Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Bowl of Comfort

Today was the first cold day of the year. Not just crisp, with little red and golden leaves tripping to the ground on a light breeze – no, that was last month. Today was a bone-numbing 39 degrees with a wind chill of what-the-hell-am-I-doing-outside-anyway?

I would be fibbing if I said “It is on a day like this every year that my thoughts turn to soup again” or something like that. Truth is, I’m a soup girl all year round. On a wintry day, however, it’s a special kind of soup I want to snuggle with on my sofa. I want hot, hearty, comforting chicken noodle soup. Soup that tastes like home.

I don’t mind the stuff from a can. I even have a favorite brand that I keep in the pantry all the time. But soup for this sort of day is special, and there are certain characteristics it must possess: The broth must have a deep, well-rounded flavor and it should be slightly thickened, not by flour or cornstarch, but by cooking the noodles in the soup itself. The chicken must be shredded, not diced into uniform cubes, and finally, there should be a hint of freshness at the end, as if to promise that the warm sun will be back soon.

Tall order, huh? I’ll say. And most of the time, when I realize that I have to have this soup, the day is almost gone and I just can’t face plopping a whole chicken in a pot of water to start a soup from scratch. So, over the years I’ve experimented with ways of creating a homemade taste in far less time. Different stocks, noodles, chicken preparations – I’ve tried it all. The following recipe is the result of this quest. The key is the combination of stocks (Imagine brand is available at Whole Foods and it’s worth an extra trip if necessary), and the addition of herbs after it simmers. Tarragon and chicken are culinary soulmates and it’s this herbal embrace that elevates the soup from a meal to a memory.

Chicken Noodle Soup


3 medium-to-large boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
Salt and pepper

2 32 oz. boxes Imagine Chicken Cooking Stock
1 32 oz. box Imagine Creamy Chicken Soup
¾ cup carrots, ½” dice
¾ cup celery, ½” dice
2 bay leaves

5 dashes Tabasco, or to taste
Salt and pepper
6 oz. wide egg noodles

¼ cup chopped tarragon leaves
¼ cup chopped parsley


1. Season chicken breasts lightly with salt and pepper and roast at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool and shred with fingers (much better than dicing with a knife – trust me).

2. Combine all stock and soup in a large pot and bring to a boil. Add carrots, celery, bay leaves and shredded chicken and reduce heat. Maintain a bare simmer for 30 minutes to one hour.

3. Remove bay leaves and season the soup to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco. Add noodles and simmer for an additional 15 minutes.

4. Just before serving, stir in tarragon and parsley.

NOTE: If making soup the day before, take it to the point of removing the bay leaves and then cool down and refrigerate. On the second day, return the soup to a simmer and continue with remaining steps.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Even Grandma Will Admit this Fried Chicken Is Better than Hers

Sunday afternoon, right around 12:30. For those in the know, that’s prime fried chicken eatin’ time. Here in the Metroplex, we’re lucky to be surrounded by options to help us scratch the chicken itch, both down-home good and corporate-laboratory-tested. On one recent Sunday, DallasEats tried them all (well, as close to all as we could get in one day) and crowned a champion. Bless us arteries, for we have sinned.

We gathered two additional (and very willing) participants around the dining table to join us on our deep-fried vision quest. First, we chose the contenders. We couldn’t taste-test every chicken joint in Dallas, so we settled on six, ranging from a shack in East Dallas to the world’s most famous purveyor of fried chicken (think white beard and glasses). The final six contenders were: Williams Chicken (for the record, this should be possessive, but it’s not a part of their official name. This omission is slowly killing FP inside), Pope’s, Church’s, Brother’s, Popeye’s, and KFC.

After deciding upon the entrants, the particulars of the taste-off were debated and refined, ensuring as pure a result as possible. A great deal of discussion took place ahead of time about the basics of this competition. The question was asked—what makes for a great piece of fried chicken? The way we see it, the answer is two-fold: crust and chicken. Within these two components, however, are myriad subtleties. We narrowed these factors to the following manageable and quantifiable list:

· Crust texture
· Crust flavor
· Chicken texture
· Chicken flavor
· Crust to chicken ratio

Categories were ranked on a scale of one to five, giving each type of chicken a possible 25 points per judge, 100 points overall. Check out the rankings, from last place to first:

6. Church’s Chicken (59)

With a final score of 59 points, Church’s received the dubious distinction of last place in our competition. Its downfall was the crust, which was judged tasteless and thin. Adding insult to injury, the crust-to-chicken ratio was skewed by giant, meaty parts, which didn’t appeal to anyone. On the upside, it packed a good crunch, and a generous squirt from one of those trademark jalapeños could give it a much-needed kick.

5. Popeye’s (61)

Keeping Church’s company in the dregs of our rankings was Popeye’s, with a total score of 61. The batch we sampled seemed to vary from piece to piece, ranging from good to just plain gross. In fact, the meat on one drumstick was so gray and unappealing that it was downright inedible. That said, Popeye’s crispy, spicy crust distinguished it from Church’s and kept it out of the bottom of the barrel.

4. KFC (62.5)

The big surprise of the day was KFC - the artist formerly known as Kentucky Fried Chicken - which racked up 62.5 points (one guess as to which over-analytical - but loveable - blogger resorted to using half points). We decided to give them a chance by ordering the “Extra Tasty Crispy” variety, which proved to be just that. One taster called it “surprisingly good”, and that summed up the group consensus. The only dissenter was FP, who could still taste the 11 herbs and spices—and not in a good way.

3. Pope’s (75)

The top three chicken joints stood head and shoulders over the rest, to nobody’s surprise. Pope’s Fried Chicken in East Dallas, a small, rundown shop at the intersection of Carroll and I30 (yikes), rang in at 75 points. Although the pieces were on the smallish side, they were crisp, with juicy, flavorful meat. The only complaint was that the crust lacked the flavor punch that distinguished the top two. Even so, it was delicious and its score reflected its quality.

2. Brother’s Fried Chicken (77.5)

With 77.5 total points, this East Dallas institution near Baylor hospital ended up in second place on our list. For the record, not everyone loved Brother’s spicy crust. C&S was a little off-put by the presence of what she believed to be Lowry’s Seasoned Salt. However, everyone agreed that the crust texture and ratio were just about perfect. One reviewer summed it up perfectly, “Mmmmm. Brother’s.” The good news for those of you north of 635 is that another outpost of this fried chicken goodness is now open in Richardson.

