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monavano

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Monavano has graciously agreed to be our next blogger.

For the past few months, monavano has posted some wickedly delicious photos of her meals in the Dinner Tonight thread. Now, with the advent of the farmer's market season, she'll be blogging about: farmers markets, using market ingredients in dishes and a farm to fork dinner at Vermillion.

Thanks monavano!

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"Tell me what you eat, and I'll tell you who you are.''

-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

"Eat and buy local when you can"

-me

Hi everyone,

I'm Ramona, a.k.a. Monavano.

I'm flattered that Legant has asked me to do a DR blog this week. I have been so inspired by many of you and I hope to give a little back by sharing my cooking, dining, shopping and farmers market adventures.

This time of year at our area farmers markets, rutabagas are yielding to rhubarb and ramps, and the sight of asparagus means that strawberries can't be far behind. Familiar vendors are returning to seasonal and year-round markets and new farmers, such as Clear Spring Creamery, are receiving support from a strong "locavore" community.

Having said that, it comes as no surprise that I am a fan of our farmers markets, independent food merchants and restaurants. I try to support them while knowing I am by and large getting not only good food, but also a sense of community from my efforts. I strongly believe that even in these financially trying times, I need to continue on my path to eat and buy local when I can. Not that I get my food strictly local-I also shop at supermarket chains, my local Latino Mercado (Bestway) and....wait for it.....Costco.

Still, my efforts to focus more on local and seasonal foods have been the mainstay of a food blog, which I started last year. I try to keep a photographic account of my visits, and journal/ mini-diary, if you will, of what I am buying at the farmers markets. I then do my best to follow up with meals/dishes prepared with those locally sourced ingredients. I found, however, that sticking strictly to this format became a bit challenging over the winter months, with, tubers, greens and apples, apples, apples getting a bit tiresome.

In the fall, I began to focus a bit more on what was happening in the microcosm that is my neighborhood food scene-Old Town, Del Ray. S. Arlington and south of the Beltway. My focus is mainly independent operations with the goal of spreading awareness to help them succeed.

I think that if you do enjoy farm fresh food-you ought to go to the market when you can. If you enjoy the diverse "Mom and Pop" operations that enhance your neighborhood-you ought to dine there when you can. If you like the personable service from your local butcher, baker, or cheese monger-you ought to purchase from them when you can.

My home cooking and focus on the Northern Virginia food scene led to my volunteering to write for a well-known food site-D.C. Foodies. Once a week, I post recipes (Bistro at Home) or write about the food scene across the Potomac.

Recently, and most serendipitously, I began writing for Alexandrianews.org, which is a fantastic opportunity to do what I do in a journalistic format, giving me a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow.

Personally, I live in Alexandria, just south of the Beltway, with my husband and 3 dogs. I feed them all plus a big ole she-squirrel who comes to my door just about each morning and evening, looking for nuts. And I give some to her.... so yeah...I'm the nut!

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Well, let me start with my kitchen, which was renovated, probably in the 1990's, by the previous owners. To cook with, I have a 4-burner Thermador cook top and range hood, and newer double wall ovens. Amazingly, there are about 32 cabinets, 18 drawers, and 2 lazy susans. A "prep level" island (the previous owners were quite tall) has drawers on the "active" side, and bookshelves on the "display" side. A pot rack was previously hanging, so I jumped at the opportunity to buy a rack of my own and hang my hodgepodge, growing collection of pots and pan-my favorite being All-Clad and a non-stick le Creuset pan.

My garage, basement and dining room also serve to house my pantry, gadgets, cookware and dish sets (which got a bit out of control-but I'm better now).

We also have an upright freezer in the basement, along with an old fridge-freezer that was left by the previous owners, unbeknownst to us. It comes in handy.

OK-take a good look at my clean kitchen. It wont stay this way for too long!

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Not. Kidding. About. She-Squirrel.

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I think that if you do enjoy farm fresh food-you ought to go to the market when you can. If you enjoy the diverse "Mom and Pop" operations that enhance your neighborhood-you ought to dine there when you can. If you like the personable service from your local butcher, baker, or cheese monger-you ought to purchase from them when you can.
How often do you shop in a typical week (or month), and how many places are in your usual "rotation"?

