Category Archives: local

at summer’s end

Hello. My name is Andrea. I write this food blog, Bella Eats. You may remember me, or due to my long absence you may not. I’m sorry about that, truly I am. I miss this space! Life has been busy. So so so busy. I started teaching architectural design at the University of Virginia. Teaching. At a University. !!! And before that teaching officially began there was training for teaching. And in the middle of all of that I photographed the wedding of a dear friend I’ve known since the fifth grade. Fifth grade! She was such a beautiful bride, and if you’re interested in seeing some of those images please check out the AHPhoto blog.

Oh, and I started a photography business. Because I love taking pictures of people. And buildings. And food. So if you know anybody who needs somebody to take pictures of people, or buildings, or food…feel free to send them my way. I’d appreciate it so so much. And thank you, all of you, who have commented and tweeted and emailed your support. You’re the best, truly.

And yes, I am still working for an architecture firm here in Charlottesville. So…yeah. Busy.

It feels as though summer has completely passed by Bella Eats. Since June I’ve posted about cherries, blackberries, and blueberries. There have been no luscious heirloom tomatoes, no juice-laden peaches, no golden ears of corn. I even have a new trick for releasing kernels from their cob without making a complete mess of the kitchen counter and floor, and I haven’t had the opportunity to share it with you. That is sad my friends, because this trick is a good one. It will change the way you view corn entirely. Soon, I hope.

Way back in the middle of July our dear friend Kristin celebrated her birthday. She celebrated with us, and with this lime tart topped with blackberries from our garden. Blackberry season is just about over, a sign that summer is drawing to a quick close. Our bush has shed it’s bounty completely, leaving only the tiny shriveled berries that didn’t ever come to full ripeness. Our freezer is packed full of quart-size bags of the frozen fruit, our pantry shelf stocked with various forms of blackberry jam. This tart was one of the last recipes made this summer using berries fresh from the garden, and looking at these pictures already has me feeling nostalgic.

What is it about food that stirs memories stronger than those evoked by any other sense? While blackberries don’t take me back to any point of my childhood, they do plop me down solidly in our backyard here in Charlottesville. For the past 4 years we’ve spent countless July and August evenings standing in our garden, bowls in hand, fingers stained purple, arms eaten by mosquitos, quietly and contently plucking berries one-by-one from a bush WE planted. I know that forever, no matter where we are, when I pop a freshly picked blackberry into my mouth I will be transported back to this place. I love that.

If you’re lucky you can still find pints of deep purple blackberries at your local farmers’ market, and if you do, I recommend you make this dessert before summer’s end. The crust is quite perfect, nearly the consistency and flavor of a shortbread cookie. It doesn’t flake and melt in your mouth like many pastry shells, but instead offers a firm vessel on which to carry a scoop of zippy lime curd. And scoop you will, because this tart never really sets up to a solid, sliceable state. Which is fine by me. The delightful combination of sweet shortbread, tart curd, and fresh blackberries had us all going back for seconds, despite our use of a spoon rather than a fork.

For the record, I am so unhappy with the spacing that this new WordPress theme defaults too, but I just haven’t had the time/energy to dig into the CSS code to fix it. And, we’re working on a redesign of Bella Eats to be launched right around the two year (two years!) anniversary of this site at the end of October.  So, please bear with me and the awkward/awful spacing of the text in my recipes… Thank you.

Lime Tart with Blackberries

from bon appetit, June 2010

Ingredients

for the lime curd:

  • 3 large eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh lime juice
  • 6 tbsp (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces

for the topping:

  • (3) 6-ounce containers fresh blackberries
  • 1 tbsp blackberry jam

for the crust:

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 large pinch of salt

Method

for the lime curd:

  1. Set a fine metal strainer over a medium bowl and set aside. Whisk the eggs, egg yolks, and sugar in another medium metal bowl to blend.  Whisk in lime juice.
  2. Set bowl over large saucepan of gently simmering water (do not allow bottom of bowl to touch water). Whisk constantly until curd thickens and an instant-read thermometer inserted into curd registers 178ºF to 180ºF, about 6 minutes.  Immediately pour curd through prepared strainer set over bowl.
  3. Add butter to warm strained curd; let stand 1 minute, then whisk until blended and smooth.  Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of curd, covering completely.  Refrigerate until cold, about 4 hours.*

*Lime curd can be made up to 2 days ahead.  Keep chilled.

for the crust:

  1. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar in a medium bowl until well blended, 1 to 2 minutes. Add egg yolk; beat to blend. Add flour and salt and mix on low speed until mixture resembles large peas. Using hands, knead in bowl just until dough comes together.
  2. Transfer dough to a 9-inch diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Break dough into pieces, then press dough evenly up sides and onto bottom of pan. Cover and chill 1 hour.**
  3. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Uncover crust and bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool completely in pan on rack.

**Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.

assembly:

  1. Remove sides from tart pan and place crust on plate. Spread lime curd evenly in baked crust. Arrange blackberries in concentric circles on top of tart.
  2. Place am in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in microwave until jam is melted, about 15 seconds. Whisk to loosen and blend, adding water by teaspoonfuls if thick. Brush jam over berries.*** (I only brushed jam over the outer ring, because I liked how they looked without the glaze.)

