Tuesday, November 29, 2011

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 what they described as a mushroom tart. Seemed more like a mushroom egg custard to me, but what the hell, it was tasty.
For my main, I opted for a rye pasta ravioli stuffed with mountain cheese, baby leaf spinach, and topped with  chives and Grana Padano shavings.
 The rye pasta added an interesting texture (slightly more firm than regular) and taste (earthier) to the dish. The sauce was a very light butter/olive oil combo.

Those of you that know me, know I don't eat dessert very often. However, when the waiter mentioned they had a house made apple strudel, I couldn't resist. The pastry was flaky and light, the apples were firm and crispy and the vanilla ice cream was perfect.

All in all a very pleasurable meal. If you are in the Fairfax, VA area, this place is worth a try.

Oh, I forgot to mention, it didn't hurt that the wine we drank was Lodali Rocche Costamagna Rocche Dell’Annunziata Barolo DOCG ’05.

Villa Mozart on Urbanspoon

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Could be interesting....


Tomorrow is Monday. Of course I will go meatless, but it will be the first time since I started this that I will be eating dinner out. I have a work related dinner tomorrow evening at Cafe Mozart. Fortunately it is an Italian restaurant and there should be lots of meatless choices.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

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 brighten them up a bit. I'm pretty amazed to admit that I'm starting to like brussel sprouts. Go figure. The green beans were lightly steamed and then finished in a fry pan with brown butter, winter savory and green (immature) garlic pulled up from our garden this morning.

The carrots and parsnip were both oven roasted in EVOO and sea salt. The carrots were topped with bronze fennel tops and the parsnips with purple top turnip micro greens straight from our cold frame.
What's Thanksgiving without stuffing you say? Well we had stuffing made from red pepper, mushrooms, butternut squash, onion, parsley, sage, rosemary, carrots, celery, turkey stock, spicy sausage, bread and chestnuts. The stuffing was oven baked to get all those little crisy edges that make it so good.

That's ten, right? Number eleven was one of my favorites. It was a scalloped leek, shallot and onion casserole topped with bread crumbs and extra sharp aged chedder. It's up there a few pictures back next to the mashed potatoes.

Tried a couple of new beers to top everything off. The Chatoe Rouge is an Oregon beer in the style of a black lager. Interesting. Somewhere between a typical lager and a stout. Good- not great. The other was from one of my favorite brewers, Dogfish Head in Delaware. This particular style was made in a small batch and was purported to be a continuously hopped imperial pilsner. Wow, never expected to hear that string of words together. My Antonia was actually very nice and worked well with all the rich foods. Hoppy, not like an ale, but still good.

Aren't you glad I didn't bore you with another perfectly roasted turkey picture?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Cranberries, Apples, Polenta and Pizza

Sunday night I was thinking about what my third Meatless Monday would bring. I imagined starting the day with one of the Odwalla protein drinks I wrote about a few posts back. However, Cynthia had other plans. Before I knew what was happening she was off to the kitchen and was busy putting together an "Easy Cranberry and Apple Cake" so that I would have something for breakfast. Yes, I know how lucky I am.

The recipe can be found here Epicurious. She wanted me to make sure to note that she made one small change to the recipe - the addition of 1 tablespoon of Boyajian Orange Oil in addition to the orange juice called for.
Lunch was leftovers, really good leftovers from a dish she had made for a pot luck she had attended a few days before. From another Epicurious recipe, this was "Polenta and Black Bean Casserole". This time, there were two fairly significant changes. The recipe calls for store bought polenta (you know, that tube o'polenta you see in the supermarket). Cyn made hers from scratch, and she also slow cooked the black beans from dried, in place of the canned beans in the recipe.

Sorry, I was so excited to eat it, I forgot to take a picture.

Finally dinner. Sometimes salad and pizza are just the ticket. On this dreary, foggy evening in Northern Virginia, they seemed just right. The arugula greens were enhanced with pear, pomegranate seeds, toasted walnuts, dried cherries and marinated garbanzo beans which had been marinated in olive oil, white balsamic, salt and a little of the pomegranate juice. We dressed it with our homemade balsamic dressing.
The pizza dough was made from a high protein flour for extra crispiness and simply topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce. We finished it with hot pepper flakes, pecorino romano cheese and fresh basil.

Never thought I'd say this, but Monday is starting to be my favorite day of the week.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An unexpected breakfast treat in Dallas

I love it when I find an unexpected gem. That's exactly what happened when a local guy told me not to miss the breakfast tacos at Rusty Taco near the SMU campus in Dallas. Looking a lot like a converted gas station, this is the kind of place you might ride by all your life and never stop.

There are about seven styles of breakfast taco offered, all served on made in the store and freshly grilled soft tortillas. I had one each of the jalapeno sausage and the chorizo.

