Fall is upon us at last! This is my favorite time of the year - cool, crisp winds on cloudless days; scarves and boots; and let's not forget the food! Fall is the time of warm-you-up stews, pumpkins and squash, tarts and pies.
I was browsing through blogs and found a series of recipes on Alexandra's Kitchen involving homemade ricotta cheese that looked perfect for the end of summer. The recipes all looked really great but I questioned whether or not making ricotta versus buying it would make that much of a difference. I decided to go ahead and try it since it didn't look all that difficult.
I just created a Tumblr page for the blog - http://welldined.tumblr.com/ I'm not quite sure what it's purpose will serve yet, but I will figure something out.
Fall for us means lots of hearty meat dishes and stews, especially after a summer bursting with vegetables and salads. Pulled pork is one of Jasper's most requested dishes and I was more than happy to make it for him. It's actually a pretty versatile dish - we prefer to eat it in sandwiches, but it's also great in tacos, over rice or mashed potatoes, and as the base for a stew when you are getting bored towards the end of the leftovers.
When I don't plan ahead for a week of meals, it can get a bit random and haphazard in the kitchen. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. Here is a sampling of what I threw together recently during a hectic week.
Sandwiches don't have to be boring, I threw together a gourmet panini with ingredients that I happened to have hanging around already: turkey, arugula, fig jam, and taleggio cheese. The pungent cheese, rich and sweet jam, and spicy arugula are perfect for turning turkey into something special.
I revisited a recipe that I demoed in a technique class at Williams Sonoma back in February. This Peruvian dish, called Aji de Gallina, uses aji pepper paste for flavor (but not necessarily for spice) and evaporated milk and ground walnuts for creaminess and texture. The original recipe (which you can find here) called for poaching a whole chicken. Instead, I used rotisserie chicken from the store to save me time and effort and it worked just as well. I actually had leftover steamed rice from PF Changs on hand, so I re-steamed it in the microwave (sprinkle water over the rice and cover with a damp paper towel) and served it with the chicken. Using those shortcuts made it easy to put this hearty dish together on a weeknight. I also added a soft-boiled egg (a traditional addition to the dish), but decided I would have liked it closer to a medium boil - the flavor of the raw yolk got lost and overpowered by the flavor of the aji paste.
Ramen noodles may not seem like anything special, but you can definitely add ingredients to make them more exciting. I love to poach an egg in the soup (you can see one peeking out in the left side of the bowl in the photo) and top it off with scallions. Using less water and topping the noodles with breaded chicken or pork is another great option.
Lastly, I made some brisket. Smoking a brisket can be quite a process, but there is definitely an easier way to cook it. I just throw it in my slow cooker with some starter sauce and onions and leave it alone all day! The brisket comes out tender and the braised onions are ridiculously good. I served it up with some mashed potatoes and steamed green beans topped with butter and lemon juice. Let me tell you, after all those vegetable heavy meals over the summer, Jasper was so happy to get some meat and potatoes!
I recently went on a trip for a little over a week and needed to make something would last Jasper for about as long. I knew that left to his own devices it would be mac-n-cheese or Chipotle for every meal, and I just couldn't have that. So I decided to make him a big ol' pot of chili. Funnily enough, even though it is one of Jasper's favorite foods, I had never made chili before. I literally googled "best chili recipe" and came up with this one, which turned out great!
adapted from Moms Who Think
2 1/2 lbs lean chuck, ground
1 lb lean pork, ground
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped bell pepper
8 oz tomato sauce
2 bottles beer (recc. Sam Adams)
3 tbsp chili powder
2 tbsp instant beef bouillon (or 6 cubes)
2 tbsp cumin, ground
2 tsp paprika
2 tsp oregano leaves
2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp coriander, ground
1 tsp unsweetened cocoa
1 tsp cornmeal
1 tsp flour
1 tsp warm water
2 cans red or white beans, rinsed and drained
In a large dutch oven, brown the ground meat. Add the garlic, onion, and bell pepper, cook and stir until tender. Add the tomato sauce, beer, chili powder, bouillon, cumin, paprika, oregano, sugar, coriander, and cocoa. Mix well. Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer, covered , for 2 hours
In a small bowl, stir together the cornmeal and flour, then add the warm water and mix well. Stir into chili. Add the beans and cook, covered, for an additional 20 minutes.
I had a massive craving for Nostos last week, and I ended up going two days in a row for lunch.
On the first day, I got the cold appetizer platter with skordalia, Greek beans, tzatziki, taramosalata, imam baildi, and pita. This was definitely enough food for an entire meal! The skordalia (potato and garlic puree) was so garlicky it was difficult to eat, and the beans were undercooked (read crunchy), but everything else was fantastic! The tzatziki was cool and creamy and perfect, the taramosalata (whipped fish roe and lemon) was briny and creamy and fresh, and the imam baildi (eggplant with tomatoes, raisins, and pinenuts) was sweet and delicious with some salty feta cheese.
