley. The tasting bar was PACKED, so this man must have been really spreading the word, but we waited patiently for our taste, and decided to spend some time on the property here as well, so we all headed outside with a bottle of their Pinot Gris and a glass (for me) of their Cabernet Sauvignon (a hard wine to make in VA, but this one was worthy). Sara took a pretty awesome panoramic picture of the winery and our table, and then we took some photo opps down by their little pond . . . at this point we may have tasted a bit too much wine to be standing that close to a body of water, but we took our chances.

packed!

A pretty sweet panoramic. Thanks, iPhone.

You are seeing bad decisions in action.

Best to make bad decisions with people you love.

Or stay a safe distance. Probably better.

I took a much more hysterical picture of these two, but Sara is insistent that it is not flattering. Pish posh.

 

The whole day was awesome and I remain amazed and impressed with the wine grown in my “commonwealth” and as much as I love Napa, this is MY wine growing region, and I will continue to support it, no matter what month it is.

Have you been to a Virginia Winery or tasted a Virginia Wine? If you live outside of Virginia – have you tasted any wines produced in your state? What did you think?

Hello. Is it beets you’re looking for?

For the past two years I have worked with a local nonprofit organization focused on promoting local food and supporting small, family farms. For the past twenty-ish years I have been obsessed with food. Not like the people you see on Discovery Health who have to be lifted via crane out of their living rooms, but like an eight year old girl with a subscription to Martha Stewart and a dream to be a food stylist before that was even a thing and there were horrible reality shows about it. The dream of Culinary School turned into an English degree, and then another English degree, and while food is my primary passion, I’ve learned that cooking it is better kept as a passion, rather than a job. This blog was just a matter of time.

I think it’s important that chefs (and cooks!) have a philosophy, or at least an end-goal in mind when they’re creating and cooking (besides ‘I’m hungry. I think this box of mac ‘n’ cheese will do it’). For me, it’s always local. I’ve learned through the years that local food is more nutritious, tastes better, supports small farms in my community and offers heirloom and heritage varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store. When I cook, I always like to look to the local ingredient first, and then build around that. This blog will be a glimpse into some of the dishes I create, try, maul, derange, re-try and finally share with you. They will not all be good, but we’ll learn some lessons, techniques and things you may not have known about the local food system. I encourage you to comment, make suggestions and share your own experiences with me. And most of all, I encourage you to seek out local food in your own area. Once you start to look for it, you will be amazed at what is out there.

To get us started and whet our appetite, I offer up my most recent “Friday Foodie Freestyling” – which is what I do on Friday nights when the husband and I stay in and I have nothing to do except open a bottle of wine, peruse my box of fresh produce, and create a three or four course meal made primarily from whatever I picked up from my Thursday afternoon co-op, Coastal Farms.

Friday Foodie Freestyling

Zucchini poppers with tzatziki, tempura fried snap beans, broccoli, and spring onions with ponzu, golden beet and white bean salad topped with VA goat feta.

Our first course was zucchini poppers or zucchini hush puppies. I made them with shredded zucchini (local, of course) and mixed that with a local egg, hushpuppy mix from Wade’s Mill in Raphine, VA where they still stone grind their wheat, some home-made pesto from my garden and a bit of Parmesan. I fried them in my deep fryer (my best friend and worst enemy) and served them over a bed of string-cut cucumbers and with tzatziki dipping sauce which I made from Greek yogurt, local cucumbers, dill from my garden and lemon zest.  They were OK. The Huz liked them more than I did, but despite my Southern roots, I’m not a huge hush puppy fan. I do love the tzatziki and consider anything that serves as a vehicle for it a bonus. (read: I can, and will, eat that stuff with a spoon and no shame).

Second course was golden beet (you know I ❤ them!) and white bean salad. My favorite method for cooking beets is to cut them off their stems, wash them, leave the skin on, wrap them individually in tin foil and then throw them in the oven – right on the rack – at 375 for about 45 mins. When they can be pierced all the way through easily with a knife, they are ready to roll. Take them out, let them cool a bit and then take a hand towel or paper towel and just rub the skin right off of them – it should slide off easily at this point. I diced the beets, mixed with the beans (canned) and heated it all up together along with an Italian vinaigrette, some fresh herbs from my garden then topped with VA made goat feta and cracked red and black peppercorns. This was yum and definitely worth repeating.

Finally the last course was tempura battered and fried fresh veggies. Tempura batter is literally one of the easiest things to make. There are four ingredients: flour, baking powder, water and egg. That’s it. Do NOT buy the pre-made tempura mixes at the grocery store for $4.50, it’s a total rip off. Once I made the batter, I dipped broccoli, snap beans and spring onion rings into it and then into the deep fryer (you see how I keep going back for more abuse…) and then out after a few minutes, served with ponzu dipping sauce (lighter and more citrusy than soy sauce – buy it pre-made in the International aisle at the grocery store). This is always good. I make tempura several times a year and it never disappoints.

So there you have it – that’s what I do and that’s how I do it. Keep checking back for more food pictures, recipes, tips and absurd failures. Thanks for reading!