Sunday, August 31, 2008

Our Last Meal on Earth

Before I Go to the Light, Can I Stop for a Bite?

A few weeks ago, posts on the Guidelive Eats blog and the D Magazine SideDish blog got our stomachs rumbling and our neurons firing over the fascinating (and somewhat macabre) question of what we would eat at our last meal on Earth.

Being the detail-oriented and culinarily discerning girls that we are, it took more than a little while for us to whittle down our absolute and final menus for our absolute and final meals. A decision such as this requires careful thought.

But what delicious consideration it was! After much soul searching, we finally settled on two of the most mouthwatering - and different - menus you may ever encounter. Read on below (try to keep the drooling to a minimum) for our respective Last Meals, and please let us know what your final menus would include as well. We can't wait to hear all about it!

FoodiePrincess's Last Meal on Earth

- 1st Course (Seafood Orgy)

A crabcake from The Oceanaire
Chef's Choice sushi platter from Sushi Sasabune in L.A.
(Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc)

- 2nd Course (Goodbye, Tex Mex. I will miss you most of all.)

Bob Armstrong Dip from Matt's Rancho Martinez
Puffy Tortilla Chips from Caro's in Fort Worth (to dip in the Bob Armstrong)
(Miller Lite)

- 3rd Course (Home-cooking Blowout)

Mike's Meatball Soup made with Jimmy's meatballs,
served with fresh buffalo mozzarella
My Mom's cheesy mashed potatoes
(California Pinot Noir)

- 4th Course (Desserts to Remember)

My Manny's Molasses Cookies
Key Lime Pie from the Bubble Room on Captiva Island

Classy&Sassy's Last Meal on Earth

- 1st Course

Tripe Creme Brie and Toasted Baguette
(Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage)

- 2nd Course

Pan Seared Diver Scallops atop Roasted Fennel
with Truffle Oil and Fleur de Sel
(Fall Creek Cache)

- 3rd Course

Butter and Herb-Rubbed Roasted Chicken
on Mesclun Greens with Maytag Blue Cheese and Balsamic Vinaigrette
(Times Ten Cellars Grenache)

- Dessert

Dark Chocolate Torte with
Vanilla Bean Ice Cream and Warm Blackberry Coulis
(Lightcatcher Reserve Merlot)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Humane-itarian, Part VI: The 2-Month Mark

Well, it's been quite a ride so far.

For our viewers just tuning in, a brief summary: Two months ago I made a commitment to a new philosophy that I decided to call "Humane-itarianism". By joining this new cult (with a devoted, deluded following of, so far, only one), I solemnly swore to consume only animal products which had passed my stringent test: the animal in question must have been raised in a humane manner and fed an appropriate diet by a farm or company or individual who did their best to preserve the environment in the process of getting those proteins onto my plate. Tall order? You bet.

At this 9 week mark, a few observations and a conclusion or two:

1. It may surprise you just how available humane-itarian meats can be. Most of the fresh meats at Whole Foods fit my bill, and many grocery stores carry organic meats as well.

2. That said, the places that aren't using organic and/or free-range meats may also make you say "Hmmm". I've been to some swanky joints over the past two months and received some pretty disppointing answers when I asked about the origins of their poulet and boef.

3. Humane-itarians really need to plan ahead. A peanut butter sandwich stashed in one's purse can mean the difference between maintaining the status quo and attempting to gnaw off the cushioned armrest of a waiting room chair while muttering about whether naugahyde counts as an animal product.

4. Humane-itarians eat a lot of spinach quesadillas. We've covered this before, I know, but it's my blog and I'll cry if I want to. I now have a very particlar set of criteria for my SpinQ, and could rank roughly 10-15 restaurants based on this one dish alone. For the record, Cafe Brazil does a bang-up job, and Frankie's are actually really damn good.

5. (conclusion) I am satisfied with a good-faith effort. Tell me the beef is organic, and I will take your word for it. And if the chicken was given access to a pasture, that suits me just fine. As yet, I have not reached the point of belaboring how large the opening was in the little plucker's coop, or whether or not he made use of it regularly.

6. (conclusion) Again, regarding good-faith efforts: If I'm cooked for, I will eat. And be grateful for every precious bite of that home-cooked meal. Nothing warms my cockles more than someone going to the trouble of simmering and stirring on my behalf (and putting out an extra mat and sometimes even using napkin rings). In those cases, I'll eat what I'm fed.



