Tag Archives: food

Accidental Culinary Adventures

This is how I cook: I open up the refrigerator or pantry and say, “What’s here?” If there are enough building blocks to create a meal along the lines of something I’ve cooked before and enjoyed, problem solved.

This approach leads to occasional accidental delights (but mostly just decent supper food). Here are two that happened in my kitchen in the past month. See if you’re similarly inspired to experiment. ūüėČ

Chicken Orzo-tore

I’ve been making chicken cacciatore since I started cooking (a few days after I got married), but I learned the recipe by watching my dad make it countless times for supper. It was easy, relatively quick, and cheap – all qualities that my dad prized in his culinary endeavors

Recipe:¬†Dad’s Chicken Cacciatore

But the other day, as I eyed a small bag of orzo pasta I’d picked up at Trader Joe’s, I had an epiphany: What If I swapped out the rice I usually serve alongside cacciatore, and used the orzo instead?

The verdict: Delicious! I cooked the orzo pasta on the side and then throw the cooked orzo into the pot of cacciatore once it came out of the oven. However, I’m wondering if I should have cooked the orzo straight into the cacciatore so it would pick up more of those flavors. Dunno. May try that next time.

Post Pork-Roast Beef Stew

So last month, I made the most incredible pork roast thanks to this recipe from an Upstate cook:

Balsamic Beer-Braised Pork Roast, from She Wears Many Hats

Photo by She Wears Many Hats, where I found the recipe. Just LOOK at that pork!
Photo by She Wears Many Hats, where I found the recipe. Just LOOK at that pork!

It’s an amazing recipe. So easy; so incredibly flavorful.

I make two changes from her recipe. The first, I use rendered bacon fat (cook a couple pieces, pull out the bacon, use it for something else) to sear the pork roast in the first step. The additional smokiness of a high quality bacon adds incomparable depth of flavor. Goes without saying that you need to be using a good bacon here; I keep Trader Joe’s applewood smoked bacon in the frig at all times.

Second, once the pork roast had been seared but before adding the cooking liquid (beer et al), I deglaze the pan with some bourbon or sherry. Sometimes a little of both, in succession. Scrape up the brown bits and let the meat soak up some of the alcohol before continuing. Again, it’s a layer of flavor that makes a difference in the end.

When you’re done (follow the recipe), you have pork that just falls apart and shreds with no effort at all. It’s incredible as pulled pork sandwiches; you need no additional BBQ sauce.

But then…. there’s more magic to be had in the pot! You’ll need your favorite beef stew recipe – look it up on the Internet and pick up some cheap “stew beef” at the store on your next grocery run, along with carrots, potatoes, onion, celery, a box of beef broth, and either rice or big noodles or barley or whatever.

Let the drippings cool until the fat congeals on top. Stop being squeamish; this is part of life when cooking with meat. Scrape off and discard as much of the solid fat as you can, leaving behind the beer-broth and bits of pork from the earlier recipe.

Heat what’s left on medium in your Dutch oven till it’s going pretty hard and throw in all your chopped vegetables. If you did too good a job of removing fat, you might need to add a wee bit of olive oil or butter here. ¬†Meanwhile, brown your beef chunks in a skillet on the side and throw them in with the vegetables once they get brown on all sides. (The extra work is worth it – I promise.) ¬†Add your broth and seasonings, and throw the whole pot into the oven¬†for an hour or more, till the potatoes are completely done and the beef is tender.

If you’re going to add rice or noodles it might be easier to cook those on the stovetop and then add them at the end.

The result: Your beef stew will have this magical depth of flavor, a savory-ness that I can’t ever get when I just “make beef stew,” no matter what seasonings I add. The leftovers from the pork bring so many good flavors to the party, but nothing clashes with the traditional beef stew vibe.

