Now that I know how easy it is to make homemade tortillas, I can’t believe I haven’t made them before. Spurred on by the gift of a tortilla press from my son and daughter-in-law, I recently made quesadillas using homemade corn tortillas. When I first received the press, I made the mistaken assumption that this was a special occasion effort, perhaps needing to roast a pork shoulder to be the centerpiece of the meal. I finally decided that a quiet dinner at home was occasion enough. Remembering fondly the simplicity of griddled corn tortillas with melted Oaxacan that we enjoyed for breakfast every morning the last time we were in Mexico, I decided to try to recreate that treat.
I used the recipe on the back of the masa bag–it took all of 2 minutes to make the dough and roll it out into little balls. One quick press and the tortilla was ready to be cooked on an oil-free skillet. Flour tortillas can be made in the same manner.
It was SO simple….and delicious. Next time I would probably make a more complicated filling, but since I was a virgin tortilla maker, this was the way to start. We were able to taste the freshness of the corn tortillas, and it’s hard to beat a flavorful, chewy cheese. Of course I served it with salsa, but no other adornment was needed.
I’m all over this now. Homemade tortillas grace the menus of restaurants all over the country, but this is something you can do just as well in your own kitchen. Fajitas and tacos, even pork chile verde, would all be elevated by a little DIY action.
The Char Bar is the latest in the barbecue restaurant sweepstakes, coming on the heels of the Q 39 opening last April. The Char Bar is taking it up a notch, with a sports bar/laid-back ambiance, complete with leather chairs, and even some healthy options. My husband thought I was off my rocker when I suggested getting the Roots and Fruits, but even he admitted it was a winner. A generous portion of Brussel sprouts, roasted beets, parsnips, goat cheese, oranges and blackberry vinaigrette, it would be a great entrée, though we treated it as an appetizer.
Walking into the converted Beaumont Club space in Westport is a pleasant surprise. The restaurant has two dining rooms with a bar in the middle, and a planned outdoor beer garden that promises to be the biggest in the Midwest. The beer list is extensive and there is even a nice wine list for those who want to go that route. Add in the Southern cocktails and bourbons and you quickly catch onto the notion that this is not a traditional KC barbecue joint.
Though billed as “Smoked Meats”, make no mistake: this is barbecue. But that’s a good thing. I think the burnt ends are second to none in the city, the brisket was tender and the ribs succulent. Sauce master Mitch Benjamin’s Meat Mitch sauce is featured, though I prefer his spicier version, which is also on the table. I loved that there’s complimentary homemade jalapeno sauce as well.
And oh the French fries. Sweet or regular, these fries rank up there with my favorites in the city.
There are plenty of options for those not seeking barbecue…lobster and grits, fried chicken and waffles, fried green tomatoes, duck gumbo, and a myriad of salads. Even burgers, sandwiches and grilled fish.
Char Bar is a perfect spot for a quick bite, watching a basketball game on TV, or a relaxed dinner with friends. It’s not in a gas station, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth checking out!
Back by popular demand, a post from last year’s holiday season.
Every year a debate rages on as to whether to stuff the Thanksgiving bird or not. There’s really no good reason to do it (except that it looks cool) and many reasons not to, the most important of which is that it’s not necessarily a safe practice. If the stuffing itself is not cooked to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, bacteria can grow. Stuffing cooked in the turkey will be moist from turkey juices, but that can also translate into it being soggy. If you cook the dressing separately and leave the lid off while baking (at least part of the time), the top will crisp up, making it a more appealing dish. And to counter concerns about it drying out if it’s not cooked in the turkey, pour some white wine over the dressing before you bake it. I have done that for years and it works beautifully without imparting a strong flavor.
Many home cooks now have a convection oven in their kitchens, but don’t know what to do with them. The purpose of using the convection setting? It should produce a more moist bird in considerably less time. My mother always had to get up at the crack of dawn to prepare the turkey and get it in the oven for a mid-day feast. The newer convection ovens reduce cooking time by more than a third. Depending on weight, traditional ovens cook a turkey in 12-15 minutes a pound; in convection mode, it’s closer to 9 minutes a pound at 325 degrees (if it’s stuffed, that time will increase to approximately 11 minutes). You may not get it just right the first time around, that’s why it’s always advisable to have a good meat thermometer on hand. The instruction manual will undoubtedly advise cooking at a 25 degree lower temperature when using the convection setting than in a conventional oven.