1. Williams Fried Chicken (79.5)

Wow. Two of our reviewers had never tasted the magical goodness of Williams prior to the competition, and their minds were effectively blown. With a total score of 79.5 points, this chicken was declared almost perfect by the judges. Crisp and moist, with a crust to chicken ratio favoring the crust, it’s no wonder FP had to spend 20-minutes in line to get it. This chicken is worth waiting for, and it has now been crowned DallasEats’ Best Fried Chicken in Dallas.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Special--Robin's Cornbread Dressing

Okay, let me first say, there is no one cornbread dressing recipe that will please everyone. We all grew up with moms that made it just a little bit differently, and I love all the stuff my mom makes at Thanksgiving—even the sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Okay, especially the sweet potatoes with marshmallows. That being said, this is not my mom’s recipe. This is my recipe, which I’ve made for the last several years, tweaking it just a little bit each time. It’s also great with sausage, but this is the slightly lighter version.

Robin’s Cornbread Dressing:

1/3 of a stick of butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped celery (don’t chop it too finely—you still want it to look like celery)
1 medium fennel bulb, diced
1 large sweet onion, diced
2 medium/large crisp, sweet apples (Fuji apples are my favorite)
1tsp. +1 tbs. kosher salt
2 tsp. dried fennel seeds
2 tsp. dried thyme
2 tsp. dried sage
2 prepared 8X8 pans of yellow cornbread
1 cup apple juice
2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable broth for our vegetarian friends)
2 eggs, beaten
2 tsp. fresh black pepper (to taste)
½ cup chopped pecans

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the celery and fennel, and sauté for five minutes. Add the onion, apples, fennel seeds, 1 tsp. salt, thyme, and sage. Sauté for about five-10 more minutes, or until the onions begin to get translucent.

In a large mixing bowl, crumble the cornbread. When it’s done, pour the apple mixture over the top. Add the apple juice, chicken broth, eggs, pepper, pecans and the rest of the salt. Combine.

Spoon the mixture into a 9 by 13 pan, and bake for 45 minutes. The mixture should become firm and the top should brown. It should also smell awesome.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

She Got Game

Two of our favorite readers (and friends), Lydia and Tim Wagner, have gifted me with several pounds of Tim's family's venison sausage. Growing up in Texas, I've eaten game on several occaisions, but I have never cooked with it. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to try a few different ways to put this sausage to use, and I'll share the good and the bad with you all.

Tonight's menu is barley risotto with venision sausage. I'll let you know how it goes...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kiss My Grits

As fall is clearly upon us, my food preferences have turned from the fresh, crisp flavors of summer to the homey, cozy flavors of fall. Basically—I don’t want a stupid salad. I want stew. Or mashed potatoes. Or best of all, in my humble opinion, grits.

Basic cheese grits provide a basis for coming up with your own innovative grits recipes. I’ll start there, and then give you two other options that step it up a little.

All of these recipes are easy, cheap, and yummy and make a whole mess of grits. The best new is—they are even better on day 2 or day 3.

Basic Cheese Grits
These basic grits are great for breakfast, lunch or dinner, and pair with anything from a steak to grilled chicken to sausage.

· 2 cups chicken broth (or vegetable stock, if you’re not the meat-eatin’ kind—this is true for all three recipes. If you’re a vegan, you’re on your own.)
· 2 cups milk (I use 2%, but skim or whole would probably work okay too)
· 1 tsp. + 1 tsp. salt—(kosher if possible—it’s sooooo much better than Morton’s from the can, but not much more expensive)
· 1 cup quick grits—yellow or white, whatever is your preference.
· 1 and ½ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
· 1 tsp. black pepper—try to use a grinder, it makes a big difference

Step 1: Combine the chicken broth, milk, and 1 tsp. of the salt in a medium/large sauce pan and bring to a bubble. BE CAREFUL, because the milk can boil over very quickly if you’re not watching it.

Step 2: Add the grits slowly while stirring with a whisk (or just with a fork if you don’t have one), to avoid the dreaded lumps.

Step 3: Turn down the heat to low and cover for five minutes.

Step 4: Add the cheese, pepper and the other tsp. of salt, and stir to combine.

Step 5: Let it sit uncovered on low heat for a few minutes to thicken up a bit.

Step 6: Eat and enjoy!

Baked Chipotle Grits
This is just a ramped-up version of the basic cheese grits. I love to make these spicy grits to go with Mike’s famous brisket, but they go well with a variety of other dishes.

Additional ingredients:
· Four chipotle chilis in adobo, chopped.
· 1 small can of green chilis.
· ½ an onion, chopped and sautéed in olive oil until translucent.
· Extra ½ cup of sharp cheddar cheese

Perform steps 1-4 of the basic cheese grits recipe.

Step 5: Preheat over to 350 degrees

Step 6: Add the “extra ingredients” to the grits

Step 7: Pour the grits into a small, lightly greased baking dish

Step 8: Sprinkle the extra cheddar on top

Step 8: Bake for about 45 minutes, until lightly browned on top and firm.

Step 9: Eat and enjoy!

Robin’s Famous Drunken Grits
Okay, they may not be famous yet with anyone but Mike and I, but they are definitely a favorite in our household. A little fancier, and possibly a bit schmancier than most grits recipes, they are as suitable for a formal dinner party as they are a backyard BBQ. I’m going to give you the entire recipe here, because it’s a smidge different than the other two. It’s totally worth the couple of extra steps, though.

· 1 tbs. olive oil
· 2 garlic cloves, minced (Or use that pre-minced stuff from the grocery store. I buy the jumbo tub of that stuff a few times a year, because it lasts forever. Sure, maybe it’s not quite as good as the fresh stuff, but it’s a lot easier, and your hands don’t smell like butt when you’re done using it)
· 2 cups chicken broth
· 1 and ½ cups milk
· 1 tsp. salt
· Either one tbs. fresh chopped or ½ a tablespoon dried thyme
· Either ½ tbs. fresh chopped or 1 tsp. dried rosemary
· 1 cup quick grits
· 1 and ½ cups shredded white cheddar cheese
· ¾ cup shredded parmesan cheese (Do not use the freaky powdered kind from the can. Get an actual block of fresh parmesan and shred it, please. It’s for your own good.)
· 1 tsp. white pepper (if you don’t want to buy it, black works too)
· ¾ cup of chardonnay

Step 1: Heat 1 tbs. olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat.