I’m committed now to always making the pork recipe before I make a regular beef stew. I’m not sure I can go back to the old way…. ūüėČ

The Backstory: The Pig and I

I have a full series of biographical posts here, if you wish to attempt some armchair psychoanalysis on RameyLady. 
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I have only a few rules that I strive to follow at work (in addition to the basics of human kindness):

1. Don’t be too loud. ¬†
The struggle is real, y’all. ¬†I work at a rather quiet place. ¬†I think my laugh carries all the way down the hall…. to like the second floor…

2. ¬†Don’t be too weird.
If you’re reading The Backstory series, you understand: When I went off to college and spent some time with people from all around the country, I realized just how odd I am. ¬†I blame this on being raised by¬†a struggling working-class family living on a mountain in Appalachia, raised by parents a full generation older than any of my friends, as an only child whose primary companions were a few of the dysfunctional neighbor kids, our 10 cats, whatever came over the airwaves on the TV or local radio, and thousands of books.

3. Don’t say the F-word.¬†
…without having *very* good reason.

Three rules.  Should be simple.

You’d be amazed though.

So at lunch yesterday, when the talk of the table had turned – twice – to the subject of pigs …..hunting wild hogs ….. eating wild hogs [not as much meat as you’d think] ….. pet “comfort” pigs [I don’t know, I didn’t ask]) … plus pet pot-bellied pigs had come up in conversation before that as I was walking to lunch ‚ÄĒ I had the momentary thought of telling this story to the table.

Until I did a reality check, and decided the necessity of explaining my entire background before the story could even make sense probably took me past the boundaries of rule #2.

[I made the right call, I think. ¬†Moments later, when I suggested that cauliflower tastes delicious roasted in a very hot oven with some olive oil, salt, and pepper, they all looked at me like I had 4 heads. ¬†*shakes head* ¬†People shouldn’t abuse food the way they do, like by not roasting cauliflower and eating that amazing caramelized toasty goodness on a cool winter evening. I digress.]

So here, dear reader, is the story that came to mind when the talk of the table turned to the pigs.

*****
I don’t know why my parents started to acquire large and small animals on our 12 acres of land, but they did.

I don’t have any actual memories of this, but family lore confirms that as soon as my family had settled on the mountain ¬†in a little cement block house built by the previous owner (our temporary dwelling while my dad and brothers constructed our house), my brothers managed to talk my parents into letting them get a horse.

I’ll have to share the horse story some other day. ¬†He didn’t last long with THAT attitude….

Over the course of my life, we had – in addition to the horse – two pigs, many chickens, two dogs, and a multitude of cats….. plus my brother’s beehives (for a time)…. which led to a few visits by a hungry black bear (and the end of several of the beehives). Oh, and fish.

When I was a preschooler, we had two hogs.  My dad and brothers constructed a pig pen a ways down into the woods from the house Рto prevent our yard from smelling like a farm Рand split trees into a fence.

The sow, black and pink and rather grouchy, bore the name Sarai for no reason that I can explain. I was probably 4; every part of the world made as much sense as anything else, no matter how bizarre, though I’m sure I asked why. ¬† Sarai had a piglet (hers? not sure) that we called Rudy. ¬†I don’t recall Rudy’s end, but I’m *pretty* certain a large wild animal feasted on him before we could do anything else with him. ¬†Like serve him for supper.

I was daddy’s girl and followed him pretty much everywhere. ¬†We took vegetable scraps and leftover food down to the pig trough for them to devour. ¬†I learned how much fun it is to torment pigs – they glare at you with beady eyes. And they’re hella intelligent. It got to where they’d always stay across the pen from me if I was outside. ¬†Inside the fence, I found them large and terrifying. ¬†All that bulk and snuffling. ¬†And mud. ¬†*ew* ¬†[insert Jimmy Fallon voice here]

Then one day in the golden autumn, my dad fired up his 1960-something Ford pickup truck, which had a rebuilt bed of wood with tall sides made of slats, and drove it and my brothers down to the pigpen. It took all 3 of them and maybe a neighbor too to pin down Sarai – who was huge and unhappy – and wrestle her up into the truck, tying her down.