Most recipes advise taking the turkey out when the thermometer reaches 165 degrees, once it sits for 20 minutes it will rise to 180. And depending on the model, there are often different settings–convection, convection bake, and convection roast. If you have a roast setting, use that for your turkey, if not, the simple convection setting will work just fine. Finally, another bonus of using a convection oven is that because the air circulates all around the turkey, the heat is more evenly distributed and basting is not as essential. Once you stick the bird in the oven, you shouldn’t need to baste it every 30 minutes as in the “old days”–just peek at the turkey once in a while and baste if it looks like it’s drying out. I use white wine and orange juice, it’s healthier and just as effective as oil or butter.
This Thanksgiving, why not up the celebration factor? How often do you get a chance to use your grandmother’s china (or your own, for that matter)? What about hauling out those wedding presents that have long since tarnished? And what better time to do so than when your family is gathered around the table, the best reason to give thanks during this holiday.
Don’t get me wrong, Austin is a cool city. Pockets of eclectic neighborhoods, tons of live music, a pretty lake with an awesome trail surrounding it and a booming downtown. But for me, it’s all about the food.
I was recently there for 4 nights and didn’t come close to trying all of the restaurants on my list. I did make a dent though, and every meal was awesome.
Torchy’s Tacos–there are a number of locations around the state, but this Mexican food truck doesn’t resemble a chain in any way. Homemade corn tortillas envelop a myriad of fillings, the queso fundido is topped with guacamole and salsa, and the street corn gets lost under a mound of ancho chile aioli, cilantro and crema.
Veracruz All Natural. This little food truck is as out-of-the-way as it gets. We rode our bikes there and waited in line, first to order and then while they made each taco to suit. It’s known for the migas taco, with tortilla strips, scrambled eggs and cheese, and it was worth the ride. The chicken mole and al pastor tacos were every bit as worthy.
Thai Kun. Recently named #8 best new restaurant in the country by Bon Appetit as a food truck, this Thai gold mine is one of several food truck/shacks owned by master restaurateur Paul Qui. The black noodles, fried and raw cabbage salad, peanut curry on baguette with cucumber salad, and tiger cry pork with rice were all fabulous.
La Barbecue. A worthy competitor of Franklin’s Barbecue. We stood in line for 90 minutes despite arriving 15 minutes before it opened, but that’s nothing compared to the up to 6 hours some have endured for a taste of Franklin’s brisket. It’s hard for me to believe it’s any better than this was. The brisket was thick and juicy (the sauce was bland but fortunately not needed since the meat had so much flavor) and the more than one pound beef rib stole the show. Unlike Kansas City barbecue, the sides are clearly an afterthought here. We tried the chipotle slaw and pinto beans, both of which were a zero.
Odd Duck. Bryce Gilmore has created a very cool vibe at this small plates restaurant south of town. Soft pretzels stuffed with ham and gouda and served in a jar filled with mustard bechamel, spiced butternut squash with goat feta, chimichurri, olives and wild rice, soft cooked duck egg with fried rice and mushrooms, flatbread with chorizo, goat cheese and shishito peppers, grilled bacon with corn pudding and mustard greens, goat confit with red chile, goat cheese and popcorn–we had a small sampling, but that gives you an idea of the creativity at work.
East Side King at Hole in the Wall. Another masterpiece by Paul Qui, this time in back of a bar. We shared fried Brussels sprouts with sweet & spicy sauce, shredded cabbage, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeño, beet fries with kewpie mayo, ramen, pork belly buns and spiced avocado buns. Another hit.
The standout of the weekend was Qui, Paul Qui’s brick and mortar restaurant that features both a casual bar and tasting menu, including as unique a vegetarian menu as you’ll find anywhere. We shared the regular and vegetarian menu so we were able to try 14 dishes in all–it was truly memorable. Dishes included such bites as lamb belly adobo with coconut vinegar, black pepper, tomato fresco and black, lime; yuzu caramel, jacks lettuce, aged cheddar, coffee bean and pine nut butter; matsuake, maitake butter, balsam fir, ogo nori; kimchi broth, ribeye, daikno, leek, bok choy, nori; filipino peanut curry with green bean, puffed rice and kimchi, graffiti eggplant, grilled pecan butter, gremolata , pickled shallot, gala apple, and even tuna briefly seared tableside on a binchotan. Unfortunately, it was dark and my pictures don’t come close to capturing once of my favorite meals of 2014.
