Monthly Archives: February 2011

croque monsieur and farm-to-table

Tonight, it was JB’s turn to make dinner.  We had picked out a recipe from this month’s Bon Appetit for croque monsieur.  Now, let me be clear.  We were just trying this recipe out for good measure, because we have a tried and true version of CM that we are crazy about.  We probably have it once a month with a fresh baby greens salad tossed with lemon vinaigrette. So I get home and smell the cheesy yumminess wafting out of the screen door (continued high temps for Feb!).  I take one look at it and think… ‘yeah, not gonna beat out our norm.”  There are mushrooms on this one and to prepare them to top off this ham and cheese sandwich on steroids, you have to put them in the food processor  = brownish/black mess.  We sit down to eat and I take the first bite and BLAMMO.  It hits you with a ton of flavor.  We aren’t even used to this much flavor in our normal CM…

The difference?  This one uses a Mornay sauce versus a traditional bechamel.  The bay leaf, hot sauce, nutmeg and parmesan cheese kick this sauce up to otherworldly.  The same amount of fabulous buttery crust and flavorful Gruyère sandwiches the ham in between the bread but this one has definitely become my favorite by a long-shot.  Our old croque monsieur will remain a staple for get-togethers and gatherings (since it’s safe and not too scary to a new audience).  But hello new house hold recipe!

[this pic is straight from Bon Appetit]

[here’s our version]

[up close]

[and personal]

DID I MENTION I REALLY NEED A CAMERA?? 🙂

So the farm-to-table things is all the rage these days, huh?  Can’t say we aren’t guilty of trying to flag those restaurants down, though.  There’s a local one I recently bought a coupon for called Grandale Farm -out in Purcellville.  Have you been the The Loyal Local blog?  Awesome mission and they offered a “Groupon” type of deal, $15 for $30 off of your bill.  What’s also AWEsome about these folks is that they donate 20% of the proceeds to different charities.  The cherry on top for my deal was that they contributed to the Loudoun Therapeutic Riding Center  – an organization that is close to my heart from my lifelong love of horses.

AnyWHO.  As I write, we’re watching a program on TV called “Unique Eats” and they are talking about the top farm-to-table spots to try.  They just mentioned a place in Central NY called Blue Hill at Stone Barns which is a totally legit.  I read about this place a couple of years ago in the greatly missed House and Garden magazine.  Even 5 years ago, this place was knocking people over with their dishes and the harvest from the earth that the tables sit on.  Gotta add this place to our bucket list. Many a restaurant tout the F2T artisanal look and feel with really fresh local fare.  However, there are the trueists that make their own pickles, choose local creameries for milk vs. the bulk food truck and actually make their sauces.  They don’t subscribe to picking and choosing which ingredients to consider on their F2T meals, like a blue fromage on a salad, they envelope the idea so full-circle that everything is fresh and local.

I think the F2T trend is a bit more sustainable (pun intended) than other crazes like the pop-up restaurants, Belgian waffle food trucks and fast-food wine bars and I totally buy-in.  We’ve been trying to eat organic for about a year now, getting weekly milk/dairy deliveries and eating organic meat 90% of the time. It’s so nice that local agriculture is getting the credit it deserves for the hard-life those farmers choose.  It’s not always possible because I can’t control what we get in restaurants and the occasional fast-food run but it’s a nice goal to strive for.   The first place that we ever frequented was Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville which is completely fed from the land and animals at Ayrshire Farm.  That concept was totally unique about 10 years ago, when the place came to surface.  As new as the farm-to-table brainchild is, people have been eating off their own land for centuries.  Even ten years ago, cross-sections of cultures have been into growing their own lettuce and veggies in their backyard and shaping up fabbo salads and baked goods from their own croppings.

While I’m not ready to trade in my Juicy Couture purse for a pair of hemp pants and I’m pretty content laboring over every which way to design my interiors and not kicking the hackey-sack on the Quad, I do wish we had some communal tables or bigger farmers markets in our area.  I do love scooping up fresh veggies on Saturday mornings during the spring, summer and fall.  I really like the holisticness of supporting farmers in your area and eating food that has a very short lead-time from when it’s picked until it hits your table.

food + shelter

Today was so beautiful!  My mom and I decided to pop on down to Old Town Alexandria for a ‘food + shelter’ trip.  The shelter leg of the journey started at Random Harvest.  I have been day-dreaming about that store as I tweak and re-arrange my living room.  It embodies just about everything I want to express in my interior design.  Currently I have my eye on a console table for my entry.  And let’s keep in mind, I live in a cottage so every thing I put in my little house must be appropriate, multi-functional and oh yeah, not so big.  So this console has a polished travertine top and a gilded gold base, with a very slim profile and narrow legs.  I am dreaming of it either as my entry table, with a gold Chippendale-esque mirror above.  OR, as miniature server, next to my dining room table, with a mirror above, a small mirror and maybe a mini-bar set-up on top.  Problem is, it’s not incredibly multi-functional.  Just to-die-for beautiful.