Confidential to J.R.: I'll let you know when I decide to worry about whether Bessie's bovine bits were manhandled during milking :)

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pre-packaged Goodness

I am a self-admitted frozen food snob. Sure, I enjoy a Marie Calendar Chicken Pot Pie every once in awhile, but most frozen food pretty much makes me gag. When a friend recently recommended the Smucker's Uncrustables frozen peanut butter sandwiches to me, I kind of figured they would fall into the "soggy and sad" category of frozen foods.

Boy, was I wrong.

These little pockets of soft white sandwich bread (with the crusts removed, naturally) are filled with creamy peanut butter and your choice of jellies or honey. I chose the strawberry jelly kind, and they are just heaven on earth. The peanut butter has the perfect smooth texture, and the ratio of peanut butter to jam is about 2:1. Perfect, in my book. Even the bread is perfect. Not soggy like I had imagined. Soft and springy, with the chewy texture you would expect from fresh white bread.

These make a perfect snack in the afternoons at work when you're starting to drag and you need a little pick-me-up. And if you stick a frozen one in your purse (or messenger bag) in the morning, it will be ready for you when you need it.

Sure, I know that they're not exactly health food - hello, high fructose corn syrup - but sometimes you need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and you don't want to eat just two pieces out of an entire loaf of bread, which you will then proceed to forget about, and the entire thing will mold over like a science experiment until your husband finds it a month later and finally throws it away. Okay, maybe that's just me, but you get the point.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jerry Jones at Villa-O!


DallasEats Dines with Dallas Demigod

Well, I didn't dine with the Cowboys owner, per se, but I dined very close to him this past Saturday night at one of our favorite see-and-be-seen spots, Villa-O.

After a short wait at the bar (and some delicious Pinot Noir), our group of five was seated at a booth alongside a large party of giggling teenage girls. We were giggling quite a bit ourselves, so we didn't mind the table of exuberant, well-dressed youngsters who appeared to be celebrating a birthday in high style. Every girl looked party-perfect with a camera-ready smile, and at each of the 15 or so place settings, the guest's own picture grinned back at her from within a rhinestone-studded frame. Cuteness!

And amid all these sundresses and Swarovski stones, imagine our surprise to see none other than Mr. Jerry Jones presiding over the party! He and his wife and several other family members sat at their own table a short distance away. Mr. Jones was downright beaming in the company of his nearest and dearest at what we presume was his granddaughter's birthday party. Several other Hard Knocks regulars were also recognized.

The highlight of the meal came after the cutting of the cake when all members of the party filed out the front door of the restaurant to catch a glimpse of a shiny new white BMW SUV, complete with a giant silver bow. There was quite a bit more giggling after that, and many photos were snapped before the celebration concluded.

We love a good celebrity spotting here at DallasEats - especially a sports-related one, right FP? And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that the food at Villa-O was, as usual, superb. Out of consideration for our readers, however, I'll refrain from any sports/food metaphors - i.e., "The lasagne totally scored a touchdown!" Feel free to thank me later.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Best Chicken Fried Steak?

This is just a quickie, but it's totally worth a mention:

The September issue of Esquire magazine features a mouthwatering spread entitled The Esquire Almanac of Steak, including a listing of The 20 Best Steaks in America by John Mariani.  "This may be the last article worth reading about American steak," reads the prologue, and Mariani proceeds to list a score of meaty meals from restaurants across the country.  Wishing to represent what he refers to as "Diversity of Preparation",  Mariani includes not only classic seared steakhouse sirloins, but various other regional and international specialties.

As I scanned the list (Peter Luger's Porterhouse, Skirt Steak at El Raigon in San Francisco), one item in particular caught my eye:  Paris Coffee Shop, Fort Worth, Texas - Chicken Fried Steak.  Is it so?  Is this the best CFS around?  Have I been hiding under a rock?  Have you tasted it?  How was it?  My curiosity is piqued!


p.s.  I have my doubts, as the piece mentions that the CFS in question is "deep fried", but I still want to get to the bottom of this matter.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Ultimate I-35 Road Snack

What is the first thing you think of when you contemplate a road trip from Dallas to Austin? Is it a Longhorn football game? A wild night out on 6th street? Carl’s Corner?

