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 (, 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

Monday, July 16, 2007

New York Eats

"Did you visit the Statue of Liberty?"


"Did you walk in Central Park?"


"Did you go to the top of the Empire State Building?"

I'll give you three guesses...

This most recent trip solidified the fact that I will always go to New York City to eat. Any other pursuits take a backseat for me when I visit NYC, a city that is picky (in the most wonderful way) about the quality, artistry and authenticity of its food. Luckily, there is also much walking and shopping - both excellent activities for working up an appetite.

Rather than bore you with a slideshow type point-by-point rundown of my trip (not that you get to know *every* point anyway!),
I'll instead present a list of the best, best, best and a couple of the overrated...

Food, etc.:

Ideya Latin Bistro

"Home of the Perfect Mojito"
349 West Broadway/SoHo

See that motto? It really is perfect. After one of those blissful drinks, I stepped outside for a smoke and watched a young man shadowdancing to the salsa music pouring out of the restaurant. SoHo is so alive, and this place is so SoHo. (a word of warning, however: cheap chardonnay + top shelf mojitos = wacky delirous)

370 Columbus Avenue/Manhattan

A couple of very wise friends treated us to dinner here, and promised that it was a well kept sushi secret. We ordered the omakase - a Japanese word meaning, in this context, to entrust your meal to the discretion of the chef. We were rewarded with sashimi and sushi like I've never experienced - think salmon nigiri with caramelized onion and tomato and silken hamachi with spicy jalepeno sauce. Perfection. (Not cheap, but if you're into cheap sushi we need to have a talk anyway...)

Luna Park

50 E. 17th Street/Union Square Park

This is where the pretty people go to get happy. Fun stuff! It was packed the night we went - every inch of the large outdoor venue was full of gorgeous suits and sundresses. Surprisingly the service was still great... kind of like being waited on in the middle of a concert at Smirnoff.

Greenwich Village Food and Cultural Tour

You are so not too cool to go on a guided walk through the Village and be a little bit tourist-y for the day. Sample the best of the best in food and learn all about the architecture, history and people of Greenwich Village, incubator of the most influential artists, poets, actors and musicians in American history.

Shopping, etc.:


Multiple locations throughout NYC - indeed, throughout the world. Except here. When, oh when, will our H&M arrive?

Century 21
22nd Cortlandt St./downtown - there is a reason why everyone tells you to shop here.

546 Broadway/SoHo - Uniqlo is unique, and the entire district around it is full of great shopping. Have a cab dump you off here, and bliss out for several hours of shopping fantasy.

Greenwich Village
I spent two days exploring the Village. Get yourself to Bleeker St. & 7th and you'll be in the heart of everything. Wander and lust. Be forewarned, however - one day might not be enough!


Grom Gelato
2165 Broadway, Upper West Side

I'm going to catch flack for this, but here goes: I just didn't see the big deal. The line for this place is usually about 45 minutes. It was even featured on the Today Show. The gelato was wonderful, don't get me wrong, but revolutionary? exceptional? worth 45 minutes? Not so much.

Chelsea Market
75 9th Avenue

I was somewhat disappointed in Chelsea Market, heavily hyped home of the Food Network. Disinterested store employees and dusty imported canned goods were my main impressions of the place. If you do go, tack a couple of hours onto the official opening time. Chelsea Market is a sleepy place and the stores really didn't "open" until 30-45 minutes after the advertised time. I had a bad scone, looked at some souvenirs and then called it a day.

Photos (top to bottom): 1. Talented hands crafting mojitos at Ideya 2. Look at those post-mojito smiles! 3. The crowd at Luna Park 4. Red couch for sale at the outdoor Flea Market in the Village 5. Beautiful pastries at Rocco's, 243 Bleeker St.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Starbucks sticks it to the 'solution'

I don't often buy coffee at Starbucks, so maybe I'm not the first to notice this disturbing sticker trend. (see photo) Why on earth have they done away with marking the cups by hand, using the checkboxes that are printed right onto the cups for that very purpose?

Instead, someone decided that slapping a big 'ol sticker onto each paper cup is better, using even more paper, ink and adhesive (not to mention the energy needed to run a custom sticker-printing device next to each barista). All this for a flippin' cup of coffee.

I never did go to Starbucks very often. It'll be even less often now.

As Mitch Hedberg would say, "We do not need to bring ink and paper into this!"

Friday, July 6, 2007

Drugstore Gourmet: The First DallasEats Cook-Off!

...or CVS: Culinary Vortex of Shame

FoodiePrincess: “Only you would come up with a plan that involves stripping meat off frozen buffalo wings all Sunday afternoon...”

Classy&Sassy: “Oh, hush up, Princess - My hands still smell like cheap fish!”

Who: Dallas' Sexiest Food Writers (um, us.)

What: The 2007 CVS Cook-Off Challenge

Where: Classy&Sassy's House

Why: Why the hell do we do any of this?

