Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Pork & Pinot Party!

We had another dinner party this weekend! (And will have another this coming one.) Anyhoo, this time around it was pork tenderloin with three types of pinot noir! Our friends brought a lovely salad and peach cobbler.

We started with a bit of Grand Beck Champers before heading out briefly to an opening at Adamson gallery. Then we came back and had some more drinks along with this duck mousse pate (that was NOT good), and some almonds I doctored up with raisins, curry and chili.

The first course was this handmade pasta from Vace, in Cleveland Park. To introduce the pork theme, I made a carbonara to go along with this spinach linguini. I didn't have pancetta, but the bacon worked. I really love the egg in this dish--so easy!

Second course: pork tenderloin on wilted chard. I had seared the tenderloin ahead of time, so when we came back from the gallery, I covered it and popped it in a 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes. Also made a reduction with the pan searings.

Then wilted some swiss chard in vegetable stock, added some red wine vinegar (but forgot the raisins). Then sliced the pork and topped the vegetables with it.

We had three different types of 2006 pinot noir: Foris, Yamhill Valley Reserve and Benziger.

Benziger was by far the best, followed by Foris.

Third course: Salad. Francoise and Tim brought a delicious blend of greens, blueberries, pinenuts, with shavings of Reggiano and a grapefruit juice vinaigrette. Francoise (who is French) indicated that it's really an American thing to add fruit to a salad. Whatever the country of origin, the salad was very nice!

Fourth course: Cheese. We had a Petit Basque, Comte, and a creamy brie.

For the finale: Peach cobbler! Candy made this lovely cobbler from scratch, with firm yellow peaches and served it hot with Vanilla ice cream! Soooooo good! We had it with this Benzier Port.

Two great things about hosting a dinner party:

1. Cool host gifts, like these tulips (from Sean and Candy) and this great bottle of wine (from Francoise and Tim)--thank you guys!

2. Fun leftovers (more on those latuh!!)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Marriage License, Morons, and Macarons

We were really excited to check "marriage license" off our to-do list today! During lunch, we went to the Arlington county courthouse to get it.

We were happy and felt like we accomplished an important milestone!!!! BUT when we got home and looked closely at the marriage license information, it read that it was good for sixty days. Then the two morons (that's us) counted the days til the wedding: over sixty days away. IDIOTS!!! So we'll have to either go back or get an extension or something. Surely others have made the same mistake!

However, one bit of very nice news came in the way of a surprise gift (with a thank you card) from Lindsey Ryan, our invitation designer: a box of macarons!! They were delivered (still chilled) today! So nice!!! I should be thanking her!

And it was fortuitous, because I was planning on doing another trial run (my third one in about a week and a half) of the macarons (they're going to be favors at my wedding); and the Payards version would be a good comparison. I had left out some egg whites to age...and the results: THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM!!! Success!! (More on those later). Here they are:

I just practiced the cookie part and added some red food coloring. Instead of a real stuffing/center, I just put blackberry jam between the two cookies. Here they are compared to one of the Payard macarons Lindsey gifted. What do you think?

Failures, surprises and success all in one day!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mendocino Grille: Intimate and casually refined

I am a fan of Mendocino in Georgetown and have posted on them before. Formerly owned by the group that includes Sonoma (one of my all-time favorites in the city), it still retains its character as an intimate and casually refined restaurant.

And when my friend "M" wanted to go to an American restaurant (after just having come back from Spain), I knew just where to go. It's a great place to catch up with a friend. The small restaurant seats about 30 people. The menu changes often, but can be characterized as wine-country cuisine with a lot of fresh, locally sourced ingredients (which is de rigeur these days).

They also have a great wine list comprised primarily of American (California, Washington, and Oregon) producers. We had a rich, but very accessible (not too complex) 2005 Cal-Ital blend by Elyse called Nero Misto and a 2006 Freemark Abby Viognier (one of my favorite varietals).

We had three simple courses. I had a forgettable starter of soup with mushrooms.

The second course was this lovely bibb lettuce salad with a poached egg (I love poached eggs on salads--it's the contrasting warm and cold, crispy and soft).

