Food

New Beginnings: broken heart, better food

2 months ago, my girlfriend and I made the [hard and tearful] decision to end our 4 1/2 year relationship.

Besides sorting through my emotions (journal writing, carb eating, red wine drinking), I’ve also searched high and low for a new place to live (since we lived together in a house she bought for us … sigh). After touring my 10th place, I’ve decided on a swanky and modern apartment in Shockoe Bottom. It might sound fun and sexy but dismantling the stable life my girlfriend and I built together has been anything but easy or exciting.  However, there is a bit of eagerness towards moving downtown. There will be more energy and I’ll be within walking distance to coffee shops, restaurants, and the 17th Street Market.

During part of this time, my friends were kind enough to welcome me as a house guest in their sweet place on Strawberry and Park for a few weeks.  In the Fan, I’ve experienced a world I couldn’t experience in the West End-ies.  I’ve walked to the market to grab a bottle of wine, discovered and fallen in love with 8 1/2, and played cornhole on the sidewalk.  Very Fan, isn’t it?

While forcing myself to get out (ditching a ice-cream-eating-cry-fest) and explore, I’ve discovered amazing places and foods worth a mention …

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Proper Pie. I know, I’m late on this one. However, my first trip with my fellow RVAFC (Richmond Food Coalition) group made me an instant fan.  Their tangy and sweet strawberry rhubarb pie was out of this world. My fellow food-loving friend, Marcella (at Broad Appetite) is a huge fan and praises their Banofee pie (Banana and toffee).

Edo’s Squid’s braised fennel. This standard menu items is one I would normally passed up but my friends urged me to give this a try.  After one bite, I instantly claimed this one of the best dishes in Richmond.  It’s creamy, buttery, and something you’d never expect.

Viceroy's home made mozzarella

Viceroy’s home made mozzarella

The Viceroy. This swanky Museum District restaurant has no hint of Cafe Diem and has quickly become my happy hour hot spot (from 4 -7).  The bartender, Justin is fantastic and friendly. My favorite thing here?  Their homemade mozzarella wrapped in prosciutto with a balsamic reduction drizzle.  Get three for $11. 

8 1/2.  This quaint pizza joint on Strawberry Street has been on my food “want” list for quite some time. Since my friends place where I was staying was only a stones throw away, I quickly made the 15 step walk to pick up a mushroom and broccoletti. It was amazing.  

I’m not sure what’s in store for my personal journey and navigating a new life. However, I do know it will be filled with good food, new experiences, and a handful of friends.

Discovering: Polenta

polenta, sauteed kale, and pan seared chicken.

polenta, sauteed kale, and pan seared chicken.

I don’t know why I thought polenta was complicated.

Maybe because it’s so incredibly satisfying that I deemed it “impossible” to make on my own.

When I spot polenta on the menu at restaurants, I instantly gravitate to whatever main course it’s paired with.  I adore its warm and creamy flavor and complicated-to-explain texture. Bacchus’ polenta has the thick consistency like cornbread, topping it with melted mozzarella or Gorgonzola, Toast serves nestled around a beef link in true corn dog style, while The Roosevelt’s soft Mascarpone polenta makes a perfect pair with braised short rib.

It wasn’t until my friend (and fellow blogger) posted her take on a classic with her polenta grilled cheese.  It seemed incredibly simple and just what I needed for dinner last night but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the precooked polenta she uses at my grocery store.  Instead of ignoring my craving, I grabbed cornmeal, gouda, and butter and headed home to make my own homemade creamed polenta.

After boiling 3 cups of water and 1 cup of milk, I added 1 cup of stone ground cornmeal, and stirred … like it was nobody’s business.  While trying to ignore hypochondriac-like thoughts of getting tendonitis, the cornmeal started to resemble … polenta.

After stirring off and on for 30 minutes, my polenta was ready.  It was softer than I had anticipated so I stored half in the fridge – later to solidify and slice to replicate the grilled cheese recipe. The creamier half remained in the saucepan where I added sharp cheddar, gouda, and butter.

This cheesey and comforting polenta was a perfect match to my cup of hot tomato soup and 3 episodes of HBO’s Girls (best show ever).

I now have a nice-sized bag of cornmeal that has endless potential.

Funny isn’t it how sometimes we discover simplicity in the most complicated expectations.

P.S. – If you didn’t click on the recipe, don’t miss my friend’s blog, Picture Lane. It’s quite lovely.

HOVA1

Wine Time

Mulled Wine at Grayhaven

Mulled Wine at Grayhaven

There’s nothing like braving a rainy (and cold) Saturday to voyage on a wine tour, specifically the Heart of Virginia Wine Trail.

I’m no wine snob but, I enjoy learning more about the art and the interesting (and hard) work that goes in to creating one of my favorite beverages. So, when my friends mentioned a possible wine tour last weekend, I jumped on the opportunity.

snow + wine + friends

snow + wine + friends

Our journey started at 11 am at the James River Cellars in Glen Allen. This blew my mind … a winery in Glen Allen.  There, we purchased our $20 “passports” to the HOVA (Heart of Virginia Wine Trail) which would cover our tastings at 6 wineries.