Oh well, we need other utilitarian pieces first; ie: media console, glass waterfall coffee table and fixing my round hand-carved dining room table in storage.

Next up: food.  We strolled in to a little bakery on King St. that is quickly becoming a familiar stopping point for us – Le Pain Quotidien.

The Bakery

mom enjoying her meringue

[Mom, in yellow, enjoying her meringue]

I quickly inhaled a chocolate croissant and we each picked out an enormous meringue.

meringue

The first time we stopped in here, a few months ago, we were totally amazed at the sheer size of the meringues there.  We split one, thinking it would be more than enough, but turns out we each needed our own.  The inside is incredibly gooey (you wouldn’t think when you imagine the crunchy fluff of a meringue) and totally addictive.  Just as we were checking out, I noticed that they have baguette sandwiches to-go, and I ordered up a chicken, arugula and egg baguette with herb dressing.

baguette

Not too shabby for a 60 degree day at the end of February 🙂

bulldog’s gotta eat, too

We’ve got a pretty strict ‘no people-food’ rule with our bulldog.  She wishes that wasn’t the case, but her parents are overeaters by nature and try desperately to control what they can, even if that’s the dog’s appetite.  But in all seriousness, she is already working with a few hereditary and breed-specific knocks against her, so we’ve got to be really careful with her diet.  Bulldogs have some obesity problems and our girl, much like many others, has some sensitive skin.  We don’t dare feed her people-food when we can’t even get her dogfood ingredients right.  There’s another blaring reason she doesn’t eat what we eat and that’s because we don’t want her to beg, sit near the table with sad eyes at dinner time, steal food off the counters and be in people’s faces when they eat.  To this day, JB can eat a hamburger right in front of her and she won’t pay him any mind.  She’s never had a taste of it, so she doesn’t know what she’s missing.

Back to her diet.  She grew up that first year on good ol fashioned Purina Puppy Chow.  I didn’t see any reason to mess with what her breeder had her on, and I knew I would change when she hit the 1 year mark.  When she did, we switched her to Nature’s Recipe Venison and Rice formula with no grains or corn.  One of the natural brands that looks like it’s packaged in butcher paper.  It worked just fine.  It was a ‘healthy skin’ formula, so her skin didn’t break out too often (other than the rando hives she comes down with).

One day, on a trip to Leesburg, we stopped into a specialty pet-food store in Haymarket and the clerk was super knowledgable.  He, too, had a bulldog and had much success on Taste of the Wild so we decided to try it.  It is supposed to be as close to their natural diet as possible with no fillers, no additives, just meat and veggies.  And boy did it smell like real meat.  She fancied the bison flavor that we picked based on a recommendation from our vet to keep her on uncommon proteins, to avoid allergies.

She was doing really well on that.  Then all of a sudden, BAM.  Red skin, frantically scratching, bumps and lumps everywhere.  Even scabs over the little hivey bumps.  I didn’t mind looking into something different because it was pretty pricey and I had to go off the beaten path to get it.  Back to Nature’s Recipe.  I did a side-by-side analysis of the Taste of the Wild and the Nature’s Recipe and found only a few minor differences, one being chicken fat.  I put her back on the Nature’s Recipe and her skin cleared right up and she stopped itching and her scabs went away. Then, because she likes to hit us when we least expect it, BAM.  She stopped eating the stuff. ” Nope, not interested Mom.”  Now what?  She’s not the only one that’s stubborn in this house.  I was determined to finish the 40 lb. bag I bought, so she had to wait a few weeks and just suck it up.  With all the swimming she is doing, she started picking at it and eating it begrudgingly because she needs the energy.  Finally, tonight, we fed her the last cup of it.

We’re going to the store tomorrow and we’re gonna find an all-natural, no corn, no grain dry food with uncommon protein and no chicken or chicken byproducts added.  Yeah – try that for picky!  But this time, we’re only trying the 5 lb bag to make sure she eats it and doesn’t get rashy.  Fingers crossed that the EVO or California Natural can be found at one of our local boutique pet food dealers.  All in the name of food.  I thought these creatures were known for their voracious appetites!  Looks like the ‘princess-ification’ of America is trickling down to the bulldog lot, too.

a wild friday night

First, I felt like having a drink.

