Monday, June 25, 2007

Haute Potatoes: International Spuds of Mystery

I like bars. Love bars. High tone, low-key, big sprawling giants or holes-in the-wall, mahogany and brass or gum under the table. Love 'em. Give me a bar and a great drink any day at 5:00 and I'm a happy, happy girl.

The food in most bars, however, can leave a person relying on whatever is impaled on a toothpick at the bottom of their cocktail glass for sustenance. I decided to give potato skins, that ubiquitous mainstay of bar menus everywhere, an extreme makeover – the equivalent of the “works” from a team of globe-trotting trend-setting fashionistas. What came out from behind the curtain after the drumroll was delicious, stylish and not at all confined to cocktail hour...these skins have enough sass to take center stage at a sit-down dinner. Check out the line-up (publicity photos above):

Naked skin procedure:

Bake medium-sized russet potatoes, scrubbed clean of all dirt and debris, for 1 hour at 400 degrees, or until the spuds yield easily to a gentle squeeze. Cool to room temperature. Slice in half length-wise and, working carefully, dig out most of the flesh from each half with a small spoon. (You can save it and make soup or something if you're that kind of person.) Leave only a thin coating of flesh inside the shell, being careful not to cause any rips or tears in the skin. You can stop here and proceed with filling, but for extra-delicious and crispy shells, fry them flesh side down,until golden in vegetable oil, before salting and peppering, filling and broiling until cheese is melted and just beginning to brown.

Barbecue Chicken Skins

an homage to Spago

Combine shredded cooked chicken (I like the consistency and white-to-dark ratio of simply removing the meat from a store-bought rotisserie chicken) with barbecue sauce. Toss two parts coated meat with one part cheddar-jack cheese and generously fill the naked shells. Garnish broiled skins with green onion, and serve additional bbq sauce and plenty of ranch dressing on the side.

Shrimp-on-the-Barbie Skins

G'day mate!”

Stuff your spuds with freshly grilled or broiled shrimp and plenty of pepper-jack cheese. After broiling 'till bubbly, top with fresh mango salsa. Freaky delicious!

Mango salsa: Chop one large jar of mango in light syrup (available in the produce section) into large chunks. Add one jalapeño and one half a small red onion, both minced. Add two tablespoons of chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste.

Nacho-Topped Fiesta Skins Olé

Why the hell didn't someone think of this sooner?

Spread prepared skins with a thin layer of prepared spicy refried beans. Top with shredded cooked chicken or seasoned browned ground beef and a thick layer of cheddar cheese. Broil and serve with pickled jalapeños, salsa and sour cream.

Italian Skins Margherita

Oh, so much better than delivery

Spread prepared skins lightly with tomato or marinara sauce. Layer on fresh or aged mozzarella, basil and Parmesan cheese. Additional toppings might include (but are certainly not limited to): pepperoni, browned sausage, sliced mushrooms, bell peppers and onions.

Spud Photos by Lara Bierner

Sunday, June 24, 2007

A Very Special Tasting Menu

Pairings with The Late-Nite Gourmet*

Dulce de Leche & Sangiovese ........................2.20.07

the poetic rhythm of this pair recited aloud belies

an unholy duo which will curse all but the hardiest bowels

Tepid Clam Chowder, Baileys on ice ...............3.17.07

despite all efforts to the contrary, the observance of

St. Patrick's Day often ends in a powerful culinary lesson learned

Jarlsberg & Rumpleminz

with Club cracker amuse-bouche .......................5.29.07

Hors d'oeuvre trays and groomsmen are equally wicked when left unattended

Hasty Handfuls of Drive-thru Fries

accompanied by warm Miller Lite ....................6.6.07

incl. 2 paper salt packets inadvertently chewed & almost swallowed

Chef's Special (last nite):

Honey-roasted cashews, Jumbo Jerky (seasonal) & six mini-bar scotches

*vile crap I've eaten while drunk

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Meat and Buns

Meat and Buns

For the single ladies: recipe for a rousing success.

(originally appeared in CORE Dallas Magazine)

Did your last romantic dinner leave you cold? After planning down to the smallest detail, did you end up alone under the covers with only your peekapoo to keep you warm?

I have a question for you: Did the aforementioned dinner involve micro greens? reduction sauce? napkin rings? Be honest - did you put in a Norah Jones CD?

Repeat after me: Meat. Buns. Consider your target audience; it's just that simple. Tonight I guarantee a rousing success.

Hot Sloppy Joes

2 lbs. Ground beef (10% fat)

2 cups ketchup

2 1/2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp white vinegar

1 tbsp yellow (plain) mustard

1 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1 tbsp chili powder

splash of beer

salt to taste

Brown meat in a large skillet or saucepan. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Simmer over lowest heat for 15 minutes and serve on white hamburger buns with plenty of beer on the side. Please, no napkins.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Coal Vines Review: the good, the bad and the burned

Dallas Eats is proud to announce our first tandem review. Below please find our comprehensive and thoroughly entertaining assessment of Coal Vines, a place to see, be seen and, oh, yeah, have some pizza, too.