The boys stayed in the back; my mom and dad flanked me on the red truck seat in the cab as we drove across the mountain to a barn-like building with a name¬†something¬†like Sonny’s or Sam’s or Harry’s. ¬†That’s where the men dragged Sarai squealing off the truck and then disappeared into the building for quite a long time.

I was furious at being stuck in the truck cab with my mom. ¬†Livid. ¬†My dad had left no opening for disobedience here; he was clear that I was to stay put…. plus my mom wasn’t going to let me do anything more than stare through the back window of the truck cab. ¬† So I waited. And stared.

And that was my family field trip to the slaughterhouse. ūüôā

I’m sure I was given a basic explanation that Sarai had served her purpose and it was time for her to go … and that we would be able to eat bacon and pork chops and roasts all winter thanks to her sacrifice. ¬†I remember when the truckload of white-wrapped packages came back from the butcher, labeled in black sharpie. ¬†(The bacon was especially tasty.)

I don’t recall being particularly traumatized by the realization that the animal I’d helped raise was now part of supper. ¬†I don’t know what that says about my psyche, but it was normal for mountain life. ¬†We buried many pets while I grew up, lots several chickens to a hungry possum, and got rid of the troublesome horse.

Death is always near in the Appalachians.  It just is.

My Shrimp & Grits Recipe

This has been a much-requested recipe, so I’ll share a version of it here. ¬†No apologies for the rustic nature of these directions – the only measuring utensils you need are for the opening steps of the grits. The rest you can eyeball. ūüėČ

I will say that, made well, this recipe beats nearly every bowl of shrimp & grits you will ever find.  So invest in high-quality meat and spices, and break out the cream and butter. And true stone-ground grits. Do not EVEN think of making this with some crappy store-bought instant grit crap.

Also, don’t tell me “I hate grits. They’re gross and I refuse to eat them” until you’ve made them THIS WAY. ¬†Then, if you still hate them, you are still wrong but we can remain friends. ūüôā

RameyLady’s Shrimp and Grits Recipe
Serves 4. Scale up or down as needed.

THE GRITS – start these first.
1 cup stone ground, local grits (I use local Timms Mill grits) – follow package directions re: sifting or rinsing
4 cups chicken stock
1/2 stick of butter
1 tsp salt
1-2 cups of cream, half & half, or whole milk (or a mix of those)
1/2 cup of shredded cheese (your choice, I like sharp cheddar or maybe smoked Gouda)
more salt, pepper, dried thyme (to taste)

To make the grits:
In a large, heavy-bottomed sauce pan or pot, combine the broth and butter over medium heat to bring to a simmer. ¬†Stir in 1 cup of stone ground uncooked grits and reduce heat to medium-low. ¬†You want the grits to bubble and cook, but they turn into a nuclear meltdown of bubbling 3rd degree burn material if you let them get too hot, so don’t go more than a minute without stirring. ¬†Stir & cook carefully for 15 minutes, then pour in 1/2 cup of cream (or milk or half & half or whatever combo of those you’d like) and stir well. ¬†Add a pinch of¬†salt — not too much because the cheese you add at the end will also be a bit salty– and fresh-ground pepper, plus any additional seasonings you’d prefer, like dried thyme. Reduce heat to medium-low: you want the grits to bubble slowly but not so fast that they splutter. (Recall the nuclear warning, above.) ¬†Start making the Shrimp part, below…. ¬†As the grits continue to cook over the next 25-40 minutes, add cream a couple more times, about 1/2 cup at a time, until the grits are cooked through, not “gritty,” and thickened to your preference. ¬†Just before serving, add the cheese, stir through until melted, and check to see if you need any additional salt. ¬†Store leftover grits in the frig for several days or freeze for later.

THE SHRIMP PART – start this once you start adding cream to the grits
Start this once the grits are in their first cooking phase.