Step 3: Add the garlic and cook for two minutes.

Step 3: Add the milk, chicken broth, salt, thyme and rosemary to the garlic and bring to a bubble. Again, BE CAREFUL, because the milk can boil over very quickly if you’re not watching it.

Step 4: Add the grits slowly while stirring with a whisk (or just with a fork if you don’t have one), to avoid the dreaded lumps.

Step 5: Turn down the heat to low and cover for five minutes.

Step 6: Bring the burner temp back up to medium and stir in the chardonnay until the mixture is smooth.

Step 7: Add the cheese and pepper and stir to combine (depending on how salty the parmesan is, you may or may not need to add a little salt here, too).

Step 8: Turn the heat back down to low, and let the grits sit uncovered for a few minutes to thicken up a bit.

Step 9: Eat and enjoy!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Cornbread Chronicles, Part II

This is just a short note to commemorate the official end of my cornbread project. My review of "The Cornbread Gospels" by Crescent Dragonwagon appears in today's issue of the San Antonio Current. Click the link below to read the full text:


More than cornmeal-to-flour ratios and levels of sweetness and the presence or absence of whole kernal corn, this book taught me what a joy it can be to dissect a cuisine (or just one simple food) down to its roots and work your way back up again.

I now know that I love cornbread of all kinds, and it's all "authentic" - just depends on who you ask!

The following recipe is one of my favorites from the book: a Greek dessert cornbread, bobota is a cousin of baklava. Soaked in orange-flavored honey while still warm from the oven, it's a perfect pair with strong coffee, Sauternes or, of course, Ouzo. Enjoy!


(Greek Cornbread)

Makes 10 to 12 squares

Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons unbleached white flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons stone-ground yellow cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, separated
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange, preferably organic
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (seeds and large pieces of pulp removed, but not strained)
1 cup currants or raisins
1 recipe Orange-Honey Syrup (below)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 7 1/2 x 12 1/2-inch pan with cooking spray and set aside.

2. Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a piece of wax paper. Set aside.

3. In a high-sided non-plastic bowl using scrupulously clean beaters, beat the egg whites until stiff. Set aside.

4. Using the same beaters that you used on the egg whites, in a medium-sized bowl, cream together the butter and sugar, beating until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time. Add the orange zest.

5. Add the flour-cornmeal mixture and the orange juice to the creamed butter mixture, stirring until just combined. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold in the egg whites and currants or raisins.

6. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan, and put it in the oven. Bake until golden brown, firm and slightly domed in the middle, 35 to 40 minutes. As the cake bakes, prepare the Orange-Honey Syrup.

7. When the cake is done, remove it from the oven and prick the top all over with a toothpick. Pour the slightly cooled syrup evenly over the cake, dousing it. Let stand 1 to 2 hours before serving.

Orange-Honey Syrup

sufficient for one Bobota

1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons honey
Juice from 1 orange plus water to equal 1 cup
Finely grated zest of one orange, preferably organic
6 whole cloves

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to a simmer, and let cook until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is a thin syrup, about 4 minutes. Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Remove the cloves before pouring the syrup over the Bobota.

(Photo, clockwise from top left: Dairy Hollow House Skillet-Sizzled Cornbread, cornbread and beans, Greek Bobota, Portuguese Broa and Caldo Verde stew. All recipes from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon. Photo by Lara Bierner)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Classy&Sassy's Top Five Crave-able Dallas Dishes*

*Plus nos. 6-10 (the runners-up) &

Five Things Other People Crave That I Really Don't Get!

FoodiePrincess was on to something, so I thought I'd sit down and list those dishes that I come back to again and again. And those that I wish I didn't live so far away from, so that I could come back to them again and again. I was surprised at my list, and I think you will be too. There is something to be said for "comfort food", and no matter how adventurous an eater I think I am, or how much I really do like squid, these are the dishes that really melt my butter (oh, Truvy). And, before you ask - No, you can't have a bite of mine. Order your own!

1. Cheese Burger
The Porch
2916 N Henderson Avenue, Dallas

Yes, it's listed this way on the menu – two words, capitalized. This is indicative of the respect paid to the good ol' American standby at The Porch. It's big, drippy, covered in cheese and makes everything else just fade into the background as soon as you take the first bite. There is also a “Stodg Burger” with foie gras and a fried egg. Haven't had it - but if you have, let me know what you think!

2. Cru Steak Pizza
Cru Wine Bar
3699 McKinney Avenue, Dallas

Sliced beef tenderloin, mixed greens and balsamic vinaigrette resting atop a golden, crisp, homemade pizza crust. And, it's designed as a perfect match for a variety of wines. Both classy and sassy. 'Nuff said.

3. Southwest Egg Rolls
Two Rows Classic Grill
5500 Greenville Avenue, Suite 1300, Dallas

I don't care that they've started to refer to themselves as a “Classic Grill” instead of a brewery. Whatever the hell that means. I don't care that pieces of flair will inevitably follow. I only care that these little babies are pure heaven. Forget the shameful iterations of this dish that you've had elsewhere – these are huge, packed with filling and (wait for it) deep fried to perfection. Add a beer and call it a night.

4. Soft Chicken Tacos
Mi Cocina
3699 McKinney Avenue, Dallas (and various other area locations)

I'm stumped by these tacos. The chicken is perfect: moist, and seasoned to the point of rendering all taco accompaniments unnecessary. How do they do it? This is not diced pre-cooked chicken breast floating in an all-encompassing brick red grease slick. This is the real thing. I would venture a guess that someone's grandma taught them how to do this. I've even gone so far as to beg a friend who used to work for M Group Restaurants to try and get me the recipe. He was unsuccessful, so I'll just have to stick with enjoying them on the patio in the West Village, with a Mambo Taxi.

5. Cuatro Leches Cake
La Duni
4264 Oak Lawn Avenue and 4620 McKinney Avenue, Dallas

Does dessert count, FP? If I get to decide, it certainly does! I'd challenge anyone to find a more beautiful, decadent, masterful dessert than this one offered by La Duni. Vanilla sponge cake soaked in Tres Leches sauce is topped with caramelized Swiss meringue. Two sauces – gooey caramel and even more Tres Leches – take it right over the top.

