Friday, February 27, 2009

A New Dallas Wine Trail!

There's a new trail in town...

Just in time for Texas Independence Day (Monday the 2nd - mark your calendar), my special report for D Magazine's SideDish has all the details on a brand new Dallas wine trail!

Read on for more info on a trio of boutique wineries right here in our own back yard, as well as a preview of new art from the Texas Department of Agriculture's Go Texan Wine program.  What better way to celebrate this very Texan holiday than by enjoying a glass of our state's finest?  Cheers!   - C&S

(photo:  Benjamin Calais of Calais Winery and Lisa Petty, by Lara Bierner)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Top Chef: New York, Finale Part 1

Woo hoo! It's finale time! I'm ready for some drama. And as the final four arrived in New Orleans, right away Fabio's mohawk (finally!) started the episode off with a bang. It just wouldn't be a complete season of Top Chef without a mohawk.

When the group met up with Padma for the QuickFire, it was revealed that Emeril Lagasse would be the guest judge for this episode. Clearly, not a big surprise, as he is so closely associated with NOLA. The next announcement, however, was a surprise. The top four would not be competing in the QuickFire. Instead, the last three chefs booted off the show, Jamie (yay!), Jeff (whatever), and Leah (ugh) would compete to get another crack at the Top Chef title.

I was excited, because I was very disappointed to see Jamie go home a couple of weeks ago. I think she's definitely talented enough to be in the top five. However, Jeff and Leah came with their game faces on as well. Jeff especially seemed very confident. The challenge was pretty straight-forward: come up with a dish using one of the signature ingredients of New Orleans, crawfish. YUM! Jeff did something really simple - Crawfish and grits - but it looked pretty tasty. Jamie made a corn cake topped with a poached egg and crawfish cream sauce that looked pretty amazing. She had me at crawfish cream sauce. Leah made gumbo, even though she admitted she'd never made it before. Seemed like a weird decision to me.

Apparently, Jeff's grits must have been pretty unbelievable, because Emeril fell all over himself complimenting him as he named him the winner. Jeff was awarded Emeril's new cookbook (yawn) and was informed that in order to make it to the finale (part 2) he would have to win the Elimination Challenge. Whoa. Good luck with that.

So what would this elimination challenge entail? Well, the chefs are taken to the place where they hold the floats for the Krewe of Orpheus that participate in the Mardi Gras parade. They were then told that later that night they would be catering the Orpheus Masquerade Ball at the New Orleans Museum of Art. The chefs would be required to make two dishes and a cocktail to feed (and water) 100 hungry guests. To up the pressure, there would be not be just one chef eliminated at the end of the challenge - there would be two.

The winner of the challenge will also receive a Toyota Venza! I've never heard of one/seen one before, but the chefs seem pretty psyched about the opportunity.

Don't the judges look cute in their masquerade outfits? I thought so. But back to the kitchen...Carla decides to make an Oyster Stew and a beignet with shrimp and andouille sausage. Yes, please. I will have both. As her drink, she chooses to go with a non-alcoholic option, a cranberry and lime spritzer, as she isn't a drinker. I respect this decision, but I am worried about how it will effect her, as I have grown to like her so much. She also freaked me out with the oyster shucking, but thank goodness that ended up working out okay.

Hosea goes with a duck, sausage and chicken gumbo - which he has apparently been working on perfecting at home - as well as a pecan-crusted catfish dish. He sounded pretty knowledgeable when talking about the gumbo, but his second dish seemed a little boring. His drink, on the other hand, sounded pretty tasty, if overly trendy. He made a blood orange and pomegranate hurricane. Are there any two ingredients that are getting as much hype these days? I think not.

Fabio decided to go above and beyond and make three dishes: a rabbit maque choux (pronounced "mock shoe" according to wikipedia) served with grits, a crawfish and crab pasta dish (sounds very Pappadeaux) and a muffaletta bread (yum). For the record, maque choux is a dish of corn, peppers, tomatoes and onions simmered together in a broth (thank you again, wikipedia). His drink is a bell pepper martini. Not sure what to make of that, but at least it's somewhat original.

Jeff made a pot de creme with crawfish and a fried oyster with sausage. The oyster didn't look like much, but the pot de creme looked pretty freakin' tasty. And his drink (a cucumber mojito) looked even better.

Stefan, who treated the whole challenge with a rather disinterested attitude, also made a gumbo, although his featured rabbit and duck. He didn't seem to have the gumbo chops of Hosea, but knowing Stefan, it was probably pretty tasty anyway. He also made an apple beignet and a black cherry rum cocktail. The rest of the chefs were unimpressed with his attitude, and I started to get the feeling that although his food sounded pretty good, his 'tude might get him tossed.
Once the judges started going around doing their tastings, it became pretty clear that all of the chefs really brought their a-game to this challenge (well, except maybe Stefan). Everyone had at least one dish that blew the socks off the judges (well, again, except maybe Stefan), but there was no, "ew, this is terrible" dish.