The Rules:

The challenge presented was to cook a complete meal – hors d'oeuvre, entree, dessert – using only ingredients from CVS. 7-11 and Walgreens were also considered, but CVS's proximity to both entrants was the tie-breaker. (this idea took hold on my brain several years ago after reading a cheeky little piece in GQ about how a guy could cook an impressive meal for his date with ingredients from a convenience store)

Dishes must be not just edible, but elegant. Salt, pepper and dried spices are “free”; everything else must come from the designated store.

Dishes were presented to panel of 4 judges who rated Presentation, Flavor and overall Creativity of each dish on a scale of 1-5. Judges were chosen not for culinary knowledge or contest-judging experience, but instead based upon who was willing to risk indigestion in exchange for free beer and the chance of being quoted in an obscure corner of the internet.

Below, the dishes, points and judges' comments.

CATEGORY I – Hors D'oeuvre:

Dueling Fritters

"This dish was a total accident. My original idea was to make bean tamales with the corn masa and corn husks that I found at CVS, but apparently, this is much more difficult that you would think. At the 11th hour I came up with the fritters by thickening up the corn masa and making a "dough" out of it. I then wrapped ancho chilies in one kind of fritter and refried beans (Frito's bean dip, truth be told) in the other. I then fried them until golden brown and crispy and served them with two sauces: mole and creamy salsa verde."

Judge #1: “Spicy! OlĂ©!”

Judge #4: “Looked kinda turd-ish...but tasty.”
This would have been offensive, were it not so accurate. It was turd-shaped and had mole sauce on it, for crying out loud.

Total Points: 46

Salmon Croquettes with White Wine Aioli

"I settled on this deep-Garland fave made of canned salmon and crushed Ritz crackers after discovering, much to my dismay, that CVS does not carry biscuits like Walgreen's does. My initial thoughts of empanadas were dashed, but then I spotted a can of Bumble Bee and I knew that all was not lost...(aioli = mayo, white wine and spices)"

Judge #1: “Pretty as a Christmas card!”

I'm not sure what this comment meant...but I'll take what I can get. Madonna and child? Peanuts characters decorating pink plastic tree? Who the hell knows.

Total Points: 52


Chicken Chilaquiles

"This was the most wheels-off chilaquiles in history. To get the chicken, I had to pick through three packs worth of Stouffer's buffalo wings. I may never look at a wing the same way again. I had never realized what a huge percentage of those things are made of skin and fat rather than actual chicken. Yuck. I then mixed that chicken with a spicy salsa/manwich sauce and crushed up tortilla chips and baked it until hot. I served it topped with Mexican crema."

Judge #2: “This is my favorite dish so far.”

Judge #3: “Looks like a summer camp project with class.”
That would the the summer camp from hell--all day long the only activity is picking the meat off of reheated frozen buffalo wings.

Total Points: 54

Thai Peanut Noodles with Chicken

"This is an off-the-cuff rendition of my favorite dish; spices and sauce pilfered from a shelf-stable Asian noodle meal (I hate those things, but I had no choice...please see post entitled "Freeze! Step away..." to explore the depths of my shelf-stable meal hatred), combined with Skippy and used to dress Thin Spaghetti. Chicken excavated from two Lean Cuisine Glazed Chicken Entrees, garnished with chopped peanuts."

Judge #1: “Very hip.”
Hip? Hip? I want "brave" or perhaps "intrepid" for having to scrape glutinous lo-cal glaze from frozen chicken in the name of culinary adventure.

Judge #2: “Peanutty good!”

Total Points: 46


Vanilla Ice Cream with Mexican Chocolate Sauce

"I struggled somewhat with dessert, but in keeping with the Mexican food theme, I made Mexican hot chocolate (Hot chocolate with cinnamon added) served in a martini glass with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Of course, the ice cream melted, but it still tasted pretty yummy."

Judge #2: “The milky ending was delicious.”
Do I even need to comment on this comment? I just hope it didn't come from my husband.

Judge #4: “Who doesn't love ice cream? Losers, that's who.”

Total Points: 49

Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce

"All classic bread pudding ingredients were available at CVS – i.e. This was not a MacGuyver-like concoction of Saltines, Splenda and coffee creamer. My brilliant idea of melting down caramel candy for sauce was thwarted, however, by the fact that my caramels didn't "melt", per se, but simply morphed into a glob of marginally caramel-flavored sludge."

Judge #1: “Good, but lacked embellishment.”

At least she didn't say "I'll be poking a voodoo doll that looks just like you full of stick pins tonight in exchange for making me eat caramel phlegm."

Judge #3: “Good work for CVS.”

Total Points: 46

Victory goes to:

FoodiePrincess swept the competition with her well-coordinated and very tasty menu of Mexican creations. She will go forth into the world knowing that, in the case of nuclear war or global permafrost, she could make a three-course five-star meal with nothing more than a few shelf-stable foodstuffs from her local drugstore. That should help her sleep better tonight.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Orange You Glad for the Hair of the Dog Pull-Apart Loaf

"A quick and easy treat for unexpected guests!"


