Portrait of a Foodie: Underground Kitchen and Gelati Celesti Opening

This is Portrait of a Foodie, a weekly review of my food-centric life. You know you've had a good week when you go to the opening of Gelati Celesti and eat UNLIMITED amounts of ice cream...and I wasn't shy about trying all 30+ flavors. The boozy rum raisin and the highly caffeinated 'Dark as Dark' coffee ice cream were my favorites.

I also went to a "secret" 5-course dinner at an undisclosed location with a mystery chef. It was my first Underground Kitchen experience, and I didn't know what to expect from the pop-up dining club. All week, I obsessively checked my inbox for news of the dinner, and 2 days before the event all was revealed: I would wine and dine at the 2300 club, a Civil War row house in historic Church Hill. I was transported into another world, one where you sip cocktails in the drawing room and retreat to the smoking lounge for cigars and scotch. The food was sophisticated and southern, and I was particularly impressed with Chef Michael Hall's banana foster foie gras! Enjoy the pictures.

Gorgeous table setting at the Underground Kitchen dinner at the 2300 club

Gorgeous table setting at the Underground Kitchen dinner at the 2300 club

Sparkling Wine (Papet del Mas Brut Cava) and Byrrh cocktail

Sparkling Wine (Papet del Mas Brut Cava) and Byrrh cocktail

Smoking lounge art...I have a thing for english bull dogs

Smoking lounge art...I have a thing for english bull dogs

Complementary cigars 

Complementary cigars 

Appetizer of banana foster foie gras 

Appetizer of banana foster foie gras 

The "Cat Sea Pig" - scallop wrapped in catfish wrapped in bacon with brussels sprouts 

The "Cat Sea Pig" - scallop wrapped in catfish wrapped in bacon with brussels sprouts 

Evening Jazz to go along with the swanky Underground Kitchen dinner

Evening Jazz to go along with the swanky Underground Kitchen dinner

After-dinner scotch and cigars

After-dinner scotch and cigars

My new friend showing me how to smoke a cigar...I was really bad at it.

My new friend showing me how to smoke a cigar...I was really bad at it.

Parting gift filled with local richmond coffee, cookies, and tea

Parting gift filled with local richmond coffee, cookies, and tea

Look into the 2300 club kitchen

Look into the 2300 club kitchen

Opening night at Gelati Celesti - it was a packed house

Opening night at Gelati Celesti - it was a packed house

Pints of fresh ice cream

Pints of fresh ice cream

pumpkin ice cream

pumpkin ice cream

Ice cream scoop wall art

Ice cream scoop wall art

Thanksgiving Libations: Spicy Ginger Cran-Cherry Cocktail

Cooking all day and sipping on a well-crafted cocktail go hand in hand. It’s what makes those long hours spent chopping, sautéing, and roasting so much fun. And on Thanksgiving it’s perfectly appropriate to pour your first drink at 10am as you’re gearing up for the important task ahead. A few good tunes and a healthy buzz will not only get you into the rhythm of cooking, it will reduce any anxiety you may feel about your chosen dishes. I find myself looking forward to my time in the kitchen just as much as the grand reveal of the finished Thanksgiving day spread.

This year my signature cocktail was inspired by a local distillery's flagship gin. According to the handsome gin rep pouring samples at the liquor store, James River Distillery’s Commonwealth Gin is made with hops, a growing trend in the craft-distilling world. It was love at first sip - the gin had strong citrus and herbal notes, with the juniper playing second fiddle. I was surprised that the hops didn’t add any bitterness but instead infused a subtle floral flavor.   

I immediately bought a bottle and created a modern version of the foghorn, an old-timey drink that has fallen out of vogue. I spruced up the classic gin-and-ginger cocktail with a bit of jalapeño for warmth, fresh cranberry for a tart kick, and a splash of cherry juice for color and a sweet finish. Now that I have every detail of my holiday meal planned and a good cocktail recipe in my back pocket, I’m ready for the biggest cooking day of the year. Remember to have fun in the kitchen, because it’s more about the journey than the destination.  

