Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Airports, and Why Florida Doesn't Suck...

Help! We're Stuck! Stuck in the Mother-Effin Airport! Trying to beat the band, and make our way home early to rescue our baby kitten and puppy, we decided to fly stand by. Waking up at 4:10am, not only to be skunked once at 7am, but then twice at 10am. And here I sit, after watching a NetFlix on Demand, having a few pints, charging our computer and phones at the bar...and oh yeah, commiserating with my mother-in-law whose flight was canceled and now re-vamped to a 12:10am arrival to Raleigh.

We had the chance, we coulda, we shoulda just stayed at the beach. Airing out the last day of sun, gettin' straight red-brown tans only to saunter into our late flight complaining of the hot sun, the great winter tan lamenting the fact we should have tried to fly our earlier.

Well, we tried. No regrets. And for the amount of money it would have taken to reschedule, we've taken to the bar in food, drink, and the Best Buy machine to purchase goodies for our laptop in order to view our Netflix on demand.

But seriously, am I complaining? Hell no, no way would I complain about this. In fact, I've enjoyed this little adventure of airport squatting. A real day of napping, drinking, movie watching, people watching, and no control of when you leave except when you actually booked your flight...unless it got cancelled.

Small notes...our bartender has been great...the food, surprisingly Florribean, fresh, and good...note to self...start airport chains of yummy food and not the crap everyone is subjugated to eat. Imagine if you design a Vegas like atmosphere of airport celebrations...Imagine?

Listen, all my life I grew up hearing why Florida sucked. "The Traffic, Rude People, Too Busy, Blah Blah Blah". And all the while I never really hated it. It was my folks who outgrew the hustle and bustle of city life way back when. They love to be bumpkins...they love the country and are personified country mice. Hustle Bustle you say? They look the other way. And there is NOTHING wrong with it. Except I LOVE city life, especially in little doses. Because there are still doses of the stories and the cultures I would never know had this little country mouse never journeyed to the city.

Good day to you Miami City Mice from this little country mouse.

Ah...stories to follow from our Fort Lauderdale Christmas Mis-Adventures!

Das Kegerator




"What's that"? I asked my friend Samantha...who had just bought a new house. As she was showing us the pictures and layout of her new digs I spied this ancient white fridge...rusting away and hanging out in her future man cave basement. "Oh, it's an old fridge" she replied. Feasting my eyes I wondered on the magic I was beholding...1950ish, rusted, still working, glorious fridge.

K-E-G-E-R-A-T-O-R?

Yes friends, yes indeed.

Best present ever from a friend...dropped off on our back patio intact and still running. My Cuban buddy said, "That's the same fridge my folks have back in Cuba...still runs".

Wheels spinning, mind grinding and turning, grocery list in hand, we went to work.

Outfitting a future Kegerator is modestly expensive. The double barrel tap system with CO2 was about 500 bucks, the endless cans of spray paint, furniture dolly, sandpaper, outdoor electric cord instead of the factory indoor cord, cord protector shield, hole saw bit, wrong drill bit...I guess we could say it cost around 650 to outfit.

So why didn't you just buy a brand spanking new one Matty J? Other than the quote from my Cuban friend, here is more reason.

See from the picture? It has character. And...it's something anyone drools about. It's a conversation piece. People have come over to our house just to worship the kegerator (guess you have to keep it filled). Hell, my old friend Dick Nesbit gave me the idea 7 years ago when he had us drag up an old Sears Kenmore from a faculty housing basement...it became a magic faculty party machine. We all marveled at it....it was like talking to a proud father about his kids...whatever party he had, was mo' better because of his beloved Kegerator.

Armed with two tap handles, it is equipped for two home brews at a time and has a super cold freezer for storing mugs, DAS BOOT (thank you to my bromance JP)...it's a liter sized glass boot fit for drinking beer, and MEAT. What man wouldn't camp out in the freezing cold just to wake up and have a pull from those stainless steel nectar dispensers? Pull some meat out to thaw, have a few brews while you grill, and what the hell could you ever bitch about?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I am a Smoker...I Refuse to Quit

Coming out of graduate school I dreamt of one day owning a few things...being that I had accountant and banker roommates who worked hard, played hard, and were able to conduct their fantasy football leagues from "work" as well as collect nice paychecks to buy nice man stuff...I was jealous seeing their heavy stack of accouterments....flat screens, dvd's, dvr's, poker tables...you know, man stuff.

So, when Meg and I first moved in together our lot in life was to purchase a flat screen. Sony Bravia...42 incher. You should have seen how we stuffed it in the Mini Cooper the day after we got engaged. Literally, we poured out of the car in the parking lot of our ghetto apartment like clowns. Very discreetly, we snuck the flat screen to our 2nd floor apartment under cover of a big wool blanket. "Careful", we thought..."Can't let the neighbors see this gem"...pretty smart of us considering the neighbors next door got their door kicked in by the S.W.A.T team conducting a drug raid. Funny how the last night of our residence there was a pissy drunk latino who kept trying to get into our apartment at 3am...what was I doing up? Oh, I was drinking a few coldies and finishing off the remainder of our pizza from a few nights prior...needless to say, we moved out the next day into our new house.

Ah, back to the story. After watching these roommate clowns from back in the day cash in on their early successful jobs, I decided I NEEDED and HAD to have a few quintessential things once I was finally all grows up. Cool enough indeed my girlfriend, fiance, and wife (all the same person) signed off on these things, never revoking my man card, NOT EVEN ONCE. God bless that lady! Oh, yeah...so what is on the list that every man needs to have?

1) Vegas Poker Set...check..got that for an anniversary gift

2) Home Brew Kit...check...got that one for an anniversary as well

3) A wife who says, "Honey, you haven't made any beer lately, can you make some for Thanksgiving"...BONUS...Score!

4) Another flat screen t.v...a blue ray wireless DVD player...

5) A Smoker for smoking meat...

Yes, our friend Bryan retired his smoker to us for an upgrade. Boy do I love it when a guy I only know through my wife (because they used to be neighbors in college) Reunites with my wife via Facebook, and we start hanging out...and then he says, "You need to have a smoker Matty...here have mine...for FREE!".

Ding ding ding! Can you think of anything better? And then your wife becomes a junkie to all web sites devoted to smoking meat product. Literally, she has sent a countless barrage of recipes all pertaining to the art of smoking meat (stop right there...just stop the dirty thoughts). And by gosh we have had a great time experimenting with this propane smoker and the array of different wood chips available.

Gotta say I love the propane simply for the fact I can set it at one temperature and not worry about stoking a fire...it's easy..that damned easy, and EVERY man needs this little toy. Haven't you noticed you always flock to the house where bar-b-que'd meat is a plenty? My late father-in-law could attest..some of the better pulled pork I had eaten was done on his mega pit...no lie.

Rather than boring you with the trivial "Here is the report of what we have cooked", I'll transition to the next man gift...

The Kegerator.

I have acquired a 1950s Hotpoint refrigerator which I am currently painting "Corvette Red" and fashioning for outdoor homebrew dispensement.

Reports and photos will follow...but my curiosity is piqued at the fact and the chance for hilarity to ensue if any of the neighborhood finds out there is readily available beer so long as they open the fence gate, stroll in, and pour themselves a pint. Seriously, the Kegerator is to be housed on the back patio under the deck...oh wait, I just gave away too much info...ah, you still don't know my address..okay, some of you do...

Picture my wife discovering our recovering alcoholic neighbor passed out at 5pm in our back yard...better yet, picture the ghettonians from 4 blocks down trying to smuggle the fridge out of the back yard (I have placed it on a furniture dolly for better transport)...it would be like seeing Ice Cube and "Smokey" from the movie "Friday", trying to rob me in broad ass daylight...oh the mental picture.

And then, picture the police wondering why these hoodlums are pushing a "Corvette Red" fridge on wheels up the road...cops pull over, arrest the guys, "Confiscate" the fridge for evidence and get loaded on my homebrew right there next to my house (Picture the movie "Superbad" and the drunk cops).

Later, I pull in, see a few guys arrested in the back seat of a police car, and see some rowdy officers dancing around the keg, chanting, bowing to it...

Being drunk, they easilly comply to return the Kegerator on a "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy, and then it returns back to my house like some bad journey...a "Milo and Otis" for beer lovers of sorts...shoot me if you don't remember that movie.

Then the officers agree to let Ice Cube and Smokey go...we all become friends...the world unites.

Oh what a story that fridge will tell...my imagination runs wild...

That Kegerator could spell the unification this nation has been waiting for...no wonder why Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Ben Franklin all brewed beer...

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Why Virginia Wine Doesn't Suck...

Virginia isn't just for lovers anymore...although the wine may aide in the love department. Quickly, Virginia is establishing itself in our view as something special. The special ingredients other than the majestic views, nice people, and growing cuisine with "think local" inspiration, are the grapes. Clear and simple, the grapes are quickly being brought to the forefront with the restrictions the vintners are using to craft a thoughtful and relevant wine to people who actually like to drink wine.