***Tart can be made up to 8 hours ahead. Chill uncovered.

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celebrate summer with local beer, local music [giveaway!]

A few weeks ago I received an email with the subject “Does Bella like beer?”. Well yes, Bella does like beer, and so I opened that email and kept on reading. In it, a very nice woman named Stephanie asked if I might like to visit an award-winning local brewery for a complimentary tour and tasting. She also asked if I thought the followers of Bella Eats might be interested in reading about that visit, and then submitting a comment on that post for a chance to win a pair of tickets to two separate music festivals in Virginia. Well gosh that all sounded like a lot of fun and, while product promotion and giveaways aren’t very typical in this web space of mine, I really liked the idea of reviewing a local company and hosting a giveaway that supports local music.

And that is how, a flurry of emails later, Brian and I found ourselves driving west out of Charlottesville two Sundays ago. Our destination, Devils Backbone Brewing Company, was recently named Champion Brewery and Brewmaster in the small brewpub category at the 2010 World Beer Cup. They also earned one gold medal and three bronze medals for individual beers entered in the same competition, and last year brought home four medals from the 2009 Great American Beer Festival. With stats like that, the not-even-two-years-old brewery had been on our “things to do/see in/around Charlottesville” list for good reason.

The brewmaster, Jason Oliver, has over 14 years of brewing experience and 15 medals for beers he’s brewed. We were lucky to have a semi-private tour of the brewhouse scheduled with Jason, who is incredibly knowledgeable about his craft and patient with those of us who are not. He took us through the entire process, from steeping barley in water to fermenting with yeast to flavoring with hops. We were able to try several types of barley from a handful of different countries so that we could see for ourselves how different grains influence the final flavor of the beer we drink. It was fascinating, and very enjoyable. If you live in central Virginia, or are planning to visit the area, I highly recommend scheduling a tour of the brewhouse at Devils Backbone Brewing Company.

[thank you Brian for the above pictures of Jason and me]

After our tour Brian and I found our way to a couple of stools at the long copper-clad bar. DB Brewing Company has 10 beers on tap at all times, 4 that are brewed year-round and 6 rotating seasonal beers that are created by Jason. We decided to split the sampler, and Jason lined up our ten samples alongside a menu with their descriptions. The beers ranged in color from the champagne-toned Azreal (my favorite) to the cola-dark Inspirado (Brian’s favorite).

They were each unique, some were surprising, all were quite good. The Wintergreen Weiss, a Bavarian-style hefeweizen, had my attention, as well as the Gold Leaf Lager. But the Azreal…oh, the Azreal (aka Gargamel…a little Smurf reference for you). Fruity on the nose and the tongue, so easy to drink yet nearly 8% alcohol…that one is dangerous, and I loved it. Brian’s favorite, the Inspirado, was also excellent with its deep, dark color and rich, fruity flavor.

If you’re in the area, make the drive out to Nelson County to visit Devils Backbone Brewing Company. Take the tour, try the sampler, stay for lunch. And be sure to go home with a growler or two. DB Brewing Company beer is available on tap at a few restaurants around Charlottesville, but the only way to take it home with you is to get it straight from the brewery.

Many thanks to Jason and Devils Backbone Brewing Company for hosting us, and to Stephanie for setting it all up!

Music Festival Tickets Giveaway!

Devils Backbone Brewing Company is hosting two music festivals on their Concert Grounds at Devils Backbone, the Brew Ridge Music Festival and The Festy.

Bella Eats is giving away one pair of tickets to each music festival!

You have three opportunities to win tickets:

  1. Leave a comment on this post specifying that you are interested in winning the tickets and which festival you would prefer to attend.
  2. Become a friend of both BRTMF and The Festy on Facebook and leave a second comment on this post telling me you’ve done so. (Honor system here folks!)
  3. Follow The Festy on Twitter and leave a third comment on this post telling me you’ve done so. (Again, honor system!)

Post comments by Friday, August 13th. I will pick the winners using a random number generator and announce them on Saturday, August 14th. Good luck!

Brew Ridge Music Festival: The second annual Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival is an all ages event featuring top musical artists and sixteen local beers on tap. Scheduled for Sat, August 21 at the Concert Grounds at Devils Backbone (Nelson County, VA, 45 miles from Charlottesville), Cerberus Productions, 106.1 “The Corner” and the Brew Ridge Trail members are thrilled that this year’s festival will be headlined by Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Additional confirmed acts include Devon Allman’s Honeytribe and William Walter & Co. For overnight accommodations, Wintergreen. Gates open at noon, rain or shine. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit Brew Ridge Trail Music Festival.

One winner will receive two Taphouse Tent tickets, which include admission to the festival and (8) 4oz beer tasting tickets!