Who was there?

Sunday brunch was populated by young folks in jogging suits and jeans, some looking a little worse-for-wear from the night before, seeking the hair of the dog. The evening crowd on a weeknight was different...same brunch crowd, dolled up for happy hour, interspersed with affluent professionals ready to let their hair down after a hard day of corporate litigation or real estate sales.

How were the drinks?

At brunch, we tried a wonderful Bellini, which can only be described as delicious. Instead of the usual blended drink, it was a scoop of peach sorbet slowly melting into a glass of champagne. Truly heavenly.

An affordable ($30) pinot grigio/sauvignon blanc blend was a great find at dinner. Oddly, it wasn't noted on the menu as a blend – it was billed as just a pinot grigio. We also loved the on-table marble cooler for the wine. Some places have taken to sticking your bottle in a bar fridge or similar out-of-the-way location, making refills difficult.

We were puzzled, however, with the set-up of the wine list. Whites and reds were listed separately, but not categorized as such. They were listed under headings that described their, flavor? Personality? Socio-economic status? 'Rich & Sophisticated' – what exactly is this supposed to tell the diner? Either describe the flavor of each individual wine, or list them by varietal or region or simply by color.

What were we eating? How did it taste?

We sampled a lot; so we'll keep it to the standouts (both high and low):

An appetizer of garlic bread was deemed “wonderful” by one companion. The fact that this particular individual is the pickiest eater we know, eschewing all condiments, most vegetables and anything from the sea, reinforced our assessment that the lukewarm, cheese covered bread was tasty, if ho-hum. The underlying sesame-studded country loaf had little flavor, and garlic was barely evident in the dish. The main attraction was a generous blanket of melted mozzarella...who can find fault with melted cheese? The marinara alongside was an afterthought, presented with no spoon for serving.

The biggest disappointment, hands down, was the salad pizza, served cold. This is not the salad pizza we have experienced elsewhere in which a fresh salad is placed atop a warm crust for a delightful juxtaposition of textures and temperatures. When questioned, the waitress admitted the dish was pre-made and held in the fridge. This resulted in limp salad on a soggy crust. A real bummer.

The star of our second meal was the “Sausage and Roasted Pepper” pizza. It stood head and shoulders above the pizza we sampled on our initial visit. The improvement? It wasn't burnt. We do mean 'burnt' – as in, beyond all attempts at salvation, unavoidably and unapologetically burnt. The second pie, however, more than made up for the first with a perfect crust and full-flavored toppings. None of the peppers, no matter their color, seemed particularly “roasted”, but the sausage was top-notch and the mozzarella and brightly-flavored sauce were scattered with a skillful, knowing hand. This time the crust was coal-fired to perfection.

How was the service?

We were served by the same waitress on both visits. She was everything that she should be – friendly, attentive, knowledgeable – which is quite a surprise in Dallas today. Our only issue was a long wait for food on our first visit. We also recognized the owner going up to tables and chatting with diners during brunch. He managed to visit just about everyone in the joint, without so much as a glance in our direction. We bathed and smelled pretty...what kept him from schmoozing us, too?

How much did it cost?

This place is cheap, a rarity in the neighborhood. Considering the top-notch service, large portions and comfortably elegant atmosphere, the prices are lower than would be expected.

Was it worth it?

Delicious Bellinis and great prices aside, our answer would have been ‘no' after the first visit. The food was slow, the pizza was burned beyond salvation (a fact ignored by our server), and the salad pizza was a downright disaster. However, the second visit was quite an improvement, and between bites of sausage and pepper pizza and sips of tasty, cheap wine, we'd say 'yes'.

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

The good natured, noisy bustle of the small dining room is suited to a night with friends or dinner with your s.o....not a date. Don't go here if you're wanting an in-depth conversation or to “get to know” someone, unless it's during off-peak hours.

Would you go there again?

ClassyandSassy: Yes. Planning on it. Next time I get a jones for great pizza and cheap wine, and feel up to changing out of my usual cheap wine-drinking duds (don't ask) and putting on some lipstick, it'll be at the top of the list.

FoodiePrincess: Probably not, unless I was invited there by someone else who REALLY wanted to eat there. Frankly, I had to be talked into going back for a second visit, after the salad pizza incident the first time around. Although I enjoyed the second visit, I have so many better pizza places so much closer to my house in East Dallas (Fireside Pies, Scalini’s and Angelo’s immediately come to mind) that I have no need for this one. Sorry, Coal Vines.