Also available are vegetarian versions, a brisket taco and several others. All are served with egg and cheese. Three house made hot sauces and several bottled sauces are available to add a heat level of your choice. Everything was fresh, served piping hot and the ingredients were full of savory goodness. If you're in Dallas and can get to one of their three locations, do. I'm going back for the lunch versions next time I'm in town.

Did I mention that all the breakfast tacos were only $2.00 each?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The five best restaurant meals I've ever had.....

This is hard, I've been fortunate to have had the opportunity to eat at a lot of great places over the years. Sometimes, a great meal is all about the food, sometimes it is enhanced by the atmosphere, the service, the company or the occasion. These choices have probably been influenced by some combination of all of them. In no particular order....

The Water Lot Inn at the Fairmont Southhampton Hotel in Nassau Bermuda

Il Mulino in New York City (interestingly enough the second time was just OK) 

Felidia in New York City

Topolobampo in Chicago (happily, the second time was equally as good)

Le Florimond in Paris

I've had lots of other really amazing meals at places like The Inn at Little Washington (Little Washington, VA) , Le Bec Fin (Philadelphia), Po (NYC), Boulevard (San Francisco), Nola (New Orleans), Le Coq au Vin (Orlando) and many more. Somehow the  particular meals I had at the five I listed rise to the top. How about you?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Week two is in the books....

Last week I wrote about trying to keep the breakfast carbs to a minimum. Well, for this weeks version of Meatless Monday that didn't work out so well. My wife is from from a part of central Connecticut that is stocked with a broad variety of ethnic cultures and their respective foods. There are a lot of eastern Europeans and one of the things they do very well is bake. Breads, pastries, you name it, they do it well. The other day, Cynthia comes home from Wegmans with this.

Who can turn down a good Russian rye bread? Two slices toasted and buttered later, I've had a not so low carb but very tasty breakfast. Not as good as back in the Northeast, but pretty darn good.

I had decided to go to an Indian restaurant near my office for lunch that several of my coworkers had spoken highly of. I figured their buffet would offer a pretty broad variety of vegetarian dishes. Turns out they are closed as the sign on the door said "every Mondays". Back in the car I drove where else, but to Wegmans. For those of you that don't have this supermarket chain where you live, my condolences. Those of you that do, know that they offer a huge variety of choices for lunch. Everything from pizza, sandwiches, hot buffet cold buffet, salad bar, dim sum, a noodle soup bar and sushi. They have two huge banquettes with hot and cold vegetarian foods on the buffet! Here's what I ended up with. Broccoli, cauliflower (two ways), carrots, scalloped potatoes, a cream cheese filled jalapeno popper (OK, I had to have one fried thing) and a piece of grilled naan.

Dinner was a real treat. Cyn managed to whip up something really special. Two courses, a simple blanched Peruvian asparagus

and a beautiful mushroom ravioli

The ravioli were stuffed with portabello mushrooms but, as usual, it's the sauce that makes the dish. Cyn started by browning shitake and crimini mushrooms in extra virgin olive oil and butter on high heat. Once they were brown and had released their moisture, she added two french shallots and fresh thyme from our garden. Once the shallots were translucent, she de-glazed the pan with Madeira and added some cream. Once the cream had reduced by a third, the ravioli were added to the sauce to finish their cooking. A sprinkling of chives finished the dish.

Sounds complicated, right? Well, this was made in just about 30 minutes. Eat your heart out Rachel Ray.

When is honey, not?

Ran across this article and was honestly shocked. I've always understood that honey is one of the best things we can eat. If you are a honey lover like I am, read this article. I'm just happy that we buy our honey at farmer's markets.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

With apologies to all my wine enthusiast friends....

...we are in the Golden Age for beer.

Anyone who knows me, knows I really enjoy beer. I don't mean that mass produced, tasteless, watery stuff that America in particular seemed to fall in love with through much of the 80s and 90s. I mean the wide variety of craft beers that are now widely available.The proliferation of craft and micro breweries during the past ten years has been amazing. You can now find really good stouts, porters, ales, special bitters and many other styles available at many grocery stores.

Then there are the specialty stores like Cork and Fork and Total Wine here in Northern Virginia that not only stock great beers but have staff that understand them and can offer first hand advice to buyers in a way that wine enthusiasts have expected for a very long time. Most of these specialty stores and even some of the better grocery chains, like Wegmans, allow you to purchase single bottles and mix and match six packs.

You thought this was a food blog didn't you? Well, it is my contention that food can, and should at times, be paired with food in the very same way that wine is. In fact, there is a very good restaurant in Leesburg, VA that does that 5-6 times a year. Tuscarora Mill holds beer dinners where the chef works with an invited brewery to pair select beers with various courses. Cynthia and I have attended several of these and they are wonderful.

Look for more on this favorite topic of mine in future posts. Quoting my favorite tv commercial - "stay thirsty my friends".

