Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Turkey 4 ways

This was the first year of having Christmas at my new house, last year being out of the question because I had just moved in and the place was a disaster area (not that I am completely unpacked now, more than a year later, but that's another post). As I was hosting, I decided that gave me complete control over the menu, which meant roasting a turkey. To know why that's a big deal, you have to know that my father can't stand turkey and my mother claims to be allergic to the smell of it cooking, but this is my house, my rules. In retrospect, as my house still smells like Christmas dinner, my mother may be right, and as I overcooked the turkey grossly, my father maybe right, but that doesn't change the fact that I love turkey and finally got the opportunity to roast one.

My dad still doesn't quite understand my need to photograph everything I cook or eat for potential blog posts, so this picture was taken after he had carved the wing off, and no he wouldn't let me try to reattach it with toothpicks. It was 9:00PM, so maybe he had a point. I will be the first to admit that it was dry, like the Sahara, despite the stick of butter I stuffed under the skin, with my own sage that I picked from beneath the snow. However, with enough gravy and cranberry sauce you can choke most anything down.

Then comes the next ordeal, what do you do with the leftovers from a 14 pound turkey, when there are only 4 people at dinner and it is drier than dust? The good news is I was able to stash it outside for a day or two to deliberate due to the subarctic temperatures. I came up with turkey pot pie two ways and turkey soup. One pot pie was topped with leftover stuffing, made with fennel, roasted lemons, and pine nuts - one of the best stuffings I have ever eaten (recipe courtesy of Epicurious).

The other was topped by DuFour puff pastry from Whole Foods, which at $11.99 better be amazing, but it does not disappoint. As I had some leftover, I made some Old Bay flavored cheese straws, so tasty to snack on while you wait for your pot pie to cool enough to eat. I made the mistake of cutting vent holes into the top of the pastry, allowing the sauce to come through and weigh down the top, inhibiting puffing, but that didn't keep it from tasting delicious. The sauce was inspired by one in the DK Chicken cookbook written by Anne Willan, so you can imagine how good it was, and it successfully transformed the turkey into something palatable, so double win!

Even after I had stuffed as much meat as possible into the two pot pies, I still had tons leftover, so I decided to stuff the carcass into the crockpot and start a soup. This turned out to be another good way to use up meat, with orzo and carrots and more fennel, although the texture of the dry meat wasn't concealed nearly as well as when it was covered with a sauce full of butter and heavy cream.

Now dear reader, what holiday mishaps did you have in your kitchen and how did you save them from being a complete disaster?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Pink Cupcake Challenge

I am so happy to have finally found a warm, supportive niche in the Atlanta food blogging community, namely the newly created Atlanta Food Bloggers Alliance. This group was formed after we all met at the Food Blog Forum in September, and a few proactive members Mandy Lea Turchin, Self Trained Chef, Becky Smith, What's 4 Dinner Tonite, and Kristina Ackerman, Knuckle Salad, decided that it was silly to just let the experience end after the weekend was over and the AFBA was formed. We have had several fun meetings to date, including a cheese tasting and Sunday's Cupcake Challenge.

Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe were so generous to host us for the Challenge, not only providing us with 8 tasty mini-cupcakes to sample and judge, but also sending us home with goodie boxes full of more cupcakes. They have an adorable, light-filled private event space above the shop, that would be perfect for a baby shower or bridal shower and that was where the event was held. As I walked up the stairs, my mouth started watering just looking at all the cupcakes on display.

We were served eight different flavors, four at a time. The first set consisted of chocolate peanut butter, which won three of the prizes, Best Flavor, Best Presentation, and Best Overall, Strawberry Poptart, Dulce de Leche and Cookies N' Cream, which won for Best Texture. Of that group, my surprise favorite was the Strawberry Poptart, I never liked the original toaster pastry, but these are a surprisingly grown-up and delicious version, I especially love the gooey strawberry jam layer and the housemade sable cookie garnish on top.

Then came the next four, Chocolate Nutella, Pumpkin Maple and Bacon, winner for Most Unique, Sweet Potato Brown Butter and Chocolate Fudge. I loved this group, from the souffle cake texture and ganache filling of the Chocolate Fudge, to the perfection of the applewood smoked bacon paired with maple buttercream on the Pumpkin Maple and Bacon. However, nothing compared to my overall favorite, the Sweet Potato Brown Butter. I could happily eat brown butter in just about anything, scratch that, I can't think of any exceptions to that and this was definitely not an exception. I especially liked the diced sweet potato in the cake that lended flavor and texture, and oh, that heavenly, nutty brown butter icing.