James River Cellar had a impressive selection of whites and reds – with every flavor in between.  Leslie, who guided us through each tasting was kind and enthusiastic and had the patience as we tried to pronounce Gewurztraminer (a light, melon-y white) for the 5th time. My favorite was the Colonial Red, a newer non-vintage with a light flavor of cinnamon and a cooling finish of spearmint. This one would be perfect for those hearty holiday meals but also smooth enough for a summer barbeque.

Lunch.

Lunch.

Besides being a local winery, James River Cellar has Fridays on the Patio with live music, food vendors, and lots of vino. If that is not enough they have a BYOP (bring your own picnic) and acoustic music on every other Sunday (starting in May) called Sundays in the Shade.

Greyhaven's sommelier

Greyhaven’s sommelier

Only having a banana and cappuccino for breakfast, my stomach wasn’t ready to handle a day of drinking so we decided to eat lunch on the road.  The next winery was down 64 West so we wanted to skip the Short Pump chains and find a local country-fied eatery.  After pounding on our iPhones, we discovered Hickory Notch Grill and happily downed some barbeque, corn fritters, and fries.

Grayhaven Winery was the next stop and we made perfect timing because we witnessed a proposal in the hour and a half we were there.  Cheers!  Grayhaven had a warm-ski-lodge feeling on this particular cold day so I instantly fell in love with their warmed mulled wine (made with their Cab Franc).  Another plus? This place is dog friendly and we had a cute pup sit next to our table the majority of our visit. Mark your calendars for September 2014 because Grayhaven holds their Annual South African Food & Wine Festival.

My favorite lineup.

My favorite lineup.

We piled back in the car and started driving towards Louisa.  After getting lost and grabbing drinks from a questionable drive-thru convenience store, we arrived at our next destination, Weston Farm Vineyards.  This one had the most spectacular views by far. I also found my favorite wine here, the Petite Manseng. This white blend is smooth and uniquely nutty.  I grabbed a bottle ($14) for myself which I plan to break it out for a well-deserved pasta night.

Perfection.

Perfection.

We arrived at our next stop, Cooper Vineyards five minutes after they closed (at 5 pm).

Lucky for us, our HOVA passport lets you pick up where you last left off so now we have 3 more wineries in store for another weekend.

Virgina is for all lovers (food, wine, hipsters, and North Face apparel) so exploring more of this diverse and beautiful state is always a pleasure.

Fancy schmancy

Dinner With Friends

The fancy name is commonly called Dinner Party while others would call it “hanging out and food”. For me, I call it Dinner With Friends.

A dinner at my house is a special occasion in my book.

The days leading up, I scour my worn Bon Appétit magazines for the perfect (and easy) meal to make for my friends. I pick the wine, prep the playlist (more on this below), purposefully mismatch the table settings, and manage to vacuum all the dog hair off of the floor.

Two dinners ago, I made bone-in baked chicken, roasted butternut squash, asparagus, and a pie – simple and easily liked.  Last weekend, it was bread pudding made with fluffy Italian bread, fresh parmesan, and broccoli rabe. It ended with a warm apple pie and vanilla ice cream.

Throughout the night, bottles of wine accumulate on the kitchen island, conversations span from the latest Vine to profound and deep issues. At times, things get whimsical (or tipsy) where I’ve broken out my tarot cards and even unearthed my hookah. You never know what can happen when good food, good wine, and good vibes are going.

My latest dinner with friends obsession? The music. Besides the food, this is the one thing that can make a dining experience epic or hum-drum.  I’m a big fan of expanding my mind so any (and all) genre so it should be no surprise my last playlist included The Rolling Stones, The Shins, Pixies, Tegan & Sara, Madeleine Peyroux, and of course, Van Morrison.  Find my playlist here or below.

However you do it, whether it’s a pizza delivery, a themed dinner, or bring your own dish-syle, there’s something fuzzy and warm about friends gathering in your home to enjoy … everything.

 

 

Valentines1

Love Eats

Valentines Day is near.  While it remains at the bottom of my favorite holiday list, there’s still plenty of love birds who bask in the 14th.

For those who think ahead (and those who wait till the last minute), here’s a hearty list of RVA restaurants serving up a whole lotta love on that special day.

Texas De Brazil will be pairing wine, cocktail and dessert with the restaurant’s signature gourmet salad area and meat (duh) selection.

Regular dinner:  $44.99

Light dinner: $24.99

Brazilian cocktails: $7 – $9

Brazilian Rose: Guava juice, Grand Marnier and a choice of cachaca, the national spirit of Brazil made from sugar cane juice.

Brazilian Kiss: Ciroc vodka, Cointreau, Chambord and fresh squeezed lime.

Terra Andina Sparkling Moscato:  $10/glass, $40 per bottle

Desserts:  $5 – $7.50

Up-and-coming Kitchen on Cary is making sure you get your V Day on with a glass of pink champagne (included with dessert).

