Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Escape Cville - Paella.

Sometimes Hubby and I travel. Oddly enough what I remember most, and what I always write about, is the food. From time to time I'd like to share that with you...both as a respite from Cville food drama, and just 'cause I think they're pretty good stories.....Cheers!

Hubby and I had the great good fortune to visit London in 2008 with his family for their 50th anniversary. This story is about my love affair with paella.

Paella. Just saying the word conjures up my trip to London. Yep, not Spain, but London. I love the stuff, and don't eat it nearly enough because of how long it takes to prepare. There was a place in Richmond where I'm from that had it – Café Europa. The name always made me think of the David Sylvian song. We'd always order tapas instead though, because even on the menu it stated, "Preparation Time 1 hour, Please Be Patient." And the one time we did cave in and order it, the rice was way too salty. All that anticipation for nothing. We'd been better off with more anchovies and olives with our peach sangria.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Apple & Brie Pizza.

As most of you know, I was eliminated from Project Food Blog. Sigh. Much love to the bloggers who remain. Never one to let a learning opportunity pass by, I’ve decided to tackle the challenges anyway. Challenge #5 asks you to put your own spin on a classic favorite....PIZZA. Here’s mine. Thanks to all who voted – I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without your support.

There is no good pizza in Charlottesville. In my humble opinion. Now that’s a strong statement, and one I’m sure will provoke ugliness. But it’s true. I’ve been to Italy. I’ve been to New York. In Charlottesville there is no pizza resembling anything that I would call “good”. What is good? Thin crust. No more than 3 toppings. Four max.

Now I understand the pizza discussion is a controversial one. Like football and politics people have strong opinions about what makes a good pie. Hey, I used to like thick bready chewy crust packed to the rafters with a gazillion toppings too. I also used to put ketchup on my hamburgers. Then I grew up.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Scarier Than Spider Hair Monday.

A weekly feature where I present something culinary that *might* just have you saying, “WTF?" Yep, it's even scarier than spider hair. This week? Yes my friends it's Sandra Lee once again...

Okay, I was all set to post a blog about strange Halloween recipes that come across as just downright WEIRD. I even had my first one picked out. A lovely item from Pillsbury. I think they're supposed to be mummies, but they look more like appetizers for your "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" party. Little crescent roll straitjackets. Happy little psychos all in a row just waiting for Nurse Ratched to bring them their happy pills.

But then I saw Sandra Lee's 2010 Halloween Show. Oh. My. God. Not only is it a lame-as-hell RENAISSANCE FAIRE theme (*hurl*) but at one point she dresses up as "Queen of the Fairies" and lays upon us the following soon-to-be classic:
"As Queen of the Fairies I possess the fantastical and fanciful powers over every magical being. My job is to protect them, and while my folly of ferries frolic with the fireflies over the frond and the dusky twilight sets in on everything, it’s my job to create a harmonious combination of sweet treats and delightful drinks."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Friday Food News.

Every week, a listing of food-related news and events happening in and around Charlottesville, Virginia. This week? We've got CRABS! No really, we do. The good kind. And of course the Saturday Farmer’s Market. Do you have Cville Food News you’d like to share? Email me! Bon appétit y’all!

Edible News

Peter Chang will NOT (I repeat not) be opening a restaurant here in Charlottesville. His new place, "Peter Chang's" is set to open in Atlanta in early December. Atlanta Cuisine has the sad news. No word on how Mr. P.F. Chang feels about the new place...

Relay Foods has announced its new minimum ordering amount of $50. No! You mean I won't be able to fulfill my sudden Mona Lisa Lemon Pepper Fettuccine cravings without suddenly "needing" a bunch of other stuff too? Sigh...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Escape Cville - Grappa.

Sometimes Hubby and I travel. Oddly enough what I remember most, and what I always write about, is the food. From time to time I'd like to share that with you...both as a respite from Cville food drama, and just 'cause I think they're pretty good stories.....Cheers!

Hubby and I had the great good fortune to visit London in 2008 with his family for their 50th anniversary. Right smack dab in the middle of the European Cup quarterfinals. Of course we watched. Exciting matches that left us on the edge of our seats. But what was more exciting were the spectators. In the Italian wine bar where we happened to be. And the whole night happened purely by accident.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Butternut Squash Soup.

A long time ago I went to a restaurant and was excited to see butternut squash soup on the menu. I ordered it. Couldn't wait to taste its warm, golden, buttery smooth flavor. Lighter than pumpkin, but deeper than summer squash. A golden bowl of just right for this Goldilocks. But what they brought out resembled baby food. Literally. It looked like they had opened a can of Gerber's, dumped it in a bowl, thrown it in the microwave, then brought it to me with a "Voilà!" flourish. It tasted even worse because it tasted like.......nothing. Nothing at all. I'm not even exaggerating. It was like I was chewing hot water. Did I mention it was chewy?

It's funny how you remember foods you've eaten either because they were really good....or were really really bad. I was so angry! Kept thinking, "Are you kidding? *I* can do better than this and I don't even cook!" I couldn't believe they had deemed this mush to be "restaurant quality" - my measure for stuff that tastes pretty damn good. From that moment I was determined to go home and create a better version. I'd never even considered tackling this sort of thing before, but the horribleness of that soup propelled me forward. I was on a mission from God. And I wasn't even wearing sunglasses.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Scarier Than Spider Hair Monday.