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The Festy: The Infamous Stringdusters, The Artist Farm, Cerberus Productions and Devils Backbone Brewing Company present The Festy Experience, a 2-day camping festival over Columbus Day weekend (Oct 9 & 10) at The Concert Grounds at Devils Backbone in Nelson County, Virginia (45 mi. from Charlottesville). Hosted and curated by The Infamous Stringdusters, The Festy Experience will celebrate and combine the best in live music, outdoor sports and lifestyle, craft beer culture and raging good times.

In addition to two nights with The Dusters, confirmed acts include Railroad Earth, Josh Ritter, Toubab Krewe, The Tony Rice Unit and a slew of musically diverse acts that embody The Festy Experience spirit.

Wanna festy, but don’t wanna camp? Weekend day passes are available, but bypass couch surfing for the Wintergreen Resort Experience. All rooms booked at the Wintergreen Resort in association with The Festy Experience will receive an exclusive 20% off.

One winner will receive two tickets to The Festy!

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truly, I do

The mosquitoes are out in full force, covering my skin with pink welts each time I venture into our overgrown garden. My hair frizzes to twice its volume as soon as I consider stepping outside. I can’t walk down the block without tiny beads of sweat popping up on the back of my neck, yet my office is frigid enough to require a sweater. Spring seems to have moved on early this year, leaving in her wake an abrasive and demanding Summer.

But, despite all of this personal discomfort, I love this time of year. Truly, I do.

I love the thunderstorms that sweep in like clockwork each afternoon, lending the sky an ominous tone and the air an electric buzz. I love the booths at the farmer’s market, the tables full of greens and berries and cucumbers and beets. I love that the water is warm enough to take the dogs swimming at the reservoir, and that those trips are the perfect opportunity for a picnic. I love drinking Moscow Mules on the back deck while watching fireflies glow in the trees, and the smell of sun screen and citronella and bug spray made sweeter by the intoxicating aroma of freshly-mown grass and trampled mint.

Those are all compelling arguments, I know, but what I love most about this Almost-Summer time of year is the local Virginia fruit. Those few days where I find myself wandering between tidy rows of strawberries, or ducking under tree branches dripping with both rainwater and cherries, are worth every welt on my itchy legs. Filling our basket with blueberries and melons at Charlottesville’s City Market makes the sweltering heat just bearable as we make our way between stalls. And folding homegrown raspberries into whipped buttercream…oh my. There aren’t many discomforts that fresh raspberry buttercream can’t fix.

But today, let’s focus on those cherries. Ten-year-old Andrea would probably tell you that they are her favorite fruit…ever…for their appearance at the grocery store was always perfectly timed with the end of school and the beginning of Summer vacation. My momma, a teacher and just as excited for the break, would plan day trips to Florida’s fresh water springs for my friends and me. A bag full of sweet cherries was always packed as part of our lunch. After a few hours of swimming and snorkeling and sharks’ tooth hunting the dark-skinned globes would come out of the cooler, icy cold and immediately covered in tiny beads of condensation.

We’d find a spot in the grass, out of the shade of our claimed pavilion. The spring water was frigid, and the sun felt good on our skin as we spread a blanket and chose our places for the competition that was sure to follow. Small hands reached into the Ziplock bag, pulling out handfuls of tangled fruit to place in cross-legged laps. One-by-one, plucked from the mass by rubbery stems, the cherries were popped into eager mouths.  Rolled around and around the tongue, the pit was picked clean before being spat from juice-stained lips across the sun-soaked lawn.

Oh, summer.

I won’t deny that my adult days have seen the occasional cherry-pit-spitting contest.  Yes, I do that.  But 28-year-old Andrea has also learned how to bake and how to make jam, and that cherries pair well with savory partners as well as sweet.  Take this dish, for instance, a variation on the classic tomato and basil bread salad.  In it, sweet cherries are paired with the tang of  balsamic vinegar and spicy arugula, all held together by a base of crisped bread and a topping of creamy chevre.  It is a very adult meal, a lovely, rustic dinner for two on the back deck that is complimented nicely by an effervescent vinho verde.

Just be sure to save some of those whole cherries for dessert…you never know when your inner child will demand a little friendly competition.

Bread Salad with Cherries, Arugula and Goat Cheese

from A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

makes 4 first-course servings, or a meal for 2

Ingredients

  • 6 oz rustic bread, preferably a day old (I used a whole wheat baguette)
  • olive oil
  • 1/2 pound cherries, halved and pitted (I used sweet cherries, and a cherry pitter was SO handy)
  • 1/8 tsp pressed or crushed garlic
  • balsamic vinegar
  • salt
  • arugula
  • fresh chevre, coarsely crumbled
  • black pepper

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Trim crust from bread, and discard the crust.  Tear the bread into rough, bite-size pieces (you should have about 4 cups, total).  Dump the bread onto a rimmed baking sheet, and drizzle it with olive oil.  Toss to coat. Bake until crispy and golden in spots, shaking the pan once, 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, put about one-third of the cherries in a small bowl and mash them lightly with a fork to release their juices.
  4. When the bread is nicely toasted, turn it into a large bowl. While it is still hot, add the crushed garlic and toss well.  Set the bowl aside to cool for a minute or two, then add all of the cherries, both mashed and halved, and toss. Add 2 tsp balsamic vinegar and toss again. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and a pinch or two of salt and toss again.
  5. Taste, and adjust the vinegar, oil and salt as needed.  The bread and cherries should taste good on their own. When you’re satisfied with the flavor, add about 2 handfuls of arugula and toss one last time.  Finish with a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese and a few grinds of the pepper mill, and serve.

