Thursday, April 16, 2009

"Ask the Food Bloggers" Takes on Date-Night

At EatingRichmond.com, we just debuted an irregular installment that brings together the divergent opinions of Richmond's food bloggers. For the debut, they tackled, "What is your favorite date-night restaurant." As a bonus, comments are enabled in this ER exclusive. Help us define the elements of culinary fore-play. And, float some ideas for future features.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

EatingRichmond.com Starts Today

Food blog readers in Richmond are in for a treat. A few of us have gotten together to launch a compilation of local food blogs at www.eatingrichmond.com. This new site will enable cooking/eating hobbies in a major way. But, it's as much for bloggers as it is for blog readers.

Gordon Ramsey: I've got your menu, but for the life of me, - I don't know where to start. It's 23 pages long, man! For Christ's sake, pare it down. Your customers are drowning in choices. Bollocks."

Am I the only one who's got Gordon Ramsey in my head, berating me 24/7. Did his caustic Kitchen Nightmares show give me post traumatic stress disorder? The popularity of food blogging in Richmond has been evident on RVABlogs for a long time. There's nearly enough food flying around on there daily to support a local online foodie magazine and the culinary posts net a lot of clicks. Personally, a great deal of my traffic came from Ross Catrow's stellar aggregator (so, I should probably ask him to swap out my old URL for my new one). Among the nearly 400 blogs, some of the food bloggers were clearly touching a nerve with their critiques and recipes. While I've really enjoyed my hobby of throwing my thoughts into such a large and diverse collection, sometimes my most proud food posts got lost in the shuffle, and I was too often tempted by the popularity contest that takes place on the "popular posts" list. Nonetheless, RVABlogs, in my point of view, is clearly the primary inspiration for this new niche site, and it'll probably continue to be my primary local alternative media vice.

So, for my own sake, I wanted to see all the food posts all together and on EatingRichmond.com you'll find fifteen of those bloggers aggregated together. I'm sure you'll recognize some and others may be new to you. Either way, now you can get your arms around it all on one screen, so dig in: www.eatingrichmond.com (is that better, Gordon?) Whether the blog posts are gossipy or informative, personally, I'll be breathing a sigh of relief. No longer will I feel obligated to blog about food (although that's clearly what my readers prefer - personally, politricks and baby pics just happen to compete for my mental space). Now, I actually won't be obligated to blog at all (my life is exponentially crazier right now than most any time I can remember). It's a blogger's bailout. An infusion of socialism (not really - rugged individualism will probably win out among the food bloggers). Nonetheless, there are plenty of more experienced and informed people than me in this town sharing their culinary knowledge on a daily basis. EatingRichmond.com is a tribute to their past and future online contributions. Chances are, you will find yourself enriched in some way each time you set mouse into one of their humble cyber abodes.

So, with that, I leave you in the good care of www.eatingrichmond.com

Jason/RVA Foodie

ps: Yes, my wife, Karen, worked on the graphic design (her freelance gig: Darling Octopus Design). She's also a food blog junkie as you'll notice if you check out her Twitter posts. We'll probably be taking advantage of her kindness for some time to come. There are lots more pretty bells and whistles on our wish list (like the obviously missing food porn), but all good things in time, right? For now, I hope people just enjoy seeing this site do what it does: make you hungry and never at a loss for recipes or restaurant suggestions.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The New RVA Foodie Site

I'm going to start using this site, which is based on a Wordpress platform, which I'm probably going to be tweaking for some time to come. But, for the meantime, this URL isn't going to be good much longer. When I figure out how to redirect it, I'll do that. In the meantime, you'll find me (and all of my old content and ongoing discussions) here:

http://www.rvafoodie.com

ps: If you want to help me test the new site, please pop by and leave a comment. It'll help me get the ball rolling in this new direction.

FREE: A Reason to Watch Fighting

Mixed Martial Arts (or "UFC") is usually relegated to pay per view for $44.95 (higher for HD), a price I'm not willing to pay (big surprise there). Some of you are fans, others kinda curious, and most probably happy that the violent sport is not in front of your face (or your kids' faces) very often. Well, on Saturday the 20th, there are two chances to watch two live events for FREE. A bargain, if you ask me.

On Saturday night, the UFC 95 event in London will be tape-delayed for American primetime (hence why it's FREE) if you get the Spike Network on cable. Some interesting match ups are scheduled, including a strident Republican (Chael Sonnen) taking on Damien Maia, one of the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu submission fighters in the game. Both are in title contention, headed for a date with a guy called "The Spider." I was a sucker for WWF drama as a kid. To heck with skill, gimme sub-text!

