Happy New Year

3 01 2009

Here’s to a year of good grub!  We rang in the New Year in our traditional fashion–fondue and board games.  This is our third year of fondue.  I made one pot of traditional Swiss, one pot of “pizza fondue” (from my guilty pleasure Taste of Home–it’s just a jar of spaghetti sauce and a package of grated Italian blend cheese.  Almost criminally easy and the kids practically climbed into the pot to get the last bite), and a pot of Bagna Cauda (I made it vegetarian by using sundried tomatoe paste instead of anchovies).   We paired the meal with Rodney Strong’s 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon.  It was fantastic and I was crushed to have a slightly queasy stomach that prevented my overindulgence.

Desert was one pot of chocolate fondue and one of butterscotch, served with fruit and gingersnaps for dipping.  Yum.  And then I vowed never to eat again.  That’s why we only have fondue on New Year’s Eve.



1 11 2008

Inspired by last weeks “The Splendid Table” radio broadcast, I decided to make butter today.  I got a pint of cream from South Mountain Creamery in Middletown and a pint of cream from Trickling Springs Creamery in Chambersburg, PA (well, I got it at the Common Market).  I followed the instructions on the Splendid Table’s website and soon had two nice-sized lumps o’ butter.  We had a tasting.  The butter made from South Mountain had a bit of the dairy smell to it, if you know what I mean.  A back of the nose smell/taste that reminded me of the dairy.  Which, honestly, is a bit stinky, but it came of as slightly cheese-y in the butter.  The Trickling Springs butter just tasted super clean.  Like just pure dairy goodness.  As you might guess, that was the prefered butter all the way around.  I think I will add salt to the South Mountain one (cracked sea salt so I get little crispy chunks now and again) and leave the TS one pure.

For fun, I tried a few add-ins.  I plucked the last of my nasturium blossoms and chopped them up and added them in–it was radishy and tasty.  I think it would be fantastic on a potato.  I chopped up a couple frozen strawberries and added those in–terrific on toast with honey.  Finally, I chopped an apple and added some cinnamon.  Yum.  That would be great on a waffle.  The troops have requested some basil butter with the last of the basil.  I cleaned out my Square Foot Gardens today and there was just a smattering of sad basil remaining.  I think it will be wonderful.  Because, you know, butter.  basil.  I think I’ll add a smidge of parmesan, too.  What could go wrong?

More on the coffee….

1 11 2008

Tried the Ethiopian today and it was even worse.  Sour notes, the roast was too light…blech.   I’ll try this Black Dog by mail, but I’d sure like someplace local for when I run out and panic.

Ice cream update! With coffee rant bonus!

31 10 2008

Last summer, I was going on about ice cream.  In the comments, I was asked if there was Gelato anywhere in town.  At the time, I did not think so, but now there is!  Gelato at the new coffee place: The Baltimore Coffee Company opened in a new shopping center on…Corporate Drive?  Or is it Crestwood?  I can never keep them straight.  Anyway, it’s behind MOMs.  We met a friend for coffee there yesterday.  It has that nasty flavored coffee whiff and the espresso was burned and the brewed coffee weak…but we’re serious coffee snobs.  People who are able to just enjoy coffee without judging may be perfectly happy.  Steve was bummed to see that they keep the beans in open bags, as light and air are the enemies of roasted coffee.  We went home w/half pound each of Tanzanian Peaberry and Ethiopian Yergacheff. Made the Peaberry today–bleh.  I’ve been getting Peaberry from the Frederick Coffee Co.  It’s better.  But still not great.  We used to get Peaberry from a roaster in Leesburg, but the actual roasting machine set the building on fire so we can’t get THAT anymore.  After that, we got Arabian Mocha Sanani from Starbucks, but they discontinued it and we don’t like any of their other coffee.  So now we are adrift, trying coffee here and there.  Steve roasted his own for a while, but his rigged up roaster broke so THAT was out.  Being a Polly Pickipants can be troubling.

Oh, the Gelato was pretty good.  I had Tirmisu, Steve had Chocolate Hazlenut.  Not stellar, but good.  It looks gorgeous in the case, though.  I’ll try a fruit flavor next time, since those are generally my faves with gelato.   I just wanted a flavor to go with coffee.

So.  yes, there is gelato.  Anyone got a great coffee secret?

