Eating with Rob

My new marriage and the noms that bring us together.

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Chicky chicky parm parm.

In the middle of the day on what must have been Thursday, November 14th, Rob pried me away from my computer and insisted on taking me to lunch. He took full advantage of this opportunity and took me quite far out to Glen Allen, a suburb of Richmond, where he’d heard of this strip mall joint called Hurley’s Tavern that was supposed to be pretty good (http://hurleystavern.com/).

Hurley’s has an extensive menu of bar food classics, not unlike the cheeseburger of Rob’s you see above. I like that all the burgers are served on Texas toast, which is a unique touch compared to most burgers you find around here. The chips were homemade, too.

Speaking of unique, I ordered something that I really only ordered because I had never seen anything like it before, a “baked potato bowl.” I don’t know what I was expecting…I think I had used all my best judgment in my dissertation. But I guess I thought maybe it would be one of their many styles, served atop a bed of baked potato all in a nice bowl? So imagine my surprise when my chicken parmesan bowl shows up in this honker.

That’s right folks, a one pound baked potato just stuffed with breaded chicken, marinara sauce, mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil. Did these flavors go with a baked potato? No. Should I have gone with perhaps the pot roast bowl, or the chili bowl? Yes. But there was no going back.

I wished I had gotten just an order of chicken parmesan on its own, but who gets that at a bar? The chicken was absolutely surrounded by way too much dry, unseasoned baked potato, and it lacked enough sauce to make the whole thing cohesive. So in all, the chicken was good, but my view was better.

I’m not sure we’ll be making it back to Hurley’s any time soon - it’s a bit of a drive for us, and I didn’t love my selection. Which isn’t to say there aren’t other good things on the menu, and it did seem like it could be a fun place to watch a sporting event. But for now, they can keep their stuffed baked potatoes, which are brilliant in theory, not so much in the execution.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Glen Allen Hurley's Hurley's Tavern bar food cheeseburger texas toast potato chips potato baked potato potato bowl chips homemade chips chicken parmesan chicken breaded chicken marinara sauce mozzarella cheese basil sports bar

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Puff the magic pastry.

Welp, we’re already there, my only adventure in cooking for the month of November. It was still relatively early in the month, and I’m glad I jumped at the chance, because there really wasn’t any time to cook from there on out.

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You can see that my brain was a bit scattered, since I managed to take approximately zero photos of the process of this little dinner, mini beef wellingtons. I got the recipe a few years ago from a Food Network show called Five Ingredient Fix, and it has been a great go-to recipe that I have made for friends and family alike (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/claire-robinson/mini-beef-wellingtons-recipe/index.html).

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I added my cooked beef with onions and mushrooms to some puff pastry, folded them up, and baked them off until they were that beautiful shade of what I like to call, “puff pastry brown.” Paired with a little white rice (and no vegetables…sorry, mom), and you have a happy hubs.

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I think he may have just been happy to see me in the kitchen and not on the couch, wrapped in a blanket, staring at my computer and rocking myself slowly (just kidding on that last part…mostly). After eating our fill, I fixed the leftovers in one of my favorite vintage pyrex dishes.

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These babies perform so well, even if was just for the two of us on a chilly November night. They visually want for gravy, but they’re actually incredibly moist and tasty, and while I’m sure gravy would be a welcome addition, it’s definitely not necessary. If you’re looking for an impressive entree, I’d highly recommend this one. It worked on my in-laws, and it can work for yours, too. Add some vegetation for a colorful plate (and nutrition, I GUESS), and the crowd will go wild.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia dissertation graduate school mini beef wellingtons beef wellington white rice Claire Robinson Food Network Five Ingredient Fix beef onions gravy mushrooms

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Indecent proposal.

Once the Halloween party was over, it was time to get down to business. I had twenty-four days to write my dissertation proposal, which was still skeletal at that point. So begins a very difficult month in which cooking and even grocery shopping were sadly not a priority. In fact, I only cooked for us ONE time the whole month. Unheard of in my grad school career.