A weekly feature where I present something culinary that *might* just have you saying, “WTF?" Yep, it's even scarier than spider hair.

I'm no good at Halloween. I suck at it actually. How I long for the days when you could go into your local Woolworth's and buy a Day-Glo fairy princess costume with a flimsy plastic dress to wear underneath the overcoat your Mom always made you put on. I miss the too-tight plastic fairy face that pinched with its flimsy rubber band that dug into the back of your head. You'd wander the streets with your orange plastic Jack-O-Lantern purse and breathe hot moist air into your mask until it got all disgusting and you pulled it off in frustration before you suffocated. Good times.

I'm just no good at thinking up costumes. It doesn't help I'm incredibly lazy as well. I don't want any costume involving heavy makeup that could run or smear so by the end of the night I look like an accident victim. Unless of course that's what I'm dressed as. No huge unwieldy apparatus I might have to lug around or have trouble getting through doorways. I want to be comfortable yet I want to steal the show too. Yep, I'm an original Halloween diva. A real party pooper.

My Halloween ideas always backfire. One year I went as one of the Clockwork Orange gang (I blame my college literary angst) and everyone thought I was Liza Minnelli in Cabaret. Another year along with my friend Chris I dressed as the wife of William S. Burroughs. You know, the wife who died because he shot an apple off her head? Hey, it seemed creative at the time. I blame that ol' college literary angst. Everyone thought we were Bonnie and Clyde. Sigh. The ONE year I got it right I wore a suede fringe jacket, suede boots, and a coonskin cap I borrowed from my friend Dorsett. DANIELLE BOONE! I thought it was hysterical. Everyone just looked at me. Yeah, I suck at Halloween.

Last week I was making fun of Simon Doonan's Halloween Couture Line designed exclusively for Target (spoken with tongue placed firmly in cheek and pictured above). But maybe he's onto something? Hell, it's the only thing even remotely related to Barney's I could EVER afford. There are quite a few food-related costumes out there. A can of Spam? Nah, you don't want to look like you're auditioning for Let's Make A Deal. What about dressing up as:

Chef Boyardee
Cap'n Crunch
Tony the Tiger
Frankenberry
Count Chocula
Boo Berry (don't stop me I'm on a roll!)
Aunt Jemima or Mrs. Butterworth*
The Gorton's Fisherman (I trust him)
Julia Child
Colonel Sanders
That creepy Burger King guy
Pilsbury Doughboy
Hamburger Helper Hand
M&M's Girl (with a green dress and awesome go-go boots!)
Land 'O Lakes Girl
St. Pauli Girl

Okay, so some of them would be Let's Make a Deal worthy. But who's with me? I know the great Masquerade Benefit at the Jefferson to help LVCA is having you dress as your favorite literary character (and we all know how I do with those), but what about a Foodie Halloween? Surely, there are ideas I've missed....if you were going as something related to food this Halloween, what would you dress as?

As I said earlier, I'm a Halloween diva, meaning no heavy makeup or apparatus allowed. So I definitely won't be dressing as the Hamburger Helper Hand or this guy.....kinda my favorite. Yes, ladies and gentlemen he's a "totally baked" potato.

No, I'm on a low-carb diet, so I'm going as Sandra Lee. Figure all I'll need is a fabulous Farrah wig, an apron, a martini glass, a glue gun and a big pin that says "VOTE CUOMO!"

*Afraid to admit this, but long ago I actually went to a party where 3 guys arrived dressed as Aunt Jemima. They looked peeved at each other with expressions that said, "I thought of it first!" The rest of us just looked uncomfortable and awkward. It was like a casting call for Gone With the Wind or something...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Friday Food News.

Every week, a listing of food-related news and events happening in and around Charlottesville, Virginia. This week? We've got everything from apples to whiskey, brinner to beer...and of course the Saturday Farmer’s Market.

Phew! You’d have to be FLASH to get to all the gluttonous activities. Do you have Cville Food News you’d like to share? Email me! Bon appétit y’all!

Edible News

Starting Thursday, 10/21 Bluegrass Grill and Bakery will be open 5pm-midnight! Every Thursday, Friday, Saturday you can get breakfast for dinner. Mmmmmm....BRINNER! Not to mention the chocolate covered bacon.

Virginia Distillery Company, which will open in Nelson County in early 2011, has announced they will be producing single malt whiskey. They are already making and selling Eades double-malt whisky (named for Eades Hollow, site of the distillery in Scotland they are using now). Eades is already earning accolades:
  • 3 gold medals from the Beverage Tasting Institute in Chicago.
  • 2010 Spirits International Prestige Awards - The Eades Small Batch Islay Whisky won a Gold Medal, and the Highland and Speyside expressions each won a silver medal.
  • Tasting Panel Magazine’s Class of 2010 Designation - The Eades Small Batch Speyside Whisky was just elected to the Tasting Panel Magazine’s “Class of 2010.”
Virginia Distillery just had a tasting at Boar's Head, and is planning many more in the area in the near future. Watch this space! Or follow @vadistillery on Twitter.

