Fire, Flour & Fork’s Carnaval Latino

This year’s Fire, Flour & Fork food festival brought chefs, food personalities, foodies and “the food curious” from across the country to the Richmond, Virginia region to explore the best of Richmond’s food culture and history. The Carnaval Latino, a street festival held on the block of East Clay Street in front of the Valentine Museum, as well as inside the museum itself, showcased the region’s Latino heritage. From food and drinks to music, dancing, fashion and history, this event was a delicious and fun-filled evening.

First, let’s talk food. Some of Richmond’s best restaurants serving Mexican and South American specialties were represented, including Pao’s Bakery, Bocata Latin Grill, Shelly’s Comida, Flora Restaurant, Empanadas Market and more. From shrimp ceviche to lamb tacos and the most delicious tres leches cake I’ve ever had, the food was the star of the show!

There was also plenty of wine from Spain and other regions, as well as Steam Bell Beer Works, which had a delicious stout brewed with Mexican spices.

The entertainment was varied, from traditional dancing of Mexico to Colombian salsa dancing. A fashion show from a promising fashion designer who is only sixteen years old was a highlight! The Valentine Museum also had an exhibit of Latino heritage in the Richmond region, which was filled with unique artifacts and history.

My mom and I attended the Carnaval Latino to celebrate our birthdays (hers is two days before mine at the end of October), and it was a festive night out with plenty of great food and entertainment. I hope Fire, Flour & Fork does another Carnaval Latino at next year’s festival.

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Fire, Flour & Fork is Coming Up!

Richmond’s annual festival “for the food curious,” Fire, Flour & Fork takes place November 2-5 in and around the city. This fun and informative festival highlights the city’s and the region’s food history and local ingredients. From signature dining events to classes and discussions, there’s plenty to discover as we celebrate the Richmond region’s cuisine.

This year’s festival features a wine tour and luncheon at Barboursville Vineyards, a “Liquid Launch” sponsored by the Richmond Beer Trail, a Street Art and Street Food Tour and much more. Local chefs and food experts like bbq master Tuffy Stone of Q Barbecue, John Maher of The Rogue Gentleman and Yaki, Jason Alley of Pasture and Comfort and many more will be cooking and discussing foods and beverages from around the world and from right in our backyard in the Richmond region.

If your interests lie in Richmond’s booming craft beverage scene, you won’t want to miss Sake at Yaki, the Gathered and Grown Cider Dinner with local restauranteur Joy Crump at Blue Bee Cider or Mezcal: Time, Place & Family at Flora on Friday, Nov. 3. Saturday’s Turning Tea on its Head at The Jefferson features tea cocktails, and Sunday’s Put a Shine on Your Holiday Cocktails with Belle Isle Craft Spirits will show you how to class up your festive drinks. Sunday’s Bartender Battle at Brenner Pass is a can’t miss event too!

The Third Annual Dabney Dinner, honoring the legacy of 18th century Richmond caterer, restauranteur and barman John Dabney, features remarks from Michael Twitty, culinary historian and author of The Cooking Gene, an exploration of food, family history and the history of the American south.

Saturday’s class pass offers a kickoff talk from James Beard award-winning chef and author Gabrielle Hamilton, then splits into concurrent sessions divided into Fire, Flour and Fork. Sessions on corn as an ingredient, Ethiopian spices, heritage grains, specialty breads and much more fill out the packed schedule.

Tickets for some of the most popular signature events have already sold out, so be sure to get your tickets early. Special “signature event and class pass” and other combination options are available this year.

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Red Cap Patisserie visit

Recently I stopped by Red Cap Patisserie’s shop on Meadow Street to try out the croissants and pastries. The shop is small, with only a little space for seating, but has plenty of display space for their sweet and savory pastries, including pain au chocolat, kouign amman, scones and more.

The staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the pastries are delicious.  I can’t wait to return and try more of their treats, including some of the savory ones.

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Summer Food Events in Virginia

Summer in Virginia is a time for festivals, and the best festivals celebrate the foods the Commonwealth is known for. Here are some of the best:

*Gordonsville’s Famous Fried Chicken Festival – Saturday, May 20, 11 AM-5 PM, Gordonsville Fire Company Fairgrounds – Celebrate the “chicken-leg center of the universe” and Gordonsville’s long history of fried chicken-making with fried chicken and pie contests, a wine garden and arts and crafts vendors.