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So, we did a lottttttt of takeout. On this particular evening in that first week of November, we decided to try Elephant Thai (http://www.elephantthais.com/Home.aspx). Extravert that he is, Rob was happy to make the call and order us the above fried wontons, among other things.

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Rob had the disassembled mussamun curry you see above. It’s a nice, hearty curry with tamarind and coconut milk among other things, not too spicy at all, with potatoes and onions and of course those classic curry spices. This has actually become a favorite Thai dish of mine since we tried it in New York about six months before (http://omnomwithrob.tumblr.com/post/47113885071/go-go-gadget-thai). Really warm and rich flavors.

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But I didn’t order any for my self. I had the pad thai…yes, I know - weak sauce, going with the classic American favorite. But I don’t know, I guess I figured that since this was our first time trying this place that we could presumably try again in the near future, good pad thai would be a good sign for future successes. So I carefully pondered its quality while I ate it, almost as carefully as Peach considered stealing Rob’s dinner.

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Seriously, my hummus, peanut butter, and Spaghetti-o loving cat could now increase her repertoire of favorite foods to curry. Wat.

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While our takeout experience of Elephant Thai was decent, it wasn’t too memorable. The fried wontons were no better than any I’ve had in Richmond, Rob’s curry was nice, but my pad thai was a bit dry, which I suppose I can forgive since it was takeout and might not have been in the best of shape. So as a result of my pondering, Elephant Thai didn’t make the list of repeat offenders in our month-o-takeout.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Elephant Thai pad thai massamun massamun curry curry thai food thai Peach the Cat takeout fried wontons dissertation grad school graduate school graduate student

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Treat yo’ self!

I can’t lie, I’ve been so excited to write about this little event since it happened. On November 1st, Rob and I finally felt ready to entertain in our new apartment. So, we threw a little housewarming shindig/Halloween party. Prep started the night before…

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Thanks, Cyrus Penarroyo, for buying us the obnoxious 101 cookie cutter set we registered for! Now instead of just pumpkins, I could make snickerdoodles shaped like all kinds of fun Halloween stuff. I used this recipe, just without the cream cheese filling (http://cookiesandcups.com/cream-cheese-filled-snickerdoodles/), because this hostess/ain’t nobody have time for that. Because look what else I had to make.

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Let me explain. Rob and I decided to be Andy Dwyer and April Ludgate from Parks and Rec for Halloween, and I had the best time in the world theming my apps, tray trays, and zerts around the show (ahem http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6OhJJR8nBl4). My new chalkboard was obviously the perfect place to share my little menu. The only thing not Parks and Rec centered was the Quoit Club Punch, a special treat Rob wanted to offer our guests. Read about it here (http://punchdrink.com/recipes/quoit-punch/).

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So the first thing I offered to my guests (breaking in my amazing new serving platter) was “Litrally” vegan sweet potato hummus (http://www.vegetarianventures.com/2012/11/26/spiced-sweet-potato-hummus/#.UnJaBxCKJ6h), for our meat-free friends and as an homage to Chris Traeger. It wasn’t quite as creamy as I’d hoped, but it went nicely with my Halloween-themed dippers, orange bell pepper, mini carrots, and black tortilla chips.

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I obviously made many more than pictured here, but next on my buffet were my homemade crab rangoons with “awesome sauce,” aka Andy’s reply the first time April said “I love you.” These were probably the biggest effort in terms of time, and they were a little frustrating because I couldn’t get a good seal, and the filling kept coming out of the sides while frying. But they were still quite good! (http://chinesefood.about.com/od/partyappetizers/p/crabrangoon.htm).

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Now I don’t take a lot of shortcuts in the kitchen - I’m pretty dedicated to scratch-making the old-fashioned way. But I had to admit defeat when it came to making a sweet and sour-esque “awesome sauce” for the rangoons. Making that bright red, corn-starchy elixir is beyond what I can fathom at this point, so I bought some from the store pre-made. And it was really tasty.

