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Welcome to Paradise

I have been spending a lot of time in the Blue Ridge Mountains lately. So much that I kind of want to rent a cabin up there for the weekends. The scenery is beautiful, the hikes are challenging, and the food and beer is all that I could ask for and more. It’s no surprise that Kyle and I have chosen to get married out there. With all of the meetings and planning we have to do, I am sure that by October we will feel like locals.

Of course we always try to hit our favorite spots while we are in the area, and because I have spent extra time there lately I have even discovered a few new favorites. I used to think that my best-ever Blue Ridge discovery was Blue Mountain Brewery, or perhaps Shenandoah Joe. However a new-to-me local establishment is vying for the top spot: The Cheese Shop. This place is a bulk food wonderland! The shop itself is smallish, larger than a convenience store but much smaller than a grocery store, and it is packed with aisle after aisle of pre-portioned bulk foods. I went in with twenty dollars – check out how far that got me!

This might not seem like much, but when you see the prices on these items which would usually be splurges for me, you’ll see what I mean about how far I stretched my twenty dollars. I feel like I made out like a bandit.

  • Dried Tomatoes – 0.61 lb for $3.00
  • Organic Amaranth – 0.84 lb for $1.82
  • Buckwheat Flour – 1.67 lb for $3.11 (X2 – one for me and one for a friend!)
  • Golden Flax Seed – 1.36 lb for $1.75


  • Carob Chips – 1.3 lb for $2.94
  • Crystallized Ginger – 0.64 lb for $2.86
  • Chia Seeds – 0.17 lb for $1.47

I think I did pretty well. Now I just have to figure out what to do with all this stuff! Several of these ingredients are new to me, so all suggestions are welcome. What’s your favorite way to use amaranth? Buckwheat flour? Carob? Chia?

Next time you’re in Augusta County, VA, I recommend that you make a trip over to the Cheese Shop. Since receiving this suggestion from a customer, I have collected a few more tips on great bulk food stores in the same area, so I may have more favorites to report soon.

The Cheese Shop is at 2366 Tinkling Spring Road in Stuart’s Draft, VA. Open Mon-Fri 9-5:30 and Sat 9-5. Closed Sunday. Visit them on the web at thecheeseshopva.com.


Fun With My Cast Iron Skillet

It has been on my Christmas and birthday lists for a few years now, and I have to believe that the only reason I hadn’t received it until Christmas 2011 is that it is so difficult to wrap. I think the only reason I never picked one up for myself is that it is so difficult to. . . well. . . pick up. This thing is heavy.

My first cast iron skillet.

Perhaps the only reason that I finally received one last year was that my dear family had realized that a steady diet of kitchen experiments had packed more flab onto my upper arms than muscle. Maybe now I can tone my arms AND cook a delicious meal, all at once. Maybe now that my wedding dress is hanging in the corner, and the only area of my body that can’t be corseted, bustled, pulleyed, pushed or levered into an optical illusion of perfection is my arms. . . perhaps that’s the reason I decided to start using the cast iron skillet on the regular.

. . . Oh how I long for midsummer weather right now. Maybe after spending two beautiful (and chilly) weekends in the wide open spaces of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Shenandoah Valley, I was feeling a little country.

Or a little campy.

Or I was a little tired, from scoping out outdoor wedding venues all day long for two Saturdays in a row.

Maybe I just wanted to whip up some comfort food for me and my honey, and what better way to do it than with my brand new cast iron pan? Whatever the reason, I got to seasoning my skillet on Sunday morning, and I decided I was going to put this beast of a cooking vessel to good use.

While the skillet hung out in the oven, I did my research so I would know what I was dealing with. Known for its durability and heat-retention properties, cast iron cookware has been a kitchen essential for centuries. A cast iron pot can be used over an open flame, on the stovetop and in the oven. I assume is works on the grill, although that is another domain I have not yet conquered. Cast iron skillets are great for certain dishes because they distribute heat evenly and retain it well.

The first step to using cast iron cookware is seasoning, which builds a natural non-stick coating on the pan. My cast iron skillet came pre-seasoned, but the instructions suggested that I season it again before use to ensure the best results. I found a lot of different methods on the web for seasoning the skillet, so I kind of combined them into the method that I used. First, I wiped down the skillet to remove any dust or dirt that may have accumulated on it while it lived in my cupboard for the last month. Then I preheated the oven to 350 degrees F. Next, I poured in the pan enough vegetable oil to coat the bottom to about a quarter of an inch. Using a folded paper towel, I coated the interior sides of the skillet with oil from the bottom of the pan. I placed the skillet in the oven for 15 minutes at 350 degrees F, then I turned down the heat to 200 degrees F and baked for an additional 45 minutes. Finally, I used two potholders to carefully remove the skillet from the oven and onto a trivet, where I let the skillet cool completely before use.