3-4 slices high quality bacon, diced and divided (I use Trader Joe’s applewood smoked)
1-2 lb fresh shrimp, peeled, deveined
1/2 lb high-quality andouille sausage (kielbasa works too)
splash of lemon juice or half a lemon
olive oil
couple tablespoons of butter
salt, pepper, seasonings*, thyme
garlic cloves – diced or use a press
cream sherry — about 1 cup total (I use Fairbanks cream sherry – see photo below)
1 onion, diced large
1-2 bell peppers, diced large
several fresh summer tomatoes, diced large
dried thyme & basil
about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of cream or half n half (or whole milk)
about 1 T cornstarch

*I rely on two seasoning blends for my shrimp and grits; both come from The Spice & Tea Exchange, and you can order them online if you don’t have a store in your area: Cinnabar Smoke Blend adds a slightly warm, Eastern flavor to the dish; Sweet Heat packs a little more punch but the sweetness offsets the heat in everything else. ¬†If you don’t have these, that’s fine – if you’re using high quality sausage and bacon, their flavors will infuse the dish.

To prepare:
Stage 1: ¬†Prepare shrimp (peel, etc) and season to taste. I use a little salt & pepper plus a splash of lemon juice and some favorite spice blends ¬†– ¬†see note above. Set aside to marinade for 15 minutes to 4 hours. ¬† Dice the bacon and if you’re using sausage, prep that as well (if the sausage is raw, I usually cook andouille as links first, then chop into pieces and return to the pan later as listed below; kielbasa can be chopped into slices without any pre-cooking).

Add 1 strip’s worth of bacon¬†and about a quarter of the sausage to a large wide pan OR tall cooking pot (large enough to hold 4 quarts of liquid – that way you won’t get spattered) over medium heat to render fat and flavor. ¬†After the bacon is 80% cooked through, add one chopped clove of fresh garlic to the pan and star. ¬†Arrange the shrimp over the bottom of the pan in an even layer. If you have too much shrimp to cook all in one batch, split into two batches (and split the bacon and garlic as well, since you’ll want to cook each batch fresh.) ¬†Flip the shrimp after about 60 seconds and cook on the other side till the shrimp are BARELY done – firmer to the touch and pink . Pour a couple tablespoons of sherry into the pan and stir. Cook for about 30 seconds, then remove everything from the pan into a dish and keep warm to add back later– pour everything in the pan out and reserve all juices. Set aside. (If making two batches of shrimp, reduce pan heat a little and start with some fresh bacon.)

You can wipe the pan if you want. I usually don’t.

sherry
The one time I break my “only use alcohol you’d be willing to drink as part of your food” rule. This sherry is meh at best, but the “sherry” flavors come through nicely once it’s cooked down. I use it in everything…

Stage 2: ¬†Add the rest of the chopped bacon (about 3 slices worth).¬†If you’re using sausage, add the rest of it to the pan here. ¬† Let the bacon render some fat, then add either 1 tsp of butter or a couple tsp of olive oil to the pan. ¬†Add 1-2 T fresh chopped garlic. Stir. Add the diced onion and¬†chopped bell pepper and cook for just a minute or two until the vegetables soften slightly. ¬†You should also season the vegetables – at least throw in some dried basil and thyme, about 1 T of each. ¬† ¬†Turn heat up to medium and pour a good half cup of sherry (up to 1 cup) ¬†into the pan. ¬†Stir well and then allow the sherry to reduce by half, which will take several minutes of boiling.

Stage 3: ¬†After the sherry has reduced by half (or so), add the diced fresh summer tomatoes. Whether you include the seeds is up to you; I don’t get too fussy here. Just chop the tomatoes & throw them in. Add another round of seasoning, like basil. ¬†Add about 1.5 cups of cream (or milk or half & half or all three) and slowly pour the cream into the pot, stirring as it hits the warm vegetable-sherry mixture. Simmer on medium for 5 minutes, until cream begins to reduce.¬† ¬†Mix 1 T of cream with 1 T¬†cornstarch in a separate bowl; stir vigorously with a fork until every bit of cornstarch is dissolved. ¬†Turn up heat a little past high and add this to the pot; allow to boil until the cream begins to thicken (because of the corn starch).

