Monday, December 21, 2009

Dinner at Mezzanine in Richmond

Recently, Patrick and I found an excuse to go down to Cary Town in Richmond, VA. I wanted to eat at Mezzanine, a place I had wanted to try on a prior trip but found it closed. Once again it was closed, it only serves dinner and I always seem to be out looking for a meal at 3 in the afternoon. Mezzanine supports the local food movement by using local farm fresh ingredients. I am disappointed by their website and menu as it really did not give much of a back story for the restaurant.

Patrick started with the beet salad which was served way too cold. The layers of goat cheese were creamy but tasteless. The citrus reduction and the beets were delicious. The salad had potential but serving cheese cold prevents the fats from giving their flavors.

I had a spinach salad with fried oysters, sun dried tomatoes, and bacon vinaigrette. The oysters were amazing, fried crisp outside and tender inside. The bacon vinaigrette had a nice smoky porky flavor but I could have used more bacon. I also could have used a bit more vinaigrette and a few more oysters. We wanted to order a whole basket of them.

Patrick had the Shrimp and Grits because he loves grits. This restaurant seemed to love grits as my entree was also served on a bed of them. Patrick's shrimp were overcooked but they are his least favorite part of this dish for that reason. The shrimp flavor in the grits is more enjoyable. I had the beef short rib that was swimming in hosin ju. The hosin ju was too sweet and needed balance, maybe something smoky. The first beef rib was fall apart tender but the other two were not. I like my meat to fall apart and these ribs fell short.

Their menu was promising and pretty decent despite a few differences in taste. The service was relaxed, laid back, and unremarkable. Our server was happy to tell us which items he liked and which items will soon be leaving the menu.

When we first sat down we were served a basket of New York Flatbreads. These crackers needed to be served with something to spread on them or dip into. As I was eating wheat at the time I really wanted hot fresh bread and butter. If I was in Richmond often, I would try this place once in a while as their menu changes frequently.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The King of English Cheese and the Wine of Philosophy

Stilton is a classic cheese for the Christmas season which can be made more indulgent by pairing it with Port. There is a Christmas tradition of scoping out a wheel of Stilton and pouring in Port. This website has a wonderfully detailed description of this process. They state that a “head of Stilton will take 2 weeks to drink a bottle of Port”.

Stilton was created in the early 18th century in the midlands of England. Stilton was named after the town of Stilton which is 80 miles north of London. Legend has it that in 1730 Cooper Thornhill, owner of the Bell Inn in the village of Stilton, discovered this blue cheese while visiting Leicestershire. He fell in love with the cheese and was granted full marketing rights to blue Stilton. The Bell Inn was located near a major stagecoach route between London and Northern England which helped to advance the popularity of the cheese. Frances Pawlett was a skilled cheesemaker in Wymondham who is credited with setting the standards for Stilton. Frances and her husband organized the first cooperative in the area to produce Stilton. Together, Thornhill and Pawlett helped to build the reputation and popularity of Stilton.

The Stilton Cheesemakers Association was formed in 1936 to lobby for regulations to protect the origin and quality of the cheese. Stilton was granted legal protection with a certification trademark 30 years later in 1966 and was the only British cheese to have this status. As Stilton has a Protected Geographical Status (POD), there are specific guidelines for its making. Stilton can only be made by authorized creameries in Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Derbyshire. Stilton can no longer be legally made in the town of Stilton as it is not in one of the 3 permitted counties. There are only 6 creameries currently producing Stilton. Stilton can only be made from local pasteurized milk. Stilton can only be made in the traditional cylindrical shape and it must develop its own coat or crust on the outer rind. Stilton is never pressed and has delicate blue veins radiating from its center. Stilton will have a typical fat content of 35% and protein content is 23%.

Stilton is considered the King of English cheeses. The British enjoy their cheese and cheese has become a part of their popular culture. Most of us are familiar with the Monty Python cheese shop sketch and Wallace & Gromit and their cheese loving ways. The British Cheese Board conducted a survey in 2005 that reported 75% of men and 85% of women experienced “odd and vivid” dreams after eating a 20 gram serving of Stilton half an hour prior to bedtime. Try some Stilton before bedtime and be sure to keep your dream journal by your bedside to capture those vivid dreams upon waking.

When storing Stilton, keep it tightly wrapped and store in an air tight container. This will prevent your cheese from drying out and protect your other food items from being tainted by blue mold. This cheese will keep in the fridge for weeks and it will continue to mature as it ages becoming more intense in flavor. I do not often advocate the freezing of cheese but as the Stilton cheese website,, states it “freezes beautifully. Simply cut into easy to handle portions, wrap in cling film or foil and freeze for up to 3 months. De-frost slowly – preferably in the fridge overnight. Allow to reach room temperature before serving.”

Stilton pairs well with pears, celery, walnuts, and charcuterie. It can be added to sauces, soups, salads, and burgers. Stilton can top a steak, cracker, or bread. Stilton enjoys sweet accompaniments so experiment with chutneys and sweet breads or crackers. Stilton pairs well with sweet wines, sherry, and Shiraz. Port is the preferred drink to enhance Stilton so let us explore Port.