The top dishes seemed to be Carla's stew and her beignet (yay, team Carla!), Jeff's cucumber mojito and his oyster (must have been better than it seemed like it would be), Hosea's gumbo, and Fabio's maque choux. Stefan's food was universally agreed to be 'pretty good', but nobody seemed blown away by any of it.

Once again this week, Carla was named the winner! Where has she been all season? She's been totally kick-ass lately, and I am really starting to think she could win this thing. Hosea is also declared safe.

Unfortunately for Jeff, who did quite well in this challenge, he was automatically eliminated because he didn't win. It was really too bad, because he did seem to perform very well. And his cucumber mojito looked scrumptious.

Sadly, the two men of Team Europe found themselves on the bottom this week. Stefan was rapped pretty hard for phoning it in this week, and Fabio was dinged for some relatively minor quibbles about his food along the lines of, "I wish it had just had a little more spice."

I have to say - I think that Fabio was robbed this week. During the tastings, it seemed like people enjoyed his food much more than Stefan's, but I think Stefan's overall performance must have carried him through once again. A finale without Stefan wouldn't have seemed right, but at the same time, he did clearly try to coast this week. Oh well, we'll see what happens when he takes on Hosea and Carla in the finale. I can't wait!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Cost-Conscious Cocktails

Happy Wednesday Everyone!  

Here's a little something to get you over the hump:  

My pal Annie Potasznik over at NBC DFW has compiled a convenient list of local happy hour specials for our after-work enjoyment.  Featuring choice hangs in the Uptown, Knox/Henderson, Downtown and Oak Cliff neighborhoods, this list begs to be printed out and tucked in your wallet for easy-access the next time you're in the mood for a tasty bargain beverage.  Cheers!


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Want Greener Restaurants? Speak Up or Write It Down...

It never fails to irk me:  Each time I order soup to-go from my favorite lunch spot, I wind up kicking myself on the way back out the door for, once again, forgetting to request that I be spared the dozen or so extra napkins and the plastic utensil packets in my bag.  Back at home, I attempt to reuse what's reusable, but let's face it - most of it just winds up tossed away.

Though I sometimes remember this eco-friendly caveat to my order, it never occurred to me that maybe the restaurant should take it upon itself to ask diners if they require all that extra stuff in the first place.  When this idea finally dawned on me, I had something of a green a-ha moment, as Oprah might say. Next time I head to my soup spot, I'll be filling out a comment card or two.

The folks at Ideal Bite think that we should all take it upon ourselves to ask for what we want in the way of greener practices at our favorite restaurants by filling out a comment card, writing a letter or just speaking up the next time we dine out. One of IB's daily emails last week highlighted a few of their favorite recommendations:

- Recycling

- Serving water only upon request

- Using local, organic ingredients were possible

- Stocking biodegradable takeout utensils and containers

- Opting for green cleaning products

- Installing motion detectors in bathrooms so lights don't stay on 24-7

- Offering waste cooking oil to local biodiesel drivers

I love this list, and I think my eco-piphany of asking take-out customers whether or not they require napkins and utensils (or even bags, for that matter) is a good addition.   Thanks, Ideal Bite.  Here's to speaking up or writing it down the next time you eat out!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Comment Card

Speaking of breakfast, are you an a.m. eater, or does the morning meal totally turn you off?  Has it always been that way, or do you go through phases?

We DallasEats girls are both breakfast devotees, but we're always curious to hear other folks' thoughts on the subject.  Also, for all of you in the strictly coffee category, is there one special dish that will bring you to the table in spite of your aversion?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Tom Colicchio Doesn't Eat "Healthy"

In an interview posted on the New York Times' Well Blog today, celebrity chef and restaurateur Tom Colicchio shares some interesting opinions about how kids should eat and how parents should be cooking.

The Top Chef head honcho will participate in a panel discussion on family eating this weekend at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, along with the likes of Rachael Ray, South Beach diet founder Dr. Arthur Agatston and cookbook author and famous significant other, Jessica Seinfeld.  Even though I have no little ones of my own (unless you count dust bunnies), I found his comments on this subject enlightening and refreshingly off-the-cuff.  For instance, when questioned about whether restaurants are doing their fair share when it comes to promoting healthy eating, Colicchio quipped, "What chefs can do when it comes to getting the word out is have people understand food differently.  If food is well sourced and well prepared, I don’t think the word healthy needs to be brought into it. ...I’m not worried if I’m using four different cheeses and it’s high in fat.  It’s real food.  That’s what’s more important."

I wholeheartedly agree.  Between this and his recent life-saving heroics, Mr. C's stock has gone way up in my book.  Click here to read the interview in its entirety. 


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Top Chef: New York, Episode 12

The Last Supper

After last week's shocking elimination of Jamie, this week's Top Chef set us up for a pretty interesting ride. With Stefan as the obvious favorite to make it to the finals, it seems to me that the other four (with the possible exception of Carla) are pretty evenly matched. They each have talent, but they also all have their faults. I thought Carla would likely be booted this week, with Leah and Fabio being next on my list of possible boot-ees.

