Squeaky Peanut

"Dot takes on the Domestic Diva"

Town House in Chilhowie and Other Delights October 23, 2010

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Last weekend we traveled to SW Virginia as part of a belated ten-year anniversary celebration. The Husband wanted to go to the mountains to ride bikes. I think mountains are creepy, but since we did the beach for our 5th, I figured it was fair.

We drove out to Damascus on Friday, and as soon as we got into town we had to hit the bike shop as I had a flat tire and needed a new gear shifter dealiething. We got that squared away and checked into our B & B, the Victorian Inn.  

Dinky Damascus

We changed and headed over to Chilhowie to have dinner at the Town House. Perhaps you have heard of it–they have gotten lots of press, including articles in the NYT, the Washington Post, etc, as they are doing fantastic things, essentially in the middle of nowhere.  The husband of the husband/wife chef duo won a Food & Wine magazine best new chef award this year.

The Town House offers a couple of items a la carte, but focuses on its four and ten course dinners. We opted for the four course, and between the two of us we tried everything on the menu, I think. My first course was crab and pumpkin–it was quite lovely, but I don’t remember much about it. The Husband got the baked apple that had been hollowed out and filled with a melted foie gras, with some kind of cider-y sauce. I don’t normally like foie gras, but it was very good. How did they do it?

My second course was peeky toe crab, grilled onions, what I initially thought was a potato slice that turned out to be a banana, lemon grass and a broth that the chef brought out to pour in the bowl. It was amazing!! I never would have thought that crab and banana would go together, but it did. The husband couldn’t eat either of the second course options (shellfish) so he got the scrambled egg mousse, which was very smooth and silky, served atop some chad roe. The mousse was sprinkled with nutmeg and contained sorghum, so it was a tad like a pumpkin pie. How they can combine those flavors with roe and have it be delicious really boggles the mind!

Third courses were abalone and chicken confit, served with various seaweeds, and roasted lamb. The lamb stole the show. It tasted nothing like lamb, as it was very smoky and looked more like a ham in appearance. It was roasted in edible ash, which consisted of dehydrated bacon fat, onions, and leeks. Amazing. It looked just like the ash you see in the bottom of your camp fire, except it was delicious.

Desserts were the candied parsnip plate for me: candied parsnips three ways, parsnip ice cream, banana pudding, a coconut mousse cube (how did it hold its shape?!), lemongrass ice, a macaroon bit, and some sponge cake. OMG, it was so good. The Husband had the chocolate dessert plate, with different chocolate mousses and a sorrel ice. He said it was yumtastic. There were some edible flowers and such on the plates–the one on mine looked a bit like Queen Anne’s lace, but I am not sure what it was.

It was one of the best meals of my life. If I had seen these dishes described on a menu I would have expected them to taste awful, but it was truly magical how everything worked together. The wine list, by the way, was fantastic. Prices for a bottle ranged from about $30 up to $800, with all sorts of yummy things to tempt. We got bubbly due to the occasion, but would love to get the pairings next time.

There are no photos of the meal–I would have felt very awkward pulling out my camera in that atmosphere (although one of the other diners didn’t seem to mind). The service was excellent, and I appreciated that the tables were spaced far enough apart that we had privacy.

The next morning we woke early and took a shuttle up White Top Mountain to ride the VA Creeper Trail. It’s the former railroad trestle for the VA Creeper train, and runs 18 miles downhill into Damascus (then another 17 into Abingdon). It was one of the most fun things I have ever done! The scenery was gorgeous–the leaves were about at their peak fall colors, and the path takes you through forest, farm land, and along a stream. There are several former depots along the way that sell snacks (one is a cafe), and one is a museum. I cannot recommend the trail enough! Everyone must do it. Or else.

By the time we got to the bottom of the mountain I was starving (no breakfast) so we stopped in at the Whistle Pig Cafe for a snack–sweet potato and black eyed pea soup for me and chili for The Husband. Both were house made and quite good.  We had reservations at our inn for high tea, and that was a hit as well. The proprietress made a butternut squash and pear soup (with a homegrown squash), an assortment of savory sandwiches, a homemade poppy seed scone with homemade lemon curd and clotted cream, plus a pumpkin roll and macadamia cookies. All delicious.

Later that night we popped into the Trail Cafe in Abingdon, and the owners kept giving us soup to try–the green turkey chili was quite good. The owner gave us the recipe and I made some the other day and loved it. We split a shepherd’s pie then went to the movies.

All in all, it was a very fun trip. Maybe mountains don’t have to always be creepy.

 

Awful Offal August 23, 2010

Filed under: Restaurants — squeakypeanut @ 9:24 PM
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This past weekend was Mr. Squeaky Peanut’s birthday, and he wanted to celebrate with a series of road trips. And offal, but more on that later. Naturally, this means there was no Martha cooking again, but I plan to remedy that later in the week. I think I have about 5 more summer recipes to get through–yoiks. There is a Martha connection later in this post, I swear.

