Author Archive for: ‘dsimmons’

My Favorite Burger Joint


I’ve lived in Roanoke on & off for 20 years.  In that time, we’ve gained some excellent restaurants (finally!).  Local Roots, River & Rail and Blue Apron (technically Salem) are three that come to mind as top tier places to dine.  They’re all very focused on local, sustainable offerings in a cool ‘hipster’ atmosphere.


But I don’t want to talk fine dining.  I want to talk about really really great burgers.  I have found the quintessential burger place in Roanoke.  It’s been around forever, and consistently wins Best of Roanoke awards.  It’s Burger in the Square, which used to actually be in the Square downtown, but is now in a little nondescript hole-in-the-wall place on Brambleton Ave.  They’re the bar I use to judge all other burgers.  Fresh ground beef, hand pattied daily, cooked on a flat grill,  locally made buns, lots of toppings and cool spreads.   Not much else on the menu.  They do use frozen fries, which is a mark against them, but their burgers are so darn good, it doesn’t really matter.


Friends have told me the new burger joint downtown is excellent too.  I’ve tried to eat there a couple times, but it’s tiny (maybe 20 seats) and always packed.  I’ll admit I haven’t tried all that hard to eat there.  BITS calls my name, loudly, when I’m craving a burger.   If you’re in Roanoke anytime soon, check it out!

How John Muir is Revolutionizing the Farm-to-Table Food Movement

John Muir Quote

I have long been a fan of Dan Barber, chef of New York’s pioneering farm-to-table restaurant Blue Hill.  He has long been a champion of the local, organic food movement. But now he thinks it’s time for the movement to grow up.  Read the article to gain an understanding of how our current food system came to be, and what we need to do to get it back on track.

The most meaningful paragraph in this article, for me is:

“So what is the role of the chef? It’s to help with the hitching. To show there is pleasure, good taste, and environmental sustainability in fostering connections. After all, that’s what cuisine is: the way a region’s unique ecological relationships, and place-specific advantages and challenges, become manifested through delicious food.”

Farmers Fishers Bakers


I had the opportunity to dine at FFB’s in DC this past week.  The setting is gorgeous-right on the Washington Harbour and Georgetown Waterfront.  The food was delicious as well.  Sort of the perfect combo for a great night out!

Some facts about the restaurant from their website.

  • It’s owned by American family farmers that belong to the North Dakota Farmers Union.

  • Their menu is “crafted on a foundation of seasonal ingredients from abundant and healthy sources, and the sushi bar is constantly adjusting its offerings to meet and exceed the standards of sustainable seafood”.

  • Their “interior is designed and enhanced by North American artisans – from individually handcrafted chairs to our interlocking wood ceiling hand-installed by Canadian woodworkers, to our one-of-a-kind American flag mural and welcome desk mural, installed onsite by regional artists.”

  • “ Above all, Farmers Fishers Bakers seeks to honor and respect the strong values of the farmers who grow our food and the folks that harvest it, while celebrating the independent spirit of craftspeople and artisans from across the country.”

I was very impressed by how many local items were featured, and how much of their menu is prepared in house.  Here’s what we enjoyed:

Brick Oven Pretzels with Pimento Cheese, BBQ Mustard, Sour Cream & Onion Dips

Pretzels & dips were excellent!  Pretzels came out still hot, crispy on the outside, tender & light on the inside.  The pimento cheese has a little kick from jalapeno, and the bbq mustard has a great horseradish bite to it.  And they made the onion dip right-starting with caramelizing the onions!

Authentic Field Tacos: Fried White Fish on a Sweet Corn Cake

Other options for the taco fillings include Chicken, Pork Belly, Marinated Steak, Pulled Pork, Beer Braised Beef & Plancha Tuna.  Tortilla choices included Fresh Masa Puffy Corn Taco or Griddled Flour Tortilla.  The taco was topped by dates, mango, radishes & peanut cider slaw.  Amazing flavor combo!

Shrimp Scampi, Gnocchi, Leafy Greens

‘Caroline White Shrimp’ with Potato Gnocchi in a rich, velvety Garlic Lemon Sauce…with enough Sautéed Spinach to make it seem like maybe what you were consuming is actually healthy.  Then there was the Grilled Bread to sop up the extra sauce.  It’s all about balance, right??