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Last Saturday the farmers market in Del Ray reopened. It's a nice, small-ish market with a friendly and community feel.

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Here's a report from last week, where I met Chef Will Atley of Evening Star Cafe, and Kevin, NRG's manager. Chef Atley told me about community table dinners he hopes to hold in Planet Wine, next door. Sunday nights will be "Market Dinners".

I'm looking forward to it, and will try to get a bit more specific information for anyone interested.

This week, a few more vendors were at Del Ray, including Toigo, Local Honey and Miss (can't recall her name)'s Pralines.

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Toigo is familiar to most of you market-goers. They are from Shippensburg, PA and most notably had their cucumbers and vine-ripened tomatoes (as they did at Dupont).

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Local Honey is a co-op of 3 bee keepers from Arlington, McLean and West Falls Church. They were out of tupelo honey, so I bought appelation WFC.

The praline vendor is (I believe) also at the Alexandria City market on Saturdays. I'm thinking they will be fantastic in some homemade vanilla icecream. Hmm.

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I also visited the newly-opened Let's Meat on the Avenue. They, along with Cheesetique, are opened at 8am on Saturdays to capture the flowing crowds going to and from the farmers market.

Opened just last week to a sell out crowd, LMOTA's proprietor and hands-on butcher is Steve Gatward. Gatward is a Del Ray resident who wants to grow his shop to meet the needs of the community.

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If something is feasible for him to order and sell-he'll do it. Oh, smoked dog bones too. Tucker says mmmmmmmm.

Currently, the store carries meats from local purveyors, with no additives. They also carry a range of VA products which is showcased on shelves opposite the meat counter.

I picked up a couple Amish sausages. One is a Country Blend, and the other Sage.

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Here's what I made for brunch after Frank and I came back from a damp visit to the Dupont market this morning: Garnet yam (Next Step Produce) hash browns with red onion and sage sausage (Let's Meat on the Avenue), topped with a poached egg (Keswick Creamery).

So far...local is tasting pretty good.

More on the Dupont market later, plus a dinner that has local ties ;) .

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How often do you shop in a typical week (or month), and how many places are in your usual "rotation"?

Hi Pat,

First, I can tell you that I need to be way more organized in my shopping. You know-make lists and such.

In a week, I shop at my nearby (about 2 miles away) Safeway about twice. Sometimes even a third time if I need a just the right thing to make a dish. Even a 4th ;) if I happen to be in the comprehensive shopping center, dropping off dvd's at Blockbuster, or picking up dog food at Pet Value, for example.

Costco....we shop at Costco far less than when we were first married. We lived in the Richmond area, in Henrico County's West End (Glen Allen). Our house was literally around the corner from the Costco and man, that turned out to be dangerous. Those were the days that I would "pop" in for milk and shampoo!

Now, we go to the Springfield Costco about once, maybe twice a month. Usually once. It really depends on so much more than food for Costco, however. We take advantage of our membership to the fullest.

As far as the farmers markets go, it's generally 4-6 times a month. I have been more active recently with the opening of Del Ray, and the increased activity at Alexandria City. In addition, I attend Fairfax County markets during the week, in season, including Kingstowne. Oh, and Arlington from time to time.

I love the Dupont market and it is my primary market during the winter months. I will still attend over the summer, but not as frequently as the colder months.

Each one has its unique feel and vendors. For example-my favorite vendor at Kingstowne (and just about anywhere) is Allenburg Orchards from Smithsburg, MD. Their cherries, tomatoes, and peaches (multiple varieties of each) are as good as they come. I harken back to Carole Greenwood recounting her joy with Toigo's peaches at the height of the season.

Yup. They were all that. T'was a good time and place for peaches, I suppose.

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Rhubarb, morels and ramps! Oh my!

I'm feeling adventurous. What is this week's must try item? Last year's "new" foods were: garlic scape, epazote, eggplant (that looked like anything but the purple stuff at Giant) and the Bok choi cousins.

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Hey, monavano! Thanks for blogging this week; I'm looking forward to reading it.

