Corn Chowder and Old Bay Potato Chips

It’s fall! My favorite season of the year means it’s time for hearty soups and big flavors.

Chowders are the type of thick, rich stews that have long been important in American cooking. Most settlers, whether they were in the northern Massachusetts or southern Virginia colony, had easy access to the main ingredients for a good chowder:  potatoes, milk, vegetables (like corn), chicken or clams. While the north is known more for seafood chowders, owing to its abundance of clams and fish, the south had plenty of corn, shared with the English by the native Americans, and peppers, brought from Africa by enslaved Africans. Colonial Williamsburg even has a corn chowder recipe in their cookbook.

I sauteed onions and bacon in a little bit of canola oil, then added the diced peppers (You can add red peppers too, if you like. I stuck with green) and corn. Chicken stock, heavy cream and some cheddar cheese rounded out this delicious and hearty chowder. I ate some for dinner on Sunday, then packed the rest for lunches for the work week.

I didn’t use potatoes in my chowder because I knew I wanted to try chef and Vice contributor Matty Matheson‘s Old Bay potato chips.  They’re super easy to make. Peel some potatoes (or don’t, if you don’t want to), slice them very thin (I used a mandolin slicer), fry them in vegetable oil until they just start to brown, drain them on some paper towels and toss them in Old Bay seasoning. They were easily the most delicious potato chips I’ve ever eaten.

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Mid-Atlantic Fall Foodie Events

Fall is prime time for foodie events, and there are plenty to choose from in the mid-Atlantic region. These are some of the best:

Fire, Flour and Fork (Richmond, VA) – Nov. 17-20.  Since its inaugural year in 2014, this Richmond food extravaganza has evolved into a premier food showcase. This unique event offers an insider view of the food scene in the Capital City, from themed brunches, lunches and dinners to a full slate of classes, tours of regional food areas like the Rappahannock River with Merroir and culinary history events, like an Edna Lewis Sunday Supper.

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Heritage Harvest Festival (Charlottesville, VA) – Sept. 9-11. Set at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, Heritage Harvest encompasses the world of gardening, farming, homesteading and food history. Beginning with an old-fashioned seed swap, this event offers a tomato, pepper and melon tasting, classes and tours based around Thomas Jefferson’s garden, talks by culinary historians and gardeners and much more. With luminary talent like Michael Twitty, Peter J. Hatch, Libby H. O’Connell and Joel Salatin on tap, this event promises to provide a wide range of voices on our founding father and his food.

Smithsonian Food History Weekend (Washington, DC) – Oct. 27-29. Each year, the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History presents a weekend of culinary history events. This year’s plans include an opening gala, “Dine Out for Smithsonian Food History” featuring Julia Child inspired dishes at local restaurants, a day of roundtable discussions, a food history festival and an evening devoted to the history of brewing in America.

Beast Feast (Beaverdam, VA) – Sept. 25. Put on at Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown by Richmond area butchers and food producers, this year’s Beast Feast celebrates Belmont Butchery’s 10th anniversary. This event features various meats cooked over an open fire, as well as local chef-made dishes, beers, wines and cocktails, all from local producers and bars.

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Cocktail Classes at Barmini (Washington, DC) – Bites, drinks and education on how to make some of the creative cocktails at the renowned Minibar by Jose Andres. Wednesdays at 5:30 pm on Sept. 28, Oct. 26, Nov. 23 and Dec. 21.

Uncorked Wine Festival (Washington, DC) – Sept. 24, 5-9 pm. Featuring over 50 regional wineries, local food trucks, live music and more, this new wine festival promises a good time. Held at the DC Armory in partnership with several local wine stores, Uncorked will also have a fun photo booth and wines from many countries around the world.