As soon as I saw Wylie Dufresne, I figured the challenge would be all about molecular gastronomy. He's been on the show before, and is apparently quite the big-wig in the field. However, when they talked about the challenge, those words were never mentioned. Wiley simply spoke of his love of eggs, and the chefs were then instructed to come up with an egg dish that would "surprise and delight" Wiley.

The chefs went about this in very different ways. Stefan did something that looked incredibly cool, making a panna cotta with a mango puree inside that looked exactly like a soft-boiled egg when you cut it open. That blew my hair back a little bit, I must admit. Hosea did a sushi roll, but instead of wrapping it in seaweed, he wrapped it in a thin sheet of egg white. It looked cool, but it didn't sound particularly tasty. Leah made a fancy quail egg thing that involved bacon hollandaise (I'll take it), but didn't seem particularly inventive. Fabio did an over-wrought three component dish that was very dessert-like, but didn't impress like Stefan's dish.

And then there was Carla. She admitted up front that she didn't know jack about molecular gastronomy, so she was going to go completely the other way and just try to do something clever. What she came up with was green eggs (eggs with spinach) and ham with a salsa verde. I thought that idea was a little hackneyed, but I guess it must have been quite tasty, because she was named the winner. No, seriously, she was. I thought for sure that Stefan had it in the bag, but I guess Wiley was hypnotized by Carla's crazy eyes or something.

And then it was time to talk Elimination Challenge. Padma had the chefs draw knives, and they were each paired with a famous chef. They were then told that they would be cooking these chefs their "last meal" and that they had all selected their favorite dish. The match-ups were as follows:

  • Carla: Jacques Pepin, roast squab and fresh peas (I actually have never tried squab, and I know this is totally ugly American of me, but pigeon? Ew.)
  • Fabio: Lidia Bastianich, roast chicken with potatoes and a leafy salad (Seriously? Salad for your last meal?)
  • Stefan: Marcus Samuelsson, roasted salmon with spinach (How very Nordic of him to pick Salmon)
  • Hosea: Susan Ungaro, shrimp scampi and tomato provencale (My favorite pick. Yum.)
  • Leah: Wiley Dufresne, eggs Benedict (Pretty darn good choice too.)

Okay, I have to admit, Carla is growing on me. She was so cute and excited that she's be cooking for Jacques Pepin. I believe she referred to them as "two peas in a pod" because they both like pees. Then she cracked herself up. Adorable, even if she looks like a cross between Sideshow Bob and Beaker from the muppets (in a good way). Once again, I assumed erroneously that Carla would have trouble with her dish. She knocked it out of the park again, and although her squab was a little over-cooked to some (not at all to others) everyone agreed that her peas were the best dish of the night. Seriously, how good must these peas have been to get that kind of praise?

Hosea went out on a limb a bit by not doing a traditional shrimp scampi and tomato provencale. I think this was actually smart of him, because it didn't allow the judges to compare it to "the way they would have made it". They could only compare it to whether or not he executed what he was trying to do.

Leah seemed kind of scattered in the kitchen (as usual), and the judges were fairly unimpressed with her dish. The main complaint was that the egg was pretty watery (gross) and that the hollandaise was too runny. Dufresne was also offended that she added a salad to his meal. Now that's a man after my own heart.

Stefan scared me this week in the kitchen by proclaiming that he could "make this dish in his sleep." Uh oh. When chefs start bragging like that, it's never a good sign. He also mentions that since he didn't know how Chef Samuelsson would like his spinach, he would serve the salmon both with cream and without. Huh? When it was served to the judges, the feedback was not good at all. The salmon was apparently over-cooked, and the spinach was pretty boring. Yikes. I am sweating a little now after what happened to Jamie last week.

Fabio had a major mishap in the kitchen, breaking his finger (ow!) while preparing his meal. He had to finish with his hand all taped up awkwardly, and you just felt terrible for the guy. Of course, he handled it with his usual good humor - I heart this guy. And I was so excited when his dish was served and he got such high praise for his chicken and potatoes, even though the judges pretty much hated his salad. Since that was such a small component, I figured he's still be okay.

Not only was Fabio okay this week, he was named the winner - I believe for the first time. Yay! Carla was pretty much declared "second place" and they both left the judges room jumping up and down and getting super-excited.

I honestly thought for awhile that Stefan would go home (there was basically nothing about the dish that people liked, other than the "flavors" that Tom Colicchio kept mentioning), but fortunately, Leah's dish must have sucked just enough for them to justify sending her home instead. Thank goodness. A finale without Stefan would have seemed cheap. I was glad Leah was sent home. She has definitely worn out her welcome with me, in case you hadn't figured that out already :)

So the final four headed to New Orleans for the finale are: Hosea, Carla, Fabio and Stefan. Clearly, I think Stefan is the favorite, but what do you all think? Does anyone else even stand a chance?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Esquire Mag's Ode to the Most Important Meal

In case you had trouble getting past the Clive Owen cover of this month's Esquire Magazine (not saying that I personally had a problem...), here's recommending you go ahead and flip to page 107 and drink in the heady food porn that is Esquire's All-You-Can-Eat Breakfast.  

