Sunday, May 29, 2016

When in Rome - Cook!

“What are you going to do with those fish?” asked the fishmonger in the tiny alimentary near our apartment. “Cook them” was the guarded response. “Why cook when there are so many magnifico ristoranti in Roma?” almost chiding. “Because we like to cook!”

That exchange is not atypical for us. When we travel to other cities and countries, we rent apartments with usable kitchens so that we have the opportunity to cook with local ingredients. Yes, the food in Italian restaurants is delicioso, but that is in part because the ingredients they are using are fantastic to begin with. You can make Fettuccini alla Carbonara in Atlanta with freshly collected eggs and homemade pasta, but it still will not rival that made in Italy.

While vegetables such as chicory and artichokes have the same names, they might as well be a completely different species, so distinctive are they in their look and flavor.

And, the cheese…

Branzino  or “spignola” is a silver-skinned fish found in European seas and saltwater lakes, which has a firm, white, delicate-flavored flesh and few small bones. It is a prized ingredient in Italy because it is so easy to prepare and yet so delicious. Julia Child once said, “great ingredients, simply prepared are always best.” Truer words were never spoken!

Fresh Branzino, cleaned, skin on (about one per person for a meal)
2 lemons, sliced
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Wrap a baking dish or roasting pan in aluminum foil. Drizzle a little olive oil on the pan and spread to evenly coat. Lay the fish on the tray without overlapping. Fill the cavities with sliced lemons, drizzle more olive oil over the fish. Sprinkle salt and freshly ground pepper on top of the fish.

Place fish in the oven and roast until the skin of the fish is dark brown and the flesh of the fish is an opaque white. Remove the tray from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving. It is best to serve right from the tray for presentation as the fish is delicate and may break apart if moved to a serving dish. Serve with roasted potatoes and sautéed chicory. Buon appetito!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Grilling Gaucho Style - Churassco on the Deck

Our two guys are home from college for the summer; you know what that means? Meat. We are cooking lots and lots of meat, making this the perfect opportunity for us to explore the art of churrasco (Brazilian barbecue.) In Southern Brazil, varieties of meats, pork, sausage and chicken are cooked on a "churrasqueira" which is a purpose-built grill with supports for spits or skewers.

We recently received a review copy of Churrasco: Grilling the Brazilian Way, the new cookbook by Evandro Caregnato, who help to open the original Texas de Brazil restaurant in 1998, and is now Culinary Director of the chain’s more than 40 locations. His book provides an insider’s perspective on the gaucho (cowboy) culture of Brazil, and the hardcore barbecue cooking they enjoy on the other side of the equator.

Chapters explaining the culture of Brazilian gauchos and the churrascaria barbecues they love are included in addition to chapters featuring traditional recipes for grilled meats like pichana, flap meat, and chicken legs as well as authentic chimichurri, signature side dishes and even instructions for Brazilian drinks chimarrão and caipirinha. The Brazilian pronunciation guide and glossary are extremely helpful, and the drool-worthy photos help to tell the tale of the churassco lifestyle.

While most of the book’s recipes and techniques are better suited to cooking on a larger scale, we adapted several recipes with good results. We assembled a makeshift churrasqueira on the deck by stacking bricks and a grate atop a kettle grill to achieve the height (approximately 12 inches above the charcoal) to keep the meat from the flames.

Using flat iron steak, Dom prepped the meat by patting it dry with paper towels and cutting it into strips about 2 inches thick and 6 inches long. The strips were folded in the shape of a C and skewered using a stainless-steel skewers. He applied kosher salt to lightly cover all sides of the meat. We recommend doing this over the sink or a cutting board.

Once the coals were ready (glowing a little with minimal black smoke) we rested the meat on the grill and cooked the steak. Once the meat was nicely browned and slightly charred, Dom checked the inside which was medium with a hot pink center.

According to Caregnato, gauchos usually don't worry about the internal temperature of the meat if the meat has not reached the desired level of doneness, they place it back on the skewer and continued cooking.

We served the steak with grilled onions and charred broccoli and thoroughly enjoyed our churassco experience!


