Monday, May 28, 2012

Wining and Dining by the Blue Ridge

Last weekend I visited Charlottesville, Virginia and took a wonderful epicurean tour of Virginia wine country, truly a gorgeous place. Here are my picks for the region:

Where to Wine
Blenheim Vineyard, owned by Dave Matthews, has a gorgeous lodge perched on a hilltop overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains, with surprisingly good wine. The lodge interior has arched ceilings with wooden beams and skylights for an inviting and "rustic" feel, and the back deck overlooks a mountain scene so serene that you're instantly calmed. The vineyard puts out a number of whites and reds each year, from the chardonnays and viognier with scents of honeysuckle and apricot, to the "painted red" with scents of blueberry, cinnamon and violet and lush blackberry jam flavor. My favorite, to be honest, is their "white table wine" - a light, fruity and crisp blend of grapes. It's delicious.
Barboursville Vineyards, run by Piemonte winemaker Luca Paschina, offers 19 different wines for tastings. They range from pinot grigios to chardonnays to cabernet sauvignons to the nebbiolo reserve - there's a wine for everyone there, really. The tasting begins of course with the lighter whites and moves into the more full-bodied varieties, reds, and finishes with the sweet dessert wines; it is truly an experience. Highlights include the Malvaxia Passito 2006, the perfect finish to a decadent meal.

Where to Dine
Basil is a Mediterranean Bistro on the Corner, the chic area adjacent to UVA in Charlottesville. Basil serves mezze and tapas and and array of dishes from Italy to Israel, featuring the flavors from the Mediterranean region. Highlights include date and walnut crostino, Tunisian salad, and Lebanese laffa.
Palladio is the elegant Italian restaurant at the Barboursville winery run by James Beard Award-winning chef Melissa Close Hart. Highlights include the carpaccio di pesce spada, five peppercorn crusted swordfish carpaccio that's paper-thin and light yet packed with robust peppery flavor, ravioli alla spugnole with buttery soft morels, and involtini di melanzane, ricotta stuffed eggplant with micro mustard greens - delectable. Palladio serves authentic Italian cuisine that transports the diner to Tuscany, surrounding vineyards and all.
The Local restaurant was createto provide a venue to showcase the abundant supply of small farmers, artisan cheese makers, breweries, distilleries and award wining vineyards located in the Charlottesville area. Dine in the cozy main room with exposed brick walls and stylish bar or upstairs on the rooftop terrace with flowers hanging above - it's the perfect place for a special summertime meal. Highlights include the crab cakes - large chunks of fresh crab meat, no heavy mayo here - and the zucchini filled with toasted quinoa, dried cherries and goat cheese - even non-vegetarians will not miss meat with this satisfying dish. All the ingredients are fresh and of course local, and the drinks are great, too.
This region is a wonderful place to get away and taste some great wine and meals that showcase the best of Virginia, with mountain views for ambience and near-Southern charm - definitely visit.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Kale Two Ways

Kale #1: Braised kale with almonds

1) Toast sliced almonds in dry pan on low heat until fragrant and remove.
2) Saute diced onion in half each olive oil and Earth Balance butter until onion softens and is translucent; add tablespoon of minced garlic if desired.
3) Season with salt and pepper to taste and pinch of paprika for a smoky flavor.
4) Add half a cup of chicken stock and a large bunch of torn kale, stalks removed, and toss the kale with the onions and seasoning to coat it evenly.
5) Cover the pan to wilt kale in the braising liquid; check after five minutes for preferred texture.
6) Once the liquid has reduced until nearly evaporated, add almonds back into pan and adjust seasoning. Finish with a squirt of lemon juice and serve.

Kale #2: Crispy Kale Chips

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Rip kale into small pieces and place over baking sheet.
2) Drizzle with olive oil and spread around to coat evenly, seasoning with minced garlic, salt and pepper. Add red pepper flakes for a spicy version if desired.
3) Bake for 20 minutes or until the kale is crispy, with a chip-like consistency; this time will vary depending on how fresh the kale is and how much time it takes to release its water.
4) Serve warm, with hummus or white bean dip or as a side dish to grilled protein. These chips are a great healthy substitute to french fries or chips. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sesame Glazed Tofu

Sesame-ginger glazed tofu with mushrooms over greens: so simple and satisfying.

How I do it:
1) Cut extra firm tofu into triangles and dry with paper towel to remove extra moisture.
2) Melt Earth Balance vegan spread (or similar butter substitute) in skillet on medium heat. Place tofu in pan and season with salt.
3) Pour glaze over tofu to coat (I use a mixture of tamari/soy, ginger, sesame oil and citrus for my glaze - eyeball it) and let glaze drip down sides of tofu as it browns.
4) Add sliced mushrooms to pan - shiitakes or criminis are best, and brown them. Season with salt and pepper.
5) Flip tofu to brown other side, creating a sauce with the glaze and allowing it to thicken.
6) When the tofu has a nice golden brown color and your desired consistency - some prefer tofu crispier than others, it's a matter of taste - remove the tofu from the pan and place the pieces over a plate of greens. Scatter the mushrooms over the tofu and drizzle all the remaining sesame glaze over the greens as a dressing. The greens will wilt slightly under the warm tofu, making an elegant-looking and tasty weeknight vegetarian meal!