Close Seconds (rankings 6 – 10):

6. Cheeseburger
Snookies, 3604 Oak Lawn Avenue, Dallas (and various other area locations)

7. Spinach Quesadillas
Gloria's, 4140 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas (and various other area locations)

8. Eggplant Parmesan
Eatzi's, 3403 Oak Lawn Avenue, Dallas

9. Pho (chicken recommended)
Pho 95, 9780 Walnut St Suite 120, Dallas

10. Carne Asada
Mia's, 4322 Lemmon Avenue, Dallas

Five Things Other People Crave That I Really Don't Get:

1. Freebirds

Tomato Basil Soup at La Madeleine For that matter, anything at La Madeleine. How much overdressed salad and room temperature quiche can one person tolerate?

Taquitos from Whataburger My husband is not the only person to wish he could just liquify and mainline these tortilla torpedoes. Me, I don't see the big woop.

Krispy Kreme I sincerely hope that the Krispy Kreme craze has passed. Someday we will
look back on our momentary lapse of reason and laugh. Probably in a "Early 2000's" edition of that silly show on VH1 that makes fun of parachute pants and Diff'rent Strokes.

5. Canh Chu at Green Papaya I love that you love it, FP
...but I just don't get it.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

FoodiePrincess' Top Five Crave-able Dallas Dishes

I am the first one to admit that although I pride myself as a foodie, I am also a creature of habit. I am all about trying new places and dishes, but when I find something I really love, I have a tendency to never order anything else. These are the dishes that compel me to drive across town, listed in no particular order.

After you check mine out, tell us--what are your most crave-worthy Dallas dishes? We want to know!

1. Canh Chu (Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup)
Green Papaya
3211 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 75219

If I'm not feeling well, if it's cold and rainy, or if I'm in the mood for something light but full of flavor, there's nothing better than this soup. The perfect combination of sweet and spicy, this chicken-broth based soup is loaded with fresh tomatoes, pineapple, and your choice of shrimp or chicken. It is literally not possible for me to eat at Green Papaya and not order it. A little tip—the shrimp comes with the tails still on, so it's kind of a beating to eat in the soup. Go with chicken.

2. Chicken Salad
Café Max
1600 Alma Rd., Richardson, TX 75081

Mayonnaise is my kryptonite. You can make the best hamburger in the world, but if you put mayonnaise on it, I'm out. Because of this, chicken salad is usually a no-go for me. The chicken salad at Café Max on the other hand, is a mix of roast chicken, pears, apples, walnuts and green and red bell pepper. I've never been able to put my finger on exactly what's in the sauce, but I think it's a mixture of cider vinegar, cilantro and apple juice. Whatever it is, it's delicious, and—at least I like to think—a little more virtuous than your run-of-the-mill chicken salad.

3. Cheese Enchiladas
3011 Routh Street, Dallas, TX 75201
6332 La Vista Drive, Dallas, TX 75214

Most decent cheese enchiladas are fairly crave-able, but these are irresistible. The combination of chile con carne, onion, cheese and tortillas is a classic, but these are at the top of the genre. Yum.

4. Baby Spinach Salad with Steak
State and Allen Lounge
2400 Allen St., Dallas, TX 75204

In general, I'm not much of a salad person, but I order this one almost every time we eat at State and Allen Lounge, which is fairly often. The fresh spinach, raspberry, red onion and oranges are topped with blue cheese crumbles and dressed with warm vinaigrette. Because I'm a total carnivore, I usually get the steak on top, which goes great with the other flavors in the salad. It's crunchy, sweet, tangy, and meaty. What more could you ask for in a salad? Or any meal, for that matter?

5. Crawfish Enchiladas
Alligator Café
4416 Live Oak, Dallas, TX 75204

Yes, I'm raving about Alligator Café—again. I just can't stress the greatness of this place enough. The Crawfish Enchiladas are almost always what I order. Normally cheese and seafood don't mix, but this is the exception. It's also served with dirty rice and red beans, both of which are crave-able in their own right.

Monday, October 8, 2007

The DallasEats Mixology Competition!

I don't care if we got our butts kicked, those Hott Rodds were worth the humiliation!

Speak for yourself, FP. As soon as my head clears, I'm organizing a re-match. I don't take defeat lying down. In this case, I was lying down for another reason all together. (Note to self: Cabana Boys should be enjoyed *one* at a time...two or three in one night is just plain freaky.)

For those of you who have been on the edge of your seats since "Drugstore Gourmet", you can now lean back, get comfortable and read on to find out the gory details of yet another DallasEats Feat of Strength. For those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, you'd better do your homework: find the details of our first competition along the left-hand side of your screen, under the month of July.

The Set-up:

Five competitors (C&S and FP included, along with three other talented amateur mixologists) created an original cocktail, complete with a catchy "roll off the tongue even after three of 'em" name. The resulting concoctions were evaluated by several esteemed lushes - er, judges - and awarded points for presentation, flavor and creativity. Bonus points were given to those entries that would have been ordered again in a bar or made at home by the judges.

In a surprising upset, 1st, 2nd and 3rd places were all taken by outsiders. We here at DallasEats were amazed by the creativity, originality and personality on display at this competition! Our winners went above and beyond the call to get a houseful of boozers tipsy and keep them entertained while doing so. (Never discouraged by the democratic process, and always prone to making up our own rules, the DallasEats girls are planning a little palm-greasing next time to ensure that at least one of those shiny ribbons stays in the family.)

Below, the winning entries. Make one at home tonight for a little extra fun at cocktail hour! Or make three at home tonight for a lot of extra fun at cocktail hour - then call in sick tomorrow. You deserve it.

3rd Place - J.R.

"The Cabana Boy"

Mix equal parts:

Mango Malibu
Passion Fruit Malibu
V8 Tropical Splash

Stir and serve. Works great as a slushie, too! Garnish with pineapple, oranges and cherries.

2nd Place - Rodd

"The Hott Rodd"

Pour these three chilled liquors in the order listed (pour slowly over the back of a spoon to maintain distinct layers):

1. Godiva's Dark Chocolate Liqueur
2. Caravella's Orangecello
3. Patron's Citronage Orange Liqueur

Take a spoon and drizzle Stonewall Kitchen's White Chocolate Orange Sauce along the inside of each glass, s
prinkle orange sugar onto the sauce and serve.
Says Rodd: "This drink is sure to warm you up on a cool night and it's sexy too!"

