Friday, March 21, 2014

Red Velvet... What?

I was taken out for dinner on February 15 by my frequent companion and former husband, Jesse, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Our destination was the Highland Inn, a new restaurant only open since the beginning of January, which is the mastermind of esteemed Baltimore County chef, Brian Boston, who made a name for himself with his highly regarded Milton Inn restaurant, a fabulously romantic dining destination housed in a 272-year-old fieldstone lodge in historic Sparks, Maryland.

Boston’s latest eatery, located in a decidedly newer farmhouse (early 1900s) in Clarksville, Maryland, puts the chef’s stamp on Howard County, a moneyed municipality south of Baltimore toward Washington D.C.  Boston, named Chef of the Year in 2011 by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, has dedicated his newest establishment to sustainable foods from local farmers in a certified green building retrofitted with geo-thermal heating and cooling. He hopes to appeal to the District of Columbia crowd, and I don’t blame him. They’re big spenders.

Chef Brian Boston
For this auspicious occasion I donned a little black dress by Joneswear, which I picked up for a song during a Macy's sale last summer. I added my all-time favorite gems from Fire & Ice jewelers in Baltimore: citrine and garnet earrings, bracelet and necklace, and added a wrist full of gold-tone bangles I found in my stocking this past Christmas. Together with sky-high platform pumps by Call It Spring and a sequined handbag I’ve owned for ages, I was ready to step out into almost two feet of snow to commemorate Lupercalia.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a cocktail in the Highland Inn’s lounge was $14. It was a very good cocktail, but the steep Washington D.C. price tag for a pre-dinner libation was a bit of a shock. The Valentine menu, however, was prix fixe, so I was able to relax and enjoy the evening without worrying about unintentionally breaking the bank.  Walls were decorated with the artwork of renowned equestrian sports painter, Sam Robinson, which lent a well-heeled vibe to the atmosphere. 

Following a delightful amuse-bouche of scallops with fennel relish and blood orange gastrique, my date and I shared a first course of lobster bisque and honey roasted baby beets with frisee and goat cheese.  For our entrée, we thought ourselves terribly clever when Jesse chose lobster tail and I chose steak and then had our waiter split the plates so we each had a meal of perfectly prepared steak and lobster.  With a shared chocolate truffle tort to end our meal, we declared our Valentine supper very, very good, but agreed that nothing will ever compare to the unsurpassed elegance, romantic ambiance and superb cuisine at chef Boston’s original Milton Inn.

Roasted beets lent their crimson
color to my red velvet cake
Poured into a cookie sheet for
baking, the batter was definitely red
Not to be outdone by an upstart restaurant, I baked a red velvet cake for Jesse the next evening.  Not just any red velvet cake, mind you, but one which would get its ruby hue from beets instead of food coloring, courtesy of Food & Wine magazine’s February 2014 issue.  It was my way of injecting a healthy dose of vegetables into an otherwise nutrient-void confection.

The recipe called for a pound of fresh beets, roasted in the oven and then pureed and combined with flour, butter and almost a dozen eggs.  The frosting called for two pounds of sugar!  In an attempt at calorie-consciousness, I substituted Splenda, and while the outcome was quite pretty, my cake tasted heavily of beets (no surprise there) and was dense enough to use as a hockey puck.

The oddly puckered cookie-sheet cake
was then sliced into fourths and
layered between coatings of cream-
cheese icing 
The end result was attractive and
the Splenda-filled icing was not bad,
but the cake itself was an
impenetrable disaster 
I read some online reviews of the recipe before publishing this post, and was relieved to see that every single reviewer had similar results (even without the sugar substitute).  You all know that my successes have been mostly hit and miss with baking, so I felt a degree of vindication that the less than satisfactory results were not my exclusive province.

The snow was just starting to fall when
I took this photo on Valentine's Day. I
ended up with almost two feet of snow
My cousin in Wyoming
sent me these beautiful
flowers and an adorable
teddy bear with
No matter.  After shoveling 21 inches of “Valentine snow” from the 110-foot gravel driveway leading to my 150-year-old farmhouse in Baltimore County, I felt I’d earned the right to consume a delicious, if highly caloric, Valentine dinner out on Saturday night – and to taste and then discard (with Jesse's blessing) my less-than-satisfactory beet-infused effort the following day.

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