Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Winchester, Virginia

The Location: Winchester, Virginia
2013 population: 27,216; 68.8% white, 15.9% Hispanic. Per capita income $26,061.

Before the Europeans arrived, the region around Winchester was home to Iroquoian-speaking Native American tribes. This included the Sherando and the Senedo. In the late 17th century, the Shawnee challenged these tribes for their hunting territory, and eventually took over. The area was also a battleground for the Seneca and the Lenape who hailed from the North, as well as the Siouan Catabwa, from the Carolinas. The Shawnee would end up being removed from their land in the 1830's by the United States government as part of the Indian Removal Act. Though they did not travel on the Trail of Tears, like many other tribes, they ended up in Oklahoma, with all the other tribes who did.

The area around Winchester began to see European settlers starting in 1729, when Quakers from Pennsylvania traveled there. The Scots-Irish and Germans soon followed. The city was founded in 1738, as Frederick Town, but in 1752, it was renamed Winchester, after the town in England. A young George Washington spent a lot of his younger years here, surveying the surrounding land. During the Revolutionary War, a militia group from the city came to General Washington's aid during the Siege of Boston in 1775.

During the Civil War, Winchester's proximity to the Shenandoah Valley made it a large target for both the Union and the Confederacy. It was the location of five battles between 1862 and 1864, and there were two more nearby in 1864. After the war, the United States government assigned a military presence in the city during the Reconstruction era.

Today, Winchester has several museums and tours available for tourists and Civil War buffs.

The Food: Peanut Soup and Savory Baklava

Peanuts originate from South America, but are now known as an American staple. Virginia peanuts, which actually grow in various Southern states, are very large in size and in high demand. Virginia began growing them in the 1860's. When I think of this state, this is one of the foods that immediately come to mind, so I knew I wanted to do something with them. I could have tried out boiled peanuts, but from everything I've heard about them, they're just not all that amazing. I wanted to try something very different and substantial. Peanut soup is something I've heard mentioned off and on over the years and in the course of researching for this project, but I have never been brave enough to try it until now. It just sounded so weird to me, but it was actually really good! My recipe comes from a vegetarian recipe site, and I'll copy it here with my changes and put the link to the original recipe in the Sources section at the end of the post.

Peanut Soup
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3 large celery stalks, finely diced
8 to 10 ounces carrots (6 to 8 medium), peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup dry white wine or water
2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
 32-ounce container low-sodium vegetable broth
3/4 cup natural smooth peanut butter(I used Adam's brand)
1 to 1/2 cups unsweetened rice milk or almond milk(I used dairy milk because that's what I had at home and I didn't want to buy more)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley, plus more for garnish(I skipped this, I'm not a big parsley fan)
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice, to taste(Mine needed at least twice that to get the flavor to come through. I used lime juice because that goes really well with the peanut flavor. Think Thai food.)
Cayenne pepper or other hot seasoning, to taste(I used Tabasco sauce)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Chopped roasted peanuts for garnish, optional

Heat the oil in a large soup pot. Add the onion, and sauté over medium heat until translucent.

Add the celery, carrots, and wine. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not overcooked.

Sprinkle in the flour in with the vegetables, and stir it in until it disappears.

Add the broth and bring to a rapid simmer. Cover and simmer gently over low heat for 10 minutes.

Spoon the peanut butter into the pot and whisk it in briskly until blended with the liquid.

Stir in the rice or almond milk and bring to a gentle simmer once more. Stir in the parsley and lemon or lime juice.

Add cayenne or other hot seasoning to taste, then season with salt and pepper.

If time allows, let the soup stand off the heat for an hour or so to allow the flavors to blend, then heat through as needed.

Taste to adjust seasonings, then serve. Garnish each serving with some chopped peanuts and parsley if desired.
I'm pretty proud of the fact that my soup looks pretty much exactly like the picture on the original recipe. It definitely had a Thai flavor to it that I really liked, but there was too much celery for my tastes. Next time I'd probably cut that at least in half. I found this soup to be really rich and filling. I mean, it's peanut butter, it's full of fat(the healthy kind) and protein, so there's a lot going on there. A cup of soup, rather than a bowl, is best for this sort of hearty soup. This was pretty easy to make and didn't take long to cook. I didn't have any peanuts to use as a garnish but that would have looked nice on top and added some crunch to it. Make sure you have some for the garnish if you try this recipe out.