1st Place/Grand Prize - Robin and Rob

"Mr. and Ms. Pineapple Heads"

Mix equal parts:

Pineapple juice
Fresh Lime juice
Triple Sec
Silver Tequila (Silver mixes better with fresh fruit juice)
dash of salt

3 cups of each yields about a gallon of cocktails. Serve chilled, over ice. Or in a custom-carved pineapple with maraschino cherry eyes and fresh-flower garnish. (see photo)

Hats off to Robin and Rob - the Pineapple Head is our new favorite treat!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Restaurant Review: Urbano Paninoteca

Urbano Decay

...Or: Why hindsight isn't always 20/20

Urbano Paninoteca
2533 McKinney Avenue

A Note of Explanation:

I fell in love with Urbano Paninoteca back in 2002 when it was a hole-in-the-wall off McKinney Avenue. This was during the panini early years—a time when these grilled sandwiches were still new and fresh, before barely-edible microwaveable facsimiles were available in the frozen food section of the supermarket.

Urbano's grilled tuna panini was a revelation (Fresh tuna! Fresh greens! Praise be to buttery grilled bread!) and the sole ray of light on the gloomy first day of a job that would continue to leech my life-force for another six months. Soon, I was visiting that “new little place across the street”, as we called it, almost every day of the week. A crisp tomato-basil-mozzarella panini, oozing with creamy melted cheese, was often the only thing that got me through the day. Maybe I romanticized it in hindsight, maybe I remember it being so wonderful simply because I looked forward to it so.

I'm beginning to believe that's the case, because a recent move to a larger venue on McKinney prompted me and FoodiePrincess to visit Urbano for the purposes of reviewing it for the blog, and to say that it was not as good as I remembered would be an understatement...

- Classy&Sassy

Who was there?

Our first visit was at lunchtime on a weekday, and Urbano was packed with young professionals. The crowd was lively and well-dressed and many seemed as though they visited the restaurant on a regular basis.

At dinner, only a few tables were occupied for the majority of our visit. We sat indoors and most of them were outside, so we couldn't tell you what the patrons looked or dressed like. With such a gorgeous patio, offering views of McKinney Avenue, trolley and all, we were surprised there weren't more folks out there taking advantage of the beautiful late summer evening.

We later found out why.

How were the drinks?

Drinks at lunch were straight-up fountain fare. Method of service was the sticking point (read on below). A wine menu was presented at dinnertime, but they'd have to be giving away free Moët to make up for our disappointing meal. Great by-the-glass wine pricing or an innovative cocktail menu (not that they had either) would be beside the point in this case.

What were we eating? How did it taste?

At lunch, the Warm Roast Beef Panini was a hit. Our companion enjoyed the melting provolone, grilled onion and roasted red pepper that accented tender shredded roast beef. The meat was fresh, and if not homemade, was of the high-quality deli-counter variety. So what if the bread didn't have the crisp and buttery grilled texture that we remembered from the past? Overall, the sandwich was a success. Fries on the side were thin and crisp. They've been voted Best in Dallas by D Magazine in the past, and while we wouldn't go that far, they were certainly above average.

The Parmesan Crusted Chicken Salad, however, was a lunchtime disappointment. (aside: Why is it so hard to get a decent salad? This is not the first time this issue has come up! I will lay a fat juicy one on the person who points me toward a great place for creative and tasty salads! - C&S) Greens were fresh, but tomatoes lacked flavor and the salad as a whole was overdressed. Chicken was cold and soggy.

On our dinner visit, we began with the Calamari Fritti appetizer. The usual rings arrived – no strips of fillet or tentacles – but the breading was flavorful and crisp. Someone at Urbano is great with a Fryolater. Dipping sauces alongside were ho-hum. A plate of foccacia and dish of olive oil were also placed on the table. Bread had somewhat of a chill and, while flecked with seasonings, did not deliver the usual rosemary and sea salt punch.

The Asparagi alla Griglia salad consisted of steamed asparagus spears and roasted red peppers alongside lemon and basil pesto ciabatta toasts. The veggies were fine, but the toasts had obviously prepped far in advance – they had the settled, lackluster look of leftovers.

Zuppa di Pesce was another disappointment. The dish was tepid, which could have been due to underheating in the first place, or sitting too long before service with only a shallow 1/4” of “zuppa” in the bottom of the bowl. Neither of us understood why this was billed as a soup at all. The broth was a flavorful spoonful and a half of liquid which pooled beneath ample, if overcooked and under seasoned, seafood.

One dish that was tasty, if overpriced at $15, was the Ravioli con Burro e Salvia. While the name makes it sound like “Ravioli with Donkey Spit,” it was actually Ravioli with ricotta cheese, roasted tomatoes and brown butter sage sauce. The sauce lacked as much of a sage kick as we would have liked, but the roasted tomatoes added a welcome sweet/savory flavor component to the dish.

The only dessert sampled was the banana bread pudding with caramel sauce. This was too tempting to pass up for FP, a bread pudding fanatic. Unfortunately it was the biggest disappointment of the evening. The caramel sauce was delicious, but the bread pudding itself was tasteless and dry - pretty much inedible.

How was the service?

Lunchtime means counter-service here: file in up front cafeteria-style and then place your order at the register. Drinks are self-serve, and the cubby hole in which the fountain soda and pitchers of water and tea were located was dingy and small. During a busy lunch rush, it was very uncomfortable for everyone to squeeze in and out holding purses, drinks, order number table tents, straws, etc.

At dinner, Urbano breaks out the white tablecloths for a surprisingly effective transformation from casual sandwich shop to chic bistro, if only in décor. Dinner service didn't match up to the smart costume change, however. Waiter was friendly, but ultimately distracted and forgetful.

How much did it cost?

Paninis range from $6.50 - $8.95 and are reasonable at that price, considering the quality of the ingredients and the finished product. All other menu items, especially those on the dinner menu, we felt to be far too expensive when evaluated on any combination of criteria – serving size, ingredients, presentation, atmosphere, etc.

Would you go there again?

This may be a first for us, but we both agree that we won't be back. Given the plethora of paninis in the city these days, there is really no reason to risk another hit-or-miss experience with Urbano.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A Brief Literary Interlude

Let's take a moment to enrich our minds, while celebrating one of our favorite things: cocktail hour. Below find Baudelaire's 1869 treatise on indulgence...not only is it food (drink?) for thought, but it's a damned good reason to pour yourself a tall one today at 5.

Be You Drunken!

One must always be drunk. That's all there is to it; that's

the only solution. In order not to feel the horrible burden of

Time breaking your shoulders and bowing your head to the

ground, you must be drunken without respite.

