So, we made it outa town this weekend. Got back in the early afternoon on Sunday. Had a great time all around. We went to Historic Colonial Williamsburg. Been there many times and it was a treat seeing it all again. We even had dinner reservations at one of the historic taverns. Took the dogs with us, too, since the motel we stayed at allowed pets. Because of traffic difficulties in and around the Norfolk area, we didn’t get to the hotel until around 6:30. Too late to go see anything, so we decided to treat ourselves to a nice evening out, dinner, wine, and dessert.
We chose a steak house just up the road from the hotel called The Aberdeen Barn. We chose it, hoping the Aberdeen name meant it followed the same ideals as the town it’s named after in regards to steak. The western cow-towns all treat beef properly, in my experience, and it’s the only way to get a really tender steak. The Aberdeen Barn lived up to its name. We started with wine and the one I got was so mellow and so smooth it was like drinking air. We took a pic of the advert so I will remember its name. Had two glasses. Partner/Spouse got a pinot noir from a winery called Pepperwood Garden. It was also very light and an excellent choice.
They had set down a pot of cheese, some pretzel sticks and crackers so we could nibble with our wine while we perused the menu. It’s a steak house, so what are you going to order fish for, right? I got a Delmonico steak and Partner/Spouse got a top Sirloin, one of the most tender cuts there is. Salads to start, and potatoes with the steaks. I got one of the best ribeye steaks I’ve ever enjoyed at a restaurant. I could almost cut it with just a fork. I certainly didn’t need the saw-toothed machete they gave me. So we ate and drank slowly, savoring the meal and the pleasure of being on a mini-vacay.
The next day started with an okay breakfast at a really bad diner called Old Mill Waffles and Pancakes. Our road was stuffed to the gills with pancake houses and breakfast diners. We just chose badly. But the food itself, once we got it, was decent and well priced. We spent the morning shopping at our favorite stores. It was a sprinkling kind of morning so staying indoors was the right thing to do. Around noon-ish we went to historic Williamsburg. What a treat! As I said, we’ve been there before and know our way around and had a blast. Most of the fun comes from watching other people, particularly the ones who are there for the first time. We got to see some target practice, and a fife and drum parade, and Gen. Lafayette and his aide on horses, and little kids in the stocks. In one out of the way corner, there was a woman in period clothing sitting on a bench singing. She had a beautiful voice. We stopped in some stores and looked around a bit. I bought two bottles of wine (surprised?) and a flint and steel to start fires. And a new cookbook with recipes from the town’s taverns. We stopped at a “bakery” and got biscuits with Virginia ham. Ever have Virginia ham? Think pork flavored salt and you’ve got a good idea of what this is. It’s a preserved ham, very salty, and it’s used in dishes like pork and beans, and ham salads. If you’re going to use it as a main dish, you need to soak it for several hours and in several different baths of water to remove as much salt as possible.
We went back to the hotel to relax (we needed it) and to take care of the dogs. Our reservation was at 6 but by 5 we both decided to blow off the reservation and eat someplace close by. We went to a Thai restaurant and had a blast. Our waitress kept up laughing, and we kept her laughing and we all had a good time. One funny thing that happened was at the table next to us. A younger couple sat down and she went to the restroom right away. The young man sat there squirming and twitching. He kept looking around for her but finally the call of nature was too much for him. He grabbed his wife’s purse and quickly moved to the restroom. I started laughing and told Partner/Spouse that poor woman was going to return to her table and wonder what the hell happened. Twenty seconds later, she did and she did. I motioned her over. “He really needed the restroom,” I said, “And he took your purse with him so it wouldn’t be taken.” She laughed along with us and sat down. He returned a couple of minutes later and I heard her say, “That purse really doesn’t go with those shoes.”
We went to a store and bought more wine and cake for dessert. It was good. We watched a marathon cooking show on television and relaxed.