Underground Kitchen dining events (East Coast) – Throughout the coming months, Underground Kitchen offers a number of private dining events with well-known chefs. Whether you’re in Virginia (Richmond, Fredericksburg, Charlottesville or NoVA) or in another state (Raleigh, Asheville, Columbia or Baltimore), you’ll find interesting and engaging culinary events throughout the fall. From an “Alice in Wonderland”-themed meal to The Culinary Mosaic and even a single ingredient meal focused on saffron, there are plenty of fun events to enjoy.

Ironbound Wine and Food Expo (Newark, NJ) – Oct. 7-8. The inaugural Ironbound food expo centers around Spain’s tapas tradition, showcasing food and wine from the region. Carnival dancers, a cigar and porto lounge and a food expo round out the events for this exciting weekend.

I’m planning on hitting up a few of these. What about you?

Summer in Virginia – Foods and Events

Virginia has been home to many traditional foods since the colonial era. From tomatoes to seafood, wine and beer to barbecue, Virginia has historically been home to a blend of foods and preparation techniques handed down from generations of native peoples, enslaved Africans and European settlers.

If you’re traveling around Virginia this summer, make sure to check out some of these Virginia foods:

Seafood – Virginia’s coastal and Chesapeake Bay regions offer a wealth of delicious fish and seafood. Try some of Coastal Living’s best Virginia seafood restaurants, or check out some recommendations from Virginia Tourism Corporation.

Tomatoes – Visit The 38th Annual Hanover Tomato Festival on Saturday, July 9 (Hanover County, Pole Green Park).  This fun festival highlights the most delicious tomato in the south:  the Hanover Tomato. Vendors, tomato dishes, live music and plenty of fun for kids and families make this all-day festival a must-do.

Pork, Peanuts and Pine – Head out to the 41st Annual Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival  on Saturday and Sunday, July 16 and 17 (Surry County, Chippokes Plantation State Park) to celebrate the southern coastal region of Virginia and its most traditional foods. With a barbecue cookoff, fun for the kids and an expo highlighting Surry County’s three main products, there’s plenty of food, fun and tradition for everyone.

Peaches, Blackberries, Nectarines, Canteloupe and other summer fruit – Visit PickYourOwn.org to find a farm or orchard near you where you can pick your own fruit.

Watermelon – Celebrate everyone’s favorite fruit at the 33rd Annual Carytown Watermelon Festival. On Sunday, August 14, you can discover all the different ways to eat watermelon, and plenty of fun for kids.

Beer, Wine and Cider – Learn what types of beverages Thomas Jefferson, his family and the enslaved peoples on his plantation drank during the summer months at the Barrels, Bottles and Casks event on Friday, July 29 and Saturday, July 30 at Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest.

Enjoy your Virginia travels this summer!

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Smoking Barbecue with Bourbon Barrel Char

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to take a tour of the A. Smith Bowman Distillery in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Master Distiller Brian Prewitt led our special tour as he explained the distillation and aging process of A. Smith Bowman’s bourbons. From the giant stills to the high-quality barrels to the final bottling, the process of crafting small batch bourbon was fascinating to see.

At the end of our tour, my group sampled some of A. Smith Bowman’s products, like John J. Bowman bourbon, George Bowman colonial era dark Caribbean rum and Mary Hite Bowman Caramel Cream liqueur. We also visited the gift shop, which was full of everything you could think of that has anything to do with bourbon, from barbecue sauces to bourbon-scented candles. I picked up a bag of barrel char – the blackened, bourbon-soaked shavings from the charred inside of a used bourbon barrel – and decided to give it a try along with some hickory chips when my husband smoked a pork shoulder recently.

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Here’s the barrel char soaking with some hickory chips.

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Mixing up the dry rub – coarse salt, fresh ground black pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper and a bunch of other good stuff.

Before (applying the dry rub) and after smoking.

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The finished product!

The barrel char definitely added a layer of flavor to this delicious smoked pork shoulder. Of course, this yummy barbecue is best served with a pour of your favorite bourbon.