perfect as they are

Last month, at the very beginning of May (where did you go, sweet May?) Brian and I went strawberry picking. I’d received the email days before that shouted against a bright green backdrop “strawberries are here!”.   I anxiously await this announcement each year.  Not only does it mark Spring’s firm hold on this time in Charlottesville, it also foreshadows the other emails to come reporting the arrival of cherries(!) and peaches(!!) throughout the summer. (I’ll add that, since it has taken me so very long to share this post and recipe with you, I’ve already received both the “cherries are ready!” and “peaches are early, and ready!” emails.  I’ll try to do better this month with timely posting…)

And so Brian and I hopped in the car that Friday and drove out to the country to fill a flat with ten pounds of bright and beautiful berries. Never mind the fact that we have a garden on the side of our house that is absolutely FULL of strawberry plants. Plants that have well exceeded their raised bed boundary and tumbled into the aisles of what was once a very organized patch. Plants that, during the time we were heading towards the orchard with windows down and music blaring, were completely covered with star-shaped flowers and tiny green fruit.  But those country strawberries, they were ready RIGHT THEN, and I just couldn’t wait another week for ours to ripen.

There is something very special about moving slowly between those neat rows of plants, bending down to push emerald leaves aside, revealing the ripe and ready gems hiding in their shade.  The berries come off their stems with the most satisfying “snap!”, and if popped in your mouth at that exact moment are one of the most delicious treats to ever touch your tongue.  Warmed by the sun, the fruit seems to explode in the mouth as vibrant juice seeps into every nook and cranny. It is so overwhelmingly good that you must close your eyes, tilt your face up towards the sky and slip into a little food dance of happiness.  Yes, I do that.

Once home, I set to work finding recipes for our bounty.  I thought about pie and jam and cobbler, but in the end decided that the berries were perfect just as they were.  And so I rinsed them all and placed most in a large colander in the fridge, ready for breakfast yogurt and cereal, afternoon snacks and ice cream topping.  The pint that I set aside was slated for tiny tarts, the raw berries sliced thinly and laid across a filling of cooked rhubarb within a crisp, buttery shell.

The marriage of rhubarb and strawberry is timeless, like that of chocolate and peanut butter, or coconut and lime.  One will never tire of the other, and folks will undoubtably continue to enjoy their combined company for years to come.  In these tarts, the rhubarb is cooked down in a process that resembles the making of jam, and the end result is quite similar to the classic jarred spread.  The tartness of the rhubarb is gently subdued by the sugar it is reduced with, but still punchy enough to provide nice balance to the sweet berries.

The best part of these tarts is the strawberries themselves, kept raw and firm and perfectly sweet on their own.  Find the freshest fruit possible and you can’t go wrong.

Rhubarb Strawberry Tarts

from The Greyston Bakery Cookbook

makes one 9-inch tart or six 4-inch tarts

Ingredients

  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1-1/4 pounds fresh rhubarb, trimmed and cut diagonally into 1/4″-thick pieces (about 5-6 cups)
  • 1 pint strawberries
  • 1 fully baked 9″ Tart Pastry (see recipe below), cooled

Method

  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and water.  Stir over medium-low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the rhubarb, increase the heat, and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 5 minutes, or until the rhubarb is just beginning to soften.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Let stand, covered, for 10 minutes, or until the rhubarb is tender.
  2. Set a mesh strainer over a medium bowl and drain the rhubarb, reserving the liquid.  Allow the rhubarb to cool completely.  In a small saucepan, simmer the reserved liquid over medium-low heat for 5 minutes, or until it is reduced to a thick syrup.  Set the syrup aside and allow it to cool completely.
  3. Meanwhile, wash and hull the strawberries.  Thinly slice the strawberries lengthwise.
  4. Spread the cooled rhubarb evenly over the bottom of the tart shell.  Arrange the strawberry slices in concentric circles over the rhubarb filling, covering it completely.  Brush or spoon the cooled syrup over the top of the strawberries.  Chill before serving.

