Thursday, December 25, 2008

Seaside Mac & Cheese “On ‘Da Beach”

I am in The Abacos for the annual holiday sailing vacation where each anchorage or docking puts us just a short dinghy ride away from fruity rum-riddled cocktails, unbelievable fresh grilled fish sandwiches and deep fried delights like conch fritters and grouper fingers (J the BF’s favorite). During our stop in Hope Town, J’s sisters insisted we take a long beach along the beach to a spot they only referred to as “the mac & cheese place”.
After a 20 minute stomp down an incredible stretch of beach, where we encountered no more than 3 other people, we arrived at “On ‘Da Beach”, a non-descript simple beachside bar set atop the dune attached to a small cluster of vacation condos. The menu consisted of basic grilled items (no fry-daddy here), fruity drinks laced with banana rum and an among the available side dishes on the sandwich menu, a mac & cheese option for an additional $3.

Though J the BF and I shared both a cheeseburger and an incredibly delightful jerked wahoo sandwich, we each insisted on our own order of the mac & cheese. Casserole style, the dish is served in big square hunks like a lasagna with multiple layers of almost over-cooked textured large elbow pasta, a rich custardy and cheesy sauce, diced chilis and peppers and covered with a thick layer sharp cheddar cheese on top. The dish had a pleasant heat to counteract the richness. It was an unexpected, but perfect, accompaniment to our cheeseburger in paradise.
J’s youngest sister asked the server for the recipe and, while she happily agreed to write it down for her, we never got a copy. I think I can come close with some modifications to my mom’s recipe, but without the beach, the sun and the sound of the Atlantic, I’m sure it just won’t taste the same.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Ugly Truth of Holiday Baking

I give in to that urge this time of year to drool over pretty pictures of Christmas Cookies hand-wrapped and packaged for thoughtful gifts. Earlier this month, with a stack of recipes in hand and a freshly stocked kitchen full of sugar, butter, flour and eggs, I set out to make those lovely treat boxes I like to hand out as "winter gifts" to my co-workers at this time of year.

In looking at the recipes with their simple mixtures of basics, shaped and formed into magical treats, I fooled myself into thinking - "home-made cookies - easy - no problem." By the end of two straight nights of baking past midnight, I understood why most folks resort to charity gifts or non-descript gift cards as professional gifts. Not as personal or awe inspiring, but it leaves you with a clean kitchen, a full night of sleep and no need to apologize for getting the spice levels wrong. With that, here is my Christmas Eve list of holiday cookies that made it out of my kitchen alive:

Macadamia Butter Cookies with Dried Cranberries - These turn our nice, light and airy and are not at all as dense as a traditional peanut butter cookie. Do not over cook - just get them barely brown.

Spicy Baby Button Cookies - You can add your own seasonings to the powdered sugar at the end to give these cookies your own flair (or spice in my case). I over spiced mine with chipotle chile powder, so I suggest you only use cinnamon if you want some spice added. Give the cookies lots of room on the sheet - they do spread a bit.

Anise Tea Crescents - I've never cooked with Anise as I'm not a licorice fan (which is the predominant flavor in Anise) but these cookies have a sophisticated undercurrent of flavor that allow them to be well received.

Cocoa Hazelnut Gooey Butter Cakes - My adaptation of a Paula Deen dessert, these cream cheese brownies on steroids have 2 sticks of butter stuffed in 'em, but boy are they good!

Date-Nut Pinwheels - These are from a recipe J the BF's mom gave me for her infamous rich well spiced cookies stuffed with dates, walnuts and lemon zest. The trick to these is ensuring your cookie dough is chilled before rolling them out, your filling is at room temp and that you chill the rolls again before you slice and bake them. She left that last piece of advice off the recipe so my pinwheel ended up being date-nut blobs - tasty though!

Date Nut Pinwheels

Cookies Dough:

2 cup Flour

1 1/2 t Baking Powder

1/2 t Salt

1/2 t Ginger

1/2 t Nutmeg

2/3 c Butter

1 Cup Sugar

1 Egg

1 t Vanilla


8oz Pitted Chopped Dates

1/2 Cup Sugar

2 t lemon peel grated

1/2 Cup finely chopped walnuts

1) Combine dry dough ingredients and spices
2) Combine sugar and butter with a stand mixer on medium - add egg and vanilla
3) Add dry ingredients to butter mixture until combined. Chill dough for at least 1 hour
4) Combine filling ingredients (except walnuts) along with 1/2 Cup watter in small heavy saucepan.
5) Heat filling on medium high until thinkened (about 8 minutes) - add Walnuts. Chill to room temperature
6) Divide dough in 1/2 - roll each half into rectangle 8" X 10". Spread with 1/2 each of cooled filling
7) Roll long side of cookies up gently to form logs. Wrap and chill for at least 1 hour
8) Slice logs into 1/2 " cookies - bake at 375 until cookies are golden (about 10 minutes)
9) Cool on wire rack or consume as soon as you can handle the cookies without serious burns.

Friday, December 19, 2008

479° - Gourmet Green Popcorn that puts Movie Pop Prices to Shame -

If you think the price of popcorn at the Movies is nuts, check out what $50 bucks will buy you if you are into Haute Snackage.

479° Popcorn is offering the snack in flavors like Black Truffle & White Cheddar, Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt and Fleur de Sel Caramel. They sell these treats in variety packs that range from around $30 to over $50 for "collections". To further substantiate these prices, they tout almost embarrassingly green credentials such as organic local product sourcing, a minimized carbon footprint and "composting religiously".

I wish I had discovered these sooner as they would be a great gift for J the BF's youngest sister who consumes a diet consisting of little more than microwave popcorn and beer. This could be a way to mature her palate and maybe her outlook on life.

I learned about 479° Popcorn in this week's Springwise (a great newsletter & site full of novel product and service ideas from around the world).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Staycation Lunch at Kafe 421

I have all this extra vacation time to burn as we get to the end of the year, so I've been taking advantage of short "staycations." J the BF tells me one of his favorite gurus suggests taking a mid-week day-off once a quarter as a great way to break your frame and open you up to new perspectives. I found this is at least true with places to eat.