Beginning with a drool-inducing photo of Banana Bread French Toast dripping in vanilla bean infused maple syrup and capped with a quivering crown of lemon sour cream, this special section proceeds to persuade the reader through essays, recipes and restaurant listings of the absolute indispensability of the modern American morning meal.  Divided into two parts - dining in and dining out - you'll first enjoy eight pages of how-to's from chefs around the country interspersed with witticisms and observations on the subject at hand.  A case in point, from Scott Raab's Love, Or Scrambled Eggs: "Breakfast is breakfast.  No metaphor, no symbol - save maybe in the sense that any social custom mirrors every other social custom, which is to say that either everything is a metaphor or symbol, or that nothing, especially not so fine and free a thing as breakfast, is.  Breakfast is too good to screw it up with meaning."  And that, my friends, is why I love Esquire.

Also contained in the first section is a recipe for Jalepeno and Ancho Oatmeal from Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia in Louisville.  Combining such divergent ingredients as dried cherries, Hungarian paprika, coconut milk and (you guessed it) jalepeno peppers, it may just be the most peculiar recipe I've ever read.  The photo of another offering, Pulled Baby-Back Ribs Benedict from Chef Raymond Chen of the Inn at West View Farm in Dorset, Vermont, actually forced me to lay my head between my legs and count slowly to ten, lest I faint from overwhelming desire.  (Sorry, Clive.)

The dining out section that follows provides an "unranked, incomplete, and unimpeachable list of the best breakfasts across America."  I'm sorry to report that Dallas is not represented, however the list makes for great reading nonetheless.  Who knew that Minneapolis loves a little bison-sausage bread in the morning?  Waffle House also gets a shout-out in this second half, and New Orleans is named "America's Best Breakfast City".  Anyone who has ever felt a beignet from Cafe du Monde melt on his tongue under a hot blanket of cafe au lait will absolutely agree with that honor.

And that's not the half of it - I've only scratched the surface here, people.  Pick up a copy for yourself, and while you're at it, help me come up with a few North Texas suggestions for the next time around:  Where's the best breakfast in the Metroplex?


Monday, February 16, 2009

Curious Cookbooks Part II: Shalom Y'all!

Another trip to the East Coast by a group of loved ones netted me another curious little cookbook last week - yay!  This one is entitled Shalom Y'all, and was compiled by the Congregation Mickve Israel of Savannah, Georgia.  While it doesn't involve such exotic dishes as the last one, this book is quite tempting in its own special way...

Mickve Israel, a reformed congregation, was founded in 1733 by 42 original members, just months after the Colony of Georgia was established.  In 1876, a beautiful synagogue was built to accommodate the growing community, flanked by two giant palms in grand Georgia style.  A pen and ink drawing of the Mickve Israel temple graces the cover of this cookbook, and it is still their home to this day.

After reading the recipes, notes and narratives in Shalom Y'all (it tickles me to type that!), I am left with the impression that this a warm and adventurous group that enjoys celebrating the food of cultures near and far.  This passage from the introduction says it all:  "Our Sephardic, Italian and Indian Sabbath dinners, complete with appropriate musical accompaniment at services that follow, highlight Jewish ethnic traditions around the world.  Our annual food festival featuring homemade chopped liver, blintzes, chicken soup with matzo balls, apple strudel, and Rabbi Belzer's Ah-Mein Lo-Mein offer to the community at large a glimpse of our culinary talents and love of food."

This book has a little something for everyone, whether your childhood memories revolve around matzo balls and potato pancakes or chicken spaghetti and pecan pie.  (Or both, like me.)  Here are a couple of my favorite recipes from Shalom Y'all, dog-eared for future kitchen adventures.

Chicken Country Captain

The lineage of this beloved Southern dish was explored in a recent article in the New York Times.  This version looks like a classic.

1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 fryer, cut in pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium green pepper, chopped
1/4 cup cooking oil
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. thyme
16 oz. can Italian tomatoes
2 tbsp. raisins
2 tbsp. toasted slivered almonds
3 cups hot cooked rice

Mix flour and half of salt and pepper in a paper bag.  Toss chicken pieces in the bag to coat with the seasoned flour.  Heat oil in skillet and when hot, brown chicken pieces until brown on all sides, removing chicken to platter.  Then add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic, sauteeing until tender.  Add remaining spices and tomatoes.  Bring to boil.  Return chicken pieces to the sauce, reduce heat and simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.  Serve over hot rice, sprinkling with raisins and almonds.  Serves 4.


I found the recipe for this Passover dish in the "Holiday and Traditional" section, along with such favorites as Chocolate Coconut Macaroons, Lox Spread and (gasp!) Gefilte Fish.

2 boxes dates (pitted)
2 cups almonds (or pecans)
4-5 tbsp. sweet Passover wine or grape or apple juice
3/4 box raisins
3/4 bag coconut
cinnamon (to taste)
3-4 apples (peeled)

Put everything through a meat grinder.  Add more apples and wine to sweeten.

