Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Riding out ahead of the culinary trend line

El Camino. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
For this week's dining column in  LouisvilleHotBytes.com and LEO Weekly, I take a look at a national survey of chefs and find that our town is riding out ahead of the trend line in a number of eats-industry measures.
What's up, Chef?
Next year's food trends are old stuff here
Is this town trendy or what? For foodies, I mean. I understand Louisville has the reputation as a place where the latest fashion trends arrive five years after they're oh-so dead in New York. But when it comes to food, if the National Restaurant Association's 2014 Culinary Forecast is any guide, we're not only on top of most national eats trends but we also have already seen a few of them crest, surf over the top and fall back.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Thai-style green curry with Beyond Meat grilled "chicken" strips

I was very happy with this quick Thai-style green curry with @BeyondMeat grilled "Chicken-Free Strips" that I tossed together for dinner tonight.  Almost too simple for a recipe, it involved tearing  into bite-size shreds, browning them briefly in peanut oil, then making the curry base with sauteed onions, diced red and green bell pepper, and minced garlic and ginger olus salt, red and black pepper, until the onions were good and browned; add a half-cup coconut milk plus a dab of Thai green curry paste, shot of soy, a bit of tomato paste, a dollop of sambal oelek and a squirt of lemon juice. When the veggies are done and the creamy sweet-hot coconut sauce has come together, check seasoning, stir in the "chicken" strips, warm through, and serve over hot rice.  That's all there is to it.  Definitely yum-worthy.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Mmmmushroom risotto ...

Mushroom risotto!
I made risotto for a small crowd tonight, more than doubling our usual ration for two, and it worked out very well.  Its rich brown color reflects the presence of brown domestic mushrooms and plenty of reconstituted dried porcinis, a fresh mushroom broth incorporating the concentrated porcini soaking water, and, of course, a load of deeply browned onions, bringing the color and delicious flavor of caramelized onions and garlic to the party.

Since we were hosting a small business meeting, I decided to cook the risotto to near completion, just short of al dente, before our guests arrived, then put on a lid and left it at room temperature for an hour or so, returning at dinner time to finish it over heat with a little more mushroom broth, butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano.  I hoped this wouldn't post an unacceptable risk, and as it turned out, the finished product's texture was fine. I think it was more prudent to do it this way than it would have been to finish it early and then try to reheat.

So, this approach worked well for me, but there's always room to learn. If you've tried pre-cooking risotto and then finishing it later, I'd love to hear your tips and techniques.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Mmm, fennel-scented Italian sausage and pasta

Huh-huh, he said "sausage," Beavis. Or he said Lightlife Smart Sausages® Italian Style, anyway, a plant-based "meat" that's aromatic and fennel-scented and looks, tastes and feels so much like real Italian sausage that it's hard to believe it wasn't carved from the side of a pig. But it wasn't, and that's a good thing on several levels, from the health thing to the humane thing.

The dish was quick and easy, too easy to require a real recipe.  I thawed a block of our summer garden tomato sauce, portioned and frozen for just this sort of winter dinner, and cooked up the sausage, sliced into rounds, with the tomato sauce, a bunch of browned onions and garlic in a little olive oil, and black and red pepper and salt. Oh, yeah, and a hit of fennel pollen (or you could grind a little fennel seed) to kick the fennel flavor up another notch.  Boil spaghetti, drain spaghetti, dress pasta with the sauce and put a simple green salad on the side, and dinner is done.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Meaty" flavor in a plant-based red lentil dal

Red lentils, boosted by browned onions and plenty of Indian spice, make about as “meaty” a meatless dish as I can imagine. Filling and heart-warming, this is one of the most enjoyable variations on Indian dal (lentil soup) that I’ve come across yet.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Spaghetti with spinach, garlic butter and Parmigiano

This quick and easy dinner made a delicious light evening meal for Christmas Eve. When butter is a serious player in the flavor mix, I recommend using the best quality butter you can find. Fresh locally produced butter from hormone- and antibiotic-free milk is mighty fine, although I was plenty happy with tonight's choice, Delitia of Parma from Emilia-Romagna.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Pilafy or Biryanish?

Veggie pilaf-biryani
Call it pilaf or call it biryani, it's really a little of both, I guess, this stovetop rice and veggie dish that I put together tonight, using the stovetop technique for a Southwest Asian pilaf, more or less, but flavors that I'd associate with a South Indian biryani.  Given the Silk Road historical connections between Persia and the -stans and India, it's not surprising that the cuisines meet and mingle with mutual affection.