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Making Your Own Yogurt at Home

In the late 1970s, my Mom received a Salton yogurt maker as a Christmas gift. I remember thinking at the time what an ironic gift as she detests yogurt, however, Dad loved it and would eat it every morning for breakfast given the option. Thus that little 5-cup appliance became the workhorse of the kitchen for many (many) years. We lived in the boonies which at the time made shopping for fresh yogurt a chore, but with the purchase of one container of plain yogurt and a large box of instant nonfat dry milk, Dad had yogurt for at least a month or longer.

Recently a friend told me she had made yogurt and was in love with the taste and texture. She had made her batch using the oven light to keep the yogurt incubate the cultures overnight. Brilliant. Dom eats the small fruit-on-the-bottom cups of yogurt for breakfast each day and I like to use yogurt in smoothies; that’s a whole bunch of little yogurt cups… So I got online, did a little research and decided to try my own.

Here’s what I learned:
  • You can use any type of milk (unpasteurized, whole, 2%, skim or nonfat dry milk) with the exception of ultra-pasteurized.
  • The milk is heated to 180° Fahrenheit to kill off any wild bacteria, yeast or mold spores that would compete with your yogurt cultures and denature proteins in the milk to bind with caseins to create a firmer, thicker yogurt curd.
  • The heated milk should be held at 180°F for 30 minutes. This is the most important step in creating the creamy consistency and texture you want for your yogurt. I did this by keeping it in an oven pre-heated to 180° F.
  • Allow the milk to cool to 115°F since this is the ideal temperature at which yogurt cultures reproduce.
  • Skim the ‘skin’ from the surface of the cooled milk. This step is actually optional but most people dislike the texture it adds to the finished product.
  • When the milk has cooled to the proper temperature, stir in your yogurt culture. You can use a powdered culture for a particular strain or a high quality commercial yogurt that has “live active cultures.” Add roughly 1 tablespoon of starter for each quart of milk (1/4 cup of yogurt for a gallon of milk).
  • Pour your yogurt into glass jars you wish to store the yogurt in.
  • Maintain the temperature of the jars between 100° and 115° for 5 to 10 hours. To accomplish this, I allowed the oven to cool with the door open while the milk was cooling (remember I left the milk in the oven at 180°F for 30 minutes), then I placed the jars in a pot of water that was 115°F. I placed the pot in the oven with the oven light on and left the pot in the oven overnight.
  • You can test the yogurt at any point by tasting it. It should have the consistency of panna cotta, showing a nice separation when you dip into it with a spoon. Out of curiosity, I tested the mixture at the 3-hour point. A more solid mass was developing at the center, but the yogurt was still very loose. At the 10-hour mark, the yogurt was fully developed. 
  • The finished yogurt will have likely have a watery liquid that rises to the surface. This is milk whey which can either be stirred back into the yogurt or can be drained for a thicker finished product. Add the whey to your favorite smoothie recipe.
  • If you like your yogurt even thicker, you can strain it further to make a Greek-style yogurt by carefully scooping the set yogurt, being careful not to break up the curds, into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Allow the yogurt to drain over a dish until it reaches the consistency you prefer.
  • Refrigerate for at least two hours to allow the yogurt to set completely. It will continue to thicken and achieve that stark white opaqueness you are looking for. 
  • Don’t forget to set aside enough yogurt as starter for your next batch of homemade yogurt!

The newly made yogurt was begging to be eaten which provided me the perfect opportunity to try Setton International Foods new Pistachio Berry Blend made with tart cherries and cranberries, roasted almonds, cashews, and of course, pistachios. A match made in heaven! The dreamy, creamy yogurt, crunchy nuts and chewy berries will most definitely be my new breakfast addiction.

While we received a complimentary sample from Setton International Foods, Inc., all opinions are honest and unsolicited. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Twist 'N Dip at Einstein Bros. for Summer Fun

Bagels are universally loved. Soft, doughy bread slathered in cream cheese… What’s not to like? Bagels, which originated in Poland, are a basic roll-with-a-hole design which is hundreds of years old and allows for more even cooking and baking of the dough. The hole, as it turned out, also made it easy to store and sort the bread as they could be threaded on dowels or string which also made for easier handling and transportation.

