Friday, November 28, 2008

Top Chef: New York, Episode 3

Foo Fighters!
Well, well, well. Three episodes in, and only now are we seeing any conflict on Top Chef. Turns out, Jamie may be kind of a biddy. Is dripping peanut butter on the floor really grounds to bitch-out on a guy you've only known for a few days? I'm thinking no, but then again, I'm not a total jerk. But I digress.

The episode started off a little slow to me. The Quick Fire Challenge was for the Chefs to recreate recipes (chosen randomly) from the Top Chef Cookbook, featuring recipes from past seasons. Hello, product placement. Then halfway through the challenge, a twist - they had to take the ingredients they were using in the original challenge and create a soup for the judges. But not to fear, they had plenty of delicious Swanson's Chicken Broth - hello, product placement part 2 - to help them along.

This challenge didn't make much of an impact on me, other than that the guest judge, Grant Achatz, seemed like an interesting guy. He's one of those "molecular gastronomy" masters, and apparently is pretty dang good at what he does. He was named Best Chef in the United States by the James Beard Foundation. Not too shabby.

Anyhow, although Jamie's soup sounded the yummiest to me (Scented Chick Pea Soup with Cilantro Yogurt), Leah seemed to luck out a little with the win. She was working with white asparagus, so she created a white asparagus soup. Yawn.

So, after the Quick Fire, the big announcement was made. The Elimination Challenge would be to split the Chefs into two teams, both of which would create a Thanksgiving dinner for the FOO FIGHTERS and their road crew. The winners would be given VIP tickets to go watch the Foos in concert that night, and the losers would be left to clean up both teams' messes. And, of course, a chef from the losing team would be sent home. So, because she had won the Quick Fire, Leah got to pick the teams for the challenge. Obviously, she stacked her team with the better-performing chefs, and the other team was left with the more questionable chefs. This seemed like a recipe for disaster from the get-go.

Personally, I was psyched about the challenge. I could not love the Foo Fighters more. I've seen them in concert a couple of times, and I've always thought they were not just great musicians but also hilarious. What a fun fit for Top Chef!

So, after they went shopping, they were taken to the site that they would be cooking at - the arena where the Foos were performing that night. That was when they found out exactly how screwed they were. All they had to cook with were toaster ovens, microwaves, and a single burner. Ouch. Did I mention that they were cooking outside and that it started raining halfway through the challenge? Double ouch.

So, not surprisingly, the team of weaker chefs didn't perform up to par. There were a couple of stand-outs from the group, however, who the judges gave some props to during judging. Ariane apparently redeemed herself this week by making some seriously kick-ass turkey. Eugene was also praised for his smoked/grilled pork loin (he made an ingenious smoker from a chafing dish), and Carla's cobbler was also called out as being pretty tasty.

Unfortunately, the desserts on that team (other than Carla's cobbler) pretty much killed them. Jeff's pumpkin parfaits (which one of the Foos referred to as "barf-aits") were not a favorite. Richard's Banana S'mores were also a bomb. The Foos lead singer, Dave Grohl, commented, "I think the chef spit on mine," because the topping had gotten so goopey from sitting around on the buffet. Ew. Danny was also in the bottom three for his undercooked mashed potatoes. He never seemed to be in much danger, though.

Sadly, Richard, one of my early favorites, was sent home. I pretty much saw it coming as soon as he proposed the Banana S'mores. It was never a good idea, and then the execution problems were the nail in the coffin. As soon as the "spit" comment was uttered, I knew it was over. So long, Richard. We will miss your inappropriate comments about Tom Colicchio.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Pairing Off - Toast Your PB&J

Click here to check out this week's Pairing Off by Dave Faries of the Dallas Observer.  

This time around, as part of his ongoing series that matches wines with unconventional foods - think microwave popcorn and cheap frozen dinners - Faries tackles an American classic, and comes up with a few choice picks to pair with every 5-year-old's lunchbox fave (sorry, Junior, you're stickin' with milk).  

He got a little help from yours truly, but I don't know if I would have been so forthcoming if I'd known in advance that he favors chunky over creamy.  I mean, chunky?  That's just wrong.


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Wine 1, 2, 3 - Part III: Rich, Ravishing Reds

Happy Monday, wine lovers!

I have been so excited to research and write this third installment of Wine 1, 2, 3!  After going over some initial basics, and touching on a few of the Wonderful Whites, we’ll now tackle the rich and satisfying world of red varietal wines.  Click back to the last post for a refresher on the definition of this term – in short, we’re focusing on wines named for the grape they’re made from.

