Newsletter for May-June 2005
Your source for whatís cooking at OBW
25 South Indian Alley
Winchester VA, 22601
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This is a combined May-June newsletter. Things have been very busy at the restaurant and I havenít had much time to dedicate to the newsletter. This edition is about changes, some that have happened and some that are set to happen in the near future.
First, I have finally hired a sous chef, Daniel Robayo, local Handley High guy recently returned from Richmond. Besides looking a lot like my little brother, Daniel is a great foil for me and together we have already put some pretty creative things on the menu. Many of you may already know him. In any case, stop in and say hello to him.
Another major change that happened over Apple Blossom is that we installed a state-of-the-art wine dispensing system to keep all our wines fresh. Next week, we are set to launch a daily tapas menu. These are two precursors to our launch of Bar One, our wine bar within the restaurant, later this year. And, weíve almost doubled our seating capacity on the deck in anticipation of our Friday after-work cookouts, which will start again as soon as the weather permits.
Looking forward to seeing you and serving you,
Ed Matthews, Chef/Owner
Iím sure youíve noticed that once you have opened a bottle of wine for a day or so, the wine doesnít taste like it did when you first opened it. The culprit is oxygen. As wine oxidizes, it starts to taste and smell pretty bad. The only way to control oxidation in an open bottle of wine is by removing the oxygen. Previously, we had been using vacuum stoppers, but they never worked all that well and we ended up cooking with and pouring out a lot of wine.
Over the Apple Blossom break, I finally managed to build and install the shelving for our new nitrogen dispensing system, which keeps all the open bottles under positive nitrogen pressure, forcing all the oxygen out of the bottle. Each bottle has a tap and we now fill wine glasses just like beers, by opening the tap handle. And the system makes a neat singing sound when in use!
This investment underscores our desire to have the finest wine restaurant in the region. Next time youíre in, come back to the bar to check it out. Or ask your server to show you how it works.
I know that you love tapas. Every time that I do a tapas menu at the restaurant, you flood the place. So, letís bring tapas to Winchester full time!
We are really excited to announce that on Tuesday June 7th, we will start offering a daily tapas menu from 5 to 6pm. Each day we will offer a dozen tapas along with several tapas friendly wines, as well as our own red and white sangrias. We will also formally offer half glasses of wine on the tapas menu, although we have always poured half glasses for those who asked. And these half glasses will be incorporated into a daily tapas and wine tasting flight in which you can taste three tapas and three matching wines for one discounted price.
I have a repertoire of several hundred tapas now and I am looking forward to your pushing me to add several hundred more. (Psst! I will order fresh Portuguese sardines if you will eat them!) See you soon!
This is just a reminder that you should be concerned with the amount of fat in your diet and that every day, we offer low fat meats on the menu. As a case in point, this week we have rabbit, duck, ostrich, and bison on the menu. Last week we offered Guinea hen as well. Guinea and rabbit are great alternatives to chicken and turkey. Duck, ostrich, and bison are excellent beef alternatives. Our duck breasts are very lean and several customers have claimed that they are beef. They certainly have a similar texture to steak, but they taste like duck. On the other hand, you would be hard pressed in most dishes to tell if I substituted bison or ostrich for beef. Remember, you should be eating more seafood, but when that meat craving strikes, we do have some excellent and more healthy alternatives for you.
Thyme is my favorite herb and I use it constantly. For me, there is no better meal than a fresh chicken roasted with thyme. Every time I smell it roasting, I am transported to the garrigue in the Languedoc where the ground is carpeted with thymes and lavender and rosemary grow as shrubs.
Thymes (Thymus vulgaris) come in a huge variety of cultivars. Any garden center will have at least a dozen or more thymes. The best tasting ones for cooking tend to be the more plain-leafed ones, but the best tasting one I ever had was a variegated thyme, with a yellow band around the leaf margins. The wooly and creeping thymes are not especially useful for cooking.
I donít care for dried thyme Ė it does nothing for me and in some cases, it can be overwhelmingly pungent and medicinal. Thyme is simple to grow in a sunny location and it stays green all year, even under snow cover, so there is no reason not to have a fresh supply year round.
Thymes are not long-lived plants. Most last about three seasons, so when I first planted my herb garden, I planted only 1/3 of the space devoted to thyme. The next year, I planted another third and then the year after, the rest. Now I replace about a third of my plants every year. You can propagate thyme by division.
Once shad roe season gets behind us, we seafood addicts know that softshell crabs are just around the corner. Softshells are trickling onto the market now, but there is still not a good supply. They are on the menu now, sporadically, but the supply should increase daily for the next few weeks.
Blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) must shed their hard shells periodically to grow, up to 25 times in their 2-3 year lives. Before shedding, a crab will stop eating for a few days and form a new soft shell under the old one. The rear of the hard shell splits and the crab backs out of the old shell. After molting, the crab swells with water to its new larger size and the soft shell becomes hard in about 12 hours. The crab then starts to eat again and fills out its new shell.
Experienced crabbers sort through their catch, selling the hardshells and saving the busters, the crabs that are about to molt for their shedding floats, because softshells command a premium price on the market. They determine which crabs are about to molt by a process akin to magicóby examining the last two joints of the swimming legs. A thin white line means the crab will shed in 7-10 days, a pink line, 5-7 days; and a red line, 2 days or less.
In all my summer vacations as a kid on the Bay, I could never really figure out how they do this. I managed to catch my share of peelers by wading through the marshes and also my share of doublers, where the jimmy, the male, was locked onto the sook, the female. She crabs can only mate in the softshell state. Doublers are two for one: a big, fat jimmy and a softie sook.