Sunday morning, packing up the car, it’s always a hassle. You want to make sure you don’t forget anything, and you want the car to be as comfortable as possible. You want the dogs to settle down and sleep the whole trip. And you want the dogs . . . . uh, dogs? . . . . uh, where are the dogs? They slipped out of the room during one of the trips to and from the car! Boom, we were both running up and down the breezeways to and from the parking lot and dog walking area. Partner/Spouse found them making friends with some other guests. They were only gone a few minutes but they looked at us like we’d abandoned them. So after a few more minutes of packing and checking out, we went to another diner, the Original Astronomical Diner. No idea why it’s called that, but the food was good, cheap, plentiful and the waitress was a hoot!
Ugh, long drive home. Listened to CDs we’d bought in one of our shopping forays. Good stuff. But we were both waiting for our big stop on the way home.
It’s our favorite chicken restaurant of all time. It’s spicy, but not too spicy. The chicken pieces are huge. The biscuits are fresh made and real proper biscuits. The sides are excellent. They sell breakfast biscuits full of ham or chicken or sausage and other meats. They sell biscuit sandwiches all day long. Our favorite is the 3 wing combo that includes a biscuit and one side and a drink. You only find these restaurants way down south. In Virginia, the closest one is right next to the border of North Carolina. We were thrilled to see one on the peninsula on our first arrival a year ago. We’ve only been a couple of times because it’s about an hour and fifteen minute drive away. So worth it, though. But since we were passing it anyway, we stopped and got a big box of chicken to go. Of course, then we had to put up with the aroma of perfect fried chicken the rest of the way home.
We arrived home to a fanfare of blossoms. Nearly all our flowering plants welcomed us back with a bright, colorful display. The pineapple sage had stalks of bright red flowers. The morning glories had opened up a bunch of blossoms in the bushes. Our purple obedience had exploded while we were gone. We even had some new pansies. So happy to be home, but so happy we took the trip.
On a more somber note, on today’s date in 1998, a young man named Matthew Shepherd died after being brutally beaten and left tied to a wire fence in the middle of nowhere in Wyoming. On Oct. 6, he was in a gay bar and approached two men in the bar. They went to one of the men’s car for a drive. During the drive, the two men attacked him, beating him about the head. Once they were far from town, they continued their beating and torture, finally leaving him for dead tied to a fence on the roadside. A few hours later, Matthew was found, still alive and taken to a nearby hospital. He clung to life for six days, finally succumbing to his injuries. He passed away from this life, but changed the world. The two men were found and tried and found guilty and are now serving life sentences without possibility of parole. From the moment Matthew died, the country and the world decided this should not happen any longer. I always remember him on Oct 12.
Partner/Spouse and I are heading out of town for a few days so today’s post is short. But it’s a good one, I promise.
Since Fall is well on its way and the temps are cooling down, at least here, it’s time to start breaking out those wonderful recipes that fill the house with warmth and aroma. Yesterday, I made a Beef and Onion stew on the stove top. It can just as easily be made in a crock pot.
Stove Top method:
First, roughly chop two very large onions and place in a bowl. Next, cut two pounds of beef roast into 1/2 inch cubes. DO NOT use already cut stew meat because it’s usually leftover bits from other things and not always the best quality. And it’s usually cut into pieces that are fairly small. For this stew, the beef has to have some oomph. Set the beef on a plate. In a large dutch oven, heat 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. When the oil is blazing hot, turn the heat down a bit and brown all sides of the beef in batches. When the beef is done, move them to the same plate. After the beef is done, heat the remaining oil for a few moments and add the onion. Let the onion sweat a little bit, stirring once in a while. Remove about a half cup of the onion into the original bowl and set aside for later. Continue cooking the remaining onions until caramelized. Remember, the browner the onion, the browner your stock will be and more flavorful. Add six cups of water and the beef, plus any juices that have collected on the plate. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. There will be a kind of “scum” that collects on the top. You can either remove this, or ignore it as it will incorporate back into the stew. Also, be certain to scrape the bottom of the pan during the initial heating phase to loosen all the brown bits called the fond. This is extra flavor for the broth. Now, let this simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring about every twenty minutes or so. The onion will completely disappear and the meat fill become falling apart tender. The broth will turn a rich savory brown. Add extra water during this process so the stew doesn’t cook down and burn. When the stew has reached the point where the meat is falling apart tender, add the reserved onion, a tablespoon of chopped garlic (it sounds like a lot but it will taste wonderful), one large potato cut into small pieces, and salt and pepper to taste. Be sparing with the salt and pepper because as the stew reduces, the flavors intensify. When the potatoes are done, serve the stew with fresh biscuits.