Red varietal wines are fascinating and unique – not to mention delicious.  Today I’ve narrowed the field to five of the most popular reds, and we’ll discuss what makes each one special.  But first, we’ll have a short talk on tannin, as it often figures into the equation when exploring this family of wines.  And so, on with the show:

1. So, what exactly is tannin?

Tannin is a chemical found in wine that originates in the stems, seeds and skins of red grapes, and in the barrels used for aging.  Tannin gives wine structure, and also acts as a preservative.

For starters, it’s important to know that we perceive tannin as a feeling, rather than a flavor.  This feeling is often described as “astringent” – a palate-drying sensation that occurs to varying degrees in different wines, depending on the naturally occurring level of tannin in the grapes themselves, the length of time the juice was left to hang out with the skins and seeds after pressing, and whether or not the wine was aged in oak barrels.

Another tannic beverage is black tea, and a good way to grasp the tannic sensation is to imagine sipping some strong-brewed black Lipton’s, as opposed to a cup of calming chamomile.  The difference between the two, that distinctive drying sensation you get from the former but not the latter, is a result of tannin.

We’ll delve into this subject in more detail when we explore the elements of tasting.  For now, remember:

Bottom line:  Tannin is a chemical found in red wine that creates a distinctive, palate-drying sensation.

2. Rich and Ravishing Reds

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot make up a dynamic duo of reds that dominates the market when it comes to familiarity and popularity with wine consumers. When discussing red wine, they’re often mentioned in the same breath together, so we’ll cover them as a pair today. Cab is the more assertive of the two, known for it’s knock-your-socks-off big, bold red qualities. Merlot is comparatively softer, but a real knockout in its own right.

I chatted with Kert Platner, one of the owners of Dallas’ Times Ten Cellars, and Michael, the top man in their tasting room, about Cabernet Sauvignon recently, and both men mentioned the flavors of “dark fruits” and the color “garnet” right off the bat. These qualities are classic when it comes to Cab. The flavors of dark fruits – think blackberries, currants and plums – indicate a rich, ripe and luscious wine.

We also touched on oak, everyone being in agreement that subtle oak was best, as well as what Kert described as a “dry herb component” often found in Cabs. This vegetal quality can range from pleasant to off-putting, as when it veers into green pepper territory. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll confess that I can’t remember ever clearly detecting these herbaceous notes in Cab, but we all have different palates and, frankly, I don’t drink it very often. I’m going to keep tasting though, because it’s important that I experience it for myself.

As we transition from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot, imagine turning down the volume just a touch. In the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, Kevin Zraly sums up the difference between these two wines succinctly when he states, “Merlot’s tannins are softer and its texture is more supple.” In other words, it’s a little more reserved than its common companion. Merlot is well known for being crowd-friendly, and if you’re hosting a holiday party, you’ll be in safe territory selecting this varietal wine as your house red.

Pedigree-wise, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are both traditional components of the long-celebrated blends of Bordeaux, which we’ll discuss in a future post. It should also be noted that here in America, the Cabs of California are king, and many of them have achieved cult collector status – or, as one wine writer put it, they have “snob-appeal”. There’s no need to feel like a snob, however, when choosing one of these classic reds. There are many excellent bottles within an affordable price range, and if you plan to enjoy a juicy steak or other succulent, savory meal at dinnertime, one of the pair will make an ideal match.

Pinot Noir

Subtle and elegant are two words that come to mind when thinking of Pinot Noir. Pinot, as it is often called for short, is lighter in color and body style than the first two reds we discussed, and is known for a more delicate flavor profile. For this reason, it pairs beautifully with a wide variety of foods, providing the palate with hints of flavor and acidity that enhance rather than overpower a meal. Pinot is also known for requiring additional attention in the vineyard, much more so than hardier varieties. For this and other reasons, it often carries a higher price tag.

All the red wines of the famed Burgundy region of France, except for Beaujolais, are made from Pinot Noir grapes. In researching this post, I was also reminded that Pinot is one of the grapes used to make French Champagne. Here in America, this red varietal wine is produced to great acclaim in California and Oregon (I wrote about Ponzi here, for instance), and either state’s versions would be a great starting point for an exploration of one of the wine world’s most celebrated stars.


FoodiePrincess summed it up when she used the words “spicy and peppery” to describe wines made from this red grape. Michael at Times Ten also noted its often “inky dark” coloring. Syrah is definitely bold in both color and flavor, especially so if the winemaker has also introduced the element of oak into the mix. (Remember that oak bumps up the tannin factor as well.)

