My extended break from blogging here was not intentional. My break from getting outside with a fly rod wasn’t either. Life, work and an amazing new puppy, among other things, just got in the way and before I knew it, a whole summer had gone by and I hadn’t done either. Meanwhile, my buddy Matt has been busy doing the important work of raising twin girls, working hard and recently dealing with an extended mandatory evacuation from their Georgia island home courtesy of Hurricane Matthew. So it was a good time for both of us to get away to eat and drink and laugh, to try to remember how to fly fish, and most importantly to just truly relax for a couple days.
We began the relaxation right away, with a stop at Black Walnut Brewery, where we enjoyed a couple delicious beers while watching a big Redskins win from the dog-friendly porch. Then, because we’re smart, instead of going through and organizing our fishing gear, we decided to drink more back at the house and talk about how unorganized our fishing gear is.
Matt is holding Winslow, by the way, the aforementioned amazing puppy that I will have much more to talk about soon. A truly special dog.
The next day, fueled by Anita’s breakfast burritos, we headed down to Rose River Farm on an absolutely beautiful morning. It of course took us far too long to get geared up, but we had all day and were in no hurry. Conditions were fantastic on the Rose River, great water level and flow, and the river was crystal clear. Stepping into moving water with a fly rod felt like reuniting with the second dear old friend in as many days.
Matt hooked up first and outfished me the whole time. He took advantage of the gin clear water, dead drifting small, sinking flies without a strike indicator and just watching for the take and setting the hook.
But I caught my fair share too, including this beauty that Matt captured with his iPhone if you can believe it. This is one of the coolest iPhone fish photos I’ve ever seen.
I had to include this portrait of Buster Brown, a red heeler mix who helps out around the farm. We enjoyed hanging out for a bit with Buster and Earl, the farm manager. I’ve watched this dog grow up from a pup (he’s 3-years-old now), and he has become just the coolest little dog.
A day of fishing is best followed by more food and drink, preferably with a fire. We stayed at one of Rose River Farm’s luxury yurts, where we grilled burgers, enjoyed various seasonal beers, went through a generous supply of firewood and listened to some great music. The fishing was even better the next day, and Matt closed out his trip with a stellar morning of fishing. He’s back home now and I’ll be back at work in the morning. But time spent with friends always produces indelible memories. Plus, in addition to reheated Anitas breakfast burritos and the technique of tumbling flies indicatorless along the riverbed, Matt introduced me to something else I will now enjoy forever: the music of Mandolin Orange. I can’t stop listening to their new album, Blindfaller. It is an astounding, near flawless collection of lyrics, strings and voices. Just beautiful from start to finish.
It has been a great few days. I hope it’s the beginning of a fall with more time spent outdoors in the company of old friends, cool dogs and Mother Nature.
“There’s nothing like a nice piece of Hickory.”
Last year some friends gathered for an evening of food, drink and fun, with everyone bringing a dish made from wild game acquired over the course of the year. That night was such a success we’ve decided to make it an annual tradition! This year we gathered at my friend Jason’s house, and his smoker added a great new dimension to many of the dishes. Here’s a little tour of the feast!
This marinated venison backstrap was on the smoker for about three hours, cooked to perfection and so incredibly tender it was hard to believe. Fantastic. Don’t ask Jason for the marinade recipe, he won’t give it to you.
My friend Carolyn told me about this dish and I had to try it. Baked beans mixed with browned ground venison, peppers and onion, baked, then topped with crumbled bacon, drizzled with honey and put in the smoker for 45 minutes.
Full smoker! Marinated dove breasts, jalapeno poppers filled with shrimp and seasoned cream cheese, then wrapped in bacon, mushrooms stuffed with ground elk meat and cream cheese, and the tenderloin.
Cheese stuffed beer bread? YES PLEASE! Thank you Anna!
These are the finished smoked bacon wrapped cheesy shrimp jalapeno poppers. The cream cheese, I’m told, counters the heat in the peppers. Um, no.
Anna made this incredible mac and cheese. It was delicious and popular, and good to have a dish on the table that wasn’t meat colored.
I don’t really get tired of marinated bacon wrapped venison tenderloin morsels of awesomeness.
The finished mushrooms stuffed with elk meat, cream cheese, mushroom and seasonings.