Vegetable Chopped Liver

And because no spiral-bound community cookbook seems complete without a few oddball recipes, I had to include this contradictory dip.

3 tbsp. oil
1 onion, minced
1 lb. mushrooms, finely chopped
2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
1/2 cup walnuts, minced
salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil and brown onions, until glazed.  Set aside.  In pan, add mushrooms and walnuts and brown.  Add to onions, along with chopped eggs and salt and pepper.  Mix well and serve with crackers or matzo.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Digest: Restaurants, Reading and News

For the past few weeks, I've been in full exploration mode, both at home and out-and-about.  So many new restaurants to visit, so many subjects to explore!  Here's a small sampling from my recent culinary adventures, as well as some recommended reading and an exciting announcement:

Tasting Notes

The following are first impressions of a few restaurants visited during the past couple of weeks - no reviews, just quick bites.  Have you been?  If so, I'd love to hear your thoughts as well!

4433 McKinney Ave., Dallas

I'd heard raves about this tiny spot, serving chef-driven plates marked by creative flavor combinations and fresh, often local, ingredients.  I popped in with a friend around noon on a Saturday to find the place humming but thankfully not jam-packed.  We settled into a booth and perused the menu; both breakfast and lunch were available.  After a brief confab with our mohawked waiter, I selected the Kozy Salad with Salmon and my date went with the grass-fed beef (I believe) tacos.

My salad was generous, studded with berries and slivers of green apple.  Topped with a glistening, marbled salmon filet, cooked to medium as per my request, it was both refreshing and satisfying.  A small cup of balsamic vinaigrette on the side was perfection.  The tacos were also proclaimed a "hit", but to my eye, that plate was lacking.  Two tacos and a little guacamole for a double-digit price tag?  I was assured that they were more than filling, however, and to be fair, meat of that quality costs a pretty penny.  Also, my friend commented that he was actually pleased to be spared the usual carb-a-rific plate-fillers.  In the end, we were both happy campers, save a few hiccups in service.  I'll definitely be heading back to Kozy soon.

4302 Bryan St., Dallas

Last Monday's episode of No Reservations left me with a mad pho craving, so when my pops called to see if I had lunch plans the next day, I was quick to suggest we visit a spot that I'd been meaning to try for some time.  A friend had recommended Vietnam ages ago, and I was sure they'd have something to satisfy the soup monkey on my back.  Sure enough, Vietnam has a full menu of traditional pho variations, as well as an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet on weekdays.  Dad opted for the buffet (natch), and I selected the pho with beef.  In fact, the menu had a wide array of dishes to choose from, including traditional spring rolls and entrees, in addition to soups.  

While I slurped and crunched and sipped my way through my steaming bowl of pho, Dad paraded a seemingly endless array of colorful dishes across the table in front of me.  He proclaimed most of them "good" and a few of them "great", with just a couple ranking in the "eh" division.  My pho was also a solid "good", featuring full-flavored broth and a generous tangle of tender rice noodles.  Requisite garnishes of bean sprouts, cilantro, basil and lime were fresh and plentiful.  I can't say much for the atmosphere at Vietnam, but it seems to be a very popular spot for a quick and affordable lunch.  I'll keep it on my list for the next time a pho craving strikes.

Black Friar Pub
2621 McKinney Ave., Dallas

A friend tipped me off to this new bar from the owner of the Idle Rich, and even if I hadn't known ahead of time, I would have figured out the connection to its sibling across the street shortly after walking through the door.  Black Friar's menu of beers and bites and those famous cheese boards is just about the same as you'll find at Idle Rich (or The Old Monk, for that matter), and the pub-type atmosphere also felt familiar.  The after-work crowd on our visit was friendly, and the beers were nice and cold, but the service left much to be desired. 

After attempting to flag down one of several waitresses for a quarter of an hour, we gave up and trekked to the bar for our first round.  The second round ended up being self-service, too, but someone eventually wandered our direction after we tried to order food from the bartender.  In the waitresses' defense, it was a busy night, and I'm sure the exercise did us good.  At any rate, we had a great time and the tab was nice and tiny.

Enrich Your Mind

Salt:  A World History
by Mark Kurlansky

"A salt is a small but perfect thing."

Salt built the Great Wall of China, and paved the way to the American West.  It was the driving force behind the first of the famed Roman roads and an indispensable element in the sacred Egyptian process of mummification.  Prized as an aphrodisiac and an explosive, a preservative and a palliative, salt has been and always will be a crucial commodity to civilizations around the world.  This fascinating book details salt's role in the rise and fall of empires and its uses in chemistry, medicine, warfare and, of course, cookery, throughout recorded time.  I was shocked to learn the extent to which salt - making it, storing it, trading it and using it - has shaped our world.  This book is a great read for food lovers and history buffs alike!

In The News

And, finally, we have an announcement to make:  

DallasEats has been named one of the top food blogs in the city by Where The Locals Eat, a guide to the best restaurants in the country.  We're honored to be featured on this national site, along with news, recommendations and other tasty tidbits.  Thanks a million, and we promise to keep up the good work!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Comment Card

Just in time for everyone's favorite chocolate-covered holiday, we've got a very sweet question for all of you:

If you were a candy in the famous Whitman's Sampler, 
which one would you be?