If you’re anything like me, you can’t help but get excited about stopping in West, Texas (just North of Waco and South of Hillsboro) to sample some of the famous kolaches from the Czech Stop. For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure of sampling one, a kolache is a traditional Central European dish of a pastry roll filled with any number of things, from fruit to meat to cheese. They are popular in West (and a few other towns in Central Texas) due to their large Czech populations. These heavenly pillows of pastry and various fillings make any road trip down 35 worthwhile.

I love the plain sausage (no molten American cheese, thank you very much), which pair perfectly with a cold bottle of Dr. Pepper. The sausage has just enough smokiness and spiciness to make it interesting without overwhelming the pastry, and the sweetness of the Dr. Pepper really rounds out the meal.

My absolute favorite, however, is the cream cheese kolache. These are pretty good when you get them mixed with fruit (strawberry, blueberry and apricot are a few of the choices they offer), but I prefer just the plain cream cheese. It tastes like a cross between cheesecake and a dinner roll, and while that may not sound all that appetizing, it takes both of those standards to new heights. The cream cheese is rich and sweet, so the flaky, buttery pastry cuts that a little bit while adding some texture. I highly recommend you give one a whirl the next time you venture down 35.

I’m sure many of our readers have had the pleasure of visiting West, and I’d like to hear if you all love it as much as I do…

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Food Find: Nanie Bell Artisan Cheese

While on assignment in Springtown, this Texas wine explorer made an exciting discovery.  And believe you me, it was quite a surprise, as it didn't come in a bottle or have anything to do with grapes.  Nanie Bell Artisan Cheese is handcrafted at La Buena Vida Vineyards Springtown by Dr. Bobby Smith, a legend in the world of Texas wine who has proved once again that he's still got a few aces up his sleeve after thirty-plus years in the business.  

"I don't let any grass grow under my feet, that's for sure!"
- Dr. Bobby Smith on finding even more ways to 
tempt Texas tastebuds 
after three decades of award-winning wine.

I went out to Dr. Bobby's place Saturday on a whim.  While I intended on visiting La Buena Vida Springtown at some point in the near future, my weekend was already earmarked for catching up on laundry and TiVo (even glamour girls like me make time for Sunday Food TV).  However, after speaking with the man for the better part of an hour Friday afternoon, I was charmed and more than a little curious about what was going on an hour to the west.  Dr. Bobby had mentioned that his Tempranillo was nearly ripe, hanging heavy on the vine, and that he was also whipping up a few batches of his new handmade cheese in preparation for the weekend.  Throw in a day of refreshingly cooler temps, and would you have been able to resist a road trip?

Visions of lush vines cradling black fruit and creamy fresh cheese danced in my head as I headed to La Buena Vida that day, and the visit could not have been more rewarding.  Dr. Bobby's wines will most certainly be explored in their own post soon (barrel samples of 20-year-old Port and newly-fermented Viognier still sparkling with spritz ... pinch me, FP - am I dreaming?), but today we're talkin' cheese.

And what a cheese it is.  Dr. Bobby describes Nanie Bell as a "Mexican-style fresh cheese", so I expected something along the lines of a Queso Fresco when we settled in for samples and a sip of Pinot Blanc.  To the contrary, this cheese was completely unique - soft and creamy with a pleasant wine-friendly tang.  Using his mother's recipe, Dr. Bobby and his grandson make the cheese by hand using fresh local organic cow's milk from Cleburne and a touch of garlic for savory depth.  Nanie Bell Spencer Smith, the original family cheesemaker, would surely be proud.

There is plenty to go around, even after I loaded up my own fridge with Nanie Bell.  It's great on its own, or makes for a decadent dinner when melted over a burger or folded into an omlette.   Right now, you can only get Nanie Bell at La Buena Vida Vineyards Springtown, but as we head into the milder weather of late summer and fall, what better excuse to hit the road?  There are some great little farm stands on the way as well, so have fun with a full afternoon of foraging.