This month I've been able to try some spots that have been highly rated but are so off my regular path, I'd never be able to enjoy them in the middle of the day. My first "staycation" was on J the BF's 35th birthday. I took him to Kafe 421 in Dinkytown to give us both a new experience. It was rated #1 best lunch spot by Twin Cities's readers so we went through the trouble of making reservations - it seemed silly for such a casual spot popular for sandwich take-out, but we didn't want to risk wasting the day waiting for a table.

I enjoyed a delicious sandwich called the Lechon - blackened pork tenderloin, grilled onion, roasted peppers, brie, spinach and tarragon aioli on what had to be fresh baked focaccia bread. All I needed was a simple green salad and I was happy. The place had a steady stream of folks coming in for take-out for good reason. The lunch fare is reasonably priced and crosses a broad spectrum of Greek-leaning Mediterranean influences and American comfort food standards so it breaks the frame of your average lunch spot while giving some safety for the ethno-gastronomically challenged (i.e. the meatloaf eaters).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Halleluja - A new site for Food and Wine Mag

I love reading Food and Wine Magazine (my recipe binder is stuffed with clippings from each issue) but hated the website which I found to be clunky and a bit disorganized. They have recently launched a redesign and at first glance, it's a massive improvement.

Check it!

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Thai Twist on boring old Chicken Soup

It is firmly winter in Minnesota which means lots of slush, bitter cold wind and on-again-off-again head colds. There's lots of evidence floating around that chicken soup helps with colds, but I've never been able to get excited about chicken soup. Childhood scars may also have something to do with it.

I was tainted against all forms of chicken soup/broth/stock as a 17 year-old kid when I came down with a violent case of mono that lasted for about 5 months. My throat swelled nearly shut at one point such that the only thing I could consume was chicken stock through a straw. My grandma literally kept a chicken boiling for days and would bring me a "sippy" bottle of clear warm poultry juice every 3 or 4 hours which would be my only sustenance. I couldn't stand the smell of chicken broth for most of my 20s.

16 years later, I believe in using lots of chicken stocks in my cooking (usually store bought boxed broths - Progresso and Kitchen Basics are my favorites). I also love making soup this time of year but that had not extended to making chicken soup until I discovered this version from the folks at Cooking Light. It's a Coconut Curry Chicken Soup that has a light coconut milk base loaded with gentle curry spice, hearty chunks of chicken, tender rice noodles and crunchy snow peas. It gives you a great warm feeling all over and does help fight back those ugly colds. I cut time by using a rotisserie chicken for the meat (I prefer the thigh/leg meat), but you could easily poach a couple of chicken breast fillets with some stock and a bay leaf if you must and shred/chop well before adding to the soup.

J the BF and his assistant loved the left-overs. Be warned - the noodles are slurp worthy and splatter a bit. Don't enjoy while wearing that new over-priced top or over your laptop.

Can you just start where you left off

I am clearly still biting, chewing, and slurping up stuff in places near and far, but have failed to keep my blog up to date. Instead, I've been taking the quick and lazy route of Tweets, foursquare check-ins and BookFace updates to share my passion for things that I can swallow. Can I just start posting to my blog again and keep my 2 - 3 readers even moderately satisfied? We will see - stay tuned!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Steakhouses - not a fan

I'm sitting in a hotel bar in New York City killing time with a glass of Rancho Zabaco Zinfandel and a bowl of snack mix trying to figure out why I don't like steak houses. I dined at one at the ungodly hour of 6pm this evening (due to the flight schedules of some of my work colleagues). I actually thought the food at Uncle Jack's was quite good. I had a delicious (if overly generous) salad of asperagus, beefsteak tomatoes, basil and roasted shallots that was quite satisfying. The bit of crab cake I sampled was of the highest quality. The 16oz roasted NY strip served perfectly cooked, sliced and along side its bone was among the best I've had. Nevertheless, I'm left with the nagging feeling that I always feel a bit disappointed with myself after a steakhouse meal.

I think the main underlying reason has to do with the situation. I never choose to eat at a steak house on my own. They are usually due to business outings (often while on travel) where I'm with people I need to be with rather than with the people I want to have with me as I'm enjoying great food. It may also be the formulaic nature of a great steakhouse: high grade meats simply prepared, creamed spinach and a hefty bill. You know, I'm just not a fan.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tragedy - The closing of JP's Bistro and Wine Bar

I hate re-starting my blog with bad news, but I'm more than a bit distraught at this announcement.

I didn't want to believe it when we encountered a shuttered JP's American Bistro a couple of days ago, but alas, this fine jewel of our neighborhood that I've only begun to appreciate in the last couple of years has closed it's doors.

We'll mourn the loss of that fabulous open face ravioli with preserved lemon, the crack-laden pizza loaded with currants and bacon and the ever-approachable wine-by-the-glass list. My fall just got a little darker.

I can take the dow dropping 40% in a year - but this . . . ?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Wine and Pizza Night

Since this was likely my last chance to hang out with my new fellow Southern buddy Josh before he moves back to DC, I decided to host an impromptu wine and pizza night. My neighbor and co-worker Ms. Goldberg is also temporarily widowed this week with her husband traveling on business, so I convinced her to bring a couple of cans of Pillsbury Pizza Crust and I'd make her dinner and the three gays would entertain her for the evening. Quite the deal for her.

Anyhoo - the pizzas were fabulous and the wine was equally tasty. The first pizza was amazing and consisted of the following:

1 Can Pillsbury Thin Crust Pizza Crust (it's new - try it! It's real good)
1/2 cup of 10 minute tomato sauce (spiked with minced garlic and lots of crushed red pepper - use Muir Glen fire roasted canned whole tomatoes to make the sauce smokier)
2 slices of thin-cut prosciutto - chopped
1/4 cup mixed gourmet sliced mushrooms (baby bella, shitake, oyster, etc)
2 cups shredded cheese (I used a blend of smoked mozzarella and provolone)
20 slices of Turkey Pepperoni

Spread the pizza crust on a 15 X 10 in rimmed baking sheet; spread evenly with slightly cooled tomato sauce; sprinkle with half of the prosciutto, half the mushrooms and about 12 slices of pepperoni.; Sprinkle with 2/3 of the cheese; Sprinkle on the remaining ingredients finishing with the cheese. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes, or until crust is golden brown around edges and cheese is bubbly.