Let me digress. I am a Carolina boy at heart I guess. But comparing the neighboring states's vineyards should be peanut butter and jelly...both good separately but nice when compared. To be honest, peanut butter and astringent vinegar. God, I hate to say it but Virginia (especially in the Charlottesville region) has such a leg up in restriction and know how...compared to the North Carolinians who tend to predominantly hick it up with scuppernong varietals for the winos ducking out of Baptist church. The Charlottesville and Northern Virginia Region (Okay, Sunset Hill and Hillborough especially) has studied the terroir and adapted the right vines to their soil and extracted the right juice that can actually sort of hang with what the mainstream produces.

Sure, a lot of the wine is still "young" per se. But some of it by Jove is making strides to actually make it's own way in the world. Literally, we just had the Veritas "Cabernet Franc"...berry berry good...god do I love a nice Cab Franc..and that's good for Virginia as it grows really nice in their soil. Now imagine, we had half a bottle...and as the pizza consumed our wine, I yanked out an old favorite Sangiovese from a year old Italian wine dinner. Yawn. Not bad...but we just tasted Barboursville Sangiovese today...I gotta say...Virginia 1, Italy 0. Such an anecdote, and 99 times out of 100, Italy wins...France wins, and so doth California. But like every NCAA tournament, we all love a Cinderella. And when the Cinderella becomes a prominent sweet 16 contender year in and year out....they become old hat...what's the latest rage they say? Welcome to the latest rage, move on over old hat...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dining at the Clifton Inn

So angry from the long trip of the w(h)ine trail(please see two entries prior), we rolled into the Clifton. Attempting to compensate for the lack of carbohydrates from our meat and cheese with cracker, lotsa wine lunch at 2pm...I mandated McDonald's (No worries, we held back with a double cheeseburger and single). As we drove up the drive to the Clifton and saw the Relais & Chateaux insignia, I thought to myself..."Meg, throw the McDonald's wrappers in back seat, out the window, burn them, stuff them under the seat...anything"...my god was I embarrassed. Hurridly, doors slamming and distracting the host from our hamburglarery, we walked up to the matre d, shaking his hand and helped him welcome us to some kind of wonderful.

God do I want to talk about the upgraded suite for no reason, the complimentary Madeira inspired by Jefferson...the fact we have our own porch, sitting room with windows abound. But I MUST tell you about our dinner. Our fancy night. Our night that mandates no sexy time after...the one where you feel so sated...like Thanksgiving or Christmas....so damned stuffed...you are happy to not have to bid adieu to family, so happy they're not still hanging around(picture that crazy Uncle who just wont leave and all you can do is wish he would, cause you're just SO FULL).

That's us...tell me 10 months ago that I would be dining in this opulence, I would laugh. "Surely you jest little person", I would say..."I have been to the mountain, have you seen my food resume?" "The Inn at Little Washington, The Laundry, Michael Mina, Gary Denko, Komi, Volt, Cindy Paucin"...I guess our list grows.

And our list plain out stopped at unexpected innovation. Think about it. You dine at "The Inn at Little Washington" or "The French Laundry" and nothing surprises you because you know everything MUST be the BEST...OR IT SUCKS! Weigh our differences between the two, Chef O'Connell wins outright. But you come here...much like the McDonald's in the car and the drive up to the special insignia...we expected nothing close to what we have come to experience.

More or less, it's like going on a blind date, expecting to see Rosie O'Donnell, and there you have it, Gisele Bundchen arrives.

By my life, accidental has been the best ride. Ask me about my soul mate, the one whom I adore? She came to me after a parody act on stage, goofing on a graduate school professor. No expectations, I found a priceless artifact from heaven. And you're asking me, "Are you comparing the food at The Clifton to your angelic wife?"

Well, "Does the food compare?" Well, someone was singing at the chef's table. It was no angel, and he has been seen in the Devil's choir. Fail to differentiate heaven and hell, you have no difference who actually sang the praises (In one life, it coulda been an angel).

As I write I wonder should I list the menu outright, should I blog detail by detail, or should I just hit the highlights of the chef's creative juices? And then I wonder, it does no justice to just mention what the chef did without mentioning the staff and their elaborate detail to everything. Then I think about what the sommelier said as I casually mentioned while walking out, "I just wanted to dance on the kitchen table". "I think they might have liked that", she said.

Hell yeah I thought...pirates, swashbucklers making their way through cuisine like pioneers, conquerors, or the people who defended their beloved land and pressed onwards, sometimes diving on their own swords out of allegiance to greatness. Their flag was in their food, their own locavore movement of "Good". There was no foolin' around. There were no frothy foamy trickery of gimmicks on a plate. Food appeared, nothing but the whole food...God Bless Grilled Squash, Squash Puree, Toasted Squash Seeds, and Braised Rabbit. God Bless the home made pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta ,and the Chicken Liver Pate with Char...God bless the fact they incorporated a Char...and I don't mean Artic Char, but burned Char to just about every course. THAT was the inspiration amongst many other things that made the menu unique and GREAT! THAT was the secret ingredient, the spice if you will. Ninety-nine of One-Hundred chefs would have effed that up, guaranteed.

Per our usual routine at the beginning of the meal, we gave the menus back to the server and said, "Just have them pick what they want for us, we'll take the five course tasting." And mid-way through the meal the sous chef and one of the youngest of the fold looked at my wife and said, "How can you just say, "Pick out dishes" and not worry"? And we thought, and trusted, and I guess we just knew. Replying with conviction we uttered, "We know it is all going to be good, we wanted you to pick out your favorites". In an unspoken word, at a chef's table, you can feel the energy, the passion, and the know how that whatever makes its way to your mouth...it's like something mom or grandma made. When it hits the nostalgia meter...the chef has transported you home.

That is a Chef's table, that is a kitchen.

That is the Clifton Inn.

Next time, I'm jumping on the freakin' counter top, grabbing copper pots and banging them around!

The Locavore





Local, fresh, slow food...yes, it has taken us by storm...things Alice Waters tried to create way back when...and the kids are finally getting it right...thank you East Coast for finally listening to our Left Coast brethren. And as tired as it seems as everyone advertises Organic and Fresh, and Local...it's the way I have always eaten out of necessity growing up (you own a garden because it's cheaper than buying or eating out), and the way we would have it if we were not tied to any family in the states.

Yes, we would move...preferably to Italy or France...possibly Australia. They do it right...seasonal, wine, work, exercise, controlled yet delectable portions. FUCK Appleschmies and TGI-McFrankfurters! There, I said it.

As we were wheeled into the ambiance that is "The Cliffton Inn" last night, the house staff suggested we might try, "The Local"...a place outside of Charlottesville proper plopped down in Belmont. And it's in short a proper locavore "Gastropub"...think great pub food with a gourmet flare, local brews, local wines...local spirits...yeah, you get the point. College aged kids behind the bar who think their food is great...and...

So stick a minute with me on this. Back in the day of Chapel Hill...college days mind you, 9 years ago...we had no such thing. Sure, we had a couple of places you would take a date when you wanted to get laid, but they were "fancy"..they weren't hip, they were just "fancy"...the bars we had were smoke laden dens full of fried food and "South Paw Light" for 2.75 a pitcher. Micro-brew? Wine? Silly talk, just silly!

Fast Forward...these post grads who are definitely wicked smart are the ones running the new food and drink movement. It's cool to be smart, goofy eclectic, driven, and "Brooklyn Sheik". These unkempt bar maids and bros are dressing in their thrift store clothes and dabbling in the philosophy of mixology and roaring 20's drinks. Matter fact', it's hip, it's cool...and goddamn it, I like it.

Step into "The Local". All red brick inside that's been so shined up it looks lacquered. The unfinished ceilings give it the polish it needs. Luckily, it was 1/2 bottle wine night upon sauntering in. And here's the thing. The folks of Charlottesville are so proud of their wines, it's really something special...ask for the wine list...the locals are in the front of the book, want something less risky, sure venture to California or France...but they are out there in front, ready to be tread on and judged...and they ain't bad. Me, being w(h)ined out took the hopville highway towards some high gravity hop resin goodness with froth topping...Meg, she took the vino to the head and bagged about 3/4 of it for safekeeping at our inn(she's a lightweight and only Jacobs via marriage).

The food...

Well, by accident and great hospitality we were "comped" two dishes.

So, that makes four apps we got into...and good golly we wanted more, but we could tamp nothing more into our stuffed gullets:

1) Cornmeal battered and fried oysters with a caviar and local vodka creme and a mixed green and red beet salad

2) Crispy Shrimp with a black sesame and ginger seaweed salad

3) Truffled Mushroom ragout with house made fettuccine and shaved Parmesan

4) Black truffle and cheddar mac and cheese

Dyn-O-Mite!

Long live the locavore movement, this could be America's saving grace...Lord knows the folks in Charlottesville are well on their way towards saving the ones who dare to care.

