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 LouisvilleHotBytes.com (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 WineLoversPage.com.

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 LouisvilleHotBytes.com, 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.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Quick "beef" (or beef) ragout

Ragoût is French for "stew," but it's useful to bear in mind that the French culinary vocabulary is akin to the purported Inuit vocabulary for "snow":  They see variations and nuances that we do not.  A ragoût, for example, is not at all the same as a daube: The latter is tough stew beef, long-simmered until it falls apart in a procedure beloved in Provence; a ragoût is relatively quick and light and may be more Parisian or Lyonnaise.  And then there's the Italian ragù, which sounds similar but is yet another kind of stew in its own right.

The advantage of a ragoût is that it's a natural when you want a comforting stew-like dish for a wintry night, but you don't want to spend a tremendous amount of time on it.

We wrestle and win at El Taco Luchador

Tacos at El Taco Luchador. LEO photo by Frankie Steele.
Okay, Taco Luchador, we get the "taco" part. But what the heck is a "luchador"? Simple, señoras y señores! The luchador is a skilled artisan, a practitioner of lucha libre ("free fight"), the manly art of self-defense. In other words, luchadores are Mexican pro wrestlers. But trust me on this, lucha libre makes the overweight, steroid-pumped thespians of the WWE look like a bunch of slow-moving sissies.

Smaller, lighter and far more lithe than the Norteamericano pros, the luchadores are acrobats and artists who leap high, twist and turn in the air and pounce on their opponents in a writhing dance that's not always bound by the ropes of the ring. And they do it wearing crazy masks!

Okay, fine. But where's the connection between Mexican rasslin' and the new, hugely popular taqueria that just opened on the Baxter Avenue strip?

Quite a few lucha libre masks ("máscaras") adorn the bright, salsa verde and salsa rojo-colored walls of El Taco Luchador, as do folk-art paintings of luchadores ready to get it down. And the folks behind the counters stand ready to wrestle up some very serious Mexican street food for you, too.

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

Monday, February 3, 2014

Indian-style roasted cauliflower

Here's another quick, flavorful dinner that doesn't take long to throw together and is so simple that it hardly needs a real recipe.

Start with a head of cauliflower and cut it into small florets, discarding the stems and core (or, if you like, save them for a puree or soup or other later use).  Put the florets in a bowl, flavor with salt, black pepper, ground cumin and Madras curry powder.  Toss with a couple of tablespoons peanut oil and spread them on a greased baking sheet.  Roast in a 450F oven for 20-30 minutes or until they are fully cooked and turning brown and crisp on the edges.

Meanwhile, slice a medium onion thin and mince a large clove of garlic (or several) and an inch-long chunk of peeled fresh ginger.  Peel and chop a fresh tomato or prepare 1 cup chopped quality canned tomatoes with their juice.

Brown the onions very well in a large skillet over high heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, add the minced ginger and garlic and cook gently until aromatic. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and juice and simmer while the spiced cauliflower roasts.  When the cauliflower is finished, stir it into the simmering onion-tomato sauce, warm together briefly and serve with steaming basmati rice.