Thursday, July 31, 2014

Fettuccine Genovese

The rest of the kale pesto in a garden spin on a classic Genovese dish: Fettuccine with thin-sliced new potatoes, green beans and pesto.  It's green, and it's good.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Fooling around with kale pesto again. Kale from the garden instead of basil; pecans in place of pine nuts; plenty of garlic, lots of olive oil and Grana Padano cheese. Tastes great! #HideTheKale

Monday, July 28, 2014

Okra gumbo

Another take on okra gumbo, a regular part of our summer garden rotation. This time with sliced okra, browned aromatics, Cajun spice and fresh tomato concassé.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Got your beefsteak right here

This is a beefsteak tomato. Heirloom "steakhouse" variety, one beefy slice weighs about a half-pound. With benedictine on rye toast.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Country-style (Italian country) green beans

This is how an Italian might make country-style long-simmered green beans: Simmer them for an hour in a blended mix of sauteed onions, garlic and carrots with fresh-tomato sauce. Serve over cavatappi.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Beefsteak ... tomatoes!

I try not to duplicate food photos too much, but after celebrating summer's first tomatoes with a caprese last month, I had to do it again now that midsummer beefsteaks are full on.

Thick beefsteak slices from the garden, fresh basil ditto; fresh mozzarella from Lotsa Pasta, salt, pepper and good Italian olive oil.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Imam Bayildi pilaf

I suspended publication of this blog for several months because I simply didn't have time to work out and write down detailed recipes for the (usually) plant-based dishes that I make at home.  Often the recipe production phase took as long as the cooking and eating phase, and I just can't justify that.

I feel bad about not recording these creations, though, so for a while I'm going to try bringing the blog back, but limiting contents of the food-related posts to a photo and brief description listing primary ingredients.  Many cooks will be able to create something similar without any more info than that.  If you have questions about a specific dish or procedure, feel free to ask in the comments, and I'll try to respond.

Resuming, then, here's a re-visit on a dish I published last fall, when we were still pulling eggplant out of the garden:  Imam Bayildi pilaf, fresh eggplant sauteed with onions, garlic, ginger, fresh tomatoes and spice, finished like a pilaf with basmati rice.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Weeds or wheat?

Sermon by Robin Garr
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Louisville, Kentucky 
Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Son of Man will send his angels, 
and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, 
and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, 
where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 


We Episcopalians don’t go in much for hellfire and brimstone and eternal damnation. 

This is a good thing.

I wonder how many of us grew up in traditions that envisioned God as an angry old patriarch with a long, white beard, full of vengeance and wrath.

This was a big problem for me, a child of the Baby Boom. Like a lot of us with some gray in our hair, we grew up in an age when we were never quite sure if the Evil Empire was about to launch missiles over the North Pole to kill us all. In grade school, we were taught to stop, drop and roll under our desks if we saw a bright atomic flash. I was scared to death of such a fiery, radioactive hell on earth.  

Mix one cup of that with a couple of tablespoons of divine wrath, and you get a challenging environment for a shy kid. Would God “get you” if you let a cuss word slip out? Or what if you got a little too interested in those girls who suddenly seemed intriguingly different? God sure would get you for that!

Yeah, the fear of hellfire burned my teen-age soul - and eventually, drove me away from organized religion for much of my adult life. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who went down that path. It took a lot of growing up and some pricey therapy to get over it.  I’m just glad that I’m where I am now, and not where I was then.

Aren’t we glad that Episcopalians don’t go in for all that?  

We do hold Scripture in high respect, but we’re not expected to leave our brains outside the church. We listen to the scripture readings. We listen to the sermon (I hope!) And we come together in common prayer, not rigid dogma. 

As Episcopalians, we do believe that the bible contains “all things necessary for salvation.” But we approach scripture in community, seeking to understand its often confusing, sometimes contradictory verses through tradition and our own good reason. 

Rowan Williams, the retired Archbishop of Canterbury, puts it this way: “The Bible needs to be read, prayerfully and discerningly, in the company of as many other believers as possible, so that we can learn some wisdom from each other as to what exactly God does want to tell us. Hearing the truth in Scripture means expecting the Holy Spirit to be at work both in the text, and in the community that reads it.” [1]

But we still can’t just close our eyes and walk away from the scary parts. Matthew tells us that these words came right out of Jesus’ mouth: “They will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

How can we work with that?

A wise seminary professor taught me to start by looking at the other things that the Gospels tell us Jesus said; then try to see how the odd passage  fits in.

Okay, let’s think about the current uproar over the thousands of children fleeing horror in Latin America. They face danger and risk death to get to our borders.

I imagine Jesus standing on the banks of the Rio Grande, looking at all the little children and weeping. 

Surely he would say, as we hear him say a few chapters later in Matthew: “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs.”

That caring love just doesn’t fit with the idea of throwing evildoers into the furnace of fire,  “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”  I don’t see Jesus doing that, not even to “evildoers;” not even to the angry faces at the border, who shake their fists and curse at the busloads of crying children on their way to Immigration Jail.  

So, then,  why do we hear such seemingly contradictory things from Jesus in rhe Gospels?  Another seminary professor showed us the value of reading Scripture in the context of its own time and place. First, we should try to understand what its original listeners heard. This may help us understand it in words meaningful for our times.

So, is there a historical reason why Matthew might show us a Jesus who threatens to burn the bad guys?  

All four evangelists worked from oral tradition a generation or two after  Jesus, around and after the terrible times when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and tore down the Temple. 

Many people in those days thought the end of the world was near, and most Christians firmly believed that Jesus would come back soon. A lot of them hoped he would come back with a fiery sword and an army of angels. It was not unusual for the evangelists to envision a bloody, scary End Times with a judging Jesus on a royal throne, separating the sheep and the goats.

