FOOD: Gifts for the Foodie from Falls Church

December 21, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

By Kathleen Nixon
December 21, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff

So it’s down to the wire and you may be looking for a few gifts for the foodie on your gift list. Don’t worry there are great “foodie” gifts you can get right here in the City of Falls Church.

First up, Brown’s Hardware is where you can get almost anything including a foodie gift. My choice this year is the Bayou Classic Seasoning Injector. What self respecting Southern, or any region, cook wouldn’t want to make sure that they had the right seasonings injected into their holiday turkey before dropping it in the deep fat frying vat?

Second, at the Falls Church Farmers Market you can get both wonderful breakfast items for Christmas morning as well as gifts. For Christmas morning how about Wooly Mammoth coffee from Beanetics, or just a gift bag of a selection of coffees? Treats are available for puppies from Chase Your Tail Bakery and cookies for their pets at Panche Dulce.  And for that special someone who needs little help Christmas morning, how about Bloody Mary mix from Toigo Orchards?

Third, just over the border in Arlington at One More Page Books you can pick up any number of great cookbooks, but my recent favorite foodie book is Bob Spitz’s biography of Julia Child, Dearie. If anyone on your list loved Julie, Julia or My Life in France written by Julia’s nephew Alex Prud’homme, then they will love this in depth book about an American food icon.

Fourth, stop at Red, White & Bleu for Toxic Sludge, a Black IPA from Blue Point Brewery on Long Island, or the Jamaican Jerk cheese called No Woman from Beecher’s in Washington State. Or a selection of salamis including a vegetarian salami (figs, bourbon, and fleur de sol ) from Charlito’s Cocina.

Lastly, after you have dropped off the last gifts at the Post Office, walk downstairs and slip into a comfortable Italian repose at SFIZI’s for a Bellini and antipasti or espresso and a Cannoli to kick off the holiday weekend.

Buon Natale and Tante Auguri! – Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

FOOD: Adam, Aimee and Argia’s

December 14, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

 

By Kathleen Nixon
December 14, 2012
Falls Church Times

There are some restaurants that transcend being reviewed because they are such a part of the community DNA that they are considered friends and family rather than a business. Earlier this week, Aimee Suyehiro and Adam Roth of Argia’s sold their restaurant to a wonderful couple from Nepal. Aimee will stay on as chef through most of next year. Adam will spend time with his young family.

Argia’s started as an offshoot of the Rhodeside Grill in Arlington with four partners: Stephen, Adam, Aimee and Winston. Winston and Steve are gone, and Aimee and Adam continued to preside over the restaurant for the last 13 years. The staff met the new owners earlier this week and they say they plan to keep the food the same, maintain the current staff and possibly do some renovations.

In chatting with other community members, Barb Cram shares some great stories about her times at  Greenscape, the landscape artistry store that used to be where Clare and Don’s is now.  Barb gave Argia’s the Chef with a Barrel and chalkboard that still sits in the front entrance of Argia’s. “I am grateful for the times we shared and the memories made.  Not everyone is so lucky to work at something they love doing with neighbors that are equally loved.  Good times indeed,” says Barb.

My first time at Argia’s was just after they had opened and I had just moved to the City of Falls Church. It was after taking an Italian class with my husband and we wanted to have an Italian meal to complement the experience. The restaurant was dark and dingy – this was before the mural – but the food was good and the service was attentive. Over the years, my family has pretty much eaten at Argia’s at least 4 times a month. Any time we would have a new waiter, we would welcome them to the restaurant.

Anytime you are in Argia’s you will run into neighbors, friends, City Council Members, City staff, local business leaders, teachers celebrating their holiday lunch, or the first timer in for dinner before a show. You will also see the folks there for Mussels Argia’s on Wednesdays, the crossword puzzle crowd at lunchtimes, the Monday lunch crowd of local restaurant and bar staff who come to Argia’s on their days’ off or folks just wanting a comfortable place to hang out with a great glass of wine and an awesome meal.

And that is what has been at the foundation of Argia’s – great food and great wine. Adam’s knowledge and interest in wine drove him to create a wine list that is unparallel in the local community. While there may be many wine lists locally that have a superb selection of wines of varying vintages and costs, Adam knows his community and has built a wine list that is accessible and enjoyable. Over the years, I have learned about several wines due to Adam’s wine list and have since stocked those wines in my personal cellar. He has always been a resource as to which wines to have with what meal and what I should try at home.

