Thursday, May 28, 2009

Pepper Watch '09

Alternate title:  Slow Food Movement

Or... Alternate title:  Watching Grass Grow

What?  You can't see 'em?  Here - come a little closer:

My pal Eddie G. surprised me not too long ago with a pouch of Pimientos Padron seeds that he picked up on his last trip to Spain (don't tell customs).  They're a species of pepper that my Google device tells me are small and green and quite delicious - if unpredictable in the heat department.  Eager little local farmer that I am, I planted them almost right away.  And then checked back every 2-4 hours from there on out to stay on top of their progress.  I'm not kidding.

I come from a long line of farmers, and I married a boy who grew up on a farm.  That is not say, however, that I inherited or absorbed the patience and perseverance necessary to guide a sweet little seed from sowing to reaping with the stoic assurance that my ancestors must have possessed (I imagine them looking out over vast fields of rich, black soil, warmed to their cockles with the promise of a hearty harvest in just a few months' time.  But they also watched their TV on the radio.).  I am a kid of the 80's and 90's; Super Mario Brothers taught me to expect a prize every 36 seconds or so.  I want my red mushrooms - er, peppers - right now!

...But I'll be patient and just let them grow.  And in the meantime I'll take pictures every day like the proud little pepper parent I am!


Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Quotable Quote

“The family meal is a social event, not a food ingestion event.”

- Dr. Cindy Post Senning, great-granddaughter of Emily Post, as quoted in a New York Times article on the subject of texting at the table.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Zymology: Lower Greenville's Latest Loss

“Welcome to the changing face of Lower Greenville.”

For most Dallasites these days, the phrase ‘Lower Greenville Avenue’ conjures mixed memories.  My own mind flashes to long afternoons on the patio at Grinder’s, longer nights at the Arcadia and a recent drive to take a last longing look at the space formerly known as my favorite Whole Foods.  It wasn’t a pleasant trip.  For some reason, I had misplaced my rose-colored glasses that day and could see just how those few blocks had changed for the worse in recent years.  Empty storefronts and cracked, littered sidewalks made for a bleak comparison with the West Village, for instance, which I’d visited earlier that day.   And still, something told me it wasn’t time to let go.  Not yet.  I still want to believe that the old spark might come back to what was once one of our favorite local playgrounds.

Zymology was supposed to be part of that comeback.  The stylish “gastro pub” opened early this year at 2010 Greenville (between Prospect and Oram) and earned immediate and positive attention from patrons and the press alike.  On April 23rd Dave Faries of the Dallas Observer gave it a near-glowing review.  “There’s no denying the kitchen’s talent here…” he observed, noting co-owner and chef Sam Dickey’s knowing touch with the menu.  There were a few misses on Dave’s visit, but he took away a clear impression of “brilliance” in several dishes, a sure sign that Zymology was on to something good.  Less than a month later, however, it was closed.  Where did the promising restaurant go wrong?

Zymology’s closing was announced via Facebook last week by Ben Verdooren, the other half of its ownership team.  Surprised and confused by the abrupt announcement, I contacted Verdooren himself in an effort to get to the bottom of the situation.  He was friendly and candid over the phone, and seemed saddened, more than anything, about the negative turn of events.  “How do I feel that I closed? I don’t like it,” he explained, just moments into our conversation.   “I only had three months…I was never really given a chance.”

Zymology was Verdooren’s first restaurant.  The 31-year-old South Texan moved to Dallas three years ago, after working in various capacities at a resort in Key West.  Co-owner, Sam Dickey, however, had opened four restaurants in Austin and is well-known in the hospitality business there.  The two partners planned to open a neighborhood spot focusing on great beer and wine along with a sophisticated menu - Zymology refers to “the science of fermentation”.  This idea piggybacked on a hot international trend (Google “gastro pub” and see what you get) that seemed tailor-made for Dallas’ hip Henderson Avenue.  Thus, when it came time to scout locations, Verdooren contacted a developer that played a big part in the recent revitalization of that particular area.  Smart move.

As it happened, though, that company had decided to refocus its attention on another down-and-out Dallas destination.  When Verdooren was ready to go shopping, its representatives guided the new restaurateur to a vacancy on lower Greenville Avenue instead.  That the effort rebuild the area was still in its infancy didn’t seem to affect the company’s confidence.  “They said, ‘Hey, we’ve got guys lined up for all these empty spots, except for the one you’re looking at now’,” Verdooren recalls.   “ ‘We want to re-do Greenville like we re-did Henderson.’ ”  After giving it some thought, Verdooren took a leap of faith and signed a lease in late summer of 2008.