Saturday found us driving down 85 to Chapel Hill and Durham, Miss Pooch in tow. We got to Chapel Hill around lunch time, so we hung out on the patio at Mediterranean Deli, which has a huge deli case full of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food of all sorts. The Husband got a puu-puu platter of tomato kibbe, leek stew, spinach pie, and a chicken and tomato dish that tasted very similar to chicken cacciatore. He also had a za’atar, which is a pita baked with za’atar seasoning. I had a chicken gyro, which was good enough, but not the best I have ever had. Miss Pooch disagrees and says the chicken was delicious. All of The Husband’s food was tasty, however.

After doing some shopping around town, we ended up at Guglhupf , an “old world” bakery/cafe/patisserie in Durham. We split a peach and cherry cobbler tart, and got a bien stitch, which is a German pastry made from bread layered with custard and topped with almonds and honey, and a danish, for later. The danish pastry was very light and flaky, and the peach and cherry tart was nearly all fruit. We were sad that we rolled up as they were closing so we missed all the bread. PS–The Husband also bought an Herb d’Provence salami that he loves.

 

Dinner time found us at Foster’s Market, which is practically next door to Guglhupf. The owner of Foster’s, Sarah Foster, was a chef for Martha Stewart’s catering company! So, you see, I wasn’t a total slacker on the Martha front. Foster’s is adorable– it’s part cafe/deli and part general store. They make an amazing 7-pepper jelly, which I ate on a turkey sandwich with herbed cream cheese. The store has a wide front porch with seating (pooches welcome) and a bunch of picnic tables and rocking chairs set out on the front lawn. After we left the restaurant we found a wine store that The Husband wants to move into, as it specializes in small vineyards and has a strong section from the Loire region of France, his personal favorite.

 

Sunday, Mr. SP’s actual birthday, found us venturing north, to Baltimore, to go to the American Visionary Art Museum. If you haven’t been to this museum, you simply must go. Now. It is awesome. I can’t wait to go back to see the next installation–they collaborated with Matt Groening, creator of The Simpsons, and John Waters!

We had never heard of the museum until my friend wrote about it on her blog. She also mentioned some hole in the wall BBQ place, Johnny Boy’s Ribs on Route 301, so we stopped there for lunch on the way up. YUM! She will now have to be our very own personal travel advisor, and we will go anywhere and eat anything she tells us to.

Since she had warned against the sides, we just split a sliced beef sandwich, without cole slaw, and topped it with their “hot” BBQ sauce and a splash of hot sauce. The meat was tender and had a nice seasoning. It’s a bizarre place–the counter lady was surly, the shack where you get the food is next door to what appears to be the former Johnny’s BBQ restaurant, which is abandoned, but the restrooms are still in the basement of the empty building. The sign for the place even mentions, “Clean Restrooms” as a selling point; they were clean, so kudos to them, I guess. (Insert foreshadowing here)

After we finished at the awesome museum, we were feeling a bit peckish, so we popped over to Fells Point at Tortilleria Sinaloa, one of our favorite stops in Baltimore. I had a chicken taco and a chicken tamale, which were both excellent., but the tamale was one of the best ones I have ever had–there was a good amount of filling and it was spicy!

The Husband seems to have started a tradition, supposedly unintentional, where he eats offal on his birthday. Last year we went to a British gastropub on his birthday, and he had black (blood) pudding. This year, he celebrated (?) by eating menudo, which is made with tripe, in case you didn’t know. So, two years equals a tradition, yes? His second annual offal fest. I really couldn’t look at it. Unfortunately, the broth was bland, and his tripes were chewy–his last bite seemed particularly unfortunate and if I think about it too much I feel ill.

Then we drove home and got stuck at the Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge over the Potomac when the bridge was shut down for an accident. We had to use the restroom at the gas station on the side of the road where we stalled and it was the filthiest one I have ever seen, bar none. We are still talking about how nasty it was. Please send penicillin.

We took Monday off, and ended up going out to the Westmoreland Berry Farm for shortcake (strawberry + peach, and peach + blackberry) and to look at goats. Miss Pooch said ‘Hell, no! I don’t want to meet any goats.’

 

 

 

 

The End.

 

News You Can’t Use July 30, 2010

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I have started a second blog, with what I hope will be daily snapshots (crappy, natch) of things Miss Pooch and I see as we are out and about. We’ve come across opossums in trash cans, blue herons, and more vomiting homeless women than I care to remember, so who knows what could happen.

http://tarryandtoddle.blogspot.com/

 

Clevelandia June 15, 2010

Filed under: Restaurants — squeakypeanut @ 5:56 PM
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So, no new Martha post yet. This time my excuse is that as soon as I recuperated from Detroit, we went to Cleveland to see my favorite niece, Miss Emma, graduate from high school. She was the co-valedictorian and is one smart cookie!