I would strongly recommend using the free cupcake coupon that Chocolate Pink Pastry Cafe was so kind to offer to our readers to try the Sweet Potato Brown Butter cupcake, but I'm sure no matter which one you try, you will not be disappointed.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Afternoon in the Country

Les Dames d'Escoffier Atlanta has an annual fundraiser that I have attended religiously. It has long been my favorite food event of the year, something I look forward to for the 364 days leading up to it. This year, though, was different. It was much more crowded than it has been in years past, to the point where you just stood there yelling "excuse me" to be heard over the din as you tried to squeeze through the throng of people standing around talking. I don't know if they sold more tickets than in years past, or if everyone just all showed up at one time, but it really took away a lot of the enjoyment for me. As a short person, this was basically my view the whole time.

One of the best things about this event is that so many of the best restaurants participate. It can be a useful tool for charting out where your dining dollars should be spent over the next year. This year I didn't have a favorite bite, which is odd, because there are things from last year or longer ago that I still remember and crave. Last year it was Tom Harvey of Murphy's insanely good pork and apple dumplings in this rich pork jus. Then there was the year that Park 75 had the mini pumpkin whoopie pies, that was years ago as they were made by David Jeffries who has moved onto bigger and better things. This year there were tasty things, but nothing that will haunt me for years to come.

One of the first bites I enjoyed was pulled pork on a corncake with sweet pickled green tomatoes from Gloriosa. It was simple, but well executed, and their set-up was my favorite in terms of design.

The next taste that hit all the right notes, was the African squash and pepitas bruschetta that had a bright mustardy vinaigrette to kick your tastebuds into high gear from Floataway Cafe.

Then I discovered the roast pork and collard green strudel, another tasty mouthful from Tom Harvey at Murphy's. It had perfectly flaky phyllo dough wrapped around the pork, collards, and root vegetables drizzled with a spicy mayo based sauce. It was great for an event like this because it was bite-sized and very easy to pop into your mouth.

Along the lines of sometimes the simplest things are the best things, I have to admit that I thought the falafel from Alon's was one of the best I've ever eaten, from the perfect house-made pita to the crunchy pickles, I wish I had had room to eat more of them. Another winner in that category were the beets from Farm Burger, perfect in season beets, a little goat cheese, a little bacon, you really can't go wrong.

The most whimsical item, the deconstructed sweet potato souffle skewers. These things were seriously cute and so clever! Chunks of roasted sweet potato and homemade rosemary flavored marshmallows that were toasted as you watched. If this is the kind of food that Jon Wolf will be bringing to the food at Terrace on Peachtree
in the Ellis Hotel when he takes over in December, I can't wait to see what he will come up with next.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Basic to Brilliant, Y'all

I really ought to know better than to plan to do something at 7:00PM on a week night in Atlanta. This was one of those days where it just grizzles all day long with the odd tornado warning, thus rendering the entire population incapable of driving. Even though I left work 15 minutes early, we were still almost 20 minutes late to class and there were times as I sat staring at the miles of unmoving tail lights that I considered throwing in the towel and going home. I'm so glad I persevered as this was one of the most enjoyable cooking classes I have ever taken.

This was my first class at the Salud at the old Harry's, now Whole Foods, in Alpharetta. It's a really great class atmosphere - I appreciated sitting at a table as I was able to take notes and enjoy my tasty samples without having to balance things on my knees, plus the raised seats in the back and big screens meant that everyone had a great view of the action.

The instructor for this particular class, and the reason we braved the traffic, was Virginia Willis. She is truly one of the nicest, most genuine people you will ever meet and it is truly worth braving any storm to see her. In this class we were especially lucky to be able to try some of the dishes from her next cookbook Basic to Brilliant, Y'all coming out in September '11 and taste some of the products from her new line called My Southern Pantry.

The class was called Entertaining Fall Flavors and featured a great line-up of recipes that I already have plans to recreate at home. The first course was a potato & celeriac soup with fennel that had us all scraping our cups clean. Then we moved onto the main course, a tender grass-fed skirt steak from White Oak Pastures rubbed with French Quarter Spice Rub from My Southern Pantry. I love that spice blend, it has powdered Tabasco peppers, Chickory coffee and all kinds of other flavors that complemented the meat to perfection. The steak was accompanied by a kale and butternut squash gratin that would have had me asking for seconds, except one pan didn't cook completely for some reason. I like that she blanched the kale, then sauteed it with garlic, so it added a great flavor to the gratin. It will definitely be making an appearance at my Thanksgiving table this year and most likely for years to come.