I highly recommend FFB!  Again, setting & food can’t be beat.  You feel good about having helped the environment & American family farmers after eating all the local/sustainable deliciousness.  And prices were the best I’ve seen anywhere in DC!  I was amazed at the quality & quantity of food for a very reasonable price!!!  Check it out!

Ramen at Foo Dogs


I had a fabulous dinner at Foo Dogs ramen bar in Richmond a couple weeks ago. The company was the best part (Chris Blain, the hot new chef at the governor’s mansion!). But the food was a close second!

We started with

BAO WOW (love the name!)

Two pork belly bao sliders with cilantro, red onion,

plum sauce drizzle and sprinkled with cashews 

Basically pork buns served taco style. The shell was the typical chinese pork bun dough. It was folded around perfectly tender, fatty & sweet pork belly. The accompaniments finished it off nicely!


Eight Wings tossed in a fiery Foo Dog signature

sauce, Korean BBQ Sauce or Malay Curry Sauce

We had the fiery Foo Dog signature sauce. It was delicious, but pretty much your typical hot wing sauce. Loved that the wings were small, really crispy & not breaded!

For out entrees, we shared two ramen dishes:


Red miso & curry broth with Chicken breast, soft cooked egg, bean sprout and scallion


Stir fried with Chasu pork (Chinese flavored bbq pork), shitake mushroom

and green onion (no broth)

The broth on the Malasian ramen was incredible! Light, just enough sweetness & heat to know you were eating curry. The noodles were floating in the sauce, so they were soft & silky. The richness of the egg yolk just takes it over the top!

The Chinese ramen was by far my favorite dish of the evening! The Chasu (aka Char siu or Chashu) pork was salty, sticky & delicious! There was no broth, just the pork, vegetables & noodles stir fried. It was delicious on its own, but even better with a ladle of the curry broth from the Malasian ramen.

I highly recommend trying Foo Dog! It’s a great little place, right on Main Street in Richmond. Fairly new, but doing a booming business! You won’t be disappointed!!!


What’s for Dinner?


I’ve really come to love cooking at home, especially for a big group. One of my favorite meals to create is an Asian feast. I’d been dreaming about it for months, so decided this past Saturday would be the day. If anyone is interested in specific recipes, I’ll be happy to share!

The menu

Beef satay: very thinly sliced & skewered, (homemade!) teriyaki marinated flank steak, grilled

Szechuan chicken: modified teriyaki marinade, kicked up several notches, grilled

Fried rice: has to be peanut oil. Sorry for those of you who can’t eat peanut products-it really does
make a huge difference! Sweet onion, white parts of green onion & cage free eggs sautéed in peanut
oil, combined with brown basmati rice (precooked & chilled!), and low sodium soy sauce.

Stir fried vegetables: splash of sesame oil, lots of garlic & ginger, sweet onion, bok choy, red/yellow/orange peppers, sugar snap peas, water chestnuts & baby corn.

Wontons: My favorite! Years ago, when my family first started making them, we used Jimmy Dean hot
sausage (I know it sounds weird, but trust me!), of course the staples-ginger, garlic, green onions, soy, sesame & some minced water chestnuts (they add great crunch!). We hand rolled each wonton, then fried them to golden brown. Great stuff, but loaded with fat! A few years ago, mom found a recipe
in a magazine for baked wontons. Use muffin pans, very lightly sprayed; press wonton wrappers into
pan, then spray very lightly again. Bake at 350F for 6-8 minutes, until golden brown & crunchy. For
the filling, I decided Saturday I’d try to knock off a bit more of the fat & calories by doing a 50/50 mix
of Jimmy Dean & ground chicken breast meat. I added a good bit more seasoning then I usually do-
especially garlic. Spoon fully cooked/hot filling into baked wonton wrappers at very last minute. They were, unanimously, the best wontons yet! Topped with homemade spicy mustard (Colemans mustard powder, water, juice of one orange, dijon mustard to taste). YUM!

I’m not a demonstrative person. I’m not really a hugger…don’t show/talk about my feelings, etc. But
the one way I do express myself…my favorite way to do so, is through food. Really tasty & healthy food, prepared with love.

Clean Eating. What Does it Mean?


