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Home Cooking 82

Our Chowhound Retreat in Virginia

L.Nightshade | Apr 21, 201606:43 PM

Several of us got together in a big house in Virginia last weekend. None of us had ever met before, we just knew each other from Chowhound conversations. Some came from neighboring states, some came from as far as Ottawa and Washington state, to cook, eat, drink, and converse.

We stayed in a big old house with a large and workable kitchen.

On our first night together everyone was a bit tired from getting there. We laid out a spread of “before dinner” bites, which, after a gin tasting, became dinner. We had dolmades, eggplant spread, chickpea salad, smoked salmon, salmon roe, goat cheese, hummus, pita bread and crackers. All laid out on a garish beach towel to protect the ottoman around which we ate. And drank gin.

meatn3 brought Death’s Door gin from Wisconsin, and herby brought Ungava from Canada.

We also pored over all the cookbooks everyonebrought along.

The next morning we had the farm-freshest eggs scrambled with ramps.

Ramps! I hope MellMM will come in and share her story about “scoring” those ramps.

Later that afternoon I tried to recreate a cocktail I had had at Momofuku the previous evening. Of course we had to taste it in several manifestations. In varying proportions it contained gin, Campari, apricot nectar, and lemon juice. I didn’t duplicate it, but it was good anyway.

MellMM also scored a huge batch of pea shoots. People from the South went out of their way to supply local foods for us Northerners to sample. The pea shoots inspired me to make a pea spread with garlic and lemon (and some Parmesan for those of us who ate cheese), served on bread warm from the local store bakery, and topped with the pea shoots.

MelMM made a shockingly delicious gluten-free flatbread.

meatn3 had turned up with soft shell crab (along with morels and many other things). So for dinner that evening she fried them up.

With the crab we had grits with ramps, asparagus, and morels, we gilded the lily by topping it with a dab of sour cream.

Saturday was our last full day. We started again with herby’s perfectly cooked eggs with ramps and shallots. Tomatoes, bacon, and cheesy grits on the side. Pea shoot for decoration. There is nothing to compare with the taste of absolutely fresh eggs. With ramps!

That afternoon, while meatn3 drove to a trout farm to pick up trout and MelMM worked on Hoppin’ John, I started experimenting with another cocktail, this one also inspired by one I had at Momofuku. That one contained gin, white vermouth, and pickled ramp brine. With unusual prescience, MelMM had brought her pickled ramps. This one never worked for us, perhaps because the ramp brine tended toward the sweeter spices. So we switched it up, using vodka, omitting vermouth, and adding celery bitters, one of the many, many bitters that articshark brought. meatn3 came back with a big bag of fresh-caught golden and rainbow trout.

The group had graciously invited Mr. Nightshade along for our last evening, as we had to get up at about 4am to catch an early flight back at Dulles. He was consequently volunteered to get the grill going and cook the trout. I could swear our trout dish was based upon a cookbook recipe, but I cannot remember or find it. The trout was topped with buttered peas (and ramps, I think) and pea shoots. I spooned the remaining salmon roe over the trout.

Along with the trout, we had MelMM’s wonderful Hoppin’ John. She even brought her own pressure cooker in which to cook it!

Along with dinner, we had some lovely Virginia wines. Who knew? Well, probably everyone except me.

Oh yes, not food, but important. articshark's new pup, our honorary mascot, Java.

What a great Southern finale, local trout and Hoppin’ John. I know I’ve omitted some things, and I hope everyone who was present will chime in with their photos and comments.

It's a big chance, spending an entire three-day weekend in a house with people you've never met before. And it was a chance worth taking; everyone was absolutely wonderful!

I can’t wait to get together again!

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