Has your focus on eating locally whenever possible led you into foraging at all, or are you strictly a market person?

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Hey, monavano! Thanks for blogging this week; I'm looking forward to reading it.

Has your focus on eating locally whenever possible led you into foraging at all, or are you strictly a market person?

I haven't tried foraging-I am going to do my best to grow an herb garden and tomatoes this year. I hope to blog about both so I can get advice from the real grean thumbs here at DR.

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Good to run into you and Frank at the market, Ramona.

Combo of Costco, Bestway and open-air markets seems pretty normal for DR folk. Not worth blushing over.

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Good Morning All,

A quick post to start the day-breakfast:

Gevalia coffee (decaf) and banana and sour cherry bread.

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For the bread, I used sour cherries which have been frozen since last year. I squirreled away 2 big ziploc baggies full at the height of last season. They are from the aforementioned Allenberg Orchard in Smithsburg, MD. Allenberg also has Ranier cherries which I suspect will be one of their first offerings when the Kingstowne farmers market reopens in May.

This recipe has evolved from a recipe for banana bread from an old Betty Crocker Cookbook. I double the recipe so I can make two loaves-one for us and one for Frank's office to enjoy. It freezes beautifully, too.

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Banana and Sour Cherry Bread

Ingredients

2 cups sugar

10 Tablespoons butter or margarine, softened

4 eggs

5 ripe bananas, just starting to brown, mashed

2 cups pitted cherries with juice

3 1/3 cups All Purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Sift flour into a mixing bowl. Add salt, baking powder and baking soda.

Using a stand or hand-held mixer, mix together sugar and butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Drop in eggs one at a time, while mixing on low speed. Add bananas and cherries with juice.

Slowly add dry ingredients and mix for 2-3 minutes.

Pour batter equally into 2 greased (I used Pam) loaf pans (I used Pyrex). Place pans on baking sheet and bake on middle rack in the oven for 60-70 minutes, or until a wooden pick is inserted and comes out clean. Tent the tops with aluminum foil if the loaves begin to brown too much.

Remove from oven and allow to cool for 15 minutes before turning the loaves out onto a baking rack to cool completely.

I stored my loaves with parchment paper underneath the bottom, wrapped in plastic wrap, and placed in the refrigerator.

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To backtrack a bit-here's recap of my visit to the Dupont Market yesterday.

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The rain, thunder and lightning almost turned me back when driving to Dupont yesterday-but I wanted morels again after making a dish with them last week. I picked up a small box of morels and 2 heads of tat soi from Spring Valley Farm in W. VA. I was surprised to see tat soi because I thought the season was over-at least it is for Next Step Produce, according to the gentleman at their stall.

If you haven't tried tat soi, it is a deep green leafy plant which is great just sauteed, or it can be used in soups, or stuffing pasta. Chris' Market, who makes the crabcakes and empanadas, uses it for empanada stuffing-and it's terrific!

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Country Pleasures Farm returned to the Dupont market. They offer jams (rhubard looked delicious), and meats. They had Black Angus Beef which is processed by the Smuckers in Amish Country, PA. They do the pulled bbq beef, hot and sweet Italian grillers, cured beef, and beef jerkey. Country Pleasures also has apples, apple sauce (Stoltzfus' processes their apples), beef sticks (one spicy, and one just like sweet Lebanon bologna), scones, tulips, and jams

I bought a few black twig apples based on the owners' account of how good they are when cooked with Calvados. I'm thinking a pork dish may be in the cards this week. I also came away with a pack of spicy sausage sticks.

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Finally, I visited with a new-to-the-market vendor, Clear Spring Creamery. Zora has mentioned them before in the Dupont Market thread. They had cheddar cheese curds samples which were tasty-so I bought a container of them. Frank said it reminded him of cheese curds which he had when he lived in Wisconsin, just not squeeky.

Clear Spring should have their Camembert style cheese by next week, fingers crossed.

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is it just sausage, diced yams, and red onions?

"just" not being a pejorative, more like marvelling...I want some, now-ish.

Could you be arm-twisted into a recipe? Since I'm 1600 miles away that means subbing something local for the sausage, what's noticeable, do you think, besides the sage?