Edible Events

Saturday, October 16th
Chocolate Festival. Lee Park. 7:45am-2pm. Sponsored by the Members of First United Methodist Church. Chocolate Chase 5k Run/Walk and Pancake Breakfast, chocolate vendors, silent auction, food court, musical entertainment, children’s activities, and of course CHOCOLATE. Free admission. Proceeds benefit local charities.

Pancakes for Parkinson's. 9am-1pm. UVa students will host the 6th annual Pancakes for Parkinson's, a free pancake breakfast on UVa's historic Lawn. All proceeds from the event benefit the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

Sunday, October 17th
Cooking Class. First Colony Winery. Learn to cook with professional chef Terre Sisson of Charlottesville Wine and Culinary! Participants prepare and enjoy a 3-course meal paired with First Colony Wines. Menu: Potato Zucchini Soup / Crispy Chickpeas, Coffee Glazed Lamb Chops, Moroccan Roast Vegetable Couscous, Pina Colada Cake.

Thursday, October 21st
Take Thyme for Women's Health. Women's Health Virginia's annual Fall dinner. Four Superb Chefs, Four Courses, For a Great Cause. Keswick Hall. This culinary event brings together four Charlottesville area chefs, each one creating one course for the meal. Wonderful wines from local wineries will be paired. The evening will include a silent auction, featuring artwork by local artists and merchandise and gift certificates from local businesses and service providers. Hoos in Treble, a women's a cappella group from UVa will provide music. Reservations required.

Friday, October 22nd

Beer Wars! Documentary film at the Paramount Theater. 6-9pm. Beer tastings at 6pm. Beer Wars takes you on a no-holds-barred exploration of the U.S. beer industry that ultimately reveals the truth behind the label of your favorite beer.

Sunday, October 24th
Words & Wine! 1st annual event to benefit WriterHouse. 1-4pm Keswick Vineyards. Admission includes wine tasting, wine glass, light appetizers, and a raffle ticket with prizes from local sponsors, including Hamilton's Restaurant, New Dominion Bookshop, Gearhart's Chocolates, & Andrew Minton Jewelers. Tickets may be purchased online or at WriterHouse ($30 each or $50 for 2).

Saturday, November 6th
Apple Harvest Festival. Albemarle Ciderworks. Sponsored by Vintage Virginia Apples and the Cove Garden Ruritan Club. Free admission, Brunswick stew, crafts and skills of yesteryear, apples for tasting and purchase, old-fashioned apple butter cooking over a slow fire, cider pressing, hay rides, and instruction on growing your own fruit. Again, this year, we will feature tours through the Cidery and events in our Tasting Room. And best of all? Jim Waive!

The Gulf Cafe Cooking Class Presented by The Seasonal Cook. 6:30-9pm. Meet and greet 6-6:30pm. The Gulf Cafe is a virtual restaurant featuring the finest *pretend* seafood the Gulf has to offer. 100% of proceeds go to help the people and environment in the Gulf. On 11/6, they are partnering with The Seasonal Cook to bring 4 dishes to life. New Orleans native Eleanor VonAchen and her husband, Doug, will teach us how to prepare authentic - and non-virtual - Crawfish Pie, Chicken and Andouille Sausage Gumbo, Red Beans and Rice, and Traditional Bread Pudding with Rum Sauce. Fee: $75. All proceeds go to the Gulf Future Campaign which is providing much-needed grants to fishermen and their families and is also working to monitor and restore the wetlands and marine environment. Can't attend? You can still visit the website and place a "Wish I Could Be There" donation.

Saturday, November 13th, and Sunday, November 14th
7th Annual Oyster Roast. Cardinal Point Winery, Afton, Virginia. 12-5pm each day. Live music and plenty of oysters from our friends at Rappahannock River Oyster Company. Raw oysters return this year! Four-time World Shucking Champion, Deborah Pratt, and her sister, Clementine Macon, will ensure that we more than keep up with demand. $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Includes wine glass, wine and oysters sold separately. <-----Last year it was $5 for 1/2 a dozen, a pretty sweet deal if you ask me :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Food Photography & Tomato Candy.

As most of you know, I was eliminated from Project Food Blog. Sigh. Much love to the bloggers who remain. Never one to let a learning opportunity pass by, I’ve decided to tackle the challenges anyway. Challenge #4 asks you to create a tutorial post, a culinary “how-to” comprised of mostly pictures. Here’s mine. Thanks to all who voted – I know I wouldn’t have made it this far without your support.

Years ago I dated a guy who went to the School of Visual Arts in New York. He was a photographer. Most of his work was comprised of gritty urban still life images of graffiti, skyscrapers, bridges. One afternoon he had to visit the studio to shoot some cookies for a class. I figured we’d be in and out in a few minutes.

Two hours later as I watched him adjust the lighting, moves crumbs a millimeter to the left and become increasingly frustrated with his results, I began to understand what a different beast food photography can be. All this before digital photography even existed. We’re talking contact sheets, a magnifying glass, rolls and rolls of film. Hours of work to shoot a cookie. These were the days before Photoshop. Yes, my friends these were the dark ages when all you had was FILM.