The W(h)ine Trail



Meg couldn't wait to take me to Charlottesville for my birthday. Ten months later after a few family tragedies, the day finally came for our trip. The gleam in her eyes was easily palpable...plans...she had plans. And when the Burton women plan...you better drink your coffee, get a good night's sleep, and say a few "Hail Marys"...cause it is gonna be a lonnnng day.

GDD...Gym, Drop the dog off at Grandma's, and Drive...yep, that's our reality show. Now let us all forget (not really) that it was about 12:20pm once we had left our precious pup at Grandma's house. For anyone who knows me, I eat every 3-4 hours, require 30 minutes of exercise a day, or I'm generally a huge piece of shit to be around.

"We need to find a quick place to eat", I said. "Ok", she said, "maybe there will be something at the winery".

Did I mention our plan?

Drive to 3-4 wineries "along the way" to Charlottesville, Va from Middletown, Md...wait a second, that's at least a three hour drive. "Hey honey, these wineries are in Charlottesville right?" "Hey Matty, turn right here". Let's not forget we were 20 minutes into the trip.

First stop, Breaux...yawn...the Wine Barista was flustered...it was Monday, 10 people were at her counter, and she had NO skills in triaging her wine...the vintner...a real estate tycoon from the Outer Banks, apparently "Sun Realty"...not undrinkable..except the fact I'm a Jacobs, so I can drink some hooch. Bottom line...stick to real estate, the wine thing and the atmosphere, and the fact you want to charge 48 dollars for your Nebiollo cause they charge a lot for good bottles in Italy...go back to real estate bub.

Getting angrier, we literally drive 3 minutes to a friend of a friend's vineyard...Hillsborough.

Literally I bust in the remodeled barn door (god was it beautiful), and raid the meat and cheese fridge...I must have looked like some kind of mongrel rummaging through their product on a Monday at 2pm muttering things like, "mmm, meat...cheese....mmm, do you have bread?"

My poor wife...said something like, "Listen, our friend Bryan's buddy Karem works here, and we called ahead, and yeah, sorry for my husband, he's like a Wildebeest when he's hungry, we didn't plan for lunch".

Magically, after stuffing gobs of Amish Sharp Cheddar and Pinot Grigio Cured Salami into my mouth the clouds lifted...I could see the beautiful view of a kaleidoscope of changing leaves on trees and grape vines...our conversation with the Wine Barista was familiar...friendly, we were getting drunk on atmosphere and pretty decent Virginia wine...I must say, the "Onyx" would feature as a nice little table wine...did I mention we somehow got this friends and family discount of 20% after my erratic caveman behavior? Have charm, will travel (feed me first).

Next stop...Sunset Hills...literally another 3 miles or so. Sated...I didn't have ANY expectations. Best wine of the day, the most complex Virginia wine I had ever tasted...seriously. You can actually lay these bottles down for a few years and they might actually taste good.

Looking at my watch...3 o'clock..."Hey Meg, how much further of a drive?" "Oh, about three hours"...

Seriously? Really? As the blood sugar ticked down slowly, and the drive got more trafficky, and longer, and the roads wound on and on I kept trying to notice the ABSOLUTE BEAUTIFUL scenery that passed us by. Farms, hills, mountains, changing leaves, oh my God was it beautiful. But I was hungry...meat and cheese and wine do not make for good nutrition prior to a 3 hour drive.

And at 6:30pm, we pulled in, wearily, to a beautiful surprise...The Clifton Inn...a place on the Relais Chateaux list...the same list as "The Inn at Little Washington?" Patrick O'Connell was just here two weeks ago? Oh, that's because he is the president of the "list" on the East Coast. The Obamas were just here last week? Do go on...we've been upgraded from the Garden Room to the Blue Ridge Suite overlooking the property?

Do go on...forget the W(h)ine trail and the longest drive ever...lets move on to our first dinner..."The Local"...

Meg, she done good...real good! And Virginia...your wine is starting to make some ways in our world.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fall Frolic Inspiration Rolic

The summer was funktastic...who wants to cook when it is 100 degrees +? Now fall is in the air...crisp nights, cool breezes. We find ourselves on the cusp of being so much more motivated to exercise, cook, and I have found it interesting to brew some beer.

4 years ago my wife bought me a beer making kit for our anniversary...can anyone say keeper? And like all new hobbies I started brewing like a bandit who robbed a bank, and then got lazy...sitting on my laurels, more interested in doing home improvements.

But another whiff of adrenaline has found it's way to my happy heart, and I invested in a couple of kit recipes ready to roll for our quickly upcoming Thanksgiving in North Carolina.

Pumpkin Ale, and Old Ale...

Believe it our not the Pumpkin Ale's recipe had me add a 32oz can of Libby's Pumpkin Pie Mix...along with hops and malt of course. And credit to my late father-in-law...I got to brew two beers at once having inherited his propane boiler.

Currently they are burpin' away CO2 at breakneck speed and the basement is filled with hints of yeasty goodness. Put it directly, it smells like a brewery...man heaven!

What's more exciting is that I also got a "Hot Point" old school fridge...the one kids used to get locked into and suffocate back in the day...and it will soon become a kegerator (thinking Christmas present to myself). Oh sweet ale how I love thee.

Last but not least...smoke em' if you got em'. Yep, my man buddy Bryan donated his old propane smoker to us as he cashed in for a newbie. What a guy...what a guy...to pass his inspiration to smoke meat to two neophytes in the Jacobs clan.

As the fall weather progresses to winter...think of the loverly opportunities for greatness! Kegerator...home brew...smoking meat....

Taking future reservations now.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Why Cook...

It's been a maddening 48 hours...

I've had two days off...and when my wife hears that she starts her wheels turning...chores

The old men at the barbershop called it the "Honey Do List"...

My problem is I actually plan my days off to matter. Generally it's "Matty do things for house, home, and cook your wife a romantic dinner". And then my wife throws in the old (and I swear she got this from the mother-in-law) if you're able to, can you do, THIS , THIS, and THAT?

ahem...cough, sputter...any hope at a day off with chores allowing you to work out, maybe watch the tube, or just leisurely do things...GONE.

So on our way to the Outer Banks, aka OBX (I hate that sticker), I said, "Honey, I'm gonna pre-fix that bomb ass Chlli of Michael Simon's...the one with pork shoulder and black eyed peas, with toasted corn bread. And, you wanted that "Roasted Heirloom Tomato Soup with Basil"? Sure, I'll cook that too.

7am wake-up...I cooked...scrupulously. Hell, both of us barely cooked all summer. I cooked my ass off like it was Thanksgiving..plus I cleaned the house, manicured the lawn, ran with the dog, cleaned the house...cooked....good dang Lord....

Spectacular!

That IS the reason to cook. It's sweat. It's the actual Puritan work ethic saying, "Yes, work hard, it makes things better...work your ass off son...and maybe, just maybe you will be a god"...

And I am in my own mind...

And in my own mind, the muse for the pan to the electric ratty ass burner (God, for Christmas or any other holiday you value please allow us to have a gas stove), I cooked my ass off because my wife adores the Redskins, the NFL, Football, and the fall. Mix my wife's sentiments and the fact we fell in love this time of year, I am a hopeless and hapless complainer, sadistically enjoying my plight, secretly hiding the fact that I'm enjoying myself for the fact that...

Sunday night...the START at the NFL season Redskins vs. dallas cow pokes...our menu will be:

Pork Shoulder Chili with Black Eyed Peas, Smoked Cheddars, and Cilantro Creme Fresche

Toasted Corn Bread and Butter

BEER (LOTS OF IT)

Dessert: BEER, Jacobs Harmonica and Guitar Entertainment (Liquor)

Breakfast: Tylenol and Ibuprofen

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Ring of Fire...







Me on Facebook: "Going to Rehobeth Beach for a week"

JRS: "Dood, can you get me some Nic-O-Bolis"?

Me: "What the hell is a Nic-O-Boli?"

JRS: "It's like a Stromboli...but better...amazing...they come frozen, order me a case, I'll pay you."

Me Status Post Consumption: Jon...you asshole..it was so good, but 6am was bad...really bad....

JRS:..."Ha, I see you tamed the ring-of-fire"...

Me: No reply...but I was seriously having cravings for another go round....

Nicola's restaurant is a pizza joint with their claim to fame, the "Nic-O-Boli"...and in all honesty, it's like a Stromboli. I mean, look at the picture...you got dough, mozzarella, tomato sauce, and sauteed ground beef. But in all honesty, it's just...better...why? I think it's the beef...it's just a greasy wonderment of rendered fatty meatyness...meatyness? Yes...meatyness.

My first trip was after a few beers at midnight. My buddy was with me and is one of those guys who can't sit still. Seriously, it had been a really relaxing evening with a great cigar out on the porch of our beach house. Instead of enjoying our nicotine buzzes...he chirps off, "Hey, wanna grab some pizza...wanna go for a walk?" Seriously...we weren't even buzzed enough to crave late night eats yet...literally I think we were like two beers deep...but I caved. The kid just couldn't sit still.