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is it just sausage, diced yams, and red onions?

"just" not being a pejorative, more like marvelling...I want some, now-ish.

Could you be arm-twisted into a recipe? Since I'm 1600 miles away that means subbing something local for the sausage, what's noticeable, do you think, besides the sage?

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No problem! I peeled and diced a medium yam-very small dice so it would could relatively quickly. Regular dice on about a one inch thick slice of red onion.

Method

Heat a non-stick pan over medium high heat. Add 1 Tablespoon of oil-I used safflower. Add the diced yams and saute for about 5 minutes. Add onions and s&p, along with a healthy pinch of granulated garlic. Allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes. Stir frequently. At this point the yams should be cooked-if not, saute until they are pretty well cooked through.

Remove skin from sausage if it has it.

In another larger non-stick pan, cook your sausage over medium high heat, breaking it up into small pieces with a wooden spoon or spatula. Add the onions and yams and continue to cook until the sausage is done.

You can use any breakfast sausage you'd like-Jimmy Dean is very good for this.

The Amish Sage sausage I got from Let's Meat on the Avenue was nice and spicy-I'm guessing white pepper. Definitely my style!

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To backtrack a bit-here's recap of my visit to the Dupont Market yesterday.

I picked up a small box of morels and 2 heads of tat soi from Spring Valley Farm in W. VA. I was surprised to see tat soi because I thought the season was over-at least it is for Next Step Produce, according to the gentleman at their stall.

Hardly a gentleman, that bearded scruffian is Heinz Thomet.

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Thanks for the banana and sour cherry bread recipe! I still have some frozen sour cherries from last summer too, and this is a new recipe for me to try.

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I first discovered Hard Times Cafe and their chili about 12 years ago when I visited friends who lived in Old Town Alexandria. They went into town to pick up the chili for dinner one night, and asked me if I could cook a box of spaghetti while they were out.

"Spaghetti with chili?" I said.

"Yup"

"Really?"

"It's really good" they assured me.

So, I had not heard of chili- mac either. That changed 10 years ago when I moved to Virginia-and lived 5 minutes away from the Vienna Inn, also known for chili-mac. I've been eating it over spaghetti ever since. It's not orthodox chili-mac mind you, as I always add beans to mine. But, it's close enough.

I have made a decent version of chipotle pork chili and a rendition that mimics Wick Fowler's chili mix. I also like keeping Hard Times Chili mixes on hand for a low-key meal that involves browning some ground meat, adding dry and wet ingredients, and simmering on its own for an hour or so.

Last night was a good night to do just that. Here's how.

Read the directions on the back of the box and completely ignore. Then gather together these ingredients:

2-2 1/2 lbs. ground beef

1 package Hard Times Teralingua Red chili mix

1 bottle beer (I keep O'Doul's on hand to cook with-it's innocuous)

dried oregano, about a palmful

dried marjoram, about a palmful

cinnamon, about half a palmful

1 large can tomato puree or sauce

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

salt to taste

1 box spaghetti, cooked according to package directions

Then you do this:

Heat a large pan over medium-high heat. Add ground beef and brown, chopping into small peices. Drain excess fat. Add chili mix and stir to combine. Add beer and simmer on low, covered, for 20 minutes.

Add oregano, marjoram, cinnamon, tomato puree, kidney beans and black beans. Simmer on low, covered, for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Adjust salt to taste.

Serve over spaghetti.

edited for ommisions

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"Spaghetti with chili?" I said.
First encounter in the cafeteria of Bloomington High School North. Indiana. I've been told it's a midwestern thing that some call Cincinnati chili.

Any other culinary confessions about the stuff you make without seasonal, local ingredients?

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I love using the Hard Times Cincinnati mix as a base for my turkey/tvp chili. Mr. BLB actually prefers it to Hard Times' version these days.

(I don't add beans but I do serve it with angel hair pasta.)

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First encounter in the cafeteria of Bloomington High School North. Indiana. I've been told it's a midwestern thing that some call Cincinnati chili.

Any other culinary confessions about the stuff you make without seasonal, local ingredients?

