Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Out with the bro

So like I said, my brother was in town this weekend, so I always like to take him places he doesn't have access to in Harrisonburg, which is basically everything.

I saw How the Grinch Stole Christmas - The Musical at the Hippodrome with my best buddy, Ginny, on Saturday afternoon, and Timothy was at my house when I got home. He and I headed to Pazo so he could people watch. And let's be honest, so could I. The place was packed, which I always like to see. 

I remembered the bar at Oceanaire in Harbor East serves one of my favorites wines, Cat Amongst the Pigeons Shiraz, so we went there for rounds two and three. I have no desire to eat at Oceanaire, but the bar is always pleasant and the bartenders are super cool. By midnight, I was done, so we headed home.

Sunday morning we sprinted through the last 30 minutes of the farmer's market gathering odds and ends for the short week. Brunch was at Golden West in Hampden so Timothy could enjoy the visual stimulation. I could eat an entire meal there without saying a word. There's so much crazy stuff to look at on the walls and on people! I love it! Food was pretty despicable on Sunday, though, which has never happened before. Golden West consistently ranks as one of Baltimore's best brunches. Oh well. For us, it was all about atmosphere.

Spent the rest of the day showing the bro around Harbor East and letting him salivate his way down each aisle at Whole Foods. I can't blame him, though. We're regulars, and we still get excited about walking in there.

Dinner was at Lebanese Taverna in Harbor East. Cinghiale was on a Sunday prix fixe menu and Charleston was closed, so that's how we ended up there. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, I'd give the interior a 7, the food a 6, and the service a 4. It was a pretty forgettable dinner except for my wonderful company! Thanks for coming to visit, Dude!

Attempts at baking

I didn't want to brave the outside on Saturday, so I stocked up on supplies and decided to tackle some easy baking recipes. My friend and cookbook author, Kerry Dunnington, had given me her latest book called This Book Cooks, so I dog-eared a few good pages, popped in "Love Actually", and got to town. 

We had a large bowl full of "seconds" apples from the market (the tasty-but-not-so-pretty apples), which are great for using in recipes. My brother was arriving in town on Saturday, so I thought I could make some sort of coffee cake for us. I used these apples to bake an Autumn Apple Crisp, which turned out ok. I went a little heavy on the crisp instead of the apples, so it tasted more like a dessert than a breakfast cake.

I also made Kerry's Mango Cake with Cardamom. Yum! I fell in love with cardamom as a child when my mom would bake this beautiful braided cardamom bread. It's a seasoning that tastes like no other!

The mango cake called for fresh mangos and raspberry cherry juice, which I forgot to pick up. I used leftover Pom juice instead, and it worked just fine! Once again though, little heavy on the dough instead of the fruit.

I made these both on Saturday, and I still have leftovers in the fridge despite having two hungry guys in the house this weekend. Lesson learned. Baking is only necessary in my house if I plan to give it away, because otherwise it doesn't get eaten. Or should I take it as a sign that my baking wasn't as good as I thought?!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Cooking class with mom

For our mom's birthday this past August, my sister and I signed the three of us girls up for a cooking class at The Seasonal Cook in Charlottesville. (We picked C'ville because it's just over the mountain from where my parents live). The theme for our cooking class was Fall Apple Harvest.

Our instructor was Ingrid Bergen, a renowned local cook and private chef. (She used to work for the Kluge family, if any of you are familiar with their wines).

The class was limited to 12 guests, and from 6-10pm, we enjoyed watching Ingrid prepare a gorgeous meal for us centered around Virginia heirloom apples, like the Black Twig, that she'd picked up at the Virginia Apple Festival the week before. So bummed I missed that, but it's on my radar for next year!

Apple and fennel salad with chives. So light and fresh!

Porkchop with apple mash and greens.
Apple crepe with creme fraiche. My wonderful sis, Erika.

Wines were from local Virginia vineyard, Rappahannock Cellars. We had a great girl time and even learned a few things in between chatter! The group instruction was a great setting for going out with groups of friends. Everyone was super friendly and seemed to be regulars. I guess The Seasonal Cook is on to something good!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Fall market menu

We were finally able to make it to the market yesterday for the first time in many weeks, and boy were we shocked at what we saw! The selection was incredible, and we agreed that we were more impressed by this mid-November selection than a mid-July harvest. Maybe because the fall market had so many novelty vegetables that we aren't used to seeing. We asked a million questions of the market vendors, and bless their hearts, despite the blustery wind and chilly temps, they kindly answered all our silly questions. I guess we had them captive at least for a few hours.