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Simmering on the stovetop, I had the main attraction for our guests, Pawnee pumpkin risotto with Mouserat meatballs (Pawnee = the town in Parks and Rec, Mouserat = the name of Andy’s band). This is one of my all-time favorite autumn recipes (http://teaforsix.com/2011/09/11/pumpkin-and-meatball-risotto/), and the pumpkin, white wine, leeks, and sausage play so well together in this hearty risotto. Which Rob and I ate off of frisbees, just like Andy and April when they were too lazy to wash their plates.

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Finally, we come full circle - here are the “Sweetums” snickerdoodles I’d baked the night before, topped in their full cinnamon sugar glory. Sweetums is a villainous candy company in Pawnee, slowly but surely pumping Pawnee citizens full of obesity-inducing treats, and these cookies bearing their name went so nicely with our Harvest Festival cider - which was just some storebought apple cider I’d revved up with extra autumn spices and served out of my crockpot.

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My classmates are hilarious - they arrived exactly at 7 o’clock. Our conscientious PhD types are NEVER fashionably late. From left to right, we have April Ludgate, badminton player (who was actually an Olympic-level badminton player in real life!) 70s disco babe, jogger, cowgirl, and Rihanna. We missed you, Janette! Our 7-woman cohort is such a treat to have around, especially since we’re now third-years, it can be hard to get us all in the same place at the same time. Love them.

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After a few hours, my girls went home as Rob’s co-workers came knocking. We did not plan this, and I think it was absolutely hilarious - grad students will take the early shift at any party. Many glasses of punch later, our guests called it a night, and it was selfie time for me and my Burt Maclin (FBI).

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After which, we parked ourselves on the couch with the leftover Quoit Club Punch, broke character, and selfied with Peaches. Her Champion costume needs work.

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This was my first time entertaining guests with my new wedding wares, in our first apartment together, and as Mrs. Bratney. I loved feeding these wonderful people we have in our life, all together in our teeny apartment. It was a wonderful night.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Halloween Halloween party housewarming housewarming party Parks and Rec Parks and Recreation Andy Dwyer April Ludgate Andy and April snickerdoodles cookie cutters hummus sweet potato hummus bell pepper tortilla chips carrots crab rangoons awesome sauce Chris Traeger sweet and sour sauce risotto meatballs sausage leeks pumpkin pumpkin risotto

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Some assembly required.

On Sunday, October 27th, Rob and I were homebound for a nice afternoon of homework and football. After the previous evening’s heartbreaking loss for Mizzou, we really needed the Chiefs to beat the Browns if we were going to have anything nice to say about the weekend. And you know me, I couldn’t let us watch on an empty stomach.

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So, I made buffalo chicken “bites” (I don’t think that’s the most accurate name for them, but whatever - http://www.ourfamilyeats.com/2012/05/buffalo-chicken-bites/). I started with two or three chicken thighs I had prepared in my crockpot until they were tender enough to shred.

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After mixing the chicken with hot sauce (Frank’s for the win) and butter, it was time to assemble. The recipe called for bleu cheese, which I understand goes well with the buffalo variety of things. But I don’t like bleu cheese, so I used goat cheese. My kitchen! My rules!

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I lovingly dolloped a spoonful of the filling on one side of each wonton, crumbled with some goat cheese, and folded them over with a little water on the edge for a nice seal. Per the instructions, I sprayed them with olive oil, and into the oven they went.

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They came out a very vibrant orange color, which was actually more aligned with the Browns’ team colors, but who cares. I fixed a big ol’ plate of them for us, and Rob and I settled in for some football with autumn libations and my homemade ranch dressing.

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Looks so festive, right? This was one of the easiest things I have ever made, and they were actually not too bad for us as far as football snacks go - I mean, I slow-cooked the chicken and baked the wontons, so aside from the butter and ranch dressing, these were practically vegetables. Anyway, they were just what we needed to munch on as we watched the Chiefs add another W to their undefeated season.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Kansas City Chiefs Kansas City Chiefs Cleveland Browns fall autumn football football season NFL ranch dressing buffalo chicken wontons crock pot slow cooker goat cheese bleu cheese cheese homemade ranch dressing butter Frank's Frank's hot sauce hot sauce

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Here’s a health to thee.