Also, we returned home to find our refrigerator had died, and we lost all our food, including Martha’s favorite condiment, the Dijon mustard. The replacement frig didn’t show up for two days, so there has been no cooking.  

While in Cleveland, we had some yummies, including a stop right off the highway at Corky & Lenny’s, where The Husband snagged a corned beef knish and some rugelach, which he reports were fresh and had oodles of flavor, in addition to an unremarkable matzoh ball soup. The next day we had a post-graduation lunch at L’Albatross. Would you think I was a lush if I said the best thing I had there was the Gemini cocktail, a combination of St. Germaine, grapefruit juice, vodka, and cava? The cauliflower and bleu cheese soup and frozen lemon souffle were also hits.

On Friday, we stopped by the 100 year old West Side Market, where we indulged in some delicious bakewell tarts and a Scottish pie from Reilly’s Irish Bakery, and a chicken tamale from Orale’s Contemporary Mexican Cuisine stand. I debated about whether to bring home a cooler full of pierogies (one stand had at least a dozen different flavors) but decided not to. I am glad I did, since we wouldn’t have had a place to store them when we got back! Every time I go to the market I have so much fun marveling at the selection of meats, fish, cheese, produce, baked goods, etc. Why can’t the Richmond area have something like that? Sigh.

We also had a good meal at Mint Cafe with my brother. The Husband was amazed by how much flavor the vegetable pad thai had, and I enjoyed my spicy fried rice both for dinner and breakfast the next day. Cleveland has so many good chefs nowadays, and I have a list of places I want to try but somehow never make it to. Next time, B-spot!

My genius niece and I made a lemon blueberry buckle from this cookbook that was dee-licious. It had lemon zest in the cake, and lemon zest in the crumble topping The juice of two lemons and some sugar were turned into a syrup that we poured on top of the cake when it came out of the oven. The cake itself had a cup of blueberries in it, and a cup of berries on top.

I plan to stay put for a bit, so new Martha posts will be forthcoming shortly.

 

DEEEtroit! June 6, 2010

Filed under: Restaurants — squeakypeanut @ 5:28 PM
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Hello, my little shallots!  

I have no new Martha recipe to review yet. Last weekend we spent five days in Detroit at Movement, the electronic music festival. This weekend we’re home but it is a billionty degrees here, and I couldn’t find a Martha meal that didn’t require some amount of stove/oven time. The first Summer recipe seemed promising, as it involves a grilled entrée, but the dessert is cupcakes. Remember all those times in the dead of winter when I was putting fruit into glasses of wine? I should have been baking cupcakes then, Martha, not when the heat index is 103!  

Anyway. We used to live in Ann Arbor and we love Detroit. Having grown up in NE Ohio during the burning Cuyahoga River period, we have a fondness for gritty Midwestern (post)industrial towns.  Yes, Detroit is down on its luck, but it’s still got good bones and a lot of heart.  One consequence of hard economic times is that the character of the ethnic neighborhoods hasn’t been wiped out via gentrification. Since our current city lacks anything similar, we made an effort to seek out some good ethnic food on the cheap.  

Friday we rolled into town around noon and stopped in Mexicantown. We picked Xochimilco because we hadn’t tried it before and discovered that the lunch specials were $3.50. $3.50! I had the ‘two chicken enchiladas, rice and beans’ special, while The Husband had the “mini” botano. The botano was enormous–chips, beans, chorizo, chicken, olives, avocado, etc. piled up on a plate. Plus, fresh-cooked tortilla chips and two types of salsa, one of which nearly burned a hole in my tongue. Our bill was $9 for two lunches and a pop. Yes, they say pop there, and so do I, what of it? The food wasn’t so amazing that it changed our lives, but it was pretty good. And did I mention cheap?  

I had read good things about Evie’s Tamales before we travelled, and since it was right down the street, we popped in there for a sample even though I was stuffed. They make several varieties of tamales, but you have to phone ahead two hours to order anything but the standard ‘regular’ or ‘hot.” Luckily, they also had some chicken tamales ready so we ordered a couple of those, and then nearly fainted when we realized they were just 60 cents each! True, they were thin, but the flavor more than made up for it. Delicious! We should have gone there for our lunch. We had planned to stop there on the way out of town to get a couple dozen for the cooler, but the timing didn’t work out, sadly.  

Late afternoon found us downtown, so we decided to check out Iron Chef/Cleveland Wonder/Food Feud host Michael Symon’s restaurant, Roast ,in the newly rehabilitated (Westin) Book Cadillac Hotel. It was too early for dinner, so we sat at the bar to partake in the cocktail hour specials, which were also stunningly inexpensive: the Roast burger, fries, taco of the day, stuffed pepper of the day, macaroni and cheese, and chicken livers with polenta were all just $3 each.  