As American as…

13 10 2008

Apple pie!  A couple months ago, we saw the Good Eats episode about apple pie and it just looked soooo good.  But it required a few purchases before I could get started.  I got grains of paradise from The Spice House (don’t forget the “the” in that address or you will get a…different sort of website). I went to Amazon for my pie bird and a deep tart pan.  Then I went to Mountain Valley Orchard in Cavetown for my apples.  They have a great selection, really good prices, and they don’t spray the trees with pesticides past the blossom stage.  It’s not organic, but it’s better than nothing at all.  The Stayman are great this year.  They were my childhood favorite and I hadn’t had a good one in years.  Finally, I hit Trout Liquors for my Applejack.  I was ready for piemaking.

I used a mix of all sorts of apples, mainly stayman, gala, and fuji.  It was sort of an all-day thing, but well worth it in the end.  The apple juice reduction made the top crust super crisp.  The texture was just perfect.  And so pretty, look!

With the tart pan, you can just push it out and it looks gorgeous.  And when sliced, the apples just stay put, perfectly stacked, each coated with yumminess.

We each had a slice before bed and then a slice for breakfast…and then it was gone.  Sigh.  Guess I have to go back to the orchard…

Update: Nola

10 10 2008

Okay, twice now I’ve gone to Nola and gotten HORRIBLE service.  Today we went in and saw the sign that said “Wait to be seated.”  It didn’t specify how long, but after a couple of minutes we went up to the bar register and asked for menus.  We sat down, figured out what we wanted.  And sat.  And watched a waitres attend to one of the other TWO tables that were occupied.  Then she sidled away, with her back to me, not making eye contact.  Steve went back to the bar and placed our order and paid.  Mistake.  Because if he hadn’t paid upfront we’d have left when our sandwiches did not arrive for 15 min.  It was a grilled cheese and a baked tofu and there were more staff than patrons.  Put the bong down, Maynard, and bring me my food.

Restaurant review–Volt

10 10 2008

Steve and I had our 15th anniversary yesterday and we celebrated by giving Volt all of our money.  I’ve been dying to try it after reading all these great reviews and seeing the chef at the Farmer’s Market so often.  We got a chef’s table so that we could get a tasting menu.  As I mentioned before, I just love little bits of lots of things.  I was so thrilled that there was a vegetarian tasting menu–how rare it is for an upscale restaurant to offer more than a cursory veggie dish!  I’ve just finished Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential and he couldn’t have more scorn for the herbivores.  But he clearly hasn’t had THIS food.

The chef’s dining room looks like it seats about 20.  Steve and I were given a 4-top, and we sat side-by-side so we could both watch the kitchen.  The room is clean and elegant–clearly refined, but not at all stuffy.  When we were seated, we were offered a cocktail menu.  I got a Negroni (which was served on ice, a no-no in my book) and Steve turned into a girl and ordered the cantelope mojito that the server recommended (“How about *I* order your Negroni and you order the mojito?”  “Oh no, if you want a girly drink, you have to OWN it.  Sure you wouldn’t rather have a Fuzzy Navel?”  “Or an Appletini?”).  We were brought house-made breadsticks brushed with olive oil and fennel pollen (“Did she just say ‘fennel pollen?'”  “Yes, I believe she did.”  “I call bullshit.”).  For the record–I tasted nothing that suggested fennel pollen to me.  But it was a perfectly lovely breadstick.

Our meal opened with canapes from the chef–a demitasse of creamed celery soup with white truffle oil (yum!), a cube of “compressed watermelon” with something balsamic on it (good, but kind of silly), and a “beet macaroon” stuffed with a goat cheese mousse.  Ho.ly. cow.  I have no idea how this beet thing was made, but it looked like a wee beet sitting on its head in a soup spoon.  But it was as light as air, it was some kind of beet meringue…I don’t know, but it was weird and delicious and interesting.  The beet part collapsed in my mouth, almost like cotton candy.  I could have eaten a box of those guys.  I dreamed about beet bon-bons while we tried to figure our how one compresses a watermelon.  I think it’s a big industrial press that goes really slowly.  Steve thinks they give the watermelon a high-stress job and a demanding family and then hound in until it collapses under the pressure.

The bread lady showed up (is there a fancy term for the bread lady, like sommelier for the wine dude?) and offered us a selection of breads.  I went with the french and it was so good I didn’t venture to the other sorts.  The butter was sublime and I think I saw the wrapper in the kitchen, confirming my suspicion that it was Vermont Butter and Cheese company butter, the kind that has sea salt chunks in it.  mmmmm.