After a long day of work, I tore myself away from my computer for long enough to make dinner. As you’ll see in coming posts, the “having time to make dinner” phase was drawing to a close at this point in the semester. But on this night, I happily withdrew to the kitchen to admire these enormous swordfish steaks I’d impulse bought on manager’s special at the Kroger.

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I have since learned that a “manager’s special” sticker might as well be a giant, flaming red flag (be smarter than me. don’t get the yogurt). Anyway, this looked and smelled fine to me, but I’d never made swordfish before. I knew it was quite a beefy fish, filling, robust. So I knew I wanted to treat it nice.

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So I obviously put gobs of butter in a mixing bowl and jazzed it up with fresh lemon juice, garlic, and parsley and probably more…I can’t seem to find the recipe I drummed up from Epicurious or Spark Recipes or whatever app I was using to search for ideas that day. After liberally rubbing the fish down with my herbed butter and sticking it under the broiler for several minutes, I moved to vegetation.

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I had carrots, so I made carrots - simple enough. I like to buy the little baby carrots because they’re a nice and easy side dish for the sack lunches Rob and I so often tote. But tonight, they too were getting my herbed butter, so that the carrots themselves could receive what I like to call, “continuity of care” (psych joke, not sorry).

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This turned into such a nice plate! Covered in butter, mind you, but you’ll also notice my “donut holes” from earlier that morning that hadn’t gotten the apple pie treatment. Like my adviser says, “Never do anything for just one purpose.” Check.

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We sat down in front of the tv with a couple of pumpkin beers and ate our dinner in front of the Mizzou vs. South Carolina football game. Well, what we could see of it anyway, from behind Rob’s warty New York pumpkin. The first half was going so well, look how excited and happy and blurry we were!

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It was short lived, as we endured a heartbreaking loss in double overtime. Rob learned that his new wife could write the book on how to be irrationally emotional following a heinous sporting loss. But at least we were well-fed - the swordfish was so delicious (thanks, butter), and the carrots and little biscuits really rounded things out into what’s probably the weirdest football-watching food ever. But you just wait until you see what I make for the Chiefs game the next day. You just wait.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Mizzou University of Missouri Missouri Tigers University of South Carolina South Carolina Gamecocks swordfish butter butter sauce herbed butter lemon parsley garlic carrots biscuits football college football

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Put this one in the file. Under D. For donut.

On weekend mornings during the fall semester, I coped with my workload by putting it off and making us hot breakfast whenever I could. On the morning of Saturday October 26th, I had a long day of dissertationing ahead of me, and luckily, I had about fifteen pounds of enormous apples from our apple-picking day at Fishkill Farms (http://www.fishkillfarms.com/apples.html).

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Biggest apple ever! This pomaceous acquisition turned out to be highly in Rob’s favor, as he is a big lover of appley, cinnamoney, nutmeggy things. I happened to have an apple pie donuts recipe I’d been meaning to try that would be right up his alley (http://www.shugarysweets.com/2013/06/apple-pie-doughnuts), and also a new apple slicer to use for the first time (I think it was among the many kitchen gadgets my brother Scott got us for the wedding).

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Speaking of things we got for the wedding, how gorgeous is that cutting board? Our friend Mallory got it for us, and the back is carved with our initials and wedding date. In a big ol’ heart. It’s adorable.

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So once I sliced up my apples with my fancy new slicer, I got out my pre-made biscuit dough. From a can, maybe you know the kind. This was actually my first time making such a purchase, but I went for the most run-of-the-mill variety I could find. As much I would have loved the kind with the buttery layers, that just didn’t say “donut” to me.

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I punched out the middle with a shot glass and got everybody into my nice hot cast-iron pan. As you can see, my stovetop doesn’t have outstanding heat distribution. Not to worry, I recovered from the uneven heating and managed to salvage that middle one, too.

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While the biscuits finished cooking, I whipped up my nice corn-starchy apple-pie topping and my cream cheese frosting. I proudly selected the most nicely done biscuit and served it to Rob, who was already hard at work on this Saturday morning.