But; with what? With wine, poetry or virtue, as you will.

Be you drunken.

And if sometimes you awake, on the steps of a palace, in

the green herbage of a ditch or in the dreary solitude of your

room, then ask the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, the

clocks, ask everything that runs, that moans, that moves

on wheels, everything that sings and speaks – ask them what

is the time of day; and the wind, the waves, the stars, the

birds and the clocks will answer you: It is time to get

drunk. In order not to be the martyred slave of Time, be you

drunken; be you drunken ceaselessly! With wine, poetry or

virtue, as you will!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

FoodiePrincess' Pretty Dang Good Salsa

I've been making my own salsa for years, and the more experiementing I've done, the more I've realized that there really is no "world's best salsa." My husband thinks the salsa at Tin Star is the best. I like the warm salsa at Cantina Laredo. Some people swear by the salsa at Matt's Rancho Martinez. But while this is true, I do have a recipe I like best.

I made this Pretty Dang Good Salsa last weekend, and it was a big hit with our guests (Classy&Sassy and her husband among them). The bottom line is: if it involves tomatoes, onions, jalepenos, cilantro and lime juice it's all good. The rest is just gravy, or in the case of my recipe, the rest is just ancho chilis, cumin and corriander.

2 Tbs. olive oil
12 Roma tomatoes, halved
2 Yellow onions, cut into eighths
2 Jalapeños, seeded and quartered
1 Poblano pepper, seeded and cut into strips
4 Garlic cloves
2 Tsp. oregano
2 Tsp. + 1 tsp salt
2 Tsp. fresh ground black pepper
3 Canned ancho chilis in adobo, chopped
¼ Cup of lime juice (or the juice of two limes)
½ Cup chopped cilantro
½ Tsp. sugar
1 Tbs. cumin
1/2 Tsp. Corriander

Preheat broiler in oven to 500°.

In a glass baking dish, combine olive oil, tomatoes, onions, jalepenos, poblano pepper, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper. Mix with your hands until all the veggies are covered in olive oil and spices. Place the dish under the broiler for approximately 30-40 minutes, checking every 10 minutes to stir veggies. The onions will begin to burn a little at the edges, but this is okay—it will just be more flavor in the salsa. You do want to make sure that the tomatoes have started to get a little blackened as well.

Pull the veggies out of the oven and let them cool a little bit. In a food processor or a blender, add the cooked veggies, 1 tsp. salt, the ancho chilis, lime juice, cilantro, cumin, coriander and sugar. Blend until your desired consistency. I like mine pretty smooth. You can serve warm or cool. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Classy&Sassy's Top Five Neighborhood Restaurants

...and Bottom Five Neighborhood Dives

Now it's my turn! Here are my Top 5 Neighborhood Pics (in no particular order) and Bottom 5 Neighborhood Pans. I determined my “neighborhood” to be Oak Lawn, Uptown and Knox St., and I used the same criteria set forth by FP: these are casual, drop-in spots – not fine dining. Enjoy!

p.s. I know I'm going to poke a few eyeballs with my pans, but feel free to leave me a comment and let me know how wrong I am!

C&S's Top 5 Neighborhood Favorites

Tio's Tortas (4015 Lemmon Avenue) These monsters are big on taste and, well, big-ness. Everyone I've introduced to Tio's has promptly developed their own jones. $5 to anyone who tries Nardo's Nightmare and gives their own review in 'Comments'. www.tiostortas.com

Mia's (4322 Lemmon Avenue) Mia's is straight-forward excellent Tex-Mex. No frills, no faux-kitch on the walls, no Facebook-aged waiters sporting pieces of flare. It's a family operation and I'd guess they use family recipes – they sure do taste like it. www.miastexmex.com

La Duni (Two Locations, both in my neighborhood: 4264 Oak Lawn Ave & 4620 McKinney Ave) Up until a few months ago, I would say, “I've heard that place is really good...” when La Duni would come up in conversation. Then, I ate there. I'm now a convert; the greatness of La Duni inspires evangelical devotion to spreading the word about their incredible Latin cuisine and pastries that will cause you to swear off that stale Starbucks case for good. The reward for a lifetime of preaching this gospel? When I die, I'll be baked into a Quatro Leches from La Duni. www.laduni.com

Green Papaya Vietnamese Bistro (3211 Oak Lawn Avenue, suite B) Great vietnamese food. The spring rolls and pho are some of the best I've ever tasted. FP loves the Canh Chu (Vietnamese Hot and Sour Soup). There is little atmosphere to speak of, but I did see Don Henley picking up some take-out on a Sunday night. www.greenpapayarestaurants.com

Toy's Cafe (4422 Lemmon Avenue) All right, it's a dive and it sits in a questionable shopping center alongside a couple of shady businesses (see photo left; no, I can't vouch for "Donuts" or "Jessica Hair Salon"). Don't go there with someone you want to impress. Do go there if you want to sample their amazing corn cakes.

*Didn't add to list 'cause you should darn well

already know about them: Buli, Breadwinner's & Eatzi's

Sassy's Bottom 5 – Totally Overrated!

Primo's: What the ef is up with this glorified OTB? You wouldn't go there for the food, and you wouldn't go for the great service. You certainly wouldn't go if you actually wanted to sit on the patio. So why go at all? I have no clue...maybe you just picked up a new ironic screen-printed “vintage” t-shirt at Urban Outfitters and you just can't wait to show it off?

Hook, Line and Sinker: Used to be good, not so good anymore. What changed? I'm not sure, but it doesn't seem to be changing back anytime soon.

The Bronx: People love The Bronx, and I've had some nice meals here. More often than not, however, the food is lukewarm and bears little resemblance to menu descriptions. Dining rooms are often empty and eerily silent as well. The only redeeming quality is that the service is always excellent.

Cafe Brazil, Cedar Springs location: I'm disappointed in this outpost of Dallas' favorite indie coffee shop every time I decide to give it another try. Tables are cramped, food isn't good, coffee is weak (and I mean see-through!), and there are strange odors in several corners of the restaurant.

Chuy's: Once again, this is a favorite of many and I expect flack for panning it (feel free to comment), but I have to be honest. Not only has service been sub-par and “cold” wine and beer served lukewarm on my past few visits, but there were also some stomach-turning food faux-pas on display. Sticky, foamy white film floating atop bowl of salsa, anyone?