*Broad Appetit – Sunday, June 4, 11 AM-6 PM, Richmond’s West Broad Street between Henry and Adams Streets – Try $3 mini dishes from some of Richmond’s most renowned chefs and restaurants. Africanne on Main, Casa del Barco, Comfort, Graffiato, Pasture and more will create small plates to try. Beverage options from across Virginia, including beers, wines and ciders, plus local dessert makers will round out your meal. Live music and cooking demos will make this a fun day for the whole family.

*Father’s Field Day – Sunday, June 18, 11 AM-6 PM, Early Mountain Vineyards, Madison – Enjoy a variety of local food, including barbecue and various local desserts while tasting some of Early Mountain’s best wines and taking in live music and views of the Blue Ridge foothills from the patio.

*Hanover Tomato Festival – Saturday, July 8, 9 AM-4 PM, Pole Green Park, Hanover – This celebration of the juiciest, most delicious tomato in the world offers rides, games, a petting zoo and local vendors plus more tomato dishes than you can shake a fork at.

*Pork, Peanut and Pine Festival – Saturday, July 15, 10 AM-7 PM and Sunday, July 16, 10 AM-5 PM, Chippokes Plantation State Park, Surry – A barbecue cookoff and local food vendors share what Southern Virginia is best known for: pork, peanuts and pine. A petting zoo, rock climbing wall and inflatable slide mean the kids will have plenty to do and see too.

*Henricus Discovery Program Days Program Series: Food of the 17th Century – Thursday, July 27, 10 AM-1 PM, Henricus Historical Park, Chester – Learn what breakfast, lunch and dinner would have looked like for a colonist or a Powhatan Indian. This program is perfect for kids ages 3-10 and includes a take-home craft.

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Get out there and have fun exploring this summer! What are your favorite places to visit in Virginia (or your state)?

Blog Update

Just wanted to pop on here to explain that no, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth.  The past few weeks, I’ve had a lot on my plate (more on that later), and haven’t had time to post as often as I would have liked.

What have I been up to?

Well, I had the chance to eat at Saison again.  Blog followers will remember that I enjoyed Saison’s “Day of the Dead” luncheon as a part of Richmond’s Fire, Flour and Fork event last fall.  I was blown away by their food then, and my recent visit did not disappoint.  I had their “Kingslayer” cocktail to start:  blended Scotch, Aquavit, Cocchi Americano and Campari.  The tagline for the drink is that it is “more intricate than the politics in King’s Landing,” which is a true statement.

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To eat, I chose a chicory salad with manchego, red onions, radish, croutons and anchovy dressing, and the carnitas rillettes, served with toasted billy bread, which were both delicious.  After I finished my cocktail, I also got to try an Ardent Dark Rye imperial stout.

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I also made a truckload of Mexican food for the Super Bowl, starting with an old favorite:  Velveeta and Rotel in the crockpot.

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Next, I marinated shrimp and chicken in a baja-style tequila lime marinade with cumin, chile powder and oregano, then sauteed the shrimp by themselves and the chicken with green peppers and onions fajita-style.  I made shrimp tostadas with refried black beans, guacamole, lettuce and the shrimp, and had all the fixin’s for chicken fajita tacos.

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Then I made some guacamole from a recipe on the Rotel can – essentially the same guac recipe I normally make, but substituting the tomatoes and jalapenos for the Rotel.

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The other thing I’ve been doing over the past few weeks is transitioning from a job I’ve had for fourteen years into a new job with Virginia ABC, the state’s liquor control authority.  I’m working in the relatively-new marketing department, and I’ve had a crash course in the alcohol industry and liquor marketing since I started there.  I’m looking forward to learning more, and to being able to use my passion for food, drinks and craft producers in my career there.

Early Bird gets the biscuit

I’d heard a lot of buzz about Early Bird Biscuit Co. & Bakery, so I was excited to check them out as part of the Lakeside Avenue Holly Jolly Christmas festivities.  I am happy to say I was not disappointed!

The shop is teeny-tiny, in a small shopping center containing a tv repair shop and a magic shop.  Both my kids thought the neon “BUTTER” sign was awesome.  The shop also had a snow machine out front, which all the kids adored.

