Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Jumbo Turkey Meatballs

July 25, 2008

Lemmonex, your friend and mine, is full of good ideas. She mentioned how fun it would be to meet and eat with fellow food bloggers, and voila, we were hosting a potluck. She mentioned how she loved the sliders at the Source, and voila, we were there, eating and drinking and getting hit on by creepy old men. Sure, even the best ideas can sometimes go awry (the Shamrockfest ankle debacle of 2008 comes immediately to mind), but our girl Lem is always thinkin’.

Recently, I was culinarily uninspired and looking for a healthy, yummy dinner recipe that wouldn’t break the bank. Lemmonex suggested these delicious turkey meatballs, which she adapted from a Ray Ray recipe. Sure enough, they were inexpensive, easy to prepare, and absolutely delicious. I adapted them a little myself, so here’s the recipe that I used.

  • 1 10-oz box frozen chopped spinach, thawed
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground turkey (I used two parts 99% lean to one part 93% lean)
  • 1/2 medium red onion, chopped
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup Egg Beaters
  • 1/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (for drizzling)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Wring the spinach dry in a clean kitchen towel. Place the ground turkey in a large bowl. Add the spinach, onion, garlic, Egg Beaters, milk, bread crumbs, basil and the Parmesan cheese and season with salt and pepper. Mix with hands until combined, then form the turkey mixture into large balls, arrange on a nonstick baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 25 minutes. Broil on high for 2-3 minutes more, to brown the tops. Serve with pasta and sauce, on hoagie rolls (as pictured below), or just eat them plain!

Second time at TWO

July 24, 2008

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t have returned to TWO urban licks so soon after my initial visit.  After all, it was a fairly expensive dining experience, and there are so many other places in Atlanta that I’d like to try.  However, my parents were in the city for a meal, and they’d been hearing about the place for a long time and wanted to give it a go (and they were paying).  Plus, since TUL is located right across from my building, it’s an enticing choice when you don’t want to deal with driving and parking.

The atmosphere felt very different on a Monday at 7 PM than it did on a Saturday at 9 PM (duh).  I mean, the décor was obviously the same, but the light hit things differently and made it seem a lot less hip.  In fact, my dad even said he was expecting the space to be more “shi-shi.”  In any case, we sat at a table right near the open part of the kitchen, and we all ordered drinks (martinis for mom and dad, draft beer for me).

For appetizers, I let my parents pick.  Interestingly enough, they chose the same two dishes (empanadas and calamari) that Jason and I enjoyed on our last visit.  This time, instead of oxtail, the empanadas were filled with shortribs.  Also, I asked for the crumbled queso on the side, since I remembered it overpowering the dish.  The shortribs seemed a little less flavorful than the oxtail, but the meat was every bit as tender.  Also, the smaller amount of cheese let us really taste the crust and the chipotle sauce, which was definitely a good thing.  The calamari were, again, cooked perfectly and spiced nicely.  I love that dish’s balance between spicy and sweet.

For entrees, mom went for the bronzed scallops with Gouda grits and smoked tomato broth, the same dish that Jason raved about during our previous dinner.  The dish once again got a wonderful review.  Perfectly cooked scallops and creamy cheese grits?  How can you go wrong?!  Dad got the  Maple Leaf Farms duck breast, which was stuffed with italian sausage and served with cayenne sweet potato puree and ancho BBQ jus.  By far the best dish of the night, the flavors and textures were just amazing, even though the duck itself was just a touch overcooked.  I went for the wahoo (a nice, firm, white fish) with summer squash and sunchokes; it was light and tasty, but the fish was a little dry.  With dinner, my parents opted for a half-carafe of chardonnay that the server recommended, and it managed to be both oaky and acidic (though I found it a bit flat, but that might be personal preference).

Speaking of the server: he was WONDERFUL.  He was friendly, engaging, non-intrusive, non-awkward, and just generally a fun and interesting human being.  He made great recommendations and chatted with us about other restaurants we’ve enjoyed (notably, The French Laundry, where my parents just dined last month).  He talked about his travel to Asia.  We debated about food blogging and molecular gastronomy and whether or not cupcakes have jumped the shark (they have).  He was such a pleasant part of our dining experience, and I will certainly ask for him when I return.