Caramel?  Coconut?  Strawberry Nougat?  Or do you think that See's Candies or Godiva is more indicative of your own personal style?  Here's a link to get you started, but when it comes to this Comment Card, let your sweet tooth lead the way!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Top Chef: New York, Episode 11

Le Bernardin
I was so excited about this episode, because I absolutely love Eric Ripert. Every time I've ever seen him on TV or read any of his interviews, he always comes off as super-humble and nice. I also was lucky enough to have the opportunity to eat at one of his restaurants, Blue, when I was in Grand Cayman last year, and let me tell you, it was one of the most memorable meals of my life. Seafood heaven.

So, after a lame quickfire last week, we got a doozy this week. Since Ripert is a seafood chef, the challenge was a fish filleting tournament. Yikes. Hosea is both nervous and excited, since - as he has mentioned about 1,000 times this season - he is a seafood chef. The first fish is a sardine. Yikes. So tiny, so many bones. Carla knows she is screwed from the get-go, and won't even show Ripert her fish. He is obviously amused, which was pretty cute. Jamie also got the boot in this first round. Leah pouts and talks about what a horrible job she did (like she does on every QuickFire) but then is named as the best in round one. Hosea, Stefan, and Fabio also advance to round 2.

The fish in round 2 is an arctic char. Pretty different from the sardines, as they are pretty ginormous. Hosea takes this round, and is pretty proud of himself. Leah pouts again about how she's doing such an awful job, only this time she just freakin' quits in the middle of the challenge and refuses to do her second fillet. She is officially my least favorite contestant this season. What a chump. Stefan also advances and Fabio is eliminated. Darn. Anytime we can get Fabio screen time, I am happy.

In the third round, they upped the 'ick' factor significantly an gave the contestants "recently killed" eels to fillet. Apparently nobody told the eels they were dead, because they were squirming and squiggling around all over the place. GROSS. Apparently Stefan is an eel master, and it is clear that he has this round in the bag from the beginning when he grabs the eels and nails its head to the cutting board. No I am not kidding. he then peels it like a banana and fillets it in what seems like about 30 seconds. Hosea, on the other hand, basically just has to watch Stefan and copy what he does. To his credit, it looks like he did a pretty decent job for his first time working with eel. To Stefan's credit, he totally kicked Hosea's ass and won the QuickFire, once again earning "a significant advantage in the elimination challenge".

The next day, the chefs are invited by Chef Ripert to have a six-course lunch. Hmmmm, interesting, six courses...six contestants...I wonder if there's a connection there. Anyway, the food looks rockin' and deceptively simple. Jamie says something totally obnoxious about how she isn't inspired by this kind of food, and even though I usually like her, this sounds so bratty that I pretty much want to slap her. At that point, I start to get worried about her, because they seem to be focusing on her a lot in this episode.

After lunch, Padma tells the contestants that they will be recreating the six dishes that they sampled at lunch. Stefan gets to choose his dish, as a reward for winning the QuickFire. He chooses the Baked Lobster with Asparagus and Hollandaise Sauce, which does appear to be the easiest dish (and also looks so good that I want to eat my TV - but that might just be because I'm 8 months pregnant).

The other chefs draw knives, and their fates are revealed to be:
  • Carla: Oil Poached Escolar with Potato Chips in a Bearnaise Sauce
  • Hosea: Spiced Monk Fish with Black Garlic
  • Jamie: Sauteed Black Bass and Braised Celery with Serrano Ham Peppercorn Sauce
  • Fabio: Sourdough Encrusted Red Snapper with Tomato Basil Consomme
  • Leah: Baked Mahi-Mahi with Miso and Matsutake Mushroom Sauce

Once the chefs get in the kitchen, it became pretty clear that this was not an easy challenge. Other than Stefan, who basically sailed through preparing his dish (the only issue was that the hollandaise was a little thick), and Carla, who apparently is a classically trained French chef (huh?), the contestants really struggled. The good news for the chefs was that before they prepared their final dish to serve to the judges, they would have a chance to do a trial run for Chef Ripert who would give them a short critique.

Hosea was totally unfamiliar with the spice used in his dish, and apparently used way too much of it, according to Chef Ripert. Fabio had too much crust on his fish, but the flavors were spot on and the fish itself was well-cooked. Leah's dish was a mess, apparently. She couldn't figure out how the sauce was made, so apparently she mixed the miso with butter, which Chef Ripert said was all wrong. Poor Jamie was so in the weeds that she didn't even have time to get a dish together for Chef Ripert to taste. Apparently she hates celery, and had never braised it before, and was really struggling with the concept. Doesn't seem like it would be that difficult, but she was hating it.

At the judges table, Stefan, Carla (two weeks in a row!), and Fabio were the top three. I thought Carla should have won (never thought I would be saying those words), since her dish seemed to be much harder, and she pretty much nailed it, but they named Stefan the winner instead. His price was pretty bad ass - not only did he win Chef Ripert's new book, he also got a chance to work with him in his kitchen and accompany him to a food and wine festival. Not too shabby.