Tart Pastry

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into very small pieces and chilled
  • 1-3 tbsp ice water, as needed

Method

  1. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and salt to blend thoroughly.  Using a pastry blender, metal pastry scraper, two knives or your fingers, cut or rub the butter in the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles a coarse meal.
  2. Using a fork, stir in the water, 1 tbsp at a time, adding just enough for the dough to hold together without becoming wet.  Gather the dough into a ball and then flatten it into a disk.  Wrap the disk of dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
  3. Remove the dough from the refrigerator.  Using a rolling pin on a lightly floured board, roll the dough to form a rough circle about 1/4″ thick.  Carefully transfer the dough to a 9″ fluted tart pan (or six 4″ pans) with a removable bottom.  Press the dough lightly but firmly into the edges of the pan, allowing the excess dough to hang over the edges of the pan.  Roll the rolling pin over the top of the pan to trim the excess dough from the pan rim.  Pierce the bottom of the dough several times with the tines of a fork.  Chill for at least 30 minutes before baking.
  4. Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400*F.  Line the chilled shell with foil or parchment and fill with pie weights, dried beans, or raw rice.
  5. Bake the shell for 12 minutes, or until the pastry is set and golden.  Carefully remove the foil or parchment and weights and continue to bake the shell another 10 to 15 minutes (a little less if you use the smaller pans), or until the pastry is golden brown.  If the edges start to brown too much, cover them with strips of foil or piecrust shields.  Cool on a rack.

it’s better this way

Last Monday I sat on a plane at Louis Armstrong International Airport, Brian’s hand in mine as we taxied down the runway and lifted off, on our way home to Charlottesville. Out the window I watched a city that I love dearly fall away, nostalgic and missing New Orleans already.

We’d arrived Friday morning to heat and humidity that we won’t (hopefully) see in Virginia for another two months. After checking bags at our hotel, changing into shorts and slathering on sunscreen we set out into the city with two friends who’d joined us for four days of exploring, absorbing, listening and, most importantly, eating. As the veteran visitors, Brian and I had laid out an agenda based on food – our nine meals were carefully scheduled and the rest of the trip was woven loosely around their locations.

There were muffalettas and seafood po-boys, chicken andouille gumbo and spicy jambalaya, raw oysters and bags of boiled crawfish, black ham biscuits and fluffy omelets served with fries, powdered beignets and pecan-laden pralines. We sipped Pimm’s Cups as we strolled the French Quarter, cooled off with a creamy Bourbon Milk Punch at Bourbon House, swirled ice in our vodka tonics while listening to set after set of incredible jazz. We walked and biked between those meals to help counter the indulgence of the weekend, oftentimes feeling that what we really, really needed was to find a shady spot to stretch out horizontally for a nice, long nap.

As New Orleans disappeared beneath a bank of hazy clouds last Monday I found myself thinking that we could live there, Brian and I, in a cute Creole cottage just downriver from the French Quarter. We’d paint our home in shades of blue and grey with a vibrant yellow, or maybe eggplant, accent around the windows and doors. There would be bikes leaned up against the side of the house, one with a basket, ready at a moment’s notice to be ridden into the Quarter for lunch or to the Crescent City Farmer’s Market for fresh, local seafood and produce. Our yard would be tiny, just big enough for a vegetable garden and a stone terrace with an umbrella-covered picnic table. We’d string lanterns from the trees and host crawfish boils on that terrace, invite guests who would wear jaunty hats and sip frosty cocktails as they unconsciously swayed to the sounds of Doreen’s clarinet wafting from the stereo.

It is a lovely dream, one that I could see becoming a reality one day if we could just find a way to get used to the stifling heat. And the cockroaches – complete terror only scratches the surface of the affect that those little buggers have on me. And the city’s status as the murder capital of the USA…  Minor details, since I already have the biggest obstacle solved – vegetables. Did you notice that my list of traditional NOLA fare does not include even a hint of green? While we happily consumed fried / buttered / sugared food for four full days, I believe that four days must be the limit. For as I dreamt about our little blue Creole cottage and crawfish boils and lanterns strung from trees and clinking glasses of frosty beverages, I managed to squeeze a giant bowl of homegrown greens onto the linen-covered table in the middle of that backyard terrace.

A vegetable garden would be an absolute necessity to our New Orleans lifestyle.

The next day, back at work in Charlottesville and fully submerged in reality, Brian and I met a friend for lunch at Feast. I ordered a mixed salad plate, and while I couldn’t stop talking about the wonderful food in New Orleans, my mind was distracted by how amazingly satisfying the plate full of veggies in front of me was. And on Saturday, at our own City Market, we filled our basket with all the green we could get our hands on – two heads of lettuce, two bunches of both kale and collards, two pounds of asparagus.

I plan to share some of our favorite New Orleans-inspired dishes here on Bella Eats in the next month or two (along with some photographs from our trip!), but just had to give our systems a break this last 10 days.  I’d originally thought that a full month of NOLA fare on this little blog could be fun, but have decided instead to spread those rich, indulgent dishes out, to balance them with recipes like this side of wilted spinach tossed with fresh peas, garlic and scallions.  It’s better this way, I promise.

Tangles of earthy spinach play well with the sweet peas in this dish. The mild flavors are complimented nicely by the subdued bite of sliced garlic and a generous handful of scallions.  Serve alongside a fillet of white fish dressed simply with lemon, sea salt and herbs for a healthy, feel-good-to-the-core meal.