As if all of that weren't enough, we even got dessert, a bittersweet chocolate bread pudding served with homemade caramel sauce and creme fraiche, the perfect ending to a fun evening.

I know that Virginia Willis has several classes coming up at Cook's Warehouse, as well as doing a demo at the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on November 13, so there is no excuse not to go out and learn everything you can from her. Your friends and family will thank you.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Hands on Dumplings

We are so lucky in Atlanta to have so many options of where to shop for our food. While I am a big proponent of supporting my local farmers, there are times when you need kaffir lime leaves or turmeric or some other foreign ingredient, without which your curry or tom yum gai would fall flat. I love the cut-rate prices of Super H and Great Wall, but for more extensive selection, especially with Latin and South American flavors, you can't beat the Buford Highway Farmers Market. If you haven't been recently, this is not the run down place you remember. They have put a lot of money into upgrading the store and making it a much more appealing place to shop. But don't worry, they still sell those little corn things with the custard filling, yum!

Along the lines of expanding their customer base, the market is now offering a range of cooking classes. They are moderately priced, $20, plus they give you a $10 gift card for the market at the end of the class. Recently, my friend Todd and I decided to go to a Chinese Southern Belle class on making dumplings.

We had such a good time! Natalie and her mother, Margaret, gave a good general overview of Chinese cuisine and even whipped up a quick veggie stir-fry to tide us over until it was dumpling time.Then we got to the good part, we learned how to make a variety of dumplings hands. I have to admit, I am not much for rules and love to improvise in the kitchen, so my dumplings were a little out of the box, but despite their unusual form, they held together well during boiling and tasted amazing. One of the best things about the class is that you sit at communal tables and all work together and offer suggestions like how to get the best seal, or what to mix together to make the best dipping sauce. The other best part is getting to eat the product of your labor, I'm fairly sure Todd ate 30 or more, although he claims he kept it under 2 dozen.

I think these classes would make an excellent setting for a fun weeknight date night, or even better for a blind date. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them to anyone and look forward to going back and taking more classes soon. For more info on upcoming classes, you can look here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Patron Secret Dining Society

This summer Patron Tequila developed a new marketing strategy, they would promote their brand by throwing uber exclusive, secret dinner parties all over the US. Naturally, this sounded right up my alley, so when I first heard about it, I hoped like crazy that they would come to Atlanta and on September 23rd, they did. On their website they have clocks counting down the seconds until they reveal their next destination and this time I just had this hunch that it would be Atlanta. The window of opportunity was miniscule, you only had 30 minutes to submit your answer to a riddle based on the previous event in Rhode Island, but I was ready and submitted my answer almost immediately. The next day I get an e-mail saying "Psst... You're In" with a request that I confirm my attendance and name of my guest within 12 hours and very little information other than a date and time, if "evening" can be called a time.

I am on pins and needles awaiting my next contact, which proves to be a cryptic phone call the very next day, instructing me to go to a location and text a secret code to a number at a specific time. It was so funny sitting in this random parking lot with all of these other cars waiting to get a text. We didn't have long to wait. We didn't have long to wait before we were directed to our mystery location, the Goat Farm, a sort of artists colony in west midtown. We are greeted with the first of many Patron cocktails and a fresh shucked oyster. We mingle and enjoy the country-in-the-city ambiance as we sip our cocktails and enjoy the tasty snacks being passed around. My favorite was the bite-sized tuna tartare taco, although the pork belly on polenta was also pretty phenomenal.

As it was getting dark, the Patron people introduced our mixologist, Brandon King of the St Regis and chef, Keira Moritz of Pacci and told us that our journey wasn't quite over yet. We were lead through the darkened complex to the location where our dinner would be served, at one long table, encouraging us to mix, mingle and make new friends. It was a beautifully laid table with candles and floral arrangements in empty Patron bottles.

The best was yet to come! My favorite Patron pairing of the night was the Passionate - Patron Silver infused with pineapple, jalapeno, and pink peppercorn, Patron Citronge, passion fruit puree, sour mix, citrus spice rim and red chili pepper garnish accompanying a gorgeous scallop served with a fava bean, chanterelle, pea shoot salad. That was followed by duck confit with polenta, lamb chops with farro, and a Patron XO Cafe Mousse Strata, an icy treat, the perfect way to end a hot fall evening in Atlanta.