Stage 4: Return the shrimp and their juices (and bacon/sausage used in step 1) to the pan and check your grits; you’re probably ready to add the cheese. ¬†You can safely “hold” either part of the dish on low heat until the other is done, but don’t add the shrimp into its pan until you know you’re within 5 min of eating. (Overcooked shrimp is gummy and gross.)

Serve by ladling 1/2 cup or more of grits into the bottom of a wide flat bowl, then top with about a cup of the shrimp mixture.

You really don’t need anything else with this dish – it covers all the bases. ūüôā ¬† It pairs very well with beer or wine. ¬†I prefer a warm red, but white wine drinkers can find something crisp and lemony.

Enjoy! ūüôā

My shrimp and grits. Made this batch last night and enjoyed the leftovers for lunch
My shrimp and grits. Made this batch last night and enjoyed the leftovers for lunch

In Honor of Sochi: When you say “Russia,” I think “dill”

It’s Olympics time. What does that mean for my household?

Well, even if an epic snowstorm in the Southeast weren’t sitting on top of my house, forcing me away from going into my day job and opening up dozens of extra hours for Olympic watching, I’d still be glued to the TV whenever I had the chance. ¬†You have no idea. I loooooooove me some Winter Olympics.

As the world knows, the ’14 games are in Sochi, Russia. Where’s Sochi? ¬†On the Black Sea. Where it doesn’t really look that cold and where the downhill slopes are coming in at 60 degrees (a bit too warm for good snow). ¬† And where things aren’t entirely put together all neat and tidy, as a flood of amusing tweets showed last week when journalists started arriving.

That’s old news.
As is Shaun White’s disappointing 4th place finish on the half-pipe, but at least we can feel good about the guy, despite the media hype that he’s cold & not un-chill for a skater dude.

But I digress. I came here tonight to tell you about “that time I was in Russia.” ¬†Yeah, the real one! ¬†I’m still pretty surprised myself.

As I finished up my undergraduate degree, I signed on for a 10-week mission trip traveling through both halves of Europe.  As a choir, we prepared spirituals and other music to sing in public, in recital halls, in churches, on street corners. And in every town, we met (and often stayed with) locals Рmy favorite part.

In late June, we spent about 3 weeks in Eastern Europe, Belorussia, and Russia. I’ll save the long versions of the story for another day, but here are a few highlights:

Um, monuments. ¬†Russians know how to do spectacle. You haven’t seen a WW2 monument until you’ve seen the ones Russia built. Or the countries under Soviet rule. ¬†My first experience with this came in Brest (Belorussia), where the pock-marked brick fortress outside the city held off the Germans …. for a bit.

The fortress in Brest, Belorussia. The pockmarks on the front are from the Germans' machine guns during the WW2 attack.
The fortress in Brest, Belorussia. The pockmarks on the front are from the Germans’ machine guns during the WW2 attack.

But if you really want to see grandeur, check out the statue within the fortress park commemorating the Russian soldiers. ¬†This photographer’s shot captures a gigantic granite solder crawling for water; behind him a huge head stares across the plains.

You haven't seen WW2 memorials until you've traveled East.
You haven’t seen WW2 memorials until you’ve traveled East.

Russians love dill. It’s unnatural, and if I never see that herb again, it’ll still be too soon. ¬†We ate tomatoes and cucumbers sliced and sprinkled with dill, ¬†we had fish with dill, they put dill on slices of raw pork fat (ew), the borscht was probably garnished with dill. ¬† ¬†Beets and dill. ¬†Dill and cucumbers. ¬†Dill on dill. ¬† It was a dill-pocalypse.

21 Disturbing Examples of Russia’s Dill Addiction

When we weren’t being hounded by the herb of doom, our hosts served us warm fizzy water (cold stuff is bad for you, so they said), hot tea and coffee (in high summer), and the most delightful fruit juice called, generically, “sok” – which is just a term for “juice.” (The O is long, so “sok” sounds like “soak.”)

Sok, or "juice," is thicker and sweeter than what we have in America.
Sok, or “juice,” is thicker and sweeter than what we have in America.