SOUPS

Caramelized Cipollino onion soup, Focaccia Crostini, Virginia McLure Gratinee $6

Roasted Local Wild Mushroom Bisque, Organic Thyme, Sherry Essence and Shaved Parmesan $6

SALADS

Roasted Heirloom Beets, “Spikey” Arugula, Crispy Peppered Goat Cheese, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Truffle Sea Salt $9

Hearts of Romaine, Parmesan Cracker, Alici White Anchovies, House Made Caesar Dressing $8

ENTREES

Pan Seared Jumbo Scallops, Lemon – Garlic Cauliflower and Fennel Risotto, Gremolata $21

House Cured Smoked Bacon Wrapped Beef Tenderloin, Garlic Smashed potatoes, Tarragon Lobster Butter $29

DESSERTS (Served with a glass of Pink Champagne )

Chocolate Pot De Crème, Peppermint Bark $7

Fresh Berry Parfait, Chambord Sabayon, Caramel Gallette $8

West End Patina is serving up a delicious 4-course menu for $60/ per person

FIRST COURSE

Ham hock & white bean bisque, duck confit, crispy kale $6

Sweet potato & caraway, duck confit, crispy kale $8

Manakintowne greens with roasted shallot, goat cheese, citrus, cranberry vinaigrette $10

Manakintowne arugula, Kite’s Country Ham, Virginia peanuts, aged cheddar, local honey vinaigrette $9

SECOND COURSE

Wild scallops with polenta, root vegetable ratatouille $9

Braised oysters stone ground grits, bell pepper, roasted shallot, veal-demi $13

Duck confit risotto, cloth bound cheddar, house smoked sausage, local mushrooms $11

Foie Gras, cranberry & white chocolate bread pudding, tangerine sorbet $13

THIRD COURSE

Wild scallops, local mushroom risotto, tarragon foam, lobster broth $MP

Loch Duart Salmon, butter & thyme basted, maple polenta, brussels, house-made bacon, hollandaise $26

Pan roasted Ashley Farm’s chicken breast potato gnocchi, local greens & mushrooms, chicken jus $24

Pan seared duck breast, black rice, duck confit, orange variation, grape veal-demi  $28

Marinated New York Strip lobster and potato hash, braised winter greens, sauce bordelaise $32

DESSERT $8

Tonka bean crème brulee, vanilla gelato

Chocolate cake salted caramel, vanilla gelato

Local maple pana cotta, coffee bean brittle, hazelnut gelato

 

In addition to these sexy menus above, there’s more to check out here …

Short Pump’s Kona Grill is serving a steak and lobster duo for $39.95 from the 14th – 16th

Bistro Bobette’s Valentines menu will run weekend long 2/13 – 2/15

Mosaic’s 3-course Prix Fixe menu will run $89 per couple plus for $30 you can add a beer or wine with every course

The way chocolate should be. Love Gearhart's.

The way chocolate should be. Love Gearhart’s.

Amici Restorante will offer V-Day specials in addition to their regular menu

Hanover Tavern will offer a 3 course dinner that includes Reisling-braised chicken and raspberry creme brulee. How sweet it is.

The Boathouse will boast a glamorous menu from 2/13 – 2/15 which ends in chocolate covered strawberries.  Live jazz on Valentines night.

And … if you’re not the dining-out-with-everyone-else type, you can’t go wrong grabbing a bottle of vino and box of Gearhart’s Chocolate.

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Estilo South American Restaurant

Cultural cuisine is making a notable round in our growing food scene. From Curry Craft and Carena’s Jamaican Grille to Comida Casera (Brazilian and Salvadorian cuisine), we’re becoming a city happy to introduce ethnic flavors to a mostly southern fare-fixated population.

When Toast owners, Jessica and Josh Bufford discovered another space would be available in the same Village shopping center, they jumped on the opportunity to open another restaurant which would gravitate toward Latin-inspired fare. Estilo South American Restaurant opened in August with a menu inspired by the Bufford’s recent trip to South America and Puerto Rico. Authentic offerings include Ceviche, Peruvian Chicken, Duck Confit Pozole, and Sopes (corn cakes topped with your choice of meat and sauce).

Since “estilo” translates to “style” in Spanish, the sexy and dim dining room reflects its name to perfection. Light woods, cozy booths, and an elongated concrete bar combine to create a neutral and alluring ambience. It’s only when you look out the front door and peer into the parking lot do you realize you’re in a West End shopping center, between a CVS and Starbucks.

Being a newer restaurant, I often acknowledge and expect some experiences to be a bit rocky (staff and food can have adjustment periods, too) but I was disappointed with our server’s lack of urgency and enthusiasm. I usually order a drink with dinner but our server never offered or even mentioned a cocktail. She quickly took the cocktail menu away, so I passed on a boozy beverage. Speaking of drinks, Estilo is the type of place to replace soda glasses with a fresh one (instead of refilling the same glass). No complaints there except when my girlfriend’s 3 empty glasses noticeably accumulated on our tiny high-top … slightly annoying and a miss on our server’s end.

