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Posts tagged ‘sea island peas’

Hoppin’ John.

I’m not normally superstitious. I step on cracks and cool things happen to me on Friday the 13th. But last year was pretty volatile on the home front, so for the first time EVER I made Hoppin’ John on New Year’s Day. Figured what the hell, can’t hurt.

And I did it up right. Bought Sea Island Peas from Anson Mills and cooked these meaty gems according to the recipe on the website with a mirepoix of whole carrot, onion, and celery. Added just a touch of curry, one bay leaf, and let the whole thing simmer for a little over an hour in a mixture of chicken and ham stock. Chopped up country ham was added. Stuck some Carolina Gold White Rice from the same wonderful artisans of grain on the side and a main course was born.

Throw in some collards cooked in ham hock, vinegar, and apple cider and some cast iron skillet cornbread with bacon drippings, and our first meal of 2014 was a raging success. The peas were meaty and rich and their gravy soaked into the fluffy rice creating something comforting beyond measure. The sweet acidity of the collard greens, the sweet bacon-y flavor of the cornbread. . .it all added up to heaven on a plate.

What started as an experiment in good luck juju ended up being just a damn good meal. Still, when the Polar Vortex hit, I made more. Because there’s nothing like a little New Year’s Southern Good Luck to ward off icy demons.

Best of 2013.

Yep, about this time each year I pull out my golden fork and spoon awards for my “Best of” post. Not the best restaurants, but the best food I ate. The most memorable. I sit down with coffee and a notepad, and brainstorm the 13 best foods I ate in the Charlottesville area in 2013. From off the top of my head. Because in this brain with its vastly diminishing capacity (thanks middle age and Lyme Disease) if I can remember it right away, it was probably pretty outstanding. And worthy of an award, however small. I’m just one broad, but I’ve got a good palate and know when something has skipped past the boundaries of delicious into the stratosphere of, “Hey remember when we ate that?”

Here are my picks in alphabetical order by establishment. Go eat them. A few are seasonal, but I bet if you wait until the appropriate season and ask real nice, they’ll make it for you. Especially when you tell them it won a major award! Congratulations to all, and good eats in 2014!*

Smoked Turkey. At BBQ Exchange.
This is the second year in a row Chef Hartman’s smoked turkey has won a golden fork and for good reason. It’s incredible. Melt-in-your-mouth-smoke-meets-sweet-meets-meat incredible. Only available at Thanksgiving. Sad face. This was the third time The Hubby and I ordered our turkey from The Exchange and if I can help it, I will never cook turkey again. Because it won’t be as good. The first year we got the dinner with sides, but I like leftovers. LOTS of leftovers, so the next year we got an entire bird. Repeated this year. And between the two of us, managed to finish off a 15-20 pounder. Boom!

Fried Green Tomato, Smoked Salmon, and Mozzarella Salad with Basil Crema. At Bizou Restaurant.
A fancy take on a BLT. The crunchy fat and acid of the tomato pairs well with the soft cheese and the creamy greenness of the crema, which was like the best Green Goddess dressing I’ve ever had. I couldn’t eaten five of these salads without saying Boo!

Bacon Fat Popcorn. At Brookville Restaurant.
Congrats to Brookville for making my “Best of” list 2 years running! The Hubby and I love Chef Keevil’s place and eat there often for brunch or any time we need the greatest hamburger on the face of God’s green earth. But in 2014 his bacon fat popcorn sent me into the stratosphere. Imagine huge fluffy kernels with just a touch of salt. Then imagine crunching down and tasting bacon. But not a big grease-filled overpowering smoky business. A touch, a kiss. Like popcorn and bacon didn’t get married but are just making out. HEAVEN!

Chocolate Macaroon. At Cappellino’s Crazy Cakes.
Who cares if it’s gluten-free? This cookie is simply the most deeply, darkly, chocolaty, ooey, gooey confection I’ve ever eaten. Right away you can taste the high-quality chocolate. The way it just glides over your tongue into a gooey delicious chewy chocolaty mess is a gorgeous thing indeed. No way you can eat just one. It has officially replaced their Apple Harvest as my favorite cookie.

