As many families do, we go around the table at Thanksgiving and share with each other what we’re grateful for. So as not to botch the public version (particularly since we’re having brand new guests this year), I thought I’d practice on my dear readers. I’ll skip the “I’m thankful for my family and friends” routine (though I am) and focus on the culinary blessings I have been given. Hey, this IS a food blog!
* I’m thankful for our non-traditional Thanksgiving feast: prime rib, roasted potatoes (my grandpa’s fave), boiled green beans, and sauteed mushrooms.
* I’m thankful that this year, our new guests will be preparing a more traditional meal for Friday night’s dinner, complete with turkey and stuffing.
* I’m thankful that we have plenty of food to eat year-round, as I know that this is not the case for everyone.
* I’m thankful for any candy that combines peppermint and chocolate.
* I’m thankful for each and every Chick-fil-a that I frequent throughout the great state of Georgia. Mmmmm, nugs.
* I’m thankful for ribeye steaks, seasoned only with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and Worcestershire sauce, and seared rare on a sizzling hot grill.
* I’m thankful for the Ansley Mall Publix, which has the nicest and most helpful grocery store employees I’ve ever encountered.
* I’m thankful for my fiance, who nearly always lets me choose the restaurant and who gives me honest feedback on my kitchen experiments.
* I’m thankful for Iron Chef America, Good Eats, Top Chef, and old episodes of Baking with Julia on public television.
* I’m thankful for Williams-Sonoma, and for anyone who buys me one of their gift certificates.
* I’m thankful for my upcoming trip to DC, where I will play with fellow foodies and revisit my perennial dining faves in our nation’s capital.
* I’m thankful for my mom’s homemade brownies and my dad’s homemade clam chowder.
* I’m thankful for the Vortex and its bison burgers, tots, and killer beer selection.
* I’m thankful for grilled cheese and tomato sandwiches on wheat bread.
* I’m thankful for pre-made, refrigerated pie crusts. Sure, they’re not as good as homemade, but they allow me to bake delicious things AND spend time with my hunny and my critters.
* I’m thankful for Trader Joe’s and its aisles and aisles of delicious, affordable goodies (special shout out to the fruit jellies, a snack that never makes it through the ride home).
Most importantly, I’m thankful for all of the friends and good times that have come to me through my love of food. It continues to amaze me that such a simple act–eating–can bring so many different people, cultures, and lives together. May you all enjoy your Thanksgiving feasts!
Even though I love all carbs and try not to discriminate, there’s always been a special place in my heart for potato gnocchi. Those soft, pillowy pellets of perfection frequently call to me from restaurant menus and even from supermarket shelves. Sadly, there are precious few places where the gnocchi is as good as it should be–in other words, tender but not mushy, firm but not rubbery, and mild in flavor but not bland (it should highlight whatever sauce is being used, not simply be a transport mechanism).
So what’s a girl to do when she’s craving gnocchi but underwhelming, overpriced versions just won’t do? That’s right, children–she makes some her damn self. Hear me roar and all that. I chose a recipe (from Tyler Florence’s playbook) that had the word “perfect” in the title, so I figured it would be pretty hard to screw up. Indeed, making gnocchi was a lot easier than I expected, but it was also more time consuming. Next time, I’ll prep the dumplings when I have a block of spare time and then freeze them for later consumption. In addition, next time I’ll make my own sauce instead of using canned (though it was, to be fair, a very respectable vodka sauce).
Pierce the potatoes several times so that moisture can escape during baking. Bake the potatoes in a preheated 400 degree oven for 1 hour until fork tender. Peel the potatoes while they are still hot and press them through a potato ricer. Put the potatoes in a large bowl with salt, baking powder, and egg white. Add the flour a little at a time and mix with your hands until the mixture forms a rough dough. Do not over-work the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface. Gently knead the dough for 1 or 2 minutes until smooth, adding a little bit more flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking.
Break off a piece of the dough and roll it back and forth into a rope, about the thickness of your index finger. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Gently roll each piece down a wooden gnocchi board (note: I used a cutting board, as I have no idea what a gnocchi board is) while pressing a small dimple with your finger (note: I used a fork). The gnocchi should be slightly curved and marked with ridges. This will allow the pillows to hold sauce when served.