Perhaps the most popular versions of this varietal wine right now go by the name Shiraz and hail from Down Under, but Syrah has a long history in the Rhone River Valley in France and is also quite popular in vineyards here in America. Whether you choose an Aussie, American or other version of this red, pair it with strong flavors at the table, or simply enjoy it on its own.


While I hate to play favorites, I really must admit that Zinfandel is near the top of the list of my most beloved varietal wines. When I think of Zin, I think of a wine with a sturdy foundation, strong character, and an outgoing personality that’ll charm the pants off of just about anyone who takes the time to get to know it. (Come to think of it, that also describes some of my favorite people!)

Zin has an All-American reputation, with a long history in California, and its style can vary from one producer to the next. I love a Zin that’s jammy, with bright, vibrant flavors ranging from ripe red to rich dark fruits. For a special treat, choose a bottle that’s been made from older vines (often noted on the label). Many California vineyards have been growing this grape for generations, and they produce some of the best Zin you can find.

*Special thanks to Kert and Michael at Times Ten Cellars for their knowledge and expertise! Also, due to space considerations, this post was limited to two sections. Three next time, though – I promise.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Top Chef: New York, Episode 2

Show Your Craft

Yay for another strong episode this week with interesting challenges! It's pretty cool that even though we're in Season Five, the challenges still feel pretty fresh. I especially liked the Quick Fire this week. The contestants had to create a hot dog representing their culinary view, which were compared to a famous hot dog stand in NYC. I have to say, I wouldn't have been super-impressed with the NYC hot dog, because it was covered in sauerkraut, which I borderline despise.

A couple of the entries looked basically inedible, particularly the two that incorporated packaged hot dogs into sushi. I can't imagine that those were anything but vile. I was disappointed that one of those came from Eugene, who I liked so much in the last episode.

The chefs that actually made their own dogs definitely fared better than those who used the Oscar Mayers. Radhika created a lamb kebab hot dog that looked pretty spectacular. Apparently it tasted as good as it looked, because she was named the winner.

The Elimination Challenge started off sounding pretty tame, the chefs either had to create an appetizer, entree or dessert to be served in a New American restaurant. The twist came later -the restaurant the chefs would be taking over would be Craft, Tom Colicchio's flagship restaurant in NYC (with an outpost in Dallas, of course). Not only that, the diners would be New York chefs who applied for Top Chef but were turned down. Eek.

After last week, when the majority of chefs really impressed the judges, this food this week was definitely a nose-dive situation. Chef Colicchio was particularly peeved by the outcome (no surprise, it didn't exactly make him look good to serve some of that that stuff in his restaurant).

There were a couple of stand-outs. Jamie's corn soup with mint sounded like a winner (I'm a sucker for fresh corn anything), and I found Fabio's olive technique (pictured above with his carpaccio dish) to be alternately repulsive-sounding and fascinating. He did something where he basically turned an olive hard on the outside and liquid on the inside, like an egg. The judges seemed impressed, so it must not have been as creepy as I imagined it to be. In fact, the olives carried him across the finish line in first place this week.

On the other hand, there were some *serious* disasters this week. Did anyone else want to jump into the TV and smack Hosea when he made the decision to use the canned crab meat rather than change his dish? Has he never seen an episode of Top Chef before? If a freakin' ingredient is sub-par, it is going to sink your entire dish, every time. Was it any surprise at all that he ended up in the bottom three? I could have called it right there in Whole Foods.

Ariane (who is quickly becoming my most-annoying chef of the competition) also ended up in the bottom three again this week. Her deconstructed lemon meringue pie, which sounded and looked like a good idea, was apparently inedibly sweet. Padma even spit it out. That is never a good sign.

Another disaster that kicked off at Whole Foods was poor Jill's decision to use Ostrich eggs in her quiche. First of all, quiche? Seriously? Just because you use Ostrich eggs doesn't make it interesting or special. But she was soooooo proud of them, right from the beginning. Just because you use a weird ingredient doesn't make something innovative. It would be like baking a cake with goat's milk and then bragging about being the next Stephen Pyles. Apparently, not only was it a stupid idea, it was under-seasoned and tasted "like glue" according to the judges. Ouch.

It was no surprise to see her kicked off, but still, Ariane has been in the bottom two for the first two episodes. Padma thought her dish was so inedible that she spit it out. Shouldn't she have been the one sent home? I thought so, but maybe I'm in the minority here.

Comment Card

Did you serve any unique and/or unusual dishes at your 
Thanksgiving feast this year?