Spicy Ginger Cran-cherry Cocktail

(Serves 1)

Ingredients:

  • 1 small slice of jalapeño 
  • 7-8 fresh cranberries (reserve 3 for garnish)
  • 1 wedge lime (about 1/6 of a lime)
  • 1 ounce gin (I used Commonwealth Gin from Richmond, VA)
  • 5 ounces ginger ale or ginger beer
  • Splash of cherry juice
  • Dehydrated lime slice for garnish (from Simple and Crisp)

Instructions:

Place the jalapeño slice, 3-5 cranberries, and lime wedge in a glass and muddle with 1 ounce gin. Strain gin into a rocks glass with ice. Add 5 ounces of ginger ale and top with a splash of cherry juice. Garnish with 3 cranberries and dehydrated lime.  

Best Cookies at Trader Joe's

I have an obsession with Trader Joe’s that seems to grow with each visit. I peruse their “Fearless Flyer” (an ad of featured products) with the same seriousness that I read Food and Wine. It’s my mission to try every product they offer, and I’ve recently turned my attention to their cookies - so much so, that I had a Trader Joe’s cookie tasting party for my birthday.  

I enlisted each guest to contribute a box or two of cookies, and asked them to pass judgment on the spread of sugary, carb-loaded deliciousness laid out before them. We ate, deliberated, and came to a group consensus on our favorites.

Dark Chocolate Almond Lacey’s Cookies

The taste testers (aka party guests) universally loved this cookie, and it was the favorite by leaps and bounds. There’s something irresistible about this unique confection, made entirely of almonds, crispy caramel, and dark chocolate. It crumbles like a good brittle when you bite into its buttery, nutty exterior, which is smoothed out by silky dark chocolate. It’s impossible not to love, and I frequently gift them to those who are not fortunate enough to have a local Trader Joe’s. (NOTE: don’t be fooled by the milk chocolate macadamia version - it’s strangely chewing and not as good)

Triple Ginger Cookie Thins

I’m a ginger fanatic and a fan of the traditional Triple Ginger Snap Cookies. But this thin version delivers the same potent flavor in a more delicate cookie. It’s fragile and pleasantly shatters when you eat it, effortlessly delivering a ginger kick that even the most serious ginger lovers would appreciate. I also like that you can eat 10 of them without feeling like you’ve gorged yourself into a cookie coma.

Pinachios

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting much from these little guys, since they looked like your run of the mill crunchy (dry) cookie. Boy did a I learn a don’t-judge-a-book-by-its-cover lesson! The texture of this small butter cookie is fantastic; it isn’t simply crumbly, like a regular shortbread cookie, but has a slight toffee-like crunch. They are studded with a killer combination of pistachios and white chocolate.

Almond Windmill Cookies

Again I didn’t have high expatiations of these, because they reminded me of the stale Christmas cookies my grandma gave me as a kid. Maybe they were good then but my palate wasn’t sophisticated enough, or maybe Trader Joe’s has just improved on a classic. Either way these cookies are the bomb. They have the buttery crumble of good shortbread but are enhanced with intense almond flavor, slivered almonds, and a crunchy sprinkle of coarse sugar. The cute windmill shape also helps make these feel special.  

So as cookie season shifts into high gear, you’ll have these delicious Trader Joe’s cookies in your arsenal. And if you disagree with the not-so-scientific results of this post, you should gather your friends and family and have a cookie tasting party of your own. I guarantee you’ll have a great time.

Portrait of a Foodie: My Birthday Week and a Surprise Sister Visit

This is my weekly 'Portrait of a Foodie', pictures from my food-obsessed life. Last week was my birthday and my sister surprised me by visiting all the way from Portland. Needless to say, we did an insane amount of quality eating. On top of being treated to several birthday meals, I felt it was my duty to show my sis all the tastiest spots in my new neighborhood of Church Hill. I also enlisted my family to help with some serious cookie research (pictured above). Enjoy!  