It was with much trepidation that I began this challenge. I didn’t want my entry to end up looking like one of those Valpak coupons you get from Joe-Down-the-Street Sandwich Shop. He’s trying to entice you to eat at his joint with a 2 for 1 special, but the photo of his sandwich, instead of making you hungry, just makes you nauseous. It’s not his fault. Food photography is not an Instamatic camera. No point and shoot process here folks. It’s food photography, a whole other animal entirely.

It’s October, but warm enough that we’re getting beautiful tomatoes from our local CSA, Horse and Buggy Produce. So I still get to indulge in my favorite summer pastime – making tomato candy. To you they're roasted tomatoes. But to me? They’re the chewiest, gummiest, yummiest candy. And the only one I know of that comes from a vegetable.

TOMATO CANDY
Ingredients:
4-5 Roma tomatoes
Olive Oil
Salt


Steps:
SELECT
Select 4 or 5 good Romas. These work best for candy, but I’ve used all varieties even icky winter grocery store orbs passing themselves off as tomatoes.


SLICE
Slice your tomatoes about ½-inch thick. I find the thinner slices get gummier, chewier, just all-together “roastier”. After slicing, fill up your ungreased cookie sheet with ‘em. No need to worry about spacing, as long as they’re in a single layer, they’ll roast.


SLATHER
Slather on your favorite olive oil with a pastry brush. Of course my “pastry brush” is a 50-cent paintbrush from Home Depot. Purchased for culinary purposes of course…


SPRINKLE SEA SALT
Sprinkle salt fairly liberally over each slice. I use sea salt because it imparts flavor, but not so much saltiness (if you use sea salt you know what I’m talking about). If using regular salt, use less.


SET IN OVEN
Set them in the oven with the temperature at 200 degrees. The tomatoes will roast for approximately 3-4 hours. Low and slow is the key here. I use a convection roast setting on my oven and can get a good batch of candy in 3 hours. Hint: If you set a few cloves of garlic on the sheet as well, they roast up nicely and are GREAT on bread, in pasta, on pizza....


SLEEP, SIT, SKYPE, SITUPS
(Gratuitous cute dog picture alert! Thank you Jacque Bentley Photography)

What other things start with “S”? ;D Find something to do while they roast away. Turning into little chewy gems of yummy gummy goodness.

SCRAPE
Scrape them off the cookie sheet carefully with a spatula, trying not to suck every one of them into your mouth as you go. Seriously, this is the hardest step. I’ve been known to roast a whole batch of tomatoes only to have Hubby arrive home to an empty cookie sheet. They’re *that* good.

SLAP AND STREW
Is strew a word? Anyway, these babies are yummy slapped on pizza, strewn through pasta, or slid onto a salad. My favorite way lately is to chop them and strew them through rigatoni mixed with goat cheese, basil, and sautéed swiss chard. Yum. Do I love me some tomato candy? You betcha!



Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Nook.

Many thanks to Amy Eastlack of SuzySaid Cville for allowing me to post restaurant reviews on her wonderful site. You can look for my reviews there, and here, at least twice a month. After all, even though I've branched out in my food writing, I still go out to eat...

My favorite meal of the day is Brunch. Something about eating eggs, bacon, fried potatoes, maybe grits, definitely coffee, and sometimes a Bloody Mary or two screams “WEEKEND!” to me. The fun can’t officially start until I’ve had Brunch, preferably outside. My perfect Saturday starts by visiting the Charlottesville City Market, strolling past the booths, picking up veggies, bread, cheese, flowers, then heading off to the Downtown Mall to enjoy Brunch with the Hubby. Only one problem. A lot of restaurants don’t serve Brunch on Saturday, only Sunday. If they do, you’re confronted with a “fancypants” menu chock full of stuff not containing eggs. It can’t be called Brunch without eggs people!

Which is why I LOVE The Nook. Open 7 days a week at the east end of the Downtown Mall, not only does The Nook serve eggs, they’ve got everything you’d find on a diner menu, including daily specials! Their salmon omelet with green onions and goat cheese is gorgeous. They don’t skimp on the salmon, and the goat cheese makes everything creamy and delicious. Got a sweet tooth? Try the strawberry frosted corn flake French toast. Yep, you heard right. My blood sugar spikes just reading it! Other specials include an Italian sausage breakfast sandwich, and a roasted red pepper & mozzarella omelet. Of COURSE they also have all your regular breakfast favorites like pancakes and Eggs Bennie. There are bottomless cups of coffee and terrific Bloody Marys, complete with celery and olive – a little salad to go with your breakfast.

If you don’t want eggs, they have burgers, sandwiches hot and cold, big salads, grilled cheese, and even country-fried steak. Last Saturday, I just HAD to order the hot pastrami sandwich with fries. The meat was tender, not greasy, and the fries!? Seriously, the best fries in Charlottesville. Crinkle-cut, not greasy, and so crispy you could actually hear me bite into them! Finally, a place that knows how to do fries. Hallelujah! If you want, you can get them topped with GRAVY - the hallmark of every great diner.