The Cottage Cocktail (‘cuz we live in a cottage and it’s my favorite cocktail 🙂 – St. Germaine, Champagne and Sparkling Water over ice.

We’ve been digging bul-gogi tacos. Kinda fusion-ish.  I know, I know, Andrew Knowlton may gag at that word – but with the food cart revival, I think it’s safe to say that fusion is making a comeback.  Save the “don’t call it a comeback” jokes for yo momma…  Anyways, think Korea meets Mexico.  Thin sliced beef marinated in korean BBQ marinade (this time we used an authentic marinade we got in the asian aisle of the local global food market).  Crispy tortillas.  Brown Rice (the 50+ minutes it took to cook was pretty horrific.  Hubster was HUNGRY).

Condiment central.  Lime wedges, sliced red onions, sliced carrots in vinegar and your favorite and mine, Sriracha.  Have I mentioned yet how much I love that stuff?  Dreaming of leftover brown rice with green peppers and black beans and sriracha!!!!

Not too much on the docket this weekend.  Visiting a friend in the hospital, cutting down at tree at the in-laws and then swimming with the stars on Sunday…  Our bulldog also moonlights as a pro-swimmer.  We like to refer to her as Michael Phelps.  We take her swimming at an equine and canine swim facility in Middleburg, to help rehab her torn cruciate ligament.  We get a huge kick out of watching her swim laps.  She jumps right in and watches us the whole time.  She paddles by the tennis balls in the pool, leftover from someone else’s swim, and she takes a good look at them but has to keep moving because her smooshy face wouldn’t allow her enough room to breathe and hold a tennis ball.

Oh, happy Friday. 🙂 🙂

And a nice-ah meat(ah)ball

stewing

Tonight, I decided to make dinner for my lovely bride.  She’s been stressed lately, and I thought I’d help her out by having dinner on the table when she got home.  I had a hankerin’ last week for meatball subs and she got the ingredients during a run to Whole Foods yesterday.  Gosh I love that place.

I worked off of the basic recipe for baked meatballs by Alton Brown because I had seen him make them on TV and liked the no-mess situation when he used the muffin tins. Since the wife won’t eat any ‘baby animals’, we substituted farm-raised pork sausage for ground lamb.

I made some homemade marinara by dicing some onions and green peppers and garlic and adding half a can of tomato paste to a pan.  As that started to brown, I added a can of crushed tomatoes, half a cup of red wine (Merlot), S&P, minced garlic and some  chopped fresh basil.  I let that reduce down and upon tasting approval from the Mrs. (and upon adding some cumin and garlic powder and a small chopped shallot for depth) we were ready to ‘roll’.  We won’t mention the part where I almost lost it because she went to add a dash of garlic powder and the whole top came off, pouring almost four tablespoons of that shizzz into my sauce!

So we scooped the meatballs into a fresh sub roll and added provolone on top and placed them under the broiler until gooey.   They were delicious.  Now to work on getting a nice camera instead of the wife’s antique phone cam.

check out this gooey mess

pleased to meet you!

He’s been to ‘food school’.  She learns as she goes.  They have a dog they insist on toting everywhere.  Together, this small family of three follows the food trail to the best restaurants (… that they can afford), in search of honest fresh fare and immersing in good drink too.  Their motto is ‘one of everything, please!’ and they crave exciting and new (no Love Boat theme playing in the background).  Despite having no real kitchen chops to speak of, they can dish on just about anything.  Welcome to two food fanatics and a bulldog.

Meet him:

JB.

Chief Food Officer.

Age – 29.

Married – see below.

Hobbies  – food. beverages.  crafting ideas and having the visions.  staying ahead of the curve for where to eat next. grocery shopping. video games in between. football. golf. researching.

Favorite food – unfair question!  on second thought, the answer is meat.

Drink of choice – Rum and Coke

Meet her:

Bethany.

EVP of Creativity.

Age – not far behind JB

Married – yes yes yes 🙂

Hobbies – food, by default.  horses. dogs.  decorating. beachin’ it. making the reservations.  planning his next birthday dining experience.

Favorite food – well…when I was little, I often daydreamed about the same dilemma: if given the choice between an in-ground swimming pool and a lifetime supply of french fries, what would I choose?  based on our blog title, guess who won?

Drink of choice – St. Germaine, sparkling water and champagne (my signature ‘cottage cocktail’)

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