I had lunch with an old friend the other day.  She & I got to know each other very well about 15 years ago when we were enrolled in the same weight loss program.  The program wasn’t too bad-it was offered through a local hospital/medical group.  There were weekly meetings with a group that included a dietician.  The biggest weakness of the program, in my opinion, was that it was very ‘diet’ focused.  It was all about calories in & calories out.  It didn’t go into any of the emotional/psychological reasons people overeat.  It also didn’t distinguish between ‘bad’ calories & ‘good’ calories.  As long as my daily caloric net was at a certain level, there wasn’t much discussion about how I hit that mark.  Did I eat 10lbs of fruits & vegetables, or did I starve all day & scarf a double whopper w biggie fries for dinner?

Pat (the afore mentioned friend) & I have both gained back almost all we lost on that program (ok, she gained back half what she lost, I gained back all of it plus another 50# for good measure).  So what happened?  I believe it was the failure to address the underlying emotional issues, but also the failure to talk about those good & bad calories.

Fast forward a few years, and everyone’s talking about ‘clean eating’.  Finally, a concept that aligns personal health with environmental & community health.  Clean eating, to me, means I’m eating food I prepare, as close to it’s natural state as possible, with ingredients I can name…and spell.  No more processed foods.  Sounds pretty simple, but when I tried to explain it to Pat, I don’t feel I did a very good job.   Then I happened upon the article below.  Thank you Cynthia Sass for doing such a wonderful job of saying what I tried to say!

What is clean eating?

The primary principle of eating clean is to replace processed foods with fresh and natural foods.

By Cynthia Sass,

updated 7:09 AM EST, Thu January 23, 2014


Editor’s note: Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health, and the author of “S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.” Connect with Cynthia on Facebook, Twitter andPinterest.


( – The first time I heard the word “clean” in relation to food was way back in the mid-1990s. I attended a conference about supermarket trends, and learned that grocery chains were starting to “clean up” store brand ingredient lists by removing unrecognizable terms.

Back then, this move was considered controversial, because it involved doing away with added nutrients, listed by their technical, non-household names (like pantothenic acid, a B vitamin), as well as eliminating preservatives, which meant short shelf lives (e.g., would consumers really want bread that gets hard or moldy within a few days?).

But, the writing was on the wall. Consumers were starting to pay attention to how foods were made, and what they were made of, health food stores were attracting more and more customers, and Wild Oats Markets (a chain of natural food stores and farmer’s markets, later acquired by Whole Foods) experienced a remarkable 4-year growth of 544% between 1989 and 1993, making it one of the fastest growing small companies in America.

Today, two decades down the road, clean eating, or eating clean, is a major movement, spurred by people from all walks of life who want to feel good about what they’re putting in their bodies.

When I asked via Twitter, “What does clean eating mean to you?” I received a variety of replies, from simply “eating fresh fruits and veggies,” to “not eating anything artificial.”

Over the years, I’ve honed my personal definition of what it means to eat clean, and while I’m sure it will continue to evolve, here’s my current take on what this philosophy (which I’m a huge fan of) is all about:

Eat whole foods

This one is pretty straightforward — instead of a banana nut muffin, eat a banana and some nuts! The primary principle of eating clean is to replace processed foods with fresh and natural foods. To me, this means foods that haven’t had anything added to them, and haven’t had anything valuable taken away.

So, even if you’re not growing quinoa in your back yard, you can buy this whole grain in the bulk section of your market, or in a box, where the only ingredient is quinoa, and only quinoa. That’s a far cry from a refined grain, that’s been stripped of its fiber-rich bran (outer skin) and nutritious germ (the inner part that sprouts into a new plant), bleached, and doctored up with preservatives.

Let ingredients guide you

I don’t think it’s realistic to never eat anything that comes out of a jar, box, or bag, but when you do, the very first thing a clean eater looks at is the ingredient list. Reading it is the only way to really know what’s in your food, and choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible.

For example, I was once at the market with a client who was on a mission to clean up her diet. She said, “I bet crackers are out of the question, right?” My response was, “Let’s look at the ingredients!”

I picked up one of my favorite brands, which are made with: organic short grain brown rice, organic whole quinoa, organic pumpkin seeds, organic sunflower seeds, organic brown flax seeds, organic brown sesame seeds, organic poppyseeds, filtered water, sea salt, organic sea weed, organic black pepper, organic herbs — all “real” and recognizable ingredients; a list that practically reads like a recipe I could recreate in my own kitchen.

We then checked out her usual brand, made with (among other things): sodium acid pyrophosphate, monocalcium phosphate, and TBHQ (short for tertiary butylhydroquinone). Dumfounded, she said, “I saw reduced fat on the box and assumed it was OK, I never even thought about reading the ingredients.”