Swift’s Attic. Not to be missed for brunch, or even just a cocktail, this industrial space has it going on. The food was very global, including such standouts as peanut butter and jelly pancakes with foie gras, fried quail with biscuits and red eye gravy, and Forbidden rice bibimbap with a poached egg.
Though I would definitely be happy revisiting any of the places we went, next time I’d also like to try another East Side King truck, Lenoir’s reasonably priced prix fixe menu, Bryce Gilmore’s Barley Swine, 24 Hour Diner, Sway, Elizabeth Street Cafe, South Congress Cafe and El Naranjo. And by the time I go back, I’m sure they’ll be another group of trendy new spots to add to my list.
Andrea Morrow Joseph is a woman on a mission. She is filling her new spice and home goods shop with high quality, unique and and artisanal products, with an enthusiasm and obvious passion that has everyone who enters the store rooting for her success. Not only is she selling many items that aren’t available elsewhere in town, it’s fun to learn from Andrea the back story of each product.
With the holidays coming up, Seasons and Square would be a great spot to do your shopping, for both stocking stuffers and beautiful gifts. Things are not cheap, but you get what you pay for. Keep in mind that with each purchase you are supporting craftspeople who are committed to making the very best products you can buy. The offerings run the gamut from homemade gin kits and pre-made cocktails to recyclable food wrappers, chefs knives and cutting boards, and freshly ground spices. Specialty jams and dressings, cookbooks, beautiful thermos containers and soaps also line the shelves of this very unique and creative shop.
On my last visit to the shop, Andrea revealed plans to open a restaurant on the same block. More good news for the neighborhood.
Q 39 is an anomaly in town. It’s one of the few restaurants in town with a focus on barbecue that has a serious array of other offerings. The award-winning chef/owner, Rob Magee, turns out some pretty awesome chicken, brisket and fall-off-the-bone tender ribs, while also serving up salmon salad, burgers, and chicken tortilla soup, among other non-barbecue options.
Walking into Q39, one immediately senses that this is not going to be a typical barbecue experience.There’s a good-looking bar upfront for sports enthusiasts and those desiring a real cocktail, an open kitchen with a wood-burning grill to cook steaks and fish, and a nicely appointed dining room with rustic but chic wood furniture. Magee’s medals and trophies grace one wall, letting customers know that this is no upstart establishment.
When my husband and I first tried Q39, I ordered a competition bbq plate and pulled pork sandwich with slaw (a la Oklahoma Joe’s Carolina style sandwich) so we could try a little of everything, including the awesome French fries.I was so excited to dig in I forgot to take photos of the untouched plate. While we enjoyed the meats, we both thought the barbecue sauce lacked the depth and thickness of those around town that we love, like Oklahoma Joe’s, LC’s and Danny Edwards. And unlike most barbecue joints, the sauce is not available tableside in big squeeze bottles. My husband uses meat as a vehicle for his sauce, so he was less than enamored that he had to ask for more sauce 5 times, and all he got each time was a small little dipping sauce container. Hopefully, they’ll rectify that because we aren’t the only Kansas Citians who like our sauce.
The Spiced Onion Straws seem to be a big seller, so we decided to get an order for “dessert”. The first few bites were tasty, but then the grease caught up with me and I let my husband finish them.
On our next visit we started with the onion straws again, and the “Planet’s Best” chicken wings. I still think the onion straws are too greasy, but I loved the wings. Drenched in sauce, they were meaty and a bit addictive. We also sampled that very smokey tortilla soup, the grilled chicken cobb and another one of those competition plates. The grilled chicken on the salad was charred yet tender, the bacon came in substantial chunks instead of small bits, the greens were crisp and the dressings I ordered on the side were both flavorful and homemade. My only suggestion would be to add that traditional element of avocado to add more depth to the salad.
The meats and ribs on the platter were excellent, as before, but none of us at the table thought the slaw was worthy of any love.