And we all remember what came shortly thereafter.  When the economy took its much-publicized downturn last fall, all the company’s other tenants in the planned first wave of the Greenville rebirth backed out.  With a couple of notable exceptions, Zymology was on its own in a sea of bars with a decidedly different demographic.  Undeterred and still enthusiastic, Verdooren planned to drum up additional business through marketing.  He proceeded with renovations on the space and Zymology opened on February 2nd of this year.

Ben Verdooren (far right) and a smiling crew at Zymology.

Almost immediately, the restaurant caught the attention of the local media.  With pride, Verdooren boasts, “When you type in ‘Zymology Dallas’ online, you see nothing but positive reviews…the Observer, Quick, Dallas Morning News, GuideLive…go to, go to Chowhound, go to Beer Advocate.  We had a lot of exposure early, and we had the ball rolling.”  Zymology’s sophisticated yet comfortable atmosphere, wide array of beers and wine and above-average entrées seemed like a winning combination.    A camera crew even set up camp one night to film a segment for a local television station.

In addition to the free press, Verdooren also worked hard on his own to “try to convince [people] that it’s worth coming down to the lowest part of Greenville.”  He had a hard time, however, getting past the area’s stereotype as a magnet for binge-drinking party kids.  No matter how much care was put into each plate of Zymology’s grilled sirloin with pistachio Stilton butter, it was a struggle for Verdooren to get nice folks to venture down to what had become, in recent years, a distant fourth (or fifth or sixth) on the list of places Dallas goes when it wants to go out to eat.  No amount of media exposure or marketing seemed to be enough.

Ultimately, this struggle turned out to be a greater hurtle than the restaurant could clear.  Verdooren closed Zymology last week, after a short three and a half month run, citing “lack of money” and “lack of business due to the area” as the two primary causes of its demise.  His voice during our telephone conversation was heavy with hindsight and exhaustion.  Anger, however, didn’t come into play.  He doesn’t blame the development company for overselling him on Greenville Avenue.  He also doesn’t harbor any ill will toward the many potential customers who just wouldn’t drive outside their new comfort zones to visit his restaurant.  For the most part, Verdooren seems to wonder where he went wrong.  He eludes to many “what ifs”, including the possibility that things could have been different if he’d chosen a space that didn’t require such extensive renovation, or if the economy hadn’t petered out right when he decided to take the plunge.   “I don’t blame anybody,” he concluded.  “It’s really difficult right now.”

So there you have it: no explosive face-offs, no underhanded back stabbing, no shady deals gone bad.  Just a couple of guys that made an effort and are already planning their next move.  Verdooren says he’s flattered by the many folks who have inquired about his well-being and asked where they might find him next.  He’s looking into his options, and is optimistic about the future.  

My husband observed that this tale perfectly illustrates a philosophy from the world of professional boxing.  Simply stated, you never know what a fighter’s really made of until he takes his first big fall.  Something tells me Ben Verdooren isn’t down for the count.  As for lower Greenville Avenue, however, only time will tell if the glory days are gone for good.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Comment Card

Hey, Patio People!  

Where's your favorite place to chill al fresco here in Big D?

p.s. And we're giving bonus points if you also add what to drink when you're there!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Catty Corner: Rachael Ray's Mess-ipes

Note:  I have confessed numerous times on this blog to loving Rachael Ray Magazine.  I'm not proud of it.  And I'll add that this post should in no way lead you to believe that I will cease to indulge in my favorite monthly (junk) food mag just because the latest issue grossed me out.   However, those of you (and you know who you are) who have given me flack for my RR Mag habit may have had a point...

The June/July double issue of Rachael Ray Magazine started out sunny, as usual, with a spread of summer shopping essentials and the monthly kitchen disaster round table, but when the recipes started in, things took a turn for the worse.  Much, much worse.  

What with her multiple television shows, books and the magazine, RR often reaches far outside the box when it comes to recipe development.  And I find that entertaining.  I mean, when you've gotta write dozens of original recipes each month, creativity is key.  I am usually quite amused by Ray's unusual "stoups" and "sammies" and what-have-you; I read them for entertainment value and I've even made a few of her dishes over the years.  This time around, however, she lost me.  Upon reading many of the concoctions in this month's mag, instead of letting out my usual chuckle and sighing with amusement, I instead gasped in horror and threw up a little in my mouth.  

