Sunday, November 29, 2015

Trend List Season Begins - and a Few Thoughts about Tuna

It's that time again...when every blog, magazine, newspaper, etc gets busy publishing lists of what to expect in the new year. I love this stuff.

Or, rather, I love some of it. Many (most?) of the lists are kind of half-ass, without much that really feels new or fresh. But today, I ran across two food world lists that are pretty solid: this Forbes list of the top food trends of this past year and this Evening Standard list of party food trends out of London.

Both lists are worth a read. People who pay close attention to the food world probably won't be surprised by much on the Forbes list, though it's still a good summary and consistent with a lot of what I saw this year. The Evening Standard list gets specific in a couple ways I really appreciate. Hot shots are trending, for example, rather than just shots.

There's one key crossover of note: poke, the Hawaiian raw tuna dish.

Seeing that on both lists surprised me, mostly because I tend to lump poke in with other raw tuna dishes, so in my mind, it's more passe than fresh. But maybe it's that tuna, in general, is on its way back? It doesn't really fit with what I see around here - which involves more of a focus on creative uses of trash fish - but I'm not sorry to see it, either. I like tuna and I like poke. So there's that.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Trendy Monday and More: Turketta at Mock Thanksgiving

Is any other holiday as beige as Thanksgiving? So unphotogenic...but so, so delicious.

Every Thanksgiving season, there seems to be a new turkey trend...because apparently regular old roast turkey isn't enough. We fry, we brine with crazy stuff, we smoke, we stuff with chickens and ducks.

Fortunately, with the rise of "Friendsgiving" as a legit holiday, we have an opportunity to be trendy the week before Thanksgiving, reserving the actual day to enjoy the exact menu our moms have been cooking for us since we were little. (Side note: at my house, Friendsgiving is called Mock Thanksgiving and we have been doing it since 2002. Because Cooper and I are thought leaders in the realm of fake holiday celebrations.)

This year, as far as I can tell, the big turkey trend is turketta - porchetta-spiced turkey. I've seen a bunch of recipes for versions of the dish. Since we love porchetta - and since I was desperate for a turkey idea earlier this week - we made a couple turkettas for dinner with our friends last night.

We used this Bon Appetit recipe...and it was awesome. Moist, tons of flavor, not that difficult to make. It was just complicated enough that I felt like a culinary rockstar when I finished prepping it...but not so hard that I couldn't actually do it. That is a sweet spot.

With the turketta, we had these gorgeous mashed potatoes, roast sweet potatoes, fennel and carrots, sauerkraut from Hex Ferments, and cranberries I bought pre-made from Eddie's. Alicia made pumpkin cupcakes with cinnamon buttercream, the kids ate a bunch of mac and cheese and we drank a silly amount of wine for a Sunday night.

Mock Thanksgiving started as a small dinner, with just a couple friends, back when I was first learning how to cook. Over the past few years, it's evolved into a much bigger party.

This year, we felt the need to quiet it down a little. So, no big party, just a small dinner with a few friends + kids. The big parties are consistently fun and crazy and hilarious...but there's just nothing like a special dinner with a handful of close friends.

At our house, we are always, always so busy that it's very easy to focus more on what's worrying and stressing us vs. what makes us happy.  After dinner last night, we sat around the table, with all the dirty dishes still piled on it, listening to music and drinking wine and talking and laughing. So much laughing - from the adults and the kids. I can't think of a better way to kick off a season dedicated to gratitude.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Recently Noted

Just a few recent observations and experiences:


Last week, at the Fork and Cork dinner, we ended up sitting with the couple who owns Elk Run Vineyard in Mt. Airy. They were super nice, as were their friends, a couple who own an orchard in Carroll County and who pickle all sorts of things.

We got to talking, as people do when they're eating and drinking together, and Carol, from Elk Run, mentioned that Bryan Voltaggio had once done a dinner at the vineyard. He had, she said, the best tasting memory of anyone she'd ever met. Long after he tasted their wine, he could clearly recall it - and pair it.

I wish I had that. My memory-memory is pretty solid...but I just don't have a chef-level tasting memory. At all.