Instead of haunting the local Grotto's Pizza (like the night before)...I piped up, "Hey wanna try a Nic-O-Boli (and explained the strange word)?" I then added something like, "I heard it can really give you grief in the bathroom later on"...halfway giving it a chuckle...bathroom humor is still so funny to me. "Ring of Fire" I told him..."Anyway, wanna try it?"

Disbelieving the "Ring of Fire" claim...and knowing that I have an iron stomach, I upped the anti by adding double anchovies and onions..and maybe that's where I went wrong. Oh god was it good...salty, savory goodness..all washed down with a PBR (that's Pabst Blue Ribbon)...ESPN was on the screen, and we had a cougar for a bartender talking about walking around in a thong at her house using spray tan (yeah random, but I swear that's what was happening, and me and my friend were thinking...this shit is hilarious and awesome).

We closed our tab, walked home, laughing about our crazy ass bartender and relished in our freshly stuffed guts...mmmmm, anchovies, beef...beer...we were men, we had smoked cigars, drank beer, and gotten our eat on.

And then 6am came...and it went...Ring-O-Fire...

Two days later however I went crawling back, for another hit of smack...F the "Ring-O-Fire"...it was worth it, well worth it...18 hours later...on the way to work mind you at 5:30am...Ring-O-Fire...under a street lamp, in the dark...

And just as a loyal friend would do, I smuggled out a half case of frozen Nic-O-Bolis for my buddy JRS...hmmmm, we have a microwave at work...do you think he would know if one went missing? If anyone knew, it would be me...and my poor wife...she did ask for me to put the flame out before ever setting foot in the house again.

Thrashers...



"You've never had Thrashers?"...uttered a disbelieving Meg..."No hon, never..."

"Oh my god, when we go to Rehobeth Beach in August...you are getting Thrashers"...

I climbed the mountain, I have conquered the journey of the fry...and for that I am a better human being and a better man. In short, I will now be a better future father because I tamed the beast that is Thrashers.

Thrashers is a "Board-Walk Fry"...not only is it a Board-Walk Fry...it's a level of potato genius I have never seen recreated...in short, this is a fry place that has been dishing it out since 1929. It is ubiquitous amongst beach going folks to the shores of Maryland and Delaware. Walk down the family saturated boardwalk, and you'll smell Thrashers. Oogle your ways towards the herd-like masses of fatties...yep..Thrashers. Literally the containers come in size sensible to the ostentatious size of "Type II Diabetes and Coronary Artery Disease". (I of course ordered "size sensible")

The fries are cooked to order...no limp old man shrivels here. Once cooked, and hoisted into the container du jour...you eye the golden rods of holiness and start to hyperventilate. The outside of the fry is glistening with fry-o-later peanut oil...extremely hot to the touch, the outside is crispy. On the inside however is a poetic genius resembling the cotton pillows of a well made gnocchi. Add the two opposing textures...heavenly golden latticework to the Almighty.

No ketchup needed...merely malt vinegar and salt...and please forget the fancy kosher/sea salt...literally the big industrial iodized salt container has nail holes punched in it...that's what you use. And if you are industrious like me, and you crave a cold beer...duck on in to a local place (choose a bar that looks kinda seedy because the self loathing feels better when you can greedily eye your fries as you cram them into your maw by the fistful).

Oh Thrasher fries...how I love thee...how I love thee indeed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Paella brings a family closer...





Okay okay, so it wasn't the dish...but maybe it was. And like so many epiphanies and special moments I have at home with my parents...this was no different. This time, it just involved Paella, and a yummy local wine that paired beautifully.

The recipe is a bit time consuming (peeling and de-veining shrimp is tedious), but I got a head start with my prep work before my folks got home from work. The rest...was a really nice family event all centered around the grill. And what an event it was...

See, my parents and I have sort of grown up together as life long learners, and the God's honest truth is that they have always been willing to try new foods and life events, no matter what. And as I have grown, they have been there every step of the way trying new uncomfortable things with gusto.

This visit's new thing, was to give them Paella. Certainly not a new dish to the world, but a new experiment in the kitchen for Meghan and I. Equipped with Rick Moonen's "Fish" cookbook (he is the god of seafood), and having cooked it once in Annapolis a few weeks ago, I set out to give them a treat.

You see, my folks live in land-locked Mt. Airy, North Carolina. The seafood is tough to come by..often frozen, often fishy...making a seafood paella is really not tops on the list. So, I loaded my cooler in Annapolis with fresh grouper, head on shrimp, and clams. And gosh darnit everything made the field trip lickity split.

The cooking arena was out on my folks's patio, surrounded by a jungle of flowers, plants, cacti, hydrangeas, and whatever else can grow. My mom was stationed on the deck...kind of the bird's eye camera view. Dad was on the picnic table. And every time I opened the grill to add the essential ingredients (you have to add the seafood sort of in sequence...hence a lot of checking, adding, and re-checking) the aromas would waft towards their ever growing eyes, and rumbling stomachs. Dad would make a few suggestions, and mom would comment on how much she missed my wife and wished she could have made the trip down south.

Then the camera popped out, and mom started ordering dad to take pictures so we could sent them to my wife. "Take more pictures", she said, "Meghan needs to feel part of this event". And I guess that's the magic of what was happening. We were bonding. We shared stories, cried about recently losing my father-in-law Mike, cried about how mom and Meghan were able to settle their misunderstandings and how much my mom really loved my wife and was so glad we got married. And we laughed...and then we started breaking out in true Jacobs form via song (mom had the old Willy Wonka theme song in her head). By the time we got to dessert (grilled white peaches, fresh local honey, toasted pecans, and greek yoghurt), my dad had enough..."I'm going to bed". I actually laughed and said, "Dad, it's 9'o'clock"...mom woke me up 5 minutes later on the couch....exhausted...it was time for bed.

Nonetheless, we were family, we were trying something new, and we were enthused about it all. Although I have been separated from them by a few state lines since I was twenty-two, we have never drifted apart. Though I write that food is the leveler of socioeconomic plains, equalizer of humanity, and bonder of friends and family. You can't unequivically say with conviction that paella and events like this kept my family close through thick and thin. But you can't say it didn't help.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Inn at Little Washington


"Hey Matty, can you write about death of a loved one and how it is bettered by presence of bar-b-qued pork?" Why yes, I think I can. "Well then, how about writing about "The Inn at Little Washington"?"

dead silence....."Hello, Matty? Are you there? Hello?"

I have long dreaded writing about our magnificent experience at "The Inn at Little Washington" because I can really say no more greatness than the thousands who have written before me. In short, the gods of food spoke long ago. Me and my wife, fledgling epicureans as we may be hold no candle to review this long revered international destination. I can highly recommend going and can do nothing but rave on the food and hospitality.

Chef O'Connell is accessible, personal, and genuine. Although we knew we were merely another insignificant set of travelers, spending yet another important event in "our" lives...we felt we were the most important people to ever visit. And that is the magic that is "The Inn at Little Washington".

To describe the dishes in run down sentence snippet fashion is insulting and cheapens the event to nothing more than voyeuristic pornography or a one night stand. Sure...I photograph dishes, write about recipes, and review food on this blog all of the time. However, this was something different. There was a reverence I have seldom felt while dining and staying over. No detail was untouched...and maybe I can only equate it to the act of making love...there's no bragging to the boys on the exploits of exploring the inner most sanctums of you and your partner's soul. It is something for you and your partner only. It isn't reproducible in print nor spoken word. This was a special connection, it was spiritual, personally poetic, and completing.

And that is what Chef Patrick O'Connell probably set out to do. To enhance lives via his craft of food and hospitality...it is his life's work. And to be part of someone executing their life's work with such love in any facet is something very special. It is rare to find, and priceless to experience.

Memorial Pig

On February 13th, 2010, my father-in-law Michael Courtland Bailey (a.k.a Mike Bailey) died. It was tragic, it was catastrophic. I wanted for months to write about how sad I was, and how sad we all were, but I couldn't find an appropriate medium of expressing just what I felt. There was no way for me to find an appropriate way for me to honor him as the man I knew. The blog was to be about him, not about me, certainly not about my sadness.

Yesterday we honored him through memorial, and one of his best friends roasted two 220lb pigs in his honor. You see, Mike was a born foodie. He wasn't a complicated gastronomic moleculizer with foams, froths, dusts, and trendy new frosted hairdos. Nope, he was a "Pit Man". A down home pig roasting, cole slaw makin', pancake and scrapple breakfast griddlin' fool. Knowing Mike, he was a student of any game...a renaissance man if you will. Ex-Marine, Welder, Sculptor, Saw Mill Operater, Motor Cycle Enthusiast, Tractor Puller, Hopeless Romantic, Fox Hunter, Mechanic, and relevant to the pig....A "Pit Man".

As we shared our stories via podium speeches, alligator tears, pictures, gregarious hand laden gesticulations with throw your head back laughter...the smell of the beautifully cooked pulled pork galvanized an epic event of some three hundred odd people there to celebrate a man who met no strangers.