I actually forgot to try this! Wild turkey breast stuffed with goat cheese and peppers.
Another view of the perfectly cooked venison tenderloin, marinated and then smoked with hickory. Like butter.
I took the smoked, marinated dove breasts, wrapped them in puff pastry and baked them for ten minutes or so.
Anna made this wonderful lemon meringue pie from scratch, in addition to the pie and the amazing beer bread.
It was a real treat to sample amazing donuts from Front Royal’s Naughty Girls Donut Shop. The story of the shop and the amazing young woman who started it is a great one, and I encourage you to read about it here.
And in addition to all of the above, we of course had a variety of excellent seasonal beers to enjoy.
It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s Game Night, either — I’m thinking venison meatball and cheese sliders will be on the menu!
Some good friends gathered on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for what we hope will become a new annual tradition. Game Night is a feast, the sharing of wild game hunted throughout the year. It is a celebration of cooking, drinking, laughing and eating, and all of those to excess. Let me walk you through some of the delicious ways we gave thanks to the animals we hunt, and the friends who shared this special night.
Marinated, Bacon-Wrapped Venison Tenderloin Morsels of Awesomeness
I’ve been making these for a few years, they’re easy and very popular. Cut the tenderloin into good size chunks, marinate overnight, wrap each with a half slice of bacon and secure with a toothpick (soak the toothpicks for 10-15 minutes so they don’t completely burn up). Then grill. Keep an eye on these as the bacon will cause flare ups. Some charring is of course delicious, but you don’t want to leave these unattended.
Here’s what I use in my marinade: 1/4 cup Worcestershire, 1/4 cup soy sauce, a bottle of beer (try different varieties for fun, but I like using a dark, richly flavored beer), 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp onion powder, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 cup brown sugar (light or dark), 1 tsp of cayenne pepper.
Here are the completed venison morsels, which by the way came from this beautiful deer. Thanks to Anna for this and other great photographs from the night. Please check out Anna’s web site, AKG Inspiration.
Bacon-Wrapped Dove Appetizers
Across the board, everyone loved these incredibly delicious dove breasts that Chris and Anna brought. Regular readers might recall our dove hunt. What a fun day that was, and tasting these makes me want to get my full limit when we go back next year. Chris marinated these, wrapped each breast around slices of green bell pepper and onion and secured with toothpicks. Absolutely delicious. Anna also made an amazing pot of macaroni and cheese made with four cheeses: fontina, havarti, brie and sharp cheddar. (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
Horseradish Encrusted Venison Tenderloin
My friend Jason loves to cook wild game almost as much as he loves to hunt it, and he is very talented at both. I’ll let him walk you through preparing these great main course: Coat the tenderloin with olive oil, salt and pepper. Then spread prepared horseradish over it evenly. Mix a sauce of about 2 cups balsamic vinegar and 4 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally until it gets syrupy. Grill the tenderloins (preferably to about medium rare) and remove from grill. Top with crumbled goat cheese and broil on high in the oven for 3-4 minutes until cheese begins to brown. Slice, drizzle with balsamic reduction and serve! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
This, in my opinion, is absolutely perfect medium rare venison tenderloin. Great job by the grillmaster Jason.
Fresh Wild Turkey Breasts
And I do mean fresh! Jason shot this turkey on Thanksgiving morning. He used a liquid garlic butter rub and coated with Cajun seasoning. Then this was cooked in an oilless turkey fryer. This is the first time I’ve had wild turkey and it was great with quite a kick to it! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
Grilled Bacon-Wrapped Asparagus
Thanks again to Jason and Allie, Jason’s girlfriend and a long time dear friend of mine. I did not actually try these, but they looked and smelled great! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
At some point when everyone was occupied in the kitchen there was a knock at the door. This is what we saw waiting to be let in. Now, and only now, can we get this party started. Our friends Ken and Mary accompanied this bear, along with more treats. Which brings us to dessert…
In addition to this amazing thing I’ve never had before, our friends Brad and Jess also brought one. I love these things! It’s like pumpkin pie/cake and cheesecake all rolled up and sliced. Fantastic.