Monday, September 3, 2007

Cornbread Chronicles

Part I: Cornbread, Contraband and Keeping Good Culinary Company

As many of you already know, I'm in the midst of a writing assignment that involves cornbread. Lots and lots of cornbread. Let's just say that for the last four days out of five, I've had cornbread for breakfast. Twice for lunch.

I'm preparing a review of a new cookbook by one of my culinary heroes, Crescent Dragonwagon. Answer to obligatory question: No, that isn't her given name, but the story of how it came about is entertaining. Dragonwagon penned “Passionate Vegetarian”, a doorstop of a tome filled with recipes, stories, tips and menus. The darned thing is just about as big as my beagle, but I've nonetheless been through it several times, leaving a trail of sauce-splashed pages and margin notes in my wake. It's the “Joy of Cooking” for vegetarians. Answer to next obligatory question: No, I'm not a vegetarian...but I live to cook, and anything that presents the very essence of a cuisine, be it vegetarian, Moroccan or Coastal South Carolinian, is of great interest to people like me who love playing with their food.


So, cornbread. Not something I would have considered myself knowledgeable or curious about in the least – until I picked up the book. It set a place for me at the communal table shared by Native Americans, African slaves, Portuguese fishermen and a dozen or more other cultures who have embraced this humble foodstuff through the ages. Now I'm hooked.

As I mention this to friends, acquaintances and passers-by, it's a treat to witness their impassioned reactions. No one is neutral on cornbread. Everyone has something to share – family recipes, new twists and recent kitchen experiments. A checker at Whole Foods, eyes wide with interest, leaned in close when I mentioned the project. It was as though I had produced the proper handshake and could now be let in on the secret: “Amaranth,” he whispered, barely audible in the bustling market on a Sunday afternoon. “Amaranth is the key...”

I raced home, grocery bags swinging to and fro, to ask my husband if he knew of this mystery ingredient. “Amaranth? I think that's illegal here in the States.” Actually, it's a nutrient-dense grain (or herb, depending on who you ask) that was a favorite of the Mayans and Incas. I believe Jeremy was thinking of “Absinthe”; those of you who know him will not be surprised.

Now, I ask all of you (we have lots of readers now! Yay!), do you have cornbread tales to tell? Did your mom use something special – jack cheese? sweet cream? - that made hers the best? Leave a comment or shoot me an email. I'd love to hear all about it!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Restaurant Review: The Porch

...or Why These Girls Love Big (Bowls of) Mussels

The Porch

2912 N. Henderson Avenue, Dallas

Who was there?

After work one night and at lunch the next day, the crowd at The Porch was primped, perky and positively precious. Come to think of it, so were the wait staff. Fresh highlights and a well-accessorized ensemble are a must. Don't go in sweats, but a cute pair of jeans will do just fine...Read on, though: the food is worth some extra time in front of the mirror.

How were the drinks?

One of our crowd was detoxing, so we didn't sample nearly as much from the bar menu on our evening visit as we've been known to tackle in the past. Still, a large and affordable selection of wines by the glass was more than enough to satisfy on a weeknight (or a weekend for that matter). Beer on tap was cold and fresh – what else can you say?

What were we eating? How did it taste?

Appetizers sampled were big on flavor and portion-size. The biggest hit of the meal (and there were several) was the Mussels in Hefeweizen broth - a generous bowl of bi-valves in a heady pool of brick-colored holy water. Garlic bread accompanied for dipping, and the combination proved intoxicating. Fried Port Salut cheese consisted of four large wedges of the French cows-milk cheese fried until crisp outside and satiny inside. The cheese was smooth, warm and creamy, not the usual molten lava. Tomato dipping sauce alongside was bland, but unnecessary.

Beef was a standout at The Porch – whether in a sandwich au jus, stuffed into a burrito and topped with hatch chile queso or simply sliced and served with sea-salted fries. Speaking of fries, one of our group aptly described them as “like McDonald's, only fancier”. Thin, but not too thin, and salty as could be, they were a favorite at the table.

The aforementioned French Dip Au Jus sandwich merited nothing but raves. One diner decided that it was better than Houston's, and possibly the best he'd ever had. Smothered in gruyère and subtle horseradish mayo, the meat was juicy and fresh-tasting. The salty beef broth alongside was a perfect compliment, not overpowering. Our only quibble was that the mayo could have been heavier on the horseradish, but it wouldn't stop us from ordering it again.

The sliced pepper steak entrée was another taste of beef nirvana. Sliced thick, revealing a rosy medium-rare interior, the lean cut was full of flavor. A side of creamy peppercorn dipping sauce bumped up the flavor quotient even higher. We suspect the sauce may have been none other than the stroganoff brew from another dish on the menu, but it worked, so we're not complaining.

Our dinner visit also included a generous side of Smoked Ham Macaroni and Cheese. Our self-described mac and cheese expert (none other than FP) was excited to taste The Porch's version of this classic comfort casserole. A crisp panko crust topped a well-cheesed and smoky sauce, but it failed to cling to the elbow pasta until it had been left to sit at room temperature while we enjoyed our other dishes. The ham struck us as superfluous and a little chewy; the Expert suggests bacon as a more suitable smoky substitute. Overall, however, she found the dish worthy of its roots and the table had no trouble polishing off the entire serving.

A lunchtime choice of blackened redfish “Dockside” sandwich was delicious, all dripping fresh with ripe late-summer tomatoes and mayo on a cushion of pain au lait. The fish tasted not at all blackened, but the dish was just as good without the added spice. Cole slaw substituted for fries was the chopped variety, low mayo-to-vinegar ratio, studded generously with celery seed; it pleased even a cole slaw skeptic at the table.

The only outright disappointments menu-wise were in the salad department. A blackened tuna salad featured off-tasting fish and lame, limp lettuce, and a balsamic chicken and roasted veggie salad was not even worth discussing. Our die-hard salad-lover (C&S) was down at the mouth, but FP rightly pointed out that expecting a good salad at a place like The Porch is like expecting a good salad...well, anywhere that features something like 'Smoked Ham Macaroni and Cheese' on the menu.

How was the service?

See paragraph one. Servers were bright, friendly, on-the-ball. Pacing of dishes was leisurely at dinner, despite a full restaurant. What a pleasant surprise!

How much did it cost?

Sandwiches from $10 up; Entrées under $20. Wines by the glass $7-10. We both agreed that the quality for the price at The Porch is excellent.