I’ve asked my Russian friends how it’s made; the best I could get was this: ¬† layer a big jar (like a sun-tea jar) with fresh fruit and sugar. Pour in boiling water. Immediately can the jar or cap & sterilize it, and then flip it upside down. Leave for several months. ¬†When you open the jar, the resulting liquid is smooth and thick, like sunshine in a jar. ¬†I’ve never experienced anything like it apart from our time with people in Russia, Belorussia, and to an extent Poland. ¬†(I Google’d it… came up with a recipe in a Slavic language I can’t read….. my search goes on…..)

It was in Russia that I had my first Magnum bar — that was heaven on earth. ¬†You can buy them in America now, but back then, a plane ticket across the Pond was the price for enjoyment. ¬†They sold them in Western Europe too; I just happened to eat my first Magnum in Moscow, I think. Or maybe Smolensk….. hafta check my trip journal.

I shamelessly borrowed this image from the Magnum website.  Soooo gooood.
I shamelessly borrowed this image from the Magnum website. Soooo gooood.

But aside from meeting many very kind people (including several pastors with stories of years lost to labor campus because the Soviet Union pounded on churches) and learning to eat fish for breakfast (sometimes) (it was gross), I’ve got some weird stories too.

Like the time I peed in No Man’s Land at midnight-thirty, a Bathroom Stop Without A Country.

Some explanation:

Somebody took a picture of their border crossing from Poland into Brest..... so I would have gone through this one too, I suppose.
Somebody took a picture of their border crossing from Poland into Brest….. so I would have gone through this one too, I suppose.

— Although the Soviet Union had fallen by the time I went to Russia, all travel required specific visas. My passport from that year is stamped with plant of border crossings – the EU hadn’t kicked in yet either. ¬† We discovered (as a group) that our contact in Russia who set up meetings for us miscalculated our visa dates and we were scheduled to be in the country a day longer than our visas allowed. ¬†And you haven’t seen anything like a border crossing into the former Eastern bloc (at that time) ….. lines could last for hours. ¬†Somehow our team leaders knew a way to cut us into the front of the line. I’m so happy we didn’t get shot……

–No Man’s Land is the half mile or so of neutral land in between two countries, the Neutral Zone if you will.

-Eastern Europe really isn’t into rest stops or public bathrooms. In fact, we were munching a quick lunch as a team in far eastern Poland when our team leader explained that travel day pit stops would take place “in the woods” from now on. ¬†That was a …..bonding experience…..? ¬† “Boys take one side of the road, girls go to the other.”

So what do you do when 1) you’re not supposed to be in a country today but 2) you have a church service to do anyway, so 3) you ¬†decide to do your border crossing in the middle of the night in hopes that the border guards will either be more forgiving or at least sleepy …. which puts you on the road for an overnight 8-hour marathon drive from western Russia to Brest, Belorussia, and to top it all off, it’s nearly 2am and ¬†4) you all really gotta pee?

Well, you go in No-Man’s Land!

No Mans Land

The vans pulled through the border crossing (always a bit tense), and as soon as the guard house was out of sight, we pulled over. ¬†It was quite cold, despite being high summer. The roadside was incredibly dark; ¬†I’d been sleeping (since I volunteered to stay up through the graveyard shift later to help keep the drivers awake) and I groggily stumbled down into the deep side ditch to take care of business. ¬†We weren’t going to have any other opportunities for quite a while.

I gotta admit, we did giggle a little later. ¬†It’s not every day you get to break international law…. I mean, I’m sure you’re not supposed to use boundary land as a restroom.

I don’t remember much else from that night — we saw the most glorious full moon rise around 4am, as we passed through the flat eastern lands of Belorussia. ¬†The driver and I were both dangerously close to nodding off by 5am, when we switched off and I crawled in back for a much-needed nap.

By 7am, we pulled into the outskirts of Brest to find an actual bathroom (a public outhouse; it was disgusting) and eat the only snack we could find: bars of thick, creamy, fat-filled Russian ice cream. (Seriously – the fat content in that cream was off the chain – you could feel it on your tongue.)

