Trouble With Toast

Recipe: Lamb Sausage

September 29, 2008
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I love breakfast.  It is, hands down, my favorite meal.  When I was living in the sorority house, seeing “breakfast for dinner” on the menu was nearly as exciting as when we scored a social with a hottie-filled frat (yes, my priorities were very different back then).

I do also love bacon, but I think I would give sausage the edge as my breakfast meat of choice.  So, when I saw this recipe for homemade patties on Bon Appetit’s website, I knew I had to give it a go.  They were really tasty, though they reminded me more of mini-lamb burgers than of breakfast sausage.  The garlic really made the lamb pop, the feta added a nice salty note, and the mint rounded all the flavors out quite nicely.  Served with eggs and hash browns, it was such a hearty, delicious meal that I didn’t eat for the rest of the day!

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground lamb shoulder
    2 large garlic cloves, pressed
    1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
    1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
    1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
    1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Place lamb in large bowl. Sprinkle garlic and salt over. Gently toss lamb to blend. Combine feta and mint in small bowl.

Divide lamb into 12 equal mounds. Using damp hands, shape each into ball. Working with 1 ball at a time, poke thumb into center to make hole. Press 1 teaspoon feta-mint filling into hole. Pinch hole closed, then press ball between palms to flatten into 3/4-inch-thick disk. Repeat with remaining lamb and feta-mint filling.

Preheat oven to 250°F. Heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium heat. Working in 2 batches, cook lamb sausages until browned on both sides and cooked to desired doneness, about 3 minutes per side for medium. Transfer sausages to rimmed baking sheet and place in oven to keep warm. Serve hot.

I wish they delivered to my neighborhood

September 26, 2008

It is no secret that I love Chinese food.  REAL Chinese food, particularly that of the Szechuan variety.  Sadly, in the various places I’ve lived, I haven’t ever been able to secure that part of my local culinary pantheon.  The closest I came was in Bethesda, when I ordered frequently from Foong Lin–it was Americanized Chinese food, but it was damn good, and no matter how long they told you it would take to deliver, the goods were always there in 15 minutes.

While I was living in DC, I heard about the magical chef Peter Chang, who had cooked for powerful Chinese officials and did a stint at a well-known Beijing hotel.  He came to DC to serve the Chinese ambassador, but then branched out on his own and developed a cult following at his restaurant out in Fairfax.  By the time I learned of his Szechuan mastery, he had moved…

…to Atlanta!  Marietta to be exact, in an unassuming strip mall where Chinese and Americans alike were flocking in droves.  Seriously, the more I read about Chef Chang, the more fascinated I became.  You can imagine my excitement when my fiance and I decided to move to Atlanta.  Finally, I would be able to experience true Szechaun cuisine!  Or not.  Chef Chang left Atlanta and vanished from the radar for a while, much to all of his fans’ dismay.  When he did reappear, it was in the global food capital of…

…Knoxville, Tennessee?  Eeeeeenteresting.

Well, Knoxville might not be a dining destination (picture chain restaurants as far as the eye can see), but I journeyed there last weekend for what turned out to be a miserable football game and some quality time with a dear friend.  Also on my to-do list for the trip: eat at Hong Kong House, where Chef Chang is said to be hanging his tocque.

The good news is, I did go to Hong Kong House.  The bad news is, I didn’t get to sit down and eat, but rather had to order take-out and drive it three-and-a-half hours back to Atlanta.  The good news is, when reheated properly, the food starts out so awesome that the journey down I-75 doesn’t kill it.  I have NO idea if Chef Chang is still working at Hong Kong House (there are no indications to the contrary), or if he was in the kitchen when I ordered.  However, this was the best Szechuan food I’ve had in a LONG time.  I ordered exclusively from the “Chef’s Specialties” or “Favorites” side of the menu (in other words, I avoided the Americanized items), and I was incredibly impressed.  Fish and cilantro rolls, which I reheated in the oven, were intensely flavorful, crunchy, and not at all greasy.  The order came with 6, and I ate 5 before my fiance even knew they were there.  I could have eaten twice as many, they were that delicious.  Crispy shrimp with scallions was incredibly spicy, but also tinged with a glorious sweetness.  Fried, but not oily at all.  Shredded pork with eggplant probably traveled the worst, turning into a bit of a mushy mess.  Still very tasty, but definitely not as spicy or interesting as the other dishes.

Too bad Hong Kong House is so far away…I would KILL for decent Szechuan food a little closer to home.

Nice cliche!

September 25, 2008

While having a delicious lunch yesterday (that included local pecans and fresh muscadines), my dear friend and I were chatting about Michael Pollan and noting that his books have sold “like hotcakes.”  Once we chuckled about using a food cliche in the context of a discussion about food writing (the irony was not lost on us), we pondered–where did that idiom COME from?