I only wanted to order one or two desserts, but because we were all in disagreement about what to choose, well, we went for three.  Mom got the chocolate mousse rice crispy treat that Jason and I enjoyed last time, and she really loved the chocolate malt ice cream.  Dad got the bread pudding (which I would have ordered, had it not contained raisins) and said it was good but not great.  I got the cupcake plate (previous conversation with the waiter be damned), which had three varieties: chocolate on chocolate, carrot cake and cream cheese icing, and banana caramel with (I think) lemon icing.  The chocolate treat went right in the doggie bag for later, and I don’t really dig on carrot cake, so that one went to my parents and they reported that it was one of the best versions of carrot cake they’d ever had.  The banana lemon cupcake was incredibly moist and delicately flavored, and I liked it a lot more than I thought I would.  The brown sugar ice cream that accompanied the cakes was absolutely amazing-I could eat bowls of it just on its own.

So, another very nice meal at TWO.  I don’t know why people love to hate this place–it’s tasty food in an interesting atmosphere with (in my experience, anyway) attentive service.  It’s not necessarily a dining revelation, and it definitely has small flaws that keep it out of the foodie upper echelons, but it’s a reliable and fun neighborhood joint and I am not ashamed to be a fan.

Recipe: Roast Turkey and Prosciutto Pizza

July 23, 2008

Sacrifice is a part of life. We all know (if not embrace) this tenet, so why is it so hard to sacrifice when it comes to a diet?

In my desire to drop a few extra pounds and get into “fighting shape” for the half-marathon, I’ve adopted a low-fat lifestyle. Basically, there are no flat-out restrictions, but the goal is to keep the fat grams to no more than about 15 per meal. Yes, I know that recent research states that the low-carb diet is the best for weight loss, but I’m still skeptical about any regimen that practically eliminates an entire food group, AND I need the energy from carbohydrates (I do try to eat complex, whole grain ones) when I run.

My goal with this meal was to make one of my favorite foods–pizza–fit into my 15-grams-or-less framework while still maintaining satisfying flavor and portion size. I got the recipe from an old Cooking Light magazine, and it turned out really well (with a few tweaks, of course). I was afraid the balsamic turkey was going to oversweeten the dish, but the bitterness of the arugula and the saltiness of the Parmesan and the prosciutto balanced everything out. Even with less cheese than the recipe suggested, the pizza tasted like…well, pizza! And, surprisingly, the store-bought crust held up well against the many toppings. Most importantly, since this pizza was half the size of a large delivery version, I felt happy and decidedly NOT bloated when I finished eating. Score one for “healthy” junk food!

  • 1 prebaked pizza crust (I used a 10-oz Boboli whole wheat version)
    3/4 cup marinara sauce
    1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
    1 cup shredded cooked turkey breast (I actually used tenderloin)
    1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
    1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
    1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
    1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
    1 cup torn arugula leaves
    3 slices prosciutto, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 425°. Place crust on a baking sheet. Spread sauce over crust; sprinkle with fontina. Toss turkey with vinegar. Top pizza with turkey, onion, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and pepper. Bake at 425° for 12 minutes or until crust is browned. Remove from oven. Sprinkle with arugula and prosciutto.

What NOT to do in the kitchen (hopefully, this won’t become a regular feature)

July 18, 2008

After a brief hiatus from cooking (due to a lack of groceries AND a few days of being too tired/sick), I was looking forward to getting back in the swing of things and making this.  Scallops are one of my favorite foods, but they’re very expensive, so they’re a rare treat.  Plus, the recipe looked delicious while still fitting into my low-fat lifestyle.  What could go wrong?

Uh, lots of stuff, actually.

First, the fresh chives in my fridge had spoiled unexpectedly, so I had to leave them out.  Not a HUGE deal, but I think the orzo could have used the extra kick of flavor.  I did manage to cook the pasta properly, though, so that part of the meal was at least edible (albeit a bit bland).

On to the scallops.  First, like a complete doofus, I forgot to drizzle olive oil on my stainless steel skillet.  So, instead of having lovely, perfectly browned, seared scallops, the little bastards stuck to the bottom of the pan and were rendered inedible.  At least I remembered to cook the scallops in batches, so I only had to throw away half of the meal (which, at $11.99 per pound, still makes me fume).

I whipped out my nonstick skillet, not caring that it wouldn’t brown the scallops and just wanting to get the remaining food cooked so I could eat and then forget about the whole mess.  I did end up cooking them properly, but in my rage and disappointment, I completely overdid it with the black pepper.  After eating two scallops, I couldn’t taste anything else on my plate.

The moral of the story?  Even food bloggers can be retarded in the kitchen.  Have a great weekend, everyone…

And now for something completely different!