Hard Times Cinncinati mix is my favorite of the three. Oh, which reminds me....I have to amend my chili "recipe" to include cinnamon, which I sprinkled in. ;)

Anna, I'm truly stretching the "local" thing when I make chili from Hard Times mix! Ahem...breakfast today is hot and sour soup from our nearby Chinese place, which interestingly, also makes a few Thai dishes that are pretty decent. After finishing up on my computer last night, the only thing I could bring myself to make for dinner was a phone call for take out!

I generally buy a large H&S soup so I can have it with dinner, and eat the rest for breakfast.

*puts locavore hat back on*....next up a recipe with Spring Valley Farm (WV) morels.....

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This afternoon, I prepped for a dish that I will put together tommorow. Here are the components:

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You can probably see where this is going...I'm going to give the dish an ethnic twist. Any guesses?

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You can probably see where this is going...I'm going to give the dish an ethnic twist. Any guesses?
Uhm... you've got some homemade cheese working there. Indian?

Wishful thinking, I know. I haven't had paneer in such a long while.

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Uhm... you've got some homemade cheese working there. Indian?

Wishful thinking, I know. I haven't had paneer in such a long while.

I made ricotta, dough, sauteed shallots and tat soi in butter, and a morel sauce. I'll put it together today and let y'all know what the "ethnic" twist is.

This morning started with some of the ricotta and local honey.

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Next....a recap of the Farm to Fork dinner at Vermillion last night.

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I'll put it together today and let y'all know what the "ethnic" twist is.

Next....a recap of the Farm to Fork dinner at Vermillion last night.

I love this "interleaved suspense."

Tune back in this afternoon to see what fates await monavano's ethnic creation!

But first, a word from Vermilion...

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It made sense that Earth Day would be the date for the Farm to Fork dinner at Vermillion. Frank and I arrived a bit early and relaxed in the lounge with a glass of wine. A couple came back and I said to Frank "that guy looks familiar-I can't place him exactly. It's a farm or someone from the farmers markets we go to"

It was David Lankford and his wife, Sharon of Davoncrest II (Trappe, Md.). Also at the Farm to Fork dinner were New Frontier Bison (Madison, Va.), Dragon Creek Aqua Farm (Montrose, Va.), and Ann Yonkers, the woman behind the scenes at our 8 (and counting!) area Fresh Farm Markets. FFM and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group are the joining forces behind the Farm to Fork dinners.

First, I would like to say that I had every intention of photographing each artfully presented plate of food, from the canapes to dessert. I brought my fancy shmancy camera, in addition to my trusty and loyal "point and shoot". But, the lighting was low, and I didn't feel that using my flash was appropriate, even though I was told by the manger (whom I spoke with to OK taking photos) that the flash would be OK. So, here's is a token photo taken early during the reception, during which Chandon was poured liberally, as we mingled and met.

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(I'm not a food blogger who is comfortable snapping photos of my meals in restaurants-that's just me)

Here are the courses with some tasting notes.

Canapes (passed during the sparkling wine reception)

Crispy Cardoons with Bagna Cauda

Cardoon cubes which had a mellow artichoke flavor, along with the bagna cauda which was warm, with a saltiness that *I think* may have come from sardines. Delicious.

Sweet and Sour Dragon Creek Oysters

It will be hard to do this one justice, as I'm not really a raw oyster fan. But..I can tell you that they were fresh, and not at all loogy-like. In fact, once I put one in my mouth, I had no problem enjoying the mastication process. I particularly liked the brunoise of (something sweet-don't remember) which paired with the sour mignonette.

Corned Bison "Ruebens"

Out of the ballpark for a rueben lover like me. Small squares of toasted bread (I'm going to say pumpernickel) with delicious corned bison and just a dab of slaw. I was comming back again and again to these scrumptious bites. These were the Teacup Poodle to Carnegie Deli's overstuffed Bull Dog. Both great, but oo-la-la- refined at Vermillion last night.

Dinner

New Frontier Bison Tartare

Pecorino Romano custard, fava beans 2 ways and mixed radishes

2006 Chateau de Segries Tavel Rose-Rhone, France

The sharpess of the dense pecorino set off the surprisingly mellow flavor of the bison. The tartare "patty" was topped with fava beans and sat alongside a fava bean puree. The favas were fresh and earthy. And, hooray for pecorino-I love it.