Nanie Bell Artisan Cheese, $8
La Buena Vida Vineyards Springtown
650 Vineyard Lane, Springtown
Open Weekends
(not to be confused with the Grapevine location - great place, but only loosely affiliated.  This cheese is not available there)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Wine of the Week

Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards
2006 Nebbia

It's hot out there, people.  Time to set aside the big, bold reds and focus on something cool, clean and refreshing.  Enter Nebbia, Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards' dry white blend that seems tailor-made for the dog days of summer.  

This winery is one of my absolute favorites, tucked in a cozy corner of the East Texas Piney Woods in a town called Pittsburg.  Owner and winemaker Jeff Sneed is a talented (and seriously hilarious) guy who knows his way around a vineyard - I'm also a fan of his Grand Reserve Meritage and Chardonnay.  Today, however, we'll stay focused on the smooth and luscious Nebbia.  Its notes of peaches and cream, touted on the label, really shine when the wine is served a little less than straight-out-the-fridge frosty.  Try it poolside or out on the deck; just make sure you've got good cell reception, so you can call and thank me :)

This friendly Nebbia and all of Los Pinos Ranch Vineyards wines are just a click away on the winery's website.  The prices are right, and your little box of heaven will arrive within days.  You could also make a day trip of it, and visit Jeff and his lovely wife Dana at their gorgeous vineyard and tasting room.  They even have sweet little cabins if you decide to sleep over.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New Breakfast Obsession: Banana Chocolate Vivanno

For those of us that work an 8-5 Monday-Friday job, how often do you rush out the door in the morning without eating breakfast? If you’re me, it’s approximately 5 days a week, and the other two days you just sleep through breakfast. But somehow, I do make the time to stop at Starbucks almost every day.

The problem is—those pastries and muffins they sell at Starbucks really don’t appeal to me. They’re just sugar-laden obstacles in the way to getting my Triple Grande Soy Latte. So, basically, I end up drinking my breakfast every morning, and am starving by 10:30.

Starbucks, however, has introduced a new drink that has changed my life. It’s called the Banana Chocolate Vivanno, and it has revolutionized my breakfast routine. The shake combines a whole banana (Fruit! Actual, honest to goodness fruit!), 2% milk (Calcium!), bittersweet cocoa (Chocolate!), fiber powder (Powdered regularity!), and whey protein (Hello, South Beach!). But the best part is, if you ask, they will also blend in a shot of espresso (Caffeine!), making it the most well-rounded and efficient breakfast I’ve ever consumed.

On top of that, this is no uber-sweet and sugary Frappuccino. It’s actually relatively low in fat and calories (5 g/270 calories), especially considering that it works as a meal substitute. And with 6 grams of fiber and 21 grams of protein, it actually keeps you full all morning.

Thank you, Starbucks! You’ve once again earned my love, along with my $5 a day.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Saffron, pistachios, and orange peel--Oh, My!

This recipe was inspired by a trip I recently took to New York City. While I was there, an old friend of mine who now lives in Brooklyn introduced me to a small Afghani restaurant in the East Village. After just one meal, I was a believer!

My favorite dish that we tried was called Shireen Palow, which is a chicken and rice dish (think of it as an Afghani Paella) flavored with saffron, orange peel and apricots. A little sweet, a little spicy and a lot delicious--to me, this dish is comfort food defined. It seemed like it would be pretty simple to make myself, so when I got back to Big D, I scoured the net for recipes to help me try to duplicate this dish at home.

I have made versions of this dish five times since my trip (trying to perfect it to share with our DallasEats faithful), and I have to say, I don’t think either my husband or I are even the least bit sick of it yet. I am calling the final version of this dish “Orange Chicken and Rice with Exotic Spices” because I took some liberties with the traditional recipe, and thus it is more “inspired by Shireen Palow” than actual Shireen Palow. But whatever you call it, it’s freakin’ good.

*Please note--there is not nearly as much saffron in this recipe as there is in the pictured spoon. I'm not Rockefeller, people.

Orange Chicken and Rice with Exotic Spices


  • 8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger (this looks like a lot, but it will help flavor the entire dish.