The bottom three were Hosea, Leah and Jamie. Hosea's monkfish didn't have time to rest, so the texture was off. His spicing was also still too strong. He quickly admitted he knew the fish needed to rest but just didn't have time, and it was pretty clear that he wasn't really in trouble. Leah, on the other hand, did not impress the judges at all with her half-hearted explanations and total lack of understanding of the dish. I am so ready to see her go already, but I guess it wasn't in the cards this week, although Colicchio did give her a talking to about quitting during the QuickFire.

Unfortunately, Jamie was the chef to get the boot this week. I guess she totally over-salted the celery in her dish to the point of it being almost inedible. What a shame, because I think she was definitely one of the most talented contestants on the show this year. I would have sent Leah home over her in a heartbeat, as at least Jamie seemed to understand what she did wrong, but alas, I am not the one making these decisions.

Nero d'Avola: So Tasty, So Trendy

In today's New York Times, wine sage Eric Asimov highlights a Nero d'Avola blend in his article on value wines from Italy.  The trend continues!  I can't wait to try Cerasuolo di Vittoria, in which the frappato grape keeps my current crush company.  

Asimov recommends two producers in particular:  Pithos ($40 - this one gets filed under "Special Occasion") and Valle dell'Acate (a steal at $16).  Click here for more Nero picks from Natalie MacLean and here for a full profile of this Sicilian sipper, along with a few of my own personal faves.  Enjoy!


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Quickie Quote: Bittman Bites Back

This month's Body + Soul Magazine features a mini-interview with Mark Bittman, everyone's favorite Minimalist.  Below is a thought-provoking quote from that piece.  I highly recommend picking up the March issue of Body + Soul to read the rest - along with lots of other good-for-you stuff.  It also inspired me to look into Bittman's latest book, Food Matters...

"The real danger to our bodies and our planet, in terms of poisoning the earth and global warming, is the industrial raising of meat and fish.  Do I think eating a bowl of pasta is a crime against humanity?  No.  Do I think eating half a pound of meat a day is?  Yes." 

- Mark Bittman in Body + Soul Magazine, March 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Valentine Treat from Aneita Fern

Aneita Fern is offering a limited edition pack of sinfully sweet recipe cards just in time for Valentine's Day!

Head up to Dallas' oasis of Arts and Crafs tranquility this week to pick up a few of these adorable cards for yourself - they're sure to come in handy.  Thanks to Cupid, we're all in the mood for something sweet right about now, and chalky candy hearts just aren't gonna cut it!

In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit that I'm partial to the winning recipe for James Beard brownies, submitted by none other than my own sweet Mom.  I guarantee it's one of the best brownie recipes you'll ever bake.  

Happy Valentine's Day - Here's hoping it's an extra sweet one!


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Top Chef: New York, Episode 10

Due to a busy week at home and at work last week, I was a bad, bad blogger and missed my usual Top Chef post. That means that this week you'll get two Top Chef posts from me. Hope you're hungry!

Episode 10: Super Bowl Chef Showdown

Shockingly, this episode was kicked off with a QuickFire that was product placement-tastic. The Chefs were asked to create a dish with either nuts and grains (Carla), poultry (Jeff), meat (Hosea), fruits (Leah), seafood (Jamie), dairy (Stefan) or veggies (Fabio). The catch was that they had to use oats - Quaker Oats! - in the dish as well. Yawn. I'm not going to get into too much detail, as this QuickFire was pretty lame and I have a lot to cover in this post. Basically, pretty much every chef used the oats in the same way, as a crust of some sort for their dish. Some turned out better than others, and Stefan was declared the winner with his banana mousse with oat sugar crisp (yum).

The Elimination Challenge on this episode was much more interesting. The Chefs were each given a city that corresponded with an NFL franchise and told that they would have to create a dish that could be cooked in twenty minutes (yikes!) from a mystery basket full of ingredients associated with each city. Sound confusing? I'm not even done yet. The chefs then had to battle with a Top Chef All Star from a past season to see who could come up with the best dish. The match-ups were as follows:
  • Dallas Cowboys: Stefan and Andrea, Season 1 (Stefan got to choose his city and competitor because he won the QuickFire)
  • New Orleans: Carla vs. Andrew, Season 4 (speaker of my favorite Top Chef line of all time - "I've got a culinary boner right now.")
  • Miami Dolphins: Jeff vs. Josie, Season 2 (and owner of one of the most famous faux-hawks in Top Chef history)
  • Seattle: Hosea vs. Miguel, Season 1
  • Green Bay: Fabio vs. Spike, Season 4 (I was never impressed with Spike, and always found him decidedly creepy)
  • New York: Leah vs. Nikki, Season 4
  • San Francisco: Jamie vs. Camille, Season 3

We could certainly have a lively debate about whether or not these are truly "All Stars", but that is really neither here nor there. Stefan clearly didn't respect Andrea when he picked her, which made it even greater when she beat his Euro-ass in the challenge. What about salad said "Dallas" to Stefan? Not sure, but he was pretty clearly not taking the whole thing very seriously and it burned him.