It was a beautiful day, so we sat outside next to the fountain. Children wandered over from the carousel to dip their hands in. We sipped our Bloody Marys and sighed contentedly. Listening in on a conversation, we heard a family of tourists raving about the food. One guy wished he could live, “right up there!” he pointed. “Can you imagine? I’d order a BLT and tell ‘em I’d be down in 3 minutes!” Everyone laughed.

The couple next to us was from out of town as well. We chatted. She had ordered the meatloaf and said it was out of this world. We both looked longingly at the huge chocolate milkshake being carried over to the next table. My new Brunch friend ordered one to go, caving in to the temptation. So did I.

What’s not to like about The Nook? They serve Brunch on Saturday, there’s never a long wait, you can eat outside, and everything is tasty. Plus, unlike some places that bring you the check before you can order a second cup of coffee, The Nook doesn’t mind if you linger. Lingering is the most important step in Brunch etiquette. It’s the perfect ending. Which is the perfect beginning to your weekend…

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Yard Sale Quiche.

I'm learning a few things about being a member of Horse and Buggy's Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program:
  1. People take a REALLY long time to weigh their veggies. This ain't rocket science people. Brett isn't going to care if you're .10 over the weight limit. Trust me.
  2. Brett really is about the nicest guy you're ever going to meet. I'm diggin on the overalls.
  3. No matter how hard you wish, Mother Nature may not fulfill your kale needs. Last year I was as giddy as a schoolgirl because the rainy Spring meant we were swimming in kale. This year? Not so much. I know, I'm a freak but this broad LOVES her kale!
  4. Week-old CSA veggies sitting in your crisper begin speaking in whispers. Saying things like, "You must cook me now. You must eat me now. I may be rotten tomorrow. And wouldn't that be a damn shame." They're persistent little suckers.
  5. There are two TRIED AND TRUE methods for getting rid of a crapload of veggies quicker than you can say rutabaga: 1) Grill 'em 2) Roast 'em.
This week I did both, and amazed myself with my get-rid-of-your-produce-before-it-rots prowess. Grilled zucchini and squash on Sunday which went great with grilled flank steak (or rather Hubby grilled while I watched). Then roasted all the sweet potatoes and the remaining zucchini and squash on Monday. Chopped these up and mix with couscous, adding a dousing of rice wine vinegar, and you've got a dish that's tasty and healthy. Something about roasting vegetables makes them taste SO much better. Deeper, richer. Yummier.


Served the couscous dish alongside the Horse and Buggy butter beans we'd received. Sauteed these bright green babies with shallots in butter, chicken stock, white wine, with a touch of lemon zest and thyme. Okay, not so healthy, but figured the couscous makes up for it. We only got ONE week of butter beans this year and darn it, I'm floatin 'em in butter!


The next night we had TONS of leftovers. So I got creative. Having just judged the Cville Pie Fest, I was dying to make a pie. So I threw all the leftovers into a pie crust, shoved it in the oven, and called it "Yard Sale Quiche". I think Adrienne Shelly would definitely approve. And seriously? This literally TWO MINUTE creation was the best quiche I've ever made. Hubby agrees.

Yard Sale Quiche
1 prepared pie dough, thawed (or if you're an expert, homemade, but I ain't :)
1 cup leftover roasted vegetables
1 cup leftover sauteed butter beans & shallots
8 eggs, beaten*
1 lg pinch of salt
1 lg pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 c. grated cheddar cheese
1/4 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
  • Place the thawed pie dough in a shallow pie pan, pinching around the edges to make a nice border
  • Dump all the vegetables in the pan
  • Add the salt and crushed red pepper
  • Dump the eggs over the vegetables
  • Dump in both cheeses
  • Bake about 40 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. I let it cook about 25 minutes, then placed foil over it so the crust wouldn't burn
  • EAT!
* This recipe is a great way to get rid of CSA eggs as well....when you've signed up for 6/week they do tend to multiply...and unless you're running a breakfast buffet out of your kitchen...

Monday, October 11, 2010

Scarier Than Spider Hair Monday.

A weekly feature where I present something culinary that *might* just have you saying, “WTF?" Yep, it's even scarier than spider hair.

Hmmmm……I think I might put up my Christmas tree today. Too soon? I mean, I’m already seeing Costume Couture designed by Simon Doonan in my local Target. I’ve always wanted to go to a party dressed as pasta. Don’t you? Food is the new black.SO excited about Christmas! Because this year, I’ve finally discovered a use for all that stemware sitting dusty and forlorn in my cabinets because of my dinner party phobia. I’ll use them as ornaments! It’ll look fabulous. Like a bunch of drunken elves chugged eggnog and hurled the empties at a Scotch pine. If Sandra Lee did it, it MUST be fabulous.



I heart Sandra Lee. She’s kwality with a “k”. Girlfriend ALWAYS has a cocktail while she’s cooking. Her show, Semi-Homemade, provided much fodder for me and my workmates back when I lived in Pittsburgh. We had a television in our office, so noontime was Sandra time. We’d heat our lunches in the microwave and hoot and howl over the weird semi-edible monstrosities she’d create with cans of this and jars of that.