These wines complement the food the Aimee has created and perfected over the years. I can say in 13 years of eating at Argia’s, I have only had one meal that was slightly off.  Aimee’s cooking has been a standard that I have used for other restaurants that I review. There is the basic menu items which change seasonally that I can count on such as the Pork Loin Wrapped in Pancetta served with Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Or the foundation dishes like Pasta Bolognese – family size – that is the go to dish if we need some serious comfort food. While some restaurants toyed with the idea of “famiglia” style dishes, it is something that Argia’s has always done well; a portion size for your family that also reminds you of being a family while eating it.

That has been the magic of Argia’s that Adam and Aimee created by knowing the key ingredients for a neighborhood family trattoria.  Like any good partnership, they have complemented each other well by bringing their food and wine talents to bear. It has been artistry in motion to watch this food and wine partnership develop over the years.

It was Aimee who was the first chef for the Falls Church Farmers Market Chef. After receiving approval from the City, it was Adam and Aimee that I had to convince about program and get their buy in. It was their encouragement and participation that helped launch the program and I will be forever grateful to them.

I know we all wish Aimee and Adam luck in their new adventures and thank them for creating a restaurant where we can all be family.

FOOD: Comfort Food – The Quest for the Best Mac & Cheese

November 30, 2012 by · 3 Comments 

BY Kathleen Nixon
November 30, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff

There is comfort food and then there is comfort food. Macaroni and cheese with tomato soup is hands down my all time favorite. I grew up on Kraft Mac & Cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup, and not Hostess Twinkies. Of course, now I wouldn’t touch canned soup or box pasta dishes preferring to make my own, but I still swoon anytime I see either or both of these items on a restaurant menu. So in the spirit of finding the best “mac & cheese” or “M&C” in the area, I went on a quest.

My standards for M&C are simple: The noodles I am not so particular about but elbow macaroni seems to be a favorite but I also lean toward the medium size pasta shells. The sauce should be creamy, and very cheesy without clumps and preferably more than one cheese. Additional ingredients are okay such as mushrooms, lobster, or truffle oil.

The best M&C I have ever had? This would hands down have to be Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak House at the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco. Yes, I know it is a bit far, but this was an unexpected surprise and did raise the bar on M&C for me and my family. The dish had a velvety white cheddar sauce that was accented with white truffle oil on elbow macaroni. I was in nirvana and my husband said it was a life altering event. That is high standard. The bottom of the barrel has to be the Adult M&C at Open Kitchen in Falls Church. No cheese, specks of speck ham and breadcrumbs burnt on top.

So with the scale established, we were set on finding M&C to accommodate any palate. Not every restaurant advertises that they have M&C, so this was truly a hunt with finding unexpected offerings at area restaurants. There are a few that advertise that they feature M&C while others just simply have it on the menu.

Harth in the McLean Hilton: The M&C had nice tender elbow macaroni that was supposed to have multiple cheeses but we could only taste one that was sharp cheddar. The sauce, or roux, had flour clumps in the bottom. It was okay but not something to order again.

Noodles and Company in Falls Church: I was very excited when this chain restaurant advertised that that they would have two different types of M&C: Wisconsin Cheddar and Signature White Truffle Oil with Portobello mushrooms and bread crumbs. Both dishes were only slightly above the worst on the scale. The ziti was cooked and then cheese sauce poured over. There were no redeeming qualities other than the calorie count to tell you how much you are wasting.

Green Pig Bistro in Arlington: This side dish offered at the tail to snout bistro was cheesey and creamy but very salty with something chunky in it that my guests and I didn’t know what it was.  We would not order it again.

Panera Bread in Falls Church – This was an unexpected surprise as I stopped in one cold rainy afternoon and I had not eaten all day. M&C was on the menu and thought I would take a chance. I was pleasantly surprised. While not the best M&C, definitely something that hit the spot and filled the bill of “comfort food”.

Bayou Bakery in Arlington: The menu states that there is a different flavor of M&C for every day of the month and I didn’t get there every day to try all of the tastes. The days I did get there the sauce was watery, and the additional flavorings tended to drown out the “cheese” aspect of M&C.

Bastille in Alexandria– possibly the best- Gratin of Macaroni and Cheese – three different cheeses, a nice variety of mushrooms, black truffle oil and a thick crust on top. Each made separately so, there was some variance from one visit to the next. This is only offered as part of the Prixe Fixe lunch menu, but combined with a charcuterie plate, followed by a Caramel Apple Tatin with a glass of Cabernet Franc, there is no better way to spend a winter afternoon.