Crock Pot method:
Place all ingredients except reserved onion, garlic, and potato into a crock pot and cook on high for 4 hours or on low for 6. Do not stir. When the meat is tender, add the reserved vegetables and cook another 1-2 hours until the potatoes are cooked.
I gotta tell you, the aroma of beef and onion wafts through the house, outside of the house, and makes your neighbors ask what you’re fixing. They really do! Even if they’re sitting on their porch across the street. And it’s the perfect intro to Autumn cooking. You can spice it up any way you choose to, but the original beef and onion is a classic not to be passed over. Just realized it would make a great base of beef pot pies, too.
Well, gonna end this one with some food funnies. I’ll see you next week with a breakdown of what happened this weekend! Hopefully on Monday, but if not, it’ll be Wednesday!
sounds like me
this is our house
I’ve seen people do things like this
This is so true
puppies do this too
and, as always,
In the last post, I wrote about some of my experiences in Paris. There was one food we discovered by accident that had all of us in bliss. It was a simple little sandwich, about the size of a slider (although that term was unknown then.) It was a chunk of baked chicken in a split fresh-baked roll with a smear of mayonnaise and a small pickle chip. It doesn’t sound like much, but we bought these by the dozen. There was a small café around the corner from where we were working that made these fresh every day, among their other offerings, and at 10:30 nearly every morning, we bought two dozen and took them back to the office to munch on for the rest of the morning.
They were deceptive. Three or four ingredients that set you soul ablaze with flavor. First, the chicken was baked to perfection. It was tender and juicy and incredibly well-seasoned. No single flavor on the chicken overpowered any other, and all of them enhanced the taste of the chicken. So good. The bun was fresh and moist and al dente but not too crusty and not too soft. As I learned to bake bread in various forms, I found that the amount of salt in the dough has a direct influence on the flavor of the bread. A bland bread has little or no salt in it. These buns were, again, perfectly seasoned and very tasty. I’m sure the gherkins were purchased but they were purchased from someone who knew what they were doing. The mayonnaise, I found out later, was made by hand. That takes some doing.
I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise. It’s white and fluffy and I don’t like putting it in my mouth. Any of my readers who’ve known me since childhood will remember my antipathy towards that sandwich spread. Back then, I was known to go hungry rather than eat a sandwich that had mayonnaise on it. As I’ve grown older, my tastes have changed, and my willingness to try new things has changed. I eat mayonnaise more often now, but still don’t eat it very much.
Making mayonnaise is like making any sauce. It takes some effort, and the better quality the ingredients are, the better tasting the mayonnaise is going to be. Once back in the early days of my marriage, my ex and I decided we wanted to try fresh made mayo. I don’t even remember what we were making it for, but we wanted to try it. We had a brand new top of the line blender and the recipe was from the instruction book. It looked easy enough, and we had all the ingredients. So, off I went, following everything to the letter. We ended up with a pale yellow fluffy concoction that didn’t appeal to either of us. We both took a taste, and decided, “Nope!” and I didn’t try to make mayonnaise for years after that. There was nothing wrong with the recipe or the result. It just wasn’t what we were used to.
Since then, I’ve watched celebrity chefs making mayonnaise by hand or by machine on television and wondered what it would taste like. Then, I remembered those sandwiches from Paris. I suddenly knew what mayonnaise was supposed to taste like and so seldom does. At least, in my experience. And I wanted to try my hand at it again. There’s an episode of The Two Fat Ladies where Jennifer (the motorcycle driver) wants to make mayonnaise for whatever she’s cooking up. She was 72 or thereabouts at the time and she grabbed the bowl and wire whisk, sat down on a stool, briefly walked the audience through the steps, then went to town. As she was furiously whipping it, Clarissa said, “I’ve always maintained that either you can make mayonnaise, or you can’t.” I think I tend to agree with her.