In that context, writes the bible scholar and Episcopal theologian Marcus Borg, “[this] parable reflects the concern of a young Christian community attempting to define itself against an evil world, a concern not characteristic of Jesus." Letting the wheat and weeds grow up together suggests the final judgment rather than agricultural practice.” [2]  The New Interpreter’s Study Bible adds in a footnote, “...  this Gospel regrettably uses imperial goals (destroying all adversaries) ... to picture God’s empire.” [3]

Sure enough, when we turn the page past “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” things get better. The very next verse assures us that the righteous will “shine like the sun” in God’s kingdom.  

Yes, the bible contains passages on harsh judgment, and war and destruction, and lofty kings with 1,000 wives. But it its core it celebrates righteousness

Throughout Scripture, from Lot seeking righteous persons in Sodom and Gomorrah, to the Psalms and the prophets, to Jesus himself, Scripture  places a high value on righteousness, which means justice: loving our neighbor. speaking truth to power, siding with the oppressed, the needy, and the stranger in our land.  The long arc of biblical wisdom turns toward justice. 

Let’s look back at today’s reading from Genesis, the story of Jacob’s dream.  Jacob was a trickster, sneaky and conniving; not an admirable person.  As we've heard in recent Gospels, he cheated his older twin, Esau, out of his birthright and out of his father’s dying blessing. Now Jacob was on the run, escaping the threats of an angry Esau who wants to kill him.  

Jacob doesn’t look righteous here, does he? He certainly doesn’t seem just. He looks a lot more like “weeds” than healthy, nourishing “wheat.”  And yet ... in his dream, God rewards him. God tells Jacob, as God had told his grandfather, Abraham, and his father, Isaac, that he will inherit the promised land and become be the father of a great nation.  

Why does God do this?  Jacob is tricky and selfish. You could call him a jerk, an evildoer. Yet God does not throw him into a furnace of fire. God gives him a vast reward.

What's this about?

Throughout the bible, we see God working with broken, troubled people, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob … like us.  Aren't all of us broken and troubled in our own ways?  Yet God loves us, and God desires for us to be good.  

When Jacob woke up from his dream, he had seen God. He understood God’s love, and his heart lighted up. “Surely the Lord is in this place - and I did not know it!” He built a monument, and he named the place Bethel - Beth El - “The House of God.” Jacob was a changed man.

That's the message we can take from today's readings. That's the message that I finally got in my own life. I replaced my image of a mean, angry God with a God who wishes only that we listen for God’s voice, be just, and love our neighbors as ourselves.  A loving, forgiving God. 

God loves us. 

Note well that in this parable Jesus does not ask us to be the sower of seeds. He doesn't ask us to rip the weeds out. We are asked only to stand tall like the wheat, soak up the sunshine and the rainfall, and grow strong.  

Will we be wheat, or will we be weeds? I imagine that most of us are some of both. Yet God calls us, just as God called Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, to participate in the kingdom by loving our neighbors and practicing justice in the world.

Let's try to do that.  



[1] Williams, Rowan. Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 2014.,

[2] Borg, Marcus J., in Funk, Robert Walter, and Roy W. Hoover. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus : New Translation and Commentary. New York: Macmillan, 1993

[3] Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreter's Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Blog on hiatus

FYI, because of competing priorities, I don't plan to update this blog in the near future. Since nobody loves a blog that just sputters out without a word of farewell, I wanted to put this up to let folks know that the lights are out and the doors locked for a while.  I might resume it again in a while when other chores slow down a bit.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Cottage Cafe Shines on Middletown's Old Main Street

Meatloaf plate at Cottage Cafe in Middletown.
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Middletown's Main Street, a quaint strip of Victorian houses, steepled churches and storefront shops, served as the suburban community's main drag for many years as its commercial center and a slow-down, look-around opportunity for traffic on the old U.S. 60.

Then came the age of the suburb. Middletown got a four-lane "bypass" that sped traffic around the old town center and that quickly sprouted with shopping centers and strip malls, and Main Street settled into a quieter, gentler place.

It was a perfect setting for boutiques and consignment stores and lots of antique shops, and like nature abhorring a vacuum, in they came.

For intensity, try Alsacity

Okay, I'm busted. "Alsacity" isn't really a word. But I'm making one up now, because it seems only fair that "the character that sets apart many of the fascinatingly intense wines from Alsace" is so memorable that it deserves its own dictionary entry.

Riesling may be the dominant grape of Alsace, and it's a memorable variety indeed, widely considered one of the world's greatest white grapes.  Gewurztraminer is also hailed as a characteristic Alsatian grape, but Pinot Blanc has its fans, and Alsatian Pinot Noir has grown from an offbeat experiment to a worthy (albeit often expensive) addition to the world's Pinot population.

What makes the wines of Alsace special?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The 'ritas are the wildest thing at Wild Rita's

Tacos and a margarita at Wild Rita's.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
So, just how wild are the 'ritas at Wild Rita's?

Well, this new spot just east of downtown, within the noise penumbra and particulates shadow of the Great Bridge Boondoggle, offers 10, count 'em 10, variations on the margarita, not to mention tequila cocktails, tequila tastings and nearly 100 fine tequilas by the bottle or drink. It would take more effort than I'm willing to expend to answer this question definitively.

But I'm willing to bet that my pal the Bar Belle figured it out with her report on the eponymous signature cocktail, the Wild Rita. It's made with a blend of Maestro Dobel (a fancy clear blend of Reposado, Añejo and extra Añejo tequilas aged in oak) with orange-scented Grand Marnier liqueur, grain alcohol infused with lime, and sweet agave nectar. And then, ay carumba, they set it on fire!