Trader Joe's cookie tasting about to commence

Trader Joe's cookie tasting about to commence

Pastries from Sub Rosa Bakery in Church Hill

Pastries from Sub Rosa Bakery in Church Hill

Morning Bun, Almond Croissant, Butter Croissant

Morning Bun, Almond Croissant, Butter Croissant

WPA Bakery in Church Hill

WPA Bakery in Church Hill

Spinach and Artichoke Pastry and Meringue Cookie

Spinach and Artichoke Pastry and Meringue Cookie

Birthday lunch at Graffiato 

Birthday lunch at Graffiato 

Charred Brussels ($8)

Charred Brussels ($8)

Amish Chicken Thigh with Pepperoni Sauce ($10)

Amish Chicken Thigh with Pepperoni Sauce ($10)

Smoked Burrata ($12)

Smoked Burrata ($12)

Me and my sis got our caffeine fix from Urban Farmhouse in Church HIll 

Me and my sis got our caffeine fix from Urban Farmhouse in Church HIll 

Then enjoyed local beers at Union Market in Church Hill

Then enjoyed local beers at Union Market in Church Hill

Before my 5-course birthday dinner, we pre-gamed at Meztger in Church Hill

Before my 5-course birthday dinner, we pre-gamed at Meztger in Church Hill

Bottle of white was only $11.75

Bottle of white was only $11.75

Tuesday was $1 oyster night

Tuesday was $1 oyster night

Dozen blue point oysters

Dozen blue point oysters

Cheers to excellent cocktails at Rogue Gentlemen!

Cheers to excellent cocktails at Rogue Gentlemen!

The drink book at the Rogue Gentlemen

The drink book at the Rogue Gentlemen

Butternut squash soup with peppercorn cream

Butternut squash soup with peppercorn cream

Whipped ricotta with nastarium, radish blossoms and olive oil

Whipped ricotta with nastarium, radish blossoms and olive oil

Chocolate cremeux, cranberry, foie shortbread, basil

Chocolate cremeux, cranberry, foie shortbread, basil

Smoked duck breast, foie fat roasted celery root, green olive, and almond

Smoked duck breast, foie fat roasted celery root, green olive, and almond

Sister Sister

Sister Sister

Braised Coconut Chipotle Pork from the 'Food Truck Road Trip' Cookbook

This insanely delicious braised pork hails from the recipe rolodex of the Eat Fuki food truck in San Francisco. It’s just one of many dishes I’ve been drooling over in the new cookbook, Food Truck Road Trip. 

The authors did their due diligence when conducting research for their book. I mean how many people can boast eating at 63 food trucks in two and a half weeks? Kudos to them - that’s true professionalism and it shows. The book is filled with recipe after recipe, which are now on my "must-cook" list. Pad thai tacos and bacon-wrapped Hawaiian teriyaki dogs are what’s for dinner in my near future. 

This book is filled with beautiful pictures and charming stories of chefs who gave up the comforts of a restaurant kitchen to live the dream. When you strip dining of all its candlelight, service, and decor, you're left with just the food and the person who cooked it. The food truck experience somehow feels a bit more personal and authentic, and this book does a wonderful job conveying that sentiment.  

Braised Coconut Chipotle Pork Shoulder with Carrot Slaw

EAT FUKI—ALEX MEISELS, SEABROOK GUBBINS, AND CHEF CRAIG PETERSON— SAN FRANCISCO, CA

From Food Truck Road Trip by Kim Pham, Philip Shen, Terri Phillips & printed with permission of Page St. Publishing

(SERVES 4)

Braised pork ingredients:

  • 1 lb (454g) pork shoulder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp (26ml) vegetable oil
  • 1 to 2 (14-oz [392g]) cans coconut milk
  • 2 tsp (10ml) fish sauce
  • Sauce from 3-oz (84g) can chipotle in adobo

Carrot slaw ingredients:

  • 1⁄4 tsp sugar
  • 1⁄2 tsp caraway seed
  • 1⁄4 tsp cumin seed
  • 2 tbsp (30ml) olive oil
  • 1⁄2 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper 
  • 2 large carrots, shredded 
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp (5g) cilantro, for garnish 
  • Quinoa, rice, or noodles for serving

To make the pork, cut the pork shoulder into 1⁄2-inch (1.3cm) cubes. In a bowl, mix the pork with the garlic and salt. In a skillet or large pan, heat the oil over medium heat and add the pork. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until brown. Transfer the pork to a pot and add enough of the coconut milk to cover. Add the fish sauce and chipotle sauce. Bring the mixture to a slow boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 1 to 1 1⁄2 hours, until the pork is tender.

To make the carrot slaw, in a bowl, whisk together the sugar, caraway seed, cumin seed, olive oil, sweet paprika, lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Add the shredded carrots and stir thoroughly; add salt and pepper to taste. When the pork is done cooking, garnish with the cilantro. Serve over quinoa or rice with a side of carrot slaw.