The interior is narrow and decorated with 1950’s charm.  A shelf near the ceiling features a row of antique radios and the display case shows off delicious desserts like snickerdoodle and gingerbread cookies and mini chocolate bundt cakes on vintage plates.  All the staff are upbeat and courteous – no small feat considering the store was slammed with customers who had just stepped off the Lakeside Avenue trolley.  The whole place smelled like melting butter, and racks of biscuits were stacked in a case behind the counter.

On the menu were the plain buttermilk biscuits with house made jam (that night’s was blackberry), and the crabby cheddar biscuit.  My kids got a mini chocolate bundt cake to split, and I grabbed a Blanchard’s coffee (Early Bird has their own Blanchard’s blend), and we headed outside to eat (and to let some of the waiting customers in!).

All I can say is that Early Bird does biscuits right.  They were big, fluffy, buttery and delicious, and the house made jam was amazing.  The crabby cheddar biscuit had just the right mix of flavors, and they were well balanced (i.e. the cheese didn’t overpower the crab).  Of course my kids loved the cake too.

I will definitely be back to Early Bird soon for more biscuits!

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#RVA Nacho Taco Week 2014

Now THIS is a themed-food week I can get behind!  Because – duh – tacos.  Also, I’m assuming the choice of dates has something to do with the Dia de los Muertos so, you know, history.

From Nov. 3-9, a bunch of local restaurants have $5 nacho and taco menu specials.  When you buy at least three of them, you can complete a “passport” and drop it off or scan and email it to Style Weekly to be in the running for a $200 Visa gift card.  Win something, did you say?  Obviously, I made it my mission to complete this taco challenge!

I started my Mexican food adventure Monday at Cha Cha’s Cantina, the food partner/sponsor for the Week.  A bunch of my co-workers and I schlepped down the hill from our office to Cary Street and ordered a mix of the steak taco special (“grilled flank steak topped with fresh mango, roasted corn and avocado relish”) and the shrimp taco special (“seared shrimp, roasted corn and avocado relish and fresh mango”).  We all swapped tacos so everyone ended up with one of each, in addition to the side of rice.

All I have to say about Cha Cha’s tacos is WOW.  They were amazing!  I hate to say it, but I’d eaten there before and never been overly impressed.  They do standard Mexican food well, but I’d never had anything I’d consider a standout dish.  Well these tacos changed that.  Seriously, if you can only eat one of the taco specials for Nacho Taco Week, go here with someone else, order one of each, swap a taco and enjoy!

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Next on the list was lunch with my Mom on Wednesday.  She’s recently taken a new job downtown, so I’ve been enjoying meeting her for lunch and introducing her to some of my favorite spots.  Citizen is one of them.  At first glance, they look like a hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop, but a closer look at their menu reveals an eclectic mix of breakfast options, tortas (pressed sandwiches), salads and sides with a focus on fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.  I had the Creole Taco special (“house smoked chipotle Tasso ham and kale on soft corn tortillas topped with Mudbug pico de gallo, served with jalapeno, lime and Celeriac remoulade”).  I ordered a side of jerked collards and a side of celery root slaw for my mom and I to share.  My favorite thing about Citizen is their bold flavors, and the Creole tacos did not disappoint.  Between the ham, kale and remoulade, there was a great mix of spicy, sweet, sour, tangy, crispy and savory.  So good!

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Last on the list was a place I’ve been wanting to try for a while.  My husband and I took a trip to Los Cabos, Mexico a few years ago, and I fell in love with Baja Mexican cuisine – particularly fish tacos.  Pelon’s Baja Grill has a fish taco special on the Nacho Taco Week list, so I ordered a couple specials plus a kids’ meal for my boys and swung by after work to pick them up.  They were everything I expect Baja cuisine to be – fresh, light, flavorful, crispy and crunchy.  Served with a side of rice and beans, the tacos were topped with a spicy sauce that was the perfect match for the plentiful, crispy cabbage and chunks of fried white fish.  Of course, nothing in the States can match the deliciousness of an authentic, Baja fish taco, but these came close.

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So what are you waiting for?  Nacho Taco Week isn’t over until Nov. 9.