We didn't succumb to its fiery delights, but did sample a decent if rather sweet straight-up casa (house) margarita ($7, but you can get it for $4 during Wild Rita's happy hours, which are 4-7 p.m. weekdays in the bar and lounge sections only).

You can also get a full liter of the Casa Rita - that's a quart plus, for the metric-impaired - for $18, but thank you, no, I'm still a little wary of tequila after that unfortunate youthful experience. (Don't we all have one of those hiding in our Scare Closets?)

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

No meat, no booze, no matter at Roots

Bowl o' Pho at Roots. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Roots, with its next-door companion Heart & Soy, is coming up on its third anniversary this summer, and both spots appear to be going strong, filled with happy diners nightly.

So how does that work, when neither upscale Roots nor street-food Heart & Soy offer so much as a bite of meat or a sip of booze? I think it has something to do with what restaurateur Huong "Coco" Tran calls Roots' "mindful, compassionate cooking," a plant-based cuisine so good that even the most obligate carnivore can chow down without even missing animal flesh.

Friday, April 25, 2014

And now, the paper wine bottle

Wine in bottles, wine in jugs, wine in boxes, even wine in cans. Just when we start thinking we've seen every possible way to package the fruit of the vine, along comes an outfit with something completely different: Paper Boy, an outfit based in Sonoma, Calif., has launched a new line of wines packaged in a standard-size wine "bottle" made of recyclable cardboard.

Currently offering a 2012 Paso Robles Red Blend and a 2012 Mendocino County Chardonnay, Paper Boy promotes its package with plenty of exclamation points and capital letters: "It's super-light. It's ultra-green. It stays cooler longer. Recycles better. It tastes great. & it's here...THE WORLD'S FIRST PAPER WINE BOTTLE!"

The world's first paper wine bottle, the firm says, is "80 percent lighter than glass, produced from pre- and post-consumer waste and recycled/organic materials, it is an ultra-green package."

Read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on, with this week's tasting report on a good, affordable Chianti in a traditional <i>glass</i> bottle.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

Black raspberry chip ice cream at the Comfy Cow.
Comfy Cow now a herd
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

"I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream."

Once a popular ditty of the "Roaring Twenties," this folk wisdom has grown into a simple truth. Who doesn't like ice cream? As Mary's father used to say, even after an ample meal, "There is always room for ice cream."

And with Spring belatedly breaking after one of the most relentless Winters in recent memory, the signs of the season include, in addition to green buds, bright flowers and insane allergy-pollen levels, long lines of hungry supplicants forming around just about every ice-cream shop in town. Even the perennial ice cream trucks have brought their clangy rendition of "Camptown Races" back to the streets of our fair city.

I know that some folks nostalgically favor soft-serve ice cream at a half-dozen iconic old neighborhood ice cream spots around town. The Cincinnati ice cream empire and the ice-cream-and-pie folks also have fans.

But none of those options could fill the ice cream-shaped hole in my heart after Ehrmann's bakery closed years ago ... until Tim and Roy Koons-McGee brought us the Comfy Cow.

Read my full review on and click to it in this week's Voice-Tribune.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

I'll take 'Restaurants with Unusual Names' for $500

Tacos “hecho a mano” at Chapinlandia.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Hay!! Chi Wa Waa! Where in the heck is Chapinlandia?
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Hay!! Chi Wa Waa!? Chapinlandia? What the heck is going on here? Did someone just yell, "Alex, I'll take 'Restaurants with Unusual Names' for $500"?

Nah. It's simpler than that. With a month of World Cup soccer coming up in June, I'm scouting venues to catch key matches in the company of crowds whose cheers really mean something.

Just as there's nothing quite like being part of the home crowd for U of L football at the Pizza Bowl or UK hoops at Rupp, you can't beat the excitement of a Mexican-American crowd cheering Mexico at a taqueria or a bunch of enthusiastic Argentine-Americans yelling it up for Argentina at Palermo Viejo. GOOOOOOOOLLLL!

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Friday, April 18, 2014

A fresh look at Merlot

It has been 10 years since the movie "Sideways" made Merlot a laughingstock with the snobby character Miles's angry remark about "#$%&ing Merlot," a laugh line that actually drove down Merlot sales in the U.S. while starting a mini-boom for the Pinot Noir upon which the script lavished praise.

Of course, Merlot is what it is. Most wine geeks aren't going to have our tastes affected by a funny line in a movie; and that includes the screen writers and directors, who had the same character later going gaga over Chateau Cheval Blanc, a Right Bank Bordeaux that's predominantly Merlot and Cab Franc, another variety that he disdained.

So for this month's Wine Focus in our online WineLovers Discussion Group, we're seeking to give this much abused grape a second chance.

Read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love and serve one another

Love and serve one another
Sermon by Robin Garr
Thursday, April 17, 2014 (Maundy Thursday)
St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Louisville, Kentucky

“One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.’ For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, ‘Not all of you are clean’.”

It must have been frustrating to be one of the apostles.  As much as they loved Jesus - or at least 11 of them did - he rarely made things easy for them.  “Not all of you are clean”?  Come on! Give us a clue, Jesus?  Who is the dirty one?  

Even a bunch like the Twelve, who were entirely capable of arguing about which one of them would get to sit at the boss’ right hand in heaven, would slouch right back in their seats and shut up when Jesus got serious about something like this.

And it got worse.  In a few verses of John’s gospel that are skipped over in tonight’s reading, there’s a little interchange that appears in similar words in all four gospels: “Jesus was troubled in spirit, and declared, ‘Very truly, I tell you, one of you will betray me.’ The disciples looked at one another, uncertain of whom he was speaking.” 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Warm and welcoming Irish style at the Irish Rover

Fish and chips at the Irish Rover.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele
Irish Rover takes us to the Emerald Isle
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

I'll never forget my first and only visit to Ireland. We spent a week or two driving around the country, learning wrong-side driving and stopping at every pub we could find to enjoy a pint of Guinness.