Semantically, Mike was my step-father-in-law. However, to my heart he was my father-in-law, and more importantly my friend. And nothing says a more beautiful memorial service than a million friends showing up to tell stories, drink beer, and roast a pig in your honor...conjuring up the deceased's "pit skills" saying..."This one is for you Mike"...as if to say, "I only hope it is half as good as the ones you used to roast for us".

The purpose of my blog is to share food, but more importantly share the humanity and emotion tied to food because of the relevance it has to all of us. The emotions associated with food are entwined with our humanity...poor or rich. Yesterday was a profound statement reminding us all of just that. Death was celebrated with friends, tears, laugher, and drink. Most importantly however, a simple succulent multitude of pork honored our beloved Mike. And in many ways it helped heal our sorrow, reminding us of his legacy, and closed the chapter of a life he lived and loved with intense sincerity and reverence.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Sugar Snap Peas and Scallions with Pappardelle



Add Bacon...

What a Springy dish, springing into summer...mmmmm!

Meghan found this recipe from Food Network Magazine and what a SNAP (pun completely intended)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/pappardelle-with-snap-peas-recipe/index.html

This was such an easy fix as I was ravished by hunger after the gym. I was honestly thinking of getting take out, but the peas were going to go bad had I not fixed this then and there. Honestly this dish took 20 minutes.

Easy Easy steps here....Dice up your veggies, cook bacon, get your pasta water heating...cook veggies till tender, cook pasta Au Dente (translating "To The Tooth" in Italian), add bacon, and grate fresh Ricotta Salata or Pecorino Romano. Viola..enjoy.

By easy mistake Meghan bought a fresh Ricotta instead of the Ricotta Salata. Thusly I used a Peppato Romano instead. Just like a Pecorino Romano...except the Peppato has Black Peppercorns giving it an extra peppery taste.

Now you ask me, "What is Ricotta Salata?" Well, the word "Ricotta" actually means "Re-Cooked" referring to the process of making the cheese. Traditionally a Sheep's Milk is cooked and then separated out (curds and whey type stuff). The big difference of "Salata" vs traditional hand dipped Ricotta is that the product is immediately dried and pressed together and not aged. So you get a nice salty and milky taste/texture to your dish. Thusly pairing well with your pasta.

What a happy happy dish, healthy as well. I paired it with a great little white I found at a local winery in my home town. Nonetheless a crisp Sauv Blanc or velvety Viognier will work as well.

Roasted Heirloom Tomato and Basil Soup

Alas I forgot to include this recipe from our "Golden Girls" outing. Honestly, this is the best Roasted Tomato and Basil Soup I have ever eaten. There are a couple of hidden secrets that make this recipe better.

1) Use Heirloom Tomatoes instead of the standard fare available at the grocery store.

2) ADD BACON....more or less 6 pieces.

3) We use our Dutch Oven to crisp the bacon, then we deglaze the bottom of the pan to get the extra yum yums into the party. Then you can add the rest of the ingredients.

4) Use a little Balsalmic Vinegar and Crushed Red Pepper Flakes.

5) The best...use an Immersion Blender to mix it all together. I love using these because it's like bringing a power tool to the kitchen. Oh yeah baby...the blender is nicknamed the "Boat Motor" by a lot of chefs b/c in large industrial setting, it actually looks like a boat motor. Also, please use some heavy cream, it adds a texture that makes this dish.

6) For an extra flare for your guests, place empty bowls on plates at their setting. Place a few roasted cherry tomatoes and pieces of crisp bacon in the empty bowl. When plating, pour the guests the soup on top of the goodies they discovered in their bowl. The bitter/acid taste of the cherry tomatoes and crisp bacon pair well with the rich velvet texture of the soup.

I suggest pairing a smokey Malbec with this dish. They are highly underrated and FINALLY gaining steam amongst wine lists here in the states.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/tyler-florence/roasted-tomato-soup-recipe/index.html

Bon Appetit

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Golden Girls

The Golden Girls came back. Yep, they tasted the "Koolaid" and came running for another bruncheon. Last May, I blogged about a catering Meghan, Mary Ellen, and I did for her Grandmother and her closest friends. This year, Mary Ellen decided for a repeat.

What a treat, and honestly this brunch was better paired and a cinch to make...my wife and mother-in-law did most of the cooking...I did a lot of smiling, greeting, and busing of tables. Nonetheless, another success and a really nice time to watch these old birds reminisce over the old times and talk about the new ones.

Ahem...yes, the menu:

For starters, we HAD to have cocktails...let's not talk about these ladies trying to drive home...hear no evil, see no evil...speaketh none!

Mary Ellen's White Cranberry and Peach Cosmopolitans

This is made in true Mary Ellen fashion..dash of this, splash of this, add the ingredients to your taste, no measuring involved!

Ocean Spray Low Sugar White Cranberry Peach Juice
Citrus Vodka
Cointreau
Fresh Lemon Juice
Add either Lemon Peel or Orange peel for Garnish

For Finger food she made "Steamed Asparagus with a Lemon Dipping Sauce" as well as "Pickled Shrimp"

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/paula-deen/pickled-shrimp-recipe/index.html

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/foodwine/2004290938_recipeasparagus19.html

...Main course....

Bacon Potato Torte with a Mixed Green Salad and Dijon Balsamic Dressing

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/melissa-darabian/potato-bacon-torte-recipe/index.html

The Vinaigrette...

1 Clove of Garlic halved
3 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
Splash of Soy Sauce
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to Taste

1) Take the halved garlic and rub your empty glass (preferably wooden) bowl with it.

2) Add Vinegar, Mustard, dash of Soy Sauce and whisk vigorously.

3) Drizzle in the Olive Oil with one hand, vigorously whisking with the other, thusly combining and emulsifying the ingredients. You really want to see a nice velvet texture. You will know you have too much olive oil when it will no longer combine the two elements together.

4) Add Salt and Pepper to taste.

Raspberry Tart

From Cucina Italiana....

Try as I might the recipe isn't available online...here is the way we did it:

Use a pre-fab Pie Tart Crust...so easy (can make your own tart crust if you like, we were lazy).
1 Jar Raspberry Preserves
1 Pint Fresh Raspberries
1 Lemon
1 Tablespoon of Turbinado Sugar

1) Bake the Pie Tart crust in the oven with pie weights for about 10-12 minutes on 350, take the weights off, and cook till golden brown

2) Let the crust rest until cool

3) Spread fresh preserves on the crust

4) Fill the tart completely with fresh raspberries

5) Grate fresh lemon zest on top and sprinkle with Turbinado Sugar (raw sugar)

6) Serve

Friday, May 14, 2010

Martitha's




Ahem...

Ladies and Gentlemen, we now have a new champion in Pupusas. Down round ole' Chincopin Round Road, off to the left, in the strip mall of shops....lies Martitha's Salvadorian/Mexican Restaurant.

Holy Cow! Does this place have everything...like 30 some items of goodness. Meg and I tried the Pollo al la Plancha (Grilled Chicken Breast), Beef Tacos, and wait for it...yes..."Pupusas".

Traditionally Pupusas are thick hand made corn tortilla/cakes filled with a nice soft cheese and pork. We saw them being hand done as street food in Belize for the first time and fell in love. The condiments are awesome...red salsa, green salsa, and cabbage. The best is that the condiments are served seperately in little baggies (Spare no expenses). These were the most succulent, moist, and savory pupusas we have ever had. The cheese was kinda of melted/fried hard on the griddle..cooked just right.

And you know it's the right spot to go for a few reasons:

1) The girl at the liquor store who married a Guatemalan goes there and swears by it...first clue.

2) I was the only white guy there

3) A Soccer game was on the t.v.

4) Plain out it just tasted good

Seriously guys, go out and do it...find an authentic hole in the wall restaurant and enjoy a food not of your own origin.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Alexander's...




Talking to Washingtonians they all say, "Where the hell is Buckeystown?" Hell, talk to a lot of people and the reply is the same. And I would never know save one helluva find by my mother-in-law(who knows everyone I swear), and late father-in-law Mike.

The chef Chris Smallwood is the son of Chip Smallwood, my late father-in-law's grilling buddy. Chip and Mike ran a cool operation of catering bar-b-que as well as breakfasts called "Guys on the Grill". Long story short, when we were looking for a caterer for our wedding Mary Ellen said, "Why don't you go with Chip's son Chris...he caters all the time...he makes wonderful home made ice creams...the food is divine".

So, we went out and met Chris at a little wedding he was catering. Food was simple yet elegant...he was hired, our wedding was perfect, end of story. Or was it? Bout a year ago word on the street got out that Chris was investing in a new venture, opening a restaurant at an old Inn called "Alexander's", located in Buckeystown, Maryland.

"Where the hell is that?" I said. "Near Mike's brother's place for the annual corn roast." said my wife. "Aha, middle of nowhere..." And yes, you blink, you have driven through the thriving metropolis of Buckeystown. However, if you keep your eyes open you will actually see a huge mansion with about three signs reading out, "Alexander's".