The next day, I started with the avgolemono soup - chicken soup with egg and lemon. Oh my goodness, this was so soothing and wonderful. I like my chicken soup creamy with a lot of acid (I add lime juice and coconut milk at home) and the creaminess of the egg plus the kick of lemon was just perfect.
To go with the soup, I got the dolmades avgolemono - grapeleaves stuffed with rice and ground beef and topped with an egg lemon sauce. I normally don't like dolmades, as they can be bitter and tough, but here they are tender and lovely and the avgolemono sauce is just heavenly.
To finish off, I tried the saganaki - pan fried kefalograviera cheese (a hard, salty, sheep's milk cheese) that is then flamed table side and doused with fresh lemon juice. It forms a crust on the outside that reveals melty cheesy goodness on the inside. Fried mozzarella has nothing on this! I spread it on some bread, but I think you could just eat it as is.
The Inn is one of the most highly praised restaurants in the country, and certainly one of the best in the area. A one hour drive west from the beltway into rural Virgina finds this gem nestled amongst quaint B&B's and wineries. Reservations are highly sought and can be hard to get on the weekends, especially holiday weekends, so we were ridiculously lucky to be able to get a table on short notice during labor day weekend.
The room rates at The Inn are quite steep though, starting at $425 a night and increasing rapidly by room category. That is not even including the additional $245 for Saturdays, $145 for Fridays, and $75 for Sundays plus seasonal increases. In short - yikes!
We decided to save our money for what really counted (dinner and wine) and stay next door at the Middleton Inn.
For the price of a basic room at The Inn at Little Washington, we got a whole two-story cottage complete with jacuzzi tub and fireplace. It was just gorgeous! And the owners offered wine and cheese in the afternoon and port after dinner. While we were enjoying our wine and cheese, we met a couple who were celebrating their 50th anniversary. They had come down all the way from Michigan just to eat at The Inn, and had made their reservations a year in advance. They had eaten there the night before and tried to prepare us for what we were about to experience.
What we were about to experience was dining perfection, from the food to the quirky humor of the menu to the service The Inn knows exactly what it is doing. We only experienced one minor hiccup that night - we had asked in advance if we could bring in our own Champagne and they had said - of course! We had a bottle of Dom Perignon that was given to Jasper by his superiors as a gift for a job well done and brought that in. The sommelier chilled and opened it for us, but he also chastised us for bringing in something that they had on the menu. The policy makes sense, of course, but it should have been mentioned when we first asked if we could bring a bottle in. We were a little embarrassed but moved on quickly from that and ordered a bottle of wine by way of an apology, and the rest of the evening was flawless.
We were greeted by a menu that has a personalized greeting printed at the top, a list of local vendors, and a list of produce grown in The Inn's own garden. We were tempted by the ten course "Gastronaut's Menu", but found that the most exciting dishes were only on the three course menu so we opted for that.
I began with a carpaccio of lamb with Caesar salad ice cream that was just fantastic and incredibly innovative. Jasper had the "tin of sin" - a tin of crab salad topped with caviar - which was absolutely divine!
For my second course, I had the macaroni and cheese with Virginia country ham and black truffle. Absolutely decadent and rich - we both agreed that it was better than Jasper's dish, which is saying something. Because Jasper's dish was seared foie gras with frisee, house made bacon, lamb confit, poached egg, and truffle.
For my main, I had the veal sweetbreads and Virginia country ham on pappardelle with a grilled local plum sauce - perfection. Jasper had the pepper crusted tuna "pretending to be filet mignon" with foie gras and burgundy butter sauce, and you can probably guess how amazing that was.
Dessert was such a hard decision! Eventually I settled on a triple cream cheesecake with roasted local figs and champagne-berry sorbet. I was sad that it was so little because it was so divine. Jasper ordered the chocolate menage a trois - black forest mousse bombe, chocolate creme brulee, and bittersweet chocolate souffle.
This was one of the best dining experiences we have ever had and we are dying to go back. Especially because there are so many more dishes that we want to try: a "marriage" of hot and cold foie gras with sauternes jelly; roasted beets from the garden with beet mousse; day boat scallops with gnocchi, tomato, lemon, capers, and brown butter; duck breast with sweet corn pudding and peaches; veal loin with bone marrow custard and fennel; a "painter's palette" of sorbets for dessert; and the "seven deadly sins" dessert sampler.
This is a trip we will definitely be repeating!
I recently visited Jaleo (Crystal City), which is a short and beautiful walk from the metro, for restaurant week.
Bread was served with high quality olive oil with rosemary and garlic - very good. I ordered spinach with pinenuts, raisins, and apples and pan con tomate (rustic bread topped with crushed fresh tomatoes and manchego cheese) - both were very good. The fried, bacon wrapped dates are my favorite thing ever (though they are better at the downtown location). On the menu it says "como hace todo el mundo" (that you will want to eat every day) and they are not lying! They are the perfect combo of salty and sweet. The calamari was decent but not outstanding.