Recently Spotted

Slightly random, but there are two things I've noticed popping up all over the place lately: Tom Waits and toffee. I don't think they're connected. But who knows.


We had dinner last night with my old friend Rasim - and he brought us gifts. Since the last time we
hung out with him, he'd been to visit "the motherland" - for him, that means Turkey.

Because he is an awesome friend, he brought us gifts. For Cooper and me, a bottle of Yeni Raki, a liqueur mixed with water and made from grape and anise seed. As far as I can tell, it's a close cousin of pastis and I am psyched to break into it. He told us about some of the restaurants he visited on this most recent trip, including one that serves nothing but this drink and fried fish. The food in Istanbul sounds amazing - he seriously sells it.

He also brought Dixon a box of chocolate covered cekme helva, which is a Middle Eastern candy with almost a papery texture. It's totally unlike anything in Dixon's bag of Halloween candy and, unsurprisingly, he loves it.

Candy and booze, both with international flair. I have been friends with Rasim for 35 years (!) for many reasons - including, obviously, his generosity and capacity for solid gift-giving.

Thursday, November 05, 2015

Out and About

One of the things that nobody mentions about restaurant reviewing is that you really need to love doing stuff. That sounds obvious and dumb, I know. But what I mean is this: If you are the kind of person who, at the end of the day, just wants to plop in front of the TV to decompress for two to twelve hours, it is not the job for you. You've gotta like going out - even when it's raining.

Fortunately, I do like it. A lot. Which is why it's not even bothering me that I have gone out five of the past seven nights. And hosted people at our house for the sixth. On the seventh day (which happened to be Monday, so it was actually in the middle), I did, in fact, rest.

In between the reviews and the Halloween festivities, this week included two collaborative dinners - one in Richmond and one in Baltimore. Both were just awesome. 

The menus, for your viewing pleasure:

Both dinners were packed full of special stuff - including duck. So much duck. And it was all so good. I'm not sure I can pick an absolute favorite, though I will say that the most exciting dish of all was the first course at Fork and Cork - scallop crudo from Zack Mills. It was paired with a Riesling, which is not usually my bag, but in this case, it was really lovely and right.

But really, both evenings were wonderful. From candy to crudo, we have had a hell of a week of eating. And crazily enough, I'm ready for more tomorrow.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Upcoming Eating

It's Halloween weekend, which means that I, along with most of America, am going to eat an unnatural number of tiny candy bars and then, for the next week, I'm going to find their little wrappers all over my house (courtesy of both Dixon and  Cooper).

But candy is not all I'll eat over the next few days - I also have a couple seriously amazing dinners lined up.

Today, I'm heading to Richmond, just for the night, where I will get to spend some QT with my new-ish niece, Virginia Catherine (she was born in July) - and where I will eat. Erin and Cail and I are going to a Fire, Flour and Fork dinner at Southbound tonight.

Fire, Flour and Fork is a multi-day food-oriented event that includes a bunch of lectures and tours, plus tons of collaborative dinners that bring together chefs from all over the place. The Southbound dinner, called Beardbound, includes four awesome chefs: Travis Grimes (the Exec Chef at Husk in Charleston), Justin Carlisle (the chef/owner of Ardent in Milwaukee, WI), Lee Gregory (owner of The Roosevelt in Richmond) and Joe Sparatta (owner of Heritage in Richmond). The Roosevelt and Heritage are two of Cail's favorite restaurants in Richmond and - overall - this dinner is sure to be incredible.

Speaking of collaborative efforts, one of my very favorite things about the Baltimore restaurant scene is how our chefs can't get enough of each other. I'm not sure if this happens in other cities, but the number of collaborative projects happening at all times in Baltimore makes me smile.

On Tuesday, we're going to the final Fork and Cork dinner. The series is a collaboration between Fleet Street Kitchen (where this one is held), Aggio and Wit + Wisdom. The chefs at all three (Chris Becker, Bryan Voltaggio and Zack Mills), along with their sommeliers (Tim Riley, Chris Coker and Julie Dalton) get together to put out serious meals, and serious pairings. We couldn't make the first two for logistical reasons and I am beyond excited to get to this one.