  • 1 teaspoon allspice

  • ½ teaspoon turmeric (optional)

  • 2 tablespoons butter, divided

  • 1 yellow onion, sliced into thin rings

  • 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crushed

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

  • 1 tablespoon sugar

  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind (or the rind from one medium-sized orange)

  • ½ Cup orange juice (or the juice of one medium-sized orange)

  • 1 quart chicken broth

  • 1 1/2 cups uncooked basmati rice

  • 8-10 dried apricots, sliced

  • 6 tablespoons chopped pistachios

Rub chicken down with 1/2 teaspoon salt, the pepper, ginger, and allspice. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add chicken, and cook 5 minutes, browning on both sides. Don’t worry about cooking the chicken all the way through—it will be going back in the pot with the rice and will have plenty of time to get cooked through. Remove chicken from pan; cover with foil to keep warm.

In the same Dutch oven, melt the other tablespoon over butter over medium heat. Add onion; cook 10 minutes or until golden, stirring occasionally. There will be lots of spice and brown bits from the chicken left in the bottom of the pan, so as you’re cooking the onions, try to scrape the bottom of the pan a little to loosen them. They will add a lot of flavor to the dish.

Once the onions are done, add saffron, garlic, and red pepper flakes, and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. The saffron will add its distinctive aroma and color to the dish, and the garlic and red pepper flakes will add a little kick.

Stir in sugar and rind; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt, orange juice, broth, rice, and apricots; bring to a boil. Add the chicken that you set aside and cover, reducing heat to low/medium. Simmer 25-30 minutes or until rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed. Take the pot off the heat and add the pistachios. Let the pot stand off the heat for a few minutes before you serve.

I dare you to try not to go back for seconds...

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ladies Who Lunch: An Afternoon at Stephan Pyles

My tongue still tingles when I think back to my lunch at Stephan Pyles, a singular pleasure heightened by the truant thrill of indulging mid-day, lunching long and leisurely, rather than post-poning the pleasures of the table until after eight hours of work. 

 It was Mom's birthday, a reasonable (even virtuous) excuse to put away pens, to "shut down" instead of "restart", and silence all cell phones on a Friday afternoon.  We arrived at Stephan Pyles a primped and perfumed trio, Mom and I and a dear friend, and were seated in full view of the bustling open kitchen.  My companions remarked on the fluid ballet of efficiency on display behind the glass: "It's so busy in there, but so quiet!"  "They all move so fast, and don't spill a drop!"  Indeed, it was a sight to see, but not so intense as to distract from the bright, well-appointed dining room (full of good-looking groups) or the delicious decor of the table itself.

We started, as my research recommended, with ceviche.  To please all palates, we opted for the Sea Bass with Avocado and Tomatillo, and were delighted with the creamy twang of this Latin seafood salad.  As a respected reviewer recently commented, it did register as a close cousin of guacamole, but this is not to say it didn't dazzle.  Upon my return, I will most certainly try the versions featuring Sea Scallops or Bronzini, or perhaps the trio featuring three selections from the extensive ceviche menu.

The salad course is always a favorite of mine, and I award a special place in my hungry heart for restaurants that give leaves their props.  I ordered the Garden Greens with Really Good Olive Oil and - what do you know? - it was exactly so.  Fresh mixed greens arrived unadorned and were dressed a la minute at tableside by our server.  I was charmed by the tiny ampules he bore, and as he emptied each onto my salad, he announced its name. "Here is your Balsamic Vinegar Reduction," he intoned with a squeeze.  "And here, Miss, is the Really Good Olive Oil."  Amply annointed, I then salted my salad from the colorful selection in the center of the table.  I opted for clouded white Sea Salt, but could not resist flicking a few grains of Smoked Salt on my tongue as well, and was rewarded when the ebony crystals slowly melted into wisps of campfire and summer cookouts.

At entree time, the birthday girl was presented with a crisp flatbread pizza.  Its slightly-charred crust and scattering of smoked tomato, goat cheese and shrimp pleased her to no end; it was her perfect pie.  Our companion also enthused over her entree, the Kabocha Squash Gnocci, and I helped myself to a spoonful to see what the fuss was about.  Those precious pillows in silken sauce proved a comforting counterpart to the raciness of my Goat Cheese-Beet Tortellini.  The pasta packets' magenta filling was my first clue this dish would put a smile on my lips.  What a color!  It was the shade of Barbie's favorite shoes, of a surfer's trunks - of graffiti, not gastronomy.  I was tickled, and the flavors of earthy beets and goat cheese, ricotta salata and roasted red peppers evolved with each forkful, keeping me intrigued.