Then had a main course of a simple striped bass with cripsy skin. It was accompanied by a rich and delicious shrimp, virginia ham and mushroom risotto, with pasta necks, and herbs. Very nice.

"M" had the seared rare hiramasa (a yellow-tail fish, very similar to hamachi, with a light golden flesh). It was done with a bit of Asian tasting notes that included shitakes, long beans, taro root, surf clam, miso broth. The texture was very nice, but the flavors were nothing too exciting. But a great light dish otherwise.

I had forgotten to ask the waiter to bring out a little birthday dessert for "M", as this was ostensibly a birthday pre-dinner. But oh well. He brought us these tasty little dark chocolate chip cookies. They were perfectly quarter-sized and helped me to not indulge too much (just two months til the wedding and all!).

The service is attentive and well-trained (no, no one is going to squat down next to you and try to be your buddy or talk too much--I hate that). It's a white-table cloth restaurant, so they know how to replace utensils (a given, but you'd be surprised!).

Thumbs up!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holishke (Stuffed Cabbage)--Forging ethnic meals of leftovers

We had NY strip steaks the other night. There was a bit leftover, along with some brown rice from a meal earlier in the week. I had also purchased some cabbage this weekend--for what I'm uncertain. Then there were the baby zucchini for which I intended soup. Now what to do with these displaced elements?

Stuffed cabbage (aka Holishke). But I made a north African take on the traditional Jewish recipe, by adding the two fresh herbs that we needed to eat (cilantro and mint), and by not at all following any type of recipe...making it up as I went along (as usual).

1. Dice 1 cup each of meat and vegetables (here I use leftover NY strip, zucchini, and cabbage); a clove of garlic; and 1/4 cup each of mint and cilantro.

2. Wash and blanch the largest outer leaves of the cabbage--about six--in hot water and set aside on a cookie sheet or tray

3. Sautee garlic and vegetables together in 1 tbsp olive oil until soft. Then add meat.

4. Let sautee mixture cool for about 10 minutes.

5. In a bowl with beaten egg, add cooked rice (I used leftover brown rice) and then the meat and vegetables after they've cooled. Toss in whatever fresh herbs (we had mint and cilantro which gave the dish a Med/N. African flavor).

6. Meanwhile, heat up tomato sauce. We only had canned diced tomatoes to which I added a very handy basil paste (much better than dried basil) and seasoned it. Simmer for about 25 minutes.

7. Place about 2 tbsp of the rice mixture on a blanched cabbage leaf and fold inward like a burrito along the spine.

8. Place rolled cabbage leaves, foldside down, on bed of the tomato sauce.

9. Top with remaining sauce and bake covered in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes.

10. Enjoy it with a 1998 BV Reserve Tapestry (or whatever else you have in the wine "cellar").

Feeling Salty

I love salty, savory foods. And lately, anything with fleur de sel piques my interest. But there comes a point in your diet where you need to step off the salt lick--when you retain so much water that your face becomes puffy and your eyes get super squinty. I think that point came for me one day this week when I was walking down the street and some guy yells to me, "Wow! Do you know you look just like Lucy Liu?!"

I responded with, "Okay, that's not exactly a compliment."


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Crazy about Corkage: Bringing (Y)Our Own Wine

G is a wine enthusiast. So much so he had this cellar-cooler-thing built into a hall space in our home...

...and that's in addition to this old industrial refrigeration unit that he purchased from a restaurant supply company years ago.

We regularly drink from this collection (and obviously need to restock)...even when we go out. We purposefully look for restaurants that offer corkage. Corkage (aka BYO--bring your own) refers to the fee charged by a restaurant to serve wine that the diner has provided. It usually ranges from $15-$40 a bottle (it should be the margin on the least expensive bottle the restaurant offers).

So why bring your own wine?

Because of value. You can often drink better wine for a better price. Restaurants typically charge up to three times the wholesale cost of a bottle. (And what if they don't have a great selection?) It's really worth it; because for the cost of one of the house's mediocre wines, you could have a really nice one!