Click below to comment!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Free Booze at BuzzBrews!

Just a little pre-weekend tip for our 
Mimosa-loving readers:

BuzzBrews' Lemmon Avenue location is offering a free bottle of Korbel Brut with the purchase of a 60 oz. party-sized pitcher of o.j. ($30).  

Sounds like a great excuse to head out for brunch this weekend.  Or tomorrow, for that matter - this special is good any day of the week!


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Rancho Gordo is Bean-tastic!

So, my Rancho Gordo Mexican/Latin Sampler Pack arrived last week, and I cooked up my first batch of heirloom beans this Monday night. Yay! There was much cheering and thunderous applause from the crowd (well, from me) and it was unanimously decided (by me) that these beans kick any canned legumes' scraggly little behinds.

Sweet Miss Margie sent me a message asking how the bean cookery went, and my two sentence reply quickly turned into a couple of paragraphs on the deliciousness of Vaquero Bean soup. Those little black-and-white speckled beauties were so tender, so mild and creamy, that I decided a blog post was most definitely in order. And, so, without further delay:

Vaquero Bean Soup
...good for City Slickers, too!

This is more of a method than a recipe, so I'm going with a narrative format.

1. Soak your beans. Rancho Gordo recommends picking through the beans for debris, rinsing with cool water and then covering with fresh water in a bowl for 4-6 hours.

I started with 16 oz. of adorable Vaquero beans (pictured above), by weight, but this recipe would also work with pintos and other mild-flavored beans. I followed the Rancho Gordo method for soaking.

2. Slice a couple of links of sausage (smoked, bratwurst, polish or other) into bite-sized chunks and brown thoroughly in olive oil in a soup pot.

And I mean brown, people. Not late-summer tan, but really freakin' brown. Don't skimp on this step, and don't worry if there's a lot of flotsam and jetsam left in the pot. That's what we're aiming for.

3. Remove the sausage chunks from the pot with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add to the pot one large yellow onion, two carrots and two ribs of celery, diced. Also add a few cloves of minced garlic, a generous sprinkling of salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Saute until lightly browned.

Again, take your time, allowing the veggies to sweat out their liquids and become golden and delicious. The mirepoix will prevent your garlic from over browning.

4. As the veggies cook, add your spices to the pot.

For this recipe, I like a healthy dose of ancho or other mild chili powder - 1-2 tbsp. - and a pinch of red pepper flakes. They work together to generate warmth and heat. Also add 1 1/2 tsp. of oregano. (aside: I used the wonderful, fragrant Mexican Oregano from my sampler pack, which has a distinctive appearance that also brings to mind a certain other infamous herb(1)). Finally, I want you to add 1/2 tsp. of cinnamon. Don't fight me on this one, just go with the flow - a soupcon of cinnamon will add depth and character, filling in the nooks and crannies of your dish's flavor profile. I learned this trick from a famous chef(2), and I also use it when I make meat sauces and other slow-simmered delights.

5. When veggies are ready, add sausage and beans (drained of their soaking liquid) to the pot. Pour in stock to completely cover, and season once more with a little salt and pepper.

Match your stock to your sausage - mild sausage works well with chicken stock, but a more robust version may be a better match for beef stock.

6. Simmer 3 hours, adding more liquid (stock or water) if necessary. Check and adjust seasoning before service.

I ate this soup by itself, and it was stand-alone good. It would also be wonderful with corn bread (click here for a great recipe) or hot buttered rice. Before you begin considering side dishes, however, you'll need to zip over to Rancho Gordo's site and get yourself some of their amazing heirloom beans! Enjoy!

1. Which we won't talk about right now.
2. Actually, I learned this trick from Jimi Mistry in The Guru.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Top Chef: New York, Season Premiere

Because I am obsessed with Top Chef (as I am sure many of you are), I decided that in the interest of feeding my obsession, I would start blogging about it each week. I am going to try to make this a regular column on Thursdays, but this is a make-up since I missed the season premiere last week.

Episode 1: Melting Pot
Well, this was a doozy of a premiere, wasn't it? I think that the Quick Fire and the Elimination Challenge were some of the most challenging I can remember on this show - keep in mind that I've seen every freakin' episode of every season.

The Quick Fire started things off with a bang. Of course, when I watch these shows, I always mentally compare myself to the contestants. The first thing I thought when they announced that the loser of the Quick Fire was going to be eliminated (the first time they have ever done this on Top Chef) was, "Well, I'm sure I could come up with something and scrape by." However, when they then proceeded to tell the contestants that the first round of the Quick Fire was going to test their knife skills, my reaction was, "Holy crap, I wouldn't make it past the first episode this season!"