Well, today I decided to find out if I can.
Turns out, I can. And that makes me happy. Before I started, I did what I always do and researched it on the internet. I know the basic steps but I was looking for a pattern. I found that if you’re going to make it by hand, you only use the egg yolk. If you’re going to use a machine (a blender or food processor) you can use the entire egg. What you’re making is called an emulsification. You’re trying to suspend solids in a liquid, kinda like mud. In this case, you’re trying to suspend an egg or egg yolk in oil. Your hand is never going to attain the speeds necessary to break down the entire egg into oil, so only use the yolk since it breaks down easier. The basic recipe is what you see above. You need one large egg yolk, (that’s a jumbo egg, by the way), one cup of oil, 1 Tbsp of something acidic (lemon juice give great flavor, but clear vinegar works, too.), a 1/2 tsp of salt (more or less to taste) and a couple of pinches of sugar to balance the acid. The yolk needs to be completely dry so separate it with your hands allow every piece of white to slough off. Gently pull the white solids off as well (just for information’s sake, those hold the yolk suspended to the egg shell so it doesn’t break inside) and place in a small or medium bowl with all the ingredients except the oil. Use a wire whisk (a fork will do in a pinch, but it’s more difficult) to blend everything. Now the oil. The oil makes or breaks the mayonnaise so let’s talk about it for a minute.
In all traditional recipes, the oil is always extra virgin olive oil of a good quality. But you have to like the flavor of olive oil for this to be a success. Many old school recipes try to mask the oil’s flavor by adding a tsp of dijon mustard, or a tsp of dry mustard, or a pinch of cayenne, or some other strong flavored spice. Also, the color of the mayonnaise will be darker when these flavorings and oils are used. Alton Brown suggests using vegetable oil of some kind and I noted that his turned out whiter than mine. So it’s your choice to use olive oil, canola, corn, or whatever. I’m going to use canola next to see how the flavor goes.
Once you’re ready to start, you’re committed for the next 20-30 minutes. Set your bowl on a no-skid mat so you don’t have to hold it down. Start whisking the egg and adding the oil drop by drop. This is important because if you add too much oil, the yolk won’t be able to process it. This is true for machines or muscles. You don’t need to wait long between adding each few drops. Just don’t ever stop whisking, except for a moment or two to adjust the bowl or give your arm a short rest. And I do mean short. As the mayonnaise thickens, you can start adding the oil more quickly, just don’t over do it. It should take anywhere between 20-30 minutes to get all the oil incorporated. Once all the oil is in, whisk as fast as you can for about two minutes. You should have a thick unctuous sauce. Take a taste and adjust flavors, making certain to whisk additions thoroughly into the mayonnaise. The process is the same if you’re using a machine, but it’s a lot quicker, in the 5-10 minute range.
Alton Brown says that at this point, you can leave the mayonnaise on the counter for a couple of hours to continue to thicken and to stabilize, but no longer than that. Remember you’re working with a raw egg product and need to take the standard precautions. I’ve noticed mine is thickening beautifully. I stir mine with the whisk about every thirty minutes to keep it from “breaking” or separating out. Once it’s thickened at room temperature, you can put it in the fridge and it will keep well for up to a week. Don’t go longer than that, just toss it and make a new batch. When the mayonnaise is ready, it can be used to make a ton of other sauces, but that’s a post for another time.
Now, once I figure out the buns and the chicken, I’ll be able to replicate those sandwiches.
Back in the late ’90s, I spent several weeks in Paris working a computer job. The team arrived in early September. I left about mid-November. One of the nicest things about spending that much time there was we got to see the seasons changing. One of the neatest things I saw was the birth, life, and death of a small sidewalk café on the corner near our hotel. I was there 3-4 times a week. I might have been their only customer. I loved sitting there watching people go by while eating a baguette and drinking wine.