July 15, 2008

I promise, the cooking and recipe-posting will resume once I find time to go to the grocery store.  Seriously, I had two bowls of cereal (one Cookie Crisp, one Cinnamon Toast Crunch) for dinner on Sunday night, and last night’s boxed spaghetti with Ragu wasn’t particularly exciting either.  Be patient, kittens.

In the meantime, I’ve posted another page to the site entitled “Half-Marathon Training Log.”  Yes, you read right–your fitness-challenged friend Betty is planning to run the Atlanta Half-Marathon on Thanksgiving Day.  But, because I am fitness challenged and in need of all the mental ass-whoopin’ I can get, tracking my progress in my old-fashioned journal (you actually write in it with an ink pen!) doesn’t seem to be getting the job done.  Enter le blog.

Blogging was very helpful for me while I was studying for the Maryland bar exam, so I think it will be helpful for me in this context as well.  Public shame is always a good motivator.  But, instead of beating you all over the head with my mileage after each food-related post, I decided to tally everything on a separate page.  Visit and read if you like, or ignore it and keep focusing on the grub.  Your call.

Oh, and just a note: the ONLY thing I’m tracking on that page is my running.  I do other exercise as a part of my training plan (cross, weights, and hopefully some yoga soon), but that’s all just gravy on top of building up my speed and endurance for the big run.  You know, just FYI.

Again, I’ll be back in the kitchen shortly–don’t you worry!

Recipe: Grilled Pork Tenderloins with Grilled Pineapple Salsa

July 11, 2008

I enjoyed last week’s halibut with pineapple salsa so much that I decided to “kick it up a notch” with an Emeril Lagasse recipe (slightly modified). The grilled pineapple (as opposed to canned) made a HUGE difference in the flavor, as did leaving the jalapeno seeds in the mix. Since pork tenderloin is fairly lean, and since the recipe calls for relatively little oil, this is a delicious and healthy dinner that had just the right amount of spice.

  • 2 one-pound pork tenderloins
    6 tablespoons olive oil
    1 tablespoon chili powder
    2 teaspoons salt, plus a pinch
    1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
    1 teaspoon dried oregano
    1 1/2 tablespoons minced garlic
    3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    1 pineapple, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
    1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
    2 jalapeno peppers, minced but NOT seeded
    2 tablespoons minced red bell pepper
    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Preheat a grill pan to high.

Rub the pork tenderloins all over with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, then sprinkle evenly with the chili powder, 2 teaspoons of the salt, the pepper, and the oregano. Rub the tenderloins well with the garlic and drizzle the lime juice over all. Allow the tenderloins to sit, refrigerated, for as long as possible before cooking (ideally 45 minutes to an hour, though I only waited about 30 minutes).

Place the pineapple slices on the grill pan and cook, turning occasionally, until softened slightly and nicely marked by the grill, about 3 minutes per side. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature. Dice the pineapple slices (discard the tough core portions) and place in a medium bowl. Add the red onion, remaining lime juice, remaining olive oil, salt, jalapeno peppers, red bell pepper, and chopped cilantro and stir to combine. Set aside while you grill the pork.

Place the tenderloins on the hottest part of the grill pan and sear, turning occasionally, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes. Reduce the grill temperature to low and continue to cook, turning occasionally, until a thermometer inserted into the center registers 145 degrees (note: a meat thermometer is a REALLY good investment, as I undercooked the pork due to my lack of one and had to throw the sliced pieces into a saute pan to finish). Remove the tenderloins from the grill and allow to sit, loosely covered, for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

Recipe: Broiled Salmon with Herb Mustard Glaze

July 10, 2008

Salmon? Good. Herbs? Good. Mustard? Goooooood. This was such a simple way to spruce up a common fish, and it was healthy to boot (especially when served with steamed vegetables or a small salad). Thanks, Giada! If only I could look like you while I’m cookin’…

  • 2 garlic cloves
    3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
    3/4 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
    1 tablespoon dry white wine
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
    2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
    2 tablespoons whole-grain mustard
    Nonstick olive oil cooking spray
    6 (6 to 8-ounce) salmon fillets
    Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    6 lemon wedges
In a food processor, combine garlic, rosemary, thyme, wine, oil, Dijon mustard, and whole-grain mustard. Grind the mustard sauce until combined, about 30 seconds. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.Preheat the broiler to high. Line a heavy rimmed baking sheet with foil. Spray the foil with nonstick spray. Arrange the salmon fillets on the baking sheet and sprinkle them with salt and pepper. Broil for 2 minutes. Spoon the mustard sauce over the fillets. Continue broiling until the fillets are just cooked through and golden brown, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer the fillets to plates and serve with lemon wedges.