In Washington, it varies by establishment whether or not they allow corkage. I think with the exception of Montgomery County, Maryland allows corkage. Pennsylvania--Philadelphia in particular--has a whole culture around the "BYO" restaurant. And Virginia does not allow it at all. But at the Homestead (our wedding venue in Virginia) corkage is accepted (I'm not sure why--but I'm not going to look a gift horse...).

Sweet music to G's ears.

Though they have a very nice wine selection, the mark-up at the Homestead is nut-baggery. Plus, there are some bottles that we'd like that they don't offer (although if we asked, they would probably get it for us for an extra cost, bien sur). So G went out and sourced several of our favorite types/varietals to complement our reception menu.

His main rule of thumb was to find highly-rated wines within our price range ($15 to $40 per bottle). That's where the value comes in. For example, a 92-point wine for around $30 isn't too bad! Though he has had these wines before, having a 90-plus point rating serves as great validation. So he purchased cases full of each and we're storing them in his parents' basement and garage.

Along with serving our own wine, we decided to have a wine-and-beer-only bar for the cocktail hour. The resort will supply the beer and we will supply all the wine. We'll have a couple a vintage and non-vintage Champagnes (and a special bottle--probably a Grande Dame--for our table), two reds and two whites to choose from. The corkage is a reasonable $18 per bottle.

For any of you who is interested, following is a description of our choices. They are very good wines that are not outrageously expensive:

COCKTAIL HOUR (Fun, less expensive selections)

Nicolas Feuillatte Premier Cru Rose
"A distinctive rose Champagne that smells like potpourri or Christmas punch with its cinnamon and clove accents. There's depth and intensity to the berry and whole-grain bread notes, matched to a raw silk texture and vibrant structure."

92 points, Wine Spectator

2006 Pierre Andre Bourgogne Chardonnay Reserve
"This blend of wines from the Puligny and Meursault areas are aged in new oak, have a lot of fruit, is well-balanced and exhibit a stylish finish."

-from the producer-

2004 Monteviejo Festivo
"This wine is a 100% Malbec aged for 6 months in new French oak. The 2004 Festivo is dark crimson-colored with a fragrant nose of mineral, blueberry, and black cherry. Medium-bodied, it is plush on the palate with plenty of ripe, forward fruit, light tannin, and a sense of elegance."

91 points, The Wine Advocate

DINNER RECEPTION (Very good, reasonably priced selections)

2000 Piper Heidsieck Brut
"An opulent, energetic bubbly, this compelling 2000 vintage Champagne has a concentrated essence of vanilla, honey, apricot and citrus notes, with a long finish. The firm structure offsets its richness. This vintage Champagne is a blend 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, fermented in stainless steel and put through full malolactic. It is very, very toasty and rich given its age."

93 points, Wine Spectator

2007 Melville Viognier
"Exotic fragrances of several white nuances such as peaches, apricots, currants, chocolate and oily flowers emanate from the glass. Aromatics also drift toward dried tropical fruits, fresh coconut, hazelnut oil and sake. The wine has excellent viscosity and verve ending with both weight and a minerally-driven vein. Extraordinary minerality and precision, despite its enormous power, are what sets it apart from most blowsy, loosely constructed Viogniers. It possesses copious quantities of nectarine, mango, and orange blossom aromas as well as a hint of lychee nuts, but it is the wine’s well-delineated character that is so remarkable."

94 points, Robert Parker

2003 Tudal Napa Valley Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
"Deep opaque color, elegant perfumed nose of cassis and blackberries with loads of lush berry fruit give an opulent round mouthfeel. This wine, 100% Napa Valley Cabernet, is an equal blend of four Napa Valley Vineyards. The Oak Knoll District of the lower Napa Valley provided a wine from very small yet intense berries that added a concentration of color and flavors. Grapes from a small hillside vineyard on the east side of the Valley rounds out this delightful wine with suggestions of cherries, spice and earthy aromas."