It was a simple enough dish that I threw together from what was available to make dinner for two:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Indian delights kissed with primal fire

For this week's LouisvilleHotBytes.com dining column in LEO Weekly, we visit a new Indian restaurant in suburban Middletown called Clay Pot, prompting a reverie on the primal fire of the classic Indian tandoori oven.
Clay Oven fires up Indian goodies 
Ponder this: An Indian cooking technique based on clay pot principles as old as civilization can generate temperatures up to a roaring 900 degrees F. That's hot enough to put even your neighborhood pizza oven to shame, and it's even hotter than your home oven gets when it's self-cleaning at full-blast and locked up for your protection.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Radical Christianity in Pope Francis and the Song of Mary

"If you think of the mother of Jesus as a sweet, submissive figure, take a closer look at the words this teen-aged Palestinian woman sang when the angel tells her she would be the mother of God: '… he has scattered the proud … brought down the powerful … lifted up the lowly … filled the hungry with good things … sent the rich away empty.'  This divine command links Torah and the Gospels. It is the command that Jesus explicitly asks of those who follow his way."(1)

Reflecting on the Magnificat or Song of Mary, a reading from the first chapter of Luke's gospel that's also offered as Canticle 15 in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer in the Episcopal Church, I thought of Pope Francis and the well-deserved acclaim he has been receiving for the fresh air he is bringing in to his church.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Fennel gratin makes a warming winter dinner

Fennel and onion gratin.
When I was a kid, I hated licorice with every fiber of my being. In our family, bad children were threatened not with a lump of coal in our Christmas stocking but the evil reward of nasty black licorice. Ick.

But my first trip to France introduced me to the joys of Pernod, Ricard and other anise-scented liquors - not licorice at all, but something much more delicious. And in an adult beverage! And then further travel across Provence and into Italy revealed the wonders of fennel - perhaps the most subtle and delicious member of the whole licorice/anise/fennel family - and I was a convert. Fennel in sausage, fennel in risotto, fennel as a base for fish, thin-sliced fennel in a crisp salad? It's all good.

Tonight, armed with a big, fresh fennel bulb, I threw together a warming fennel gratin.

I pulled the cork, and there was THE BLOB ...

Any old Port in a storm?

So you want to enjoy a mature, well-aged wine without spending a bundle, but you can't afford a temperature-controlled wine cellar?  Go with Madeira, most any savvy wine geek will advise. As far back as the 15th century, the sturdy wines of this Portuguese-ruled Atlantic island were being built to survive ocean voyages and last for the long haul.

This good advice still holds. But the savvy wine geek's usual second suggestion, Vintage Port, takes a bit more analysis.  Vintage Port, or "VP" to those who know it well enough to use nicknames, can last for generations indeed. But to find a keeper requires a little knowledge and a lot of good advice. The producer's record and, perhaps even more important, the vintage, matter.

I wrapped up a 12-year experiment the other day, pulling cork from the second bottle of a Duff Gordon 1994 Port that I had originally purchased and first sampled in 2001, then kept on a wine rack in a cool but not cellar-quality home location since.

Cutting to the chase, when I pulled the cork, the wine was still drinkable, if a bit light and thin.

And then I noticed The Blob!

What is this gross thing?

Find out in this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor, now online and en route to subscribers' Email boxes.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Cincinnati chili: No hating, please!

Our homemade Cincy "five-way."
Actually, I really don’t get the fear and loathing that the idea of Cincinnati chili evokes in some people. Mention this stick-to-your-ribs regional delight, and those of us who didn’t grow up with it (or its Louisville cousin, “chili con carne” over spaghetti without the aromatic spices) generally go “eeeuuuwww” and then burst into an angry rant.

What’s to rant about? From a food anthropology standpoint, it may help to recognize that this is just another strain of immigrant cuisine working its way into the American melting pot.  Displaced Greek and Bulgarian refugees came to Cincinnati after World War II, and some of them opened restaurants.  Unfortunately, the good burghers of the Queen City (then, as now, more conservative than we are down the river) weren’t having any furrin’ food.  So the canny entrepreneurs re-purposed their traditional spaghetti with meat sauce and called it “chili,” and hungry Cincinnatians, recognizing it by that name,  ate it right up.

That’s more or less how it happened, I’m pretty sure.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

So, how did you find Cheddar Box Too?