Boil the gnocchi in batches in plenty of salted water. The gnocchi are done about 2 minutes after they float to the surface (about 4 minutes total). Remove with a slotted spoon, and serve. If not cooking immediately, place the gnocchi in a single layer on a baking pan dusted with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 12 hours.
Note: Tyler says that if the gnocchi start to feather and fall apart in boiling water, you need more flour. If the gnocchi don’t float after 2 minutes and are hard, you used too much flour. Based on this formula, I could have used more flour–but that’s an easy enough problem to fix, no?
In this troubling economy, dinner preparers everywhere are looking for affordable and nutritious meals to serve themselves and their loved ones. Here at Trouble With Toast, while we love to make decadent dishes with expensive ingredients, we also sometimes just crave hearty fare that doesn’t give our wallets a heart attack.
Enter this satisfying and healthy meal. Salmon can often be found on sale at your local megamart, and dried lentils, like most other legumes, can be found in bags for a very paltry price. The other ingredients should be pantry/refrigerator staples, particularly the mustard, which I am convinced is the secret ingredient for all killer dinners. I suggest doubling the amount of dressing and saving some for later salads–it is that good. I also suggest, if you suspect that your lentils have been sitting on the shelf for a while, that you cook them for an extra 5-10 minutes. Mine simmered for 25 minutes, and they were still a bit too al dente for my liking.
A photo will be forthcoming. Enjoy!
Heat broiler. Combine lentils and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 5 minutes. Add onion and celery; cover and continue cooking until lentils and vegetables are just tender, 15-25 minutes more. Drain over a bowl, reserving cooking liquid. Transfer lentils and vegetables to a bowl.
In a bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons reserved cooking liquid with vinegar, oil, mustard, garlic, and parsley; season with salt and pepper. Toss half the dressing with the lentil mixture.
Meanwhile, sesaon salmong with salt and pepper. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray. Arrange salmon on sheet; broil until opaque throughout, 8-10 minutes. Spoon lentils onto plates; top with salmon, flaking it into large pieces if desired. Drizzle with remaining dressing.
When I was a little girl living in Long Island (before my family relocated to Atlanta), one of my favorite activities was going to the nearby apple orchard. Nothing said fall like crunching through the fallen leaves to choose my favorite crisp, sweet specimens. I would also beg my mom for a gallon of fresh cider, which I always preferred cold.
I’ve tried a lot of apple varieties over the years, but my all-time favorite has to be the Granny Smith. As a child, I marveled at its bright green skin and its tart-but-sweet (and never grainy) flavor. Now, as an adult, I still turn to it for its resilient texture and its ability to “play nice” with many different proteins and accompaniments. In this recipe, the acidity of the apples and the wine bounces off the sweetness of the shallots and the meatiness of the bone-in chops to create a balanced meal that is simple to prepare. You could certainly use onions instead of shallots, though you might want to add a teaspoon or so of sugar. I served this with salad, but you could also pair it with cooked veggies or a starch of some sort.
Just don’t skimp on the Granny Smiths. Your inner child will thank you.
Heat broiler; set rack 4 inches from heat. In a large skillet, heat butter over medium-high. Add shallots; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, about 5 minutes. Cover pan; reduce heat to medium. Continue cooking until shallots are soft, about 5 minutes more.
Add apples and wine; cover, and cook until apples are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Uncover; cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated and apples are tender, 2 to 4 minutes more. Remove from heat; cover to keep warm.
While apples are cooking, season pork chops generously with salt and pepper; place on a rimmed baking sheet. Broil until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per side. To serve, spoon warm apple mixture over chops.
My parents were coming for dinner on Sunday night, but this time there was no special occasion to celebrate. So, I wanted to serve something tasty and simple, and preferably light (since my folks were coming from a football game, and they tailgated heavily beforehand). I busted out my “Great Food Fast” cookbook, and sure enough, Martha didn’t let me down. These lettuce wraps were quick, easy, and delicious, and you could easily adapt them to suit your personal tastes. They can be wrapped in tortillas instead of lettuce leaves, or the chicken could be served over rice. You could substitute another meat for the chicken, or you could use tofu. You could add mushrooms, water chestnuts, baby corn–the possibilities are only limited by your on-hand ingredients. Note: if the lettuce leaves you’re using are a little smaller (which mine were), I’d recommend chopping the chicken, or at least slicing it a lot smaller. Enjoy!
Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat. Add the chicken and cook until done. Remove to a bowl and keep warm.
Add the second tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the red bell pepper and onions. Cook, stirring constantly, for about 4 minutes until the vegetables soften and become lightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the garlic, ginger and red pepper flakes. Cook until fragrant, only about 30-60 seconds. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and cornstarch mixture. Remove from heat and stir to completely combine. Add the chicken back to the mixture and toss to coat with the sauce. Serve in lettuce cups.
Just when we thought we couldn’t eat any more…well…we did.
Day three of our Texas pig-out started with breakfast at the Guenther House, which was recommended to us by some fellow tourists the night before. Home of the founding family of the Pioneer Flour Mills, it was a really lovely setting–and it was bustling even early on a Monday morning! Jason and I both ordered platters that came with biscuits, gravy, meat (sausage for me, bacon for him), and fruit. We also decided to split a short stack of pancakes. You know, for dessert. The biscuits were INSANE. I mean, they were the biggest, fluffiest things I’ve ever seen. They didn’t even look like biscuits at first, and they definitely weren’t as crumbly as the ones I’ve come across in Georgia. Anyway, they were delicious, especially when dipped in what was one of the best sawmill gravies I’ve ever had–flavorful, and thick without being goopy. The pancakes were light and fluffy, too, and they came with a butter pecan syrup that was really unique and delicious. Accompaniments were fresh and plentiful, and the house coffee (which had hints of hazelnut and pecan) was hot and comforting. We were pleasantly surprised that such a popular tourist destination could produce such excellent food!
For dinner, good Texas BBQ was the only thing I wanted. There are a lot of chains in the San Antonio area, but one name kept coming up–Rudy’s. So, we hopped in the car, fired up the GPS, and drove out to…
…a gas station?
Yep, Rudy’s is a killer BBQ joint that is attached to a gas station/convenience store. But after I tasted the goods, I decided that it could be attached to a nuclear waste site and I’d still visit again and again. It’s a walk-up counter, and they serve the food in wax paper and on old soft drink crates. Everything is available by the serving or by the pound, and the meats are sliced/chopped right in front of you (instead of wasting away in tubs or warming trays). Jason got sliced brisket, which was the best I’ve ever had–tender, moist, and with a great smoky kick. Now I know what brisket is SUPPOSED to taste like! My chopped BBQ (which was a mixture of pork, brisket, and turkey) was meaty, but it had a nice zing from the surrounding sauce. We also tried the potato salad and the creamed corn, and both dishes got raves. We left fat and happy, and with a faint hickory smell remaining on our clothes.
Thus ended our Texas adventure. In addition to all the eating, we visited the Alamo, toured Randolph Air Force Base, strolled in the lovely park by the zoo, did some shopping, and met some amazing people. It was a great long weekend, and I highly recommend San Antonio as a fun and delicious destination!
On our second day in San Antonio, we had breakfast at a local landmark, Mi Tierra Cafe y Panaderia. Family-owned since 1941, it is located near the Mercado and is quite the sight–it seats literally hundreds of people, the servers are dressed in traditional Mexican garb, there are mariachis strolling and playing while you eat, and the place is decked out, ceiling to floor, in Christmas decorations (year round). Yes, it smacks of a tourist trap, but I had to know if the food was good despite the kitsch.
Well, it was good, but not great. The coffee was weak, but the orange juice totally made up for it. It really and truly was fresh squeezed, and it was delicious. My chilaquiles–crispy corn tortilla strips scrambled with eggs, topped with ranchero sauce, and covered with cheddar–were tasty, though I feel like I could have created the same thing in my home kitchen. Breakfast potatoes were passable, though I would have preferred them a lot crunchier. I couldn’t pass up the chance to try some barbacoa, which was pretty good (though underseasoned), and the fresh flour tortillas were amazing–I ate a couple with just a little butter, and I’d take that over toast any day of the week. In sum, Mi Tierra was perfectly acceptable hangover food, but I’m sure I could do some research and find MUCH better Tex-Mex in San Antonio.