When chefs collaborate - whether they're from across the country or across the city - everybody really does win. In this case, I feel like I'm the biggest winner of all.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Food Flashbacks

Back in the early days of the blog, I used to write occasional posts under the heading "food flashback." They were stories about particular meals or ingredients or other food memories from my pre-blog life.

At the time, I was still pretty new to cooking. I started learning, in earnest, around 2002. I cooked a lot in the three years before starting to blog - but I was really just starting out. I might have had food memories in my past, but I hadn't developed any cooking memories just yet.

Tonight, I was cooking one of my old standbys, sausage and pasta in a sauce of cream, wine and mustard. Even though I only make it in the fall and winter, it's a recipe I know by heart, so I don't have to concentrate so much on what I'm doing. My hands just do it.

Since I wasn't overly focused on a recipe, my mind started to wander, thinking about all the times I've made the dish in the past. It first appeared in the September 2003 issue of Food and Wine - twelve years ago!

I remembered how the first time I made it, right after the issue came out, the sauce seemed weird as I was cooking - broken - and when I mixed it with the pasta, I was worried that it would be boring, or there wouldn't be enough. (But it was.) Cooper and I had just moved in together back then and I was cooking for him and for our friend Sam.

I remembered that right after our friends Steve and Sheila moved to Buffalo, they called me and asked for the recipe. They'd been the kind of friends we saw four times a week, eating so many meals together around the oval table in the open kitchen of our old house, which Cooper bought before we were dating, and where he lived, before we moved in together, with Sam and Steve's brother Bryan.

I remembered the year that I made it one too many times, and we were so sick of it by March (which is usually when I retire the recipe).

At dinner tonight, Dixon mentioned that we hadn't had the pasta in a while; we explained that I only make it seasonally.

I liked,though, that he remembers it. It means that we're still making those memories. With pasta, and with so many other good things to eat.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Big Weekend Tales

All the photos above were swiped from Alicia's Facebook. Clockwise, from the top left: Cooper, Alicia and Alicia's cute bag at 13.5%; Kyle, Mary and me right after Kyle pranked Mike, also at 13.5%; Toasting Bill (with tequila shots) at Holy Frijoles; Alicia and I enjoying some serious beer at De Kleine Duivel.

Bill turned 42 last Sunday, which doesn't seem like all that exciting of a birthday. Oh, but it can be.

Our little local group has been super busy lately - no busier than usual, probably, but as all of our kids get older, it does feel like our lives get more hectic. It used to feel like we spent at least three nights a week basking in the glow of one another, just standing around somebody's kitchen island, drinking beers, eating pizza from Toss and making funny jokes. Now...well, we still do that. But it doesn't seem as frequent.

Last weekend, though, we just crushed it. Friday night, we ordered sushi at Kyle and Mary's, sat around, drank wine and made ourselves laugh so hard I am sure someone wet their pants.

Saturday, we organized some babysitting and went out to celebrate. First, Holy Frijoles, where Alicia's brother is a manager and the chili is just gorgeous. Then, De Kleine Duivel, where I was approximately 6,000% less cool than the average customer...but I loved my sour beer. (I asked for the least sour sour beer, as I know that will be my favorite, and the Liefmans was exactly what I wanted.) We ended the night sitting in the front window at 13.5%, where we drank some wine (Spanish) and some cocktails (gin-y) and I got to check out the scene in Defie Mois, the new late night basement space. I just rolled down for a quick second and we didn't eat, but it was cool. Also, Kyle tied Mike's shoelaces together while we were all sitting at the table. Apparently that is a joke that transcends age.

Finally, on Sunday, everybody came over to our house for meatball sandwiches (with very nice meatballs from part because I didn't know that Mastellone's closes at 2 p.m. and we arrived at 2:06!). They were delicious - but not as delicious as the pretzel and ice cream cake Missy made for Bill. It was his actual birthday on Sunday and I feel confident saying that it was a good one. He watched his kids play soccer then ate meatballs and ice cream cake, which is totally his favorite, then closed out the night with red wine and a fire on our patio. Gorgeous, all around. The night, the fire and the whole weekend. We get so busy...but we do have a good time.


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