It's actually quite stately, unique, cozy, and well...comfy. As you walk onto the veranda you can imagine yourself sipping iced tea, or maybe a mint julep. There you are, rocking on the porch, watching the weather pass, wondering where each car is going as they drive by, talkin' bout' nothin'.

You walk in, such a non assuming place for an old mansion. The staff, welcoming and simple. The tables, antiquey with white linen. There are no pretenses. Thank god for that too, because much of the beltway arena is nothing but a soulless and shallow succubus of material. I don't care what car you drive, who you know or what you do. I do care about who you are. And that's what sticks about this place from the start. People are who they are...there's some meat on them bones at Alexander's. The service may not be fancy and elegant, but it's genuine and real.

The chef, he's pretty gifted as he is a "One Man Band". No sous chef, no prep, no guy at the fry station...and definately no pastry chef. The guy is all alone back there, sweating it out, putting soul onto plates.

Before opening, Chris and Chip journeyed to the south in search of the best pulled pig, fried chicken, home made pie, a la best damn southern food to emulate in that talent laden mind of his. My wife said, "There's no way I'd like to share a room with them at night after eating all that comfort food"...she's got a point. Roughage...line two...need some help here...

Our epic pilgrimmage and party of 5 diners gave us 2 entrees, 3 appetizers, 1 extra side, and 5 desserts. Christ, in hindsight that's a lot of food. Aha, to the food...

Apps:

Crispy Pork Boudin Balls with Tomato-Grain Mustard Dipping
Sauce


Who the hell can beat hand rolled and deep fried sausage balls cooked perfectly?

Fried Green Tomatoes with Pickled Shrimp and Red Onion
Salad


A finely sliced green tomato...perfectly paired with the pickled shrimp.

Slow Smoked Brisket and Pimento Cheese served on a
Buttermilk Biscuit Sliders


His Pimento Cheese is the real deal, the biscuits are great...the Brisket and the tomato based sauce pairs with the savory cheese like nothing I have ever eaten.
Entrees:

Southern Fried Chicken

What can you say about half a chicken fried to a succulent perfection...moist, crispy skin...I'm having a seizure...or maybe orgasm...I think I need a cigarette, or a nap...

Low Country Shrimp in sherry cream sauce with Benton’s
Bacon and Roasted Peppers on Creamy Stone Ground Grits


Been to Charleston...Where the hell is Charleston and who the hell cares after eating these grits?

Dessert

Chocolate Cake with a Marshmallow Creme Frosting

Yellow Cake with a Vanilla Bean Frosting

Yellow Cake with a Marmalade Jam, and Vanilla Bean Frosting


To be honest, the cakes were a bit dry...good ideas however. Chris himself admitted he was working on getting the moisture "just right". The Marshmallow frosting reminded me of a "Moonpie"...paging R.C. Cola? Anyone got any? Seriously, when you remind a southern boy of Moonpies and R.C. Colas you're doing something right.

Chocolate Coffee Ice Cream

Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream


His Ice Creams are the creme de la creme....no pun intended, some of the best I've tasted. Fresh frozen strawberries in the vanilla ice cream....and a terrific strong coffee bean ground in the chocolate.

Let us never forget...the most perfect side available...Potatoes Au Gratin...heaven in many many a bite!

Bottom line, Chris Smallwood is just waiting to be discovered. And he's doing it the right way. He's done his research, he is perfecting his dishes, and you will not be disappointed at this little hideaway.

http://www.frederick.com/index.php?action=sponsor&id=839/

You Want Fries With That?

Done correctly fries are amazing...done wrongly they are quite like an old man's wiener...limp, soggy, and no zip. Vis a vis..."The Good Stuff Eatery"...horrible fries. And like all good food we all have our favorite places to nosh on those delightful strings of starchy goodness.

Do I have an all time favorite? I can't really answer that completely because fries can often be compared to sex. Some are amazing, some are okay, and some are plain not good...but it's still a fry. Like getting something at discount or for free, you're still getting to enjoy a fried potato...whether good or bad. Kind of like sex...bad or good, it's still sex (This can also be applied to pizza).

As a relation to my favorite fries lately, they have to be the ones Meg cooks. And the recipe once again comes from that hippie nutritionist Ellie Krieger from Food Network. The one with that cute pixie haircut trying to convince us that we can eat vegetables and like them..."It's all about portion control" she says. Okay okay, I kind of agree with her. And despite her whole "yippee" (that's yuppie/hippie) persona that she oozes...she ain't half bad.

And these are baked...what the hell? Am I becoming soft? Is this blog even credible any longer?

As you'll see in the recipe, the secret is in that wonderful garlic I so astutely presented in my "Greens and Garlic" blog. If you feel good add some white or black truffle oil and Parmesan cheese on at the end (hand grated reggiano of course). Remember, they are baked, so you can add the extras. I promise you, you will enjoy them.

http://recipes.kaboose.com/ellie-krieger-garlic-fries.html

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Greens...and Garlic?




Growing up in the south I never ate greens. I think it was because of the whole pork phobia we had. Usually, anything associated with greens, was associated with pork.

In my limited knowledge, me thinks all of the fatback/bacon/pork shanks/ham hocks...PIG, was used to counterbalance the natural bitterness of most greens. Having had greens a few times after the religious pork ban was lifted, I never fell in love with them.

They were too bitter, and too wilted (dadgummit if people didn't try to cook the bitterness out of them by overcooking them), floating in some sort of yellow/greenish/brown juices...blechhh...not worth my chewing time and effort especially when many other yummies existed on the platter (fried chicken, bar-b-que, etc).

Then I met Alton Brown and his most recent book "Good Eats, The Early Years". He has a dynamite recipe for greens. Honestly, I have never had greens so good. The trick...garlic, and well...not overcooking them. To paraphrase the chemistry behind the magic...

Garlic contains the compound "Alliin" and enzyme "Allinase". They are seperated via cellular layers within the garlic. When you slice into garlic, the compound and enzyme combine giving you a pungent aroma of the new compound Allicin. Thusly, if you crush the cells together in a garlic press, you have a more pungent smell and taste because you broke and combined more cellular layers. If you roughly chop the garlic and penetrate less layers, less smell...less "Garlickey" taste. If you roast the garlic whole...a nutty/sweet aroma/flavor. For this recipe, we'll stop and settle that we want more "Garlickeyness". So, finely mince your garlic, or use a garlic press if you have one.

What is genius about this recipe is that the garlic counterbalances the bitterness of the greens...thusly making them more buttery and more palatable, also giving the ability to not have to cook them to "death" in order to render out the bitter taste. We also add bacon. Why? Bacon makes everything better.

The recipe is listed below. Sorry I didn't photograph our greens...they disappeared before the camera came out. We used this recipe once with Swiss Chard and once with Collard Greens. The result = good. And if you ever watched the movie "Jerry McGuire", the famous line "You had me at hello, you had me at hello"...was originally "You had me at bacon...and garlic" of course.

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/vlads-very-garlicky-greens-recipe/index.html

All Hail the Slow Cooker!



Take the following recipe, and cook all day in your slow cooker...

http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/apple-glazed-barbecued-baby-back-ribs



My parents gave us a slow cooker for Christmas back in 2009. A great gift I do say, as you can really be productive all day doing other things. As long as you wake your busted ass up in the morning to put the dish du jour in the pot and turn it on...it pretty much makes it self. And when you find yourself too tired at the end of the day to think of a meal to cook...you take the lid off the pot, dig the dish out and plate saying, "Dinner is served!" Seriously, as non chic as a Crock-Pot may seem, it's a worth-while invention.

As a child, I only knew slow cookers for chicken, roasts, and the general chili or baked beans...quite pedestrian I thought. However, leaning on the principle that cooking things slow and low means keeping the succulent juices in and not out, you can do oh so much more.

Vis a vis...ribs. Seriously, these ribs are damned fantastic. If you want to get fancy you can grill them afterwards in order to caramelize the sugars. Best of luck however because these oinkers are falling off the bone...you'll get lucky to get them to your mouth before letting them fall all over your tablecloth. Add some baked beans ( we cheat with the "Grillin Beans" from out the can), and some greens. Mmmm pork you cunning little beast, I love your ribs.

If you are into pairing wine or beer, try a nice Belgian Trappist ale (the sweet compliments the heat) or a smokey Syrah or Malbec.

The Perfect Burger...


Whoever grills the heck out of their burgers, pushes them down with the spatula, and waits till they are charred with grill marks...STOP IT! For the love of everything holy please please please just stop!

Laurent Tourondel, owner of BLT burger and BLT steak (arguably one of the best burgers in DC) is a master at burger making. Joining a heap of other chefs, he advocates cooking the burger on the flat top grill. Say goodbye flame broiled whopper...say hello to pan seared burgers...with butter no doubt! Did meat ask to be cooked on a grill where it can watch it's own life drip away into a firey pit? No! It only makes sense it likes to bathe in it's own merry juices as it sears away on a happy hot top.