I also made a second pizza (Josh was still hungry and demanded another round - how could I say no when the wine was only half-drunk) with regular Pillsbury pizza crust. This time, I subbed in about 4 oz of fresh grated smoked cheddar but kept the other ingredients constant. The crust was a similar depth, but not as flavorful. The new pizza was, however, more pronounced in smokey flavor as the smoked cheddar played up the smoky flavors in the sauce and pushed the cured proscuitto to the forefront.

So what about the wine - I'm still a little foggy on it, but both varieties we enjoyed were quite pleasant:

1) Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet - South Australia 2006 - slightly sweet, very drinkable and smooth table wine with a little oak, berry and cherry-chocolate - perfect for casual eating

2) Natura Syrah - Valle Colchuagua 2005 - a Chilean wine with a twist made from organically grown grapes - this one had a more adventurous dimension created by the vintner's attempt to capture and showcase the terroir of the region. Thick with a little mocha and subtle dark fruit undertones. I didn't enjoy it as much, but it gave some interesting challenges to the palate that I appreciated.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Cosmos gets its due

J the BF and I love Cosmos at the Graves 601 Hotel, but we are constantly baffled on why no one else eats there. We never have trouble getting a reservation, they have a killer prix fixe deal (especially the 3-course pre-theater menu) and it is one of the most elegant and mod dining rooms in the cities. Given their need to do billboards all over town touting their experience as Manhattan in Minneapolis (how sad is that) I am always in fear of their financial health, but they keep chugging along.

Given all this, I was thrilled to look in the food section of the Star Tribune this week and see a glowing review of Cosmos that extolled the achievements of this gastronomical resource and questioned it's lack of popularity. The article also delved into the molecular gastronomy that the chef likes to throw in to keep things interesting. I'm all for better taste through chemistry! Maybe, more folks will go and discover this gem buried among the schlock of downtown Minneapolis.

A great read on the Chocolate Chip Cookie

The NYT has done a great article on J the BF's favorite food subject - the chocolate chip cookie. They start with the original Toll House to expounding on some of the more interesting variations to emerge from today's baking experts. Check it!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Wet and sloppy sandwich - SF style

I used to love sloppy joes as a kid, so when I saw a sloppy joe post pop up on Food Gawker, I had to check out a "fresh" approach to the classic sandwich. The post came from "Married with Dinner" and it looks awesome. Ground beef and chorizo with anaheim chiles . . . can't wait to try it, but I'll need to invite over some friends - it looks like it makes enough to choke a horse.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

NYC Day 4 - Pooped out @ Maui Tacos

By Monday, NYC was starting to wear on me and we needed a break from the haute face-stuffing we had been doing. After wandering around the Herald Square area near our hotel and creeping in and out of Koreatown looking for something cheap and simple to eat, we settled on Maui Tacos near the Empire State Building.

It's a chain that we loved when we lived in Decatur, Ga years ago - especially their fruity salsas. I was too pooped to take my own photo, so I'm blog-filching one from flickr. While the fish tacos are great, I think I had some over-stuffed burrito covered in enchilada sauce and cheese. It wasn't very good, but I got a beer and dinner for 2 was just $25, so I wasn't complaining.

NYC Day 3 (about friggin time) - Pasta Pathos and A Return to Craft Bar

Again, I am a bad bad bad blogger - anyone offering to whip me back into shape so I stay current with my posts? Anyone?

With that, after several weeks and too many meals have passed, I'm going to try to reach back and recall what I devoured in May. The vibrancy of the memories have passed, so my apologies in advance for sketchy, poorly written posts.

Day 3 was Sunday - the first official day of the Stationery Show and I quickly had to sink into the role of sales person and whipping boy. I was a little disturbed at how quickly I started to remember the price points on the hundreds of different items. By the end of the day, I was almost ready to help that little gift shop in Toronto put together a fabulous assortment of women's accessories, travel journals and address books that would drive incremental sales and traffic. Emphasis on almost.

At the show itself, our booth was located near a food area that served pasta tossed to order with random veggies, pre-cooked meats and other toppings for outrageous prices. The pasta was being tossed by cheeky chatty dudes in chef hats that kept dropping half the pasta with each ill-timed flip of the wrist on their saute pans. I think one of the guys was drunk, high or both. When you're hungry, anything tastes okay, so I was grateful for the half-cooked pound of carbs and sauce (with a bread-stick and a butter-laden slice of pound cake). The experience just reinforces the fact that Javits is a pit.

Dinner was much better. We once again went to Tom Colicchio's CraftBar restaurant. We were joined by J the BF's parents who were giddy from an afternoon of shopping at the Armani store. We had some good wine and started with our beloved pecorino fondue with honey, hazelnuts and pepperoncini. My brain falters at remembering the entree, but I'm pretty sure I had the short-ribs. I remember enjoying it, whatever it was.

Yeah, we slept good that night.

Friday, May 23, 2008

NYC Day 2 - Bolognese, live music and a side of breast at Chez Josephine

The week in NYC was crazy busy, so I've already returned to Minneapolis, but I still have 6 more days of food stories to share - here's the Saturday edition.

We started the second day thinking it would be a quick couple of hours setting the last brand in J the BF's booth at the Stationary show along with a little clean up here and there and we would spend the rest of the day playing. It ended up being a 7 hour day of merchandising, cleaning, dealing with case storage issues and a host of other unexpected time sucks (no lunch break, BTW). Not the Saturday in the city I had envisioned. I was tired and very grouchy by the time we hiked the 8 long blocks back across town from Javits Center back to our hotel to get ready for dinner. We stopped at a Cafe Metro for a sandwich which stood in for a late lunch, but at 4:30pm, I dare say it didn't count.

