Sunday, July 16, 2006

A Short Break From Food

Living in DC is a wonderful experience but sometimes you just get tired of the frenetic pace of the city and really want to get out and explore the countryside a little bit. This weekend my boyfriend, 2 of my housemates and I took a trip out to Capon, West Virginia. One of my housemates' families has a cabin in near Capon that had not been used in several years and we went to check it out.

According to family legend, the cabin's last real inhabitant was a bit crazy and had filled the place with milk jugs and other junk. Apparently, the crazy uncle had even dragged a refrigerator from the cabin and placed it at the top of a hill for reasons only he was able to understand. The uncle had died and the family hadn't really used the cabin since my housemate was very young.

So it was with a sense of adventure that we piled into the car and took the scenic route out to West Virginia, stopping to pick up lunch in Winchester, VA. The drive out there was quite pleasant though a little long. I think it took us about four hours to actually get to the area and find the right gravel driveway. There was no real address, the directions were a little vague, and my housemate did not remember the place since she had last been there when she was two.

We stopped in Winchester to get pick up some lunch
and met some very friendly locals.

But when we finally found the right drive, we also discovered that the cabin, while in need of a thorough cleaning and possibly a new roof was not half bad. The grounds were well maintained and had even recently been mowed. It was right along the river, which was teeming with fish. There was fresh water and electricity on the premises.

Interior of the cabin # 1

Interior of the cabin # 2

We had a leisurely lunch and were able to explore the cabin. Then we enjoyed the water. I got a little fishing in and my housemates enjoyed tubing and splashing around. All in all, if was a great trip.

Exterior of cabin.

Taking some time to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

An Addition to My Cookbook Collection

I love books. I love the act of sitting down in a comfortable chair and opening a book. (I was aghast when I read about the rise of electronic books a few years ago. I can understand the idea of wanting to consolidate space but to sit somewhere and read off of a screen seems so wrong.) I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about these things.

When I started to cook in earnest, I started to collect cookbooks. My first cookbook, and I can't remember the name because it's still at my parents house and I haven't used it in years, was an American cookbook that came free with a set of encyclopedias that my parents bought for the edification of my brother and myself. (Asian parents, you know?)

I cooked my way through a fair number of those recipes, finding some good ones and some spectacularly bad ones. My family still likes to talk about the chocolate mousse that I inflicted on them one Thanksgiving. It was a deadly combination of bad recipe, poor execution and something about Asians being lactose intolerant.

After I graduated from college and started to make actual money, my collection grew considerably. I've talked about some of them already and I'm toying with the idea of writing cookbook reviews from time to time. But today, I wanted to talk about my new acquisition: Marcella's Italian Kitchen by Marcella Hazan. I found this book in the bargain books section at my local Barnes & Nobles. For $10. I love those kinds of finds.

I've admired Marcella Hazan's writing on Italian food for a long time. One of my housemates has her Essentials of Classics of Italian Cooking and we have made many wonderful recipes from it. (While I love my house and my housemates, I know that this arrangement is not permanent and have been on the look out to fill the holes in my cookbook collection once I'm living on my own.)

I've tried three recipes from this book over the course of two different dinners: the rigatoni with spicy sausage sauce, the sauteed veal chops with mushrooms and white wine, and the artichokes with butter and parmesan.

The recipes were immediate hits. The rigatoni with spicy sausage sauce tasted homey and deeply satisfying. I think I overcooked the rigatoni slightly but the pasta shape held up well to the sauce. The hot Italian sausage that I bought at the wholesale Italian market added just the right amount of flavor and spice.

The artichoke dish was wonderful as well. The only thing that I don't like about artichokes is that if you're doing anything but steaming them, they're very time-consuming to prepare. The recipe itself included simple ingredients but between the preparation and the cooking time, it's a difficult dish to really put together for a crowd.

The veal, on the other hand, was great. My housemate and I visited the farmer's market and purchased a wonderful piece of organic, grass-fed veal from Cibola Farms out in Virginia. The meat was so fresh and good that we didn't really have to cook it too long. The mushroom sauce, white wine and cream sauce was a great accompaniment to the meat.

Here is the recipe for the rigatoni, which is probably the easiest recipe that I tried:
1 1/2 lbs fresh, ripe tomatoes
2 tbs butter
1 tbs chopped garlic
1/2 lb hot Italian sausages or sweet breakfast sausage, skinned
1 tsp hot red pepper flakes, if you're using the breakfast sausage
1 lb rigatoni
2/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano

First, I peeled the tomatoes, split them in half, scooped out the seeds and coarsely chopped them. Then, I put the butter and garlic in a pan on medium heat. When the garlic turned golden brown, I added the sausages, crumbling them into small pieces which I then let cook until browned. Next, I added the tomatoes and cooked the mixture for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, I prepared the pasta. After the pasta was done, I mixed it with the sauce in a large bowl with the grated cheese and served it.

There was some debate between my friend and me about this recipe. She contends that you don't have to remove the seeds, as that removes most of the liquid in the tomatoes. Also, she doubled the sauce recipe for the same amount of pasta. I found that if you're using the hot Italian sausage, you do not have to add salt, though a little bit of black pepper is nice.

All in all, I'm very impressed with what I've seen from this book and will definitely be trying more recipes from it. Marcella's writing style is very clear and informative without being too boring. The recipes are straightforward and do not call for a lot of excess ingredients. It's Italian cooking at its finest in the home.