The Papa Rellena ($7), described as “potato fritters stuffed with cheese and Peruvian roasted chicken” sounded like a good way to start. The perfectly round spheres of fried goodness in front of me looked promising but the inner 15 year old inside couldn’t help exclaiming “balls!”. Breaking away from my immaturity, the Papa Rellena was satisfactory but missed prominent flavors of roasted chicken and cheese (the main ingredients).

After digging into the menu online a few hours before dinner (of course), I was set on ordering the Mofungo ($19) – grilled shrimp, crab, mashed plantains and tomato-lime sauce. This whimsical-named dish hails from Puerto Rico and is traditionally rich in garlicky flavors. The mound of starchy mashed green plantain was not smooth as I had hoped and the scoops of bland crab meat intensified the plantain’s dry texture. On the other hand, the large shrimp were good but lacking in flavor even though they were deep in a sweet and undefined sauce. Never having mofungo before, I still knew it lacked something intense and distinct.

Unfortunately, my girlfriend’s carnitas ($14) reflected the same tame flavor and her side of plantains sadly sat cold in a bowl of brown sugar.

If I go back, it’d probably be for drinks. Here, you’ll want to order carefully. According to other folks, there are a few bright spots: Sopes, ceviche, and tortilla soup were all praised.

Foodie News

backgroundDouble D’s, anyone? Carytown sweet tooth joint, Dixie Donuts merges with West End’s Daylight Donuts (at 10260 Broad St).  Maple bacon donuts for all.

February is for wine lovers with the Annual Virginia Wine Expo.  This vino-enthusiast event runs from 2/18 – 2/23 at the Greater Richmond Convention Center. Get your tickets here

The Village Shopping Center (home to Toast and Estilo’s) will soon welcome Charlottesville-based Christian’s Pizza. Previously home to Cheeburger Cheeburger, Christian’s will offer reasonably priced pizza pie – carry out or dine-in.  Their most buzzworthy pizza? Avocado & Feta.

Check out their menu here

EAT Restaurant Partners (think Blue Goat, Wild Ginger, and Fat Dragon) newest Fan project, Foo Dog will open in the spring.  The menu is geared towards Asian street food – casual and hip, of course.

Sub Rosa Bakery finally opened their doors again last weekend after months of post-fire repair and renovations.  Show this Church Hill bakery some reclaimed love with a poppy seed croissant or Heirloom wheat bread loaf.

Yes, it is.

Mekong

Living in Richmond and haven’t heard of Mekong? You haven’t lived in Richmond long enough.

I’ve kept passing over Mekong on my list of “I’d really like to eat there” so a recent farewell dinner for a friend (heading to Washington state) finally helped knock this place off my list.

Besides being a haven for beers and beer lovers, Mekong serves warm, authentic Vietnamese food, perfect for this frigid-ass weekend.

Mekong3There’s nothing fancy about the décor or space – tiled ceilings, recessed lighting, and banners promoting craft beer span the walls. Large round tables spread across several conjoined dining rooms, each buzzing with all types of diners – all consuming cold glasses of beer. Mekong’s space is huge – and very well should be since it’s “The Place for Beer Lovers”.

Mekong is one of many gems nestled in a 2-story shopping center. Above Mekong, there’s a dance studio – we didn’t notice until towards the end of our dinner when the sound of pounding feet and a solid beat boomed from up above. I look at this not as an annoyance but pure character.

I chose a local cider first. Ironically, I had tuned in to my favorite NPR Food podcast days before which discussed what real cider should be – tart, slightly bitter, crisp, and only a little sweet. This is exactly how this Potter’s Craft cider ($7) tasted and was completely different from those super-sweet commercial cider options (think Angry Orchard and Woodchuck).

Glancing over the large menu, I chose the fried pork dumplings to start (4 for $4.95). My grandparents, father, and his siblings spent years living in Taiwan in the 60’s so [real] Asian cooking has been penchant to my palate. My grandmother’s homemade dumplings (called jiaozi in Chinese) are out of this world so of course, I had to compare Mekong’s. The verdict? Pretty spot on, slightly oily but the savory pork and chewy wrapper was amazing and tasted pretty familiar.

Switching to a beer, I selected Bruery’s Autumn Maple Ale brewed with spices and molasses … kind of like a boozy Thanksgiving in a bottle. I made a good decision, its perfectly mellow sweet potato-like aftertaste perfectly complemented my Ga Kho Gung, ($10.95) chicken caramelized with ginger, garlic, and pepper sauce served in a clay pot. The chicken was juicy and plump with no overcooked chewy texture. I wasn’t impressed but I also wasn’t let down. Ginger chicken is a standard dish to order. Next time, I think I’ll go out of the box.

Mekong 1

Egg noodle goodness.

My friend ordered the best meal of the night (l conveniently sat next to her) with her Mi Xao Don Bo ($11.95), beef egg noodles sautéed with mushrooms, broccoli, snow peas, carrots, onions, baby corn, and water chestnuts. Not only did this taste amazing, but it also looked fantastic. It’s one of those plates that draw reactions like “ooooh” or “damn, I should have gotten THAT”.

Although my experience with the service at Mekong was a little cold and emotionless, the warm energy of the restaurant is one of a kind. Diners appear giddy while enjoying good food and beer at one of Richmond’s famous restaurants.