Bourbon Pecan Pie
Okay I love pecan pie. It’s one of my very favorite things, especially at this time of year. And in the heat of the moment last night, with the beer flowing, the hugs being distributed, the laughter and friendship warming us on a cold night, I might have been heard saying that the bourbon pecan pie Allie made from the recipe in my favorite magazine, Garden & Gun, is the best pecan pie I have ever tasted.
Now, a day later, with a clearer head, I do not hesitate to say it again. This is honestly the best pecan pie I have ever tasted.The recipe can be found at Garden & Gun here. Thank you Allie for this! (Photo courtesy of AKG Inspiration.)
I want to thank everyone for coming and making such amazing contributions to a meal I will not soon forget. As we go through the next year spending time in the woods or on the water, we’ll enjoy setting aside some venison, wild birds, maybe a fish or two, with plans on preparing for next year’s Game Night. Can we top the First Annual? Does a bear drink wine out of a bottle?
Okay I have only been able to catch one tiny little snakehead fish. But I continue to try, because they fight like hell. I really want to catch a big one on a fly rod. In fact I just purchased some new frog flies that I think are going to be very effective.
But while I’m waiting for that to happen, my friend Monica was kind enough to share some snakehead with me that is actually of the size that a person could cook and eat. The last two times I saw Monica were the last day of school in third grade, and then again a week ago when she came kayaking with us and brought me this gift of snakehead fish. I encourage you to check out her new blog, Shedding Suburbia. Monica is a great writer and I know you’ll enjoy her insightful commentary on life and the outdoors.
Okay back to the snakehead. To be honest, even though I had heard good things about them, I really didn’t know what to expect. I mean, we’re talking about a fish that is alarming in appearance and behavior. It looks ancient and wicked and completely alien. When caught it thrashes so violently if you get one to take a fly or lure in the shallows against the weeds you’d swear you had an alligator on the line. As difficult as they are to hook, they are damn near impossible to land. And once you get the powerful, slippery bastards in the net or in your kayak, you’re only about a third of the way into the battle.
So honestly, how good could something taste that is constructed entirely of muscle, slime and anger? Despite being decidedly nervous about trying new foods, I wanted to find out. I decided the safest method would be beer battered and fried, so I picked up the basics shown above. When recipes call for beer, I always like to use something flavorful and interesting. Here the Sam Adams Octoberfest seemed like a nice choice. Then I cut the fish, which was very firm, into bite sized pieces.
So far, so good. The fish had no odor to speak of, and the texture was firm. The bite-sized pieces were dipped in the batter and plunked into a skillet with some hot vegetable oil. They cooked for about four minutes, until golden brown as the package instructs, turned once for another four, then drained on a paper towel.
I wouldn’t be writing a blog post about this unless it was really good or really bad. And this fish was really good! The fish is tasty and mild, and cooks white and flaky. This was a lunchtime experiment, served with some cheddar macaroni salad and tartar sauce out of the jar from McCormick. I think next time I will maybe add a little kick to the batter, maybe a little cayenne pepper or something. And perhaps look for an interesting tartar sauce recipe. But I will gladly keep any snakehead fish I catch, and be happy to know it’s in the freezer for a quick, easy and delicious meal!
One of the advantages of a beer dinner like this is it makes you explore food and drink that you may not otherwise consider ordering. I’m quite fond of a couple of Goose Island products, but had not sampled any of the five here. And regardless of what food I was ordering, I would probably order the type of beer that’s more in my comfort zone, an IPA perhaps, with no consideration given to which beer would be best paired with which dish.
These culinary creations come from gifted Chef Adam Harvey. I don’t know a lot about food and what makes things taste great together, and I thought “pairing” was something you did with wine and food. But I was highly impressed with these beer pairings put together by Chef Adam. A handful of my very favorite meals of all time have come from his kitchen, and I would certainly add this one to the list. So let me take you on a tour of my meal to remember…
First Course: Crispy oysters, with vanilla and apple soubise, toasted hazelnuts, lemon confit. Paired with: Sofie Farmhouse Ale.
This course really got my attention, as immediately the lemon and vanilla flavors, the caviar and the nuts combined with the Sophie Ale just went perfectly together. I knew right away I was in for a fun meal!
Second Course: Speck wrapped halibut, pumpernickel, pickled radish. Paired with: Matilda Pale Ale.