We took the subway up to Time Square to meet J's parents for dinner at Chez Josephine. Despite having visited NYC several times, I had somehow avoided Time Square at night. Seeing the human moths drawn to the lights beaming everything commercial, tacky and sickeningly beautiful about American culture into space, I gained a new understanding for why I avoided this area. A quick jaunt through the mess got us to the infamous establishment still run by one of Josephine Baker's adopted sons, Jean-Claude, who greeted us warmly upon entry and exit (with a firm squeeze of the shoulder - you gotta love the French).

This was a unique New York experience. We were seated at the rear of the main dining room next to the piano where two elderly black women (each was at least 80 years old) were playing old jazz standards. One stood at the piano and occasionally did vocals while the other didn't miss a beat on the trombone. It was very impressive. The performers were refreshed through the evening as we enjoyed an array of "American" favorites from the menu mixed with French inspired dishes. J's mom went for the Lobster Cassoulet which was divine. J tried "Elvira's Down Home Fried Chicken" which was not earth shattering, but very good in its own right. I went for the spaghetti bolognese (billed as Josephine's favorite on the menu) which was not exceptional, but extremely comforting and led me to finish every morsel on the plate.

While trying to stay focused on the conversation with J's parents, and enjoying an incredible Australian Pinot Noir Rose from Green Point, I was continuously distracted by the nude portrait of Josephine Baker hanging over J's mother's head. I kept thinking of what it would be like to work nightly in a space with a nude of my mom hanging in the dining room of my place of business. I was taught about the "exotic" intrigue the Josephine had generated as an American exile in Europe, but spending just one meal in her restaurant gave me a new appreciation for just how revolutionary Baker was for her time. As for the food, it was definitely worth a re-visit given the unique character of the experience of eating in her restaurant.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

NYC Day 1 - Boom and fizzle

Day 1 in NYC involved waiting in an hour-long line for a taxi at LaGuardia, walking 7 long blocks in the rain (have you ever tried to get a taxi in NYC when it's raining) carrying a 50 lb bag full of notebooks and other assorted stationary products, and then 3 and half hours unloading boxes of product and setting up J's booth for the show. I was ready for some good food as the fried chicken cutlet sandwich I picked up from a food stand in the Javits Convention Center just didn't cut it.

I've been to Boom in Soho a couple of times and enjoyed it's relaxed approach to modern Italian. We were joined by J's parentals (also known as the legal counsel and the evil investors in his company). After I enjoyed a deliciously sweet and fruity white sangria, they were more than eager to join me in sharing a bottle of Libernio (I may have mucked the spelling) which was a blend of Malbec, Cab and Sangiovese. Deliciously lush with a touch of smoke and a smooth palate.

I also had the bruschetta with grilled shrimp and avocado which are perfect little morsels - do not miss these. The rest of my meal was unfortunately disappointing compared to my prior visits. I had some of the mussels done in a tasty tomato broth. The shellfish was just a bit off and a couple of the mussels were a bit over-ripe for my taste. For my entree, I tried their "Filete" which was a fillet of beef in a madeira style sauce with potatoes and greens. The sides were good enough, but the beef itself was way too fatty and grisly. J the BF and his Step-dad both had the lobster ravioli which was just as good as I remembered. I guess I can afford to be boring and order my old favorites when coming back to a desired restaurant in a distant city again.

Friday, May 16, 2008

7 days in NYC

I am in New York for the next 7 days on a "working vacation". I will be working the National Stationary Show for J the BF's company by day and eating well by night. I am hitting some old faves and trying a few new joints. Walking the streets of Manhattan makes me really hungry so my lose that gut effort will have to wait until I get back.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Yet another social network for foodies -

I've picked up on yet another new social networking site for foodies that is running in beta (Grouprecipes, another social food site I use has been in beta for well over a year). Foodbuzz bills itself as a user driven site that is built to provide highly relevant content to its community members through their search engine. They combine recipes, blogs, user profiles, videos and restaurant reviews with geographical context (I can filter info down to my neighborhood in Minneapolis) and relevancy/popularity attributes based on the consumption of the content. The goal is to push the most relevant content to the top based on user consumption and needs. Sounds heady and a good idea in principle.

The interface is a bit counter-intuitive to my taste, but I'm going to keep playing with it. Some of the videos and blog posts look pretty good and hopefully, I can start finding some other food-enthusiasts nearby to help me break out of my restaurant rut.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

"Pyle-ing" on the coffee and doughnuts in Dallas

I've been a scofflaw and neglected my blog for the last several weeks while I focused on a blogging project for work. I'm not officially done with that yet, but I needed to start catching up with my Bite & Chew updates before I started forgetting what these pictures on my Blackberry are supposed to suggest. Take for example this mysterious image.

While it may look like a whimsical art project, the fact that it's on a plate should clue you in that this is an incredible, edible dessert creation. I had the pleasure of enjoying (and the pain of not being able to sleep after consuming) this assemblage at Stephan Pyles in Dallas. They simply call it "coffee and doughnuts" but that is clearly a tongue-in-cheek moniker that undercuts this frighteningly decadent reinvention of the working man's classic breakfast combo. The base is a cajeta crème brûlée surrounding a square vessel holding a syrupy espresso flavored hot liquid confection in which sits a skewer of freshly fried powdered doughnuts. After eating this dessert, I didn't mind the fact that I was eating alone at the bar of a fancy restaurant on a business trip. I missed the group dinner earlier that evening at the same restaurant due to tech drama with my corporate blog - why can't every blog platform be as easy as Blogger?

Although the most interesting image I got was the dessert, the rest of the meal was superb. I started my solo meal with a banana empanada with cardamom scented spit roasted suckling pig. Not something I would ever conceive of combining but all I could say was wow! Even the blue corn muffins they served for me to nosh on between courses were incredibly spicy and memorable. My entrèe of barbecued beef short rib with a "criollo" tamale and a dried cherry salsita was enough to ruin every other BBQ beef experience I was to have while in Texas by rendering everything else boring and tasteless in comparison.

