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 WineLoversPage.com.

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 LouisvilleHotBytes.com 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 WineLoversPage.com.

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.