The origins of Port lie in the Douro Valley of Portugal. It is a fortified wine which means grape spirit is added during fermentation to halt the fermentation process. This leaves the wine with more residual sugar and higher alcohol content. This made shipping Port from Portugal to England much easier as the alcohol and sugar increase its shelf life.

Port is very sweet and usually served after dinner with dessert. There are several styles of Port and The Vineyard offers a wide variety for you to choose from. Any Port will pair perfectly with Stilton. Port and Stilton are a classic match because they provide a wonderful balance for each other. The sweetness of the Port is balanced by the saltiness of the cheese. The flavors combine on the tongue to form a unique flavor.

Port should be served at a temperature between 65 and 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Your glass should be filled no more than half way to appreciate its aroma. Most Ports can be enjoyed after opening but Vintage Ports require decanting. To decant a Vintage Port, stand the bottle upright for at least 24 hours and up to one week, to allow time for the sediment to settle to the bottom. If the cork breaks, strain the wine while decanting but do not use paper filters as it will affect the flavor. If you love Sabrage service for opening Champagne, you can open your Port with traditional Port tongs. The tongs are heated to red hotness then clamped around the neck of the bottle below the cork and above the shoulder of the bottle for 1 to 2 minutes. Then apply a wet towel to the same spot and the rapid change in temperature will cause the glass to cleanly break.

Port is traditionally served at the end of a meal and leisurely enjoyed. Port can have a warm calming affect and is considered the “wine of philosophy". Contemplatively sip your Port and nibble your Stilton and enjoy stimulating conversations. Maybe Mr. Chesterton was sipping Port and enjoying Stilton when he wrote his Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese.

Sonnet to a Stilton Cheese:

Stilton, thou shouldst be living at this hour
And so thou art. Nor losest grace thereby;
England has need of thee, and so have I–
She is a Fen. Far as the eye can scour,
League after grassy league from Lincoln tower
To Stilton in the fields, she is a Fen.
Yet this high cheese, by choice of fenland men,
Like a tall green volcano rose in power.
Plain living and long drinking are no more,
And pure religion reading “Household Words”,
And sturdy manhood sitting still all day
Shrink, like this cheese that crumbles to its core;
While my digestion, like the House of Lords,
The heaviest burdens on herself doth lay.

- G.K. Chesterton

Stilton and Port are wonderful for cooking and baking, together and on their own. Last Christmas I made this wonderful Pear, Walnut, and Blue Cheese Crumble. I have included this recipe and others below. Happy Holidays.

Pear, Walnut and Blue Cheese Crumble

• 6 large pears, peeled, cored, and sliced
• 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons Ruby Port
• 1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
• 1/4 cup light brown sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
• 3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch baking dish with butter and set aside.
In a bowl, toss the pear slices with the lemon juice. Add 1 tablespoon flour, the sugar, and port, and toss to combine. Arrange in the prepared dish. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 cup flour, finely chopped walnuts, brown sugar and salt. Add the butter, working in with your fingertips until it resembles coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over the pear mixture. Bake until the pears are tender, the juices bubble, and the crust is golden, 40 to 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Cook until the cheese is melted, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Aged Blue Stilton and Port Souffle

Serves 1
85g/3oz Aged Blue Stilton®
2 tbsp Port
3tbsp heavy whipping cream
1 egg yolk
3 egg whites
1 tbsp lemon juice

1) Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F. Place the Aged Blue Stilton®, Port and cream into a non-stick ovenproof skillet. Heat gently untill
the cheese has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the egg yolk.
2) In a bowl, whisk the egg whites with the lemon juice until stiff peaks form when the whisk is removed. Fold the egg whites into the
cheese mixture.
3) Transfer to a ramekin dish and bake in the oven for 6-8 minutes, or until well-risen and lightly golden on top.

Port & Stilton Sauce Adapted from the Dairy Book of Home Cookery — Everyday Specials

4 ounces (125 grams) Blue Stilton
6 tablespoons of mascarpone cheese
3 tablespoons of Port
3 tablespoons pine nuts
Blend the cheeses and port in a food processor or blender. Put the mixture into a saucepan and heat gently until melted and bubbling; add already warmed pine nuts and seasoning to taste.
If you are serving the sauce with steaks, cook the steaks and add them to the sauce and cook for a further 1-1/2 minutes. Garnish with parsley and serve with a selection of traditional vegetables.

Stilton, Port and Walnut Paté

225gr Stilton
50gr unsalted butter
3 tbsp Port
125gr chopped walnuts
Place the cheese, butter and Port in a food processor until the mixture is smooth. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and add the walnuts, mix. Place the paté in a serving bowl, cover with cling film and chill till ready to serve.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

What is Local?