After some research, it seems like old-timey county fairs were responsible for that particular saying, since griddled/fried goodies have always been popular (and, thus, commercially successful) at such events.

But there are so many other food cliches, such as:

“The big cheese”

“Bring home the bacon”

“The best thing since sliced bread”

“Apple of my eye”

“Bun in the oven”

“Take it with a grain of salt”

“Cool as a cucumber”

What are the origins of these strange food sayings?  What are your favorites?  Least favorites?

* Real cooking content to return shortly–I’ve been on the road more than I’ve been off lately, which makes grocery shopping and dinner prep significantly less fun.

Restaurant Eugene (or, my first case of diner’s remorse)

September 18, 2008

My sister lives far, far away in the land of granola and Arnold Schwarzenegger, so she has no shortage of excellent restaurants to patronize.  Thus, when she came to the ATL to visit last weekend, I wanted to show her that there are some excellent dining options down here in the land of Coca-Cola and the religious right.  I had high hopes for Restaurant Eugene, but unfortunately, the experience was average at best.

The atmosphere is nice, though a lot smaller than I was expecting.  We were definitely the youngest table in the room, which may have been why we waited so long, once seated, to be addressed.  Seriously, we sat at our table, without water and without menus, for a good ten minutes.  Then, our waitress brought us wine and food menus, and wanted to know if we would care for a specialty cocktail.  When I told her that we’d have to see a cocktail menu in order to make such a decision, she had to retreat to the bar to get one.

None of the cocktails looked particularly yummy to me, so sis and I decided to order some wine.  I told the waitress that I wanted dry and white, and that I wanted to stay in the $50-$60 range (which is high for me, but that seemed to represent practically the bottom of Restaurant Eugene’s wine list barrel).  She brought a bottle of Chablis, and we enjoyed it with our meal, but there was NO WAY that it was worthy of its $61 pricetag.  I expect a certain amount of markup, but there’s definitely a point where I start to feel taken advantage of.  I would have ordered something by-the-glass, but they were all quite expensive as well (I noticed a lot in the $16-$18 range).

Restaurant Eugene has a “Sunday Supper” that allows folks to choose a 3-course, prix fix dinner for $29.50.  Jason ended up going that route, and for his appetizer he was given “ham and biscuits” with lots of homemade fixins (such as mustard, chow-chow, and bread and butter pickles).  It was tasty and nicely presented, and there was plenty to share.  Sis and I split the appetizer sweetbreads, which were pan-fried and served with sweet corn relish (I believe).  The meat was cooked nicely and had good flavor, but there wasn’t anything amazing about the dish.  I should note that we scarfed down our apps, not because they were so delicious, but because we were STARVING after waiting upwards of 30-40 minutes to receive them.  For two relatively straightforward opening courses, that is entirely too long.

For entrees, Jason’s Sunday supper came with none other than fried chicken.  Two HUGE pieces, no less.  The breading was salty and crispy, and the chicken was fresh and moist.  It came with some thick-sliced “fries” that were nothing terribly special, and a VERY celery-heavy cole slaw.  Sis ordered squab, which was cooked very nicely and served with faro and arugula, but was unremarkable in its presentation.  I ordered snapper over a sweet corn risotto; both components were cooked correctly, and the crispy skin of the fish was very flavorful, but the rest of the dish was incredibly underseasoned.  Again, nothing was bad, and the ingredients seemed to be high quality, but I didn’t feel like I was experiencing chefly creativity.

Jason’s prix fix menu came with a brownie a la mode, which he ate a few bites of (it looked like it was way too dense).  Sis ordered a “s’mores” concoction, and she thought it was very good; the butterscotch sauce was a bit much for me, but the plating was cool.  The server did present me with two homemade cookies on a plate that said “Congratulations!” in chocolate (my sister had previously mentioned the recent engagement), and the chocolate chip variety was good and chewy.

With wine, two cocktails for my fiance, one Sunday supper, one appetizer, two entrees, and one dessert, the total (with tax and tip, too) came to about $275.  I had a little bit of sticker shock, I’m not gonna lie.  I mean, I expect to pay a price for fine dining.  But did this meal qualify?  For nearly $100 a head, I expect something a little more intriguing, thought-provoking, mouth-watering, or any number of adjectives.  In other words, fine dining shouldn’t just be “fine.”

In sum, when the thing that jazzes me the most about a meal is the room-temperature butter (don’t get me wrong, an important point, but not exactly what should be at the top of the highlight reel), I probably won’t be returning in any hurry.

The Southern Omnivore’s Hundred

September 12, 2008

Earlier this week, Lemmonex did a wonderful job of compiling a purely American version of the Omnivore’s Hundred.  As I tallied my score, though, I couldn’t help but think that even an American list would be vastly different depending on the region of the country from which the author hailed.