It was impressive that they were able to put together a meal of that caliber in such a rustic setting, it seemed like something that would make a good Next Iron Chef challenge, dinner for 40 with only a couple of folding tables and some tents. They really pulled it off, so maybe Chef Moritz might want to consider trying out for one of those shows. As the evening was winding down, they announced another surprise, a band that they flew in all the way from LA to play for us. I'm pretty sure that we were meant to be dancing, but as it had cooled down to only about mid 80's, there wasn't a lot of interest in that.

We contemplated staying to give our take on the event to the videographer, but I new my face was a shiny mess, so we headed home, grabbing our fabulous swag bag on the way out. If you want to see the video re-cap, you can watch here. You can also enter to win everything you need to recreate the Patron Secret Supper in your own home here. Good luck! (If you win, I will expect to be invited)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Carnitas a la Slow Cooker

This past holiday weekend, I saw a high school friend's blog post on pork shoulder in a slow cooker come up in my facebook feed, which inspired me to try to make my own carnitas. It turned out even better than I could have imagined. When I went to Publix to get the pig, I couldn't decide between the half picnic and the Boston butt, so I bought both, nearly 10 pounds in all.

The whole process couldn't have been any easier, I just rinsed the pork off, then rubbed in a couple of handfuls of Penzeys Fajita Spice and stuck it in my slow cooker on high for what ended up being about 9 hours, turning once near the end. I have to admit to being sceptical of putting it in dry, as I have previously always done braises and things with added broths or wines, but as you can see, the pork made plenty of liquid on its own.

I really took my time pulling the pork, to get out as much fat as possible, but still ended up with pounds of meat that I moistened with some of the juice from the slow cooker, also strained of its fat, although the meat was so succulent and juicy, that wasn't really necessary.

Of course, one of the best parts about doing tacos is the condiments. In this case, I had some Green Zebra tomatoes from my garden, which are super tart and zingy, some nice Extra Sharp Cabot Cheddar, a few perfect slices of avocado, and a lime wedge or two to brighten the whole thing up. I personally adore cilantro and piled it high, but that can be skipped if you don't have that gene. The only thing missing were some of my purple jalapenos, but I forgot to pick some when I was packing everything to take to my parents house where I was cooking dinner. The good thing is, there are plenty of leftover and my next taco or carnitas quesadilla will most certainly have a spicy purple kick.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Say Cheese!

On Monday I was lucky enough to be able to attend one of Murray's Cheese famous Cheese 101 classes. Murray's is an institution, started in 1940, they have been sourcing some of the very best cheeses from both here and abroad and making them available to the public. It has been a lifetime goal of mine to attend their intensive Cheese Boot Camp, which spans a 3 day period and includes tastings of some 80 cheeses as well as tours of their in-house cheese caves, but as that takes place at their shop in New York, I was happy to settle for Cheese 101 taught by the incredibly knowledgeable Liz Thorpe at Sandy Springs Kroger.

If you haven't been to this Kroger lately, you will probably be pleasantly surprised to see all of the changes they have made, including the addition of the Murray's outpost, which will also be featured in 5 other Kroger locations by the end of the year. The new cheese center has hundreds of different cheeses on offer, with different things rotating in and out, as well as a really nice bar
with pickled and cured veggies, salads and dips, everything you need for a last minute party. I actually didn't have that much time to look around before we were lead to our classroom, so I definitely plan to come back and browse and taste when I have more time.

When we got upstairs we found that we were tasting four cheeses, starting from mildest to strongest with accompaniments. We started local with Sweet Grass Dairy's Green Hill, a soft-ripened cows milk cheese similar in style to a camembert paired with an outstanding sour cherry preserve. Next we jumped across the Atlantic to Spain and tasted a fairly young (according to Liz) manchego, which is an aged sheeps milk cheese. You can tell its sheeps milk because of the buttery mouthfeel, as their milkfat content is double that of cows and goats. It was paired with the traditional quince paste.

Then we moved on to the Reypenaer, an aged Dutch gouda, which if you want to be pretentious, you can pronounce correctly as how-dah. It's incredibly nutty with great crunchy crystalline structure that pairs nicely with the sweet and seedy fig preserves. Last, but certainly not least, we sampled a gorgonzola dolce, an incredibly rich, but fairly mild blue. A friend who was also at the tasting, offered me hers, but when I insisted she at least try it first, quickly became a convert. It didn't hurt that it was paired with some of Savannah Bee Company's incredible Tupelo honey. I would have been happy to stay and try 76 more, but unfortunately, there wasn't time for that. Maybe one day I will make it to New York for Boot Camp, but until then this was a great substitute.

Murray's will be having another Cheese 101 at the Alpharetta store at 10945 State Bridge Rd this Monday 8/16 at 5:o0 PM and there are still seats available. If you are interested, you can RSVP

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Go fish!