This won’t be my last visit here. This is comfort food in a different flavorful realm. Mekong’s obsession with serving their patrons with honorable craft beers doesn’t hurt either.

Mekong on Urbanspoon

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An Inconvenient Booth

We’ve all been there. You’re enjoying dinner or out grabbing drinks and it happens.  You suddenly find yourself surrounded by bothersome tablemates. By this, I mean rude, noisy, drunk, and distracting.

I’m not sure if I’m becoming old and sensitive, or honestly attempting to relish in a good dining experience but I feel it’s happening more frequently.  From the sniffling sick folks who sit arm-lengths away (who should be at home in bed) to fighting couples (half their meal is a fight and the next half is silence), loud eaters, complainers, and over share-ers. I understand different types of people [and their personalities] need to dine outside of their homes but in the middle of Heritage is not the time or place to unleash your loud gossip, inappropriate sex jokes, or lash out at your server.

Last week while having dinner at a newly opened restaurant it happened … all around me. Maybe it was because I was dining in the heart of Short Pump or the diverse mix of cuckoos that flock to a new restaurant.

My girlfriend and I were seated next to a husband, wife, toddler, and their friend.  To keep it brief and accurate, there was a lot of vocal fry, “and I was like’s”, and Richmond socialite name-dropping.  These were the type of folks who proudly spoke above normal volume levels, wanting nearby diners to listen to their oh-so-fascinating lives.

While the wife was in the ladies room, the husband complained to the wife’s friend about the bar scene in Short Pump, loudly confiding, “There were no hot women” (referring to a lame straight hangout in “Downtown Short Pump”).

Awkward. I’ve got no problem with what you’ve got going on but please don’t make me hear it while at dinner … especially when I’m nearly elbow-to-elbow with you.  During the same dinner, the other folks sitting on the other side treated their server like poo and deconstructed their beautiful burgers by removing the bun to make them low carb.  Is Atkins still a thing you do in public?

Ever find yourself in this tablemate predicament?  Trying these few approaches and maneuvers might help …

1: As soon as you notice your “surroundings” are going to be unpleasant, suddenly act cold and ask your server if you can move to another table with a more comfortable temperature.

2: Engage yourself in a fascinating conversation with your own dining companion(s). Mentally blocking your attention is an instant relief.

3: Get a drink or three. Alcohol soothes even the noisiest table of “ladies who lunch”.

4: Deal with it. Turn lemons into lemonade and embrace the backwoods manners, obnoxious conversation, and hot mess sitting next to you.

Here’s a prime example – while having dinner with my dad in a low-key Church Hill eatery, we sat close to a semi-intoxicated redhead perched at the bar. Her conversation with her friend was loud and intense. Her life story and relationship woes were pouring out of her mouth as she shoveled warm mac-n-cheese in.

Being the slightly annoyed Virgo I am, it was easy for me to become instantly irritated but after some time, we became captivated by her poignant words, phrases, and life philosophies.  So much so that we started keeping a log of the real serious stuff that was practically Pinterest worthy. My favorite quote from her?

 ”It’s impossible to know who you are, unless you know who you were.”

Damn right.

As a child, my hero, Mr. Rodgers softly sang “won’t you be my neighbor?” This was the approach we were all supposed to take, right? Sorry to say, ol’ Rodg…Dinner is a different story for me.

Yep, that time of year is here.

A Very Foodie Holiday

The weather is cold, the lights are up, my waistline is expanding, and the shopping madness has begun.

It must be the holidays.

I warned my girlfriend a day before Thanksgiving that I was giving us a week deadline for any mall or shopping center purchases.  I don’t have agoraphobia or a grinch-syndrome, just holidaycrazypeopleshoppingphobia.

Tolerating the crowds and parking it doable but it’s the savage-like behaviors which emerge from seemingly normal citizens when this season comes around.

Over the past few years, I’ve approached the gift giving season with more opportunities, thought, and strategy.  Online shopping, DIY gifts, and shopping (early) at local stores are my go-to’s.

Here’s a few foodie (and non foodie) gift ideas I’m using with my friends and family that are worth sharing.

Buerre and Sel Jammer Time

Buerre and Sel Jammer Time

1. Home made cookies are a key to the heart, specifically Buerre and Sel Jammers they’re dense, salty, and sweet.  Place these in a wide mouth Mason Jar, add some twine, name tag and you’ve got yourself a perfect co-worker gift.

2. Making a purchase from ScoutMob’s food and drink sections. Everything is handmade by different folks across the globe.  When you’re eying that engraved leather beer growler, chai masala popcorn, or pickle making kit know your money is supporting awesome small businesses and artists.

3. Get crafty and make your own scrub. This year, I’m using this simple recipe I got from Jillee over at her blog, One Good Thing.  This concoction is made of coconut oil, Epsom salt, and essential oil (I’ll be using lavender, cedarwood, and grapefruit). I splurged and bought an 8 pound tub of Virgin Coconut Oil I’ll use to make around 10 scrubs.  The leftover oil will be put to good use with cooking and baking.