Stephan Pyles is a see and be seen-scene, so I was a bit embarrassed to show up in my jeans and polo shirt - bleary eyed from staring and cursing at a laptop for the last several hours. Despite my worn affect, the bar staff couldn't have been nicer. They have a flat screen TV over the bar that, rather than showing a Dallas Mavericks game, broadcasted the live action from the kitchen reflecting their pride in the food and its prep. It was a powerful statement. I even got the chance to chat briefly with an overly friendly rich middle aged couple that was grabbing cocktails before dinner. Nice folks, but they seemed to be moving through the evening in a state of extended foreplay, so I wanted them to keep on moving. They were loving life just a bit too much.

Ah - it's good to be back on my own blog.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Emergency Substitution! Paprika Chicken with Spicy Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce

I had one of those nights where I got too focused on a project at work and the next thing I know, it's 8:30pm and I'm way behind on my schedule of getting home and getting dinner on the table. Earlier in the evening (in a moment of distraction) I had been playing with the Epicurious Widget on my Facebook profile and found a recipe for Sea Bass with Spicy Roasted Bell Pepper Sauce. I had some sea bass that I had bought on special over the weekend thawing at home, so this simple recipe of pan sautèed fish with a sauce of almonds, roasted peppers and cayenne seemed to be a quick and elegant way to do a late dinner.

As I rushed home to find a starving J the BF writhing on the sofa, I went to the fridge to pull out the fish only to find it was still frozen hard as a rock despite the chance to relax in the fridge all day. I offered to try to nuke-thaw it, but J advised against the danger of destroying a $20 piece of fish. I reached for a couple of nice frozen chicken breasts instead.

I then went to pull together what I needed for the sauce. I had roasted almonds so I threw those in a pan to toast. I know that I did not have any fresh red bells, but I had a huge jar of fire roasted red bell pepper strips which I knew would do just as well as a fresh roasted pepper. Tomato paste, on the other hand was a problem. I thought for sure there was an orphan can of the stuff in my cabinet but I was proven wrong. {Insert series of expletives here}

I pulled myself together and thought creatively - what could take the place of tomato paste in a spicy red sauce - ketchup? No, too sweet and runny. Canned diced tomatoes? No, not the right consistency. I ended up subbing in a few table spoons of sweet chili sauce (tomato based). The sauce, after some tweaking turned out more than palatable.

The chicken needed more help as the original recipe leveraged just salt and pepper seasoning for the assertively flavored sea bass. To bring the nuke-thawed chicken to live, I sprinkled it with sea salt and a generous amount of smoked paprika. In the end, I think I had a totally different recipe, but it was much enjoyed in my house. Here is roughly what the recipe was after I screwed with it.:

3/4 cup fire-roasted jarred red bell pepper strips - drained well
1/4 cup roasted almonds - lightly toasted
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 TBS red wine vinegar
1/4 cup Sweet Tomato Chili Sauce (like Heinz brand)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

2 6-8oz Boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 TBS Smoked Spanish Paprika
Fine Sea Salt
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
1 TBS Olive Oil

Place first 6 ingredients into food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

Sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and generous amounts of paprika on both sides.

Heat 1 TBS Olive Oil in 12-inch non-stick pan over med -high heat

Cook chicken in hot pan 5 - 7 minutes per side until done

Serve chicken with 1 Tbsp of red pepper sauce over top with extra on the side.

This went well with a side of good quality cooked truffle pasta tossed with butter, freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano, salt and pepper and a mixed green salad with a fresh honey Dijon vinaigrette.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Let 'er cook a little longer - Indio Mexican Cuisine

After much anticipation for Indio - the new Mexican place in Uptown, I failed to follow my own rules of avoiding new restaurants in their first week of being opened. The smells wafting out as I walked past and seeing the warmly candle-lit space that had been empty for months enticed me to give it a try about a week ago. J the BF and I walked over to check it out for a late Friday dinner.

The menu is a mix of usual suspects for appetizers with a Yucatan-inspired upscale portfolio for the main courses. They offer a decent happy hour menu and the cocktail list looks promising. The wine lists is limited, but acceptable. In terms of execution on all this . . . well?

We started with their Huasteco (guacamole) which was very chunky, fresh and flavorful, but served with a scant amount of freshly fried tortilla chips. J had the Flauto de Pato (Duck Flautas) while I veered toward the adobo marinated seared ahi tuna served over roasted mashed potatoes with tequila lime butter and pineapple relish. I found my dish very good, though basic with a slightly messy presentation, while J was not as impressed with his.

While we were relatively pleased with the food, we were victimized by the usual new restaurant blues. J's Diet Coke arrived as a flat metallic syrup over ice, while my cocktail, a Mojito A La Diabla (basically a mojito with chile de arbol) arrived flat and flavorless as well. Clearly, their fountain was not calibrated or working properly. The service was painfully slow, due in part to them having to hand-write and process orders, and our server was awkward, nervous and at one point locked herself out of the back door. Some patron sitting near the back took pity on her and let her back in.

All in all, Indio has promise and the makings of a good neighborhood place (if you don't mind dropping about $50 - $70 for dinner for 2), but we're going to let her simmer for a few weeks to work out the bugs before we go back.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Pork Feijoada at Birchwood Cafe

"Brazilian black bean stew with smoked ham, bacon, roasted pork shoulder and spiced sausage served with braised greens, fried plantains, cashews and jicama relish, jasmine rice and Birchwood banana bread."