This summer Einstein Bros. is introducing a new way to enjoy the traditional bagel. With a revolutionary perforated design, the Twist ‘N Dip bagel can be torn into bite size pieces and is perfect for dipping into two of 16 flavors of their signature “schmear.” I couldn’t wait to try this new twist on the old classic so I headed to my local Einstein Bros. to try one.

It had been a while since I actually went inside, as I usually opt for the drive-in window. The shop was brightly lit by the morning sun which made for a welcoming glow. The girl at the counter was very friendly and clearly excited about the new addition to the menu. She excitedly reminded me that I could choose two flavors of cream cheese. Since I usually just opt for the reduced-fat plain, I asked which flavor was her favorite and she enthusiastically responded: Garden Veggie. So I went with Garden Veggie and the very seasonal Strawberry both of which also have 25% less fat than their regular double-whipped shmears.

The bagel was indeed easy to twist apart and “dip” into the cups of schmear. Because the cream cheese is a bit thicker than ordinary “dips,” it tends to be a bit messy, so I grabbed a knife to appear more lady-like. I have to admit, it was fun to rip the bagel apart and have two different flavors to play with! And as an added bonus, for every Twist N’ Dip sold, Einstein Bros. Bagels will donate a bagel to someone in need.

Between now and July 31, Einstein Bros. is inviting fans to show off their Twist ‘N Dip moves by posting a photo or video that captures how they Twist N’ Dip on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #TwistNDip. Winners will be selected weekly to receive cool prizes such as Six Flags prize packs, summer swag and even FREE bagels for a year.

AND, because we know our readers will want to get in on the Twist ‘N Dip fun, we have some fantastic offers for you too!
  • AND, last but not least, you can enter below to win an Einstein Bros. Summer Swag Kit which includes a frisbee, lip shmear, koozies and carabiners!!

While we received gift items in exchange for this post; writing and photos included herein are original and the opinions are honest and unsolicited.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Yebo Beach Haus' Watermelon Fennel Salad

Out with the old, in with the new. That seems to be the current trend for Justin Anthony who has replaced two of Atlanta’s disused restaurants and remade them in his image. After opening Cape Dutch in the former Woodfire Grill space late last year, Anthony has done the same with his “Yebo” concept.

While his original Yebo officially closed at Phipps Plaza, Anthony and his team opened their new Yebo Beach Haus a more upscale atmosphere which incorporates elements from the Hamptons and Venice Beach. Anthony’s wife, Kelly, revamped the restaurant space previously occupied by Coast Seafood & Raw Bar to include white-washed walls, dark cherry wood-stained floors, and driftwood décor to create an elegant seaside feel.

The grand opening event was the hottest party in town as the restaurant was packed with friends and fans waiting to get a sneak peek at the new digs. Yebo meaning ‘yes’ is an affirmation in South Africa, and this was certainly the vibe as drinks were flying from bartenders’ hands and plates of red bean hummus served atop carrot and cucumber slices, seared tuna with nori sheets, shiso leaves and wasabi aioli, spicy curried chicken skewers, peppadew fried mac & cheese, and langoustine ceviche with yuzu chili sauce (all items from the new menu) disappeared within seconds of leaving the kitchen.

Our favorite dish of the evening was a watermelon and fennel salad with feta cheese and oranges. In celebration of National salad month, we are thrilled that Yebo Chef Philippe Haddad was willing to share the recipe our readers.
Photo Credit: Phase3PR

Watermelon, cut into 4 - 1” slices
½ cup Feta cheese crumbled
1 small fennel bulb, shaved
4 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
4 teaspoons Balsamic glaze (vinegar reduction)
2 oranges segments, supremed
Citrus vinaigrette

Citrus vinaigrette:
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup orange juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
¼ cup vinegar (white balsamic or champagne)
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon honey
2 garlic gloves, minced
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Cut the rind off the watermelon and then cut the melon slices into 5” round circles. Place in the center of a chilled plate. Drizzle vinaigrette over watermelon.