And I am sure I have not exhausted all of the offerings in our area, but this is a start. Have you found good M&C?

FOOD: Thankful for friends, family and food

November 23, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kathleen Nixon
November 23, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff

It is a special time to give thanks for those special people and times in your life. One thing that I am thankful for has been the opportunity to write this column every week for the last several years. At times a challenge, but more frequently a blessing because of the people I have the honor to work with and the topics I get to explore.

My thanks to the chef and restaurant community who has been so supportive in providing recipes, interviews and input when the call would go out such as when Tracy O’Grady of Willow and Steven Mannino of American Tap Room answered the call with What To Do With Leftovers

My thanks to my Food column co-conspirators: Christianna Sargent, Certified Master Sommelier who has offered many great wine articles such as Perfectly Stuffed: A White Wine for Turkey Day ; Ra Chan who continues to amaze me with the places she finds and how expertly she dissects each restaurant to its core ingredients as she did in Dim Sum at Hong Kong Pearl Seafood; and Claire McConnell who has met a crucial need of exposing that good food can be created from the Farmers Market within a budget as she has done several times but most recently with Tomato Macaroni and Cheese.

My final thanks to you the readers. I have had the pleasure of meeting some of you in person, others stay my online constant. You have my thanks and gratitude for your weekly contributions to the FOOD column and best wishes for the holiday season.

FOOD: Family Feud

November 16, 2012 by · 1 Comment 

By CHRISTIANNA SARGENT
November 16, 2012
Special to the Falls Church Times

Every year I get the same question at my wine classes and from friends, “What wines should I buy for Thanksgiving? My Dad really likes big Cabernet, my mom likes Pinot, my aunt drinks Pinot Grigio, my distant cousin lives in New York and is a huge wine-O—so I want to impress him; my grandma doesn’t really drink, my brother digs beer, and my husband likes dry wines, but I don’t.” The scenario varies thousands of times over from this stereotype, but none-the-less the theme remains consistent: Thanksgiving presents the classic family feud.

This time of year you can always expect reading the traditional thanksgiving wine pairing to-do and not-to-do reviews. Everywhere you look the line-ups listed in Martha Stewart to GQ and every culinary magazine in-between give their expert opinions on how to pair wines with the flavor rainbow represented at Thanksgiving. I used to put a great deal of energy into convincing people that Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Beaujolais should be the dominant wines to adorn your Turkey Day table. I would discount those who said they didn’t like sweet wine, scoff at others who refused to drink lighter-bodied wines, and secretly laugh at all the others who simply just didn’t give a hoot about the beauty and fragility of wine pairings at Thanksgiving. I blame my inner wine geek and the sinful wine-snob syndrome that afflicted me in years passed.

To be fair, though, I must admit Thanksgiving is like the Holy Grail for me. It is my favorite holiday, a tried-and-true family custom, and it’s a time when I can cook with soul and enjoy my odd-ball wine thrillers that boast sweetness, aromatics, and the ultimate acidity. This is when I bust out the vintage Rieslings and Vouvrays, damn good Champagne, and phenomenal Beaujolais (and perhaps even that Madeira to finish).

But this year, I’m ready to let loose a little. Ease up on the inner wine snob, because I’m starting to appreciate that it doesn’t matter what everyone else drinks, so long as I’m happy and they’re happy.

Every palate is different. Wine drinking habits not only vary amongst your relatives, but the thanksgiving feast presents one of the hardest wine pairing feats of the year. So here is my new and improved wine survival kit to avoid the family feud wine confusion.

Number 1: Acid is key. No matter what wine you buy, it’s got to sport acid. The  key to acidic wine is that it cuts through the richness of casseroles and all the festive fare, such as the dry turkey, that bitter cranberry salad, and that famously sweet potato pie. Think Italian reds, French whites, Argentinean Malbecs, Oregon Pinots, and French fragrant Beaujolais.

Number 2: Buy a variety of different wines, open them all before dinner and let people sample their way through them at their own pace. Get a semi-sweet for Aunt Jane (and for those who know how to pair rich, festive fare properly), buy a Beaujolais Cru to satisfy the Pinot Noir lovers (or just buy some Pinot). Branch out a bit for the ultra hip and get some Vouvray. Buy a full-bodied Chardonnay for folks that love that oak, vanilla, buttered popcorn home-run flavor; and finally, slip in a bigger bodied red from Italy, whether it be a Barolo or a plain-old Chianti.

