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.

IMG_5366

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.

16730482_1602177786474105_967782491250328690_n

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.

IMG_1676

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.

IMG_1678 IMG_1679

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

IMG_0001

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.

IMG_0003 IMG_0007

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.

IMG_0002

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!

FullSizeRender (9)    FullSizeRender (10)    FullSizeRender (11)

FullSizeRender (13)

#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!

photo 1 (15)

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!

photo 2 (15)

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.

photo 3 (13)

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

Fire, Flour & Fork ’14

I had been looking forward to Fire, Flour & Fork (“an event for the food curious”) for a ridiculously long time, and the event did not disappoint.  FFF ’14 was a four-day culinary gathering celebrating the vibrant food culture and history of Richmond through a speaker series, themed lunches and dinners created by local and national chefs, an “Urban State Fair” open to the public and an artisinal tasting tent featuring regional specialties, beers, wines and ciders.

I started my FFF ’14 experience on Friday, Oct. 31.  I picked up my pass at the Hilton Garden Inn and made my way to the session I was most looking forward to that day – “Pie for Breakfast” with Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar.  Christina got us started on the right foot by handing out slices of Milk Bar’s famed Crack Pie to each attendee.  During the session, she explained the history of Milk Bar and her creative process when creating desserts.  She said that she knows that her version of a chocolate chip cookie or an apple pie can’t hold a candle to her grandmother’s or her aunt’s or the best one she ever had, so instead of attempting classic desserts, she instead invents new riffs on classic recipes to create desserts that are unexpected, yet familiar (like her Apple Pie Layer Cake).  Her discussion on the development of the Crack Pie recipe and her demonstration of its preparation showed off her creativity and the serendipity that often happens in the kitchen.  Most of the recipe was planned with certain ingredients to achieve specific results, like the somewhat savory oat cookie that’s crumbled and used for the crust, and the powdered milk that adds both flavor and texture to the finished pie.  But when she was writing her cookbook, she couldn’t figure out why the Crack Pies she made at home didn’t taste the same as the ones in the restaurant until she remembered that, at Milk Bar, the staff often has to store the pies in the freezer.  Realizing that that process added to the final texture of the pie, she added that step to the recipe.

I also had a blast from the past when I ran into a friend of a friend from way back who now, with his wife, writes local food blog Plate N’Conquer.

photo 3 photo 1 photo 2

On Saturday, my friend (and food photographer) and I had a full day planned.  I dropped off my “Apple Pudding Pie” (from a Mary Randolph recipe) for judging in the apple pie contest at the Urban State Fair, and we headed to the Library of Virginia.  Our first session was “At the Counters” – a showing of documentaries on the lunch counter sit-in movement as a part of the larger Civil Rights Movement of the early 1960’s, and on local Richmond residents’ experiences taking part in a sit-in at Richmond’s Thalhimer’s department store’s lunch counter.  “If We So Choose,” a short film by Nicole Taylor, offers the history and historical context of the Athens, Georgia lunch counter sit-in movement.  “The Richmond 34,” by Bundy Films, LLC, tells the story of the 34 black Richmonders who were arrested at a sit-in at the Thalhimer’s lunch counter on Feb. 22, 1960.  During a panel discussion after viewing the two films, Nicole Taylor was joined by Elizabeth Johnson Rice, who was a member of the Richmond 34, Dr. Raymond Hylton of Virginia Union University and Elizabeth Thalhimer-Smartt, the granddaughter of William Thalhimer, the owner of Thalhimer’s Department Store at the time of the sit-in.

photo 2 (1)

Just before our second session, I got a voicemail saying that my pie had won the apple pie contest.  I was in shock, since I had decided that it looked awful and that my friend and I should just eat some at her house before we drove downtown, but she had convinced me to turn it in.  I won a $100 check and two Fire, Flour & Fork aprons 🙂

Fittingly, our next session was “Queen Molly,” a lecture by culinary historian Leni Sorensen on legendary Virginia cook Mary Randolph and the enslaved women who worked in her kitchen.  I’m a big fan of Mary Randolph and her cookbook, “The Virginia House-Wife,” so learning about her life and her cooking career in Richmond was fascinating.  I also appreciated the information on her kitchen, the women who would have worked there and what the city would have been like for an enslaved person at the time of Mary Randolph.  Enslaved cooks were such a large part of the culinary history of Virginia and America, and it’s important that food historians research these people’s histories and bring their stories to a larger audience.  Leni is in the midst of a project to cook her way through “The Virginia House-Wife.”  You can follow her progress at http://www.indigohouse.us/.