Pennsylvania Dutch Food Culture in Lancaster, PA

Ever since I was little, my parents have taken me and my brother and sister to the Pennsylvania Dutch Country of Lancaster, Pennsylvania regularly.  As a kid, our summer vacation was often spent staying at a campground or a cabin for a week and visiting all the antique shops, farmer’s markets and Amish and Mennonite farms and stands.  Last Spring, my mom, my sister and I took my two boys back to Lancaster for a weekend trip, and my dad and brother felt left out, so the weekend after Thanksgiving this year, we took the whole family!  The weekend was perfect.  We stayed in a cabin with a woodstove and there was snow on the ground.  We got to see the downtown Lancaster Christmas tree lighting and watch Santa arrive on a fire truck.  We went to Dutch Wonderland, the tiny amusement park on the “main drag” of Route 30 that I adored when I was a kid.  And we ate… lots…

For anyone who’s never been to Lancaster, the main thing you need to remember is that the “Pennsylvania Dutch” aren’t really Dutch.  The German immigrants who sought religious freedom in America would tell people they were “deutsch” – the German word for a German person.  The miscommunication stuck, and the Amish were labeled the Pennsylvania Dutch, although most of them came from Germany, bringing their food culture with them.

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Lancaster’s Central Market.  This historic building just off the town square was originally opened in 1730, and features market stalls from local meat and cheese vendors, bakeries, produce stands and coffee shops.

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Oasis at Bird-in-Hand‘s meat and dairy products

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Checking out the chocolate

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Historic Lancaster Central Market

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Desserts from Shady Maple

We visited one of my favorite farmer’s markets in Bird-in-Hand on Saturday.  I had to re-stock my German spicy mustard from S. Clyde Weaver and I bought some amazing homemade fudge from Sweet Legacy Gourmet.  I love that the Bird-in-Hand farmer’s market vendors offer lots of samples, especially of the specialty meats and cheeses.  There were whoopie pies and shoofly pies in abundance!

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Bulk products like different types of flours and meals

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Mmm… desserts

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Shoofly pies!

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Sweet Legacy Gourmet

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Pickled everything!

After our farmer’s market visit, we drove just down the road to the Bird-in-Hand Family Restaurant and Smorgasbord.  Smorgasbord is a German word for what is essentially a buffet, with more dishes and desserts than you can shake a stick at.

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Buffet items

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Desserts (more shoofly pie!)

If you ever get the chance to visit Lancaster, you will fall in love with it.  There is a thriving downtown restaurant scene and plenty of opportunities to try Pennsylvania Dutch cooking.  The Amish and Mennonite style of cooking is steeped in German, Austrian and Swiss food traditions with a focus on simplicity and excellent-quality, fresh, local ingredients.  Once you’ve tried a shoofly pie, pickled vegetables or a pretzel in Pennsylvania Dutch country, nothing else will ever measure up.

 

Project “Family Food History” Thanksgiving

So of course by now, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and with it my Family Food History project.  Since my aunt always makes a full, traditional Thanksgiving meal with turkey and mashed potatoes and stuffing and gravy, I didn’t want to make a ton more food since I knew everybody would already be stuffed.  I settled on bringing:

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Gluhwein – German spiced mulled red wine

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Spekulatius – German spice cookies (the Dutch call them speculoos and they are amazingly delicious!)

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Bratwurst and Knackwurst with sauerkraut

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Yorkshire puddings

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Cheese plate with Scottish smoked salmon and cheeses from Holland, England, Scotland and Germany, served with French champagne dill mustard

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My aunt and the rest of my family made a delicious Thanksgiving feast.

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I made a pumpkin pie from scratch with hot water crust and used a pumpkin from my garden.  My cousin bought an apple pie with caramel sauce from the school marching band.

When we got home, me, my husband and our two boys listened to “Alice’s Restaurant” like we do every Thanksgiving.  Then I cooked second Thanksgiving just for us.

