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Showing posts from 2011

So many beers, so little time...

In a previous post I wrote that I feel we are living in the golden age of beer. Although I realize there has been a lot of good beer being brewed in the world for a very long time, not much of it was available to me when I first discovered my love for beer.

I grew up in a time when regional brands like Schmidt, Schaefer, Schlitz, Pabst, Piels, Rheingold and others of their kind dominated local markets. In my early adult years the mega national brands and their bottomless marketing budgets took over. Budweiser, Miller, and Coors seemed to own the market. Sure, you could still find a few imports here and there. I kind of remember Heineken always being around. Same for Bass Ale, Guinness Stout and Lowenbrau (before Miller bought the rights to brew it in the US).

There were probably a lot of good small brewers in local markets, like Anchor Steam in the San Francisco area, but since they didn't distribute nationally, I didn't know about them. I eventually started traveling in my w…

'Twas the day after Christmas....

.....and we spent most of this Meatless Monday in the car. Like many of you, we traveled to visit family this Christmas. In our case, it was Cynthia's family in central Connecticut -  a mere seven hour, 400 mile ride from our home in northern Virginia. I'm not complaining mind you, it's just that when I realized we would be on the road most of the day, I knew eating meatless would be a little more challenging (and probably less interesting). Turns out I was right.

Skipping to the bottom line, I managed to eat meatless. We diverted off the interstate long enough to stop at Marty's bagels in Orangeburg, NY, my go to place when I used to work in that area. A buttered everything bagel hit the spot, but I'll admit the egg and cheese on a bagel that Cynthia had sure smelled good.

 Further down the road we stopped at a diner in Pennsylvania. I love diners. Growing up in the New Jersey, diners were a routine part of my childhood. Our experience with diners in Virginia so …

Mac and Cheese - for Grownups

Who doesn't like mac and cheese? The ubiquitous dish borders on having the same level of appeal as hot dogs, hamburgers and apple pie. Kraft, for one, has made a fortune on it. There are plenty of other "prepared" versions out these these days, like Amy's organic, which actually isn't bad. But nothing beats a homemade, from scratch version. Yup, that's what we had for Meatless Monday last night. It wasn't, as the saying goes, your grandfather's mac and cheese.

First course, was a simple salad using romaine, radicchio and from our cold frame a mixture of the baby Red Cardinal spinach, Bright Lights swish chard and a mesclun mix. Red and yellow peppers, cucumber, a couple of green olives and dried cherries finished it off.


If you've been following along, you know I haven't given away many recipes. I'm going to try to do a better job of that going forward, so here goes.

Let me start out by saying we like spicy. Not spicy in the sense of so hot…

Well, that was better, way better....

The other day I wrote about a meal I had out that was disappointing. Last night I had a business dinner that more than made up for it. The restaurant is called Brabo and is located in Old Town Alexandria in Virginia. There were 24 in our party, so they prepared a limited menu offering especially for us. I understand why restaurants do this for large parties but it seems there is always something on the full menu that I want that isn't on the limited menu.

The executive chef/owner of Brabo is chef Robert Weidmaier who is originally from Belgium but has been in the Washington, DC food scene for quite some time. More about him here. Since I hadn't been there before, I of course checked out the menu online in advance. My first impression was that is was pretty basic, but that there was a broad enough selection to suit most tastes. Turns out, I grossly underestimated what I was looking at online.

The first hint that I got that I was in for a good night was the beer selections. Not …

Penne alla Vodka - with a couple of twists...

Since I started Meatless Mondays back in early November, I've tried to not take the easier routes (salad, pasta, etc), particularly for dinner. If you been reading along, you've seen that my wonderfully supportive wife has gone out of her way to create some spectacular vegetable dishes over the past six weeks. This week I wanted pasta, one of my favorites to be specific, penne alla vodka. So, there I was at work all day, dreaming about the creamy and satisfying vodka sauce I was going to have for dinner. Well, I got something different and I think it may have been even better!

Before I tell you about the pasta, I should mention that we started out with a traditional insalata tricolore, consisting of arugula, radicchio, endive and a ice size piece of gorganzola in our homemade balsamic vinegar dressing and Mexican squash (also known as pipians) that had been sauteed in olive oil and shallots then browned lightly with butter, bread crumbs and pecorino romano cheese.


Here is wha…

Life is full of disappointments....

Ever go to a restaurant for the very first time, have a really good meal, and then go back and be utterly disappointed? Yeah, I hate that - and it happened last night. I'll admit that the time between the first visit and the second was more than a year, so there could have been major changes in anything from the suppliers to the kitchen staff, but the differences were significant.

The restaurant in question is Ciro Ristorante in Aldie, Virginia, about 30 minutes from our home. We met our dear friends, David and Suzanne there expecting a repeat of the very nice experience we had more than a year ago.