4. Be kind and shop local. Richmond’s got tons of shops catering to foodies, amateur chefs and everyone in between.  Row House Soaps, Penzy’s Spices, and WPA bakery are all fine choices, especially when giving gifts to folks that don’t live here. Everyone can use a little RVA love.

Crack Pie Goodness

Holiday Sweets: Crack Pie

This Thanksgiving, I’ve skipped tradition by toting pumpkin or pecan pie to dinner.  As I do with most planned things, I took quality time to research which sweet treat I’d be bringing to this Turkey Day.

My mom and I ...

Texting with my mom.

What did I choose? Crack Pie.

I’m in love with it.  Apparently, everyone else is, too.

Bon Appetite never steers me wrong so when I read up on the pie’s back story and recipe, I was sold.

This dessert is the in-house favorite with a heavy fan base created and sold at New York’s Milk Bar. At $44 bucks a pop, you have to wonder why the buzz, right?

Have one bite of this and you’ll know why.  The brown sugar, cream, and mild custard base is heavenly.  One person at my Thanksgiving table proclaimed, “It’s like the good part of pecan pie without the pecans”.

Some dessert recipes are challenging to make but, this one is incredibly easy. So easy, I’ve made it twice in the past 3 days.

Find it at http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/crack-pie or follow the directions below …

Ingredients:

Crust:

Nonstick oil spray (I used a flour-based one)

9 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature

5 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons sugar

1 large egg

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats

1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

Filling:

3/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled

6 1/2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream

4 large egg yolks

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Directions for the crust:

- Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 13x9x2-inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tablespoons butter, 4 tablespoons brown sugar, and 2 tablespoons sugar in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat mixture until fluffy, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, about 2 minutes. Add egg; beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Spread this mixture onto prepared baking pan. Bake until light golden on top, 17 to 18 minutes. Transfer baking pan to rack and cool cookie.

- Using hands, crumble oat cookie into large bowl; add 3 tablespoons butter and 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly onto bottom and up sides of pie dish. Place pie dish with crust on rimmed baking sheet.

Directions for the filling:

- Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl. Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, then egg yolks and vanilla until well blended. Pour filling into crust. Bake pie 30 minutes (filling may begin to bubble) on center rack. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F. Continue to bake pie until filling is brown in spots and set around edges but center still moves slightly when pie dish is gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight.

- Sift powdered sugar lightly over top of pie. Cut pie into wedges and serve cold.

Pretty much says it all.

Pretty much says it all.

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Turkey Day Traditions

There’s an easy way to get a room riled up around this time of year. Opinions clash when folks hash out the “right” way to do Thanksgiving. These conversations guarantee a friendly argument stemming from deep-rooted heritage that just cannot be broken.

I’m guilty of this.

Thanksgiving for my family always started early – my grandmother rose at dawn to prep a fresh pot of Folgers and make sure there was enough V8 juice for her family that still lay sound asleep. By 11, women would buzz around the kitchen taking quality time to craft every dish with love. The grandchildren would run about and the men would shuffle in and out of the house to putz around in my grandfather’s sawdust-drenched workshop.

Very Norman Rockwell. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

After laboring in the warm kitchen for hours, our large oak table was filled with a colorful spread of Butterball turkey, candied yams, soft white rolls, French’s green bean casserole, canned cranberry sauce, and the most savory dressing (we call it dressing, not stuffing) ever. Pumpkin and pecan pie waited in the wings along with fresh whip cream, hot coffee, and homemade pralines.

When comparing my own turkey day meal, people are shocked (sometimes confused) to find mashed potatoes, homemade citrus cranberry sauce, and mac-n-cheese missing from the menu.

In a world of embracing new experiences, food, and trends, we are insanely devoted to our Holiday rituals. In the spirit of branching out (and the fact that I’ll be on my own this Thanksgiving), I’ve come across several recipes and tips on how to put a fabulous spin on all the classics.

Click here to read the rest … I write more than just here!

tulum picframe

Vacation Eats: Tulum, Mexico

Hello, Tulum.

Hello, Tulum.

When a close friend of mine discussed the idea of getting our “group” together to escape to Tulum for a well-deserved vacation, I hesitated. I’d done the Cancun thing in my late teens and early 20′s, which was everything you’d expect – a touristy, beachy, party down time.  Trying to pull myself away from my past shot-slinging recollection of Mexico, I did some quick research on Tulum.  Within 5 minutes and a brief conversation with my friend, I was tracking flights, booking our room, and planning an escape for the end of September.

After flying into the Cancun airport, I was relived to part ways with the typical Cancun crowd and hop on a shuttle to a place that many call magical.  Being the first to arrive (the rest were flying in from Nebraska and Oklahoma) at our resort (Papaya Playa) I was greeted and shown to our cabana with a spectacular ocean view.  Most lodging in Tulum is “eco-friendly” for our resort, this meant no AC, no outlets, and reasonably priced.  I unpacked the small amount of belongings I had and moseyed along the jungle lined pathway to check out the bar and restaurant.