That was the description for the Pork Feijoada scrawled on the constantly changing menu chalkboard at Birchwood Cafe. I had to immediately enter it on my phone and post to BiteandChew so I would remember it, but after eating this stew, it was hard to forget. I find that Birchwood is one of the few restaurants that doesn't need to "romance" the descriptions of its menu items. Their creations are so intriguing, they need only to tell you what's in the dish to get you excited - no sex-ing up of the menu required.

is a traditional take on pork and beans in Portugal and Brazil. Birchwood prepared the dish in the Brazilian tradition down to their inspiration for the sides of greens and fried plantains. According to Wikipedia, it is traditionally washed down by cachaça, caipirinha or beer (only beer was on offer at Birchwood). Don't expect to go there looking for it though - their menu changes weekly and I have never seen one of their entrees on the menu repeated, so they may have already moved on to the next adventure.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Mexican in Uptown update

Got the scoop from Jesse, one of my trainers, on the new Mexican place going in the old Pizza Nea space. It is called El Indio and is run by the same folks that own El Meson and Cafe Ena.

Supposed to be in the tradition of what your Mexican grandma would cook for you, if she happened to be Mexican. They were hoping to open tonight, but they are still waiting for some permits (and they looked like they were trying to make some repairs to the door). Maybe this weekend, but I usually like to wait for a new place to sort itself out before becoming a test case for new staff.

The ticket to voter turnout - cute French guys with Cookies

I was checking out Dorie Greenspan's "In the Kitchen and on the Road with Dorie" blog looking for baking tips and instead found a picture of a hottie with a tin of cookies. Turns out he was providing cookies to kids at a municipal polling location in Paris to keep them happy as their parents waited to vote. I'm willing to learn a few things from the French . . .

BTW, Dorie's blog is actually very good if you are into baking. Her post on Gingerbread Baby Cakes looks divine!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Mexican coming to Uptown?!

As if watching Food Network during my cardio workouts wasn't enough to undue my body's war against gravity, it looks like a new Mexican restaurant is going in next door to the Fitness Together training studio where I pay overly pumped dudes to hurt me 2 - 3 times/week. The space was formally occupied by the tasty, but unremarkable Pizza Nea, who closed that location earlier this year. Though renovations are not yet complete, they were training staff tonight so an opening must be imminent.

While my neighborhood (Uptown Minneapolis) is not hurting from loosing yet another pizza joint (we are also over represented with Thai restaurants, sushi places, hair salons and "glass shops"), Mexican Cuisine (and I'm not talking Burritos) has been a painful gap in our walking-distance choices for chow. My brain was too wiped post work-out to remember the name of the new establishment, but I'm intrigued and have high hopes. I'm curious about what they'll do with that Neapolitan wood-fired pizza oven left there by the pizza folks though.

More details to come (Update as of 3/20/08 available here).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Wanna greener salad? Love the Organic Girl.

Needing a quick mess-free dinner before heading out to Roller Derby, I cruised the produce section at my local Rainbow Grocery and discovered these new Organic Girl organic salad greens and kits packed in hard sided clear containers.

At $4 for a salad kit, they are a bit upscale, but worth it. Not only are the greens organic and triple washed, they come in containers not made with plastic, but with corn. These packs are renewable, sustainable and compostable. The Baby Ceasar with field greens, mini garlic toasts, Parmesan cheese and a light ceasar vinaigrette was very good to boot. More info on their packaging is at

Monday, March 10, 2008

Noshing with foodies and drunks - Finds from the Twin Cities Food and Wine Experience

A few weeks back, we dropped a load of cash to spend a Saturday afternoon roaming a crowded exhibition hall begging for free sips of wine and bits of food. It wasn't a fit of insanity, but rather, the 14th Annual Twin Cities Food and Wine Experience. I've always wanted to go, but am usually out of town on vacation that time of year. As we pushed our vacay back a week this year, we were able to find out what we've been missing.

While the tickets at a face value of $60 are a bit over-priced, you do get the opportunity to taste hundreds of wines, foods and other thrills at your leisure while getting to people-watch to see what tragic fool is going to drop his canapè on himself, or what poor Edina housewife will have to get escorted out by her embarrassed husband. Good times! Furthermore, I actually found some good stuff. Here's my top 10 in no particular order:

1) 4 Vines "Old Vine Cuvee" 2005 Zinfandel - this wine won the "Best Value" award in the Zinfandel category for good reason. Arrestingly delicious. I've already bought (and drunk) 2 bottles of the stuff for about $10 a pop.

2) Il Cuore Cabernet Sauvignon - Found this at the Surdyk's booth - currants, soft tannins with a mild sweet finish - very tasty which says something as I generally don't enjoy Cabs.

3) Pinot Evil Pinot Noir - Another "Best Value" award winner for the show. Really good with forward mineral/stone textures with a cherry & red plum feel to it. Billed as a French table wine.

4) Di Majo Norante Sangiovese 2006 - Another "Best Value" award winner from the imported red category, this wine explodes with pleasurable overtones - smoky rich aroma with bitter chocolate and sour cherry. I love smoky wines so I can't wait to break into this at home.

5) Italian Sodas made with Torani syrups - Okay, this is not a new thing, but I haven't had an Italian soda since I was in college. The Torani folks were sampling deliciously simple and refreshing strawberry sodas that beat the pants off anything you get out of a bottle at the local convenience store. These will be a great refresher for summer afternoons on the balcony. They even gave me a $.50-off coupon.

6) Cedar Planked Brie with Roasted Berries - Kitchen Window had a massive booth and this was one of several finds we discovered here. They were demonstrating and sampling a round of Brie that had been grilled on a cedar plank, covered with grill roasted berries and drizzled with Orange Blossom Honey. If that wasn't enough, they finished it with smoked black pepper. Incredible and delicious.

7) CurrySimple Curry Sauces - Another Kitchen Window find, these fully prepared Thai curry sauces are made fresh in Thailand from local ingredients, vacuum sealed in giant "Capri-Sun" like silver packs and shipped over here for our hedonistic enjoyment. At $6 a pouch, it's not a bargain, but the flavors are so fresh and delicious, it beats out any Thai take-out I've had in the Twin Cities. The Thai Chicken Curry they made with these sauces was intoxicating.

8) Prosciutto, Blue Cheese and Date Wraps - Whole Foods had a poorly staffed booth with fabulous food including these gems - dates stuffed with blue cheese and grilled (how you grill dates without them falling through the grates, I have no idea!).