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

This doesn't seem so hard.....yet

I've never been a big breakfast guy. Sure, sometimes on a weekend morning I'll do it up right with waffles, potatoes and sausage, but I don't eat eggs. Haven't since a childhood allergy. For me, breakfast often meant toast, an English muffin or a bagel. See a trend here? Right - carbs.

Back in the spring, my annual physical yielded some numbers I wasn't particularly happy with. I weighed the most I ever had, and although by societal standards today, I wasn't overweight, I just didn't feel right. My doctor told me I needed to cut back the carbs. Not so easy for someone who thinks bread, potatoes, pasta and beer are the four food groups.

I went looking for something I could have for breakfast that would replace the bread and bagels. After a little trial and error, Cynthia finally turned me onto Odwalla protein shakes. These little beauties fill me up, are modest in the calorie count and, although not carb free, have way less than a bagel and cream cheese. Oh, by the way, the chocolate one actually tastes good. Strawberry is tolerable and really reminds me of Nesquik that I drank as a kid. The vanilla version tasted chalky to me.

Since the spring, I've shed about 8 pounds and am back in a range I feel good about. Was it by eliminating the carb heavy breakfast foods? Don't know for sure, but it didn't hurt. I still treat myself to a bagel once a week

So on day one, here is what I had for breakfast.

Now, onto lunch. Since it's just week one I didn't want to try to get too fancy. I put together this salad

last night. Mixed salad greens, carrot, celery, cucumber, left over haricot vert,  a little soft blue cheese and my homemade vinaigrette dressing. Added an apple and I'm actually quite satisfied without feeling stuffed. We'll see what 3:30 PM brings.

 That salad actually held me quite nicely until dinner time. At home, I was treated to another beautifully crafted meal. Simple yet flavorful. It started with a simple appetizer featuring carrots, red peppers, cucumbers and a spicy red pepper hummus.
The main course was Cynthia's attempt to replicate one of our favorites from Chipotle, the Mexican chain restaurant. They serve a vegetable burrito bowl that we both really like. So here is how she put it together at home....

Cooked dried black beans with water, fresh jalapeno, white onion, garlic, dried epazote (yeah, I had to look it up too) and  a can of fire roasted tomatoes for 4 hours in a slow cooker (crock pot). After that, added smoked seasoned salt, Mexican oregano and removed the epazote. Cooked for another hour.

Prepared short grain brown rice with sweet yellow corn and green onion added.

Sauteed onions and cubanelle peppers.

Rice into the bowl first, followed by the beans, the sauteed veggies then queso fresca, chopped red pepper, avocado slices, lime juice and a liberal shot of Cholula Chipolte hot sauce.

Yum. Way better than Chipotle and I didn't have to leave the house!

Oh, let's not forget the beverage.
Pretty sure I can't wait until next Monday.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cyn is onboard!

This was key. After taking some good natured (I think) ribbing about the whole idea of me blogging, my wife Cynthia agreed that Meatless Mondays were a good idea. Not sure what each week will bring, but these are just a sample of her skill level.

Tomorrow is Monday already.....

Thursday, November 3, 2011

So It Begins...

No, I'm not a vegetarian. I firmly believe a life devoid of (good) bacon isn't worth living. That having been said, I am embarking on what I hope will be a year long journey of Meatless Mondays.

Why? Well, because I want to is the most honest answer I have to offer. At age 58, and in reasonably good health, I already eat way less meat than at any other point in my life. Now I want to see if I can institutionalize that, at least one day a week.

Can I do it? I think so. After all this confirmed lover of craft beer gave up alcohol for 30 day periods each of the last two years just to prove that I could. The end game is nothing more than being able to say that I set a goal and accomplished it.

Will it be easy? I doubt it - but not for the obvious reasons. I certainly won't miss meat one day a week. However, I'll need help. First, my beautiful and talented wife is a very accomplished cook. You'll notice I didn't call her a chef because, being self taught, she feels unqualified to claim that title. Please know that there are a lot of working chefs that would like to have her knowledge and skills in their kitchen. Obviously I'll need Cynthia to be in on this.

Secondly, I travel in my work. Eating three healthy meals a day on the road is enough of a challenge. Now I will need to eliminate meat when I'm away on a Monday.

Lastly will be the three meals a day thing itself. Breakfast, pretty easy unless there is the aforementioned good bacon available. Lunch, harder. No quick turkey sandwiches. No leftover chili from last night's dinner at home. No Healthy Choice Entrees that have meat. Dinner? Actually the easiest, I think. Salads, veggies, pasta, potatoes are all both literally and figuratively on the table.

I hope making the commitment to write this down and file a report at least weekly will keep me honest. I also hope that anyone reading it will find some humor, some interest and may even be willing to offer me their thoughts and comments on occasion.

Since it's Thursday as I write this, I have four days to prepare for day one of fifty two.

Pea on this, Pea on that

Peas have a reputation.  And it ain't good - starchy and a weird color, very often the color of something a babe has recycled. But in fa...