They then lined all of the contestants up, and had them peel 10 apples with a knife (hello, bloody fingers) as fast as possible. The first nine to complete this task were safe. There is no way I would have been one of them. Knife skills are soooooo not my forte.

The eight chefs that did not pass the first round of the Quick Fire were then asked to move onto round two: preparing two cups of a brunoise of apple. If you are anything like me, you are asking yourself, "A WHAT of apple?" Basically, what this means is that they had to prepare two cups of finely, uniformly diced apples. While this might not sound that difficult, it's the "uniformly" part that makes this so spectacularly hard. Tom Colicchio was not playing around in his judging of this leg of the competition.

The four chefs who did not pass that round of the competition were then finally asked to cook (thank goodness), each of them preparing a dish featuring apples - no surprise there. I was pretty underwhelmed by the sound of all of the dishes, but particularly the two salads. The losing salad, prepared by fresh-out-of-culinary-school Lauren, was basically a mixed green salad with blue cheese, bacon, apples and walnuts. Um, isn't that so basic that it's on the menu at Chili's now? I mean, I know you only have 20 minutes to come up with something, but that is about as boring as she could have gotten. Snooze.

On to the Elimination Challenge...another doozy. The chefs were asked to draw knives that paired them off and assigned each pair a part of the city in which they will shop for ingredients and draw inspiration for their dishes. These parts of the city were: Brighton Beach (Russian Cuisine), Astoria (Greek Cuisine), Long Island City (Middle Eastern), Ozone Park (Latin Cuisine), Queens (Jamaican Cuisine), Little Italy (Duh), Chinatown (Um, duh again), and Little India (I think you get the idea).

My first thought when I heard this was that I would be completely screwed if I got Brighton Beach. I know absolutely ZERO about Russian cuisine, other than that I think Beef Stroganoff is kind of gross. My second through was that whoever got Little Italy would coast through this competition.

I am not going to go through all the dishes, but there were some that definitely seemed to stick out above the rest. I was excited to see Eugene, who had never cooked Indian food before, get such good reviews from the judges. Even Padma seemed to come out of her botox-induced coma for a second to praise it. Stefan's Greek dish was also clearly well-liked, as was Leah's Italian dish (although this one looked like kind of a snooze to me). This week's winner was chosen from these three, and Euro-Stefan walked away with the prize.

There was only one major kitchen oopsie, undercooked Faro by Ariane, who was one of the Middle Eastern Cuisine cooks. However, the rest of the dish seemed like it was pretty decent, and I think that's what saved her.

Poor, sweet little Patrick. I knew he was doomed from the beginning when at the opener he fired off with, "Just because I'm still in culinary school doesn't mean I can't be Top Chef." Yes, I'm pretty sure that's exactly what it means, Patrick. Although his dish didn't look awful or anything, it definitely looked like something that basically any home chef could easily whip up in about 30 minutes. Salmon with bok choy and noodles? Not exactly Top Chef fodder.

So far, my chefs to watch are Stefan, Eugene, Jamie (mostly because I like her tattoos), and Richard. Okay, I admit it, I am in love with Richard. He is hilarious, and has already professed his love for Tom Colicchio. Not sure if he can cook yet, but I hope he sticks around for awhile for the entertainment factor alone.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Tuesday Night is Foodie Night at Mockingbird Station

Just a little reminder that this holiday season is full of festivities at Mockingbird Station!  

Our favorite part of the celebration is, of course, Foodie Nights, featuring cooking and cocktail demos from a different restaurant each Tuesday.

Tomorrow, it's Tuna Salsa Rolls at Reikyu at 6 p.m., followed by Espresso Martinis and Saketinis at 8.  Yum!  Click here to read more about Get Gifted at the Station.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Dave Faries Has No Friends

... And don't get him started on cold pizza.

Fresh off a few years in the Czech Republic as food critic at the Prague Post, Dave Faries has just returned to town to take up the restaurant reviewing reins at the Dallas Observer. He may miss the glamorous ex-pat lifestyle, and those post-Pairing Off  hangovers are nothing compared to football withdrawal, but so far we're loving his weekly explorations of the Big D dining scene (not to mention the new City of Ate blog). Click here to read his first few reviews.

DallasEats caught up with Dave this week, and traded a few entertaining answers to our own Burning Questions for... well, we're not really sure what he'll ask for in return, but we know it won't be a gift basket of canned beets and tapioca pudding mix.  (Photos, from top:  1.  Dave at a party - image altered to preserve his anonymity.  But it's really him, honest.  Guess you'll just have to take our word for it.  2. Beautiful Prague.  No wonder he stayed so long!)

