Friday, January 31, 2014

Baked eggs on curried mushrooms

I made this one up on the fly tonight, a quick, easy and, I think, nutritious dinner that also has the advantage of going very well with Pinot Noir.

First, I took a big bag of crimini mushrooms, popped out and discarded the stems and cut the 'shrooms into thick slices, enough to fill a small mixing bowl.

Then I sauteed them with a few smashed garlic cloves in olive oil with salt and pepper and, as the mushrooms cooked down, added small doses of "umami" and flavor ingredients, using just a little at a time and taste-testing to keep the flavors subtle:  Lemon juice, soy sauce, Heinz chili sauce, cumin and medium-hot curry powder.

When they were fully cooked down and the remaining liquid was reduced to a glaze, I scooped them into a shallow casserole dish, broke three free-range eggs on top, sprinkled each egg with 1 teaspoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and put the dish in a 400F oven for about 10 minutes or until the whites were set and the yolks thickening.

Pulled it out and served it hot, with Trader Joe's Garlic Naan and a simple salad on the side and a decent, not too muscle-bound California Pinot Noir to drink.  The entire dish took a half-hour at most, including butchering the 'shrooms.

The wine times they are a'changing ...

Good Pinot Noirs for $10 and $20

Some days I wake up and realize that I've been writing about wine for a long time. I don't even want to count the years, but let's just say that I wrote my first wine column at The Louisville Times, where I was also a news reporter, in the early 1980s. Stop calculating! I just said I don't want to count the years!

I'm particularly conscious of this time span, though, when I stop and think about what's changed on the wine scene since those days.  The Wine Spectator was a tabloid newspaper. Robert Parker was a wine-loving lawyer in Maryland who put out a little newsletter for his friends.

There was no Internet, or at least none that any of us knew about.  Good wine came from France, lovable wine came from Italy, cheap sweet wine came from Germany, and only a few of us east of the Mississippi knew that California was starting to make some amazing wines in addition to all that stuff in big jugs. What's more, hardly anybody paid more than $6 for a bottle of wine.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Exchange Pub + Kitchen, a Pillar of Its Community

Even for timid Louisvillians wary about crossing the Mighty Ohio without a passport, New Albany's Exchange Pub + Kitchen is easy to find ...
@TheVoiceTribune review by Robin Garr
Polenta and black-bean fritters at
Exchange Pub + Kitchen in New Albany.
How good is Exchange Pub + Kitchen? Why, it’s a Pillar of its community.  I mean that literally: This month the popular spot in New Albany’s buzzing downtown dining scene won one of the city’s Pillar Awards, which recognize contributors to downtown restoration and renovation. 
Exchange Pub won the Horizon Award, honoring co-owners Ian and Nikki Hall for their 2012 move  from the Grant Line Road area into the historic 1875-era Shrader Stables building downtown, the New Albany Tribune reported.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Paul's Missionary Tube Map!

I realize that the appeal of the Theologygrams blog is mostly limited to seminarians and cultural-historical bible geeks. Still, I can't help posting "Paul's Missionary Tube Map," the journeys of Paul in the style of a London Tube map. It is both witty and accurate. Mind the gap!




Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Breakfast of ... champions?

Plain yogurt, brown sugar, cut-up ripe pear,
pomegranate seeds and still-frozen blueberries.
Although I love variety in most of my culinary life, I'm happily settled in to a standard breakfast format, a healthy morning meal that changes a bit with the seasons but, in the essentials, remains pretty much the same:  Plain, unsweetened yogurt (plus a touch of brown or raw sugar), with cut-up fresh fruit of the season (peaches by summer, pears for most of the rest of the year, fresh figs when available) tossed with bright pomegranate seeds when I've got them and a ration of blueberries (frozen into munchy little bites of flavor, straight from the freezer).

Add an English muffin or, rarely on weekends, an omelet or other egg dish, and I'm good to go.

Any thoughts on other ways I could mix this up if I get bored?

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Smashed potatoes!

Smashed potatoes and Korean roasted brussels sprouts.
Good eats tonight: I had been sitting on a recipe for herbed "smashed potatoes" that I found online (click here for the original), and finally got around to picking up some small white creamer potatoes today to use in it.

It's just as simple as can be: Simmer the potatoes in salted water until they are fork-tender. Then put them on a greased baking pan, smash them gently by pushing down with a potato masher until the skins break and they flatten a bit, then turn the masher 90 degrees and do it again. Salt, pepper and some herbs (I substituted sage from our garden for the suggested rosemary), and bake at 450F for 20 minutes or so. They were great, although I'm thinking a little more time might have made the outsides a little more deliciously crunchy.