-from the producer-

2002 Penfolds Shiraz St. Henri Shiraz
"St Henri is a highly successful, alternative expression of Shiraz. It is unusual among high quality Australian red wines as it does not rely on new oak. Penfolds St Henri is rich and plush when young and gains soft, earthy, mocha-like characters as it ages. It is matured in old, 1460-litre vats that allow the wine to develop, but impart no oak character. A classic effort, the 2002 Shiraz St. Henri (91% Shiraz and 9% Cabernet Sauvignon) was aged 14 months. First introduced in 1953, the St. Henri offering is considered to be a quintessential old Southern Australian-styled red. This 2002 vintage is a stunningly rich, distinctive Shiraz that offers up scents of Provencal herbs, bay leaves, blackberries, black currants, new saddle leather, and loads of meaty characteristics. Rich, texturally opulent, and soft, this heady offering should drink well for 10-12 years."

92 points Robert Parker

Have you ever done corkage?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Fabu Food Favor: Strawberry and Vanilla Cream Macarons


I'm so inspired by good food...and pretty pictures. Especially pretty pictures of good food. I stumbled upon this gorgeous foodie blog today. The author made strawberry and vanilla bean macarons.

The little meringue pastries were filled with a home-made strawberry pate de fruit and white chocolate & vanilla bean cream. Um...really? She just "whipped" these together for her camping trip. What? I love (read: am jealous of) amazing/talented people such as Aran!!

Anyway, I previously mentioned my dreams of having Laduree macaron favors (they come in such cool, novel flavors!) at my wedding...if only they delivered to the U.S. But now I'm thinking, Who needs you Laduree, I have this neat recipe!

It would be really great to have some home-made food to gift...given that I'm all like, "Hey I'm a foodie, y'all. Love me." Problem is, I can't bake...So, we'll see if I'll be able to pull it off. Will try this recipe and test my skills and this cookie's shelf-life/freezablility.

(I think I need to go drink some hot cocoa and read a book to ease my giddiness now.)

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Menu Tasting: Old Fashion Fare (with Tweaks)

From our rsvp card: Lamb, trout, or veggie

We're having our wedding ceremony and reception at the Homestead in Virginia. Other than being our favorite weekend retreat from the city, one major reason we love the Homestead is the food. They have a 54-page banquet menu of everything you could ever imagine from nouveau high-style to country cook-out. But ultimately, we wanted old-fashioned, simple fare.

We definitely enjoy experimental cuisine (a la Blumenthal, Keller, Dufresne); however, there is just something wonderful about unembellished food. And the Homestead (and the small establishments in the area) does country-mountain classics such as duck, lamb, venison and trout with great fidelity towards local and seasonal ingredients. It is a traditional style that certainly suits our vintage-inspired wedding.

So it was a happy (and gluttonous) weekend in February when we went down to the Homestead for tastings of BOTH our rehearsal dinner and our reception menus...within an hour of each other!!

The Rehearsal Dinner

The rehearsal dinner will be hosted by G's parents and take place at Garth Newel, a chamber music venue that is situated on the grounds of an old farm. It's a beautiful and rustic venue with a matching menu!

- Pork Tenderloin Diane (Chef Randy Wyche also added some Medeira to the classic sauce).

- Pan roasted chicken* with goat cheese and sweet Vidalia onion relish. Left on the bone with crispy skin, the meat was surprisingly flavorful and succulent. The earthiness of the relish cut the richness of the goat cheese.

- Wedding party stalwart, filet of beef. Served with a Shiraz demiglace and mushrooms. Chef indicated that in the Spring, there's a man who hunts chanterelles and brings them straight to the farm...and they'd be used instead of these (store-bought) porcinis.

- Poached salmon with beurre blanc and shrimp (to be replaced by crab when they come in season this Spring). Basic string beans adorned with salty Virginia peanuts. Surprisingly tasty. I like the local ingredients.

And the verdict...

Chicken and beef! Talk about traditional! However, I must say that the flavors on these very basic dishes were bursting...and I will probably even have the CHICKEN!!!

The Reception

After our tasting at Garth Newel, we went back to the Homestead to meet with our coordinator and Chef Todd to taste the reception dinner. (Probably not the most brilliant decision.) We knew we wanted a local menu of rustic mountain trout and Spring lamb. We just had to decide on the details of our cocktail-hour goodies along with the five course gut-buster.

Chef Todd and O'neill, our server.