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This was a super fun and easy recipe - our hand-picked apples were perfect, and I never would have dreamed you could fry biscuit dough, since I’ve only ever baked them according to the instructions. Next time, I definitely think I’ll try it with a homemade biscuit/donut dough, just to put a little more of a personal stamp on them. But I would highly recommend this recipe for something novel and delicious that doesn’t take very long to prepare. After all, you presumably have fun things to get to on your weekend. Hopefully not a dissertation :)

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia homemade donuts apple pie apples apple orchard Fishkill farms apple pie donuts biscuit dough cast iron skillet cutting board dissertation grad school breakfast

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Fondue, or not fondue.

Once back in Richmond, it was back to the post-midterm grind, and cooking food directly on the table like we did with our NYC Korean barbecue felt like a distant memory. We rekindled that memory the very next weekend though, with a somewhat more corporate American version. That’s right, we went to The Melting Pot (http://www.meltingpot.com/).

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Rob’s mom knows me so well that she knew that a top-notch birthday present for me is a restaurant gift card, and I had never been to The Melting Pot before, so I was all kinds of intrigued to see what this mysterious prom-dinner locale was like in real life. True to form, there was a sweet sixteen going on in the next room as we tried to make sense of the menu.

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We started, of course, with cheese. Whatever combination of cheeses we had, they don’t seem to offer anymore by the looks of their menu, but  I think it was some combination of cheddar, gouda, and bleu cheese? All I remember for sure was the bleu cheese, and that it was topped with scallions, of course.

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We went all out and got the “premium dippers,” which increased our fare from bread cubes and veggies to include Italian meats and summer sausage. Sadly, I actually ended up just eating most of the meat without adding the cheese - I was trying to be adventurous with the bleu, but it ended up being a little too overpowering for this gorgonzolaphobe. Should have just gotten the cheddar.

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Next, we had a salad course, which was very lovely and did not involve the tabletop heating element (whew). I had their house salad, which was iceberg and romaine, cheddar cheese, tomatoes, croutons, a boiled egg, and their house dressing. You obviously don’t go to The Melting Pot for the salad, but I thought it was very good.

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Rob had what I think was a Greek salad they were offering at the time, with spinach, feta, red onions, and walnuts, which I’m fairly certain he had with a balsamic vinaigrette. Also quite good.

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Next came the entrees. I have to say, they really don’t do a good job of explaining this to people who have never been before, and we were extremely confused for pretty much the entire ordering process, and the confusion persisted even as things started showing up on our table. Above, you see my entree, the “Fondue Fusion” in its raw form, lobster tail (it was obviously still my birthday), teriyaki-marinated sirloin, barbecue pork, honey orange duck breast, and wild mushroom sacchetti (kind of like tortellini).

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Rob had the “French Quarter,” a plate of filet mignon, chicken breast,
Cajun shrimp, and Andouille sausage. We selected the coq a vin cooking style, which was basically a red wine broth that was boiling like crazy on our tabletop, and we dipped our bites in one by one to poach  them, careful to time each and cook them to the right temperature. So much work, but a nice way to prolong the meal and pace yourself while eating. I do wish the bites had been seared first back in the kitchen so you could call it more of a braise than a poach, but whatever, they seem to have this figured out.

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Once finished, we were on to dessert, a lovely plate of cheesecake, bites of cake, graham-cracker coated marshmallows, strawberries, and rice krispies treats. For our chocolate fondue, we picked a dark chocolate and added a Chambord (raspberry liqueur) mix-in. This was definitely the high point of the meal - that choice of mix-in was clutch.

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This was such an extravagant four-course meal! I felt bad for ruining the cheese course for myself with all that bleu, and we spent a lot of the entree course in confusion (we both have Masters degrees and it still took us forever to understand, so yeah, that’s embarrassing). We definitely spent most of our dinner laughing at ourselves for how difficult we were making it, but I definitely think the dessert made it all worthwhile. If we ever go back, it’s true we’ll have a bit more know-how about how this works, but it will probably be for dessert. Big thanks to Lynn Bratney for giving us a new dining experience for my birthday, one of my favorite possible gifts :)

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Melting Pot fondue cheese cheese fondue bleu cheese salad coq a vin house salad greek salad tomatoes cheddar cheese lettuce croutons boiled egg balsamic vinaigrette spinach feta cheese red onions walnuts lobster lobster tail sirloin teriyaki pork duck breast honey orange duck

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I’ve never really been, so I don’t really know (woooh Mexico).