Of course, I’m leaving out all of the wonderful parts of traveling in the ¬†East — to see St Basil’s cathedral with my own eyes, buying matryoshka dolls and chess sets in the outdoor Moscow market (come over and I’ll show them to you), singing a cappella in the amazing Smolensk cathedral, looking out across Moscow from our hotel room on the 8th floor. ¬†It was a great experience, and I’d love to retrace many of those steps. ¬†But I’ll stick to indoor toilets…..

Bonus story: I made only two phone calls home during the 10 weeks I was away — my, how life was different before everyone had a cell phone!) — so it was from ¬†that Moscow hotel room that I rang my dad and my boyfriend both at 4am to say “I’m still alive!” (we’d been on the road 4 weeks) and “I love you!” ¬† My dad was stoic and surprised that I would call him just to say I was fine. ¬†My boyfriend (who is now my husband) was a lot more excited once he woke up enough to realize what was happening, but I’m not sure he ever quite forgave me for the 4am wake-up call. ūüôā¬†

 

DC: All About Food!

I think I’ll just let the photos do the talking in this post.

We pinched pennies but still managed to find some good eats in and around the District.

I think my favorite was Founding Farmers–a delicious farm to table, local produce & meat restaurant in the District. I don’t have a photo of our food, but please believe me when I say it was some of the best I’ve ever encountered. Stevo & Jesse threw down chicken & waffles that included some of the best friend chicken I have ever tasted (I stole a nibble of Jesse’s). ¬†Coart & I divided a couple entrees — a black pepper gnocchi in a sweet cream sauce (made with amaretto!) and one of their grilled open face sandwiches with prosciutto, marscapone, and fig jam. A-ma-zing. ¬†I hear their cocktails are great too, but like I said, we were pinching pennies.

IMG_3336
The bar downstairs at Founding Farmers backed up against our round table/booth.

If you don’t make a reservation a while in advance, you’ll never get a table at Founding Farmers. Actually, even with a reservation we waited for a while and service isn’t exactly fast. ¬†But it was totally worth the wait.

*****

From the sublime to the simple: One of our other favorite places was a Yelp find: ¬†Tortilla Cafe near the East Market by the Capitol district. ¬†We were hungry we didn’t want to spend a lot of money, we like little neighborhood places, we had just worn ourselves out in the Library of Congress and needed some food quick. ¬†Those factors led us to this delightful El Salvadorean place with wonderful food. ¬†Even Guy Fieri says so!

Guy ate at the Tortilla Cafe too!
Guy ate at the Tortilla Cafe too!

Coart had the pupusas, which are kind of like a tortilla with baked-in cheese and shredded pork. Um, yes please! ¬†Amazing. ¬†I had their beef nachos — hearty and delish chunks of beef included. ¬†Actually, my favorite part may have been the hand-bottled fruit juices available for purchase with my meal. And folks were snapping up their guacamole and chips, which was probably fantastic.

*****

Every good trip deserves a little sweetness, so after catching Joss Wheadon’s Much Ado About Nothing at the local arthouse movie theater (why do I have to travel 8 hours to finally get to see the movies I want to see?!), Coart & I found ourselves tucked into the tiny Best Buns Bakery in Shirlington, VA. ¬†No lie — behind the counter is a painting of a¬†construction¬†worker that highlights his “best buns.” haha

Anyway, they’re locally owned and staffed and bake up amazing bread and sweets for sale. ¬†Coart picked out his favorite, a coconut confection. I got the English toffee-caramel cupcake. ¬†yuuuuuuum. ¬† Even the CAKE part was good! (I mean, who eats cupcakes for the cake, right? It’s not hard to make good icing IMHO. Proof is in the cake.

IMG_3434
Best Buns Bakery serves up fantastic cupcakes like this English toffee delight.