For dinner, I made reservations at Citrus, a fine-dining restaurant in the oh-so-chic Hotel Valencia Riverwalk. The decor is very minimalist, but there are strategically placed bursts of color to keep the atmosphere vibrant. We were seated on time for our 8 PM reservation, and we quickly ordered a bottle of fume blanc (I found the wine to be reasonably priced, particularly compared to some of the ridiculous markup percentages I’ve noted lately in Atlanta). Our server went over the day’s selections, which could be arranged into a three- or four-course tasting menu (or ordered a la carte, but where’s the fun in that?). We opted for the four-course menu ($68; the three-course menu was $55) in order to taste something from each of the groupings.
For our first course, I ordered the thin-sliced kampachi with micro-mesclan and scallion ponzu sauce. The fish was incredibly fresh and flavorful, and the ponzu was deliciously salty, though I think it overpowered the dish toward the bottom of the bowl (where it was pooling a bit). Jason opted for the crab cake with toasted pumpkin seeds, sliced avocado, and micro-greens. I believe his exact words were, “You could feed a third-world country with just the crab in this crab cake.” It was, indeed, full of meat and very light on the breading; there was also a delicious hollandaise sauce that gave it even more richness.
I decided on the highly-recommended lobster lollipops for my second course. The HUGE pieces of lobster tail meat were fried in tempura batter, skewered, and served with a honey aioli saice. And yes, they were every bit as delicious as they sound–tender, sweet, crunchy, and ridiculously decadent. Jason had antelope, which was seared, sliced, and served with a very tasty berry sauce.
For my main course, I chose the long-cooked strawberry grouper, which was served with aromatic rice and green curry shrimp. The grouper was tasty, but it was a bit overcooked for my liking. The rice, on the other hand, was undercooked. However, the shrimp that came with the dish were enormous and perfectly cooked, and the green curry sauce was absolutely killer. Jason ordered the barbecue spiced duck breast with sweet potato-sausage hash and bourbon duck jus, and it was delicious. The meat was perfectly cooked, and the spices were lively enough to be interesting but not so heavy as to overpower the fowl.
For dessert, we tried the local blueberries with sour cream and the cinnamon croissant bread pudding with bourbon glaze. The former was simple and elegant, and certainly the plumpest blueberries that I’ve ever seen. The latter came with some amazing homemade vanilla ice cream, but I found the bread pudding itself to be a little dry. It was covered in candied pecans, though, which provided a lovely sweet crunch.
Service was attentive and knowledgeable, though our waiter did spend a lot of time explaining menu components like “wagyu,” “coulis,” and “cipollini.” Even Jason, who loves food but isn’t nearly the nerd that I am, felt like he was being tutored in “Food 101” (though neither of us felt like we were being condescended at all). I guess that’s what happens when you try haute cuisine in San Antonio instead of San Francisco. All in all, though, Citrus was an extremely pleasant and delicious dining experience, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for fine food in the area.
I spent this past weekend in San Antonio, where my hunny served some time while in the Air Force. There are a lot of friendly people in San Antonio, though I wonder how they manage NOT to all weigh 300+ pounds. There’s so much good food in Texas!
Day one of our trip involved checking out some local fast food joints, since our schedules were all wonky due to a) our flight, b) various football games we wanted to watch, and c) visiting a local pool hall (which involved me drinking my weight in beer and whooping some serious billiards ass).
For lunch, I experienced my very first Whataburger. Now, I’ve never been to In ‘N Out (which is supposed to be the benchmark of fast food burgers), but for me, Whataburger was a superlative fast food meal. It certainly beat out Five Guys and Zesto, which are the best fast food burgers we have here in Atlanta. The restaurant was clean, the employees were friendly and efficient, and the food was fresh and tasty. Not only do they cook your burger only when you order it, but they’ll top it how you want it (I went “all the way,” with mayo, mustard, lettuce, tomato, onion, and pickles) and bring it to you when it’s ready. The fries were also hot and crispy. Since the original Whataburger is in nearby Corpus Christi, there were more big orange “W”s dotting the San Antonio landscape than McDonald’s, Burger King, and Wendy’s combined. This, I concluded, is a very good thing.