This post is not very meaningful, I’m just going to tell you that upfront. But on the way drive back to Richmond from New York, we obviously made a stop for food. So in some part of Pennsylvania clearly worth remembering, we stopped at the most promising looking restaurant we could spy from the highway.

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Yesssss. From the moment we saw the facade of this beacon of tequila, we knew it wouldn’t be the drive-thru for us. And in we went, to the rodeo (http://www.elrodeopa.com/).

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Aside from a full-frontal view of Rob’s beard and a very large margarita, I really can’t tell you much about what I had. It looks like it was an old Mexican restaurant standby, a la carte enchiladas and a beef taco.

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Believe me, I love my cheap, greasy Mexican food just as much as the next guy, and probably more. But I mean come on, look at this cheese. Look at this unmelted cheese.

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At least Rob’s looks somewhat appetizing, with a lot more vegetation going on on top. But can I tell you what lies beneath? I cannot. But I can venture to guess that it harbors meat, cheese, tomatoes, and some type of tortilla product.

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As much as I’d like to tell you that I got drunk as a skunk at this roadside joint and that’s why I can’t remember a thing about this food, it was for a much sadder reason - just that it was so unmemorable. And honestly, I’m not upset about it - it’s not like we spent good money on a night out with high expectations. We just dropped a few bucks to fill our tummies on a long trip, and that’s exactly what we got at El Rodeo. Not the best greasy spoon of a Mexican place I’ve had, but it did it’s job.

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Richmond Virginia Pennsylvania El Rodeo Mexican restaurant margarita Mexican enchiladas tacos beef taco lettuce tomatoes sour cream cheese

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Goodbye on rye.

By the morning of Sunday October 20th, our New York City weekend had come to an end, and it was time to pack our bags and drive back to Richmond. But not without participating in what is arguably New York’s most important cultural contribution to the world as we know it - brunch.

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We walked from Allison, Jess, and Charlotte’s apartment in Williamsburg to Rye (http://ryerestaurant.com/), a hip little spot that was actually very reasonably priced, despite the super fine china and the mustachioed waiter (who could not have been creepier, by the way).

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As we sipped our coffee out of the daintiest dishware, our Charleston belle Allison beckoned the waiter and uttered the most beautiful words in the English language, “An order of donuts for the table, please.”

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Okay, so they weren’t exactly the type of donuts you’d pick up from a 7/11 - they were more along the lines of donut holes, but you wouldn’t hear us complaining. They were nice little donuts, the homemade cake variety, with a nice little glaze and a delicate crust. 

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For his entree, Rob had the Rye Benedict, a fairly classic version of eggs benedict, but with the delightful substitution of pork belly. I also appreciated that it was served atop a buttermilk biscuit rather than an English muffin - that’s a much better choice in my little opinion.

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I went with a close relative of the eggs benedict, Rye’s “poached egg” dish (could use a better name). This involved a fried tomato, ham, spinach, and poached eggs atop a slice of sourdough bread, dripping with mornay sauce (think bechamel). Slimy and satisfying!

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This was a nice little meal - I wouldn’t say the dishes were quite as fancy as the china, but I can see the charm in that. Speaking of charm, look at my hot dates!

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We were so sad to leave New York after such a wonderful weekend. We are still so grateful to our amazing hosts (including Charlotte, who isn’t pictured above) for letting us set up home base at their apartment while we enjoyed our return to the city. You all made my twenty-fifth birthday very special!

Caroline

Filed under Rob Bratney food blog Brooklyn Williamsburg New York City New York Rye Rye Restaurant brunch donuts glaze China eggs benedict poached eggs pork belly buttermilk biscuits biscuits mornay sauce mornay sourdough bread fried tomato spinach

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