But rather than drone on about their comparatively disgusting qualities, I'll list of a few of this month's most appalling Rachael Ray Mess-ipes (as I'll now be calling them) and you can "ew" for yourself:

Tuna Salad Lasagna Stack:  This recipe combined an unholy trinity of tuna salad, boiled lasagna noodles and red pepper puree.  It didn't even get a stint in the oven before serving, so the whole mess is room temp to boot.  Ew.  I think Aunt Mavis' three bean and tuna casserole just lost its place of honor in the Gallery of Regrettable Foods.

Tropical Tuna Salad Supper:  Tuna terror strikes again - but what this disaster needed was an editor.  Eliminate the orange marmalade, frozen edamame, plantain chips (???) and a few other things from this salad recipe and maybe you could actually taste the top-dollar ahi somewhere in the mix. 

Sugar Snap Peas-and-Salami Stir-Fry:  The name says it all, people.  Serve atop steamed rice and you'll never have to put up with dinner guests again.

Runners Up:  

Rachael isn't to blame for these two stomach-turners, but they were in the mag, so they're fair game.

Dishwasher fish:  Why are people so fascinated by this mess?  Seriously - tell me if you know.  This month, RR mag rehashes the old gimmick and even points out that you can steam your foil-wrapped fish while you wash dishes (soap and all).  I don't care if not one microscopic droplet of caked-on food or Jet Dry seeps into that packet; it's still gross.  Would you poach fish the same way in a sinkful of soaking pots and pans?  Didn't think so.  Go boil a pan of water and poach your fish in there.

Michelob Ultra Tuscan Orange Grapefruit Light Beer with Natural Flavor:  Don't shoot the messenger.  Direct your complaints to Anheuser-Busch Inc., St. Louis, MO.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Pinkies Up!: Tea Time at the Arboretum

Sunday was perfection.  What a day for an outing!

The sun was shining - sparkling even - and a cool breeze had blown all the heat and humidity to Houston (I think).  My sweet Momcat had arranged for tea at the Dallas Arboretum in honor of our friend B.J.'s birthday, and the three of us headed over to those gorgeous gardens on the shores of White Rock lake around noontime with visions of marigolds and ivy and tiny crustless sandwiches dancing in our heads.

After taking a leisurely hour to wander through the Arboretum under the cloudless sky, we made our way to the DeGolyer Garden Café for afternoon tea.  With sunshine streaming through picture windows and the soft sounds of a piano player in the distance, we then nibbled traditional tea-time treats while sipping from delicate china cups and catching up on all the gossip.  How civilized!

We began with the café’s Signature Zucchini Dill Soup.  Light and fragrant and ever-so-slightly creamy, it tasted just like spring.

Next we enjoyed a tiered tower of tiny sandwiches, including turkey with herb butter on rosemary bread, chicken salad on wee little croissants and creamed cucumber wedges, which were the hit of the afternoon.  I’d never tasted a cucumber sandwich before – had only heard of them on those PBS specials with folks who wear ascots – but I was surprised by their delicate and refreshing flavor.  They were an ideal match for warm sips of Apricot Orange, Strawberry Vanilla and Peach Ginger tea.

Finally, another picture-perfect tray appeared bearing mini-cheesecakes, amaretto brownies, chocolate-covered strawberries and light, buttery scones.  Slathered with strawberry jam and clotted cream, those warm scones were just the right touch at the end of such a delightful meal. (See that hand lurking in the background?  Even prim and proper ladies get impatient while waiting for fussy bloggers to figure out their cameras...)

While we did spot a few gentlemen enjoying tea in the dining room, I’d say this is a treat best enjoyed with your girlfriends – and enjoy it you will.  We left relaxed and chit-chatty, and took a spin through the gift shop before heading back home.  To top off the perfect day, Momcat and the birthday girl (see below) both found adorable souvenirs, and I bought myself the worlds’ greatest hat (think Hunter S. Thompson meets Tommy Bahama).  

To arrange an Afternoon Tea with your ladies-who-lunch 

Friday, May 15, 2009

Local Schmocal

"This mission creep has the original locavores 
choking on their yerba mate."

This sentence pretty much sums up the controversy brewing over the subject of Kim Severson's article "When 'Local' Makes It Big" from Wednesday's New York Times.  She explores the "broad interpretation" of the meaning of "local food" embraced by large corporations (such as Frito-Lay) in an effort to capitalize on this growing consumer trend.  It's an interesting and educational look at how, as Michael Pollan puts it, corporations "can turn any critique into a new way to sell food."