These days, crabbers make good money only for peelers which can always be sold to restaurants, so they take special care with their busters. The busters go into crab floats until they molt. Along with good money goes long hours. Crabs shed their shells around the clock and someone must remove them from the water quickly or they will become hard. Or worse, the busters that have not yet stopped eating before shedding will eat the peelers. Removing the peelers from water slows the time that it takes for the shell to harden. They must be shipped and eaten within 2-3 days.
Itís peeler season again. Come have some with us! If you want to learn how to cook them, con someone into buying you a Chef for a Day certificate and weíll let you clean and cook all you want! ;) Notice I didnít say ďeat all you want!Ē
Recipe: Grilled Leg of Lamb with Red Wine-Dijon Reduction
Hereís a great party idea! You should have a meat thermometer to cook this dish. You should have one anyway. If you donít, itís a small investment for an essential piece of equipment for a serious cook.
You also need a butterflied leg of lamb. You can either buy a boned out leg (Costco) or do it yourself. Boning out a leg is pretty easy, but itís something thatís easier to show you how to do than it is to describe in words. You will want to marinate the lamb for at least a day before grilling it.
Grilled Leg of Lamb
1butterflied leg of lamb, cleaned of fat and silverskin
1 head of garlic, minced
3-4 sprigs rosemary
8-9 sprigs thyme
ľ c minced parsley
ľ c extra virgin olive oil
1 bottle dry red wine
A day or two before grilling the lamb, you want to marinate it. Lay the leg out flat in a pan that is just big enough to hold it. Sprinkle the garlic, parsley, and black pepper over both sides. Throw in the rosemary and thyme sprigs, resisting the urge to shout ďBam!Ē Pour over the oil and wine. Refrigerate. Turn the leg in the marinade a few times, whenever it is convenient for you.
When youíre ready to grill, have a fairly hot fire. Remove the leg from the marinade and place on the grill. Salt and pepper the lamb. Turn once, to cook both sides. Because legs of lamb are different sizes and thicknesses and because grills are different temperatures, itís impossible to say how long your leg will take to cook. The last one I cooked took 8 minutes per side to reach 110 degrees in the thickest part, on our very hot grill. Yours will take longer to cook.
Cook your lamb 5 to 10 degrees less than you want the final temperature to be. Let the lamb stand on a platter for 15 minutes or so and the temperature will rise that final 5 to 10 degrees. Temperatures for lamb are 120-125 for rare, 125-130 for mid rare, and 130-135 for medium, and donít make me give you a temperature for burnt lamb!
Red Wine-Dijon Reduction
The lamb marinade
The juices from the standing lamb
1 T Dijon mustard
While the lamb is grilling, hop back to the kitchen and pour yourself a glass of red wine. Take a sip. Then, remove the thyme and rosemary from the marinade and pour the marinade into a sauce pan. Place over high heat and start reducing the marinade until you have about one cup left. Once the lamb has stood for 15 minutes, pour all the juices from the standing lamb into the reduction. Stir in a tablespoon or more of Dijon mustard to taste, to slightly thicken and flavor the sauce. Correct the seasonings and serve.
Each week I get emails asking me about various cooking techniques and/or using ingredients. Every month in the newsletter, I will publish one or two interesting topics. Feel free to send email if there is some technique or ingredient that you need help with.
I got an email last week from a customer wanting to know how to prepare fiddlehead ferns, like the ones that she had eaten at One Block West. First, unless you know what youíre looking for, I donít suggest that you pick your own fiddleheads. I have and the fiddleheads from the ferns in my Virginia natives garden are just not that good. The plant you want is the Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris).
When buying fiddleheads, look for a tightly coiled ones about the size of a quarter to a half dollar and make sure that they are crisp, not wilted. You should not pay good money for stems. Donít accept fiddleheads with about more than a couple inches of stem attached.
In preparing them, rub off any brown papery covering and wash them thoroughly in a couple of changes of water. After this, blanch them for a couple of minutes, until tender, then shock in ice water. From here, treat fiddleheads as you would asparagus, green beans, or broccoli. Their nutty asparagus taste appeals to most people. Alternatively, you can sautť the fiddleheads without blanching.
Here is my ultimate spring fantasy dish: fresh hand cut tagliatelle with fiddleheads, ramps, morels, fava beans, country ham, shallots, and a splash of cream! Enjoy!
The Supreme Court ruled in May as expected on wine shipping and as predicted, ruled that the states cannot obstruct shipments of out-of-state wine, just to protect their own local industry. The 5-4 decision was much closer than I expected and the majority was formed by the oddest coalition of the most conservative and most liberal judges. As I said in my article earlier this year, this ruling is a double-edged sword. States may either open up direct shipping to all parties or force all parties to go through distribution. Michigan has already decided that everyone goes through distribution. Such a decision in Virginia would be disastrous for our wine industry that depends on directly shipping to consumers within the state. I have to believe that under the pro-business administration of Mark Warner, things will go well for our wine industry. Governor Warner is, however, on his way out of office.
Are you a mangiafagioli? The Tuscans and especially the Florentines call themselves mangiafagioli, bean eaters, for their love of beans. I love beans of all kinds, but it is infuriatingly hard to find great beans. Italy has dozens of beans that until recently have not been available in the US. Fortunately, there is now Republic of Beans in NY. Enjoy.
All my best and come see us when you can,
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