Damn, it was hard to find traditional Irish music, though. Pub after pub after pub, the food and the mood were Irish, but the music was international rock. When I finally found a crew with a harp singing "Danny Boy" in a tiny pub in Killarney, it was jammed with American tourists, of course.

You want Irish music? Check out Oxegen in Kildare County every July. It draws hordes of 100,000 or more, luring them in with performers like, um, Eminem, R.E.M. and Snoop Dogg. OK, let's face it: It's the same the whole world over.

Really, if it's Irish music and huge crowds you want, you might as well visit the Irish Rover on St. Patrick's Day. Personally, though, I think Yogi was right: "Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

But any other day of the year, if you want warm and welcoming Irish style in Louisville, you can't improve on the Irish Rover, the amiable eatery that has become an indelible part of the Frankfort Avenue landscape since 1993.

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Tortilla of Spain, I adore you ...

I guess just about everyone knows by now that a Spanish tortilla is not the same thing as a Mexican tortilla. The delicious Spanish tortilla is something like an omelet, but slow-cooked and hearty, almost always loaded with thin-sliced potatoes and often other veggies as well.

Tonight for dinner I constructed a tortilla with three large free-range local eggs, about 12 ounces of waxy fingerling potatoes, a smallish fennel bulb, onion and garlic.  I cut the fingerlings lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices and cut them in turn into rough squares; parboiled them for about 7-8 minutes until tender but not falling apart; shocked then with cold water, drained and set aside.  I sliced the onion and fennel thin and minced the garlic fine, and broke three fresh, free-range eggs into a bowl, beating them briefly with a fork and seasoning to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

The prep work takes about as long as the actual cooking, although it's worth noting that a tortilla goes low and slow; in contrast with an omelet which cooks in a minute or two, a tortilla might take 10 to 15 minutes to get where you want it to go.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Does the Buddha daydream?

We Meet The Buddha on The Road at Saigon Café
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Buddha's Daydream at Saigon Cafe.
Does the Buddha daydream?

As the ancient story is told, more than 2,500 years ago when Siddharta Gautama experienced his awakening, his six years of meditation and study provided him with sudden vast insight into the meaning of life. Thus he became the Buddha, "The Awakened One," and one of the world's great religious traditions was born.

So meditate me this: Does an Awakened One sleep? Probably not. What would be the point? But surely the Buddha daydreams, for what is daydreaming, after all, but random meditation?

Buddha's Daydream! It's a Zen koan, and it's a dish at Saigon Cafe in St. Matthews.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Martinez crew slams another towering blast

No "I" in the winning t-e-a-m at The Place Downstairs
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Cornish hen at The Place Downstairs.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Just weeks after smacking a home run with El Taco Luchador, their tiny taqueria-style eatery in the midst of the Baxter Avenue fun zone, the team of  Fernando and Christina Martinez and Fernando's cousin Yaniel Martinez have slammed another rocketing blast high over the left field bleachers with The Place Downstairs.

The place, specifically, is downstairs (via a quick elevator ride) within Mussel & Burger Bar, another of the Martinez's growing list of restaurant success stories. With Chef de Cuisine Ethan Ray in the kitchen and the affable Rick Moir, late of Equus and Jack's, presiding over a skilled team in the front of the house, The Place Downstairs hit the ground running after an extended series of "soft openings" last month.

It is already generating such a buzz, and operating - for now - on a tightly constrained schedule of dinner only on Wednesdays through Saturdays only, that you'll want to take advantage of its reservations policy and stake your claim on a table now. By Derby it's likely to be one of the hottest tickets in town.

Who knew that Mussel & Burger Bar even had a basement?

Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Broccoli and cheese pasta revisited

A standard quick-and-healthy meal around here involves cooking broccoli, stirring it into a cheesy sauce and pouring the result over pasta.  You'll find the basics from my Oct. 29 2013 report at this link.

Tonight I revisited the dish, making a change or two mostly just because I have a hard time making exactly the same dish twice.  This time I let the broccoli cook past the parboiled stage until it was fairly soft, then chopped it roughly before returning it to the Cheddar-and-Parmigiano Mornay.  I also stirred in a dollop of Dijon mustard, a flavor that I thought would work and play well with the broccoli; and separately sauteed a bit of chopped onion and minced garlic to bring additional flavor to the mix.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Spaghetti with butter, garlic and black pepper

If you want to go all ethnic, you could call it Spaghetti Aglio Et Olio e Pepe. Either way, this is just about as quick and easy a dinner as pasta gets.

Start with 4 ounces spaghetti (to serve two), and get it to simmering in a large pot of salted water. While the spaghetti is cooking, smash and mince a few big cloves of garlic - plenty is good - and cook it gently - don't let it get too brown - in 1 or 2 tablespoons good butter. (I used Italian Parma butter, but that may be overkill.  If you can get your hands on local organic butter to avoid the industrial product, antibiotics and GMOs, though, I recommend it.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Guacamole de los fuegos del infierno

There is an ugly story behind the made-in-Mexico production of two flavor favorites - guacamoles and limes - which are reportedly spiking in price at U.S. groceries while bringing down gangster terrorism to families in Mexico's Michoacán state, the country's primary source for U.S. exports of both fruits.

I'm not sure how to discern the ethical course of action for American consumers, either.  Decline to buy limes or avocados, in hope of denying the Caballeros Templarios ("Knights Templar") gangsters a tiny share of profit? But will that approach deal additional punishment on the already suffering farmers whose only connection with the gangs is the tribute they must pay?