2 cans Grands Orange-Flavored Sweet Rolls

1 stick margarine or butter, melted

1 cup granulated sugar

1 small bag Nut Topping (find with other nuts on baking aisle)


2 containers icing (included with the rolls)

2 tbsp rum, brandy, Grand Marnier or a little of each...what have you got left?

Spray a standard loaf pan with non-stick spray. Preheat oven to 350.

Cut each sweet roll into quarters and roll each quarter into a little ball. Dip balls in butter and roll in sugar. Place half of balls in a single layer covering bottom of loaf pan, pressing lightly, and sprinkle with about a tablespoon of Nut Topping. Place remaining balls on top and press lightly. Drizzle with a little of the leftover butter. Bake for 1 hour; cover with foil after 30 minutes. Cool slightly before inverting on a plate.

Combine glaze ingredients and drizzle over the top of the loaf. Sprinkle with remaining Nut Topping. Tear-in while sitting alone, lamenting inappropriate and/or obnoxious alcohol-induced behavior previous night or wrap daintily in colored plastic and present to random individual snoring loudly in your bed with a cheerful (but firm), “This makes for great road snacks!” Or both.

Originally featured in CORE Dallas Magazine

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Oceanaire Reviewed

Who was there?
Both times we went for dinner, the crowd was older and leaning toward the moneyed, Highland Parkish demographic. I’m fairly sure that we were the youngest people in there both times. At least, we were the youngest that weren’t dining there with our parents.

How were the drinks?
They have a fairly extensive, affordable wine list for both white and red varieties. We tried a couple of tasty Marlborough Sauvignon Blancs that were less than $40 a bottle and went great with the seafood.

What were we eating? How did it taste?
I would like to say right away that I am a little biased here because I am an absolute freak for seafood. This is why I chose the Oceanaire for my b-day dinner.

We started with a variety of oysters chosen by our waiter. They were all incredibly delicious, but our favorites were some small, briny gems from Prince Edward Island and some larger, succulent pieces from Duxbury, Connecticut. The only slight I saw with the oysters was that the horseradish spiked cocktail sauce was too delicious to resist putting on the oysters—which unfortunately masked their taste.

Hands down, the crab cakes at Oceanaire are the best that either my husband or I have ever tried. They are made of the sweetest jumbo lump crab meat imaginable and are held together by just enough bread crumbs to keep them together. After we shared one, I found myself wishing I had just ordered them as my main course so that I could have two of them all to myself.

Of the main courses we tried, the Stuffed Texas Gulf Flounder was the biggest hit. Stuffed with shrimp and crab, they were drizzled with a lemon butter sauce that my husband was practically licking off the plate. I had to admit, it was just that good.

Probably the weakest of the dishes we tried was the sashimi style tuna with wasabi, a ginger-soy reduction and seaweed salad. The fish was fresh and flavorful, but the wasabi was very bland. There were also just a few drops of the soy reduction on the plate, and I definitely would have liked more. Overall, I was pretty underwhelmed. Especially since it directly followed the heavenly crab cake.

How was the service?
Our waiters on both visits were energetic and passionate about seafood. They had good suggestions with the oysters and the wine, and they were very nice about answering questions.

For my birthday, the restaurant also gave us a specialty menu that read “Happy Birthday Robin” at the top. Of course, all I could think about was direct address and how there should be a comma between “Birthday” and “Robin”, but that’s just me. It was still a nice touch.

They also brought us a free dessert on our b-day visit, which was the Baked Alaska. After sampling the Key Lime Pie on our last visit, which was tart, HUGE and delicious, the Baked Alaska was a little disappointing. The ice cream inside was kind of bland, and the marshmallow on the outside wasn’t quite burned enough for my taste. But it was very thoughtful of them.

How much did it cost?
The place is definitely quite expensive. Main courses range from $20-$40, and the oysters go for $2.50 a pop. However, the portions are enormous, and you can easily get two meals out of almost anything on the menu—especially if you fill up on oysters and crab cakes before your main course.

Was it worth it?
Every penny.

Better for a date or a night out with the girls?
Definitely better for a date. It’s too old-fashioned for a night out with the gals. It makes for a very romantic date, though. Especially if you start with the oysters.

Would you go there again?
Heck yes. I’m not sure if I can wait until my next b-day, though.

Sweet and Spicy Black Beans

These black beans are the perfect side for BBQs, and they make for great burritos as well...

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chile peppers
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 dash chili powder
1 dash cumin
1 dash ground cinnamon
1 (15 ounce) can black beans
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Warm oil in a skillet over medium heat. Stir in onion, and cook about 2 minutes; then stir in garlic, and cook until onion is soft and translucent. Stir in tomatoes and brown sugar. Season with cayenne pepper, chili powder, cumin, and ground cinnamon. Cook for 10 minutes. Stir in black beans, and bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer 1 hour or longer. Before serving, stir in cilantro. Breathe in the spicy, cilantro-y aroma. Eat.