When we first got there, I was walking around the streets near the hotel with a coworker and we got hungry. We didn’t want to go into a restaurant just then, and hadn’t discovered the sidewalk cafes yet, so we stopped at a food cart. The smells coming from it were unbelievable. We both ordered a basic panini and a drink. We were handed a bottle of water (still, cuz that matters in Europe) and very soon a crusty toasted baguette about 15 inches long. We continued walking and both took a bite at the same time. It was okay, fresh bread toasted in a press, minimal cheese. Another bite similar to the first and I was about to offer an opinion. Then I took a third bite and stopped in my tracks. It was a full bite of melted cheese, grilled ripe tomato, and fresh basil. My coworker had stopped as well. We looked at each other with the same look in our eyes. This was Paris. All too soon the entire sandwich was gone. I’ve never forgotten that third bite.
One time, I wanted to make dinner in the kitchenette in my room. I went to a nearby store and settled on a piece of salmon, some pasta, a small pastry, and I wanted a bottle of wine. I knew I wanted white wine, but I wasn’t anywhere close to knowing wine like I do now. There were two rows of wines. Big rows. All in French. I was trying to puzzle it all out for over twenty minutes until I finally just grabbed a bottle at random. I bought some fresh herbs and some butter to poach my salmon and a baguette, cuz when you’re in Paris it’s what you do. I got home, settled in, put some music on and started cooking. The wine was chilling and I was looking forward to a quiet evening of reading and drinking. The salmon turned out perfectly. I boiled the pasta and added herbs and butter to it. I popped the wine open and poured a glass. Then I took a sip, spat it out, and poured the wine down the sink. In my inexperience (and language barrier) I’d chosen a sickeningly sweet wine. I’m sure in the right context it was a good wine. Not what I wanted though. But, I had a corner café and I ran down, bought another chilled bottle (which is what I should have done in the first place) and ran home. Crisis resolved.
As the season changed, and it got cooler, new vendors were showing up, particularly along the river. Sometimes in carts, sometimes just individuals with belts around their waists, and more frequently in the sidewalk cafes and restaurants. Hot chocolate was showing up with greater frequency. It was the most amazing hot chocolate I’ve ever had.
This picture in no way conveys the quality of the hot chocolate I drank on an evening in Paris in Autumn. It was creamy, succulent, rich and delicious. It was set to the perfect temperature for drinking. It kept you warm on a chilly evening, but it didn’t burn your mouth or tongue. The quality of the chocolate was amazing, some of the best I’ve tasted, and perfect for the warm drink. I’ve decided in later years that it was the combination of cream and chocolate. I’m not a fan of hot drinks, but this one I’m working on. If I ever figure it out, I’ll let you know. But it’s spoiled me for other hot chocolate drinks.
Another food my time in Paris ruined for me is croissants. Here in the U.S. we call them crescent rolls. Here in the U.S. they tend to be doughy. In Paris, it’s an art form. In Paris, it’s a source of pride. In Paris, you don’t get bad croissants.
Since I worked on the database at work, I needed to be able to have a good couple of hours on the system when no other people were accessing it. I would be on Le Metro when the bakeries would be putting out fresh croissants. Initially, I’d order two croissants and a bottle of water and take them to work. They’d sit in their paper bag all warm and smelling so good. Other commuters would look at me in disbelief that I wasn’t stuffing them in my face right there. Once at work and set up, I’d start savoring these flaky treats.
A true croissant takes hours to make. You create a large sheet of light pastry dough and put a sheet of chilled butter on it. Fold it over the butter and beat the pastry into a large sheet again. Fold it into thirds and beat or roll the pastry into a large sheet. Fold it into thirds and chill. Repeat the above steps two more times. Eventually you have a million layers of pastry and chilled butter. On the last roll out, you cut and shape the pastry and bake it. The butter (which hasn’t melted into the pastry since it stays chilled throughout the process) creates flaky layers and bubbles which makes the croissant light and airy and crispy throughout.