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Veggie "rabbit" with fennel and new potatoes

Veggie "rabbit" with roasted fennel, onions, garlic
and small red-skinned new potatoes in cheese sauce.
After a beautiful taste of spring over a couple of days, today turned rainy, gray and chilly, prompting thoughts of a simple comfort-food dinner.  How about some Welsh rabbit?  Or better yet, instead of the traditional dish of cheesy sauce over toast, why not roast some delicious veggies, including tiny red-skinned new potatoes, and serve them in a consoling, roux-based sauce with cheese and spice?

Sounded good. Was good!  Welsh rabbit is one of those old folk dishes whose history is lost in time, by the way. Perhaps a joke on hapless rabbit-hunters who came home empty-handed, it's sometimes altered to "rarebit" by people who think the idea of naming a meatless cheese dish after an animal is just plain silly; but on the whole, I'd rather eat a cheesy rabbit than a bunny, so I'm good with the original.

Risotto-style pasta "makes its own gravy"

I was intrigued by an article and recipe by Florence Fabricant in yesterday's New York Times:
Recipe: Penne With Carrots, Chanterelles and Sausage  
This recipe uses a method in which pasta is cooked like risotto. Sometimes the noodle is toasted first, but always the broth is stirred into the pasta as it cooks. I learned it from Alain Ducasse, and it’s typical in some regions of Italy, including Puglia and Liguria. The pasta takes on great flavor and makes its own sauce. 
Cook pasta like risotto, adding the water a little at a time and stirring often? Hey! That could work! I wanted to try it right away, by which I meant last night! But the idea of starting with a heavy bite-size pasta shape like whole-wheat penne didn't really appeal.

Hey! Why not do it with orzo? Or riso?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Natural value

In my part of the world today, the greatest rivalry since the fall of the Iron Curtain reaches its zenith in the game of college basketball, as the long, tall athletes from the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky meet late this evening on the road to the annual National Collegiate Athletic Association championship.  Only the victor will move forward through the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.

It doesn't get much more competitive than this.  Except, of course, in the world of wine, if you choose to get involved in the great debate between the partisans of "natural wine" and those who favor extracting all the flavor possible from the grape by any means necessary.

Click to read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Dashboard Dining With Latin flavor At Gara Empanadas

Empanadas are fun! 
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Spinach empanada at Gara Empanadas
Wow! I've got to tell you about the cozy little place where we ate on a trip out to Oldham County the other day.  It was a small space, intimate but surprisingly comfortable as we sat surrounded by walls of glass that let in plenty of sunlight and the suburban view.

The colors were muted, almost spartan, soft upholstery and crisp edges in shades of gray. The seating was most comfortable of all, form-fitting and even adjustable; and we could take our pick among scores of entertainment channels.

Really, about the only downside I could see was the the big steering wheel in my lap that made it kind of hard to get at my food.

Yep, we were dashboard dining! That's the only kind of dining you can do at the new Gara Empanadas in Crestwood, but it would be a shame to miss out on these excellent and affordable Latin goodies just because it's limited to drive-up and walk-up takeaway.

Let's face it - empanadas are fun!

Read my full review on and click to it in this week's Voice-Tribune.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

When locavores can't wait for the season

Punjabi Bhindi Masala
Punjabi Bhindi Masala

I love okra, but generally tend to eat it only during late summer and early fall when it's widely available fresh and local.  Sometimes craving outweighs a locavore sensibility, though, and when I saw a big packet of crisp, fresh okra at the Highlands Valu Market in Louisville yesterday, thoughts of a good spicy Indian okra ("bhindi") dish overcame my political correctness, and I threw it in my shopping basket.

A bit of recipe-Googling and a little kitchen time later, and we were enjoying a bowl of flavorful Punjabi Bhindi Masala, a simple and spicy dish from far northern India. (The Punjab is a cultural region divided between India and Pakistan when colonial Britain drew boundaries for the new countries before declaring them independent and heading back to Blighty in 1947.)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Quick! Where's Morocco?

Andalous takes us on a tasty trip to Morocco
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Lentil tagine at Andalous. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Quick! Where's Morocco? Can you point to it on a map?  Tell us something about its history! What do you know about its culture and cuisine? 
Stumped? Sorry! But if you're not comfortable with these questions, don't feel too bad. You're hardly alone in the geographical illiteracy that researchers say afflicts a majority of Americans, particularly the younger set.

The 2006 Roper Public Affairs-National Geographic Literacy Study found that many Americans can't even locate New York or Iraq on a map.  This may shed light on the Bush administration's fabled difficulty in locating Saddam's purported WMDs. It also suggests that a nation that has a hard time zeroing in on the Empire State probably ought to hire a tour guide before heading off to Morocco.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Amplifying asparagus for pasta

I picked up a really nice looking bunch of fresh asparagus today, and it crossed my mind to use it in a pasta dinner.  But how?   Spring is approaching, finally - it was a beautiful day, and everyone around here is ignoring the snow in tomorrow night's forecast, so I wanted to do something to kick up and, well, amplify that springlike asparagus flavor without wasting a bit of it.

Here's the basic idea:

First, I broke off the woody ends of the stalks, but rather than discarding them, I simmered them for about 15 minutes in lightly salted water to extract their asparagus flavor.  Then I lifted them out with a slotted spoon and tossed them in the compost.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Those were the days ... of good cheap wine

Wine value: $20 or less?

A few weeks ago, reporting on a $10 recession-busting value in a good French red wine from Ventoux, I recalled with nostalgia the long-gone days when you could take your pick from a bunch of really good wines for $5 or so.

Nowadays this species is just about gone, although not forgotten, as the threshold for really interesting wine - as opposed to drinkable but often blandly commercial wine - has moved past $10 toward $15 or more.  (Other adult beverages don't offer an avenue for escape either, when good regional craft beers or quality import suds often top $10 for a six-pack, and as for fine liquors like single-malt Scotch or small-batch Bourbon, don't even ask.)