photo 3 (2)

photo 1 (2) photo 2 (2) photo 5

Our lunch, the Day of the Dead luncheon at Saison, was the highlight of the day.  A tribute to the cuisine of Oaxaca, Mexico, the 4-course menu by chef Adam Hall featured traditional Oaxacan specialties paired with beers and wines to tell the story of the Dia de los Muertos.  Our Welcome Beverage, an event exclusive, was a Hardywood Paloma Singel infused with grapefruit and lime peel, pink peppercorns, mosaic hops and tequila-soaked oak chips.  It was refreshing and crisp (especially after our long walk to the restaurant), and perfectly set off the sparkle and heat of the amuse-bouche, pink grapefruit with fresh and dried chiles and cilantro.  As we tasted our way through the courses, chef Hall explained each dish, relating them back to trips he’s taken to the Oaxaca region and the local markets and restaurants he discovered there.  The pumpkin tamal with toasted pumpkin seeds and queso fresco was paired with a white Burgundy, while the turkey mole negro with sesame seeds worked well against the Genio Monastrell Tinto Joven, a mourvedre blend.  The barbacoa de res taco with applewood smoked tomatillo salsa verde was paired with – what else? – Natty Bo and lime!  (Side note – I am totally going to try smoking my tomatillo salsa verde with some apple wood next summer when my tomatillos are ready to pick!).  The dessert course, pan de muerto, was prepared as a beignet with orange/annatto curd.  An Oaxacan hot chocolate finished the luncheon.  From start to finish, this meal was delicious, creative and one of a kind.  I can’t wait to head back to Saison for dinner sometime!

photo 4 (1) photo 5 (1) photo 1 (3) photo 2 (3) photo 3 (3) photo 4 (2) photo 5 (2)

We visited the Artisinal Tasting Tent and ended up missing our 2 o’clock session, but there was so much to explore there (I also needed to get my pie plate back and pick up my prizes!).  We tried Strangeways Beer, Blanchards Coffee, Early Mountain Vineyards wine, Blue Bee Cider, Keep It Simple Syrups and so much more.  Plus I got to put a face to a name when we met the lovely Matt, who writes the Forks Over Hipsters blog.

For my last session of the day, my friend and I decided to keep the buzz from lunch going by learning about the history of bourbon.  Back to the Library of Virginia we went, where Dane Huckelbridge, author of “Bourbon: A History of the American Spirit,” schooled us on the development of bourbon distilling in America, and we got to hear from Reservoir Distillery on the process and ingredients that go into making craft bourbons and whiskies in Richmond.

photo 2 (4)

Our day couldn’t have been better, and I’m looking forward to next year’s Fire, Flour & Fork event already!

And now, because I promised it to many, here’s my recipe for the winning “Apple Pudding” Pie.  All the credit goes to Queen Molly and Graves Mountain apples! :

6 medium to large apples

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) butter

4 cups sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

Rind of 1 grapefruit, grated

6 eggs

1 tsp. granulated sugar (for dusting)

1 tsp. mace (for dusting)

1 recipe of Mary Randolph’s butter-based pie crust

Preheat the oven to 325 F.  Wash and dry the apples.  Place them, stem side up, in a medium, square or rectangular casserole dish.  Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake the apples for 45 minutes.

Let the baked apples cool enough to work with (they should still be a little warm).  Peel the skins off and cut out the cores.  Put the flesh into the food processor and puree until smooth.  In a mixing bowl, mix the pureed apples, butter, sugar, lemon juice and grapefruit rind.  Once the mixture has cooled, mix in the eggs.

Place a pastry crust in a pie pan and pour in the apple mixture.  Increase the heat of the oven to 350 F.  Bake 15 minutes, then turn the heat back down to 325 F.  Bake another 30-45 minutes, being careful not to let the top brown too much.  Pie should look and seem set in all but the very middle (about a three inch circle in the middle of the pie).  Remove the pie from the oven and let it cool.  Wrap and refrigerate the pie overnight.  When ready to serve, dust with granulated sugar and mace.

Beast Feast 2014

Never in my life have I eaten duck and goat in the same day… until yesterday.

Beast Feast 2014 was held on the lawn of Patrick Henry’s Scotchtown and featured local chefs and butchers slaving over open fires since the wee hours of the morning to cook whole goats, pigs, ducks, chickens and sides of beef.  They fixed some delicious side dishes too.  There was also lots of local beer, wine and cider to sample.  Oh and a country/bluegrass band.  And a chance to tour Scotchtown.  And if you paid a bit more for a VIP wristband, plenty of cocktails mixed and served by local bartenders and Rappahannock oysters to enjoy.

The slow-cooked meats were all delicious.  Long, slow cooking over open fires is a technique that goes way back, probably into prehistory, and there’s something primal (and yummy) about seeing and smelling the different animals being cooked.  The outside skin crisps up or chars, and the meat inside is left to roast in its own fat.  The duck, especially, was amazingly juicy.  The sides were veggie-heavy and plentiful.  The ambience – hay bales for seating and constant cornhole games – was laid back but what I like to call “country elegant” (think Garden and Gun magazine).  Lots of girls in dresses and cowboy boots.

Here are some pics.  Enjoy!

photo 1 (8) photo 1 (10) photo 2 (8)

Cooking

photo 1 (11) photo 3 (9)

Serving – mmm… goat!

photo 1 (12)

Goat, beef, farro salad, sweet potatoes

photo 2 (9)

Pork two ways, beans, Caprese-type salad

photo 2 (10)

Duck breast, beet salad, sweet potatoes, gravy

photo 2 (12)

Local wines and ciders

photo 5 (2)

Visited the kitchen and found out that Scotchtown offers hearth cooking classes for $25 a person.  I totally want to do this for my birthday at the end of October.  Who’s with me?

photo 3 (10)

Everyone could use a bit more meat juice.