Carne Asada Tacos. At El Tako Nako.
Monday night is taco night because of this food truck on Hydraulic Road across from Stonefield. I love all the tacos on offer: Pastor, Chorizo, Lengua, but it’s the Carne Asada that gets my motor running. Charred meat with a little cilantro, onion, and lime in double-wrapped corn tortillas. Completely authentic Mexican tacos for $2 each. You can’t beat that with a stick.

Pupusa Queso Con Frijoles. At El Tepeyac.
El Tepeyac has incredible tacos, but I will always mark 2013 as the year I fell in love with pupusas. This Salvadorian style tortilla tastes like the best Hot Pocket you’ve ever eaten. Scratch that. Imagine if Hot Pockets were actually any good! That’s an El Tepeyac Pupusa. They’ve got several different styles (including an incredible one make with loroco flowers) but my favorite is the pupusa with black beans and cheese. Like you took corn pudding, stuffed cheese and black bean dip inside it then stuffed it in a panini press. I can eat pupusas until the cows come home.

Poached Duck Egg Frisee Salad With Warm Bacon Dressing, Chive Flowers, and Crispy Ramps. At GlassHaus Kitchen.
I’m very sad I won’t be able to enjoy this classic anymore while sitting on the patio with The Hubby and watching the freight trains roll by. Chef Ian Boden’s version is lovely and perfect. The creamy egg mixes with the warm fat of the bacon and the tang of the chive and the sweet of the ramps to create something awfully special. Perhaps we can persuade him to recreate this perfection at his new venture, The Shack? Hope so.

Chicken Liver Mousse. At JM Stock Provisions & Supply.
I’m a sucker for a good chicken liver mousse. Put some of that on a cracker or good piece of baguette and pour me a glass of wine and that’s dinner. The mousse at JM Stock is luscious, creamy, rich, and decadent. Priced right and presented in a small Mason jar. Yep, an entire Mason jar full of chicken liver mousse. If that’s not decadent I don’t know what is.

Tonkotsu Ramen. At Now & Zen.
Ever since I tucked into my first bowl of in Vancouver a few years back I have searched and longed for this dish. There isn’t a day goes by where I don’t long for ramen. Not the 5-for-a-dollar version in the market, but good, authentic, steaming, yummy ramen. Preferably with fatty broth, seasoned egg, and extra wakame. No matter where we travel, my first question is always, “Is there ramen here?” Now when fellow seekers ask me, I can point them to Now & Zen. Unfortunately Chef Sato only has ramen nights every so often (next one scheduled for January 19 and 20). Go early with an empty stomach (bowls are huge), and order the broth as fatty as you can.

Fried Okra With Comeback Sauce. At Pasture Charlottesville.
Oh my lord! Simply the best fried okra I’ve ever had in my life. Chef Jason Alley fries the okra whole, and the batter is so light, so crispy, I dare you not to finish off their ginormous bowl. Every time I’ve eaten this I swear I won’t possibly finish the whole thing, and every time I fail. It’s that good. The comeback sauce tastes like mayonnaise and Sriracha? Not sure, but it has kept me coming back for this appetizer again and again.

Spicy Creamed Rice Grits, Smoked Tomato Broth, Black-Eyed Peas.
At Pasture Charlottesville.

This is one of those dishes I want to magically appear on my counter every time I have a crappy day. Or the weather is crappy. Or I’m just feeling crappy. Comfort in a bowl. They serve this as a small plate, but trust me, after inhaling this unctuous blend of smoky, creamy goodness you’ll want more. A whole lot more. Tastes like a big ol’ nap! Which is a compliment of the highest order.