We're making an effort to accept this reality in this month's Wine Focus in our online WineLovers' Discussion Group, opening the discussion for March to the simple topic, "Wine Values ($20 and under)."

Click to read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on

Thursday, March 13, 2014

O tempora, o mores ...

Times change, Martini Italian Bistro carries on
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

Spaghetti and meatballs at Martini Italian Bistro.
"Oh, times, oh customs." as the ancient Roman philosopher-politician Marcus Tullius Cicero said. (Well, okay, actually, Cicero said "O tempora O mores" in the original Latin, but that's another story for another day.)

Cicero's ringing phrase tells us, simply, that as time passes, things change. Consider, for example, the shopping mall. Throughout much of the Baby Boom generation, the enclosed mall seemed to take us about as far as we could go.  What was not to like about a climate-controlled, clean well-lighted place where we could shop, dine and hang out with our friends without having to endure winter frost or summer heat?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A "C" may signal that it's safe to eat there. Here's why.

We 'C' no evil at Alwatan
 LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Lamb gyros at Alwatan. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
I've been eager to get back to Alwatan ever since I heard that this lovable little Eastern Mediterranean eatery had outgrown the small space it shared with its sibling Palestinian bakery and moved into larger quarters next door. We wheeled in and grabbed the last parking spot.

Suddenly, a scream shattered the wintry silence.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Does Napa cabbage come from Napa Valley?

Napa cabbage and five-spice tofu stir-fry

Does napa cabbage come from the Napa Valley?  Probably not, although it’s entirely possible that it has been grown in truck farms in California wine country.  It’s more likely that the name (also spelled as “nappa,” although Google prefers the single-p variant) comes from a Japanese word for “leaf vegetable.”

Call it what you like - “Chinese cabbage” is another available moniker, as is Brassica Pekinensis in formal botanical Latin - it’s one of my favorite forms of cabbage, with a crisper texture and sweeter flavor than our standard American cabbage, and to my taste buds at least, a milder, more appealing flavor and texture than the Asian bok choy.  Tracing its history in Northern China back some 3,000 years, it’s also popular in Korea, where it’s the mainstay of spicy, delicious kimchi. 

Last night, armed with a head of napa and a box of freshly made, organic and GMO-free five-spice flavor tofu, house-made at Louisville’s excellent Heart & Soy restaurant, I fashioned a quick stir-fry.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

It’s an eatery! It’s an art show! It’s Proof on Main!

Proof on Main perfects the art of fancy farm dining
LEOs Eats with Robin Garr

Acorn squash risotto at Proof.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
What the Flock?! No, that’s not a question. It’s a title, the moniker artist Johnston Foster bestowed on the “site-specific installation” (you or I might call it a “sculpture show”) that, since 2012, has filled the overhead space in Proof on Main with a squadron of exploding seagulls.

Let’s face it, Proof on Main is that kind of place. It’s housed in the trendy confines of Louisville’s much applauded 21c Museum Hotel, which includes the word “museum” in its name with good reason: The place is loaded with wacky yet meaningful art that incorporates everything from its signature red penguins to the giant golden replica of Michelangelo’s “David” out front to, well, exploding gulls.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Spaghetti with a creamy spinach sauce = comfort food

Is it pasta sauce, or good old creamed spinach?

A couple of months ago, I threw together a simple pasta dish of spaghetti tossed with chopped spinach, garlic butter and Parmigiano.

Tonight, with a bunch of excellent fresh spinach on hand and a wintry evening outside, it crossed my mind that I could turn something very similar into a warm, comfort-food alternative by mixing the sauted spinach mix into a thick bechamel flavored with grated Italian cheese and using that to make a creamy, rich pasta sauce.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Mmm, pomegranate ...

Pomegranates contain delicious, snappy little bits of tart-sweet goodness that burst when you bite. A lot of sources, like this report from the Washingtonian, claim that they're practically a superfood. "... high in antioxidants, and clinical trials have found they may play an effective role in the prevention of heart disease and cancer. They also aid in lowering cholesterol levels and fighting cell damage ... One pomegranate contains approximately 50 percent of your daily recommended vitamin C, as well as pantothenic acid (B5), which may help with muscle cramping and prevent insulin resistance."

But it sure is hard to butcher one!  The time and effort spent in cutting the leathery little guys open, popping out the seeds ("arals"), separating the edible bits from the papery bits, and cleaning up the mess afterward, makes a lot of us think twice, or three or four times, about making the noble pomegranate part of our daily routine.

Whenever I make the effort, though, I'm glad I did.  I generally just cut off the top, then cut the fruit into four or five wedges and pop out the arals, discarding the papery bits as I go.  You can check Google ("how to seed a pomegranate") for tons of tips, though. Here's a curious video showing an English-accented alternative from Jamie Oliver's kitchen.

Finally, how do you pronounce the word?  Three syllables ("Pom-gran-it") or four ("Pom-uh-gran-it"), like the British narrator in the video? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary allows both but prefers four.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Papalino's Settles in at Springhurst

Papalino's Settles in at Springhurst
Voice-Tribune review by Robin Garr

After nearly four years serving its gigantic New York-style pizza and other goodies to hungry hordes on the Baxter Avenue night-life strip, Papalino's NY Pizzeria opened its second location in the somewhat less frenzied environs of the sprawling Springhurst center out in the East End.

Moving into storefront quarters vacated by a Homemade Ice Cream & Pie kitchen branch, Chef Allan Rosenberg's operation brings a better kind of homemade pie: Pizza pie, and not just any pizza, but the artisanal, chef-driven style that Rosenberg has made a local favorite.