Then, one day when I was a little early and not so rushed, I looked at the other offerings and discovered this:
It’s called pain au chocolat and is a chocolate croissant. You make the croissant pastry but instead of shaping into the traditional shape, you shape rectangles and add two small bars of bittersweet chocolate. When they’re fresh, and the chocolate is all melty and gooey, it’s an amazing thing that will make grown men weep. It did me. Even when they’re hours old, they’re still pretty damn good. So my standing order turned into two regular croissants and two pain au chocolat. I got so fat in Paris. There was so much that was good to eat.
There’s an episode of The Golden Girls (look it up if you don’t know the show) where Sophia is running around preparing for a hurricane. She says “There’s a hurricane a-comin’!” Her daughter, Dorothy, mocks her phrasing, to which Sophia replies, “That’s how you say it any time there’s a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a-comin’.” Right now, we’re patiently waiting through a nor’easter. It’s a specific kind of storm that starts in the south and west and head north and east. For some reason, this particular form of storm is usually stronger and more destructive than other forms. It’s cold, and wet, and it hangs on for longer than normal storms. This one started two days ago and should be over by late tomorrow. In the meantime, cold and wet is the name of the game. Of course, right on the heels of this storm is The Hurricane. Right now, it looks like it won’t make landfall in the States at all, but there is a cone of damage that will have an impact for us. Lots of wind, more rain, a light rise in temps, and flooding along the shores of both the ocean and the bay. Tides will be higher, and on the ocean side, they need to prepare for the storm surge, the push of water along the edges of the storm.
For us, it really just means some high winds, lots of rain, and cold temps. Forces everyone to stay inside, except the dogs occasionally, and indoor pursuits. We might lose power; ours has flickered twice this morning and once yesterday. In view of that, I decided to make some bread this morning and I made one of my new favorites. It’s from America’s Test Kitchen, ATK, and is called English Muffin Bread. It’s so easy I can’t imagine any reason not to have it on hand all the time. This recipe makes two loaves. We usually eat one immediately and leave the other in the fridge until we’re ready for it.
- 5 cups flour (it calls for bread flour, but I’ve made it successfully with AP)
- 4 1/2 tsp instant yeast
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 3 cups hot milk (or water as I’ll discuss in a moment) 120 degrees
- 2 Tbsp corn meal
- baking spray
In a large bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together. Make a well in the center and pour in the hot milk or water. Note: I don’t keep milk on hand since no one in the house likes it for anything so I put in buttermilk powder in the proper quantity and whisked it with the dry ingredients. Then I used hot water rather than milk. It didn’t hurt the bread at all. Interestingly enough, the hot water out of my tap is exactly 120 degrees. I measured it with a quick read thermometer.
Stir everything to combine. On the show, they stirred by hand using a rubber spatula. I used the dough hooks on my electric hand mixer. You could also use a stand mixer. Just don’t over combine. You want everything mixed together, but you don’t want to knead it. Place it in a warm draft free area and let rise for 30 minutes. You’ll be surprised at how fast and how high it will rise. My Trick: I put a small plastic bowl of water in my microwave and heated it for 1 minute. I took the bowl of water out and put the bread dough in. The microwave was warm enough to allow the dough to rise while keeping all drafts and breezes off.
When thirty minutes have passed, stir down the dough gently with a rubber spatula. Prepare two loaf pans by spraying liberally with baking spray then coating the bottom and sides with corn meal. This will allow the bread to release from the pan easier and give the bread that crunchy exterior. Divide dough equally into the two pans. Allow the bread to rise in the pans for thirty minutes. See My Trick above, the microwave will still be warm enough for this step.
When thirty minutes have passed, heat oven to 375 and bake for 35 minutes. Remove from pans and allow to cool. This makes the best toast in the world! But it also makes great sandwiches. It also can be used to make crostini or bruschetta.
Later, I’m going to make an Orange Sherbet cake cuz Partner/Spouse wants one. Yesterday, I made chocolate chip cookies, but we haven’t had them in so long, they’re nearly gone. I might make more tonight.
But for more comfort food on a drizzly day in Delmarva, tonight I’m grilling two ribeye steaks and making a Caesar Salad for dinner. On a cold drizzly day, it’s all about warmth and comfort foods. I wonder if mac and cheese would be good with the salad? Wish I had some mushrooms.