It worked great!

The first dish I tried was a frittata. I have wanted to make a frittata for years but I never had a pan that was stovetop and oven safe. Isn’t that sad? So I was all over this Tyler Florence recipe for a basic frittata. I omitted the ham and added about one cup of halved grape tomatoes, a few tablespoons of chopped fresh basil and a few handfuls of fresh spinach to the pan to wilt before adding the egg mixture. And of course I sprinkled cheese on top because I won’t have eggs any other way.

I loved taking the pan from stovetop to oven and then out again to see the beautiful result. Here are the before and after shots:

The frittata is done when it has puffed up in the pan and it is golden brown on the edges. Isn’t that just lovely? I served the frittata with a little side salad and I felt fancy like the Barefoot Contessa, Ina Garten. Except I wasn’t hosting a ladies’ brunch at my palatial home in the Hamptons. I was watching Game of Thrones with Kyle in our cozy little home in Woodland Heights. But I felt fancy, I tell you!

The only downside is that if you thought this skillet was heavy before, you will seriously struggle to wrestle it out of the oven when it’s all full of egg and veggie goodness.

It’s like a garden party, on my plate, in January.

This was so much fun, I think I’ll take the skillet for a spin again tomorrow night. Next up: cornbread. But don’t worry, I have found a whole list of healthy cast iron skillet recipes so I won’t only cook (creamy, cheesy, buttery) comfort food all the time. I’ll quit at cornbread and then move on to a nice low fat, seasonal vegetable dish, with extra iron skillet bicep curls.

But first. . . cornbread.


Local Favorite: Citizen

It is finally time to reveal one of my favorite lunch spots in Richmond. I have been trying for months to rein in my urge to dine in restaurants every day. Downtown Richmond has so many great options for lunch and I work in a great location that is within walking distance of many of them. However it is healthier for my wallet and my waistline to brown bag it more often than not. While I have been doing better with bringing my lunch to work, I make an almost-weekly exception just for Citizen.

Tucked into a building on 9th Street, Citizen is a gem that I discovered last year through a tip off in a Victory Farms CSA member newsletter during its opening week.

You may never see it there if it weren’t for a black sandwich board on 9th street, adorned with a constantly changing drawing and clever phrase to draw you in. During the height of the Lincoln Fever that was the Richmond filming of Steven Spielberg’s latest movie, the board displayed a familiar character to greet us daily.

Once you get past Lincoln, or a snowman, or a jack-o-lantern, or whoever it is on the specials board today, you get to Lauren and Greg. And they are awesome. Their constant banter and personal service make you feel at home, if your childhood home included an excellent menu executed by a creative and talented chef.

Lauren always greets us by name and no matter how crazy it is in there, she remains calm under pressure. She gracefully handles the incoming calls and line of walk-in customers simultaneously and consistently delivers service with a smile. If you aren’t sure what to order, she is excellent at giving suggestions and answering questions about the menu.

Greg rules the roost and cooks almost all of the sandwiches and sides to order. From what I can tell by watching the completely exposed kitchen, he is insistent on perfect execution of his dishes, yet he breaks his focus on the food just often enough to engage with customers. It must be difficult to cook every order while on display for eight and a half hours each day, but he pulls it off. It appears to me that he has the right balance of discipline and hospitality to make his open kitchen work for him. I have been known to boldly and firmly tell chattering dinner guests to “get out of my kitchen!” while entertaining, so I have a lot of respect for this guy.

So should we talk about the food?

Citizen calls their sandwiches “tortas” and they come out hot and pressed from being grilled on the flat top under an iron. One of the best I have ever had is one with jerk collards, pimento cheese and pickled shallots. My current favorite is the roasted butternut squash, curry cashew butter and celery root horseradish slaw. That is jerk collards on the side in the photo, and I highly recommend them.

The tortas come with a choice of side and there is always something pickled on the plate to finish it off. On this day it was a pickled carrot. So delicious.

Citizen has this new quiche type dish that was called a “savory rice pudding” on the day that we ordered it, but I think they’re calling it a quiche on the menu on their facebook page now. Stuffed with vegetables and cheese and topped with an ancho harissa sauce, this was a tasty dish, whatever it was.

I love that Citizen uses local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible and their constantly evolving menu is really exciting to watch. I have gotten so many ideas for my home cooking from the daring flavor combinations and creative uses of seasonal produce from Citizen’s kitchen. The prices are so fair that I don’t even feel guilty for cheating on my brown bag plan on a regular basis, and I have to hand it to them for making good food accessible and affordable.