Spinach with Peas and Scallions

adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver

serves 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter, divided
  • 1 bunch of scallions, dark and light green parts diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 3 garlic cloves, sliced
  • 2 cups of fresh or frozen peas
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 4 large handfulls of spinach, tough stems removed
  • sea salt and pepper

Method

  1. Heat olive oil and 1 tbsp butter in deep skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and sliced garlic, stirring to coat with oil and butter.  Let saute’ for 2-3 minutes, not letting the garlic brown.
  2. Add the peas, and saute’ for another 2-3 minutes, until the garlic starts to turn golden brown.  Add the wine, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and allow to cook for another 2-3 minutes.  If using fresh peas, be sure to test one before adding the spinach to be sure that it is cooked.
  3. Add the spinach, stirring to coat with liquid.  Allow spinach to heat through and wilt, 2-3 more minutes.  Add last tbsp of butter and salt and pepper to taste.

two local meals [and a side of cornbread]

December 1st…what? How did that happen? November rushed by as if being chased by a ticking time bomb and I have no doubt that December will disappear just as quickly. We’re coming up on the end of another year, one that I am not so sad to see put behind us as I hope for a happier 2010. Don’t get me wrong, there have been some really fabulous experiences in 2009 that I hope never to forget, many of them being food-related and therefore blog-related, and two of those having happened in November.

I’ve been meaning to write this post since the 9th of last month, after an especially wonderful evening spent with dear friends at a favorite Charlottesville restaurant, and one week after an afternoon spent with the same friends at Double H Farm outside of Charlottesville. On both occasions we were immersed in a local food nirvana, surrounded by the people who produce a good portion of the food served on our household table and others who support their efforts.

What follows is a pictorial tour of both events with some notes on the experiences. I feel that this post will be most enjoyed by those who live in the Charlottesville area and have no doubt eaten pork or eggs or arugula from Double H Farm, had a conversation with Richard and Jean at the Farmer’s Market and perhaps even participated in one of the Local Food and Spirits Nights hosted by Maya. But I hope that my non-local readers will enjoy it as well, and possibly be prompted to explore similar opportunities in their own localities.

And, way down at the bottom of this post, there’s cornbread.

Double H Farm

Many, many thanks to Richard Bean and Jean Rinaldi for inviting us to their home.  Double H Farm (which stands for Happy Hearts) provides sustainably raised pork and vegetables to Charlottesville-area restaurants and individual consumers.  Richard is one of the only true butchers left in our vicinity, cutting meat on his farm after the pigs have been slaughtered at a licensed, USDA-inspected facility as required by Virginia law.  You can read more about his process here.

The Berkshire hogs roam freely on a portion of the 32-acres at Double H Farm.  They are curious about visitors at their fence and will come up to say hello if you’re careful not to make sudden movements.

The chickens at Double H provide some of the best eggs I’ve ever tasted.  Their yolks are a deep orange and add a luxurious texture to baked goods.  The birds are free-roaming; their pen and hen houses are moved by tractor every couple of weeks to a new, fresh piece of land.

Goats.  So cute, so friendly.  I won’t tell you about their fate as I prefer to think of them happily frolicking around their pen with the Great Pyrenees dogs that act as their protectors.

I just adore the spicy bite that arugula lends to salads and soups, and Richard and Jean grow some of the best around.

One of my favorite veggies – collard greens.  I am a southern girl, after all.

Maya : Local Food and Spirits Night : November 9th, 2009

Each month Maya hosts a Local Food and Spirits Night.  The restaurant offers a 5-course menu created using only locally-sourced ingredients, each course accompanied by locally-produced spirits. And, even better, the farmers, winemakers and brewers who make this special evening possible are invited to the event so that they may share and discuss their practices with the rest of the guests.

Every item on the menu was local except for the sherry vinegar in the salad dressing and the pecans on the salad. The farmers and winemaker featured at the dinner we attended (along with their contributions) were:

Richard Bean of Double H Farm – pork shoulder, sausage, greens, cornmeal

Megan and Rob Weary of Roundabout Farm – vegetables

Peter Hatch of Monticello Gardens – vegetables

Tom Silliman of Sweet Dog Farm – poultry

Rag Mountain Trout – trout

Gabriele Rausse of Gabriele Rausse Winery – wine

With its dim lighting, exposed brick walls and tiny tea lights on the long community tables adorned with festive autumn leaves, the warm ambience of the upstairs dining room at Maya provided the perfect backdrop for the southern-inspired meal we were served.  Outside the air was brisk but inside our bodies were warmed by a subtly smokey white bean soup with andouille sausage, chicken, kale and broccoli.  This first course was paired with the Gabriele Rausse Bianco, a white table wine composed of 90% viognier grapes – my personal favorite – aged for five months in French oak barrels.  This course fought hard to be my favorite of the evening, but in the end was over-shadowed by the braised pork shoulder.  I guess I’m just a sucker for Double H Farm pork.

While enjoying a salad of autumn lettuce, smoked trout, radish, apple and pecans, we learned about the history of the Gardens at Monticello and Thomas Jefferson’s experimentation there.  Megan and Rob Weary of Roundabout Farm described their sustainable farming practices and their appreciation of Peter Castiglione and Christian Kelly, owners of Maya, who once explained their desire to own a restaurant that “brings [local] food in the back door to sell out the front“.