And, finally, what is a birthday meal without a celebratory dessert?  "Coffee and Donuts", Pyles-style, is a tower of freshly fried, powdered sugar-dusted donuts atop a dark and rich dip, surrounded by a pool of coffee creme brulee.  The donuts are classic, chewy to the tooth and melting on the tongue, and the mellow dip serves to heighten their delicate sweetness.  The brulee featured a perfect toffee-like burnt sugar crust, revealing a silken coffee custard beneath.  At the first spoonful I swooned; two bites and my eyelashes fluttered.  Mom called from across the table, "Honey?  Are you all right over there?"  I recovered, and I've been gushing over this deceptively simple dessert at happy hour and dinners, to my mailman and my bank teller, ever since.

So there you have it.  An indulgent mid-day meal (not to mention impeccable service and a choice table) shared with two of my favorite dining companions at one of Dallas' most revered restaurants.  While I doubt we'll be joining the likes of the Ladies Who Lunch anytime soon, it was a pleasure to play at their game for an afternoon at Stephan Pyles. 

Food Find: Allegro Coffee

Ever searching (bleary-eyed, in need of stimulation) for the perfect cup of joe, I'll often deviate from my usual brand and give something new a twirl.  I admit I'm a fickle little thing when it comes to coffee, and my allegiance will stray for a good sale or a pretty new foil sack.  Last week, however, I happened upon Allegro Coffee at Whole Foods and I may never stray again.

Allegro is full-flavored and offers a spectrum of roasts from light and lively to dark and mysterious.  I'm currently sipping a cup of the Colombian La Cacica.  Last week it was the Organic Whole Foods special blend.  The price is right (WF blend was 9.99 for 12 oz. and this Colombian was on sale for $8.99) - in fact, it's in line with what I normally pay for a markedly less socially-conscious cup.  You see, Allegro is all about sustainability and social responsibility.  I can have my brew and feel good about it, too!

Check out the company's website for more info.  Available at Whole Foods, and there's a coupon in this weeks' flyer at the register, so you can try it for $1 off the already reasonable price.  Buzz on, my friends!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

VeVe 180

After a visit to VeVe last night, the difficult decision was made to amend our previous post.

Contrary to glowing reports of amazing food, sexy lighting and live music at this Lakewood spot, the food and atmosphere on our visit were just "okay" (no need to be persnickety and particular in this instance - we'll just leave it at that), and a visit from the chef confirmed our assumption that someone else must now be doing the cooking back in the kitchen.  It was not the chef that my friend had met when he fell in love with VeVe some weeks ago, the chef that had dazzled him with delicious, masterfully prepared Latin dishes.  This was a different fellow, one who fed us adequately but failed to impress.

This change in kitchen talent, combined with several other minor but cumulatively significant glitches in our experience last night, were enough to warrant this post today. 

Sigh.  In the immortal words of Bad Santa, "They can't all be winners, kid."


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Why I Love Andrea Immer

Master Sommelier Andrea Immer is my go-to guru in the world of wine.  

Why?  Well, you'd be hard-pressed to find an expert with more qualifications.  She earned the title of Master Sommelier (at the age of 30, I believe), was named Best Sommelier in America, she served as Wine and Spirits Consultant to Windows on the World, and hosts her own television program on Fine Living Network, to name a few.

But those prestigious accomplishments aren't what I love most about Andrea (yeah, we're on a first name least in my head).  What keeps me coming back to her book, Great Wine Made Simple, time and again, is the fact that she's just so damn down to earth.  She is all about de-mystifying wine and her positive, upbeat approach makes the process a joy from beginning to end.

I'm reading through GWMS again right now, and one passage struck me as particularly genius.  If you've ever been intimidated by wine, especially in the context of - "Why do I love my $10 brand so much more than this $50 bottle?  Do I have cheap taste?!" - keep this advice in mind:

"Quality is in the eye of the beholder, or at least the sensory aspect of it.  You may recognize and respect the quality components and workmanship in a car or a home or a pair of shoes, but they may not be to your taste.  Similarly, it isn't worth paying extra for a quality wine if it's not your style."