Better for a date night or a night out with the girls?

Both. Men: bring your dates here before the prices go up. Women: affordable, high-quality wines by the glass + cheap and elegant appetizers = Ladies' Nite.

Would you go there again?

Without a doubt, and we're looking forward to it!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

FoodiePrincess' Top Five Neighborhood Restaurants

My “neighborhood” is kind of hard to define. We’re sandwiched between Munger Place, Lakewood, and the Knox/Henderson area, so we’ve got a great mix of eclectic restaurants in our backyard. To be fair, I am eliminating any restaurant where the average entrée costs more than $15 (sorry, York Street and Kitchen 1924) and any chain restaurants (sorry, Chipotle.) These are the places we go back to again and again, and for good reason.

5. Gold Rush Café (1913 Skillman Street): My favorite breakfast place, if only for the varied cast of characters always in attendance. Plus, an omelet filled with taco meat with a side of refried beans can cure ANY hangover.

4. The Old Monk (2847 Henderson): Okay, maybe it’s not a restaurant as much as it is a bar, but the food is really, really good. I love the smoked salmon sandwich with cream cheese and capers as much as I love the beer.

3. Brother’s Fried Chicken (4839 Gaston): Okay, technically, this could be considered a chain, because they did recently open one in Plano, but this is the original. The chicken is crispy and spicy, and on a Sunday afternoon, there’s absolutely nothing better.

2. Matt’s Rancho Martinez (6332 La Vista Dr.): Bob Armstrong dip. Need I say more?

1. Alligator Café (4416 Live Oak): If you haven’t been to this converted Wendy’s for the best Cajun food in Dallas, I suggest you hustle. Everything we’ve tried on the menu, from the Crawfish Enchiladas (my favorite) to the fried catfish to the Atchafalaya with Crawfish Ettoufe (my husband’s favorite) is unbelievable. This is the place we always end up going when we can’t figure out what we want.

Just missing the top five: Cuquita’s, Angelo’s, Lakewood Bar & Grill, and Tipperary Inn

Monday, August 20, 2007

... but then I'd have to kill you

Warning: what you are about to read is a closely-guarded family secret. So closely-guarded a secret, in fact, that I am the only member of my family who knows it. I am, truth be told, the originator, cultivator, propagator and, now, dispeller (is that a word?) of the Myth of My Salsa.

I've been offered money, items in trade and, in one notable incident, 24-hour access to a hot tub, but up until now, I've kept my recipe a secret. I've never even let anyone watch me make the salsa, much less record the ingredients and procedure on paper, making it possible to photocopy, scan or transfer to microfiche what I consider to be my most valuable culinary commodity.

But now, in the interest of self-promotion (if you're reading this blog, it worked!), I've decided it's time to divulge my secret. This is the best, the very best, salsa you will ever make. What makes it so great? Well...

  1. It's easy. Not quite as easy as buying a jar of Pace, but fairly easy.

  2. Speaking of easy, the ingredients can be easily halved or multiplied.

  3. The heat level is adjustable.

  4. The flavor is amazing, addictive and pleasantly complex. Complex, even though it's easy to make. Well, pretty easy. See #1 above.

The Best Homemade Salsa

2 cans stewed tomatoes (14.5 ounces each)

make sure and use stewed, not just diced or crushed...stewed tomatoes contain other veggies and seasonings

1 bunch cilantro (1 cup of packed leaves)

1 medium onion

Walla-Walla or Vidalia sweet onions work best, but a regular yellow onion will do

1 jalapeño

olive oil

salt to taste

Preheat oven to 425. Quarter the onion and half the jalapeño. Place them in a small baking dish, rub them lightly with the oil and sprinkle them with a little salt. Roast for 25 minutes or until soft and caramelized on the edges.

Place both cans of tomatoes, cilantro and the roasted onion in a food processor or powerful blender. Blend until well incorporated. At this point, put in half the jalapeño and blend again. How hot is it? Just right? Stop here. Would you like it hotter? Add the other half. If you're a total weenie, you could have seeded the pepper before you roasted it. If you like pain as a flavor, you could have roasted two or even three peppers and then chucked 'em all in. I usually use one whole pepper, seeds included. After all ingredients are incorporated, salt it to taste. Be generous; salsa loves salt. Placed in a tightly sealed jar, this will last 7-10 days in the fridge.

Much like another Secret gaining popularity these days, if you truly believe in the greatness of this salsa, you'll be rewarded in kind.

Friday, July 27, 2007


Impress your friends!

...Repulse your enemies!

Wait - I know what you're thinking, but bear with me a minute. Have I ever lead you astray?

(Hush up back there – I thought we agreed never to speak of the homemade bubble tea debacle ever again...)

Where was I? Oh, yes – Bolognacake. I read about this 50's cocktail party treat a few years ago on James Lileks' wacky website (www.lileks.com), and I was hooked immediately. Now, in my own defense, I have to admit a certain predisposition for trompe l'oeil cuisine: i.e. little gummy cheeseburgers from the skating rink when I was a kid and my mom's near-famous ice cream cone cupcakes. Bolognacake, however, elevates the concept to a whole new level. A mini-tower of bologna and flavored cream cheese frosted to look like an adorable Lilliputian birthday cake will bring a smile – or a snicker – to anyone's lips. When sliced and served with crackers or toast, it makes a surprisingly impressive hors d'oeurve.

The best part? It's fun to make. The second-to-best part? It actually tastes good. The third-runner-up-best part? Your friends will finally have something interesting to talk about over drinks at your next party.

To make your own bolognacake:

Bologna: The grocery store has a wide variety of bolognas and other uniformly round luncheon meats. Use one kind, or a combination of two or more. If you really want to be impressive, check out the gourmet cured meats behind the deli counter.

Cream Cheese: Soft cream cheese in the tub works best (not whipped!). Choose plain or flavored with onion or vegetables. You definitely don't want strawberry. You can also add your own flavors at home by combining cream cheese with pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, etc. Whether plain or flavored, mix it up first with a bit of milk in the food processor (or with a hand mixer) so that it will be easier to spread.

Assemble the cake: Stack alternating layers of bologna and cream cheese, beginning and ending with bologna. About 10-15 layers will do. “Frost” with additional cream cheese (tinted with food coloring, if desired) and decorate with crushed nuts, candles, confetti etc.

Serve and impress.

Photos by Lara Bierner