Rosenberg, a chef with serious chops and significant experience, brings not only top-chef skills to these pizzas, but a commitment to quality ingredients: local produce, Kentucky Proud meats and even hand-cured charcuterie made on the premises.

Read my full review on (plus a brief report from Selena's brunch), and click to it in this week's Voice-Tribune.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Red lentil stew worth an inheritance

Considering the bible story of Jacob persuading his brother Esau to sell him his firstborn’s inheritance rights for a lunch of lentil stew (“pottage”), you might be tempted to think that lentil stew wasn’t worth much.  But I’m here to tell you that lentils can make a mighty comforting dinner.

Healthy and nutritious, packed with protein and bursting with meaty flavor, these tiny legumes can make a filling meal. They come in a pretty variety of colors, but I’m particularly fond of red lentils, which cook up fairly quickly into a comforting stew. Or pottage, if an inheritance is at stake.

Asparagus risotto offers a preview of spring

You may have noticed that risotto is a fairly frequent player in the ever changing cast of characters on our dinner table.  I love risotto for lots of reasons: It's nutritious and filling, a great way to use up leftovers, and made well, it's a dish of some refinement.

Risotto suffers a bad rap as a dish that requires constant attention, and indeed it does require fairly regular stirring. But "constant" stirring is a bit of an overstatement.   Keep an eye on it, put on some good music when you cook, and get into the zone.  Fifteen minutes of prep time, 25 minutes of cooking time, and dinner is on.

Like many of my generation, I didn't grow up with risotto. My idea of Italian cuisine was formed by the Southern Italian immigrant tradition of family cooking, aromatic red-sauced pasta dishes and pizza.  But it didn't take me long to learn about risotto, and for me, this dish was love at first sight.

NamNam makes us go nom nom nom

NamNam's chicken soup for the soul
LEO's Eats with Robin Garr

Phò gà chicken soup at NamNam Cafe.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
"Hack-hack! Ker-CHOO! Cough! Snort!"

Aw, kee-rap! Mary's got a cold, and it sounds like a monster. This can't be good. Not only do I wish no ill on my dear bride, but also let's face it: When Momma's not happy, ain't nobody happy.

What to do? What to do? I know! Chicken noodle soup! Now, Louisville is sadly limited in the kosher-style deli department, and it's a good 110 miles up I-65 to the nearest reasonable facsimile, Shapiro's Delicatessen in Indianapolis. There'll be no "Jewish penicillin" for her today.

What to do? What to do? Wait, I really do know! Vietnamese penicillin will do the trick, in the form of an oversize bowl of phò gà. Er, I mean Vietnamese chicken noodle soup, natch.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Cheesy roasted cauliflower

Roasting cauliflower? Here's the best way I know to put it over the top:  Break a head into large florets, then cut each floret from top to bottom into three or four thick slices.  Put them in a bowl with one or two onions cut into chunks and a half-dozen garlic cloves, smashed and peeled; add salt and black pepper to taste, then toss with olive oil until everything is well coated.

Place them all on a large greased sheet pan, taking care that the cauliflower slices land flat-side-down so they'll brown and crisp as the veggies roast.  Roast in a preheated 450F oven for 15 minutes, then turn the florets, laying them down on the other flat side, and roast for 15 minutes more or until they're hot, tender in the middles and browning on the edges.

You can eat them as is, but we turned it into a real feast by tossing them in a Cheddar Mornay sauce, a simple lightly seasoned flour-and-butter roux with grated yellow and white Cheddar and a bit of grated Grana Padano cheese melted in.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Red lentil and cauliflower dal

This is a remarkably simple, warming and filling Indian-style dal (lentil stew) for a wintry evening.

Very little prep is required:  Brown sliced onions and minced garlic in peanut oil or coconut oil until the onions start to brown. Then put in 1/2 tablespoon (more or less according to heat desired) of Madras curry paste; stir in 1/2 cup red lentils, then add 2 cups water or vegetable broth and simmer for 30 minutes or until the lentils are very soft.  After about 10 minutes' cooking, put in 2 cups cauliflower florets; for the last 5 minutes, add 1/2 cup thawed frozen peas.

Salt to taste only at the end of cooking; lentils seem to end up with a better texture if you cook them without salt.  Serve with rice or naan bread if you like, but I find that the lentils work as the starch of the meal for me and don't need additional carbs.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Valentine dinner 'shroom and spinach pasta with tomato-red pepper cream

Who makes a fancy Valentine's dinner out of leftovers? Well, me.  But this one worked out very nicely, taking advantage of what-I-found-in-the-fridge:  Crimini mushrooms, fresh spinach, a couple of leftover canned tomatoes; onions and garlic and spaghetti.

Here's how it went together, too easy for a formal recipe:  Discard the spinach stems and chop the leaves coarsely. Rinse and de-stem the mushrooms and cut them into thick slices. Thinkly slice about 1/2 of a medium sweet onion. Mince a big garlic clove, or several.

Brown the onions, then the garlic and finally the sliced mushrooms in olive oil until the onions are browned and the 'shrooms cooked down a bit. Stir in the chopped spinach and stir with the mushrooms, garlic and onions until the spinach just wilts. Stir and set aside.

While you're simmering the pasta in salted boiling water, make a simple bechamel with a roux of 2 tablespoons flour and 1 tablespoon butter. Stir in 1/2 cup warmed milk and whisk until you have a thick white sauce. Chop the tomatoes and stir them with their juice into the sauce with about half of a small jar of chopped roasted red peppers or pimentos.   Stir the reserved sauteed mushrooms and spinach into this sauce and mix well; drain the pasta and top it with this sauce.

We served it with one of Mary's favorite French (Loire) red wines, Puzelat 2012 Touraine Pineau d'Aunis.

We will sell no wine before its time ...

Aging wine overnight?