After my pool sharking, we decided to soak up our beer with some vittles from Taco Cabana. Do not confuse this 24-hour quickie Tex-Mex establishment with a more well-known national chain. Taco Cabana is the real deal. They make their tortillas and salsas fresh (their pico de gallo is out of this world), and just like Whataburger, your food isn’t made until your order it. They also serve beer! Not that we needed any on this particular occasion, mind you. Anyway, in the interest of full disclosure, I was not a Taco Cabana virgin–we actually have one near our neighborhood in Atlanta, which I believe is the only franchise east of the Mississippi River. But, for some reason, the food just tasted better in Texas.
Tomorrow: Day Two, which involved burritos for breakfast and lobster lollipops. Stay tuned!
Deciding on a main course for my parents’ birthday dinner was no easy task. First, the protein–chicken didn’t feel “special” enough, pork isn’t my mom’s favorite, and fish appears frequently on their dinner table during any given week. I was also limited by certain ingredients (beans, most cheeses, etc.), as my mom is a tad bit picky. Enter the wise and beautiful Lemmonex, who suggested this lamb recipe from Bon Appetit magazine.
In short, it was the PERFECT dish. It was hearty, but not sickeningly rich. It was flavorful, both from the spices and from the meat itself. It was mind-blowingly tender. It paired well with wine. It reheated well. It held me after sex and then called when it said it would!!!
In all seriousness, this could not have turned out better. It didn’t really taste anything like pomegranite, but it didn’t much matter because the other spices (particularly the cinnamon) played up the meat’s sweetness really nicely. Again, I think the homemade chicken stock gave the dish a little extra oomph, so you should definitely consider taking the time to make some. And speaking of time, this dish takes a lot of it (you have to brown and bake the lamb overnight, then refrigerate it, then continue with the cooking the next day), but the techniques aren’t difficult and the results are totally worth the effort.
Serving note: the gravy is out of this world, so make sure you have some bread or potatoes or other starchy goodness with which to sop it all up.
Position rack in lowest third of oven and preheat to 325°F. Heat oil in heavy large pot or Dutch oven over high heat. Add all lamb bones and cook until brown, turning often, about 15 minutes. Transfer bones to plate. Season lamb with salt and pepper and dredge thoroughly in flour. Add to pot and cook until brown on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer lamb to plate with bones.
Add onions and garlic to pot and cook until onions are just golden, scraping up browned bits, about 5 minutes. Return lamb to pot. Arrange bones around lamb. Stir in stock and next 7 ingredients. Bring liquid to boil. Baste top of lamb. Cover; bake until lamb is tender when pierced with long sharp knife, turning once, about 2 hours 15 minutes. Cool; cover and chill overnight.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Remove fat from surface of lamb and cooking liquid. Transfer lamb to platter. Remove string from lamb. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Arrange in shallow baking dish.
Bring pan juices to boil. Remove bones and discard. Strain pan juices, pressing hard on solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Melt margarine in same pot over medium heat. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons flour and stir until mixture begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Whisk in pan juices and boil until sauce is reduced to 2 cups, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour over lamb. Cover with foil and bake until lamb is heated through, about 25 minutes. Arrange lamb on platter. Spoon sauce over. Garnish with parsley.
For my parents’ birthday dinner extravaganza, I wanted a first course that would be simple and delicious, something that would have clean flavors and that wouldn’t fill us up. Adapted from Gourmet Magazine, this soup absolutely fit the bill.
The key is roasting the veggies, which gives them a great caramelized flavor and really brings out their lovely essences. Fennel is normally a little too anise-esque for my liking (I am not a fan of that licorice flavor), but the flavor was much more mellow after roasting and it complimented the super-sweet carrots perfectly. I also think my homemade chicken stock made a HUGE difference in terms of depth of flavor.
A tip: do NOT be afraid to liberally salt this recipe. The salt is absolutely necessary to help bring out the flavors of the vegetables, which are definitely sweet enough to withstand the seasoning. Say it with me now, salt is your friend…salt is your friend…