I put them together with some Korean roasted brussels sprouts, a dish that has become a regular player in the rotation around here.  Fine dinner!

Creamy roasted fennel and noodles

Here's a dish I put together on the fly the other night and didn't get around to posting until now.  I started with a bulb of fresh fennel, a veggie that I've gotten into the habit of roasting with onions and garlic lately, mainly because roasting fennel bulb makes it so incredibly delicious.

Most often I've taken the results and worked them into a risotto, but this time I didn't really want risotto, so ... what else can I do with it?  How about a pasta topping?  And wait ... let's not just throw roast fennel and oil on spaghetti, or better yet, some Amish Kluski noodles! Then, how about a thick, "creamy" sauce to make it more consoling for a wintry night?  Done and done.

It didn't take long.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Five-spice baked tofu with peppers and onions

Who doesn't love a big old bowl of sizzling Italian sausages, redolent of fennel, sauteed with a bunch of sliced green peppers and onions in good olive oil?  Can I see a show of hands?

No pigmeat for me tonight, though, and I thought we were out of those tasty LightLife faux sausages until Mary showed me (later) where they had been hiding in plain sight.  Never mind! Necessity is the mother of invention, and the bright idea of pressing and baking a half-ration of extra-firm tofu with a gently anise-scented Five Spice marinade made an appealing alternative.

If you know sushi, you want it fresh

My dining review for LEO Weekly and LouisvilleHotBytes.com this week, I'm sorry to say,  presents a less than optimal experience at a newish eatery, Ginza Asian Bistro.
Ginza glitters, but ultimately disappoints
As the signature upscale shopping district in Tokyo, Ginza is a landmark akin to Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, Miraflores in Lima or Chicago's purportedly magnificent Michigan Avenue.
Which suggests that Ginza Asian Bistro, a newish suburban eatery in Louisville, has set itself to a mighty high standard with its choice of moniker.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Roasted mushrooms over goat cheese polenta

If you want to talk about hearty, earthy flavors that go well with each other and sing a song of food and wine with Pinot Noir, that's this dish.  Almost too simple to require anything as fancy as a recipe, it went together like this:

Pop the stems out of a lot of white or brown domestic mushrooms and cut them in half.  Reserve the stems and simmer them in 4 cups lightly salted water for 15-30 minutes; strain, discard the stems and reserve the broth.  Meanwhile, soak about 1/2 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in 1 cup hot water. When they're reconstituted, strain the soaking liquid into the reserved mushroom broth.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Eggs in Hell" make a sinfully heavenly pasta

Uova in Inferno on spaghetti
I came home this afternoon with a powerful hankering to fashion a dish based on Uova in Inferno (“Eggs in Hell”), an Italian country egg dish that Mario Batali (and, in fairness, Martha Stewart) made famous, but to modify it as a pasta dish rather than a skillet casserole meant to be served with crusty Italian bread.

A little Googling led me past Mario's and Martha's renditions to a simple, easy and delicious approach posted on Leite's Culinaria (@leitesculinaria), a favorite food blog.  (Click the link to see it.)  I stuck fairly close to Leite's original until it came to the end, whereupon I made spaghetti, put it into bowls, and slid one tomato-poached, Parmigiano-seasoned egg and its fiery red and spicy sauce onto the pasta.  Put a salad on the side, and ohboyohboy was it great!  This one goes into the rotation for sure.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Lentil, rice and lima bean pilaf

So who says a pilaf must be made of rice alone?  Not me!  Well, actually, I pretty much did say that, but in the mood for a hearty, warming dinner-in-a-dish tonight, it suddenly occurred to me that basmati rice and red lentils cook in about the same length of time, so why not cook them together in a pilaf-style mix?  Add a scoop of lima beans, and we might have something pretty good here.

Sure enough, it was both good and easy, and came around, including all prep and cooking time, in about 45 minutes.

French is hard, but French wine is easy ...

Gigondas: Sound your -s, and your GSM

If you speak French like I speak French - mostly self-taught food, wine and tourist terms picked up along the way - you probably get as confused as I do about its unfamiliar ways. The gargled "r," that nasal "n," the liaison that runs words together when you least expect it; and all those consonants that get dropped off the end of words!

In Southern France, though, we get a break from some of those dropped consonants, which of course just makes things more confusing.  Take today's featured wine, for instance:  Gigondas.  That's "Gee-gawn-dah," right?  Drop the final consonant?