The Buckhead Life Group has a summer tradition unlike any other restaurant group in town, it's called the Dine Around program, and it is quite possibly the smartest way I have ever seen to fill traditionally empty restaurant seats during the slow summer months. They mail out something like 100,000 $20 gift cards to the different restaurants in the group, valid for only the month stated and the restaurant listed. Then when you use it the first time (this year they allowed multiple uses) you are given another card for the next month at a different spot. My July card was for Kyma, not that I need an excuse to visit one of my favorite restaurants, and my August card is for Chops Lobster Bar.

On my most recent visit, I brought my friend Kristi,, who had never been before. Naturally I had to order as many meze as possible so she could try all of my favorites. Our first bite was a little taste from the chef, Pano Karatossos, a zucchini fritter. Bite sized, fresh-from-the-garden sweet, and not at all greasy, it was served on their htipiti roasted red pepper spread.

It is not possible for me to visit Kyma and not get a few of their spreads. The tzatziki is the best I've ever had, made with such rich Greek yogurt you would swear it was sour cream, full of cucumber and bright lemon. The skordalia is pureed potato, more lemon, and garlic, garlic, garlic. Is is so smooth and creamy I could happily eat it with a spoon, but no need to do that when they give you plenty of wedges of their grilled pita. They garnish their dips with good strong cured olives that I could eat by the dozen.

Next we had the cheese saganaki, they also offer a shrimp version, which is good, but I was craving oozy melted cheese. It's kefalograviera cheese that is pan fried and finished with barbayanni ouzo and more lemon to cut the cheese's natural saltiness. It's not melted like the mozzarella that strings off your pizza, it's a firmer cheese like feta, so it holds up to pan frying, but still has a gorgeous soft-chewy texture. You are better off eating it the second it gets to your table as it sets up again pretty quickly.

Kyma also does a fantastic job with grilled meats, which you can order by the piece. They let the flavor of the wood smoke and the meats shine through, only dressing lightly with oregano, olive oil, or perhaps a spray of lemon. I am a long time fan of their lamb chops, but this time decided to give the pork ribs a try, mostly because I was intrigued by the idea of the coriander yogurt served on the side. I actually would have preferred a bit more coriander, as there is no such thing as too much coriander in my opinion, but the ribs were stellar, tender, crispy, supremely flavorful. They are also served with those golden discs of perfection, the Greek fries. They are shatteringly crisp on the outside and creamy in the middle, one of the best examples of fried potato in the city. A word of warning, eat them fast, they don't hold well.

Quite possibly the best known dish at Kyma is the Grilled Octopus. This is the stuff of legends. There are several incarnations on the menu, including the calamari filet, but go for the grilled octopus. It is served with a pickled red onion salad dressed with red wine vinaigrette, but the cephalopod is the star of the show. The tentacles are grilled and have the most divine meaty texture, slightly chewy-crisp at the edges from the fire. These are not the fried rubber bands you are used to eating.

One of the specials on the night we went was a scallop dish, 5 perfectly cooked incredibly sweet scallops, served over a fava bean and mushroom mixture and bathed with manna from heaven, also known as lobster-yogurt emulsion. It was like the very essence of lobster and lighter than air, but so intensely flavorful, you wanted to lick your plate clean. If this were a slightly less posh restaurant, I'm pretty sure I would have.

For dessert, there are the typical Greek pastries, the bakalavas, and other nut filled, flaky phyllo-based things. However, I adore the loukoumades, fried globs of dough, somewhat similar in texture to a beignet. It's not the dough that's amazing, it's the honey that they are covered with, imported from Greece, it is rich and strong and delicious. It's the honey that makes you understand why Napoleon wanted to be entombed in it, it might even make you want that for yourself. I can never resist biting into them the moment they are delivered, but consider the 3rd degree burns on the roof of my mouth an acceptable consequence.

Kyma also has some of the most flawless service in the city, with perhaps the exception of the hostess desk. I would really prefer not to stand around awkwardly waiting for my dining companion to arrive, nor do I want to take a seat at the bar, when I have no desire to order a beverage. It would be nice to be greeted, then seated at a table where you don't feel so conspicuous as you wait. Plus if you are seated at your table immediately, you will have more time to peruse the menu and enjoy the company of your waiter. If you are lucky enough to get Cory, you need those extra minutes, because not only is he charming and personable with great menu knowledge, but he is also very easy on the eyes. Next time you go, be sure and ask for him, you'll see what I mean.