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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Quick trip to the mountains

This summer, rather than a weeklong vacation to one location, we’re trying to take smaller overnight trips to places closer to home. This weekend, we headed to the mountains of Virginia for a quick trip to visit some of my favorite places in the state.

We started by heading to the Green Valley Book Fair, a warehouse full of closeout books and toys in Mount Crawford, about fifteen minutes south of Harrisonburg. My kids adored exploring the aisles and aisles of books, and we all picked out some treasures. One of mine was a book on Virginia food called “Food Lover’s Guide to Virginia,” a guidebook covering every region of Virginia with recipes, restaurant lists and information on foods native to that region.

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After our visit to the book fair, we headed to the Dayton Farmers Market for some lunch. We had barbecue sandwiches, hot dogs, macaroni and cheese and wraps from Hank’s BBQ inside the market, which were amazingly delicious, then browsed the shops. Warfel’s Sweet Shoppe featured homemade chocolates and sweet treats of all kinds. Other vendors offered trays of homemade cinnamon rolls and various baked goods, bulk kitchen staples, soup mixes and candies, cheeses, deli meats and coffees and teas. There were plenty of other vendors selling home decor, jewelry and more. The location couldn’t be prettier either. The small town of Dayton, Virginia lies in the rolling hills just a few minutes’ drive from the Green Valley Book Fair.

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We stayed at the Quality Inn in Harrisonburg, and we spent our evening having dinner at the Bob Evans across the street from the hotel, then walking around in downtown Harrisonburg looking for Pokemon (my kids and I are addicted to Pokemon Go). Breakfast was complimentary and was a decent buffet with eggs, sausage, biscuits, waffles, bagels, muffins, danish, cereal, hardboiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, etc. Our hotel had a nice pool behind it, so when we were finished with breakfast we headed out to the pool for a bit before checkout.

Once we got on the road heading for home, we decided we wanted to stop in Charlottesville for lunch. We walked around the Downtown Mall area and decided on Cinema Taco, a small taco shop next to the Jefferson Theater. They had a few different taco options, including a Baja fish taco and a couple of vegan options. Their burrito bowl and fresh limeade were yummy and my kids loved sitting in the little window alcoves watching people walk by.

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After lunch, we took the free T trolley around town to see the sights (and hunt Pokemon!), then we drove back home. I loved our quick trip to the mountains!

 

Seafood and fun on the Outer Banks

This past weekend was full of fun, food and relaxation! My husband and I took our family to Hatteras Island, NC to stay in a “tiny house” cottage at Hatteras Sands Campground, just down the road from the Hatteras/Ocracoke ferry. The cottages are all painted in fun colors, and have a downstairs bedroom with a queen bed, tv (which, unfortunately, did not work while we were there), microwave and mini fridge. Upstairs, there are two twin beds for the kids. The cottages are air-conditioned and a recently-updated bathhouse is right behind the row of “tiny houses.” The campground has a nice pool and plenty of tent and RV sites, smaller cabins and even single and double wide trailers to rent. A canal runs through the campground, and kayak excursions are offered.

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We started our visit with a stop at Burruss Red & White Market in Hatteras Village to pick up some food for quick breakfasts and lunches:  cereal and milk, bread, peanut butter and jelly, a few bags of chips, paper plates, utensils and plastic cups. The Market has fresh-sliced meats and cheeses too, and homemade sandwiches.The staff are super-friendly and will make sure you find everything you need for your trip.

Dinner at a local seafood restaurant was next on the agenda, and we picked Quarterdeck Restaurant in Frisco. They had several daily food and drink specials, and the wait for a table wasn’t long, even though the restaurant is small. My husband and I split a fried seafood platter with fish, scallops, shrimp and oysters plus baked potatoes, and the kids shared fresh steamed crab legs and fries. Hushpuppies were served on the side. The food was fresh and delicious and I’d definitely return again for seafood.

On a camping trip, one of the most important things to find is COFFEE! Our cottage rental did not have a coffee maker, so it was imperative that we head out in the mornings to discover where we could buy some good coffee. On Hatteras Island, there are a handful of coffee shops. We tried two:  Red Drum Pottery and Coffee and The Dancing Turtle. Red Drum is a tiny coffeeshop housed inside a pottery and jewelry store on Route 12 that also offers visitors the chance to paint and fire their own pottery, hear live music or stay in the facility’s new Airbnb.com rental. Closer to Hatteras Village, The Dancing Turtle is a charming little coffeeshop with a huge range of fancy coffee and tea drinks, as well as yummy desserts and souvenirs.

For a quick snack in the afternoon after a morning at the beach, we stopped at Lee Robinson General Store in Hatteras Village. The kids all got ice cream and souvenirs, I picked up a bottle of Duplin Winery’s Carolina Red Sweet Muscadine Wine and some homemade asiago cheese bagels for breakfast the next morning. The muscadine grape is native to the southeast, particularly to North Carolina, and a number of wineries in the Tarheel state produce muscadine or scuppernong (a variety of muscadine) wines. These wines tend to be red and sweet, and are delicious to sip on their own or with dessert.

In the evening on Saturday, we drove down the road a bit to the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry. This free ferry ride takes about an hour and puts you off at the end of Ocracoke island, about 13 miles from the village of Ocracoke. There are beaches and campgrounds on Route 12 along the island, and plenty of motels, marinas, restaurants and bars in the village. We ate at the Ocracoke Bar and Grille, a breezy spot with surfing and sports on the numerous televisions and delicious Baja-style food, like fish tacos and freshly-made guacamole. The vibe was laid back and the service was terrific. They get fresh fish and seafood in from the docks almost daily and the reggae on the radio and Hawaiian craft beer give this place the perfect island vibe. We will definitely be back to the O’Bar!