Bingo! Clean eating is about focusing on quality first, and not letting terms like zero trans fat, low sodium, or sugar free fool you into thinking that a processed food is healthy.

Think big picture

In addition to reading ingredient lists, so you can ditch products made with artificial additives including flavors, sweeteners, colors, and preservatives, clean eating is about steering clear of foods made from genetically modified organisms, and those treated with hormones and antibiotics, and going organic when possible, to reduce foods grown with man-made pesticides and fertilizers.

In my opinion, clean eating considers how these issues affect you, as well as how they influence the planet, and their bearing on a sustainable food supply. In other words, in addition to choosing not to pollute your body with substances that serve no biological purpose, clean eating is also about connecting the dots regarding how food production impacts issues like the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, algae blooms and “dead zones” in our oceans, and the effects of substances like BPA on our metabolisms.

This is why clean eating is a movement, not a trend.


One aspect of clean eating I really love is replacing packaged foods with homemade versions, from salad dressing to energy bars and everything in between. I call it “retrotarian” eating, because it harkens back to a time before things like frozen chicken nuggets existed, and many of the do-it-yourself substitutes are very simple.

For example, when I make a stir fry, instead of buying a pre-made sauce, laden with sodium, sugar and preservatives, I whisk together a little brown rice vinegar, fresh squeezed citrus juice, minced garlic, and fresh grated ginger.

These days, you can find a clean recipe for just about anything, including five-ingredient ice cream, and “old school” food trends, like homemade baby food and pickling veggies in Mason jars, are making major comebacks.

Listen to your body

To me, part of eating clean is thinking of food as preventative medicine. After all, the phrase “you are what you eat” is literally true, so being thoughtful about your food just makes sense.

Nutrients create the foundation for the structure and function of every cell in your body, and because your body is in a continuous state of maintenance and repair, the health and functioning of your cells is directly determined by what you’ve been eating.

Whole, natural foods provide the building blocks that go to work to uphold your muscles, bones, organs, immune system, and hormones. So cleaning up your diet is a lot like starting to build and support your body with the highest quality raw materials.

For these reasons, I’ve seen a commitment to clean eating truly transform my clients’ lives, from clearer, glowing skin and shinier hair to more energy, better mood and sleep quality, clearer thinking, less aches and pains, and even a greater sex drive.

And if they slip back into old patterns, they really feel the effects. After going on a trip, relying on processed “road food” for a long weekend, and feeling like a zombie, one client couldn’t wait to get back to eating clean. And when she did, her bloating, fatigue, and apathy disappeared. Pretty powerful! So if you’re just getting started, begin by pulling out the foods in your fridge, freezer, and cupboards, reading the ingredients, and cleaning house, no pun intended.

This article originally appeared on

Looking Back on Thanksgiving


I wrote this blog about a month ago. As I say in the first paragraph, it was to be posted while I was out recovering from surgery. It ended up being extra, but the sentiment behind it is so strong, I wanted to put it out there. I’ve had a lot of time to recover-both from dads passing & from my surgery. Funny how things happen-I know I wouldn’t have taken the time to mourn had I not been forced to remain inactive to allow my body to recover from surgery. I’m still counting my many blessings. Thank you, dad, for showing me to always look at the glass as half full.

I’m sitting here thinking about a topic for a blog post. I have to get a post ready…I’m going to be out for several weeks for surgery, starting tomorrow. I’m racking my brain, as I usually do, when thinking about something to write about. I really enjoyed writing my last post, about making split pea soup. I look forward to doing many more posts about food & cooking. But today I’m short on time, and short on ideas.

Thinking back over the past few weeks, it’s been pretty rough. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday…in fact I’ve blogged about it before. Showing love by preparing delicious family favorites, the recipes handed down through the generations. Coming together with loved ones, be they friends, family, or new acquaintances that we’re excited about getting to know better. All of us, sitting around the table, set with mom’s beautiful china, laughing over stories we’ve told over & over, all part of the Thanksgiving tradition. And an entire day devoted to giving thanks for all our blessings…could it get any better?!

This year though, Thanksgiving was more melancholy than joyous. Dad was in the hospital, so we weren’t all together. The stories were more serious, not about funny happenings, but about his tremendous strength & determination. We still counted our blessings, very thankful that he was still fighting, not ready to let go. Hopeful that he would stay with us, for a few more Thanksgivings, a few more Christmases, a few more opportunities to create memories that we can share & laugh about in the years to come.