The evening continued with more wine from Gabriele Rausse and delicious food from the kitchen.  We enjoyed chicken breast rolled with smoked ham, served with collard greens and an appalachian cheese sauce as we heard Tom Silliman of Sweet Dog Farm discuss the joys and challenges of running his family-owned farm and just how he had raised the chicken on our plate.  Our party agreed that the third course of braised pork shoulder with mixed greens, gnocci and crumbled bits of bacon was the highlight of the evening, and cheered for our friend Richard as he expressed the importance of eating locally and asking the right questions.  “Where does it come from?  How was it raised?  You’ve got to ask!”

We finished the meal with warm apple tart tatin and the Collage dessert wine; our bellies full, our minds slightly fizzy and our mouths exclaiming that we’d be back again soon.  For sure.

Cornbread, for me, is one of the most comforting recipes to make when the weather turns cold.  This particular recipe I made with eggs and white cornmeal from Double H Farm and chives from our own garden. Its quite good with a bowlful of piping-hot chili on a frigid evening, a not-so-bad way to welcome Winter and a new year.

Cheddar Chive Cornbread

adapted from The Joy of Cooking

Ingredients

  • 1-1/4 cups stone-ground cornmeal
  • 3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/3 cups milk (I used 1%)
  • 3 tbsp melted unsalted butter
  • 1/2 to 1 cup grated cheese (this will very based on the strength of your cheese.  I used 1/2 cup of cheddar, and wish I’d used more)
  • 2 tbsp fresh chives, minced

Method

  1. Preheat oven to 425*F.  Butter a 9 x 9-inch baking pan.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together all of the dry ingredients.
  3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the eggs and the milk.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Fold in the melted butter. Fold in the cheddar and chives.
  5. Scrape batter into greased baking pan, tilting pan to level.  Bake for 20-25 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
  6. Let the cornbread cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes.  Invert the pan to release the cornbread and slice into 9 pieces.  Serve warm.

5 weeks, 5 pies, 5 pounds

When we moved to Virginia 4+ years ago, my momma told Brian and I about an incredible pie experience she’d had years prior at a little restaurant in Staunton, about 45 minutes from Charlottesville. She waxed poetic about an apple pie better than any she’d ever had, including her grandmother’s recipe which had previously held first place on her pie-ranking list. We were encouraged to drive over the mountain chain separating us from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery one Saturday for a special treat, to indulge in one, or maybe even two slices of a pie that still had a mouth-watering affect on her all these years later.

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The restaurant and its legendary pie quickly slipped my mind as we moved into a house and started new jobs, busying ourselves with life in Charlottesville and the many culinary delights we have in this little city. I hadn’t thought of my momma’s story in 4 years, until I attended the C’ville Pie Fest and learned of Mollie Cox Bryan and the cookbook she’d written about Mrs. Rowe and her pies. I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Mollie as I was busy photographing and she was busy judging, but we did get in contact with each other afterwards via Twitter and she generously offered to send me a copy of her book to aid me in the kitchen during Bella Eats Pie Month.

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The cookbook arrived on my doorstep a few days later, and I was delighted by what I found as I immediately began flipping through its pages. Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies is lovely with a simple, intuitive layout and beautiful photos of many of the featured pies sprinkled throughout. Mollie starts by introducing her reader to Mildred Rowe and the Staunton restaurant, describing the space and the woman behind it with clarity and detail that only someone who has spent much time there could. The reader is then taken through one section detailing pie-making equipment and another describing techniques for various crusts and toppings. While the Plain Pie Pastry and Vinegar Pie Crust recipes seem simple enough, Mollie points out that the light touch of an experienced baker can take years to master. I plan to continue practicing.

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Despite its petite size, Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies is packed with useful tips and 65 recipes, some straight from Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery and others from journals found during Mollie’s research. Restaurant favorites such as the Original Coconut Cream Pie, Chocolate Meringue Pie, Peanut Butter Pie and French Apple Pie are all present along with some classic Southern varieties like Shoofly Pie, Lemon Chess Pie and Blackberry Pie.  Each recipe is accompanied by a small tidbit of history, a direct quote from a member of the Mrs. Rowe’s team or a memory from a loyal customer.  The book is personal; peppered with heartfelt writing and recipes that are sure to remind you of a special occasion in your life, when a certain pie was served to a table full of your closest family or friends.

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I chose to tackle the Original Coconut Cream Pie recipe rather than the apple variety my momma had raved about. As the best-selling pie at Mrs. Rowe’s Restaurant and Bakery it seemed to be a safe bet.  And, I really wanted to try my hand at meringue, a baking challenge I hadn’t yet subjected myself to.

I found the recipe to be fairly easy to follow, although previous experience baking cream pies might have been helpful to me. Where the recipe called for a mixture of milk, sugar, cornstarch and egg yolks to be heated and stirred until “very thick”, about 4 minutes, I had no frame of reference in mind for what that consistency should be.  Having reached 6 minutes with a pudding-like consistency, I pulled the mixture from the heat thinking it would thicken up more when baked.  No such luck.  Upon slicing, the cream filling oozed from the center of the slice into a pool on the plate.  Clearly my idea of “very thick” was not thick enough.  The meringue, however, was absolutely perfect.