Nope!

Read more in this week's 30 Second Wine Advisor, including my tasting report on Domaine du Cayron 2010 Gigondas.



Thursday, January 16, 2014

Fork, fingers, who cares? Just eat the damn pizza!

Let's give New York City's new Mayor Bill de Blasio some slack. He's got enough on his plate with governing the Big Apple. As I write in this week's review for @TheVoiceTribune, let him fork his pizza if he wants to.
Jet's Takes Off With Detroit-Style PizzaVoice-Tribune review by Robin Garr
Sausage pizza at Jet’s 
If there was ever any doubt that pizza has truly become an all-American treat, it was surely put to rest with Pizzagate this week, when New York City's new mayor Bill de Blasio provoked screams of outrage when he attacked a gooey pie at a Gotham pizzeria with – the horror – a knife and fork.  "Blasphemy! No one would ever do such a thing in Italy," the angry hordes shrieked. 
Actually, that's not really true. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Never eat anything that you can't pronounce ...

This week's review for @leoweekly and LouisvilleHotBytes.com takes us to  Louis Le Francais, a comfortable, welcoming taste of Provence in New Albany, Ind.
Ratatouille at Louis le Francais.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Learn your French tastefully at Louis Le Francais 
All right, boys and girls, it's time for our French lesson! First, let's review: "Bonjour" ... "Merci!" ... "S'il vous plaît" ... "Je voudrais un verre de vin rouge." Very good!
Now, let's learn two important food words.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Veggie candy" salad!

All right, I admit I am being a little inconsistent here, as I don't have all that much of a sweet tooth and generally strongly prefer not to find sweet flavors in my savory dishes.

But this roasted carrot salad - based on Louro’s Roasted Heirloom Carrot Salad With Miso Dressing by Melissa Clark in yesterday's New York Times - is an exception that proves the rule.  Toothy, al dente bits of carrot, roasted (in my version) with black pepper and lots of ginger, turn into "vegetable candy" with a pure, subtle sweetness that speaks of the earth and gentle caramelization, not sugar (although in truth there is a homeopathic touch of brown sugar in the recipe).

Monday, January 13, 2014

Noodles with fennel cream

A couple of years ago, when I started fooling around seriously with the idea of taking plant-based cooking up another level, one of the first things I discovered was, as vegetarian wine guru Stuart Yaniger used to say,  "The Maillard Reaction is your friend."

Monsieur Maillard's principle - the delicious deep, earthy, complex and gently sweet flavors that result with caramelization from heat will quickly and easily add layers of subtle and intriguing flavor to any dish.  Simply start your recipe with deep browning, whether you use the primary veggie itself or onions (always a great pick), garlic, ginger and other veggies first.

Next lesson: Roasting veggies does them enormous favors in the flavor department.  Simmering vegetables in water? Meh! Color, aroma, flavor, nutrients all go pouring down the drain when you dump out the liquid in which they simmered.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Meaty red lentils 2.0

Red-lentil dal on Indian-style mashed potatoes.
The red-lentil dal with coconut milk dish I made recently, posted here as "Meaty" flavor in a plant-based red lentil dal, was more than good enough to justify a reprise tonight, but naturally I couldn't do it again without trying a change or two.

So, behold, "Meaty red lentils 2.0"!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Guac!

Mmm, love me some guacamole! It must be hand-made, of course, and after significant research and tasting variations against each other, I've concluded that simpler is better.  Avocados, a little tomato, a little onion, salt and pepper ... that's it!  Herbs, spices, lemon or lime? Anything else, I've found, doesn't really enhance the mix.

Here's the simple procedure I've worked out over the years:

Coagulate, schmo-agulate. I want my eggs cooked!


Napa River Grill's Sunday brunch is eggs-actly delicious 
Eggs and a bloody mary at Napa River Grill.
LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Today, let us consider the incredible egg: a gift of nature that's supremely edible when we handle it right, but when it's raw or overcooked, not so much. ... 
Before our eggs are coagulated via scrambling, frying, poaching, hard- or soft-boiling, baking into a cake or whatever, your basic henfruit is a nasty, unappetizing thing, a viscous yolk ball floating in a slippery-slimy white. 
Remember the famous scene in the first "Rocky" movie, when Rocky Balboa started a tough day of training by gulping down a dozen raw Grade A's? Almost 38 years later, I can still vividly remember the sounds of gagging that spread through the theater. 
No, make mine cooked, please. Or coagulated. ... 
Speaking of which, I'm currently smitten by the innovative egg idea that launched a couple months ago with the indulgent new brunch buffet at Napa River Grill. ...
Read my full review on LouisvilleHotBytes, or click to it in this week's LEO Weekly.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Hearty stew for a wintry night

Gardein "beefless" stew.
An "Arctic Vortex" has much of the US staggering under freezing cold, and even here at Louisville in the Border South it's down to minus-3 outside right now with little relief in sight for a day or two.