I thought Hosea's dish, a crispy salmon roll with ginger blackberry sauce, sounded and looked really yummy. Carla's gumbo also looked tasty, and I was certainly impressed that she made a freakin' gumbo in 20 minutes.

In the biggest surprise of the week, Carla won the challenge. I thought for sure she was done for this week (and still think she is the weakest chef on the show), but I guess her gumbo was really as good as it looked.

On the not-so-good side, Fabio lost his challenge with his venison, which was apparently quite overcooked. I believe it was Tom who said something to the effect of, "It was already dead, you didn't have to kill it." Jeff's ceviche-off with Josie was also unsuccessful, and he whined like a big baby when he lost because, "ceviche isn't supposed to be hot." Well, pretty sure it's not supposed to be cooked either, buddy, but that didn't stop you.

The bottom three were Stefan, Fabio and Jeff, the three chefs who lost their match-ups. I was terrified that Fabio would be sent home (oh, how I love him), but instead it was pretty-boy Jeff. I can't say I will miss him, but I will miss giggling every time his title as "Executive Chef at Dilido Beach Club" comes up on the bottom of the screen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

NBC DFW's Around Town

Did you know there's a new source for dining news you can use here in Dallas/Fort Worth? 

Check out NBC DFW's Around Town site for info on openings, closings, special events and more.  Recent features include a face-off between two North Texas barbeque favorites, a tip on where to find top-notch Tex-Mex treats and a budget-friendly cooking lesson from a pair of local chefs.  Yum.  

New articles and videos are posted every day, and Around Town can also be seen throughout the week on the NBC 5 news (Hi, Annie!) - so be sure and set the TiVo.  What a delicious addition to the Dallas dining scene!


Thursday, February 5, 2009

I See Hummus in Your Future...

This week's Appetite for Instruction features a delectable hummus recipe from Cosmic Cafe.  I can personally attest that it is one of the best versions of this classic Mediterranean dish that you'll ever dip a pita in - thanks to not one but two secret ingredients.

Cosmic Cafe is an Oak Lawn institution, decorated in colorful murals and exotic statues (the fellow above watches over the parking lot).  Owner Praveen Sachdev reports that his hummus is one of the restaurant's most popular plates, and he took his sweet time coming up with the perfect palate-pleasing formula.  A full menu of vegetarian delights is also available, including samosas, quesadillas, tacos and more.  

The shaded patio at Cosmic Cafe is one of my favorite spots for rest and relaxation, and now you can enjoy a taste of that nirvana in the comfort of your own home.  Enjoy!

Quick Poll: Destination Dining

While flipping through the latest issue of Rachael Ray Magazine (uh-huh, I read it - but I've already confessed), I came upon a very interesting stat.  In a recent survey of some 13,000 of their readers, 40% reported that their vacations "revolve around food".  Wow.

Being the hungry little thing that I am, it should come as no surprise that any time I leave home - for a week or for the day - I've spent a considerable amount of time mapping out where I might find some local, adventurous or just downright delicious bites to eat.  But up until now, I thought this peculiar quirk was relatively rare, shared only by the most obsessive of my fellow foodie friends.  Guess not.    

I will hereby no longer feel even a little embarrassed when asking to divert several miles off the tourist trail to sample a regional delight (Natchitoches Meat Pie, anyone?).  And I won't even blink when suggesting a hotel based solely on the chocolates that it places on your pillow.  So there.  From here on out, I'm a proud 40-percenter!

Now, what about you?  Do you fall into this category of galavanting gourmets?  When did you last take a vacation, and did it "revolve around food"?  If so, how?  


Monday, February 2, 2009

More Fun With Bacon!

While we're on the subject of bacon (along with everyone else it seems), a friend emailed me with a delicious blast-from-the-past yesterday and it seemed like the perfect time to share it with all of you...

The following is a recipe we've enjoyed at this friend's house over the years - in fact, these lip-smacking sticks are probably why we were always among the first to arrive at her gatherings!  They're the kind of cocktail nibble that disappears fast and will keep people talking long after the party is over.  And they're just about as easy as can be.  So break out the bacon (again) people, 'cause you're gonna want to make these little beauties tonight!

Karen's Bitchin' Bacon Breadsticks*

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2.  Wrap thinly sliced bacon around grissini (those long, skinny, crunchy Italian breadsticks).

3.  Combine 1/3 cup dark brown sugar and 3 tablespoons chili powder in a long, shallow dish.  Roll bacon-wrapped breadsticks in this sugar mixture.

4.  Place breadsticks on a broiler pan 1/2 inch apart and bake for about 20 minutes.  (Karen's note:  "Careful - I noticed they tend to jump around in the oven as they cook!")

Enjoy (and make extra)!

*This is not the recipe's original name.  I think Karen once told me that it came from the Sweet Potato Queens, but don't quote me on that.  - C&S