Cocktail hour: Very light old-school hors d'oeuvres.

Thai curry shrimp. Unfortunately subtle on the curry, but oh well. (We have guests who may not know where Thailand is on the map anyway. Salmon mousse boats with caviar; goat cheese-stuffed artichoke hearts; and watercress sandwiches. Mini roast beef and mini Virginia ham and biscuit sandwiches. We'll nix the ham and the watercress sandwiches--to afternoon tea-like.


First course: I wanted to include a subtle nod to the heritage! I wasn't sure if he'd go for it, but I SENT A RECIPE TO THE CHEF to prepare a crab and asparagus soup to replace the consomme that was on our menu option. He was gracious and really tried hard...and hit a home run with it!

The second course on the menu: Basil seared sea scallops, wasabi and roasted red pepper sauce Jasmine rice in seaweed.

Palette cleanser: Champagne sorbet.

Fourth (Main) Course:

The herb and mustard crusted rack of lamb needed no tweaking. Whatever seasonal accompaniment Chef comes up with in May will be just fine (lamb will overshadow any side, anyway). For our alternative choice, we chose fresh Allegheny mountain rainbow trout. We tried two preparations: herb grilled (yawn) or pan seared with grapes, almonds and brown butter vinaigrette. We chose the latter.

But we liked the accompaniments of the former (grilled artichoke hearts)--but I also requested replacements of Jasmine rice (instead of the fingerlings) and fiddleheads (instead of the greens). He said he'd try his best--as he loves them, too. I'm thinking he either loves or hates me at this point (probably hates).

A dessert (see below) of strawberries Romanov usually follows the main course. But we like salad or cheese after dinner (I know, we're weird). Mr. R and I tussled over which to have, but ultimately chose this wonderful watercress and beet (w/ goat cheese, candied walnuts, and sweet basil dressing).
So we're nixing the dessert on the menu and will only have the
cake. But since we don't looove cake, I'm seriously considering a little something like profiteroles for just the two of us. Is that terrible?

Dessert: Strawberries Romanov in chocolate shell with lady fingers (nixed). Three cakes baked for our tasting (lemon, dark chocolate-raspberry, vanilla-raspberry). We chose the first two flavors.

After all the WONDERFUL food that day, we didn't eat dinner. In fact I had to wear stretch pants for the drive home the next day. Terrible, indeed!

*G and I don't eat chicken (I know. Once again: weird.)

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Venison Stew Dinner Party

Ah, we finished and mailed off our wedding invitations yesterday. So after we got back from the post office, we started the venison stew that would simmer for the eight hours until our dinner party last night.

On the menu were Pate with a Schramsberg blanc de blanc vintage sparkling; venison stew over polenta (that one of our guests made); arugula and apple salad; cheese with a Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc; poached pears in pomegranite and syrah served with a late harvest Vidal from Linden vineyards in Virginia; and a Pierre Ferrand Cognac.

Bacon to flavor the aromatics:

Kitchen shears make cutting the venison (which a friend of ours hunted in Montana) easy:

The aromatics are typically onions, carrots, and celery, to which I added garlic, cilantro (not very traditional, but it worked and it was what we had on hand). I sauteed them together until soft.

Added the meat and flour to thicken (but also continued to add flour throughout the day as needed to thicken):

Added cubed turnips:

Added beef stock; brought to a boil; added Shiraz and soy (or Worcesteshire) and herbs de provence; and again brought to boil:

Simmered for about 7 hours in crock pot.Our friends brought over a velvety polenta (an oven recipe that I need to get!):

We started with the pate and crackers with Sparkling wine:With dinner we served a 1996 Chateau Cantemerle Bordeaux and 2005 Molly Dooker ShirazThe lamb over the polenta:Next up, the salad course (aruguala, blue cheese, apples, and cranberries with a honey dressing):Next course of cheeses that our guest brought was served with a 2008 Cloudy Bay Sauv Blanc:Dessert of poached pears in a Syrah reduction was served with salted butter cookies from Brittany (that another of our guests brought) and this late harvest vidal from Linden Vineyards (a Virginia wine!):

The evening was capped off with the Pierre Ferrand Cognac:

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