So who's up for a hearty bowl of stew?  Mary cooked tonight, with a little veggie prep work from yours truly as sous chef. This hearty treat came to the table smelling and tasting as good as it looked, and it didn't take us long to polish it off, with a bottle of of an offbeat Loire red, Puzelat-Bonhomme 2012 "Le Rouge et Mis" Vin du France Pinot Meunier, to go alongside.

For the record, the "beef" in this stew is actually @Gardein brand "beefless tips," a soy and wheat-gluten product with natural plant-based flavors that, darkly browned (in butter, if vegan considerations don't deter that option) and served in a traditional beef context like a stew, make a mighty palatable alternative to the animal-based original. And goes with red wine!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Kale and potato "leftovers curry"

Kale and potato "leftovers curry"
Here's a trick I often play when I want to make something interesting for dinner but don't have any specific ideas kicking around inside my head trying to get out:

1. Check the refrigerator to see what we've got, particularly leftovers in boxes or tubs and produce rapidly approaching its "sell-by date."

2. Go to Chef Google and key in "Dishes using (a), (b) and (c)."

Then - and here is where being a fast reader helps out - quickly read the summary lines for the first 10 or 20 hits, discarding those that don't seem interesting.  Give a little less weight to the "corporate" Websites and a little extra love to individual sites that appear to be labors of love from good cooks.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Arroz Congris

Arroz congris
What, you thought I said "Arrest Congress"?  No, as irritable as the ways of government gridlock may make us, we won't go there today.  Arros Congris is something much more enjoyable, a delicious Cuban-style dish, hearty and protein-rich, based primarily on tender, meaty black beans and fluffy rice.

I had a big bag of reconstituted @RanchoGordo black beans on hand, and there's always plenty of rice in the pantry - long-grain, basmati and various risotto varieties - do it didn't take long to steam up 1/2 cup of long-grain rice and warm 3/4 cup of cooked black beans in about a half-cup of their dark, rich "potlikker."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Remembering a year's great dishes

The Local Burger at Mussel & Burger Bar.
Looking back over a year in Louisville food and dining, it's easy to focus on the venues, thinking about the establishments and dining trends that made the year's culinary experiences memorable.  But then I decided to go for a new wrinkle, thinking instead about a double fist-full of specific dishes that rang my chimes.  Here's the intro to my review on LouisvilleHotBytes.com and in this week's Voice-Tribune, with links to the full report.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Delicious, easy "French Peasant" onion soup

Earlier today, Mary pointed out David Tanis’s City Kitchen column in today’s New York Times Food Section, “What the Tipsy Peasant Knew,” and we both knew it would be dinner tonight. When I posted about it on my Facebook page, a chorus of quick responses confirmed the impression that there's something seductive going on here.

Tanis's introduction set the tone, and seemed to get everyone's taste buds working:
"... it’s hard to find a proper soupe á l’oignon in Paris. But you may find a lackluster onion soup gratinée on every tourist menu, served bubbling away with gooey cheese. On the other hand, a really good homemade version is wonderful, and you don’t have to be hung over to enjoy it. Even when eaten sober, onion soup is an excellent antidote to blustery, cold weather."
Tanis writes that he learned the dish from Chef Jacques Pépin, who focused on its simple peasant origins, making it meat-free, for instance, with “Château [Jacques]  Chirac,” ordinary tap water, in place of the customary beef broth.

Amazingly - although perhaps not so much, given Pépin’s skills - the dish turned out deep, rich and “meaty” in spite of its exceptionally simple and fully meat-free cast of characters.

Black eyed peas and greens for New Year's fortune?

Black-eyed peas and kale. So where's the money?
Okay, let me be the first to say that I'm a skeptic.  Eating black-eyed peas (coins!?) and greens (folding money?!) on New Year's Day is supposed to bring you wealth and prosperity in the New Year?   Heck, I don't even like black-eyed peas, and even kale, despite its modern reputation as a "superfood," ranks only about 87th on my Favorite Vegetables list.

But a person near and dear to me grew up with this legend and, even though it obviously hasn't worked so far through many New Years together, we keep on trying.