The other night, we used a cast iron skillet placed on our grill top. Mmmmmm....add bacon...and we like to make a Chipotle Mayo (take two Chipotle peppers, add some salt, olive oil, mayo...blend together...yum). Cook the burgers to rare/medium rare (only 80/20 meat will do unless you find Kobe). Please don't forget cheddar (we have lately been using smoked cheddar), cause cheddar makes everything better! Biggest disappointment for us lately is seeing all of these beef cheek burgers done perfectly with bacon, and then the chef throws on that processed American Cheese..yecchhhh (Note to you Chef Tourondel and Joey Campenero)!

A must is finding a good bun...we really like Brioche...it's soft and soaks up the flavor of the beef. Worst thing...dry bread or really crunchy/crusty bread.

The resultant difference of the burger on a flat top is certainly palpable from those dried out grilled burgers of yore...remember those picnic burgers where usually the man or dad wears some kind of clever apron saying, "Dad knows grilling" and proceeds to kill everything that is already dead? The worst thing about guys on the grill are guys who have no idea what they are doing on the grill. Generally there is much bravado and beer involved and not a lot of time spent on the product...well, unless you count the time they overdid everything they cooked.

You wanna know something Mr. Grill Man? You can't undo overcooked meat! And stop it with all the bacteria scares. Please leave some moisture in your meat...hence the point of searing a burger and letting it baste in its own gloried juices. There are ways to cook meat to a perfect doneness without killing it...oh...don't get me started...

Oh Mr. Jacobs...Cardiology line one! Can I get some fries with that?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Say Hello and Wave Goodbye

To follow up on our farewell trip to "The Mexican Cafe", it was the perfect goodbye, hence, the perfect break up. Service, food, and drinks...all that and more of what we forever remembered. However, we couldn't leave it alone.

Remember those epic nights out, when you didn't plan for anything to happen and the night fell together in legendary proportion? You can't try to re-create it, no matter how hard you chase it the next night...it just wont work.

And like the tumultuous tumbles of the 70 year old who had too many Margaritas, we tried to say goodbye just one last time. We wanted one last haunt with those candy-like Margaritas. And just like telling yourself, "I'm just gonna sleep with her one more time, and then we're through"...we attempted another jaunt. Except in this instance, she said, "Guess what poppy, I'm pregnant"...or better yet, "Hey, that burning you're gonna get...sorry, you'll need to see a doctor for that".

It's the re-awakening, the revelation...epiphany if you will, of taking back your ex, and realizing they were a horrible person and the only thing that was good was your first date. Suddenly, the nostalgia of the cafe came to a screeching halt....from the moment we arrived, the ugly just kept coming. Our hostess claimed a new seating policy...thusly the friends we wanted to hop tables from a 2 to 4 top, got squashed. The waiter...whizzed by us, acted like he was deaf, and when he brought the half pour Margaritas he said, "That's the standard here"...abruptly leaving us in disbelief.

Instead of acting gracious we were for our last jaunt, everyone acted smug..."who cares they projected...we are leaving this dump anyway, we don't need you, pay your bill and leave". Dead and gone we were...sitting there, jaws dropped, knowing the relationship was dead...itching to get the bill and split.

After swigging down that last bit of memento, our friends (whom we happened to meet there on coincidence) turned to us and said, "You ever been to the Ebb Tide"? I said, "The "Duck and Dive" next door? Won't we get stabbed, shot, or corn holed there?"

"No way," they said. "The burgers are awesome, the drinks...cheap...the wine pours, top of the glass, and the mixed drinks...splash of soda".

Through our Margarita goggles we peered at the cinder block facade and thought, "What the hell...couldn't be that bad". We were right...we had struck gold baby! A down home crusty place with not too many folks. Food = Burgers...awesome!..house made hand cut fries? Yum! Fish and Chips...actually not bad. The summary...Cold beer, surly patrons, fried bar type eat em' up food and a great bartender who busted her ass to keep our glasses and bellies filled...top notch.

Interestingly enough, we found our waiter from "The Mexican Cafe"...he was at "The Ebb Tide" all along...doing who knows what...but he kept coming back...in and out, in and out...seems like he too knew the old cafe was on it's last gasp.

The most perfect thing about the "Tide" other than the non-pretentious nature and good food...cool signs!





Hey folks, all mother-in-laws have a free place to park!



Hello new "Cheers", good riddance "Mexican Cafe". And just like getting a new girlfriend and learning the old one sucked and your life is now quite better...you remember the good old times, and look forward to the better ones.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Oooooh You Dirty Dirty Poutine!




Since watching my food idol Anthony Bourdain take down some Poutine in Quebec, I have longed for this stuff. My longing was placed on the back burner and fired back up when I watched Al Roker and his cronies chowing down on some Poutine over in Vancouver, B.C. (During the Winter Olympics). And at last, after a long ass night at work, little sleep, and a big hike, I finally got my wish.

You're reading and saying, what the hell is this Poutine? Well, apparently the stuff originated in Quebec..just outside of Montreal. And in "American", I can say, basically it's like cheese fries...but with a few subtle differences.

Poutine = Fries, Cheese Curds, and a Sauce (generally a veloute...Chicken or Veal stock based sauce). There are many derivations on this theme and of course there are the Poutine traditionalists insisting only "Real Poutine" can only be served in Quebec. However, I had my first Poutine experience in Columbia, Maryland at "The Victoria Gastropub".

All I can say is "Damn, that shit was good". I don't have an honest picture of the actual experience for you...well, I do, but it's damned horrible. My friend Melly Mel tried to take a picture of me eating a huge bite of the stuff on her iPhone, and I just looked washed out and terrible after working all night. Thusly I deleted the pic.

My Poutine?..Fries cooked in duck fat, Duck Confit, Gruyere Cheese, Veloute, and some scallions. I later topped it off with a Kobe Burger with Maple Bacon, Onions, and Swiss (Paging a Cardiologist...anyone?).

In America we have "Cheese Fries"...and they're damned good, but I have never had such a thing as a Veloute (it roughly translates to velvet in English, and it's one of the mother sauces of French cuisine) on top of fries. I beg of you, find some Poutine, or find a recipe..you wont be sorry. I do highly suggest trying the cheese curds as they are the traditionalist cheese with the dish. If you haven't had cheese curds they are briney, and chewy, and I imagine will match well with the sauce and fries.

If you are longing for cheese curds, or have never had them, go up to Wisconsin...they are ubiquitous as Midwestern accents up there...seriously, nothing better than a game of bean bag at a bar (many of you know it as the game "Corn Hole"), drinking Leinenkugel beer, and eating basket upon basket of fried cheese curds. Oh God...do you serve fried food in heaven? I promise if you do I'll still do yard work for my wife, and maintain an active healthy life...within reason of course.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Tart



This was easy...I had no part in making it except for saying things like, "Yes, that sounds like a great dish", and "I think we should leave it in fifteen more minutes".

If you make your own pie crust this could be a bit more challenging...of course we cheated with the Pillsbury ready made. We then added the left over hand dipped Ricotta we used for the pancakes (after you place the crust in the pan, place the ricotta on the crust). Then, we topped with heirloom tomatoes. Bake at 350 for 1 hour and forty minutes (gotta render out the water from the tomatoes). The buttery flaky texture of the pie crust, along with the silkiness of the ricotta, and tart tang of the tomatoes make an excellent combination.

We made this dish last night in conjuncture with our fettuccine with baby artichokes and pancetta. For dessert we sliced some fresh strawberries and topped them with a 15 year old balsamic.

The occasion was my mother-in-law coming to town. On a surprise for our upcoming wedding anniversary she brought us a brand new kayak, along with some old shelves (we've needed help re-organizing our wine cave/food pantry). And to be honest, I had a smile on my face all night enjoying my wife and mother-in-law's company. In the background we had Edith Piaf playing, in our non-cooking hands, a decent Cab Sauv called, "The Show". And from start to finish it was just a nice celebratory night, enjoying each other's company, laughing, sharing stories, and oooing and ahhing all over the food we prepared. I might be rare saying I really love my mother-in-law's company. She's fun, loves to eat our food, and never passes to enjoy the moment. For almost 6 years now after meeting my wife, my life has been more and more enriched by that philosophy. Cheers to a really happy evening.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pancakes



Comfort food comes in many ways. For me, pancakes are the tops, and every time I make them, nostalgia floods in. Back to the days when mom cooked, I slept in, and every Saturday she would yell, "Wake up, Pancakes are ready"...dad would say something like, "Get your lazy ass out of the sack boy"...all the while it was 7am...sheesh.

At age 24 I decided to emulate my mother's pancakes strangely enough for the newest love of my life...my future wife. She had never had scratch made pancakes. They were such a hit I started making them for my future mother-in-law and late father-in-law. And voila, out came a comfort food that made me smile every time I got in the kitchen.

And although I still think my mom's pancakes are dynamite, I have to say I've tweaked the recipe more to my liking. The secret for me is including whole fresh ricotta and buttermilk. Another must is mixing the wet and dry ingredients seperately, and when combining don't overmix, unless you like glue. Without futher adieu...