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Vapiano: Dinner and a Show

I had the pleasure of visiting Vapiano, Mockingbird Station's new "fresh-casual" restaurant, last weekend for lunch and a chat with owner Tim McCallum.  In addition to serving up delicious, made-from-scratch Italian pastas, pizzas and salads, McCallum is also committed to making this first Texas outpost of the European chain reflect its unique location.  Here are  just a few of the local touches I loved:

- Texas wine.  Vapiano offers an eclectic array of wines by the glass and bottle.  I was pleasantly surprised to note Grape Creek Vineyards' Bellissimo is on the list.

The restaurant's indoor herb garden

- Local "greens".  Over 1,000 herb plants are growing at restaurant, many surrounding two olive trees transplanted from Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley.

- Resident artists.  Works by local artists decorate the walls in Vapiano's chic red cocktail lounge and a giant blackboard hangs in the dining room, painted with colorful scenes by SMU art students.

A chef at Vapiano, putting on the "show"

This attention to detail is also reflected in the food - and that's the most important part, right?  All of Vapiano's pastas and sauces are made fresh in-house, and the aforementioned herbs are harvested for use in the restaurant's signature dressings.

And speaking of pasta, one of the most interesting aspects of a trip to Vapiano is watching the chefs prepare your meal right before your eyes.  “Part of Vapiano is the show," McCallum explained to me, with a smile. Utilizing futuristic magnetic induction cooktops, their chefs can whip up a simmering sauce in the blink of an eye.  Add some fusilli and call it a meal!  Limitless choices for customization (make it spicy, try a new pasta, add some chicken or steak, etc.) also make the process interactive.

...Oh, and did I mention that no dish is over $10.95?  In fact, many ring in at around $8.  Nice.  Check out for more info and menus.  


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Comment Card

Is there anything that you absolutely, positively, under no circumstances 
would ever, ever eat?  

Be honest - we're all friends here...

Monday, May 11, 2009

On the Town with Ted Allen

How do you make a girl like me very, very happy?  
Send her out for a night on the town 
with one of her favorite food personalities!

Me, Ted Allen and Eddie G. outside Mercy in Addison

I was pleased as punch to attend a private dinner with Ted Allen of Chopped and Food Detectives fame last Friday night.  (You may also remember him as one of the Fab Five on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.)  Ted was touring through town with the folks from Robert Mondavi wines, and he joined me, Eddie G. and several other local food-lovers at Mercy Wine Bar before we all headed over for front-row seats at his Taste Addison appearance.

The crowd was comprised of contest winners (myself included) and their guests who had written in with a culinary question for Ted to tackle.  There were also a couple of local media-types in attendance, including Kim Pierce of the Dallas Morning News and Arnold Wayne Jones of the Dallas Voice.  (Eddie G. and I shared a table with Mr. Jones, who kept us in stitches throughout the evening!)

Ted arrived at the restaurant with little fanfare - no entourage for this down-to-earth guy - and proceeded to set everyone at ease with his friendly, outgoing personality.  Clad in a sport jacket, jeans and those trademark specs, he mingled with the crowd, shaking hands and signing cookbooks before we all settled in to a multi-course feast.  Ted, unfortunately, didn't get more than a few bites of the meal (which included, among other treats, tuna tartare with avocado and grilled filet mignon) as he discussed our prize-winning questions while we ate.

My question centered around my new pal Eddie G. of Dallas Vegan and our mutual love of wine.  Choosing a perfect bottle is rarely a problem for yours truly, but I wondered if Ted had any suggestions for vegan food pairings we could enjoy alongside.  While he admitted that veganism was a relatively unfamiliar concept to him, Ted seemed genuinely interested in learning more about the animal-free way of life, and even encouraged Eddie to "vegan-ize" a few recipes from his new cookbook and share the results.  Cool!

Speaking of wine, our dinner dishes were paired with four wines from the Robert Mondavi Private Selection line, including a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and a luscious Meritage blend that was the favorite at our table.  As Ted pointed out early in the evening, these wines drink much more "expensive" than their actual price tags.  Coming it at around $10-$15 each, they are definitely a great bottle for your buck.  I also enjoyed the Chardonnay, which is light on the oak and pairs well with food.

Ted Allen cooking for the crowd at Taste Addison

After dinner, we all headed over to Taste Addison (in a private luxury bus!) to watch Ted's live demo.  He cooked Shrimp Scampi over Zucchini Carpaccio for the crowd and took additional questions relating to food, wine and his days as a judge on Top Chef (he left the show when he got his own gig on the Food Network).  Afterward, Eddie and I headed back to Mercy for a little debriefing session and reflected on the evening.  We both agreed that Ted is a great guy - knowledgeable, approachable and engaging.  The whole night was a treat, made all the better because I could enjoy it with a dear friend.  Big thanks to Ted Allen and Robert Mondavi and Eddie G., my favorite vegan!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Reader Recipe File: Taco Soup and Southern Cornbread

Today's featured cook (on the right) last year in Vegas 
celebrating his 50th birthday.  ...I still have my commemorative shirt!