From my family to yours, I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

Edible Food Fest in Orange

In spite of threatening weather reports all week, yesterday’s Edible Food Fest in Orange couldn’t have had a more gorgeous day for the food-packed festival.

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The Edible Food Fest, sponsored by regional food magazine Edible Blue Ridge, the local Blue Mountain Brewery and the Orange Downtown Alliance, showcased the central Virginia region’s finest foods, from farmers and food producers to local and regional restaurants.  Two Chef Demo tents and a “Chat Room” offered cooking demonstrations and discussions throughout the day.  I got to take in a demonstration of okra recipes by chef Curtis Shaver, of Charlottesville restaurant Hamilton’s at First and Main, as well as a discussion and tasting of “Ancient and Modern Grains” by Currey Fountain, of local catering company Beggar’s Banquet Catering.

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Chef Shaver covered two delicious okra recipes, a charred okra salad with arugula, feta, heirloom tomatoes and a mustard-based vinaigrette, and an okra “maque choux,” a traditional Creole side dish to which he added beautiful purple Red Burgundy okra.  (A caveat for the picture of his demonstration – it was taken before the demonstration began.  By the time he’d cooked up these two yummy okra dishes, the house was packed!).  The main point to remember with okra, he explained, is that it needs to be cooked quick and hot, or long and slow.  Quick and hot, like pan charring or grilling, especially after marinating, will help keep the slime factor down.  Long and slow cooking will let the slime from the okra mingle with other flavors and thicken stews or other thick types of dishes.  I can’t wait to try out these recipes with all the okra I keep getting from my garden.

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Currey Fountain’s discussion and tasting focused on the use of ancient and modern grains in menu planning.  She started with a look at her food restriction list, which, 15 to 20 years ago, used to cover about four or five broad categories.  Today, it’s four pages long and covers everything from gluten intolerance and/or sensitivity to Halal, Kosher and other religious restrictions, dairy intolerant, peanut allergies, etc.  Since so many of the clients of her catering company were mentioning dietary restrictions, Currey decided to make menu choices that would be healthy, delicious and also accommodate the numerous dietary choices and restrictions that are prevalent today.  She had brought pre-prepared dishes using grains such as millet and quinoa, and she prepared a yummy couscous dish during the session.

For lunch, I had a brisket sandwich from The Little Country Store, with sides of baked beans and coleslaw – so good!

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Of course, my boys had to try the handmade, apple cider donuts with cinnamon sugar from Carpe Donut, and they quickly pronounced them “delicious!”

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I also got to do a tasting of ciders from Albemarle Ciderworks.  I’d tried hard cider before, but never had a tasting of multiple varieties, and I hadn’t realized how different the flavor profiles of different varieties could be.  I also enjoyed the historical details about the ciders, like the fact that the Royal Pippin cider uses Albemarle Pippins, a descendent of Newtown Pippins from the North that Thomas Jefferson grew at Monticello, and which the ambassador to England in the early 1800’s introduced to the Queen.  From there, they came to be known as Royal Pippins, as the Queen would order hundreds of pounds of them at a time to be shipped to England as her favorite apple to eat fresh.

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All told, we had a great day at the Edible Food Fest.  The event really touted locally-grown ingredients and local food producers, and yet it was accessible to all kinds of people (admission was only $7 a person and kids were free).  It really made me wish the Richmond area would put on an event like this to showcase Richmond area growers, food producers, restaurants, food trucks, etc.  I enjoy Richmond’s wide range of food events, but it sometimes seems like they are limited to only people who can afford to spend $40 or $50 on a beer or wine dinner, or $60 for a food tour.

I also realized that the Richmond region doesn’t have an Edible publication like Edible Blue Ridge.  There are Edible magazines throughout the country, and the magazine and its various imprints have won many awards for their coverage of local food scenes.  I’d love to work with anyone who is interested to try to bring about an Edible Richmond Region magazine.