I’ve spent the majority of my life in the Deep South, so naturally, I decided to create yet another list of foods and beverages.  I hereby present to you…drumroll please…the Southern Omnivore’s Hundred.  These, in my humble opinion, are the 100 items that every good Southerner should eat during his or her life.

1. Collard greens
2. Sweet tea
3. Grits
4. Squash casserole
5. Moonshine
6. Okra
7. Boiled peanuts
8. RC Cola
9. Moon Pie
10. Hoppin’ John
11. Bojangle’s
12. Krystal
13. Waffle House
14. Apple butter
15. Brunswick stew
16. Fried pickles
17. Chicory coffee
18. Frogmore stew
19. Peach cobbler
20. Sorghum
21. Butter beans
22. Red-eye gravy
23. Krispy Kreme
24. Chick-fil-a
25. Memphis BBQ
26. North Carolina BBQ
27. Texas BBQ
28. Georgia BBQ

29. Boiled crawfish
30. Etoufee
31. Minorcan clam chowder
32. Pig’s feet
33. Banana pudding
34. Key lime pie
35. Mint julep
36. Hot brown
37. Abita beer
38. Sweetwater beer
39. Macque choux
40. Chow-chow
41. Fried green tomatoes
42. Pimento cheese sandwich
43. Bread pudding
44. Muscadine wine
45. Hominy
46. Country ham
47. Coke float
48. Any food at a SEC football game tailgate
49. Fried chicken, cooked in a cast iron skillet

50. Sliced tomatoes, picked off the vine
51. Buttermilk
52. Chess pie
53. Divinity
54. Deviled eggs
55. Cornbread
56. Salmon croquettes
57. Chitlins
58. Livermush
59. Candied yams
60. Grouper sandwich
61. Peanut brittle
62. Sawmill gravy
63. Chicken fried steak
64. Biscuits and gravy
65. Monte Cristo
66. Jambalaya
67. “Kegs and Eggs”
68. Green beans cooked in fatback
69. Peel-and-eat shrimp
70. Gulf Coast oysters
71. Benedictine spread
72. Pralines
73. Derby pie
74. King Cake
75. Burgoo
76. Stack cake
77. Bananas Foster
78. Po’Boys
79. Turtle soup
80. Fried pie
81. Molasses
82. Pecan pie
83. Pound cake

84. Hog jowls
85. “Pot likker”
86. Red beans and rice
87. Andouille sausage
88. Gumbo
89. Mufelletta
90. Tabasco sauce
91. Moravian cookies
92. Gullah/Geechee cuisine
93. “Tennessee Truffles”
94. Ambrosia
95. “Arnold Palmer”
96. Pecan crusted trout
97. Scrapple
98. Mississippi mud pie
99. Fried pork chops
100. Kudzu jelly

My score is 80/100, and I am of the mindset that you have to score at least 60 to call yourself a Southerner.  What do you think?

Recipe: Curried Rice with Shrimp

September 11, 2008

After all the discussion about the Omnivore’s Hundred, much of which revolved around how much curry is too much, I suddenly had a craving for Indian food.  This curry-esque recipe was simple, made my kitchen smell yummy, and was pretty tasty to boot.  Unfortunately, I had to omit the fresh basil, as the bunch that I bought earlier in the week was no longer edible.  The dried version just didn’t get the job done, but otherwise, I’d say this was a successful one-skillet dinner.

  • 1  tablespoon  olive oil
  • 1  large onion, chopped
  • 2  carrots, chopped
  • 2  cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2  teaspoons  curry powder
  • 1  cup  long-grain white rice
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2  pounds  large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1/2  cup  fresh basil (I actually used dried)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6 to 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and curry and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 2 minutes.  Add the rice, 2 1/2 cups water, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Season the shrimp with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and nestle them in the partially cooked rice. Cover and cook until the shrimp are opaque throughout, 4 to 5 minutes. Fold in the basil and serve.

The Omnivore’s Hundred

September 9, 2008

Thanks to Capital Spice, I was directed to a very interesting concept devised by a blogger in the UK.  Very Good Taste has developed a list of the 100 things that “every good omnivore” should try over the course of his or her life.  The idea is this: copy and paste the list into your blog, use bold text for all of the things you have tried, cross out the things (if there are any) that you would NEVER consider trying, and then tally up and discuss.

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare
5. Crocodile*
6. Black pudding**
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich***
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes

22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float

36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail

41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk

45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S’mores
62. Sweetbreads

63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake

68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost, or brunost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail

79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant.
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee

100. Snake

* Does alligator count?  If so, I’ve tried it.

