Monday, October 24, 2011

Merroir: Rappahannock Oyster Co. Tasting Room

Sucking down a platter of Stingrays with a side of blue crabs
It's rare that I stumble upon a gem of a spot so exceptional that I honestly don't want to share its whereabouts. Such is the case with Merroir by Rappahannock River Oysters, a virtually undiscovered restaurant/tasting room/picnic tables-meet-a-spectacular-view spot right on Virginia's Rappahannock River.

Located at Locklies Marina in Topping, Virginia (just before you cross the bridge into Irvington and Kilmarnock) Merrior Tasting Room is the latest oysterrific incarnation compliments of the Croxton Cousins (Travis and Ryan) whose simple mission of "putting the Chesapeake Bay oyster back on the map" is without a doubt coming to full-on fruition. Whether these briny goodies are being featured on CNN or being served up by famed Chef, Eric Ripert at DC's West End Bistro, one thing's for certain, RROC's Stingrays, Olde Salts and Barcats are turning up all over the map.
And the best news is that now you can get your hands on these fruits of the sea for pennies on the dollar by hitting their new tasting room, Merroir. Open Wednesday-Sunday (hours vary, so check their Facebook page), the tasting room features a small yet mighty menu of oysters (steamed or raw) with a lovely trio of homemade sauces designed by Executive Chef Pete Woods. Piquant tomatillo, zesty homemade cocktail and a subtle classic mignonette are served up alongside Rappahannock River's famous Olde Salts, Stingrays and signature Rappahannock oysters ($15 per dozen or $1.50 each). Clams are $10 a dozen and $1.00 each respectively.
If you're lucky, Chef Woods still has a couple of his jumbo lump laden crab cakes left or a few overstuffed clams casino still available, perhaps even a platter or two of smoked/grilled lamb shanks with Gorgonzola butter and walnuts. When we were there, we were lucky enough to score the last of this season's bumper crop of blue crabs served steamed with the chef's homemade spicy crab seasoning.
Chef Woods at work in the"kitchen"
Merroir is definitely all about what's fresh and now. There's no deep fryer (so don't go asking for hush puppies and french fries) and no appetizer, entree, dessert menu. In fact, most if not all of the cooking is done on the outdoor grill (see above). This is a tasting room, so what you see is what you get, and the focus here is all about seasonal raw and steamed, so plan accordingly. In the meantime, there are plenty of beverage options to keep you satiated, including a nice offering of craft brews ($5 a pint/$4 bottle and up) and local Virginia wines (think Barboursville Pinot Grigio $23 a bottle) with each beverage carefully selected to accompany RROC's award winning oysters.

Stand and suck down your oysters at one of the outdoor oyster tables or grab one of several outdoor picnic tables overlooking the water. No worries if it's too cold, just pull up a chair at the cozy bar inside. Also, word is that Chef Woods plans to add outdoor heaters to help stave off those chilly Rappahannock breezes.

This is relaxed dining at its finest, so don't come here if you're in a hurry. Place your order inside, grab a table and enjoy the view because it is truly spectacular, especially on a sunny fall afternoon.

Everything is made to order and when your oysters arrive, you'll find that they are truly worth the wait. Shucked to perfection with plenty of remaining liquor, like the entire Merroir experience, they are meant to be savored slowly.

When it's time to head home, if you've still got a hankering for a few more Stingrays, you can always get a couple dozen to go along with a bottle of wine or a six pack of beer.

According Merroir's Facebook page, future events will include live music from time-to-time, and there was more than one mention of a raucous post Reedville Oyster Roast after-party happening in November.

So now that the proverbial cat is out of the bag, let me offer a few final words of wisdom before you make the hour and half drive to this secret spot. I can't reiterate enough that this is very casual dining, so put aside any preconceived notions you might have about a sit-down restaurant. It's a tasting room with food.

Instead, put on a pair of jeans, a warm jacket and bring your oyster appetite. Be prepared to chill out with the locals and take in the water view. There is only one chef (and he's a super nice, hardworking guy), no actual kitchen per se, and when we were there, only one server for a whole host of tables both inside and out. Remember these tidbits and we'll all get along just fine.
In the meantime, check out this most excellent video oyster primer by The Modern Gentleman himself, Jason Tesauro, featuring Merroir with interviews, tasting notes and harvest updates.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

Southern Collard Greens with Ham Hocks

Yesterday, while working on a recipe for BBQ'd Meatloaf for Food Republic, I got an overwhelming hankering for a pot of greens to go with it. Perhaps it's the cool weather coming on or the fact that I might be a tad iron deficient, but whatever the reason, I just had to have some.