Toss shaved fennel, mint, feta cheese and orange supremes in the vinaigrette and toss lightly to coat. Pile the fennel salad on top of the watermelon slices. Drop balsamic reduction (artistically) around the watermelon on plate. Dive in!

Cooking is sharing – Life is Beautiful!” ~Chef Philippe Haddad

While we attended the Yebo Beach Haus opening celebration free of charge, we received no additional remuneration and the opinions herein are honest and unsolicited.   


Saturday, May 7, 2016

For Mom: Strawberry Shortcake on the Grill

Don’t you just hate those Mother’s Day meals where the kids have dreamed up an elaborate menu that has you cooking and cleaning on your supposed day of rest and relaxation? Well, we have you covered this year! This is a kid-friendly recipe that gets them involved, and keeps you out of the kitchen. Kids will love being able to assemble the ingredients on skewers and enjoy eating them even more.

This is the time of year when strawberries are in season and abundant in supply. Strawberry shortcake is a perennial favorite, but did you ever think of cooking it on a grill? Just like any fruit placed on the grill, strawberries get a smoky caramelized flavor that matches the toasty gooey marshmallows. We think this is going to be your new go-to dessert; impressive for guests and easy for Mom.

Grilled Strawberry Shortcake
8 – 10 large strawberries
large marshmallows
Angel food cake, cut into 2” cubes
Bamboo skewers
Chocolate sauce for serving

Preheat your grill to low. If you are using a charcoal grill, you should wait until the fire has died down after grilling your main dish.

Rinse and clean the strawberries and remove caps. Kids can help with this using a plastic knife or a straw inserted into the bottom of the strawberry and gently pushed through to the stem which pops right out cleanly. The straw method has an added bonus; the strawberry already has a hole for the skewer.

Thread the ingredients on your skewers. We allotted 2 strawberries and pieces of cake and one marshmallow per person, but there are no rules. Skewers can be uniform or freestyle – we won’t judge!

Gently place the skewers on the grill. We added an additional rack for easier removal and it added another layer between the skewers and the flame.

Turn the skewers frequently to achieve even cooking on all sides. Depending on how hot your grill is, you may be turning constantly. Keep an eye on the marshmallows as they are the most fragile of the ingredients.

When your skewers have reached the desired amount of doneness, remove them to a plate. Arrange the skewers on a serving tray and drizzle with chocolate sauce. Enjoy!


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Inaugural Atlanta Taco Festival

Did somebody say taco? Atlanta is famous for its festivals. On any given weekend you can find an arts, music or food festival, but when the first-ever Atlanta Taco Fest was added to the calendar, the masses went, well, loco. The highly anticipated event was advertised as "the largest taco competition and taco celebration on the East Coast," and ticket sales sky-rocketed.

Unfortunately, the organizers were not prepared for the immediate success of the festival which resulted in oversold tickets, long lines, and food shortages. As should be predicted in any first-time festival, there were also some technological malfunctions and moments of disorganization, and the intermittent rain added to the issues.

Despite these blips, I enjoyed the the festival enormously. As a VIP ticket holder, I had access to the exclusive tent sponsored by Lunazul Tequila which featured blind tequila tastings, a design-your-own drink bar, picture magnets and even a complimentary caricature artist. VIP ticket holders also received a Lunazul swag bag with a (dry) logo T-shirt, ball cap, shot glasses, and a key ring. In fact, many forwent the long taco lines and remained in the tent for the duration of the afternoon.

With the long lines, it was necessary to have a strategy for your taco procurement. Being a huge fan of both Bartaco and Smoke Ring, I checked the lines for both and chose the shortest. The Bartaco guys gave me a behind the scenes view of the “whole-a** pig” smoking in the background and trays of saucy pulled pork ready to be ladled onto fresh corn tortillas, and that guacamole… ¡Muy Bueno!

In need of a non-alcoholic beverage, I heard that the folks from Superica were serving an amazing aqua fresca and while the line for their tacos stretched to Terre Haute, procuring one of their drinks made with cactus juice was much less challenging.

I immediately jumped in line for Jordan Wakefield’s signature “Burnt Ends” taco. I will confess it took no less than 25 minutes of waiting, but I indulged in not just one, but three of the Smoke Ring taco offerings: Burnt Ends, BBQ chicken and Smoked Pork.