Number 3:  Don’t go for the high-alcohol bomb-shells like Zinfandel, Australian Shiraz, or California Cabs. Think middle of the rode with Spanish Tempranillo, French Beaujolais Cru, Argentiina Malbec, and California Rhone blends (just google California Rhone Rangers).

Stick to these tips and you will be golden. Remember, first and foremost, what you like dominates any other factor of this family-overwhelming holiday. The first goal of drinking wine is to soften the mood, stimulate the conversation, and make memorable moments for posterity to come. So revel in this season of Thanksgiving, and buy whatever wine pleases you; but remember to make sure it sports acid to pair with the year’s ultimate feast.

Recommendations for your feast:

Philippe Foreau Vouvray Demi-Sec Loire, France $29.99

Vietti Nebbiolo Perbacco Langhe, Italy $24.99

Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett Mosel, Germany $24.99

Acacia Pinot Noir Willamette Valley, Oregon $17.99

Thivin Cote de Brouilly Beaujolais, France $18.99

Happy eating!

Christianna Sargent is a French wine scholar and Certified Sommelier, Advanced Certificate.  She is affiliated with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust and Association of Italian Sommeliers.  Additional information is available at talesofasommelier.blogspot.com.

Saturday 11/10: MadFox at Falls Church Farmers Market Chef

November 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

The Falls Church Farmers Market Chef demonstration on Saturday, November 10 will feature Andrew Dixon, Executive Chef of MadFox Brewing Company. Demonstrations, recipes, and tasting will be available from 9:00-11:00 am and take place at 300 Park Avenue.

Andrew Dixon is a 2012 Taste of Falls Church winner. He will be preparing kale salad with smoky butternut squash “bacon,” herb fococcia croutons, and ceasar vinaigrette dressing, using kale greens from Flower of the Forest Farm.

Recipes can also be found online at http://www.fallschurchfarmersmarketchef.com/

You can follow the Farmers Market Chef at www.twitter.com/FarmersMktChef/

Or Like us on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/FarmersMarketChef

FOOD: DC Central Kitchen Warms the Soul

November 9, 2012 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kathleen Nixon
November 9, 2012
Falls Church Times Staff

Food is central is to our lives and there are many folks who go without. While we are blessed with an abundance of food, we are equally blessed with passionate individuals who come up with ideas on how to tackle some of our society’s biggest challenges. One such program is DC Central Kitchen.  DC Central Kitchen was founded in 1989 to tackle the problem of food being wasted by restaurants, hotels and grocery stores and has transformed this food into over 25 million meals served at shelters and institutions in and around DC. But don’t make the mistake that this program is about meals, it is about transforming peoples’ lives through food.

There are many programs at DC Central Kitchen that bring the focus of food back to its local source and how the connection with food can change lives. Programs range from feeding the homeless to providing school children with healthy meals to adults getting back on their feet with culinary job training.  From Food Recycling, – tackling food waste; Healthy Corners-tackling food deserts; First Helping– tackling building trust with the homeless communities and Culinary Job Training – tackling the need for job training and empowerment, DC Central Kitchen reminds us that our connection with food has the power to change communities.

The team from DC Central Kitchen led by Ed Kwitowski, Director of School Food Services came to the Falls Church Farmers Market Chef demonstration to showcase how to use seasonal ingredients such as kale from Tree and Leaf farms, or butternut squash from Potomac Vegetable farms in an Autumn Barley Salad. While many folks appreciated the vegetarian dish that will help them with holiday entertaining this year, several folks also appreciated the Lamb Merguez that was added in from Jaime Stachowski.

Assisting Chef Ed was Anand Shantam a graduate of the Culinary Job Training program class 82, who currently works at Walker Jones Education Campus, part of the Kitchen Campus program.  She has a great passion for serving food with integrity and was recently honored at the DC Central Kitchen’s annual Food Fight with the Shining Star Award as she exemplified the spirit of empowerment and change. Also quietly assisting the team was Isaiah, whose background is in catering, who also works at Walker Jones Education Campus and would someday like to own a restaurant.

The morning was cold and the Autumn Barley salad was warming to the tummy. However this could not compare with the warming of the soul as the Falls Church community came out to support DC Central Kitchen and its Culinary Job Training graduates.