I realize now his spirit will always be with us. He lives on in our hearts, in our own determination to live up what he hoped we would be, what he worked hard his entire life to make sure we could be. I’m very thankful he was my dad, and feel blessed to have had the opportunity to spend so many Thanksgivings with him. And look forward to all the Thanksgivings of tomorrow, honoring him by living my life to the fullest.

Filling My Freezer


I’ve spent the past few months filling my freezer with wholesome, tasty food for my post surgery recovery time. I’ve really enjoyed cooking for myself, and seeing my freezer fill up with some of my favorite things to eat. Something unexpected has happened though…I’ve been surprised at how much I look forward to eating what I’ve made.


For many years, food was the center of my life (I’ve often joked that I like it so much it’s not only my hobby, I made it my career too). Part of it was because I was raised that way…upon finishing dinner tonight, we would chat about what to have for dinner tomorrow. But the bigger part of it is that I’m a food addict. Many (most?) people have some sort of drug they use to self medicate-something they can turn to when they’re sad, stressed, anxious, depressed, lonely… whatever it is they feel that they don’t want to feel. For me that drug is food. It’s always there; it’s cheap, legal, easy to get…the perfect friend to help get me through a crisis…or just through an ordinary Tuesday.


I looked forward to eating. It had to be a BIG EVENT…something would make me happy, and fulfill me, not just fill me. Every bite of every meal had to be delicious, exciting, like that first bite of chocolate (or syringe of heroin). Unfortunately, thinking that every bite has to be special meant that no bite was special. I was just chasing the idea that food could/would take away all my woes and make me happy…but all it left me was disappointed & unfulfilled (well, and fat…).


By starting to cook for myself, I’ve come to appreciate how wonderful simple, homemade food can be. A baked sweet potato topped with spicy black beans (simmered with caramelized onions, tomatoes & green chiles), and melted seriously sharp cheddar cheese is a go-to, quick, easy, delicious meal that I look forward to. Or those same beans over brown rice with diced avocado & salsa. Yum! By being mindful of what I’m eating, and enjoying the simplicity of good food, I no longer crave the ‘excitement’ of food. Going out to eat is a rare occurrence…something I’m forced to do because I don’t have time to cook, rather than what I do every meal because it’s more ‘exciting’.


By appreciating simple food, I once more get to enjoy a super special treat. I once more get to feel. Sometimes happy, joyful, blessed…sometimes sad, lonely & scared. But I feel…that’s the important thing.

Flourless Chocolate Cupcakes


Makes 12 cupcakes 

¾ c – heavy whipping cream 

6 T – unsalted butter

1 ½ T –  cocoa powder 

1 ¼ lb – high quality semi sweet chocolate, small pieces 

3 – lg eggs

7 T – granulated sugar, plus extra for dusting tins

6 c – peppermint ice cream

2 c – hot fudge sauce, warmed

  1. Preheat oven to 350° 
  2. Melt cream, butter, cocoa powder & chocolate in double boiler, medium heat Combine eggs & sugar, whip until fluffy & lemon yellow in color, about 10 minutes 
  3. Slowly drizzle melted chocolate into egg mixture, whisking briskly 
  4. Spray cupcake tins heavily with vegetable spray, coat tins with sugar 
  5. Fill cupcake tins to just below top Bake @ 350°F, 12-15 minutes, until tops just begin to crack 

Serve with peppermint ice cream & warm hot fudge sauce 

Against the Grain

against the grain

By +Janice D’Agostino on Feb 24, 2012 10:00 AM in Recipes

Good bread is the great need in poor homes, and oftentimes the best appreciated luxury in the homes of the very rich.” – ‘A Book for A Cook’, The Pillsbury Co. (1905) Whole grains are a great ally for everyone on a journey towards a healthy weight. Delicious minimally processed grains fill you up with plenty of fiber that stays with you a lot longer than their over processed cousins. As an extra added bonus for choosing whole grains, you get an abundance of nutrition which the body then happily uses to supply energy and burn off excess fat. Many of the breads and other things we eat are made of “refined” grains. Refined means that a large chunk of the important nutrients and fiber have been removed from the grain – apparently, it makes the product last longer on the shelf so they can buy larger quantities to store for production. While it may save companies money to refine the grains, it does no good for your health even if they have been enriched with vitamins from other sources.

Read more: Against the Grain

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