So we stocked up on produce and once again spent ALL our cash in 30 minutes. Even though we always spend way too much money, we leave feeling giddy with our recyclable bags and sore shoulders. We cooked from 12:30-7:30pm.

We invited our friends Dex and Lisa over for dinner in repayment for two lovely dinners they've served us. We used them as our official testers for our upcoming holiday party (date TBD) menu. Check it out:
  • Cheese and pate plate with Sicilian olives
  • Marilyn Monroe cocktails (champagne, sherry and grenadine)
  • Sweet potato and apple bisque (inspired by a soup I recently had at the Wine Market)
  • One slice of fried green tomato served in the hollow of a red cabbage leaf, drizzled with a chive, dill and yogurt sauce, with turnip fries on the side
  • Portabello mushrooms sauteed in red wine
  • Red grape salad with fresh citronelle, red onion and olive oil
  • Single link of pork apple sausage served over sweet and sour red cabbage
  • Mulled raspberry wine and Glarus chocolates for dessert

Servings were small so we could enjoy a little bit of everything. My two favorites were the sweet potato and apple bisque (which I ate chilled for dinner tonight as leftovers. Yum!), and the sweet and sour cabbage.

I'd never cooked red cabbage before, but I couldn't walk away from this beautiful head at the market. I found a super simple recipe that called for vinegar (I used cider vinegar), melted butter, and a few tablespoons of sugar simmered with 12 cups of shredded cabbage. So delicious. My German grandmother would be proud of this near-kraut concoction ;)

We'll see what makes the cut for the holiday party, though. Food needs to be easily served and passed without utensils and lots of mess. I think that means the cabbage is out.

The night ended with a challenge: the guys had to cook the girls dinner, and then girls cook the guys dinner. We huddles separately and chose themes for each other, and Lisa and I decided the boys had to make us a dinner that is entirely blue WITHOUT using food coloring. And the boys had decided we had to make them an entirely RED Christmas dinner. Seriously guys? At least try to make it challenging for us! Ha!

Game on. But more to come on that as we start plotting.

Friday, November 14, 2008


Life has been insane these past two weeks since my last post. Work piling up, babies being born, out-of-town guests, engagements, and so on. All these festivities have been accompanied by great dining opportunities, and I will eventually get around to sharing them all.

For now, I have to dish about Corks in Federal Hill. Corks recently got both an interior and a menu facelift. I never went to the old Corks, so I can't make a comparison, but I was very impressed with the new and improved Corks. The interior was designed by Baltimore designer, Patrick Sutton, who also designed Cindy Wolf's Charleston. Exposed brick walls, warm orange tones and dark wood with tall ceilings in the first dining room to make it feel larger than it really is. 

Corks, as you can imagine, has an extensive wine list that focuses on small vineyards you've probably never heard of. Since we couldn't agree on a bottle, the five of us got glasses of our choice. I ordered the Hendry Pinot Noir, recommended by our server to complement the House Blend of cheese fondue that we all split with sauteed mushrooms, bison meatballs, bread, and apples. Both the wine and the fondue were delicious, and I think if no one had been watching, one of us would have tipped the fondue back and licked out the remaining cheese! SO good!

For dinner I had the salmon with shrimp and couscous. The plate was very simple, but nicely arranged and seasoned perfectly. Joe had the sweetbreads, which he insists were pancreas. Well, he should know. Friends got vegetable strudel, the grilled pleasant ridge (tomato confit and basil on wheat berry bread) and a beef dish with sweet potatoes and green beans. 

I sampled the vegetable strudel and really liked it. It was quinoa, goat cheese and veggies wrapped in phyllo dough. We all took turns tasting each other's desserts. Chocolate mousse was too rich to eat much, pumpkin gelato was refreshing, but a little heavy on the serving size, and the PB&J with nutella was the clear winner. (Unfortunately it wasn't mine, so I couldn't go crazy).

The wine selection is interesting but very pricey. I would recommend taking advantage of their selection by ordering by the glass so you can sample more than one wine. Also to note - beyond the front dining room is a great bar in the back room. The interior is darker, but it looked like a great place to hide away.