Tomorrow, Andrew Dixon, Executive Chef of Madfox Brewing Company will be final Falls Church Farmers Market Chef of this season. Andrew, winner of the 2012 Taste of Falls Church, will be cooking up a kale salad with butternut squash bacon.

FOOD: Tomato Macaroni and Cheese

By CLAIRE MCCONNELL
October 19, 2012
Special to the Falls Church Times

With just a few more days until Election Day, I thought it would be fitting to write about something as American as, well, America itself.  There are only a few dishes that come to mind when I think of our country, and macaroni and cheese is one of them.

From the 1950s housewife preparing macaroni and cheese for her family to the modern, city restaurant serving the bubbling, cheesy pasta speckled with white truffles, macaroni and cheese is the quintessential American meal. The same deliciously wonderful pasta dish that I serve to my two-year-old was served by Thomas Jefferson at an 1802 state dinner. Of course, the dish that Jefferson served is nothing like the boxed version we are familiar with today; he used imported pasta and Parmesan instead of dehydrated, powdered cheese. And although little is known about its origins in this country, historians do know that a recipe for macaroni and cheese is included in Mary Randolph’s popular 1824 cookbook, The Virginia Housewife. That means some version of macaroni and cheese has been around for at least 180 years.

 

Apparently, even Ronald Reagan had a friend in macaroni and cheese, asking the White House kitchen to make the dish regularly. Even the song Yankee Doodle has mistakenly come down to us with the word macaroni, instead of the original word, maccheroni, meaning trendy or stylish. He put a feather in his cap and called it stylish-not pasta!

It’s ingrained in our culture, but like many traditional recipes, they tend to become boring after they have been reproduced hundreds of times. This recipe showcases the leftover bounty of summer’s harvest, along with higher-quality cheese and milk to produce an unforgettable dish.

Four of the ingredients are from the Falls Church farmers market. The tomatoes are from Toigo Orchards in Shippensburg, Pa., http://www.toigoorchards.com/. The butter is from Blue Ridge Dairy in Sterling, Va., www.brdairy.com. The milk is from Clear Spring Creamery in Clear Spring, Md., http://www.clearspringcreamery.com/. And the mild and shard cheddar cheese is from Fields of Grace Farm in Remington, Va., http://www.fieldsofgracefarm.com/.

Equipment: 1 large saucepan, 1 large stockpot and 1 9 X 13 baking dish.

1 pound macaroni (elbow, Gemelli or Fusilli pasta)- De Cecco makes an excellent product — $1.29

1-28 ounce can diced tomatoes in their juices — $0.99

 

Chef’s note: During the summer, when tomatoes were at their peak, I bought all the seconds (tomatoes that are bruised or about to go bad) for 1/3rd of the cost of regular tomatoes. Then I canned them all for the winter seasons. If you don’t have home canned tomatoes, store bought ones will work just fine.

 

6 tbsp unsalted butter — $1.50

½ cup all-purpose flour — $0.10

¼ tsp cayenne pepper — $0.03

4 cups whole milk — $2.48

1 cup heavy cream — $1.24

3 cups mild cheddar cheese – grated — $4.20

1 cups sharp cheddar cheese – grated –$1.63

1 cup Gruyere cheese – grated — $1.60 (keep the cheeses separate from one another)

Total cost of dish = $15.06

 

Preheat oven to 400*. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil over high heat. Stir in 1 tablespoon of salt and macaroni and cook for 4 minutes less than cooking instructions on the box suggest. If the Fusilli directions suggest cooking the pasta for 12 minutes cook for 8 minutes. Follow the same directions for all types of pasta. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Pour diced tomatoes with their juices over the pasta and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed, about 5 minutes.

To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat until melted. Stir in flour and cook for about 1 minute, whisking constantly. This step is very important, if skipped your sauce will taste like raw flour. Slowly whisk in milk and heavy cream until smooth. Bring the Béchamel mixture to a boil and then reduce the heat to simmer. Cook for an additional 5 minutes until sauce is thickened. Off the heat, whisk in both cheddar cheeses, 1 teaspoon of salt and cayenne pepper. Pour the sauce over the tomato-pasta and stir to combine. I like to let the pasta with cheese sauce mixture cool down before this last step. After the pasta has been left to cool for 5-10 minutes add the remaining 1-cup of Gruyere cheese and stir to combine.

Scrape mixture into a 13 by 9-inch baking dish and bake until top begins to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Let macaroni and cheese sit for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Serves 6-8 people.

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