So I hit the store, grabbed a bag of mixed greens and a couple of hams hocks and set out to simmer a pot 'o greens to go with my meatloaf. After finding inspiration from Susan Russo's recipe for Southern-Style Greens, which was originally published on NPR as part of her take on a non-Southerner getting her first taste of Southern cooking (and greens), I thought it's about time I work on my own version.
Surprisingly, I've never published a recipe for greens. There's a recipe for slow-cooked kale in fatback in my book, but not collards or any mix thereof and definitely not anything involving ham hocks. I grew up eating all kinds of slow-cooked vegetables, and as Susan mentions, often they were more "browns" than greens. When it came to cooking greens in our house, it was all about the fatback, which while mighty tasty in its own right, never offered that signature smoked hammy flavor I crave in my greens, so after playing around with a couple of combinations including chicken broth, no chicken broth, lots of cider vinegar or less, cayenne or none, and of course, a ham hock, I settled on this recipe for a pot 'o greens, which not only is the perfect accompaniment for a big slab of meatloaf, but might even win over a couple more non-Southerners.

Pot 'O Greens with Ham Hocks

Serves 6


1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 large ham hock
1 large garlic clove, smashed
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 16-ounce bag of pre-washed and cut collards or mixed greens of choice (or wash and slice you're own)
3 tablespoons cider vinegar (adjust this to your liking)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt, to taste
Generous amount of freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Toppings can include: more cider vinegar, hot sauce, minced onions, crumbled bacon, hot pepper vinegar or chow chow relish

In a large pot, heat your oil. Add ham hock and toss it around a bit. Add garlic and cook for one minute, being careful not to burn. Add chicken broth, greens, vinegar and cayenne. Bring up to a gentle boil. Add salt and black pepper. Then cover and simmer for 45 minutes to an hour or until greens are tender to your liking.

Serve in bowls with wedges of warm cornbread (I'm a fan of my dad's country grit bread) and whatever toppings you want. Be sure to spoon extra pot likker into each of the bowls just before serving.

©2011 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission Pin It Now!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Blue Cheese

Photo Kendra Bailey Morris
Only recently, in my old age, have I come to love brussels sprouts. It's not that I ever disdained them, but enjoying them roasted, baked, steamed or casseroled was simply something my family never did. They were rarely on our dinner table, except maybe on Thanksgiving where they would be cooked until gray, soft and giving up the ghost, a la country-style, which not only made them unappealing to the eye and palate, but also the olfactory senses. Basically, overcooking them makes them stink like rotten eggs.

This is one of several reasons brussels sprouts get an undeserved bad rap in my opinion.

Brussels sprouts, which are a member of the cabbage family (hence, their cute, mini-cabbage appearance) can actually be quite tasty, especially when they're slow roasted in a medium-high oven revealing all that gorgeous, sweet caramelization. They're super healthy, too, and are loaded with Vitamin A, C as well as folic acid and iron. After eating a plate of sprouts, I am actually energized, much in the same way I feel after downing a big bowl of collard greens (and of course, plenty of pot likker).

When it comes to cooking your sprouts, all you need to do is toss them with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, add a little salt and freshly cracked pepper and roast them in a 375 or 400 degree oven for about 30 minutes or so, turning them frequently, so they brown and all sides. Add a splash of balsamic vinegar right at the last 5 minutes of cooking for some extra punch and them serve them up hot. Even die-hard brussels sprouts haters can't resist them prepared like this.

If you're looking for even more bang for your flavor buck, toss in some cooked and crumbled bacon and some mild blue cheese (or goat cheese) and you'll have a fantastic combo that works well as a first course salad or a warm side next to a plate of roasted chicken, grilled pork loin or a hearty New York Strip.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Blue Cheese

Serves 6-8


2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half
3 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (with 1/2 tablespoon reserved)
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste (I like to be generous with the pepper)
1 1/2 tablespoons good quality balsamic vinegar (with 1/2 tablespoon reserved)
1/4 cup cooked and crumbled bacon (more if you're a bacon lover)
2-3 ounces mild blue cheese, crumbled


Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In large pan, toss the brussels sprouts with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the sprouts out in the pan in a single layer and roast for 25 or so minutes or until nice and caramelized. Be sure to rotate the pan and toss the sprouts around a bit during the cooking process so they are evenly browned.

During the last few minutes of cooking add the tablespoon of balsamic and toss well. Then return sprouts to the oven for another 3-4 minutes.

Remove sprouts to a large bowl and toss again with the reserved 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 tablespoon balsamic, bacon and blue cheese. Top with additional blue cheese and another sprinkle of black pepper just before serving.

©2011 Fatback and Foie Gras. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission Pin It Now!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Pimento Cheese Recipe

Photo Kendra Bailey Morris
I know, I know. More pimento cheese...but I can't help it. Pimento cheese is just so darn tasty and it's so easy to make your own instead of shelling out $5 or $6 bucks for a container of that heavily mayonnaised stuff at the store.

There's no doubt that many cooks have placed their own unique spin on this classic combination of cheese, mayo and pimentos, but I am still a go-with-the-classics kinda gal. Over the years, I've tweaked this recipe over and over, and what I've found is that using as little mayo as possible while bumping up the flavor with pimento juice (along with the chopped pimentos) really makes a difference. This, and the addition of a generous pinch of cayenne pepper and freshly ground black pepper is all you need to elevate this spread to something swoon worthy.
Photo Kendra Bailey Morris
For more on tricks and tips to making pimento cheese along with my family's recipe, check out my original post on Food Republic, and while we're at it, how do you like to make your pimento cheese? What's your secret to making this spread swoon-worthy?
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