The flavor of this halibut, and the texture of the crunchy pumpernickel and pickled radish were just fantastic together, and were beautifully complemented by this truly delicious pale ale, one of my two favorite beers of the night.
Third Course: Charred pork belly, romanesco, burnt brussels, dirt roasted beets. Paired with: Pepe Nero Farmhouse Ale.
Oh my, was this delicious, every single bite. Whatever that orange rectangle of deliciousness was on the plate was a little spicy, again all these flavors worked brilliantly with each other and with the excellent Pepe Nero.
Cheese: Noble cheddar, huckleberries, coffee crumble, red ribbon sorrel. Paired with: Pere Jacques Abbey Ale. This was utterly sublime. The flavors of this wonderful cheddar and the huckleberries, with that little crunchiness of the coffee crumbles was the tastiest dish of the night. It was paired perfectly with this malty Abbey Ale, my favorite of the five beers. If the previous courses were all home runs, this was a grand slam.
Dessert: Bitter chocolate mousse, yeast crumb, salted toffee. Paired with: Big John Imperial Stout. Wow. What a way to end this meal. The Big John Stout would have sufficed as a dessert on its own, with plenty of chocolate flavor and aroma, but like all the courses before it, this mousse and stout, when paired, become more than the sum of their parts.
I hope you enjoyed the tour of this special meal! For my local readers, I simply can not recommend the Wine Kitchen strongly enough. And if you are a brunch fan, their Sunday brunch is a meal that has made my top meals of all time list more than once. Also look for these fine beers from Goose Island. Their seasonals, as well as the more widespread Honker’s Ale are delicious, but if you can get your hands on some of these Ales (the first four of these are all part of what they call their Vintage Ales), you will not be disappointed. Thanks to the Wine Kitchen and Goose Island Beer Co., and as always, my compliments to Chef Adam.
An oddly mild winter folded into an unseasonably warm first day of Spring here in Virginia, and I was lucky enough to spend the day at Rose River Farm. The peach trees had begun to blossom, bumblebees were everywhere doing their thing, and the trout were jumping with Spring Fever!
We fished dry flies exclusively all afternoon. It was the first time I’ve done that in a long time. But when trout are rising, and taking what you’re offering, there is just nothing like it in the world. My favorite rod for this river, a Sage 4-weight ZXL, loaded with Rio Gold line, is simply at its best with a long, tapered leader and a single dry fly. It casts effortlessly, and when I set a caddis down softly over a rising trout, and watch that little black speck as it disappears into a burst of water and motion, it’s as exciting as it was the very first time I ever experienced it. A confident hook set, the hiss of line snapping off the surface and then that awesome, unmistakeable tug of life vibrating through leader, line, rod, hand, and soul. A fight, a fish not quite ready to come in, a little more fight and then the match is conceded. Man, this is fly fishing.
Douglas, visible through the rocking chair as he fishes, told me how great this Palm Beer is, and he is right. This is an absolutely delicious product.
As we wrapped up our day on the water, lightning began to flicker over the mountains. While the grill warmed up, I set up the tripod and tried to catch an image of it. No luck, but I like the colors in this 20-second exposure.
I’m no connoisseur, but after a day of fishing, a bottle of this Malbec (okay, there may have been two bottles) from Argentina hit the spot with grilled rib-eyes so big I shared part of mine with Enzo, my gracious host’s Spinone. It was the first day of Spring, and I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
As a graphic designer, I don’t often get an assignment that has me grabbing the keys and running out the door like a small town beat reporter responding to a fire down at the old mill. But I have loved and enjoyed both the original Leesburg, Virginia Wine Kitchen and their newest Frederick, Maryland location for as long as they’ve been open, and the brunch at the Frederick restaurant is among the very best meals I’ve ever had at Wine Kitchen. Or anywhere, for that matter. So when my friend and client asked me to return for brunch to take some promotional photographs, I jumped at the opportunity. Below are some highlights both culinarily and photographically. Enjoy!
I have not historically been fond of the Flying Dog beers, but this K9 Cruiser Winter Ale is right on the money. Loved it!
Our extremely pleasant server, Mary, beautifully displaying my new Wine Kitchen t-shirt design. Visit Mayfly Design for more, albeit less interestingly displayed, design samples.