And for the entree...Virginia ham is a unique ingredient, akin to proscuitto. It is very salty and meant to be eaten sparingly. It is also referred to as Country ham. But, it can also refer to other types of ham, the sliceable kind for sandwiches, and this is the kind I used. It's not easy to find in Seattle, so I went to two grocery stores and went with the first kind I found, no questions asked. It said Virginia on it, so I was cool with it. It wasn't the prosciutto-style, but it was very smoky and didn't seem to have any sweetness to it, like most hams do.

So, this recipe was supposed to be something else, and I had to change it at the last minute due to a couple different things. First, it was supposed to be baked in mini cupcake tins, and I only had one and didn't want to prep these 4 times which is the amount of batches I'd have to make with only one tin. Second, to thaw out the few sheets of phyllo dough I needed, I actually had to thaw the entire half package. The phyllo dough I bought came in two separate halves that you have to unroll. What to do with all the other dough? You can't refreeze it and you can't really refrigerate it, and I was not about to just toss it. I spent good money on the high quality stuff, I wanted to use it. So, I thought about the recipe and how I could change it to make it work for me. And thus, this recipe was born. When I ate sweets, baklava was one of my favorite desserts, so I am quite familiar with how it works. How to turn it into a savory entree, though? Well, that's where the original recipe came in. I used all the filling ingredients, added one of my own, and assembled it in the style of baklava. I will write out my recipe and include the link to the original inspiration in the Sources section as well.

Savory Baklava with Virginia Ham
1/2 pkg. phyllo dough, thawed
1/2 lb. Virginia ham, chopped
6 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1/2 tart apple, chopped or shredded
1/2 cup pecans, chopped(Because baklava needs to have nuts in it. I know pecans don't scream "Virginia", but they are a Southern staple and I looked it up and George Washington grew pecans in his home at Mount Vernon in Virginia, so that to me makes it an appropriate nut to include in this dish.)
1 stick butter, melted
1 sleeve Ritz crackers, crushed(I used the Trader Joe's brand, because the Nabisco brand still has partially hydrogenated fats in it it, even though it's not a lot. I try to avoid those at all costs, but use whichever brand you like most or have access to.)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter the bottom and sides of a 9"x13" baking dish. I used a glass dish. Layer several sheets of phyllo dough on the bottom and brush with melted butter. Sprinkle some of the crushed crackers and then put another several layers of phyllo dough over that. Butter that layer and put half the ham mixture on top of that, spreading it out evenly. Repeat with the phyllo, butter and crushed crackers for a layer or two and then top with the rest of the ham mixture.
Continue with the phyllo, butter, and crackers until it's all used up.
Any extra butter you have can be poured over the top and then tilt the pan around to let it seep through to the lower layers. Or you can just use it for something else if you don't want to use it all up. Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes, checking to see that it's browned all the way through before it's finished. Remove from the oven and let sit for a few minutes before cutting into pieces and serving.

 I found this to be really rich, and didn't need much to get filled up. I can see why the original recipe was for appetizers. A little of this goes a long way! Paired with the peanut soup, I got full really fast. Of course, it might have something to do with the bag of Pirate Booty I ate during the Presidential debate last night. Dinner was suuuuuper late! This made a lot of leftovers, so hopefully my coworkers will help eat it all up tomorrow for me! I gave some to my parents too, so I'll have to check later to see what they thought of it.

I looked at my blog schedule last night and did the math. This week's post denotes the start of my final fifth of the states. I am amazed that I have managed to keep up with this project for so long and that it's getting down to the last set of states to study! I'll be sad when this is over...!

Original Ham Tart Recipe

Peanut Soup Recipe

City Info

City Stats

City Map

City Pic

Virginia Peanut Info

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