Things started out well enough when we were greeted by the owner who personally seated us and spent time talking with us. The restaurant is clearly family owned and run.

My first course was the Juliano Salad, described on the menu as mixed greens with walnuts, goat cheese, crispy pancetta and black berries in a house balsamic. Well, all the ingredients were there, but the blackberries…

Best Homemade Bread, Ever

We love good bread, and why not, it's really just solid beer, right? OK, maybe the alcohol content isn't there in bread, but I digress.

We don't bake a lot of bread at home. When we do though, we have a favorite recipe. It makes a loaf that is super crunchy on the outside and almost creamy in the middle. We first stumbled upon the recipe  in Mark Bittman's Dining and Wine column  in the New York Times. He attributes it to Jim Lahey of the Sullivan Street Bakery in NYC. Here is the best part - there is no kneading required!

Nothing better on a Sunday morning than warm bread right out of the oven. The biggest challenge is usually giving it enough time to adequately cool before attacking it. Here is what you can expect

Seriously, it will look exactly like the picture. One note: after two or three tries we changed one thing in the recipe - we tripled the salt. The flavor of the bread improved dramatically and the texture, both in and out, remained the same. You can find the…

I ate what and liked it? Tofu? Really?

You can probably tell from the title of this post that I haven't been the biggest fan of tofu. I've tried it many times, in many forms and just can't get past the texture. Yes, I know there are various grades of firmness available, but none of them have worked for me. OK, maybe a few pieces in a good hot and sour soup, like at P.F. Chang's, but that's where I've typically drawn the line. Well, last night, at least for one meal, that might have changed.

Cynthia tells me that I need to give her some latitude for supplying an appropriate amount of protein in our diet on Meatless Mondays and that one of the better options is tofu. Lovers of this coagulated soybean curd will tell you it has a "subtle flavor" that works well with many spices and flavors. I'm pretty sure that dried Elmer's glue would fit that description also but the nutritional value just wouldn't be there. Cyn informed me we were out of Elmer's anyway, so, tofu it was. She …

A $48.00 Roast Chicken? Yes, and it's worth it.

Just about a year ago, I traveled to San Francisco on business. I was only going to be in town for one night, so I wanted to take my business colleagues out for a really good meal. I consulted with my personal restaurant concierge (Cynthia will just love me referring to her that way) and, after some research, she suggested Zuni Cafe. Oh, she also told me what I had to order. It seems that the restaurant is famous in certain circles for its brick oven whole roast chicken for two.

There were three of us at dinner that evening, so my job was to convince one of the other two that we had traveled all the way across the country to eat chicken. It wasn't easy. As you probably know, San Francisco has a great food culture and Zuni is no different. There are a lot of more interesting things on the menu than chicken, but I twisted Patrick's arm a little and told him to trust me. It also didn't hurt that the two ladies at the table right next to us were being served their chicken just…

Monday night out and about

So, it turns out the restaurant is called Villa Mozart, not Cafe Mozart as I wrote yesterday. It also turns out that it's a great little restaurant. Good food, very reasonable prices and an atmosphere that said "we know what we're doing and don't need to be pretentious about it".

Since it was Monday, my selections were limited to meatless selections - and my dinner companions didn't let me forget it as they ordered the likes of a beautifully prepared carpaccio and a calamari appetizer that everyone raved about. Another appetizer that we shared was simply called Fungi, but to say it was "just mushrooms" wouldn't be fair. Here is how if is described on the menu -  Soft yellow polenta soufflĂ©, Oregon wild mushrooms, truffled fontina cheese fagottino. This I tried - this I would go back for.

I stuck with an arugula salad which had generous shavings of Grana Padano cheese and dressed simply with EVOO and balsamic. Interestingly, it was served with w…

Thanksgiving Dinner: It's all about the sides....

I actually love turkey. I particularly enjoy a fresh turkey sandwich on a crunchy ciabatta roll in the evening following Thanksgiving dinner. I do however, realize that turkey is basically a blank canvas that needs a strong supporting cast. That's why at our house on Thanksgiving, it's all about the sides. This year, there were eleven.


Some were pretty traditional like mashed potatoes, corn and my own guilty pleasure, Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce. You know, that sweet jellied can shaped slab that your grandmother served. Cynthia won't go near it - I think it's the greatest stuff since sliced bread. Oh, those other things are pickled beets - not my favorite.

Then there were the vegetables, lots of them.
The oven baked sweet potatoes had just a hint of cayenne, dried chipotle, maple sugar and Vietnamese cinnamon (who knew?) to kick them up a notch. Wait, no one says that, right? The brussel sprouts were cooked with a little crispy bacon and some apple cider vinegar to bright…