After the food portion came the cocktail recipe. Somehow her cocktails were always blue, and if it’s one thing my Momma told me, unless it’s medicine don’t drink anything that’s blue. For all you know you’ll take a sip and suddenly see the Tidy Bowl Man.

Best part? The TABLESCAPES! Napkins and driftwood and chargers, oh my! Silverware, bird’s nests, gold leaf, twigs, and glassware as far as the eye can see. Everything in its proper place and always fitting in with the theme of the show. Of course when you’re having a Ping-Pong party or a Denim and Diamonds bash things can get rather ugly rather quickly. Wait a minute, denim and diamonds? OMG! *Having an OH SHIT! moment, running to hide the evidence...*

Oh well, gotta go put up my tree. That is an awful lot of dusting to do...and it's such a nice day out. Maybe I’ll just go as Sandra Lee for Halloween. All I’d need is a Farrah wig and a martini glass filled with something blue…and maybe a glue gun. :D

Saturday, October 9, 2010

K.O.'ed

...or 14 Pros & 1 Con On Being Eliminated From Project Food Blog.

Yep, no Round 4 for me. Knocked out in the 3rd. The guy was saying, "7....8...." and I just decided to pretend it was a grizzly bear attack. It was an amicable breakup, really. No hard feelings. Well, hardly any...

PROS
  1. This REALLY frees up my Saturdays. And my Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays....
  2. My cuticles will look a helluva lot better.
  3. I'll finally finish that post on "Cookin' Cheap" that I've been working on. Laban and Larry wouldn't see the light of day until Christmas, but now? Publish City honey!
  4. I never would have learned that Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout pairs extremely well with disappointment.
  5. I won't have to worry about how that huge amount of dough would drastically change the lifestyle to which I have become accustomed.
  6. All that campaigning in October made me feel like a politician. Ew.
  7. My kitchen will look like a kitchen again instead of an effing photography studio.
  8. Ruhlman never won no stinkin' contests. William Kennedy either! Oh, well, except for that whole Pulitzer thing.
  9. Now I can go to the Garlic Festival tomorrow instead of pulling my hair out worrying that my tomato pictures look like they were taken with a Polaroid Instamatic.
  10. Something tells me if I had stayed in the competition sometime in the future Foodbuzz would have me espousing the wonderful flavor profile of Chili's Chicken Crispers.
  11. I never would have heard the phrase, "If anybody had had the sense that God gave geese you would've won." My new favorite quote said by my new favorite person in the whole freaking wide world, Leni Sorenson.
  12. My sister suggested a "F*@% You Foodbuzz!" dinner party. She's volunteered to bring the champagne.
  13. My friend Laura Beall Payne (an incredible personal chef btw), suggested a "F*@% Foodbuzz!" pie. Graham cracker crust, honey, banana pudding, peanut butter swirl. Mmmmm, that just might go well with that stout.
  14. No offense to the great bloggers who made it through, but something tells me good writing isn't a top criteria for these judges. Tablescapes? A definite Sandra-Lee-Cocktail-Christmas-Tree YES.
CON
  1. I really wanted to donate that money. I really really did.
We will resume regularly scheduled programming on Monday. Hell, I might even continue posting the Project Food Blog challenges just for grins. I've got most of them written anyways. I think my feelings at this moment are best summed up by the 1973 hit single, "If You Want Me to Stay" by Sly and the Family Stone. Yikes, I sound like Mary Katherine Gallagher, and the song is actually about a guy promising not to cheat - but still. The first lyric puts it perfectly:

If you want me to stay
I'll be around today
To be available for you to see
I'm about to go
And then you'll know
For me to stay here I've got to be me.

Yep, something tells me I just wasn't a good fit for a contest sponsored by Buick Lacrosse. Now Mini-Cooper? Maybe. Now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to go crank up the volume. Sly's an excellent pairing for disappointment too.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pie.

“Baby don’t you cry, gonna make a pie. Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle…”

In my favorite food movie, Waitress, 3 pie diner waitresses laugh, gossip, and deal with persnickety customers, bad boyfriends, and other various life crises. The main character, Jenna, invents 27 unusual pies each morning with names like, “I Hate My Husband Pie” and “Car Radio” pie. In my favorite scene, she’s singing and stirring chocolate in her kitchen, reminiscing about her mother’s pies as she bakes a “Lonely Chicago Pie” a decadent concoction of chocolate, brown sugar, and blackberries.

I love this movie because the waitresses remind me of all the women in my family, gossiping and cackling in the kitchens of my childhood. I’d sit quietly under the kitchen table, listening intently while they worried and laughed, spelling out words little ears shouldn’t hear. Except I could spell really well. The women in my family were known for their from-scratch cakes. But I loved their pies. Coconut custard, chocolate silk, bourbon pecan, mince, pumpkin. When they made pie, it was an event. I absolutely adore homemade pie.

Which is why I jumped at the chance to judge the 2010 Charlottesville Pie Fest. On October 3, 2010, people gathered at The Haven to eat pie, auction off pie, and judge one pie as “Best In Show”. All to benefit PACEM. Eighteen pies were entered, but only one was chosen the winner. Full results are at the Charlottesville Pie Fest website.