Papaya spread and bread at Papaya Playa

Papaya spread and bread at Papaya Playa

One by one, my friends arrived and we all gathered for our first dinner and drinks.  Papaya Playa’s menu was ample with an expansive range of farm-to-table dishes from ceviche to salads and of course mexican classics like tacos and fajitas.  My white mole chicken was decent but didn’t hit the spot. I wasn’t troubled, I would have all week to graze. For breakfast they served freshly squeezed orange juice, which makes Florida’s Own taste like garbage.  As simple as it sounds, their morning bread (free if you’re staying there) with papaya spread was marvelous -I’ve never really had Papaya anything, I was quite happy.

Taqueria Honorio

Taqueria Honorio

The next day, following paddleboarding and snorkeling at Casa Cenote, our friendly/awesome/helpful guide, Mauricio (his site here) took us to a local joint, Taqueria Honorio, with the promise that we’d be having the best tacos in Tulum.  Mauricio suggested we get one of everything … I like the way he was thinking.  In no time, three colorful tacos were waiting in front of me for just enough time to snap a photo. The seasoning of the savory chicken, the spice of the beef, and the pork (tacos de lelchón - baby pig to be exact) was amazing and the crispy strip of pork skin added a perfect crunch. Unlike the other tacos we had in Tulum, these were served on flour tortillas.

Besides the authentic flavor and spice, I quickly appreciated the smaller size of the tacos in Mexico.  It’s smart really, because you’re able to load up on different ones (for really cheap) to experience all the flavors.  Toppings are not overwhelming, everything is balance between the protein, carb, veggie, and of course, spice.  There’s an art to Mexico’s taco’s that I wish would translate here.

Chips and Salsa at Papaya Playa

Chips and Salsa at Papaya Playa

Tulum restaurants are generous with sauces and dips, so naturally (as the condiment-loving gal I am), I was overjoyed when my first order of tortilla chips came with 3 different dips.  Later during the week,  I’d become accustomed to the plethora of condiments which accompanied our breakfast bread, tacos, and chips.  Puro Corozan served an amazing black bean dip, El Camello Jr. had a spicy fish salsa, and Antojitos Mexicanos came with 4 sauces that ranged from sweet to hot as hell.

Flor de Michoacan

Flor de Michoacan

Doing some food research before the trip, Flor de Michoacan topped almost every list.  This place serves popsicles, fresh juice, and ice cream all worth multiple trips during your vacation. I recommend finding this place on your first day, you’ll go again. My coconut popsicle was light and fluffy packed with dense sweet flakes of coconut and a hard shell of chocolate covered the outside with toasted coconut flakes. I don’t know what gets more perfect than this besides the chocolate dipped banana I had moments later.  I don’t resist indulgence if I find something really good.

Another noteworthy restaurant was discovered after our original restaurant destination closed during off season.  Our cab driver took us on a detour to the heart of downtown Tulum to Antojitos Mexicanos. If you’re not sure about anything, always ask the locals – they’ll always steer you to a good meal.  This warm night, I underestimated just how good this was going to be.  Each of us loaded up on chips, cervezas, tacos, and passed around a traditional dish – mole enchiladas. Having a meal this authentic is spoiling – the dread of getting back to the states only to have mediocre “Mexican” was in the back of my mind but tried to let it go.  This was one of the most memorable meals for me.  Good conversation, ambience, and beers – I don’t know what more you could ask for. Oh yeah, maybe a total bill of under $30. Yes, this happened, for our 5 beers, 11 tacos, and mole enchiladas, our bill was $24.

Antojitos Mexicanos

Antojitos Mexicanos

A few other quick mentions …

Puro Corozan - their 2 for 1 happy hour drink special was a pleasant discovery. Their speciality, lime soup was wonderful and a nice change from heavier meals.  This place is real sexy so if you’re with your special someone, I’d suggest canoodling here.

El Tabano - Another sexy eatery nestled in the jungle that dishes up fresh farm-to-table items listed on a blackboard menu.  The collaboration of flavors here are not to be missed – from pumpkin seed fish, ginger and coconut shrimp, to cold avocado and cucumber cream soup.

El Camello Jr. - Local seafood hotspot with tons of fresh seafood options including octopus, seafood soup, and shrimp. Like spice? Try the Camarones la Diablo = spicy shrimp, my friend declared this as her best meal in Tulum.

Outdoor dining. Muy sexy.

Outdoor dining. Muy sexy.

Beside the food, Tulum is a place that can fulfill almost anyones vacation needs.  The jungle paradise offers snorkeling, spa treatments, yoga, and beach lounging.  Although this might sound like typical beach destination, Tulum is different.  I’m still trying to pinpoint exactly why but I think I’m coming to the conclusion it’s so sexy. Not sure if it’s the dim lighting, intelligent conversation with other holiday-ers, open kitchens, jungle ambience, or the treehouse-like architecture – I don’t think it’s explainable unless you go.  Maybe people coin Tulum as magical.

Yes, it’s magical indeed.

My girls. The beach. Can't get any better than this.

My girls (me, the only brunette). The beach. Can’t get any better than this.