9) Osso Bucco Bread Pudding with Horseradish Foam and Red Onion Marmalade - B.A.N.K. at the Minneapolis Westin did not impress us with their food on our first visit there, but the sharp-suited dude at the B.A.N.K. booth at the show passionately explained to us that they have a new chef and a new menu that we should come back to try. If this tidbit they had on offer at the show was any indication of what this new chef has done with their rather understated cuisine, I'll be back for sure.

10) Chateau Lamothe White Bordeaux - I am finding myself quite smitten with Bordeaux Blanc and this one was no exception - nice floral peach nose, with a clean pale fruit flavor that made me smile. I have not found this wine yet in my normal wine shops, but I'm going to keep looking.

Friday, February 29, 2008

3-Min "Slow Carb" breakfast from Tim Ferris.

I love Tim Ferriss's "4-hour workweek" blog. Great life-hacks and ideas, but I didn't realize he was looking to become a food personality as well. He's good looking, so he's got that going for him, but his video demonstrating a 3-minute breakfast is almost 7 minutes long. Check it out:

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A melted cheese tray - Warm Pecorino Fondue at Craftbar

I had some business in NYC a few weeks ago, and this time I worked ahead to get some restaurant recos. My neighbor, Ms. Goldberg, strongly suggested that I check out CraftBar - a creation of high-profile James Beard award winning chef Tom Colicchio (also now infamous as head judge on Top Chef). J the BF happened to have business in NYC at the same time, so we decided to have a pre-Valentine's day date night at this "moderately priced" outpost of Colicchio's Craft empire.

We started the meal with a Warm Pecorino Fondue which was good enough to make your teeth sweat. The dish itself was fascinating in the enticing combination of components of a cheese tray
(cheese, nuts, honey, spicy veggies) into a hot, creamy molten bowl of pleasure. The pecorino was melted along with acacia honey, hazelnuts and pepperoncini. The meal that followed was equally stunning and inspiring (including the warm frissee with gorgonzola and poached egg which I have already been trying the recreate).

Monday, February 18, 2008

Slow food express - Fusilli with Rich Meat Ragù

Sundays are my favorite day to cook - I get the morning to work out, pick up what I want from the grocery and go to town for the afternoon in the kitchen. Ideally, this would be time for me to execute "slow food" recipes where you take your time to build delicious hearty meals from scratch and let time-intensive technique and methods take over. Somehow, my Sundays rarely afford me that luxury.

Take this past weekend for instance. I got up late on Sunday (10:30am) struggled to get my breakfast in, sampled the Sunday New York Times and slugged my way into the gym. At that point, it was already pushing 3pm (time flies when you're slow) and I still needed to do my French lesson, cook dinner and make a weak attempt to catch up on some work after being in New York for the better part of last week. Further, J the BF had a flight at 9pm, so dinner needed to be served promptly by 7 in order for him to get to the airport in time for his flight.

Long story short, I needed to do a shortcut Sunday dinner. The New York Times Magazine featured a story on "Slow Food" which proclaimed that the secret to making the perfect ragù is time - time to let the meat and vegetables brown and brown and brown again concentrating the flavor and giving you a rich deep pudding-like sauce. My two favorite quotes from the article were:

"Brown food taste good" and
"Crud and scrape . . . crud and scrape."

You have to just read it to get it, but I didn't have time for all the crud and brown and whatever, but a rich hearty meat sauce and pasta was what I was hankering for. Instead, I turned to this recipe for Spaghetti with Rich Meat Ragù in Food and Wine. I subbed Fusilli (which I had on hand) and added a splash of cheap red wine as I had a hard time imagining this sauce with no wine - Ragùs need wine, don't they? Drunk harlot sauces that they are! I also tried to give the meats time to sufficiently brown and did a couple of rounds of "crud & scrape" before I gave up and just had to finish the devilish sauce.

All in all, took about an hour (vs. about 3 hours for a traditional version) and the hint of rosemary made it extra fab. I enjoyed it with a side of baby spinach wilted with garlic, olive oil, and Gorgonzola cheese plus a glass of Big House Red wine. When I have one of those fantasy Sundays, I'll try the slow crud and scrape version. I want to experience this brown food business.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Brrrr! Get some Southern heat up here! - Shaver's Chocolate Pecan Pie

We woke up on Sunday to 14-below weather with a wind chill of -38 degrees. "Why do we live here, again?" asked J the BF as we jumped out of bed only long enough to turn on the fireplace and rush back under the covers. This is a world away from the Alabama winters I grew up with for sure. At least we were not "up north" this weekend with our neighbors in International Falls, MN who were enjoying an air temp of 40 below (a record, fitting their new official title as "The Nation's Icebox").

This being the Twin Cities, we can't sit at home and hide from the weather. Instead, we get out and visit friends and act as if this sort of weather is normal. Our buddies JH and Dr. Sam host a monthly "soup" party during the winter where we gather at their place to share soup, wine, progressive ideas, art and other Yuppie liberal notions. I usually bring a dessert, so I decided to err toward something Southern to cut through the chill. I have this recipe for Chocolate Pecan Pie that I ripped out of a promotional magazine my mother had in her kitchen. We had it for Thanksgiving a couple of years ago, and it was a big hit - a fudgy just sweet-enough chocolate filling studded with loads of crunchy pecans. I love pecan pies because they are so rediculously easy to mix up and get great results.

Shaver's Chocolate Pecan Pie
1/2 c (1 stick) butter
2 squares (2 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c light corn syrup
1/4 c all purpose flour
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 tsp salt
3/4 c chopped or whole pecans
1 9 in. unbaked pie crust (I use Pillsbury frozen crusts - regular, not deep dish)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees
Melt butter and chocolate in double boiler over hot water.
Pour this into a large bowl and let cool slightly.
Add the beaten eggs, then stir in the sugar, corn syrup, flour, vanilla, and salt. Fold in the pecans.
Pour filling into crust and bake for 30 minutes or until the top looks dry (I cooked mine for about 37 minutes)

Recipe is from Paula Dean's Kitchen Classics (according to blogger Angelninas)

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mmmm, Cake and Goo! Mocha Pudding Cake

Eric with a C was nice enough to invite me down his place for a casual dinner earlier this month. I thought it was a nice gesture as he know I was flying solo for a while with J the BF traveling on business most of the month. When I got there, I realized he just wanted to show off his amazing Chicken Pot Pie with this pulse-raising pastry crust (dude better be posting that recipe!)