Remember the old TV commercials of the1970s in which a burly, bearded Orson Welles would intone in a most dignified voice, "We will sell no wine before its time"?

Like most Americans, I wasn't enough of a wine geek in those early days to have any idea that the California wine brand that Welles was hawking - Paul Masson - was a cheap, industrial beverage that neither required nor would benefit from cellar time.  But that didn't stop us from yelling "It's time!" and pulling out the cork.

The problem of table wines that really aren't quite ready to drink, however, is a real one, and it remains with us in this age of much broader wine knowledge and, in my experience, a far broader range of possibilities on wine shop shelves.

While many, many wines, including most "industrial" brands that make up the lion's share of all wines sold, are ready to drink the day we buy them, and won't gain a thing from further aging. Toss them on the wine rack for a year or three, and they'll eventually fade, lose their fruit and eventually turn into a brownish, stinky fluid that won't poison you if you drink it, but won't please you either.

But when we come to the artisanal, interesting, hand-made and small-production wines that I believe fascinate most readers of this column, we run into a whole 'nother story.

Click to read my full 30 Second Wine Advisor column on

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Macaroni and pimento cheese!

Macaroni and cheese is comfort food for me, and I imagine it is for almost everyone. Almost as comforting, at least in this part of the world, is pimento cheese.  So riddle me this: How come the idea of mac and pimento cheese occurred to me only last night?

It was easy enough:  I made a batch of an old favorite, "Upgraded macaroni and cheese," which I published in my old WineAdvisor FoodLetter back in 2002.  I used Cabot White Cheddar plus a bit of mild goat cheese for tang, and stirred in half of a jar of pimentos to give it that extra something.

The result was splendid, although I think next time I might use yellow Cheddar and perhaps make a roux-based Mornay sauce rather than the egg-and-milk combination in this version. A little more creamy and bright warm yellow cheese might amplify the pimento-cheese connection even more.

Bluegrass Burgers: Virtuous, Local and Delicious

Bison burger and onion rings at Bluegrass Burgers.
Mmm, who doesn't love a hamburger?  Hot, juicy, dripping with … um … greasy fat? Let's get real: burgers appeal to something primal in most of us, but that seductive call can lead us down a path that goes directly to excess calories, unhealthy fat and … well, let's not even talk about the hormones, the antibiotics, the e. coli or the stench of inhumane stewardship that surrounds industrial feedlot beef.  ...

Would it kill you to get your burgers from someplace that makes them healthy, or at least virtuous? Behold, Bluegrass Burgers! This small, usually crowded eatery does burgers right, featuring quality beef and a wealth of nutritious alternatives.

Read my full review on, and click to it in @TheVoice-Tribune this week.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Can Riviera Maya exorcise a haunted venue?

Lechon al horno at Riviera Maya.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
This may seem a topic better suited for Halloween than the dead of icy winter coming up on Fat Tuesday, but hey, let's talk about "haunted" restaurant locations. Local foodies quickly learn about these venues that seem to labor under a curse, housing one short-lived restaurant failure after another. ...

I've certainly heard people in the business use a broad vocabulary of curse words to describe the Frankfort Avenue storefront that, back in the '70s, housed the original Lynn's, soon followed by a range of eateries from Jamaican to Korean to Chef Alan Rosenberg's short-lived Danielle's and, most recently, the short-lived Cubana.

Walking along the avenue the other day, we noticed there's a new tenant here, a bright and inviting Mexican restaurant called "Riviera Maya."

Monday, February 10, 2014

Memories of Sichuan discovery inspire a comforting dinner

It's been a mighty long time since I had my first taste of Sichuanese cuisine - which, if I remember correctly, was also my first taste of tofu.  This was sometime in the middle 1970s, I guess, when "ethnic" food options for a budding foodie in my home town of Louisville were pretty much limited to chop suey, pizza and "chile con carne" ladled over spaghetti, no less. I'd read about spicy, bold flavors of Chinese regions like Sichuan (then often rendered "Szechwan") and Hunan, but you had to travel to NewYork, Chicago or the West Coast to taste these adventurous goodies.

To this day I remember - at least in general terms - my first Sichuan experience, a spicy green-pepper and tofu stir-fry in a fiery red sauce, enjoyed in a New York City storefront somewhere within sight of the north end of Washington Square Park.  I loved the dish, and loved the tofu; and without ever having the formal recipe, I've been making something like it ever since. So it was tonight: Nostalgia in a bowl of spicy-hot, healthy Sichuanese-style comfort food.

Recipe? What's a recipe?

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Spicy Sichuan-style broccoli stir-fry

Here's a quick and easy Chinese-style veggie stir-fry, packing the spicy heat and potent garlic-and-ginger whack that make Sichuan-style cuisine a delight.

The procedure was quick and simple:  For two, cut a head of broccoli into florets (saving the stems for another use), and whack a small-to-medium sweet onion into slivers.  Take half a block of firm or extra-firm tofu and cut it into 1/2-inch dice. Mince garlic and ginger to taste, and flavor them with dried red-pepper flakes and black pepper. Make a flavor mix with 2 tablespoons Chinese black beans and garlic, 1 teaspoon sambal oelek, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a tablespoon of lemon juice, and 1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar, with enough water to bring the liquid total up to 1/2 cup.  Make a slurry with 2 teaspoons cornstarch dissolved in 4 tablespoons water.

Blanch the broccoli in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes or until crisp-tender, drain and set aside.

In a wok with a little peanut oil or coconut oil, brown the onions, then add the seasoned garlic and ginger.  When it's aromatic, reduce heat to medium low, stir in the broccoli florets and the tofu, stir to mix, then add the seasoning mix and simmer for a few moments;  Add the cornstarch, stirring, a little at a time and only as much as needed to thicken the sauce slightly. Serve with steaming white rice.