Buy Fresh Buy Local, Locavore, the 100 mile meal, Local Food. We hear a lot about local food these days but what does local food really mean? How local is local? The answer is surprising. Some farmers markets clearly define what they consider local. Freshfarm Markets consider local to be within 200 miles, the Farmers market in Lorton will only accept producers within 125 miles. Whole Foods considers local to be within a day’s drive. My husband and I drive to Michigan in a day which takes about 9 hours but I would never consider an apple from Michigan to be local. When I checked their website, they states that a day’s drive is 7 hours and individual stores may establish a shorter distance to define their local foods.

I recently learned that a large scale dairy producer trucks his milk from Virginia to Pennsylvania for pasteurization and then drives it back to Virginia. Is that milk local? Many foods are grown in one area and then transported to a different area for processing. Then the items still have to be transported to the consumer and they might even make another stop before getting to market. Some produce is sold wholesale and has to be transported to a warehouse location before it makes the market. If produce was labeled with the miles it took to reach the shelf from start to finish, people might think differently about their food.

Food travels an average of 1,300 miles from farm to table and can spend 7-14 days in transit before it arrives at the supermarket. That is a lot of time and distance for who knows what to happen to those food items, not to mention that produce will lose vitamins and minerals in time. I think food that travels a short distance will be fresher, healthier, and less beaten up by a long commute. In 2007, a study was conducted by the Dewey Health Review which examined the diet of 100 people between the ages of 18-55 who enjoyed a diet of local food that was grown within an 80 mile radius. The study found a 19% increase in the sturdiness of bowel movements and a drop in sleep apnea and night terrors.

Michael Pollen often uses the term food miles which refers to how many miles the food must travel before it makes it to your plate. If I get lamb from New Zealand or carrots from California, I picture the food swimming in oil. How much oil did it take to transport these items? How much pollution was released into the air? Buying local food will reduce our dependence on oil, congestion on our roadways, and the amount of pollution that is released into the air. There needs to be a better way for local food producers to reach the average customers. Virginia is an agricultural state that has many productive farms. This makes me wonder why most of the local produce I see in supermarkets comes from Pennsylvania. Virginia is a producer of cheese, meat, vegetables, and fruit. Our farmer’s markets are filled with apples, peaches, beets, greens, carrots, potatoes, figs, corn, tomatoes, berries, and asparagus when in season, just to name a few. Farmer’s markets can offer a greater variety of produce that would not be available in supermarkets. Farmer’s markets can promote local obscure varieties and tell you how to enjoy them.

A locavore is a person who values local food as their primary deciding factor when choosing food. The term was coined by Jessica Prentice from San Francisco for World Environment Day 2005. It was intended to promote the idea of enjoying a diet that consists of food harvested from within a 100 mile radius. The New Oxford American Dictionary chose locavore as the word of the year in 2007.

The local food movement is a group effort to encourage locally based and self reliant food systems. The local food movement values sustainable food production, processing, and distribution. They want to enhance the economic environment and social health of the area. Local food systems remove the middle man and encourage relationships between producer and consumer.

Why buy local? You can enjoy fresh food, support the local economy, and reduce your environmental impact. I like to think about the process my food endures before it gets to my kitchen. I drive to a farm to get my milk, butter, eggs, and the occasional duck or chicken. I know where these items came from and I know what they eat and who takes care of the animals and makes the end product. I know how many miles they had to travel before making it into my fridge.

Many farms in Virginia offer community supported agriculture or C.S.A programs. People buy a share in the farm and enjoy its bounty. Many farms sell at farm stands and farmers markets. But it is daunting for a small farm to sell to a national supermarket chain. Whole Foods wants its producers to have a large amount of liability insurance which may be unreasonable for the average small scale farmer.

People often argue that shopping at Farmer’s Markets is too expensive. But many people consider cost per calorie instead of cost for nutrition. The dollar menu may sound like a deal but that food is not healthy. Some CSA’s and buyers clubs can make eating local less expensive. Industrialized, commodified food is often cheaper due to governmental subsidies and tax breaks. Organically and sustainably grown food cost more because of many of these government subsidies which favor big agricultural business. Currently there are three farmer’s markets in the D.C. area that accept EBT cards. More and more farmer’s markets nationwide are accepting food stamps.

For every $100 spent in our local economy, $68 of those dollars return to the community in taxes and payroll. Buying local is a great way to keep money in the area you live. Not to mention supporting small local business. Every $1 spent locally will see a return of $.45 into the community compared to a return of $.15 on non-local items. The 3/50 project asks people to pick 3 local independent businesses and spend $50 once a month at these businesses. If half the employed population spent $50 a month in locally owned independent business it would generate more than $42.6 billion in revenue

Since 1935, 4.7 million farms in America have vanished. Currently there are less than 1 million farmers in America who farm as their primary occupation. Most farmer’s must work an off-farm job at some time to support their farm. Farming is hard enough without working a second job. Supporting local food supports local farms and local people. I care about local food and value the people who produce it. I want to support local farmers in my community and I want to live sustainability. Today is the first Save Our Food local food Holiday Festival. I am excited to check it out and share my experience with you.