Pan-seared salmon salad at Cheddar Box Too.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
This week, we visit Cheddar Box Too for my dining review on LouisvilleHotBytes.com and in LEO Weekly. This pleasant, sunny little lunch spot in St. Matthews opened last year, sibling to the original Cheddar Box, just across the parking lot, which has been vending box lunches and desserts to go for more than 30 years.
Cheddar Box? Cheddar Box, Too 
My friend Tom has been in Louisville for a few months now, and he knows his way around pretty well. But he got a little confused when we got together for lunch the other day at Cheddar Box Too. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

$10 recession-busting French red

Delas 2012 Ventoux
Delas 2012 Ventoux
I keep reading that the long-running recession is over. A news flash just came in! "Economy Added 203,000 Jobs in November; Unemployment Falls to 5-Year Low!"

Funny I'm not feeling that, though, and neither are most people I know.  Recession, Schmecession:  We're not all out at wine auctions buying Domaine de la RomanĂ©e-Conti or Screaming Eagle or whatever today's trophy du jour might be. But show me a decent, interesting red wine that goes well with food and bears a modest $10 price tag, and I'm all over it.

Check out my tasting report on the $9.99 Delas 2012 Ventoux in today's 30 Second Wine Advisor. You'll also find a link to a fine holiday benefit, a 10 percent savings code from our good friends at California Wine Club, and a repeat of last week's links to Steve and Deborah De Long's first-rate Wine Map of Italy, along with their other display-quality wine maps and their offbeat, intriguing Wine Grape Varietal Table.

It's all in this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor, now online and en route to subscribers' Email boxes.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Healthy is tasty at Earth Friends Cafe

The breakfast naan quesadilla at Earth Friends Cafe.
This week's @TheVoiceTribune review from LouisvilleHotBytes.com takes us to Earth Friends Cafe for healthy, tasty fare.  Here's the intro. Click the links below to go to the full review.
’Tis the season ... no, I’m not talking about that season.  ’Tis the season for spectacular over-eating, indulging ourselves a the delicious risk of life and health because, well, that’s what we do at holiday time. 
If you’re ready for a break, though, or plan to be later, allow me to suggest a trip to Earth Friends Cafe & Coffee Bar, where virtuous dining can also be delicious.  Now, the menu here offers a lot of vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and other genres here that may sound abstemious. But Earth Friends offers options for the omnivorous, too.  
Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes.com or click here to find it in the Voice-Tribune.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Come on down to Eiderdown in Germantown

Eiderdown, one of my favorite casual Louisville restaurants, seems a perfect fit for the city's Germantown neighborhood.  Here's the intro to my review for LEO Weekly and LouisvilleHotBytes.com this week. Hit the links at the end for the full report.

ImageIs Eiderdown German? Is Germantown German?
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Ah, Germantown, that lovable little urban neighborhood. Who can drive, stroll or bike through its tidy streets of shotgun houses and sturdy brick storefronts without feeling connected with our city’s German heritage? 

Don’t look too closely, though. Back in the day - way back in the day, the 1840s - a tide of German immigrants (and, a bit later, their Irish cousins) washed over Louisville, whose earlier first families, established and conservative folks of English stock, didn’t particularly welcome them.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Frittata? Omelet? What's the difference?

Frittata with celery, onions, garlic and Grana Padano.
So what, other than the obvious point that one is French and the other Italian, is the difference between an omelet and a frittata?  There's no denying that the finished product is similar, but the results certainly aren't identical. Nevertheless, I like them both.

The key to me is that an omelet is made over screeching high heat and takes only a minute or two to fashion from start to finish. It's the 50-yard dash of egg dishes.  Call the frittata a mile run, then:  It's cooked low and slow and gently develops its texture over 15 minutes or so of gentle cooking on stovetop or in the oven.

But yeah, they're both essentially a round, flat delight fashioned from eggs and filling ingredients.  Either way, what's not to like?

All hail the satsuma!

Fresh satsuma!
There's something that both fascinates and frustrates me about the seasonality of fresh fruit (and veggies, too!)  There is probably a life lesson in the patience that's required to wait for the annual arrival of fresh local peaches, ripe garden tomatoes, juicy fresh figs, and, as the season moves on, ripe pears, and now satsumas, the one variety of tangerine so good that I would rather wait for its short December-January season than eat the others.

Seedless, easy to peel, sweet juice nicely contained in tight segments that don't leak all over your hands ... what's not to like?  I eat them by the sack full while I can, then declare it a season and wait for next year.

Sometimes I wish all these luscious items were available all year 'round (and I'm not talking about the rock-hard, trucked-in substitutes bred for shipping durability but not for texture or flavor, either!)

But suppose we could have satsumas - or ripe local peaches, tomatoes and all our other favorites - all 12 months of the year. Would they still taste as sweet?