Charcuterie Plate. Pippin Hill Vineyard.
We had a miserable spring and summer full of rain and gray skies. So when we finally hit a warm patch The Hubby and I had a lovely “All Summer in a Day” moment at Pippin Hill. Cured meats, olives, arugula pesto and grape must mustard paired with a nice Cabernet Franc can cure every form of seasonal disorder. I’m convinced of it. And I’m counting the days when I can lounge on their sumptuous deck once again.

Anson Mills Sea Island Peas with House Bacon and Appalachian Star Farm Spring Onions. At The Whiskey Jar.
This dish was prepared as a side for the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium opening dinner. The beans tasted like tiny black-eyed peas, but with better texture and flavor: sweet, meaty, and hearty. The bacon added a fatty, smoky flavor while the spring onions provided sweetness. This dish was by far the hit of the night; everyone raved. I even bought my own bag for New Year’s Hoppin’ John. To say I can’t wait to dig in would be an understatement. Here’s hoping Sea Island Peas are rediscovered and relished in 2014. They need to be.

Peach Trifle. At The Whiskey Jar.
Congratulations to Rachel Pennington on creating a dessert I devoured without a second thought. Let me explain. Usually I’m so enamored of appetizers by the time the dessert comes, I can’t take more than a bite. Not here. This trifle with its layers of fresh peach, feather-light cake, fresh cream, and vanilla custard is simply one of the best desserts I’ve ever tasted. Decadent, yet light as a Spring cloud in May. It should be a staple on their summer menu. And they should give Chef Pennington a raise. Yum!

*You’ll notice I actually included my “Best 14 for 2013”. Whatever. I love it when my town makes it hard to stay within parameters ;)

Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium. The Whiskey Jar.

This past weekend I had the great good fortune to attend the Southern Foodways Alliance Summer Symposium. Long ago in the earliest infancy of my food writing career I knew because of the way I work, I’d more than likely have to focus on just one cause to promote more than any other. It’s how my mind works. When presented with sustainability, local food good corporate bad, evil Monsanto bashing, gluten-free, fat-free, carb-free, vegan only, organic, molecular gastronomy and all the other food causes out there, the only one that really speaks to me is my Southern food heritage.

Southern food got me excited as a kid, and it’s what drives me to write and eat as an adult. For 14 years, the Southern Foodways Alliance has promoted the celebration and preservation of Southern food loudly and proudly. From the first moment I set my eyes on a copy of Cornbread Nation in a Barnes & Noble bookstore, I knew I’d be a member. I knew it was my calling. I knew I’d be a Southern food advocate forever. I spent a few years following the organization, and eventually saved up enough money for dues. This year, I decided it was time to get active.

I signed up for the weekend the minute it was announced. It’s the first time they’ve had a symposium in the summer. And it’s the first time they’ve ever had one in Virginia, picking Richmond as their base city. The first event? Why, it would be in Charlottesville. The topic? Women who work, a program championing female business owners who produce wines, cheeses, vegetables, meats, as well as all the other yummies we enjoy, and lots of talks about the great food women in Virginia’s past. I’d be damned if I was going to miss a chance to crow about my home base, as well as squire about with a bunch of people unfamiliar with my hometown. What an opportunity!

Just one problem. I have horrible social anxiety. Horrible! In fact, part of the reason I became a FOOD writer was because The Hubby is equally passionate about food and most of the time can come with me to the events I attend. I can lean into him the way my dog leans into me during thunderstorms. Except he wouldn’t be attending this event. I would have to go alone.

So it was with great trepidation, tremendous actually that I slunk into the first dinner at The Whiskey Jar and looked around in vain for someone to lean into. Grabbed myself a berry moonshine punch and hoped for some courage. Even a career in fundraising and development (i.e., lots of wine events) has done nothing to ease the anxiety I feel at the thought of having to converse with a bunch of strangers, even if all of us are there for the same reason: we adore Southern food.