I feel lucky to have had them move in near my office last summer, and I am looking forward to what the future holds for Citizen. I hope they are a fixture on 9th street for years to come. If you haven’t had a chance to check them out, make the trip and make sure you turn in at the clever sandwich board. But don’t tell Greg and Lauren that Lauren sent you. . . because that would just be confusing.

Citizen is located at 909 East Main Street and they are open from 7:00 AM to 3:30 PM, Monday through Friday. Check out their extremely informative facebook page here: Citizen RVA.

A Bright Idea for Ingredient Storage

Since we moved into our new home last month, Kyle and I have been wading through a sea of stuff that needs to be organized. Organizing our kitchen has been a fun challenge, and my ingredients and equipment are constantly moving as I figure out the layout that is best suited to my workflow. I have come up with a few solutions that put the “fun” in functionality and I love how they are working out. I borrowed a trick from the cabinet-challenged kitchen of my very first apartment, and put an IKEA BILLY bookcase in the kitchen for open storage of my cookbooks and pantry overflow.

See that second shelf? I borrowed the idea of storing grains in Ball jars from Emily at Daily Garnish. She has used this organization trick in two tight spaces: the kitchens of her Alexandria, VA home and her Seattle, WA home. It works fabulously in my bright Richmond kitchen!

I used wide mouth quart jars for rice, quinoa, couscous, and lentils. Then I expanded on the idea to store smaller quantities of ingredients with shorter shelf lives, like nuts, seeds, and dried fruit, in regular pint size jars. I have my rolled oats in a larger airtight hinged Mason jar in the middle of the mix.

And this is only the beginning. I also have clever solutions for storing my spices and linens, which I will share in a future post. I have a box of miscellaneous kitchen equipment that is still looking for a home, and I know I have a lot more arranging and rearranging ahead of me, so we aren’t out of the woods yet. Do you have any kitchen organization tips to share? I could use a few more bright ideas before all the pieces fall into place!

Lighten up a Classic Comfort Food: Mexi Mac & Cheese

Sometimes you get a craving for comfort food. You know what kind of food I am talking about – cheesy, creamy, fluffy, delicious, made-with-love-and-an-extra-helping-of-butter comfort food. Everyone has a different food that is the culinary equivalent of a warm embrace. Mine is cheesy mashed potatoes. Yours might be macaroni and cheese, or pork BBQ, or fried pickles. Whatever your comfort food is, it is probably not on the light side. These dishes tend to be indulgences that should be enjoyed in moderation. But I want to have them all the time! So the next best thing to a traditional comfort food is one that has been lightened up a bit so you don’t have to feel so guilty for eating the leftovers a few nights in a row.

For this lightened up version of Mac & Cheese, I used a recipe from Eating Well as  the base, then put my own spin on it. I like to call it Mexi Mac. Not to be confused with Sexy Sax, which is a completely different thing (NSFW?). I loved the addition of cottage cheese. The tart flavor played well with the sweet corn and mild heat of the green chilies. Don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it!

Mexi Mac & Cheese (serves 4-6 as an entree and 6-8 as a side dish)


  • 3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 3/4 cups low-fat milk, divided
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup low-fat small curd cottage cheese
  • 1 1/2 cups corn, canned (and drained) or frozen (and thawed)
  • 1 can ( 4 ounces) chopped green chilies
  • 8 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat elbow macaroni
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste


  1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat a 2 quart or 3 quart baking dish with cooking spray.
  2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl.
  3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, corn, and chilies.
  5. Cook pasta for 4-5 minutes, or until not quite tender (it will continue to cook during baking). Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well.
  6. Add dry mustard, salt and pepper to taste and stir to combine. Transfer to baking dish and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
  7. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.

Have you ever made over a comfort food to be healthier? Now is a good time to do it, while you are sticking to your New Year Resolutions. I think a bowl of this could keep you from falling off the wagon for at least a few days. 😉

And We’re Back!

I have internet again!

New year, new house, new internet connection – with incredibly fast download speed. I couldn’t be happier.

Also. . . new header! How do you like it?

And unfortunately for one reader (and fortunately for you!) the winner of the Good Cookie gift pack giveaway has not contacted me so I fired up the old random number generator again and picked a new recipient. And the winner is. . .


Katrina, please email me your mailing address at vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com.

If you didn’t win the giveaway and you want an OXO Good Cookie spatula, you can visit OXOgoodcookies.com to find a retailer in your area that may have one. This limited edition spatula is sold out online at OXO.com but I hear they still have them at select Bed, Bath and Beyond stores.

And now that we’re back up and running (new kitchen and new internet – woo hoo!), you can expect some more recipe posts. I have a healthy new version of a classic comfort food that I’m looking forward to sharing with you later this week. I hope it will satisfy those cheesy, buttery comfort food cravings without completely derailing you from any healthy living resolutions for 2012.