Chesepeake Shad Duo

House made pancetta, horseradish mustard and yukon gold potatoes.

2006 Shaetzel Gewurztraminer-Alsace, France

OK, this one scared me a bit because shad roe was part of the dish. I'll put it right out there. I'm not tremendously adventurous when it comes to nasty bits and eggs, unless they were freshly laid by a chicken. Keep your fois gras and bon appetite. However, I can be open minded, and open to trying new things when they are prepared by talented chefs (veal tongue at Vidalia, for example).

Here's the thing-the roe was incorporated into a dish that reminded me of clams casino. The roe added a bit of fishy flavor, but not too much so, and of course I loved the bacon on top. This was a real winner and I ate every bit of it.

The second part of the duo was shad escepeche (sp?), served chlled with bits of pancetta. This was another dish I enjoyed, despite not liking oily fish in general. The portion size was perfect as more would have been to much fishy fish for me. Another pleasant surprise and it reminded me of a dish my mother loves-pickled herring with boiled potatoes.

Pan Roasted Rockfish

Davon Crest squash blossoms, jumbo lump imperia & blue crab consumme.

2005 Macrostie Wildcat Mountain-Carneros, California

This was a bowl-tipper- meaning, I tipped my bowl to ladle up every bit of the consumme that I could. The rockfish was seared beautifully, lightly season and cooked to perfection. It was chunky and moist. It was the foil to the squash blossom, bursting with creamy crab. Imagine your favorite lump crabcake, stuffed inside a delicate squash blossom and sitting in a crab infused broth.

Now, wipe your keyboard.

Braised Bison Shortrib

Wild nettle pappardelle, morel mushroos & early spring asparagus.

2006 Chateau Cheval Brun-Saint Emillion, France

A timbale of braised shredded/pulled bison, wrapped with a wilted spring onion atop luscious, butter-like nettle pappardelle, with asparagus foam, aubergine-tipped asparagus and frangrant morels.

Obviously, I loved this pasta. I would love to learn how to turn out fresh pasta this amazing. The morels and local asparagus brought this winter-time braise right into the spring season.

Goat's Milk Panna Cotta

Rhubard soup, toasted pistachios & Davids micro sorrel

1999 Castello di Poppiano Vin Santo-Tuscany, Italy

The milky-white panna cotta sat in a blush red pool of rhubarb soup. I was expecting the goat panna cotta to bring a sharp note, like a chevre, to the dish. But, it was mild and slightly sweet and played wonderfully with the tart rhubard "soup". I was expecting the soup to be more thick, like a chutney, but it was clear, like a consumme. Rhubarb "bacon" sat atop the panna cotta, which was really crispy baked, see-through-thin slices of rhubarb, which concentrated the sugars and added a sweet note to the dish. Pistachios added a salty note, as well as some crunchy texture.

This dessert I truly want to learn how to make-especially the clear rhubard soup.

Overall, this dinner was conceived and executed skillfully by Chef Chittum and his staff. The progression, the attention to detail, and the service were all spot on. I can say, however, that it made for a late school night!

Meeting the producers of the bounty that graced our plates made me even more appreciative of their dedication and hard work. Seeing David Lankford not only survive the trials of a farming career, but thrive due in no small part to the efforts of our food community and especially DR members, was very touching.

I felt grounded.

Edited by monavano

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Crispy Cardoons with Bagna Cauda

Cardoon cubes which had a mellow artichoke flavor, along with the bagna cauda which was warm, with a saltiness that *I think* may have come from sardines. Delicious.

When I'm not obsessing over ramps, I'm obsessing over cardoons. So, whose cardoons? Raw, solid and unfurry? This is a classic combo in Piemonte, but Italians often grow the cultivated plants differently, bending them back and burying them (hence the name "gobbi" or "hunchback") to make them paler and more tender, yet crisp. Ours over here usually aren't all that good raw.

FYI: Anchovies are the ingredient you detected if it was a traditional recipe for bagna cauda. Next Step Produce had cardoons at Dupont Circle this past weekend.

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