Lesson learned

July 9, 2008

I learned a very valuable lesson on Sunday night.  To quote the wise and wondrous Beastie Boys, “You gotta fight.  For your right.”  Not to paaaaaaarty, but to eat well.

One of Jason’s best friends was in town, and I suggested that we go to the Vortex in Little Five Points.  Great burgers?  Check.  Great draft beer selection?  Cool atmosphere?  Affordable?  Check, check, check.  Shortly before we were to leave, however, we got a text asking to change locations.  Not wanting to be snooty, I agreed even though I had never heard of the restaurant, which happened to be Pasta da Pulcinella.

I wanted to love it, I really did.  It’s located in an old house on a busted Midtown side street, so I had high hopes for its hidden paradise potential.  Sadly, though, the restaurant let me down in nearly all aspects.

At 7 PM, we were only the second table in the place.  That’s a BAD sign, and I should have expected what was to come based on that alone.  But no, I thought to myself, “It’s Sunday night!  It’s the end of a holiday weekend!  People are out of town/recovering from the Peachtree Road Race/at Atlanta Pride!”  Sigh.  We ordered calamari to start, which is usually a pretty safe bet.  Unfortunately, while the flavor was okay, this squid was the most rubbery I’ve had in a long time.  For entrees, Jason opted for the gnocchi (with sun-dried tomatoes and other veggies I can’t recall) and I chose the mushroom ravioli.  The gnocchi was actually decent-not the lightest and fluffiest I’ve ever tasted, but tender and with a pretty good balance of flavors.  My ravioli, on the other hand, was atrocious.  The homemade pasta that was touted on the menu was flavorless and tough, and the mushroom (I presume) filling was bland and under salted.  There were a lot of mushrooms on top of the pasta, but I could not taste them because the entire dish was DROWNING in olive oil and LOADED with garlic.  Don’t get me wrong, I like olive oil and garlic.  I like them in significant quantities.  But if you’re going to advertise mushroom ravioli, you should deliver at least a little bit of a mushroom flavor.  I was starving, so I ate about half the dish, but then I just couldn’t take any more.

Normally, after such a disappointing entree, I would have skipped dessert and stopped for ice cream on the way home.  Since we were with guests, though, and I was still hungry, I decided to check out the sweet side of the menu and see if the evening could be saved.  I ordered cannoli, and someone else at the table opted for tiramisu.  I tasted the latter, and it was actually okay (though a bit heavy on the coffee flavor).  The cannoli shell was a touch stale (or overcooked, one), but it was fairly respectable.  The filling (I can’t remember whether it was ricotta or mascarpone, but my bet is on mascarpone) was actually very sweet and creamy.  My big complaint was that it was SWIMMING in what tasted like Hershey’s syrup.  I tried to avoid the chocolate as much as possible, but it was covering a large portion of the cannoli-to the cannoli’s detriment.

Service was…interesting, at best.  The waiter started out merely being attentive, but since the restaurant was so darn empty, his attentiveness turned into hovering, and his hovering included butting into conversations and telling cheesy and/or inappropriate jokes.  Our bill for four came to about $120, which seemed exorbitant for what we received (even though, to be fair, it included a couple of glasses of wine).

After the fact, I did some research on Pasta da Pulcinella, and it seems to be pretty beloved.  Unless I just hit it on a bad night, I really don’t understand why.  While the atmosphere is charming, the food was just too underwhelming for me to return anytime soon.

STATS: Novelty, or New Hangout?

July 3, 2008

One of the most infuriating things about living in Atlanta is the existence of “blue laws”-laws that attempt to enforce moral standards by prohibiting certain activities.  Namely, in Georgia, it is illegal to purchase alcohol on Sundays.  Well, let me clarify-you can’t buy alcohol (which includes beer, wine, and liquor) at liquor stores, grocery stores, or convenience stores.  But, you CAN go to a restaurant or bar and buy alcoholic drinks (and then get in your car and drive home, of course).  Maddening.

So, imagine my surprise when I discovered a sports bar in Atlanta that boasts-wait for it-table taps!  That’s right, STATS (another Concentrics restaurant ) is the second location worldwide, and the first in the United States, to incorporate new technology by Table Tap, LLC that allows guests to pour their own beer.  Once I heard about this magical place, I knew I had to try it out, stat (get it?  Stat?  STATS?  Oh, forget it…)

Here’s how it works:  There are a handful of tables private rooms within the restaurant that have two taps each.  The beer choices are set by the restaurant-for example, there was a Sam Adams/Stella Artois table, a Guiness/Smithwick’s table, and a local brew table-but I was told that the options change fairly frequently.  And, if you have a party of six (which is usually how many folks it takes to sit at a tap table), I’m sure you could request a particular pre-set pairing when you made the reservation.  The taps are turned on once the table’s legal identification has been verified, and then guests are allowed to pour their own beer.  There’s a digital system that regulates the beer to ensure that guests are not beyond the legal limit; in fact, if you hit a certain number of ounces, the taps turn off until the server comes to check on everyone.  Then when guests are ready to leave, the system calculates the number of ounces that have been poured so that a bill can be generated.