Tanglewood today

Tanglewood Ordinary

I’m a city gal.  Give me the hum of busy roads and a diverse neighborhood and I’m good to go. But sometimes, a change of scenery is needed.  This is why my short trek to Tanglewood Ordinary in Goochland county for dinner inspired me to cherish the slower things in life – country livin’ and good food.

Tanglewood Ordinary came on my radar after reading a couple of reviews online, claiming this was one of the “best kept secrets in the Richmond area” so naturally, my girlfriend and I hopped in the Jeep and off we went to discover if this place lived up to it’s reputation.

Living in Richmond only a couple of years, I’d never been out thatta way so I was surprised by the beautiful countryside and rolling hills that exist along the Highway-6 route.  I think my girlfriend might have even blasted country tunes during the winding ride there. (When in Rome …)

Tanglewood sits right off Highway 6/River Road and is hard to miss – the large black house with white trim and red sign that boasts “Family Style Dining” indicates you’re ready to get into something pretty good.

Built in the late 1920’s, Tanglewood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and its no surprise with the log cabin architecture that gives a little bit of Little-House-on-the-Prairie-meets-Grandma’s-kitchen nostalgia. The space has operated as a gas station, sandwich shop, dance hall, inn, and now a restaurant.

There’s even a little gay history to the place, in the 1950’s during its dance hall days, it became a common place for lesbians to retreat and let loose after sporting events.  Over time, the space has undergone several updates and additions but you’d never really notice – it looks perfectly quaint and cozy.

While walking to our corner booth, I passed a server asking her table “Do you want ice cream or whip cream with your dessert?”  With a standard question like that, I knew I was in the right place.

As soon as we sat down, an older woman greeted us and asked if it was our first time here. Her kind demeanor and soft voice was a nice change from demanding servers I’d recently experienced while dining in the city.  She gave us a rundown of how food was served there and reminded us sharing was encouraged and seconds are on the house since everything here’s served family style.

Family style means there’s no set menu and food comes out when it’s ready- for those of you who are control freaks like myself, this can be tough but sit back and try to relax. It’s worth it, I promise.

I eyed the beer list which had a surprisingly substantial number of craft beers but settled on a water instead. Crazy, I know, but I needed all the room in my stomach to battle out this meal. In case you need further indication of what brews they have, they’ve mounted each beer’s box on the wall … over communication never hurts, right?

The first thing that was brought out was a parade of carbs – cornbread, biscuits, and rolls accompanied with 2 kinds of butter, jelly, and apple butter.  With so many options, I liked where this was going.

Tanglewood-foodNext thing I knew, a large tray was towering over us and our server was gracefully presenting each food item verbally and then setting it on the table.  All together, we had 11 bowls and plates in front of us, including our empty ones that were quickly about to fill.

That nights Tanglewood served barbecue pork, fried chicken, mashed potatoes with brown gravy, collards, carrots, cole slaw, and green beans.  The menu is in constant rotation but fried chicken is served at all times.  Other entrees and sides like meatloaf, pot roast, stewed tomatoes, and mac & cheese can be found on your table on other nights.

Tanglewood-saucesFor not labeling Tanglewood as a barbecue joint, I was pretty impressed with the bbq pork and line of homemade sauces. Our server explained each sauce in detail – including one that was almost white.  She told us it was “allegedly” one of the first barbecue sauces created in Alabama, which consisted of mayonnaise (being the base ingredient), vinegar, lemon, salt, and pepper.  This tangy watery sauce was wonderful and the perfect balance to the sweet pork.

The collards were great and spruced up a bit by a bottle of vinegar and hot sauce found on the table (along with the butters, jellies, spreads, and sauces).  My girlfriend loved the carrots – simple and not too soft.  The coleslaw was thickly cut – this is something I don’t see often so it was a nice change to get a full cabbage-crunch and also made a valuable addition topping my barbecue pork. The mashed potatoes were everything I’d hoped – softly whipped and served with brown gravy.  I probably didn’t have mashed potatoes for at least a year before this night so I was in heaven.

One thing our meal lacked was a cheese-related side.  Halfway during our gorge-fest, I found myself looking around the table, hoping a side of mac & cheese or pimento would arrive.

Tanglewood-dessertThrough the post dinner food coma, we mustered what room we had left in our stomach and ordered dessert.  Our server listed items like apple cobbler, buttermilk pecan pie, and chocolate chip pecan pie but keeping it old school, we settled on the homemade brownie sundae.  It arrived just as a brownie sundae should, and even included rainbow sprinkles.  Although it wasn’t out of this world, I still liked it and it’s child-like nostalgia.

The only family style place I’d been to before Tanglewood Ordinary, was a renovated Victorian House turned restaurant in Georgia called the Beaver House… yes, I am serious.

While there, I enjoyed the whole slow, simple philosophy of a true family style meal.  After discovering Tanglewood, I’m thrilled a similar establishment is so close to home and involves a scenic trip out of the normal hustle and bustle.

Besides good homemade southern fare and rustic experience, Tanglewood is also a place you’d definitely want to share with out-of-towners for a memorable meal served with love.
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