Our first official course was a tasting of beets.  I imagined a row of different sorts of beets, maybe with a fancy sauce each, but no!  The weird beet meringue was back, this time in a long cylinder.  There were also poached beets and raw beets and, I think a couple of turnip chunks.  It came with that goat cheese mousse and was just delicious.  It might have been our favorite course.  And it was beets, of all things, a vegetable I didn’t even like until this year.  It was a shining testament to the fact that simple food, prepared perfectly does not have to be fancy (okay, the fluffy beet tube was pretty fancy.  But the other beets were just…beets).  All the dishes were just beautiful, too, and we could see the chef placing everying Just So.

Next came a shitake mushroom veloute with a sabayon of pine nuts (translates to smooth buttery mushroom sauce/soup topped with a smooth fluffy pine nut sauce) served layered so that it looked a bit like a black and white cookie from Brooklyn.  It had the occasional bit of thai basil flower in it, creating these little bursts of anise flavor.  Pheonmenal.  I seriously wondered if anyone would notice if I licked the bowl.  Maybe I should have caused a distraction…”Hey!  Brad Pitt just went into the main dining room!  Hurry!” nom nom nom.

Third course: Fennel and Farro risotto.  I had to look this one up, as I didn’t know what farro was and was suprised when my RISotto appeared to be made of wheat berries.  Farro, it appears, is some sort of ancient wheat that turns up in Italian food.  So, you know, wheat berries.  Which is not to say it wasn’t yummy, because oh it was.  It was topped with beets (it’s what’s in season, and lord knows they work ’em). and had a really rich, full flavor.  If I hadn’t been assured it was all vegetarian, I’d have sworn there was a meat base to the stock.

The final savoury course was an eggplant confit on cannelini beans.  Confit, it turns out, means that a food has been preserved in its own fat, more or less.  Clearly that was not the case here, but whatever it meant, it was the only time I’ve ever really enjoyed eggplant.  Not at all mushy or oily, it was toothy and flavorful.  There was a really nice smokey taste in there somewhere as well.  As will all the other dishes, each bit was delicious on its own, but really fablulous when eaten all together.

There was kind of a long wait for our final course, a tasting of apples.  I kind of thought they forgot to give it to us.  We got the madiera, we got coffee….then they brought us a little cake with a candle on top to wish us happy anniversary.  It was, of course, very yummy.  We’d only had a couple of bites when the apples arrived.  This was the only real bungle in the service, I’m not sure what order things were supposed to have gone in, but as it was we got madiera, a wait, then coffee, then a wait, then cake and then the final course right on top.  I’d have liked to have had the madiera and the apples and then the cake with coffee.  As a final touch we got a tray with a fruit square (more please!), biscotti, and some chocolates (meh.  AND I was full, but I left those alone after one bite).

Other stuff: We both had the wine pairing.  I wouldn’t bother in the future.  I’d never done a wine pairing before, so I was curious, but the fact is, I don’t like white wine.  I’d just get a nice pinot noir and be done with it.  Also, I’m pretty sure the sommelier is just making stuff up.  “This wine is from the Fredonian region of Provolone.  The terrior suggests a hint of manganese and the floral notes of acidopholus.  The winemaker only smokes clove cigarettes so that his ash can complement this vintage.”  Then he takes it to the next table and tells them it’s made by blind elves in the center of a hollow tree.  Sure, okay.  Steve was reasonably certain there’s just one big vat of white wine with a bunch of tubes leading out, each labeled with a different varietel.  But it’s all Franzia in a box to us.  The reds were really nice, though.  And I LOVED that Madeira.  I was the driver, so I was just having a sip or two of each wine.  I should have just mooched off of Steve and saved a bit of dough.

Service: Aside from the dessert glitch, the service was impeccable.  Efficient, polite, well-trained.  They never made me feel like a clodhopper.  Best of all?  I don’t know ANY of their names.  None of them told me.  Which is good because I. don’t care.  Our main waitress clearly watches Mad Men and gave us a Joan-like “of course” at every request.  It was pretty amusing.  Since I’d just read the Bourdain book and have a bit of a thing for Gordon Ramsay shows, I was expecting a foul-mouthed chef yelling at Central American cooks, but no.  It was all but silent, with the cooks working diligently. In fact, we became convinced that we were looking at a sham kitchen and somewhere in the back there’s a lot of yelling and clanging pots and sudden fires.  There wasn’t even anyone calling orders.  They just seem to know what to cook.

And they know how to cook.   Volt is one of the best restaurants I’ve visited.  I just wish I wasn’t going to need to squirrel away money for a year to go again.  We’ll go a la carte next time as Steve wants more of the steak and I would like a trough of soup and wheelbarrowfull of beety poofs.