Then there's the main event: Joe "Daddy" Stephenson who became a dad at age 17 and one day wants to be a teacher, but figures he'll pursue that once his fighting career peters out - a really likable, if hapless, ball of muscles. He's up against Diego "The Nightmare" Sanchez, a born again woo-woo who belts out Tony Robin's style affirmations while bringing his mean temper to bear on his opponents (Karen thinks Jasper Diego was named after some left-wing painter, but really it's the ultimate fighter - j/k). Diego is going to sweat out 30 lbs before he fights (has to make 155lb limit for his first time). That's a lot of holy ghost power that may leave him depleted come fight time . Should be interesting. Another spectacle is Josh Koscheck (pictured), a bad boy seemingly plucked from the Cobra Kai dojo in The Karate Kid. Strangely, his sneering, two tone hair, and brash attitude is starting to grow on people (cuz it pairs nicely with his masochism).

If this whole arrangement sounds a tad unethical, that could be because the UFC has a bit of a stranglehold on the MMA market. Maybe you'd prefer to support the local promotion. At George Mason's Patriot Center there's a great fight card taking place on Saturday night. The Ultimate Warrior Challenge is showcasing really talented fighters (including females) who aren't quite ready for the big time. This is kind of a misnomer, because some have been to the big time and are trying to get back there, while others are totally deserving, but there just isn't much room at the top (in the UFC) with MMA's current level of popularity (and illegality in some states). If you can't visit the DC metro area to watch the UWC, you can watch the live stream for FREE at www.Sherdog.com. Levon Maynard (pictured) is fighting too. You might remember him from the time that I covered a story for a MMA blog who sponsored the VA Beach based fighter. A really swell guy. I'll be rooting for him for sure.

Well anywho, that's my hobby - the only sport I take an interest in (aside from Top Chef) shared with you. Enjoy.

-----------------------

*for an economic perspective, check out NPR's Marketplace coverage

*these two events do seem to be airing at the same time, but there are ways of watching the London event live during the day (or you can tivo it). I'm not going to say too much about the strategy that saves you a flight to London. But, justin.tv is a good place to start your research.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Creecy Greens, Two Ways*

Watercress is a bitter green, like mustard greens, or nasturtium leaves, but they're also thick, like collards or kale. And they're spindly, like arugula. Does this sound good? Well, it is. You just gotta be brave and you gotta work. Today was my first time cooking with the stuff, so feel free to throw out my preliminary conclusions. For instance, another drawback is the preparation. For my purposes, I took the leaves off the stems - a real pain since they're small, and there's not a lot of leaf on each stem, and the stems are all tangled up in this spiderweb of tendrills that connect at a knot that sends the root down. No wonder they were $1.50/lb at the 17th Street Farmers Market.

So, you've got to rinse them good, since all their intricacies tend to mingle around in the dirt before you buy them (actually, they're kinda water-dwelling plants). Then, I spent about an hour de-stemming the things. It took so long largely because I was watching Jasper, singing/dancing for him, trying to get him to eat his dinner. As for the adult food, I had to use up some watercress that I came across by accident (see the previous post). A commenter, "M," gave me a link to watercress soup and watercress hummus from a Scottish food blog. I made both, and I still have some of the greens left over.


This is what was going on at my feet while I prepped the greens. He doesn't walk yet, but he's all about pulling himself up and "cruising." While I cooked, Jasper fussed and tore sh*t up, but he didn't bonk his head once. Instead, he's learning to carefully lower himself down. Who taught him that?


"Is somebody talking about me?"
Does this even look like the same baby as the picture above?. We couldn't pick between the two pictures. That's why you've got both of'em here... Jasper, two ways? Okay, back to the "greens party."


While I simmered some (previously sauteed) celery, onions, and potatoes in stock, I pulsed my watercress in the foodpro. After tossing it in the soup, I hit the pot with the immersion blender to smooth out the veggies. It's a really easy soup, except for the de-stemming and the baby juggling. It reminds me of the "Gumbo Z" at The Black Sheep, another soup chock-ful-o-greens (and really tasty).


The color doesn't pop in this picture. I wanted it to be green on white and more vibrant, but the base here is kinda yellow. I peeled my potatoes (not my usual style), but the onions might have browned a little and fond probably developed on the bottom of the pan. I'm thinking the color might come from my veggie stock (I always use this "better than bouillon" stuff from Kroger). Or maybe it's that I blended the greens into the soup base (duh). Getting past the looks of the soup, the flavor is surprisingly LOUD. I didn't use much salt (the bouillon, again?), so it had to be the greens. You could taste the watercress - kinda sour and bitter and because it had diffused into the broth and pureed potatoes, the flavor mellows and fills your mouth. The greens don't really cook a whole lot when you stir them in fresh and then simmer for only five minutes. Another reason for their pungency. Karen and I both scraped the bowl clean.