I felt like Boomer Esiason on the main stage as a pie finalist judge. Have you SEEN him judging Iron Chef? Yep, that was me. A real pie meathead. And I was surrounded by pie experts. People like Brian Geiger, Mollie Cox Bryan, and Rowena Morrel, who make pie all the time and can proudly wear that “expert” label.

But me? I just like to eat homemade pie. And oh yeah, I write about food and attempt to sound like I know what I’m talking about. With wildly varying degrees of success. But turn down a pie-judging opportunity? Not on your life sistah! I tried to channel my family womenfolk as best I could and offered my evaluations. Could even hear my Momma scolding, “Now don’t go and make a damn FOOL of yourself, ya heah?”

In the end, we all agreed Adrianna Gallo’s Pear-Cranberry Pie with Gingersnap Crumble topping was the best. Indeed it was – a beautifully made dessert with the snap of ginger, sweet crunch of pear, and the tart tang of cranberries.

Not only did I judge, but I won Elena Rosemond-Hoerr's Caramel Green Tomato Pie in the silent auction. You heard me right – CARAMEL GREEN TOMATO. It was named “Judge's Select” in the competition. Oddly enough no one else bid on it. To me it was a thing of beauty to behold. A unique and strange concoction straight out of the movie Waitress. The crust was just sweet enough, made with graham crackers and caramel. The pie itself tasted of warm golden delicious apples. The fried green tomatoes on top? Heck, they’re fried green tomatoes, what’s not to like? The only thing it lacked was an outlandishly poetic name. Maybe I’ll call it “Under The Kitchen Table” pie after my childhood hiding place. Maybe I’ll even try to make one myself. Stranger things have happened...

Thank you to Brian Geiger for organizing the judging that day, and especially to Marijean Jaggers for asking me to be a finalist judge. It’s her fault I just ordered a pie crust protector.

Kathy Kildea's AWESOME Youtube video of the event:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Overwhelmed.

…with gratitude. It’s been quite a summer. A whirlwind of activity. Between television appearances and judging barbecue and pie, I’m starting to feel slightly like Sally Field at the Oscars. Sorry to use such a worn phrase but you guys really DO seem to like me. And for that I am grateful.

As I embark on Round 3 of Project Food Blog (more on that below), I feel a strong need to pause, take a breath, look around, and say a big THANK YOU to everyone for your votes, support, encouragement, suggestions, critiques, and good old-fashioned cheerleading. You are half of what makes this blog work. As Sandra Bernhard said a while back, “Without you, I’m nothing.”

I started this blog as an experiment almost 3 years ago when my husband and I moved to Charlottesville. I’d been toying with food writing in Pittsburgh, getting my feet wet with a restaurant reviews, so continuing that work here felt like a natural fit. Imagine my surprise when folks here met my little experiment with open arms. Then I happened to read “Soul of A Chef” by Michael Ruhlman. Sitting there in the Fine Arts Library of UVA, I knew nothing would be the same. I had discovered a new passion – food writing. I dove into the genre headfirst, expanding my horizons beyond restaurant reviews. I discovered a well-written food story is its own reward. Without that initial support, I may not have headed down that road and so I thank you for that as well.

I also need to thank my friend Melissa Brown. She’s the one who really put a boot in my ass. She held up a mirror, forced me to look at my reflection, and said, “You can do this.” Until that moment edible cville... had been a hobby, an experiment. She’s the one who showed me it could be something more. Maybe even a career. Most of all, although he knows how grateful I am, I want to publicly thank the Hubby. He’s an integral part of this blog, accompanying me to restaurants, providing feedback, a sounding board, and all around general cheering up when I’m convinced I suck rocks. He’s pretty freaking awesome, and the guy who gave me “Soul of a Chef” to read in the first place.

Without this support I never would’ve considered entering Project Food Blog – a “Top-Chef” style competition where each week bloggers are eliminated. They started out with 1800. Now there are 200, of which I am one. Bloggers progress based on judges’ criteria and blogger votes. One of the judges? None other than Dana Corwin of Food and Wine magazine. That alone gives me shivers! I mean, how cool is that? Dana effing Corwin? Are you kidding?

ONE BLOGGER each week proceeds to the next round solely based on reader votes. Click here to vote. If I win, big party at my house! Also, I intend to give half the prize money to the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank, and The PB&J Fund, two non-profits whose purposes I strongly support. End hunger. Teach children how to cook. Teach kids how to eat nutritiously. I was fortunate enough to have a mother who did this for me. I want to pass that on. It’s the very least I can do to give back to the community that welcomed my little experiment with open minds and arms.

On Friday, I’ll find out whether or not I’ve made it. Even if I haven’t, I’m grateful I tried. Grateful for the encouragement, that boot in the butt to finally JUST DO IT. Get over that wall. Now that I’m on the other side the view is pretty great. Someone just the other day asked me what I did for a living. I replied, “I’m a food writer.” It felt pretty damn good.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

This Dinner Party? It was a CAKEWALK!