I agree with the many fans of Q39 that it’s a welcome addition to the crowded Kansas City barbecue scene, especially if you don’t want to wait in a long line (you can make a reservation here), you’re looking for a leisurely dinner with a nice array of cocktails, beer and a decent wine list…or even a non-barbecue meal, and you prefer to be waited on rather than ordering at a counter. But, Q39 is not going to be replacing Oklahoma Joe’s or Danny Edwards’ in my heart (or stomach) anytime soon.
I haven’t had the motivation to write lately; perhaps it’s the laziness that summer induces. But I have to give a shout out to a very unique and creative dinner I attended last week at Powell Gardens.
Fittingly, Chef Craig Howard of Howard’s Organic Fare and Vegetable Patch was the guest chef, and he cooked a meal using produce and vegetables from the Powell Gardens Harvest Garden. We were lucky that it coincided with one of those beautiful spring-like evenings that we’ve been experiencing this summer. The long table is under cover though, so even on a hot evening you would at least be in the shade.
Our multi-course dinner started with Baked Risotto with cherry tomatoes and zucchini noodles. A seemingly heavy way to start, but it was delightful.
Next up was Beet Tartare, with cucumber, mizuna and egg. It was a riff on beef tartare, but that’s where the resemblance ended. I loved it with the bite that the mizuna gives off.
The bruschetta was my favorite dish of the evening. Using a multi-grain bread as the base, Chef Craig made fresh cream cheese, which he topped with blackberries and argula. The contrast of flavors was stunning.
The Tomato Bun was a play on the Momofuku pork bun. Here, a thick slice of tomato was laid inside of a soft bun and topped with ratatouille and crispy kale.
The Potato and Bean salad featured red Yukon slices and three varieties of beans, with pickled fennel and spinach pesto. Lovely.
Chef Craig didn’t let up once he was in the homestretch–he made an ice cream sandwich with homemade mozzarella ice cream sandwiched between two chewy basil cookies (think chocolate chip cookie with basil pieces instead of chocolate chips). Tomato jam and a balsamic caramel dotted the plate for dipping and final decadence. A home-run.
Not your typical Sunday night supper.
Wines were presented family style; three whites to sample and pour at will. A sparkling rose was offered with dessert.
I went to a barn dinner last year, too, at which Patrick Ryan of Port Fonda cooked, and that was also a treat. Similar in concept but much less expensive than the dinners at Green Dirt Farm, there are only 2 or 3 of these chef dinners per season, and they always sell out. It would be smart to get on their email list so you are in the know and can sign up next year as soon as the lineup is announced. They are quickly becoming a summer highlight in my calendar.
Cucina della Ragazza is adorable. It’s the kind of neighborhood charmer you want to frequent, regardless of the quality of the food. In this case, fortunately, the food hits the spot so you can return again and again.
The corner restaurant was, among other ventures, the Optical Shop of Aspen in another life. Owner Laura Norris did a terrific job with the complete redo, and I was glad to see that she kept the old brick walls. The matchbox space has a handful of tiny tables…don’t even think of going for dinner without a reservation, unless you go early enough to grab a seat at the small bar. We sat at a table for two in front of the deli case and next to the shelf of wines. Though I assume proper wine storage is not feasible due to space constraints, that means your red wine will probably be on the warm side, as ours was. But those little annoyances are easily overcome by the lovely and efficient service.
We started our evening by sampling the crostini plate, with toppings including arugula and walnut pesto, velvety white beans, and garlic cream cheese with roasted peppers. Each complemented our Chianti, and whet our appetite for dinner. The menu is heavy on old-world recipes, and my husband gravitated towards the Fettucine with sausage and peppers, which he thoroughly enjoyed. I wanted a light meal, so I opted for the beet salad, served in a big bowl with arugula, gorgonzola and walnuts. Looking around the table, it was obvious that the word was out about the BIG meatball. smothered with tomato sauce. It’s considered an appetizer but is the size of a softball, so if you don’t plan on sharing, it’s a meal in itself.
At lunchtime, the stars of the show are the panini, some hot, some sub-style. Breakfast is also served on Saturday, but not on Sunday (and Monday), Norris takes a well-deserved break before gearing up for the week.