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Our quick Hatteras weekend was a great appetizer, and I can’t wait to bring our family back to Hatteras Sands’ “tiny house” cottages for a longer getaway next time!

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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Spring Food History Events in Virginia

The weather’s getting warmer, and that means historic sites across the Commonwealth are hosting spring events, many of which focus on culinary history. Virginia is also gearing up for a busy year of food festivals, and nearly all parts of the state have a special dish or food they’re known for. Explore Virginia’s many food history offerings this spring:

*Saturday, April 2 – Beers in the ‘Burg (Colonial Williamsburg) – Enjoy an 18th-century alehouse experience and discover brews from Williamsburg Alewerks, including a few created specially for Colonial Williamsburg. You’ll also have the chance to meet the brewer and hear live music.

*Saturday, April 9 – Hearth Cooking Workshop (Louisa County Historical Society) – Learn how to prepare historic recipes with traditional hearth cooking methods in the ca. 1790 Michie House.

*Saturday, April 9 – Rum Punch Challenge (Gadsby’s Tavern, Alexandria) – Local restaurants and distilleries vie for the crown as creator of the best rum punch at this historic Alexandria museum and restaurant. Period and modern food will be served, and at the end of the evening the Alexandria town crier will announce the winner.

*Friday, April 22 – A Dinner With Benedict Arnold (Walkerton Tavern, Henrico County) – Enjoy period music and historically authentic food from the late 1700’s while meeting notorious British spy Benedict Arnold and hearing about his time in Richmond.

*Friday, April 22 and Saturday, April 23 – Franklin County Moonshine Festival (Franklin County) – This family-friendly event kicks off Friday evening with a bluegrass concert and features the Chug for the Jug 5k, a Prohibition-era car show, children’s activities and Shine n’Dine, a local foods and moonshine tasting under the stars.

*Saturday, April 23 – Open Hearth Cooking Class (Brentsville Courthouse Historic Centre, Bristow) – Learn how to build a fire, then prepare, cook and enjoy three historic dishes in the ca. 1850 Haislip farmhouse.

*Saturday, April 23 – North vs. South Dinner Duel (Pharsalia, Nelson County) – Two chefs – one representing the North, and one representing the South – will cook their way through a seated dinner, course by course. At the end of the meal, diners will decide on the winning chef, and the winning side!

*Saturday, May 7 – Chincoteague Seafood Festival (Chincoteague) – For more than forty years, Chincoteague Island has hosted a spring seafood festival to showcase the bounty of the sea, from littleneck steamed clams and oysters to fried fish, shrimp, hushpuppies and more. Enjoy all your steamed and fried favorites at this all-you-can-eat seafood bonanza.

*Friday, May 13 through Sunday, May 15 – Spring Wine Festival and Sunset Tour (Mt. Vernon) – In its 20th year this year, Mt. Vernon’s Spring Wine Festival offers the opportunity to sample wines from 20 different Virginia wineries while enjoying stunning sunset views of George and Martha Washington’s home and grounds. Guests can tour the property, greet costumed interpreters and purchase wine and cheese boxes for an evening picnic.

*Saturday, May 21 – Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival (Gordonsville) – Famous for its fried chicken that was served to passengers on departing trains, the town of Gordonsville welcomes visitors with the best fried chicken in the country. Take in fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and a craft fair at this charming food festival.

*Saturday, June 4 – Dinner With the Lee’s (Stratford Hall, Stratford) – This all-day event encompasses a lecture on hearthside cooking, tours of Stratford Hall’s Great House and kitchen and an 18th-century mid-day meal featuring historic recipes such as Maryland crab soup and “carrots dressed the Dutch way.”

 

 

It’s a Sausage Fest!

Recently, a co-worker of my husband’s offered him several pounds of homemade sausage. Apparently every year his co-worker and a friend go down to Smithfield, Virginia, home of the finest hams in the country, to buy a whole hog and make their own sausage. The ham industry in Smithfield dates from colonial times, as early as 1779. The pork and peanut industries in this part of Virginia were closely intertwined for many years. In fact, until 1966 Smithfield hams were required to come from peanut-fed hogs in order to claim the Smithfield moniker. This year, my husband’s co-worker and his friend were only able to get some Boston butt, but they still made country-style sausage in two flavors: regular and sage.

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Of course, we tried making some into patties and frying it up, and it was delicious! But I wanted to try it in a recipe, so I found one for sausage and cheese picnic bread:

Picnic Sausage Bread

1 lb. sausage (I mixed the regular and sage flavors of our homemade sausage)

1 package refrigerated pizza dough (like Pillsbury)

2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brown the sausage and drain any extra grease. Unroll the pizza dough flat on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with cooked sausage and shredded cheese. Roll up, crimp and seal the seams and ends and brush with a bit of olive oil. Poke a few holes in the top to vent. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

The sausage roll came out bubbly and warm. I paired it with Breckenridge Ophelia Hoppy Wheat Ale from Growlers To Go (who, by the way, offers a Happy Hour special on Wednesdays from 4-7 PM of buy one, get one half off on growler fills).

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The verdict? This sausage fest was delicious!

 

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.