I took my tacos back to the VIP tent, which had available tables and chairs so that I could sit and enjoy my food rather than scoffing it down while standing. As I was finishing my last bite, the sky began to darken and thunder could be heard in the distance – it was time to go.

Glitches notwithstanding, I will be marking my calendar for the second annual Taco Festival in hopes there will be one.

While we received complimentary tickets to the event; writing and photos included herein are original and the opinions are honest and unsolicited.  


Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Chance to "Bee Wild" Farm Tour

In this age of sustainable, farm-to-table, locally-sourced, humanely-raised ingredients, consumers want to know where their food is coming from. Local farmer’s markets are wildly popular because shoppers are dealing directly with the growers and makers of the foods they are eating from vegetables to hand-crafted pastas and cured meats. Yet, farmer’s markets are still one step away from the actual terroir of the ingredients they are buying.

Last week, we got one step closer to the true origins of a local product sold at several of Atlanta Community Farmer’s Markets. Thanks to Lia Picard of The Cardigan Kitchen, we traveled to Gainesville, Georgia to visit the home place of Bee Wild Honey. The Wright family has been nurturing honey bees and gathering honey for over 50 years. Unlike, many brand of honey you might find in your neighborhood grocery store, Bee Wild honeys are “raw” meaning that they are not thinned with corn syrups or water and are not pasteurized.

Why would anyone pasteurize honey? Good question! Pasteurized honey lacks beneficial vitamins and enzymes among a host of other natural constituents. Pasteurization removes the pollen, many of the phytonutrients as well as the friendly bacteria that contribute to the otherwise mysterious therapeutic properties of honey. Unfortunately, most golden honey you see at your local grocery is “dead” and far from the health promoting powerhouse of its raw unpasteurized counterparts.

I digress. Third-generation beekeeper, John Wright, lead a tour of one of Bee Wild’s 9 apiaries. An apiary consists of 30-40 beehives which collect nectar and pollen from nearby vegetation and add their unique enzymes to produce the sweet seasonal “varietal” honeys collected by the Bee Wild team. During the Summer months, the bees visit the blooming Sourwood trees commonly found in the North Georgia mountains which produces the delicately flavored honey that is their biggest (and best-selling) crop. In fact, Bee Wild’s Sourwood Honey is a finalist for the 2016 Good Food Awards, recognized for both the honey’s taste and the company’s green practices. Having tasted this amazing elixir drizzled over “Silver Skillet” biscuits, I can attest to its excellence.

A visit to the “Honey House” showed us how the honey is extracted from the wax-sealed frames and siphoned into storage drums. The state-of-the-art equipment makes the process far easier and more sanitary than the 4-frame honey spinner of my youth. Berry Wright, our host’s father and original “bee whisperer,” shared his insights on the art of beekeeping and the greatest threat to America’s honey bees, the Varroa destructor mite.

We were then treated to a honey feast! We sampled the aforementioned biscuits with sourwood honey, field greens with strawberry wildflower honey vinaigrette, chicken drumsticks with a gallberry honey-peach sauce, star thistle honey-glazed pecans and honey-lavendar lemonade. Each dish was made with a different variety of honey to showcase their unique flavor profiles.

We also did a taste testing of several of Bee Wild’s new “wild side” honey infusions that are currently in the development phase. These included a spicy chai, a mild lavender, a fiery ghost pepper and a Mexican chocolate with cocoa nibs. As we said our farewells, we were each gifted a bag of Bee Wild goodies including bottles of their Sourwood and Wildflower honeys. On the ride back to Atlanta, my mind raced with the endless possibilities to use every last drop.

Thanks to John and his team for a lovely afternoon of exploring, learning and sampling. You can find Bee Wild honey products in Atlanta at John’s “Doctah Mojo’s Juice Clinic” in the Irwin Street Market, The Mercantile, Strippaggio and at Community Farmer’s Markets in the metro-area.

While the samples we received were complimentary; writing and photos included herein are original and the opinions are honest and unsolicited. 

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