With some of the remaining raw, food processed watercress I made watercress hummus. Basically, all you have to do is stir it into the hummus and it's done (yes, this some store-bought stuff). My thought? Watercress ruins some perfectly good hummus. But, if you stop thinking about the dip as hummus, and think of it as a tart, spreadable multi-vitamin, then I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. That piece of bread came from a fresh loaf purchased from Williams Bakery (the one way out on Chamberlayne in Mechanicsville, where I picked up some used Britax carseats from a Craigslister). Karen got a variety box of their sweets on Valentine's Day. Ya see? Plenty of good came out of that holiday for the foodies.

Update: I forgot to pour out some truffle oil for Fabio, the most recent Top Chef to get sacked. He fought valiantly... for his mama, for his country, and for the loot. But, you just can't fake the southern style, especially if you're a Euro.

Update #2: It seems that my "watercress" may actually be "creecy greens", a weedy version of the refined product that is at somewhat related to watercress.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Palate Cleanser

This is a palate cleanser to wipe the slate clean from all the blogger drama.


video

I meant to take Jasper's picture pushing this wheely thing, but he stopped and played my favorite game with me. Oh, and I accidentally had the camera on video mode, so it's sideways by accident. Haven't I done that before?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Train Wreck Brunch: Valentine's Delay

When the day after Valentine's Day came, Karen and I were excited. The grandparents were taking Jasper for a few hours, leaving us time to go out for brunch and then some much needed alone time at the house. Being fans of Millie's, we decided on Lulu's, the sister restaurant to Richmond's brunch mecca (and we'd never been in before). (**I want to spoil it and tell you that our meal was bad times and they waved the whole bill, so this isn't one of those irresponsible blogger beefs. It's just a wash. Sometimes a restaurant's most loyal customers are people who've been burnt, then complained, and were taken care of, and kept coming back. That might be us, if we're ever able to go out for meals regularly again**)


The whole thing started badly because Karen and I were kinda butting heads over the scheduling of our tiny allotment of time (my fault for being really wound up about my grad school paper deadlines). Even after finding a great parking spot by the 17th Street Farmers Market, we had a tiny black cloud over us. Not how we wanted to spend our deferred V-day. From outside, we could see that the place was packed and we worried that we'd have to go somewhere else. But, a spot opened and we got a seat in the middle of the busy-ness. We admired the details of the place, the two toned wood grain tables, clever ceiling fans, and the island of booths. Lulu's looks like a great hang out, for eating or drinking.

On the menu, I didn't see any sides to order ahead to snack on (like you'd find at Can Can), but everything came with potatoes (like you WON'T find at Can Can), so we were both starting to get happy although really hungry. Karen ordered the petite fillet with poached eggs and asparagus and hollandaise and I got the... what else? Huevos rancheros (none of the frittatas were veggie, so I couldn't compare Lulu's with Richmond's abysmal frittata scene). There were some other interesting specials, but they'd already sold out of them by 1pm.

After some awkward moments, we made small talk about Jasper (he'd captivated us at dinner the previous night when he laughed, which made us laugh, which made him laugh, and he worked a call and response routine for almost 10 minutes to everyone's delight). Then we launched into an unexpected discussion about our dream kitchen renovation: a reworking of our entire livingroom/diningroom/kitchen first floor. The result would be more like a "great room" for cooking and hanging out with the old kitchen space serving as the pantry of our dreams and a corner booth dining nook. We got so excited about the fantasy, I took notes down about every detail in my phone for future reference. Does anyone know a cheap home makeover pro? Oh, and we're also gonna need about $20k. I promise I'll blog about the whole process if you all paypal me that money ;0)

When we came out of the exciting conversation, we realized it had been about 45minutes since we'd ordered and the place was really thinning out. I made eye contact with our server enough times that she came over and apologized, saying she'd bring us some toast to hold us over (um... coulda used that 30 minutes ago - stomach complaining to brain complaining to whichever organ makes one cranky). The table next to us said their food took over an hour.

By this point, the server just hung out at the spot where the food is supposed to come out of the kitchen, throwing stressed out glances our way. Karen and I were trying our best not to think about the fact that our precious little "alone time" (on Valentine's day, you get the drift) was being traded in for this waiting game. We checked in with each other and felt helpless that our briefly sunny dispositions were hiding behind the clouds again. The server, a really nice woman, actually, kept popping by to apologize.