DallasEats: What is the general process you follow when reviewing a restaurant?

DF: Well, it's not really all that exciting: Call for reservations or just walk in - and repeat a few times. Then do it over and over for years on end.

But, of course, I never use my real name when I call. Usually, I combine the first and last names of two one-hit wonders, such as the guy who did "Hot Child in the City" with the Unabomber... using his first name, of course. I develop a schedule a couple months in advance, putting the priority first on new restaurants, then chef changes and finally on places that haven't been reviewed in quite some time. Then I just try to order a good cross-section of the menu, making sure to try some things recommended by the wait staff.

Really, not much to it - except that I'm there to analyze, so there's a lot of ignoring my guest as he or she babbles. And rushing home to take notes.

DallasEats: What is the hardest thing about maintaining your anonymity?

DF: Do people really want to see me? One time I walked into a bar with Mr. Dallas of the Morning News. The bartender looked up, recognized us, and said, "Oh, my God. What did I do?" I know some places years ago that kept pictures of Dotty Griffith posted in the back.

It's not that difficult, although we have to do some reporting on occasion, requiring discussions with chefs or restaurateurs. If a server or maitre d' recognizes a critic, about the only thing that changes is the service itself - and you notice right away. It's annoying, more than anything, when managers stop by every five minutes.

Anyway, it's really hard for a kitchen to all of a sudden cook better. While I was answering this, the owner of Blue Collar Bar dropped by the office to hand deliver media kits. People are always trying make a good impression. The key is just to be brutally honest, even if your best friends owns the place.

DallasEats: Are there any foods that you absolutely hate?

DF: Tapioca pudding, cold pizza, canned beets, head cheese and non-alcoholic drinks. But I'll eat them - or drink them, as the case may be - if I have to. Well, not the cold pizza, but the other two. There's just something about congealed cheese and thickened pepperoni grease. I'd rather listen to Hannity or watch a Pauly Shore marathon. (Editor's note: I ate a slice of cold pizza this morning while posting this interview. No kidding. -C&S)

The job of a critic is to ignore personal likes and dislikes. You have to forget all that and order things the right way, keep your own preferences out of it. There's buzzwords like "authentic", "fusion", "Tuscan" and such that provide starting points for technique, stye, etc. That's where you begin.

DallasEats: If you had friends coming in town, where would you take them to eat?

DF: Hell, I don't know. I've only been back in the country for a month or so. Critics have no friends. And shouldn't they be taking me out to eat, if I did have them?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Oh Brother's, Where Art Thou?

For me and my hubby, Sundays are for three things: God (at least a few times a year), football, and fried chicken - not necessarily in that order. When I get my pick, the fried chicken is from Brother's, the famous East Dallas destination for spicy, crunchy and utterly delicious chicken.

Earlier this week, I was absolutely gobsmacked to hear that after nine years of churning out the crispy goods, Brother's had closed its doors. I rarely get upset at the closing of a restaurant, but to me, this was a biggie. It was just such a neighborhood institution - the kind of place that you tell your friends about, who then thank you profusely every time you see each other.

According to Unfair Park, there is a chance (although quite slim) that Brother's will reopen. There's also a slightly more likely possibility that the owners will open another type of concept, probably a bar, that will serve the famous chicken. Let's all keep our fingers crossed that it happens, because I think it's possible that the only thing that could make Brother's chicken any better would be to serve it alongside a cold beer.

I guess this Sunday it will be Williams Chicken at our house. Sigh. Williams is good eatin', but even though I'll enjoy it, I'll be pining for another.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

For the Foodie on Your List

Whatever will you give to Aunt Sarah this holiday season, she of the gift baskets brimming with homemade brittle and hot chocolate mix?

Or what about cousin Roy, who tries a different new restaurant each week?

And - what's that you say? - you haven't even begun to shop for your very own sister, with whom you share a glass of wine on the patio every Saturday afternoon?  

Sounds like you're headin' straight for the Naughty List, mister...

Oh, dear, now we've got you hyperventilating.  Calm down - and grab a brown paper bag.  That's it... just breathe.  There's plenty of time, and DallasEats is here to help!  Today we'll present the first in a short series of holiday posts, featuring gifts we think the foodies in your life will love.  Below, you'll find our first picks to get you started.  And, who knows?  Maybe there's an item or two with which to stuff your own stocking this year!