And the biggest reason I hate informal dinner gatherings like this? The mad dash for seats. Ugh. Some 200 people descending on a room and trying to jockey for position as to where to sit, and whom to sit with. It sucks. As I was standing there contemplating which seat to choose for dinner, and sweating it, a tall, gregarious woman approached in a long fuchsia scarf and pink spangly jeans. “Dahlin’ now where pray tell did you procure that delicious-looking libation?” she asked sweetly in a heavy Southern accent. I pointed at the direction of the bar, and wished I could be that confident. She was ready for a party and her whole demeanor just screamed, “If you have nothing nice to say, PLEASE sit next to me.” I loved it. And I’d found my seat.

Dinner turned out to be a hoot and a half and pink jeans was a huge reason. Her large personality did a lot to break the ice and helped put me at ease. I was to find out later this attitude is basically the lifeblood of the Southern Foodways Alliance. Wherever they go, the party follows. I encourage every agoraphobic out there to become a member. You won’t regret it.

The other thing that put me at ease was the food. The Whiskey Jar can really cook up a storm! It was homespun without being corny, and full of Southern-fat-is-good-for-you-flavor without being too heavy. Tiny finger sandwiches of BBQ’d rabbit that was by turns creamy and spicy. Imagine a sweeter version of pulled pork with the texture of tuna. Scrumptious! Chard salad from Appalachia Star Farm with velvety cottage cheese from Caromont. Light WhiteWay Bread topped with sorghum butter from Compass Winds. Imagine a light molasses butter, the color of caramel. Maple, molasses, honey, and caramel flavors all play around with the butter and make you want to swoon. I can’t wait to make it at home.

Of course, there were the famous Whiskey Jar collard greens (everyone cheered) and something new to me, Anson Mills Sea Island Peas with bacon and spring onions. Like lentils but with a better chew. Everyone raved and begged for the recipe. It’s my new goal in life to get that recipe and serve it next Thanksgiving. Chef Richey? Can you help a girl out?

The BBQ chicken in sorghum red sauce was tangy and tender and the roasted Rag Mountain Trout was so light and fresh I could swear it was caught out back in some hidden creek in the kitchen.

But the true highlight? DEFINITELY the dessert. A recipe collaboration created by baker Rachel Pennington. Peach trifle consisting of Edna Lewis’s sponge cake, then topped with Mary Randolph’s peach marmalade and vanilla bean custard. An airy sponge of vanilla that melts in your mouth but not before sinking into a sweet peach and vanilla dream. Holy sugarsmacks it was one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. It’s going on my list. They need to add this to the regular menu like yesterday. It tasted like a big ol’ nap! Which coming from me? Is the highest of praise. I usually only eat a taste or two of dessert. This? I. Ate. It. All.

So yeah, all in all the night was a big success. The lovely food artisans got a pretty sash and did their Miss America wave, people scarfed up food and clapped them on the back in congratulations for the good works they’re doing, the chef and his staff trotted out to a standing ovation. Um, why don’t chefs do this every night during service? They should. And one middle-aged woman took a small step toward alleviating her social anxiety. The Veritas Viognier and Foggy Ridge Cider helped. I doubt it will ever be completely gone. I’ll continue to lean into the chatty folks whenever I have to go anywhere. But leaving the event, full moon rising, and The Mall bustling still at 10pm, made me feel really good about myself. And about where I live. We made an excellent impression that night Charlottesville. I wouldn’t be surprised if Summer Symposium 2014 takes place right here in our little ‘ville. Cheers and applause to everyone involved. You certainly deserve it.

Virginia Food Artisans, SFA 2013 Anson Mills Dinner

Kathryn Bertoni, Appalachia Star Farm
Margaret-Anne Burkholder, Compass Winds Sorghum
Diane Flynt, Foggy Ridge Cider
Ellen Nagase, Rag Mountain Trout
Gail Hobbs-Page, Caromont Farm
Sara Miller, Timbercreek Farms
Emily Pelton, Veritas Vineyards
Rachel Pennington, Baker, The Whiskey Jar
Lisa Richey, Red Row Farm
Mary Alissa Wilkins, WhiteWay Bakery

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