No matter what time of day, the menu is small. I hope Norris changes it up often to keep those repeat visitors happy and sated.
Nashville is making a name for itself outside of the music scene, with an increasing number of farm-to-table, casual and innovative restaurants. While recently in this fun city for a wedding, I had trouble deciding which of them to try. These are the ones I settled on (I skipped Husk because I have been to the original in Charleston):
Rolf & Daughters in Germantown has garnered much national attention in magazines like Bon Appetit as well as on the internet. So of course I had to go there for one of our meals. While the former factory had undergone a very cool transformation and I enjoyed each dish, I can’t say I was bowled over by what I ate.
The Brussels sprouts salad was nice, but nothing special. Shaved and raw, dressed with lemon dressing and topped with Pecorino, it’s a dish that’s become ubiquitous. Our server raved about the Asian chicken wings, which she said had been marinated in a spicy fish sauce concoction. I immediately thought of the wings I covet at Voltaire, but these fell short of that standard.
Pasta is a specialty of the house and we tried two that have received so many accolades. I love squid ink, so naturally I gravitated to the Squid ink canestri, shrimp, squid, pancetta, and lemon. It was indeed unique and flavorful, though it was “fishier” than I would have liked, which is odd since I love everything in the dish. The Garganelli verde, heritage pork ragout, and parmesano was outstanding. The dense pasta was the perfect foil for the thick sauce, and reminded me of Italy. The lamb meatballs had a good flavor but were on the dry side. Next time I’ll order the Bucatini fra diavolo with octopus, rad lardo, and calabrian chili.
City House, in the same neighborhood, was fabulous. When we walked into the charming and very rustic house in the middle of a residential neighborhood, I had a feeling we were in for a special evening. Though it was loud when just half full, we were a group of nine so hearing someone at the other end of the table was going to be an issue wherever we went. But the food more than made up for that annoyance.
I started with Grilled Octopus with Kale, Red Onion, Olive Dressing, Bread Crumbs. It sounds good but not anything special, right? Wrong. I mourned the empty plate before I had even finished the last bite. My husband’s soup with Black Eyed Peas, Turnip Greens, Tomato, Grana Padano was hearty enough to be a meal in itself, yet he almost asked for another bowl.
I had heard the pizzas were amazing, so I decided to have one sporting ingredients you don’t see atop a pizza every day–Broccoli Rabe, Montasio, Garlic, Chilies. The server asked if I wanted to add arugula and it sounded like the perfect topping, though she failed to mention the $3 upcharge. Looking around the table, it appeared to be a lucrative suggestion for her. But the pizza was excellent so I really couldn’t complain. The pizza was thin, but thick enough to be chewy and foldable. It was charred perfectly and would appeal to anyone who’s into bread.
My husband continued with the broccoli theme and had the Casareccia with Broccoli, Anchovy, Lemon, Garlic, Chilies, GMRS, Bread Crumbs. Perhaps not as innovative as the Squid ink canestri from Rolf and Daughters, but still delicious.
A big group of us went to the Southern for brunch the next day. The place was hopping and, as with Rolf and Daughters and City House, reservations were a must. It’s just off the main drag in downtown Nashville and is clearly a hot spot.
Our server highly recommended the shrimp and grits, and it seemed like the thing to get in Nashville, but my husband was underwhelmed. They were incredibly rich, but without the flavor of the dish that Colby Garrelts serves up at Bluestem and Rye.
I ordered the Cuban, which was an egg dish not a sandwich–pork tenderloin marinated in mojo, pan-fried with black beans, yellow rice, skillet debris and two sunny side up eggs. With a few shakes of hot sauce, it was a very satisfying mid-day dish.
Chicken and Waffles are a big seller there, and the dish can be ordered with “hot chicken”, a signature of Nashville made famous by Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack.
As an aside that has nothing to do with food, if you’re in Nashville make sure to go to Cheekwood, a spectacularly stunning botanical garden. My friend’s son got married in one of the gardens, with the reception being held on the terrace of the mansion that was at one time the home of the Maxwell House founder and his descendants. It was the most beautiful setting of any wedding I’ve ever been to, and my only regret was that we didn’t have time to meander through the extensive grounds. It is so worth the drive. And a perfect place to walk off some of the meals you’re going to eat in Nashville.