I volunteered to bring dessert so I reverted back to an old standby I used to make all the time when I lived in Atlanta, but fell out of my repertoire - Mocha Pudding Cake. You can mix it up in 10 minutes and it's out of the oven in half an hour. The result, a spongy decadent cake floating atop a rich fudgey warm pudding that screams for a good scoop of ice cream. Since it's a Cooking Light Recipe, maybe frozen yogurt is more "appro-po".

Flu fighting - Spicy Chicken Broth with Tortillas, Avocado and Lime

J the BF has been spending way too much time on planes this month. He called me before getting on a plane home from San Francisco to warn me that he'd be coming home with a touch of flu. I decided to have a steaming pot of chicken soup waiting for him on arrival.

At some point, I ripped out a recipe for Spicy Chicken Broth with Tortillas, Avocado and Lime from an issue of the now defunct Cargo Magazine (a bible for male consumerism - Rest In Peace Cargo - Men's Vogue is just not an acceptable replacement - who would admit to reading "Men's Vogue" anyway?). Despite the use of 2 jalapeños, the heat is very mild in this sunny alternative to regular chicken soup.

Though Cargo is dead, you can find the recipe posted here on the hbomb blog. Use a mesquite seasoned rotisserie chicken to shave off some prep time and get a little smoky flavor into the soup.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Im Off My Rocker Betty Crocker

Too busy working to post the latest news from my kitchen, so instead I'm going to post a video that proves that even potty-mouth Teen boys love Betty Crocker.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Spicy Turkey Tacos - Making do with what I've got

I had originally planned to pick up dinner on the way home so that I could focus my time on working on some overdue projects rather than spilling what's left of my daily life force into a skillet. Knowing that I had some 2 month old ground turkey that I had been thawing from suspended animation in my fridge for the last 2 days, I realized I had better get that stuff cooked up before it crossed over.

I originally planned to make Chili, but I had that on Sunday at a friend's house. Desparate, I raided my pantry and found a can of El Pato Chile Fresco de arbol (spicy mexican style tomato sauce), some corn tortillas, and a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes. Taco night? Why not - here's the recipe:

1lb Lean Ground Turkey
1 can El Pato Chile Fresco de Arbol
1 14.75 oz can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (Muir Glenn are my favorite) - Drained
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp Dried Oregano
1/4 tsp Mexican Hot Chile Powder
1 tsp Cumin

20 Corn Tortillas
Chopped fresh baby spinach or arugula
Reduced fat shredded mexican blend cheese (cheddar, jack, asadero)
Fresh chopped onion and cilantro if desired.

1) Brown the meat well for about 6 - 8 minutes in large non-stick saute pan at medium-high heat stirring frequently. When half-done, sprinkle with salt, oregano, chile powder and cumin.
2) When all pink is cooked out of meat, drain on paper towels
3) Return meat to hot skillet. Add tomatoes and chile fresco. Stir and reduce heat to low medium - simmer for 6 - 8 minutes stirring frequently.
4) Heat Tortillas according to package directions - keep warm
5) Pile one tortilla on top of a second warmed tortilla. Spoon in turkey filling and top with fresh greens, cheese or other toppings as desired.

Makes 8 - 10 hearty tacos. Be sure to double stack the torillas - unless you like juicy bits of turkey and tomato sauce dripping down your arms.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Mango Batida - Cachaça your fruit, folks.

Mango Batida, originally uploaded by Samer Farha.

Stumbled onto this through an image on TasteSpotting (gotta give props).

I love mango cocktails - especially sweet spicy one's like my beloved Mango Mariachi Margarita from Bar Abilene. This one (Mango Batida) looks good as well. If you don't stock Cachaça in your bar, you should.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Recipes that feel you?

Ran across this tidbit in my Springwise email:

This site Cookthink has yet another way to search and serve up recipes - by how you feelin' and what your cravin'. Right now I'm haggard and quickly loosing motivation to keep working tonight - what does Cookthink suggest?

Well, I browsed some tag clouds based on mood and selected "energizing, restorative, decadent and pampering" and got: "Spicy Penne with Shrimp and Mint"

The scary thing is, that sounds really good to me - and I think I have everything at home to make it. Maybe there is something to this . . .

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Giving up on Hazan's Salmoriglio

While sailing in the Bahamas over the winter vacation, I was wedded to a beat-up September issue of Food & Wine that was all about Italian. My neighbor has been re-gifting her issues of Food & Wine as well as her Bon Apetite mags to me under the thinly guised hope that I'll cook and invite her over to feast on my labor - hasn't happened quite yet but it's just a matter of time . . .

While several items piqued my curiosity, I was most eager to try a simple treatment for fish courtesy of Marcella Hazan (who is supposedly THE expert on Italian cooking in the US - I've frankly never heard of her, but what do I know?)

This Marinated Fish with Salmoriglio Sauce sounded really good and absurdly simple. Just salt the fish and sprinkle with olive oil, lemon juice and bread crumbs. Then make a basic sauce with fresh herbs, lemon juice, butter and olive oil. After two failed attempts, I've determined that the recipe is flawed in several ways (softened butter will not combine with lemon juice in a mini food processor on it's own for one).

Although with some fight, I was able to pulse in the olive oil and get an acceptable sauce, it occurred to me that this "Salmoriglio" sauce is just butter and olive oil - which separates into this gross grease when poured over hot fish. It's a big fat mess so I did something that is rare for me - I threw the recipe away. I'm moving on to the Gianduja Mousse from that same issue as soon as I can get the time to make it . . . I'm betting for an experience to reignite my passion for Italian.