I ordered the Grand Traverse cocktail, which, at $11, may have been the most expensive item we consumed all weekend. It was a tasty mix of sparkling white wine with cherry bitters, a sugar cube, and a cherry. The Husband had the house red ($4) which was a blend of Merlot and syrah and terrific. I wish I knew what it was so we could buy some. We split the Roast burger, which was yummy and perhaps has changed my mind about my No Other Proteins on Burgers rule. It consisted of perfectly cooked beef with bacon and a fried egg (over easy) on an English muffin. The bacon was very smoky and just sublime. The macaroni and cheese had an unsual herb seasoning we couldn’t quite pinpoint–tarragon, maybe? Whatever it was didn’t jibe with us so we didn’t finish it. (The mac and cheese at Zingerman’s Roadhouse in Ann Arbor has this one beat hands down but is also 4x as costly). The Husband ordered the chicken livers over polenta, and LOVED it. The livers were breaded and fried, and the polenta (which I suspect was actually grits, but you don’t want to scare the Yankees by calling it that!) had a nice, slightly sweet, vaguely redolent of apple, demi glace on it.  He liked it enough that we planned to go back for happy hour on Monday to get it again, but we never made it back over there, what with all the music and such we had to get to.  

  

Friday also found us record shopping at Detroit Threads in Hamtramck, a Polish neighborhood. The Polish Village Cafe is one of our favorites, as are the bakeries, but we weren’t in the area during meal-time so we didn’t get to eat any pierogies this trip, or try any of the several other Polish restaurants nearby.  

Our hotel was in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, which  has a large population of Arab-Americans. As a result, there seems to be a Middle Eastern bakery, restaurant or meat shop on nearly every corner.  Middle Eastern, specifically Lebanese, is my favorite kind of food, so I was happy ro be surrounded by it. What we can get locally isn’t as good as what we used to get when we lived in Michigan, nor is it as affordable.   

On Saturday we checked out Yasmeen Bakery for brunch. They have both a bakery and a deli section, with a delectable array of pretty much any kind of Middle Eastern food you could want. We both got the “small” chicken schwarma plate, which came with pita, rice pilaf or hummus, pickles and pickled turnips.  The star of the plate ws the supremely garlickly sauce, which is among the best I have ever eaten. The plate was an enormous amount of food for $5.50; in hindsight we could have split one. I also tried one of their mini spinach pies, which was 49 cents, and The Husband got a zatar ($1) that was much bigger than a dinner plate.   

  

Zatar

 

It was all beyond delicious. Since they open at 7:30 am, I went back the next morning for a vegetarian grape leaf sandwich ($3) for breakfast while The Husband slept in. Although I meant to try some other places, we ended up eating there two more times, including when we stopped off on our way out of town on Tuesday to pick up more chicken schwarma and a dozen mini spinach pies ($4.95) for the road. Next time we are bringing a bigger cooler.   

Grape leaf sandwich

 

We spent six hours in the hot sun at the festival during the day on Saturday, so that night we were in the mood for something lighter. We went to Ollie’s, which we had tried on our trip last year. It has a nicer atmosphere than Yaseem’s and table service. We sat on the patio as the sun set and ordered the “small” fattoush salad ($5.95), which was not too oily, as is often the case, and soup–crushed lentil for me and split pea for The Husband; both were fantastic once we added lemon. The best thing about Ollie’s, though, is the house-made pita bread which is served puffed up and hot from the oven. Look how cute it is:  

  

Sunday was the craziest day, as we had to nap a lot so we could be at the festival until closing and then go to the after parties– I was out until 7 am and The Husband rolled in at 9:30 am. We had leftovers and some unremarkable pasta and salad at our favorite pizza place, Buddy’s, where we returned to split a small pizza margherita the following day, Memorial Day. I am happy to report that their pizza remains my favorite pizza ever. We normally go for thin crust pizza, but this deep dish delight has crispy bottom, and the cheese is baked into the crust. What more can you ask for?  

  

Before we left we also visited the Middle Eastern bakery Shatila, which is a block from New Yasmeen. They have a huge selection of French and Middle Eastern pastries, and make their own ice cream in house.  We tried several different versions of mamoul, and although they were really good, the shortcake outter cookie isn’t quite as good as what the church ladies bake up for the annual Lebanese festival here. That said, the bird’s nest is the best I’ve had, and the coconut bars that looked like Twinkies were to die for. Both Shatila and Yasmeen do mail order. You are welcome.  

To sum up, everyone reading this should go visit Detroit. The residents can be cranky drivers who love to honk at the slightest (or no) provocation, but the town needs our money and your stomach will be happy!