Choose the Mexican/Latin Sampler or the Desert Island Sampler from this Napa Valley purveyor of native American foods for the adventurous home cook in your family.  And, here's a thought - for just a couple extra bucks, use one of their reusable logo shopping totes as a gift bag!  (click here to read our post on Rancho Gordo)

These pretty shineys from Uncommon Goods are made of recycled Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and red wine bottles.  The earrings are simple and versatile, and the necklace is a real stunner.

Another great find from Uncommon Goods!  These glasses come in four styles - Earth, Air, Water and Wildlife.  Each set is made of recycled materials and printed with a stylish motif of words and images.  We are especially fond of the beautiful, frosted Protect Our Air set which would compliment almost any table decor.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Comment Card

The DallasEats girls would like to know what's on your minds...

We're introducing our new Comment Card feature today with a question that we've been pondering around our own dinner tables of late.  You'll find it here, and also to the left of your screen.  Click below to comment away!  We'd love to hear your thoughts - short or long, for or against - and you know we love a good story.

When you eat out, do you expect the food to be better 
than what you could have made at home?

...also, feel free to suggest a future topic for Comment Card.  

Have a great (rainy) day!

Monday, November 10, 2008

A Step in the Right Direction

Although we certainly do not agree with the way that Californians voted on all of their Propositions this election season (I can't resist a chance to get up on my soap box, now can I?), myself and C&S were glad to see that our friends to the west did vote a resounding 'yes' to Proposition 2, an anti-cruelty initiative aimed at factory farms in Cali.

The passing of Proposition 2 ensures that by 2015, the 20 Million livestock animals in the state will be provided with enough space to stand up, turn around, and extend their limbs. I'm not going to go into detail about how these animals are currently treated (frankly, it makes me physically ill when I think about it), but this vote on behalf of compassion and decency for these animals really goes a long way.

Not only that, but it increases the safety of the meat provided by these farms, gives a fairer shake to family farms that already follow these guidelines, and encourages better environmental practices by these factory farms.

Prop 2 is widely regarded as the most ambitious ballot measure on behalf of animals ever undertaken in the US, and it is my sincere hope that it opens the door for other states to follow California's lead. The fact that the state's residents voted 2/3 in favor of this initiative really speaks to our country's interest in this issue.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The One Dollar Diet Project

Could you live on just $1 a day?

Kerri Leonard and Christopher Greenslate of Encinitas, California fed themselves on just $1 a day for the month of September this year, and chronicled the experience in their blog, One Dollar Diet Project. The New York Times' Tara Parker-Pope wrote of the couple and their eye-opening experiment in an article that came out this week entitled Money is Tight, and Junk Food Beckons. After reading that piece, I was eager to find out more about Kerri and Christopher's month of scarcity, conceived as a means by which to better understand what it's like to live at or near the poverty level on a day to day basis.

I read the blog from beginning to end yesterday, and it was both fascinating and thought-provoking. Through the course of their One Dollar Diet Project, these two social studies teachers ate countless servings of peanut butter, rice, beans and (often just shy of stale) homemade bread, all the while learning firsthand of the emotional and physical impact of subsisting on pennies a day.

On the first evening of the experiment, after running down her day's intake of unadorned oatmeal and tiny bean burritos, Kerri wrote, "It seems odd to me that we have the luxury of doing this as an experiment when there are millions of families who have to budget their meals like this every day." As days turned to weeks, she and Christopher maintained this thoughtful perspective, with only a few instances of weakness, temptation or general hunger-induced grumpiness (Christopher, Day 12: "I'm exhausted. I have a headache. I lost another pound. I wish there was more to report."). Instead of dwelling on their hunger and dwindling energy levels, the couple delved deeper and deeper into feelings of communion and empathy with those around the world living in poverty or just struggling to make ends meet.

This blog has amassed a large group of readers since the beginning of September, and will no doubt continue to attract even more as word spreads of the One Dollar Diet Project. Ultimately, the couple's goal is to raise awareness. As Christopher put it on Day 18: "...the need to have a dialogue about poverty is long overdue."

Kerri and Christopher are now considering what their next experiment might entail. It should also be mentioned that they accepted donations during the project, and ended up making a sizeable contribution to a non-profit in their area. Here's to this smart, thoughful couple! Reading their diary made me think long and hard about the food choices I make every day, and about how fortunate I am to be afforded the luxury of making those choices in the first place. I will not soon forget the lessons that I learned from their sacrifice.

New Blog Friends!