Foodbuzz's Project Food Blog 2010 Challenge #3: Luxury Dinner Party

I have dinner party phobia. Any event involving food sends me into conniption fits. I know from the moment I start pulling down pots and pans it's going to SUCK. No one will come. If they do, the food will taste like cat litter. People will get sick, or give me a look that says, “You're kidding, right?" Planning an event gets my heart racing, my hands clammy. The very thought of creating an invite list fills me with dread. It’s a lot like anticipating a root canal.

Last Christmas was supposed to be simple–just brunch with the family. All I had to do was fry eggs and make sure the house was clean. Two hours before the party? I was crumpled on the bathroom floor, paralyzed with anxiety. When my family arrived they found me wrapped in my bathrobe, flat on the couch. I faked flu. I guess it wasn't ALL faking. I really was sick. Dinner party plague.

In another fiesta fiasco, I spent weeks planning a barbecue, buying multicolored pitchers for sangria, festive tablecloths, party bowls. Everything was perfect to the last DETAIL. Two people showed up. I freaked out, inconsolable. Why did I even bother? No one showed because they knew the food would suck. They knew the party would suck. Hell, I sucked.

Why the anxiety? Momma was Martha Stewart before one existed. Growing up in the 1950's and majoring in Home Economics (yeah you heard right) gave her a step up onto the Betty Draper platform of housewifery. Dinners were elaborate affairs served by candlelight, much to the chagrin of my Dad, who always complained he couldn’t see a damn thing he was eating.

Momma experimented with exotic food when all you could buy at your local A&P was LaChoy. It’s no wonder when your Mom is making Baked Alaska from scratch on a Thursday and your friends are eating Nilla wafers for dessert you get it in your head food is an EVENT. Lighting, music, linens, all of it is of the utmost importance. One detail left out can RUIN an entire meal. No wonder I become apoplectic at the thought of planning dinner parties. Who wouldn’t?

Nevertheless, when my friend Melissa Brown asked me to host a party, I couldn’t say no. She’s a single mother of 3. Her youngest, Saralene, has CHARGE Syndrome, so her medical bills are astronomical. Melissa wanted to earn extra cash by having a jewelry trunk show. Could I host it? I knew I had to try. I needed a game plan. And some help.

Now there are two components to a dinner party: the dinner, and the party. I had to decide which fear to face. Maybe by focusing on just one I could avoid a straitjacket. Since the ultimate goal was to help Melissa, I decided to get as many people there as possible, ply them with luxurious food and drink, and let the chips fall where they may.

VENUE
Having it at home was out. We live WAY out in the sticks. The chances of having everyone head to Hicksville for a shindig were slim and none. But, there was a cute jeans boutique in town. I spoke with Laura Van Camp, owner of jean theory, who immediately agreed to host this private event after hours.

DATE & TIME
Since Laura’s boutique is downtown, I picked Saturday from 5:30-7:30pm. We would hit ladies headed home after daytime errands, as well as ladies headed out for dinner. Keep it casual. Keep it light. Drop in when you can.

THEME & INVITATIONS
I needed a catchy theme, something girly. Thus was born “Baubles & Britches!” I called up Amy Eastlack, Empress-At-Large of SuzySaid Cville, a terrific resource for local ladies. She agreed to help organize. I was ecstatic. With her help, there was no way this party would suck. We created an evite, a Facebook event, every angle we could think of. As I already knew, there’s NOTHING worse than no one showing up.

MENU
Instead of choosing traditional dinner items, which might end up a major wardrobe malfunction, we chose a champagne tasting with luxurious cupcakes. A dessert party of ultra-girly indulgence. Since the venue was a local business, I’d keep the focus local for the menu as well.

I asked Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes to create gourmet cupcakes. They agreed, even giving me a discount when they heard the party’s purpose. Additionally, their fondant designer Tracy Remington said she’d create designer jean pockets and tiny fondant jewelry to embed in the cupcake icing. Baubles AND britches!

Pair that with fresh fruit from Relay Foods and local sparkling wine and suddenly, this party seemed like it might not be tragic. I actually got a little excited.

PICTURES
I’d be nervously circulating, pouring drinks and attempting small talk, so I begged my professional photographer friend Jacque Bentley to snap some photos. To my relief, she agreed. I took a deep breath. On party day, despite feeling nauseous, I showed up. Not in a bathrobe.

The party was awesome. Thirty ladies bought jewelry, tried on jeans, and made new friends. I saw women dropping raspberries into their champagne and total strangers bonding while trying on jeans. I knew we’d done okay. Never has sipping champagne and trying on clothes felt so good. I helped out a wonderful friend, and conquered my fear a tiny bit in the process.

I couldn’t have done this without Jacque, Amy, Laura, Heidi (my cheerleader), and of course, Melissa. I remain forever grateful. Without them and the generosity of local businesses, I’d still be a party-phobe. I learned it’s okay to delegate. You do NOT have to do it all. Contrary to popular belief, there is no Martha Stewart judge hovering over you with a report card.

With one successful party under my belt, I MAY just be able to tackle another someday. Heck, with enough champagne in me I can do almost anything...



"Baubles & Britches" Dinner Party Menu