** Most disgusting thing I have ever put in my mouth.

*** I realize this makes me un-American.  Sue me, I’m allergic.

So, if I’ve counted correctly, I’ve tried 56 of the 100.  Not bad, but I could definitely do better.  If I could choose a place to start tackling the rest of the list, I think number 84 has a nice ring to it.

What do you think of the list?  On the one hand, I think it’s cool that there are a lot of “ordinary” items on it (like Krispy Kreme, Hostess, and McDonald’s), but I feel like there are some definite omissions.  Like, what about pizza (of course, whether it should be deep dish or NY-style is a significant argument in and of itself)?  Kebabs (or any other meat on a stick, for that matter)?  Really, this list could have thousands of versions, as each culture has its own definitions of what is customary to eat and what is “weird.”

Thoughts?  If you play along, let me know what your results are!

Recipe: Chicken with Creamy Spinach and Shallots

September 8, 2008
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Chicken?  Good.  Spinach?  Good (and good for you!).  Shallots?  Gooooood.  This recipe combined a bunch of my favorite things, but it did so in a way that I never would have thought of.  I mean, come on, a sour cream and wine-based sauce?  For spinach?  Madness!  But, as crazy as it sounded, it worked deliciously–the spinach had a wonderful zing to it, and it was nice for once to dress up the side item and leave the chicken to speak for itself (and I think thighs are the most flavorful part of the bird anyway).

Plus, cooking this dish gave me an opportunity to see if my dog likes chicken.  For the record, he does.  A LOT.  🙂 

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
    8 small chicken thighs (about 2 pounds)
    Kosher salt and pepper
    4 shallots, thinly sliced
    1/4 cup dry white wine (again, I used chardonnay because it was open)
    1/4 cup sour cream (I used fat free)
    2 bunches spinach, thick stems removed (about 8 cups)

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the chicken with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes per side. Transfer to plates.

Spoon off and discard all but 1 tablespoon of the fat and return the skillet to medium heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften, 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the wine and sour cream. Add the spinach, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cook, tossing gently, until the spinach begins to wilt, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with the chicken.

Recipe: Pesto Gnocchi with Green Beans and Ricotta

September 5, 2008

Every time I get a new cooking magazine, I ask my fiancee (yes, we got engaged this week, woot) to pick out the recipes that look good to him.  That way, he has SOME input in the meal planning, even though I do all of the grocery shopping and cooking.

I knew he would like this recipe as soon as I saw it, as he is a HUGE gnocchi fan.  I have been dying to experiment with making it from scratch, but since I haven’t had the time to work on that (it’ll probably be a winter project), this dinner was able to satisfy my honey’s craving AND cut my time in the kitchen.  You could certainly change things up to include other vegetables, like peas or asparagus.  If you don’t like ricotta, you could substitute another soft cheese or just sprinkle the whole dish with grated parmesan.  If you don’t care for gnocchi, use any kind of regular pasta.  See?  Endless possibilities!

  • 1 pound gnocchi (refrigerated or frozen)
    Kosher salt and pepper
    1/2 pound green beans, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
    1 cup pesto (you can use store-bought, or you can make your own)
    1/4 cup heavy cream
    1/4 cup ricotta

Cook the gnocchi according to the package directions. Drain and return them to the pot.  Meanwhile, bring a large saucepan of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon salt. Add the green beans and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes; drain.  Add the pesto and cream to the gnocchi and cook over medium heat, stirring, just until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Divide among bowls and top with the green beans, ricotta, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Recipe: Garlicky Broiled Salmon with Tomatoes

September 4, 2008

Grrrr.  Yet again, my camera didn’t make it out of the case before this meal was scarfed down in its entirety (that’s what I get for preparing such deliciousness, I suppose).  If you’d like to see a photo, go to Real Simple magazine’s site.  But, come on, it’s salmon and tomatoes.  Surely you can use your imagination!

This was a light, easy, inexpensive (salmon was on sale at Publix) meal that would be simple to throw together after a hard day at the office.  Or, in my case, a lively walk with my crazy dog.  I swear, he should get pulled over for DUI, as much as he weaves all over the trails.

Anyway, here ya go–enjoy!

  • 4 6-ounce pieces skinless salmon fillet
    4 medium tomatoes, cut in half
    1/2 teaspoon paprika, preferably hot
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    Kosher salt and pepper
    8 sprigs fresh thyme
    4 cloves garlic, sliced

Heat broiler. Place the salmon and tomatoes, cut-side up, in a broilerproof roasting pan or on a rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle the salmon with the paprika. Drizzle the salmon and tomatoes with the oil and season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Scatter the thyme and garlic over the top. Broil until the salmon is opaque throughout and the tomatoes are tender, 8 to 10 minutes (note: in my oven, this took more like 20).

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