Matty's Lemon Ricotta Pancakes (Feeds 4)

1 Cup of Flour (any kind will do, I usually used unbleached all purpose)
1/2 teaspoon of Baking Powder
1 teaspoon of salt
(Mix these together)

2 egg yolks (Sepearate the whites in a seperate bowl)
1 cup of non-fat buttermilk
1/2-1 cup of whole milk ricotta (hand dipped stuff from Whole Foods I find is best)
(Mix these together)

Combine the wet and dry just enough that they are mixed...like I said, don't overmix, if you see a few lumps of flour, that's ok

Now, beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.

Fold the egg whites into the batter.

Now, with a hot griddle, pan, etc, scoop out the pancakes and cook.

A trick Meghan and I like to pull is grating fresh lemon zest into each pancake, and adding fresh blueberries.

A nice healthy trick is cutting up fresh berries for antioxidants and a natural sweet instead of dousing with syrup.

Lastly, top with maple syrup (don't go Aunt Jemima on me if you took the time to make such a gourmet dish)...

Voila...now you have a new family tradition.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Authentic Guilt

So yeah, I blogged about Tacos before...mmm, heavenly pulled pork tacos. However, I have a guilty cash only hole in the wall pleasure by the name of "Taqueria Juquilita". It's nestled between the yuppie dog wash/coffee bar called "Bark and Bean" and the local laundromat. Let's just say it's an interesting observation of affluent and poor. On one hand, people are paying groomers to wash their muddy hounds while sipping on their latte. Two doors down, you have folks who have no washer/dryer at their residence, doing the week's wash. If this were Manhattan, I'd buy it...it's Annapolis, it may be the state capitol, but it's no thriving metropolis. Thusly said, an interesting observation of different people commercing withing the same string of building.

Having watched many episodes of Anthony Bourdain finding a "hole in the wall" joint with amazing authentic food, I decided to give this place a shot. The name...sounds authentic to me...cash only?...galvanizing my theory...Telemundo blaring some cheesy game show or campy soap opera in Spanish...getting warmer...posters of the cartoon "Bambi", a map of Puebla, Mexico, and various herbs growing in a sundry of pots in the window? I went to the counter and ordered...

Tacos galore, soups, burritos, heuvos rancheros, chicken mole...there is nothing on the menu that sucks. The food? Authentic...you could bring in Rick Bayless (the gringo expert on Mexican cuisine) and he'd agree. No dishes smothered with cheese, cream, and "flare"...just straight up simple food man. The chef...she's maybe 50ish, short, stocky, a bit wrinkled. Her hands are weathered yet strong...one glance into her eyes and I swear you can see into her soul. I've never interviewed her, but that one glance tells me everything I need to know about a chef...she lives and breathes what she makes. Her passion is her food, one bite and that's clear.

My guilty pleasure are the tacos. There are at least 10 different types to order...and if you like offal, you're in the right place. You can choose from tongue, tripe, head, cheek, barbeque pork, pulled pork, diced ground pork, even chicken...the options are endless...the tacos, a fresh house made double corn tortilla, meat, onions, cilantro, radishes, and salsa. Done..that's it, no 79 cent cheesy Americanized Taco Schmell.

As I munched on my "Huevos Mexicanos"(scrambled eggs with peppers, re-fried beans, rice, avocado, and queso fresco all piled into a yummy corn tortilla) for breakfast this morning I realized that America is finally trending back to these mom and pop places. More and more people are longing for homemade, simple, and fresh. And more and more, middle America is at least progressing past the T.G.I-McFunsters, and stepping out to an uncomfortable place...foreign people speaking a foreign language, with a hole in the wall establishment serving good food.

Authentic cuisine of the foreign country du jour is no longer limited to the big American cities. Our immigrants are finding life and work in our rural towns, and the shops are opening in your back yard. And as scary as it may seem to wander into a shop that doesn't speak a lot of English, these proprietors are as hungry to share their wares as you will be to enjoy them.

Monday, April 19, 2010

L'Academie de Cuisine



A brilliant friend of mine suggested I take my lovely bride for some sort of cooking class for her most recent birthday. On went the "Google Machine" and voila..."L'Academie de Cuisine".

A weekend of food...and who could beat that? We were set to cook two lunches, instructed by the founder of the Academie (Francois Dionot). The setting for the class was at the Mercersburg Inn, in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania. Basically, a Bed and Breakfast where you eat a nice breakfast, work for 3 hours on lunch, serve each other with a 4 course sit down (accompanied by good wine of course), and then have the afternoon to nap...in our instance, they had a cool "Man Room" downstairs complete with a pool table. We found a stray husband (his wife was busy reading) and played "Cut Throat Pool" for 2 hours. Meg and I, exhausted, elected for a reprise in the form of a nap.



The Mercersburg Inn


On Saturday night, the chef of the Inn shows off with an elaborate 4 course dinner (with wine..hello!), don't forget cocktails before and afterwards in the great sitting room cozied up to a roaring comfy fire.



Chef's Dinner Menu...



Asparagus with a Blood Orange Creme Sauce...Divine!



Perfectly Seared Tuna with a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce



Braised Short Ribs and Roasted Rutabaga

The classes were on French technique, yielding French food. The two dishes I prepared were a shrimp, chicken, and shitake mushrooms in a shrimp broth, and a dessert. The shrimp broth..breathtaking, absolutely voluptuous, sexy, silky, and unlike anything I have ever made. The secret? Using the shrimp heads and shells along with saffron...making your own stock makes a dish that much better.

The dessert...hard to title...something like a "Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise". The Creme Anglaise I had made before...simply, "Frozen Custard". However, making a pastry creme to place in a pipetting bag was new (Creme Patissiere), and poaching Rhubarb was new as well. The Galette...a simple shortbread cookie.

Meghan was tasked to dicing many an aeromatic the first day for her grouper, roasted vegetables with a parsley taragon sauce. Hence, she was less than pleased that she got to practice knife skills. Add insult to injury when one of her classmates salted the Grouper 90 minutes before it was to hit the pan...Francois our chef...pissed and yelling...me...giggling...the dish..Francois was right, do not salt until it's ready to cook..dry..yecch...more sauce please!



Fillet of grouper with fresh vegetables & parsley tarragon sauce

On day two, Meghan learned how to de-bone a duck..what fun! I was wicked jealous. Then she learned how to sear a duck breast. Unfortunately her group lost out again when an overconfident student decided he knew what he was doing and overcooked the breast...hence, more yelling by Francois...me..giggling again. The result...not medium rare, but still, they recovered with the Aus Jus...dang..roasting bones for duck stock works, who woulda known?



Pan Seared Duck Breast, Parsnip Puree, Duck Aus Jus

The weekend was a blast. We met a lot of new people, learned quite a bit about cooking from scratch, making stocks, de-boning ducks, and racks of lamb...invaluable tools towards becoming better cooks (and better people in my opinion). And although the chef sometimes yelled when you messed up, he did it for the passion of the ingredient and the dish it became. To paraphrase Chef Dionot, "A recipe cannot teach you to make a dish, you have to learn by making it, and then making it many times again." We were absolutely blessed to have such a talented and passionate chef (along with his sous-chef daughter and wife) take the time to help us learn French cuisine.

The experience was invaluable and recapitulates the respect we have for the culinary world. In many ways cooking has been glamorized by "Food Network" and "Top Chef", and in many ways these shows have brought cooks back to the kitchen. For Meghan and I, cooking is our way to communicate and work together, a way to strengthen our friendship and marriage. Food is our passion, and it was a pleasure to spend such a weekend with a group of passionate foodies and chefs willing to make us better at what we love to do.



Best Scallops I have ever had! "Pan Seared Scallops with a Three Potato Risotto"



"Galette with Creme Patissiere, Poached Rhubarb, and Star Anise Creme Anglaise"


"Shrimp with Poached Chicken, Shitake Mushrooms in a Shrimp Broth" Holy Schmokes was the Broth the best part of lunch!



Meg had fun!



The Shirt Says, "Bacon, It's What's for Dinner"



Before our Chef's Dinner

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bacon Makes Everything Better



What is better than a perfectly crispy potato hash, the nice aromatics of garlic and shallots, topped with easy over eggs and truffle oil?

Add ham...

But if you got it, use a nice thick cut artisianal bacon instead.

The dish today was awesome, but to totally quote my wife..."Everything is just better with bacon". And as Meghan raved in between bites saying, "Oh my God Matty, I'm so spoiled"...I kept thinking, "The caramelized ham adds such a salty savory quality...the truffle oil and fresh chives from the garden really makes this pop...I could bathe in a vat full of this runny yolk from the eggs...but something's missing".

That something was bacon...

It adds such a meaty, smokey, and chewy mouth feel (that's what she said) that elevates the dish to four star food porn. Like when Tom Cruise says to Rene Zellwegger in "Jerry Maguire"...."You complete me".

Bacon, you complete me.