We went at about 7:30 on a Saturday night, and even though we were only a party of four, we managed to snag the last tap table in the place.  It happened to be the Sam Adams/Stella table, and we were pretty happy with that (hey, it could have been Miller Lite).  The server checked our IDs and turned the taps on, and minus some initial problems with the Stella line, the whole system worked really smoothly-the carbonation was good, and the beers were cold and tasted fresh.  I was so fascinated by the whole shebang that I served beers all night, which my friends seemed to appreciate.  I do what I can.  I’m a giver, ya know?

Is the table tap enough to make me a repeat customer at STATS?  There was only one way to find out, and that was to taste the food.  We ordered a sampler platter with shrimp quesadillas, queso dip with tortilla chips, and barbeque short ribs.  I don’t really eat queso dip, but my cohorts said it was just average.  The short ribs were meaty and falling-off-the-bone tender, but they could have used a bit more flavor.  The shrimp quesadillas were outstanding-filled with HUGE shrimp that were perfectly cooked, with just enough cheese and a crunchy tortilla.  The salsa was very good as well, so it made for a tasty treat.  The four of us each got tastes of everything on the $19, so I feel like it was a fair amount of food for the price.

For entrees, three of us ordered burgers, and they were decent.  Mine was cooked medium rare as requested, and it came with jack cheese, sour cream, poblano peppers, and red bell peppers.  It was juicy, but it wasn’t anything special, especially for $13.  Jason said his bacon cheeseburger was a bit dry, but otherwise it was “okay” (his was only $11).  One of our friends got the pulled pork sandwich, and she seemed to enjoy it.  All of us left things on our plates, whether it was half a burger (me) or a pile of fries (everyone else).

Service was really quite good, and the atmosphere was swanky and hip (TONS of high-end televisions, low lights, a digital sports ticker-tape going around the bar).  There’s a rooftop deck, and the restaurant has a short list of cigars for sale.  The wine list looked pretty respectable and reasonably priced, but seriously, at a sports bar?  Probably not gonna happen, at least not at my table.

So, the verdict?  STATS is a nifty concept, and would probably be a TON of fun for a large group that wanted to snack on apps, drink loads of beer, watch the game, and not have to wait for a busy server for a refill (again, wouldn’t have been a problem for us, since it was a slow night and our server was excellent).  Otherwise, I’ll probably only return with out of town guests or for the occasional beer binge.

Bottoms up!

Recipe: Halibut with Pineapple Lime Salsa

July 2, 2008

So, boyfriend and I are back to our low-fat diet.  This is good because it means I will stand a snowball’s chance in hell of achieving my weight loss and fitness goals for the next 6 months.  This is bad because it means that cooking and eating are a lot more limited than I’m used to.  However, low in fat does not have to mean low in flavor, as demonstrated by this light and tasty fish recipe from a 2005 issue of Cooking Light magazine.  The jalapenos weren’t hot enough for spicehounds like Jason and me, so next time we’ll use habaneros or something with a little more fire.  Otherwise, this was a colorful and delicious meal that didn’t seem like diet food.  Here’s hopin’ I can find many more recipes like this one…

  • 1/3 cup pineapple preserves
    1/4 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
    2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
    1 tablespoon seeded, finely chopped jalapeño pepper
    1 teaspoon dried mint flakes
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
    1 (8-ounce) can unsweetened pineapple tidbits, drained
    1 teaspoon vegetable oil
    1 large garlic clove, minced
    4 (4-ounce) halibut steaks (about 3/4 inch thick)
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    Vegetable cooking spray (if you don’t have nonstick cookware)

Combine the first 8 ingredients in a bowl; stir well. Set salsa aside.

Combine oil and garlic; brush over fish. Sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon salt over fish; set aside.  Place grill pan over medium-high heat. When hot, place fish on grill pan and cook 6 minutes on each side, or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork.  Note: if you’re lucky enough to have an actual grill, you probably only need to cook the fish for 3-4 minutes per side.

Spoon the salsa over the fish.  Enjoy!

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