This was our second great discovery in Shirlington after our movie. We’d also wandered through a Greek place called Medi …. Imagine if Chipotle served Greek food and did it well. ¬†They offered up something they called gyritos — like taquitos made with gyro flavors and meat, drizzled with a very light balsamic glaze. ¬†Throw in some pomegranate sangria and I was definitely in my zone! ūüôā

*****

Honorable Mentions:

Bruegger’s Bagels in Old Town Alexandria VA because they were the only people open at 5:30am to serve us breakfast after our overnight drive. Their siracha egg sandwich is actually really good.

Flying Fish Coffee & Tea in the Columbia Heights area, for brewing us some of the absolute best iced tea ever on a hot afternoon (I had pear green tea. Fantastic.)

CakeLove in the U Street area seems to be missing its nice sit down part that I remember from last time, but the cake is still fantastic.

Dogfish Head Brewery has brew pubs in the DC area. S&E took us there for supper after seeing the Air & Space Museum on July 4th – a great end to a great day.

Only Burger in Durham, NC got us home by serving up a great burger made with high quality, local ingredients, a bright & cheery staff and interior, and one of the best root beer floats ever.

 

 

Recipe: Creamy Southwestern Crockpot Chicken

Notice I did not say “crackpot” chicken. *chuckle*
This recipe is adapted from one I saw online and then fiddled with, as I always do. Feel free to fiddle yourself as well…. This version came out absolutely delicious.

CREAMY SOUTHWESTERN CROCKPOT CHICKEN, with Lori’s tweaks

black_beans5-8 pieces of chicken — can be frozen, can be bone-in our boneless, skin or not, whatever. Use what you’ve got
Cooking spray OR oil (I used 1T of the oil from a jar of sundried tomatoes — yum!)
Minced garlic
Optional: chopped onion
Marinade of your choice (see mine below)
1 can corn (mine was Green Giant & had bits of chiles in it); could also use a bag of frozen
1 can black beans
1 can Rotel or other mexican diced tomatoes OR 2 cups of salsa
1 container Philadelphia Cooking Cream in the Southwestern/Mexican flavor OR use a block of cream cheese + 1 cup salsa
Egg noodles — about 1/3 of a bag (uncooked)
Some sour cream if desired for garnish

Marinade note: Instead of making a traditional marinade, I threw in the remnants of a quinoa/blackbean/edamame salad I’d made the week before — it was dressed in a vinegar/sugar/olive oil/ground mustard dressing, the same one I use for 3-bean salad. I liked the combo a lot in this recipe, but it won’t ever happen again LOL

Acceptable marinades should bring many flavors to the party — Follow the¬†Rule of Three and make your own:¬†something acidic & flavorful (like a good vinegar or citrus), something spicy or seasoning (preferably Southwestern in this case), and something a bit sweet (honey, sugar, juice, a very sweet wine, etc). ¬† ¬† Or in a pinch, just use a bottle of Italian dressing. ¬†Or whatever dressing you can find buried in your frig.

PREPARATION:
Oil the crock pot with a little oil or cooking spray (or in my case, some of the sundried tomato oil).

Add the chicken pieces, garlic, and marinade. (Can add onion too, if desired.)

Leave the crock on the counter for about 30min so chicken can marinate — if you have time.

Add the corn, beans, and tomatoes (or salsa) to the crock and turn it on to cook.

Cook on HIGH for about 4 hours, or on LOW for 5 or 6 (depends on how much chicken).

To finish (30-60min cook time):
At the end of the cooking time, about an hour before dinner: Add the contained of Philadelphia Cooking Cream (or a block of Phila Cream Cheese and some more salsa) during the last 30min of cooking. Let cheese melt into the sauce & leftover marinade.

Once the sauce has formed from the melted cheese etc, add the dry egg noodles (or whatever pasta you desire) — adjust portion according to the amount of liquid in the crock (lots of liquid? add more pasta…. not much liquid? skip the pasta & cook it separately).

Allow pasta to cook through… then stir & serve!

If you have more chicken than “sauce,” reserve the cooked chicken to be chopped & add to pasta or quesadillas or tacos. It’s fall-apart tender & very flavorful.