Just a quick note to let you all know that our little blog is now linked on the new Dallas Observer food blog, City of Ate, as well as on
You'll also find links to both of these fun new food friends on our roll to the left. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Foodie Nights at Mockingbird Station

I heard some exciting news from a friend last night:  During Mockingbird Station's holiday campaign, Get Gifted at the Station, going on now through the week before Christmas, they're hosting all kinds of events each week, including Foodie Night every Tuesday.  Fun!

Tonight's featured foodie fun is at Rockfish Grill, with demos of their Mexican Shrimp Martini and Spinach Dip starting at 6, followed by Rock-a-Ritas at 8.  This sounds like the perfect excuse to head out for some early holiday shopping - how better to reward our selfless generosity than with a frosty cocktail and a couple of tasty hors d'oeuvres?

Click the links above for more info and to keep track of who's on tap for upcoming Foodie Nights. You can visit the Station's main site at

Monday, November 3, 2008

ENVY Magazine Food and Wine Issue

Run, don't walk, to pick up the new issue of ENVY Magazine, now available in Dallas!  You'll find it alongside The Observer, PaperCity and the like at dozens of locations all over town.  This special Food and Wine Issue has Mark Wahlberg and Ludacris on the cover and lots of foodie goodies inside to keep your mouth a-waterin' and your dinner calendar full throughout the month of November.

Starting on page 30 is a spread featuring 7 Texas Chefs to Watch, including an interview with the incomparable Dean Fearing.  Two of the profiles in the piece were penned by yours truly, and while I won't divulge their subjects, I can promise the stories will leave you longing for a taste of what these talented guys are cooking up at their respective Dallas-area restaurants.

Other tasty tidbits in this issue include a guide to late-night eats for the discerning post-party palate and a fascinating exploration of the science and soul behind cravings.  ...Who knew that my chocolate jones could signify a B vitamin deficiency or a desire for more freedom in my life?  
Sound tasty?  Pick up a copy today for some mouthwatering cocktail-time reading tonight!

Eenie Meenie, Speckled Beanie

So maybe it was a case of Halloween Hangover, a post-treat trick my brain was playing on me, but while exploring the latest issue of O Magazine, I came across this tantalizing photo and was immediately captivated by what I (in my sugar-addled state) assumed to be brand-new flavors of Jelly Belly beans, freshly unveiled for the upcoming holiday season.  Is that a cookies-n-cream there on the right?, I wondered, mouth watering in anticipation.  And what about that caramel-colored swirly number?  Dulce de leche, perhaps?

Well, after delving into the accompanying text, I realized I was quite mistaken.  They are beans of the legume category, heirloom varieties, to be exact, with fanciful names that belie the generally mundane reputation of their often canned-for-convenience, mass-market cousins.  There are mayacobas and Rio Zapes and Christmas limas and more, and the tantalizing article went on to describe each variety's complex, unexpected flavors.  My curiosity remained piqued, but in a more grown-up sort of way.  The foodie in me was officially intrigued.

A company called Rancho Gordo in California's Napa Valley specializes in these rare little protein-packed beauties, and its owner, Steve Sando has just come out with a new cookbook, Heirloom Beans, co-written by Vanessa Barrington.  I took a few minutes to explore the company's awesome website, and now I want to be a bean freak, too!

Sando's philosophy takes root in his desire to preserve native American agricultural products and cuisine, and he goes to great lengths to ensure that his offerings are of the highest quality.  Rancho Gordo's site features chili powders, grains and spices in addition to heirloom beans, as well as recipes and this adorable tote bag for eco-friendly shopping.  It's great fun to explore, and now I'm quite curious about this subject.  So, a few questions for our culinarily-minded readers:  Has anyone cooked with these heirloom beans?  What did you think?  I'm wondering if their beautiful colors last through cooking and onto the plate?  Any other thoughts on the subject of heirloom produce/preservation that you'd like to share?  This inquiring newbie bean freak wants to know!

Update: Scardello Artisan Cheese Now Open!

It's official:  Scardello Artisan Cheese on Oak Lawn Avenue is now open!  Yay!  

I passed by the shop while out and about this weekend, and peered in the window to see how things were coming along (as has become my habit since Rich Rogers first hung up his "Coming Soon" sign in September) - it looked pretty "open" to me.  Sure enough, last night I received a message from sweet Donna of DonnaCooks confirming that, yes, our new neighborhood cheese shop is, indeed, open for business.

Click here to read Donna's detailed report on her first visit to Scardello, and here to check out our initial DallasEats report, including contact info and quotes from the owner.  I'm planning a trip there later this afternoon, and I just can't wait!