Eventually Karen's steak and eggs came out. It was stacked: meat, eggs, sauce, and two tiny asparagus spears laying across the top. Those green twigs were more of a garnish than a side. The steak was less than a half inch thick. I guess when I thought of petite, I figured it would be smaller cut of fillet mignon, but still thick. She'd ordered it medium, but it was well done - cooked all the way through (probably because it was so thin to begin with). Karen ate with little enthusiasm and I just had to sit there and watch. It was another 10-15 minutes before my dish came out and we were both getting exponentially surly. Can you see this leading to good alone time, if there would be any time at all?

When my huevos finally came out, the server apologized again saying she'd buy us desert (we declined because we had some pastries at home that we were looking forward to). Then I kinda cut her off and pointed out the steak and asparagus issues and she wanted to make it up to us and I think I said that we kinda wish we hadn't come there to eat, sounding likewise apologetic and defeated. The server, Karen, and me all frowning and crestfallen. It was a sorry sight. I tore into the beany eggs and we both ate in silence.

Time out for the upside. The potatoes rocked. They wore the tastiest grease I've had at brunch in long time. My huevos had a delicious pico de gallo and every fresh tomotoey bite popped with acid and cilantro. I tried to heap praise and elevate the mood at the table, but we were kinda in a rut by then. Karen hates conflict, so I'm always the one to assert myself in these situations. If I sound like a jerk, well don't worry. I felt like one, even though Karen agreed with my speaking up about our dissatisfaction. But, we both agreed that the coffee was nice and strong. Trying to focus on the positive now.

As we finished eating, I was going over in my head how to approach the bill. I was treating, but I didn't feel like we should be paying for one of the entrees. I mean, I couldn't take it out of the tip. It wasn't likely our server's fault and withholding the gratuity on $25 wouldn't really be much of a trade-off. When the server came by I started to ask her how to handle it, preparing to negotiate some kind of compromise. To my surprise, she said she was not going to charge us for the meal. I was astounded, Karen breathed a sigh of relief (no Jason tantrum in the restaurant during our supposed romantic dining out). I thanked the nice lady and that was that.

Minutes later, Karen is still nibbling her potatoes cuz they're really freakin' good. I looked in my wallet and I have no money. I'd intended to pay with a card. How do I tip with my credit card if there's no bill to pay? Damn. With Karen's permission, I run out of the Lulu's to the ATM on Main Street - really sprinting with huevos and frijoles bouncing around in my belly. When I took out a twenty, the ATM asked permission to charge me $3 on top of whatever my bank 's service fee is. "Do you agree to this charge?" Um, is it negotiable? Grrrr! Not interested in tipping $20, I bought two pounds of fresh water cress from the produce vendor on the corner (no idea what I'll do with'em).

Back in the restaurant, there are only a few tables left. Karen is still pecking at her plate. People, she eats like she tweets (140 bites per meal - plug for Karen's Corner over there on the right). I put a bulging plastic bag down on the table, turning a few heads. It seemed awkward to walk out without paying, but it's also weird to spend almost two hours having brunch. I leave $5 on the table, which probably confirms most of my readers' suspicions that I'm not just frugal, but inappropriately cheap (whatever, I spent the rest of the day kicking myself for not leaving double that since the server advocated for us and we ended up not paying). The stars just alligned in a way that made me extra-miserly.

In the end, I figure that bad tippers and burnt customers is the cost of doing a booming business for Lulu's and for our server. They made a shitload of money that brunch service. When quantity goes up, quality goes down. When demand is high, supply can dry up and people get pissed off. On this day, we drew both of those unlucky cards from the dining-out deck. But, I don't have any bad feelings. Lulu's is successful for good reason. I'll probably go back one day, but considering our limited opportunities, less popular places just got bumped up in my queue.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Dinner on the Cheap (reposted)

Not sure where to go for your Valentine's Day meal out? Most of my recommendations from last year are still in business.* I can't do up a new blog post just now, so you have to check out that link (not really a repost, I know). It can also serve as general cheap date night suggestions. I would also add Momotaru, the new sushi in Carytown, to that list (my mini write-up is here and touches on a few other relative bargains). Of course, the issue of personal finance is certainly relevant. To me, cooking at home seems like the most appropriate maneuver, if the economy has you taking evasive action.

However... Karen and I deserve a little romance. So, we are going to avoid the Valentine's Day fuss (both the restaurants and the baby) by going out for lunch on Sunday. We haven't even discussed where to eat yet. All we know is that grandma is going to watch the baby. If you have any suggestions for us, please speak up. Proximity to an hourly rate hotel is a plus ;0).

Enjoy the weekend. I'll be spending every waking hour writing about incentive-based motivation theories of public management. Oh joy!

*Did Taqueria del Sol go under? What happened?