What a brilliant thought!  As soon as I started to view wine (and evaluate and appreciate it) in the same way I would a new pair of shoes or a piece of furniture, it was an "a-ha" moment.  Many of the same standards of craftsmanship and commerce, as well as the experience of the maker, apply to wine as they would other goods.

Try this one on for size:

"Quality spans the price spectrum, from bargain to mega-bucks bottlings.  For everyday-priced wines, say in the $10 neighborhood, quality means a notably tasty wine that consistently stands out against similar-priced wines."

This bit of advice is also a gem.  Think of it in terms of your favorite neighborhood restaurant - the food, lovingly hand-crafted and served with care, may be the best of its kind in the city.  The prices are lower than the fancier place up the road, but not because the quality is inferior.  Perhaps the rent in the less-tony part of town is more affordable, or the menus were printed on laser paper instead of card stock.  You get the idea.  Many factors are at work to determine the price of wine, and in so many cases a wonderful bottle can be had for a song. 

That's all for today.  For more of Andrea's awesome advice, check out Pairings with Andrea on Fine Living, or pick up a copy of Great Wine Made Simple.  Enjoy them both with a great glass of wine!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Save this Restaurant!

While I don't normally post on things of this nature, I felt I'd make a special exception today...

I met up with a friend last night, and he was overflowing with wonderful things to say about VeVe on Live Oak in the Lakewood area - the food, he gushed, was beyond wonderful (some of the best Mexican he'd ever had), and the service was impeccable.  This small family-owned restaurant, according to my friend, is one of the best food-finds in recent memory.  And this fellow, a restaurant-insider, should know!

A look at the website revealed charming decor and menu items that left my mouth watering even more than it did last night when he described a silky mole sauce that he "wanted to eat like soup with a spoon".

Unfortunately, my friend also mentioned that his new neighborhood fave might be struggling since it opened a few months ago, perhaps due to summer vacations, and a lack of advertising budget (so common when it comes to a business of the heart, opened on a shoestring).  He urged me to go, and to spread the word about VeVe, not wanting to see another great restaurant go by the wayside.

So, there you go, blog fans - I'll be visiting VeVe soon, and maybe you can too.  I'll post my thoughts here on DallasEats...

For more info:

Monday, August 4, 2008

Next Food Network Star Offers Consolation Prize!

Was anyone else as disappointed as DallasEats in this season's unpalatable Next Food Network Star competition?  Week after week, the judges seemed to shove most of their good sense and judgement down the In-Sink-Erator, and contestants didn't fare much better, what with all the undercooked food, poor camera delivery and downright shoddy chefsmanship on display.

Still in all, we agreed with the Final Three, and hung in there to the bitter end - we're no quitters! Our loyalty was rewarded, however, with the inexplicable decision to give the title, braggin' rights and brand new show to Aaron McCargo, Jr., despite his less-than-stellar performance in the last challenge.  We love Aaron, and that man can cook, but as far as "total package", he just didn't have the on-camera chops to justify the judges' decision.  The fact that the Food Network's website leaked the winner days in advance also took much of the fun out of the game for viewers.

In our not-so-humble opinion, the true show-stopper in the final challenge was Adam Gertler.  His humorous, effortlessly educational mini-show was our fave, and he had camera presence and then some compared to his two somewhat stiff, often stumbling competitors.  We're suckers for a lovable goofball.  Thus, you can imagine our delight today upon learning that the Food Network will be giving Adam his own show as well.  Titled "Will Work for Food", the show will have Mr. Gertler exploring the world of culinary employment through a variety of food-related jobs.  Sounds like fun! (Also sounds like a refreshing concept.)

On a related note, the debut of Aaron's show "Big Daddy's House" yesterday rated a solid "good".  The dishes were deliciously unique (a Roasted Pork, Provolone and Broccoli Rabe Panini really got the mouth watering), but the host's discomfort on camera was still apparent.  His delivery was bumpy at times, and the rapid-fire cuts of the program were a sure-fire tip-off that multiple boo-boo's had to be edited out.

The final loose end is Lisa Garza, our hometown girl from the Final Three.  Apparently, there was only one runner-up prize to be had - no new show announcements as yet for sassy, stylish Lisa.  Perhaps it's just as well that she stay here in Big D, hosting packed crowds at her restaurant Suze, which will inevitably see a boom in business in the wake of her newfound fame.