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Some Notes on Cream Pies and Meringue Tops

The runny nature of my pie was most certainly the result of my own lack of experience in cream pie baking and not the fault of the recipe itself. Here are my notes for the next time I tackle a cream pie.

Many cream pie recipes call for the use of a double boiler when heating and thickening the cream mixture.  A double boiler is basically two saucepans that fit together, allowing water to boil in the larger pan with your cream mixture heated in the smaller pan set just above the boiling water.  I realized after this latest pie-making adventure that my “double boiler” is not really a double boiler in the traditional sense.   I think it hindered my process rather than helped it, and believe I would have been better off setting a large stainless steel bowl containing my cream mixture over a large saucepan containing boiling water.  If you’re shopping for a double boiler, find one that looks like this, rather than like this.  Or, just set a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan.

When heating and thickening the cream mixture, the texture is more important than the time it takes to get to that texture.  As I learned, all stove tops and double boilers are different, so it could take more or less time to reach the desired consistency depending on your situation.  You’re going for a thick, custard-like consistency.  It shouldn’t be runny at all, should fall from a spoon with a thick “plop” rather than run off of the spoon with any resemblance to liquid.

Don’t let the milk actually come to a boil as you’re heating it, you don’t want it to scald.

Your meringue will take more or less time to come together depending on your environment.  Mine took about 10 minutes of consistent beating with a stand mixer (whisk attachment), on a cool, rainy day.

When making your meringue be sure to add your sugar slowly, as it is important for all of the sugar to dissolve into the egg whites between each addition.

Meringues are subject to “weeping”, when the sugar solution comes out of the meringue in little droplets.  This happened with mine, and after a little research in The Joy of Cooking I discovered that it is more likely for a meringue to weep on a humid day.  It still tasted delicious, there were just small droplets of liquid sugar sprinkled across the surface of the meringue, and it wasn’t as dry to the touch as you would expect it to be.

Be sure not to overfill your pie crust with your cream filling.  Leave at least 1/4-inch of the crust exposed to be sure your filling doesn’t overflow.  Also, when you add your meringue to the top of the filling it can cause overflow, so it is good to have a little bit of wiggle room as you design your topping.

Meringue can be shaped with a spatula in any way you wish.  Smooth it over, swirl it around, form fancy little peaks.  Let your inner artist shine!

Seal the edges of your meringue by wetting your finger with cold water and running it over the rim of your crust.  Press the meringue down into your crust to help prevent weeping and potential filling overflow.

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Original Coconut Cream Pie

from Mrs. Rowe’s Little Book of Southern Pies by Mollie Cox Bryan, pg 64

I’ve written the recipe as it appears in the cookbook, but see my notes above to learn from my mistakes.

makes one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 recipe plain or vinegar pie crust (I used this one because I had it in my freezer already), prebaked
  • 3 large egg yolks (be sure to reserve the whites for the meringue, below)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water
  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup sweetened flaked coconut
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 recipe Mrs. Rowe’s Meringue (below)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 325*.
  2. Stir together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch and just enough of the water to make a smooth paste.
  3. Heat the milk in a double boiler set over simmering water. (Or, place a medium-size stainless steel or glass bowl into a large saucepan filled with a couple of inches of simmering water.)  When the milk begins to steam gradually whisk in the egg mixture.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until very thick, about 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and stir in 3/4 cup of the coconut, the butter and the vanilla.  Set aside.
  4. Make your meringue, see below.
  5. Pour the filling into the prebaked crust and top with the meringue.  Seal the edges well by wetting your finger with cold water and running it along the edge of the crust, pressing the meringue into the crust as you go.  Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup coconut over the meringue.
  6. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown and its firm to the careful touch (its easy to poke a hole in the meringue).  Cool on a wire rack for at least 2 hours before slicing.

Mrs. Rowe’s Meringue

makes enough to cover one 9-inch pie

Ingredients:

  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3 tbsp granulated sugar

Method:

  1. Combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in a chilled bowl and beat with an electric mixer on slow speed.  Gradually increase the speed as the egg whites thicken, eventually landing on medium speed.  Beat until soft peaks form.  Add the sugar 1 tbsp at a time, beating for about a minute after each addition.  Beat until stiff peaks form, but not so long that the peaks become dry.  The meringue is now ready to pile lightly over the pie.

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And that concludes Bella Eats Pie Month!  5 weeks, 5 varieties, and 5 pounds later, I’ve learned so much and hope you have too.  Please write and tell me about any of these or other pie recipes that you try out this holiday season.  I’d love to hear from you.

While I’m ready to take a short break from pie, as are all of our friends and co-workers, I look forward to continuing my experimentation and sharing more pie recipes with you in the future.  Here are a few more on my list to try:

Peanut Butter Banana Cream Pie
Key Lime Pie
Bourbon Peach Hand Pies
Lemon Meringue Pie
Pear Cranberry Pie