Rodd Gray is unlike anyone you'll ever meet - because he's actually several awesome people rolled into one.  As Ms. Patti le Plae Safe, he is an entertainer extraordinaire (and host of Gay Bingo each month in the Rose Room); as Hott Rodd the Hair God he's one of Dallas' finest stylists; and as just plain Rodd (who is anything but plain), he is a loving, caring friend to all who know him.  

What many people might not know about Rodd is that he is quite the cook.  Whether it's a down-home favorite he learned back in Arkansas or a sophisticated new dish he created on his own, pretty much everything that comes out of his kitchen is seconds-and-thirds good.  Today I'm sharing two easy recipes that Rodd always serves together.  This Taco Soup, ladled over a slice of Southern Cornbread and generously sprinkled with cheddar cheese, is a plate of pure heaven.  And it makes enough for plenty of extra helpings.  Enjoy!

Taco Soup

3 1/2 pounds ground chuck
1 pound bulk sausage (your favorite)

1 can each:
navy beans
black beans
garbanzo beans
yellow corn
white corn
green beans
sliced black olives

2 envelopes taco seasoning
2 envelopes ranch dressing

Brown beef and sausage in a soup pot and add all other ingredients (do not drain cans).  Simmer for one hour or longer.

Southern Cornbread

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 tsp. salt
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups milk
3 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil

Combine all dry ingredients.  Combine eggs and milk in a separate bowl and add to dry ingredients, stirring just until incorporated.  Heat oil to boiling in the microwave and add to the batter.  Pour batter into a baking pan (Rodd doesn't specify size - C&S) and bake at 450-degrees until golden brown.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wrap-N-Mat: What a great idea!

I was browsing through the Green Living store in Lakewood yesterday when I happened upon a totally cool invention:  Wrap-N-Mats!  

Has anyone heard of these before?  They're new to me, and I haven't seen such a simple and purposeful idea in quite a while.  Washable, reusable and available in a wide array of prints, these sandwich wrap-slash-placemats are both convenient and environmentally friendly.  Unlike regular sandwich bags (which are intended to be used one time only), the Wrap-N-Mat is designed to lay flat for easy cleaning, and doesn't have any nooks and crannies in which bacteria like to grow.  How smart!

At $10, they an affordable way to make a difference every day - and they'd also make a great gift for any office lunch-ers and/or earth-lovers on your list.  I picked up one with cute little doggies on it, but you could go for any one of dozens of colors or prints yourself.  I also have a feeling they'd work out really well to transport, say, a couple of cookies and a brownie for snacking even if you didn't have to pack your lunch that day.


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Comment Card: By Request

Yesterday my Mom left a comment asking if anyone had any good summer soup recipes to share.  Great question!  Soup ain't just for winter - in fact, gazpacho was made for this time of year.  Cucumber, melon and strawberries also star in some popular summer soup recipes.  So, do any of you have a good one to share? 

And p.s. to J.R.:  I'll bet your new veggie garden will have us in gazpacho in no time.  But I'd also guess your recipe calls for a quart of heavy cream and three sticks of butter :)

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Dean's Puttin' on the Ritz for Mom

Nobody loves you like Mom.  She changed your Pampers and fawned over your first word - even if nobody else could understand it.  She taught you all about life and love and braising a perfect pot roast.  Now it's her turn.  

Mother's Day is coming up this Sunday, and I hope you've got something really special planned for your Mom. ...But if you're still stumped, here's a sneak peak at the Mother's Day menu from Fearing's at the Ritz-Carlton.  Wouldn't a little Smoked Pecan-Crusted Alaskan Halibut show her you really care?  And as an added bonus, check out my pal Annie Potasznik's interview with Chef Dean himself in the video link below.  

Happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there - especially my own Mom, Deanna, and FoodiePrincess who will be celebrating her first Mother's Day this year! 

Friday, May 1, 2009

DallasEats Hearts Eating in Dallas

In case you missed it, click here to check out yesterday's Appetite for Instruction featuring Margie from Eating in Dallas.  

Big hugs to Margie for sharing her delicious recipe for Brie with Red Grape Salsa and Toasted Walnuts.  Also big thanks to Hubbard for allowing me to crash his Sunday with a camera and clipboard.  Finally, belly rubs to Maxine and Roger Staubach for being on their best behavior!