Sunday, April 12, 2015

Tex's Tacos Spices Up Neighborhoods

It's hard to think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with friends munching on tacos. Members of the Atlanta Food Bloggers’ Society converged on the home of Lauren Patrick, editor of Pretty Southern with our beverages and lawn chairs to enjoy treats from the award-winning and ever-popular Tex’s Tacos food truck that was parked outside her house.

This fully-equipped taqueria on wheels serves a delicious assortment of Tex-Mex treats with bravura and flair. Tex’s Tacos started when two long time friends shared a meal San Antonio. Mac Helms, bemoaning the lack of his Texas favorites in Atlanta, joined forces with Harrison Jones to bring authentic Tex-Mex tacos to his city. They call their take on the Tex-Mex cuisine “Nueva Texicana,” creating a style that is unique & exciting.

The duo spent six months working with chefs to craft their offerings, dedicating as much as a week to perfecting each individual taco. The resulting menu is comprised of fresh, high-quality ingredients and packed with flavor and includes only best tacos, tantalizing quesadillas, chips with salsa and guacamole and their signature Texicana Fries which are lime fries loaded with toppings like grilled onions, queso fresca, and pico de gallo. While the food truck concept is quick-serve, all of their food is made fresh to order and is fully customizable.

We had the option of sampling our choice of tacos. I chose a Carne Asada and a Pastor De Puerco taco and Texicana Fries. The Carne Asada taco had citrus-splashed skirt steak, grilled onions, cheese, guacamole and cilantro, while the Pastor de Puerco contained pork al Pastor, pineapple, cheese, grilled onion and cilantro; both were garnished with copious amounts of fresh cilantro and a fresh lime wedge. The first impression when they hand the tacos out of the window is how good they smelled and how very fresh they looked. The carne asada was earthy and rich while the pork was a bit sweeter with very tender pork. The over the top lime fries were like a variation on nachos with toppings over crispy fries. The generous portion of fries could easily make a meal of their own. Of course they were all the better with a cold cerveza with one of those lime garnishes!

We chatted with neighbors and friends as we devoured our Tex-Mex goodies all the while discussing how convenient and enchanting it was to have a food truck pull right up in front of a home, delight guests and drive away when the party is over. Now for the beauty part, we can and you can too because Tex’s Tacos caters. You invite the guests, select the menu items you want to offer them, give Tex’s the headcount and they do all the rest. Convenient and enchanting indeed!

While the food items we sampled were complimentary, I received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Meatloaf Smeatloaf Romeo Style

“Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double beatloaf. I hate meatloaf.” This quote from the 1983 movie, A Christmas Story could have been taken directly from a scene in our family kitchen growing up. There is a notorious story from my childhood that can still cause my mom’s jaw to set during the retelling.

Upon arriving home from school one day, I noticed that there were two items strategically placed on the kitchen counter: a lump of thawing hamburger and a loaf of Wonder bread. These two ingredients placed in close proximity at this time of the afternoon could only mean one thing, one bad thing: meatloaf.  So being a clever and resourceful daughter, I waited for just the right moment when Mom’s back was turned I nonchalantly stole the bread from the counter and hid it.

Tick, tock, tick, tock; I waited in my room pretending to be doing homework. Nothing. My father arrived home and pleasantries were exchanged; still nothing, until… “Where’s the bread” came a slightly shrill call from my mom. “What bread?” my dad and I replied in unison. “The bread for the meatloaf.” came the brief and definitive explanation from Mom. Dad then made the face; the I-hate-meatloaf-more-than-even-you-do face. I silently mouthed, “I hid it,” to my Dad whose eyes instantly lit up. Mom came trudging down the hall. I was busted, yet, there I stood steadfast and determined not to give in to the mundane meatloaf menace. Low and behold Dad backed me up! “We aren’t really in the mood for meatloaf tonight,” he diplomatically attempted to skirt the issue. Mom retorted something about us never being in the mood for meatloaf. The cards were on the table, all bets were off, the secret was out; "No, in fact, we hate meatloaf and would prefer to never have it again," Dad responded. And we didn’t. Meatloaf was off the regular menu rotation, reserved only for occasions when mom was cooking for herself or for Dom who completely shares her love for the hamburger-bread amalgamation.

Dom, who knows of my meatloaf aversion and typically honors my preference not to ingest the dish, recently needed a meatloaf fix on a stormy, unfriendly evening. He dug out a dusty copy of James Beard’s tome of recipes and set to work at creating dinner. I’ve known him a long time and he knows me; he knew that if he used JB’s recipe, I wouldn’t (couldn’t) dream of protesting. So here is Dom’s variation on meatloaf inspired by the equally indomitable James Beard.

2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground pork
2 doves of garlic, minced
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
½ teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon jalapeno pepper
½ cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
Thickly-sliced bacon

Mix all ingredients except bacon thoroughly and knead with the fingers until the mixture is very thoroughly blended. Form into a long loaf or cake and press firmly. Arrange enough slices of bacon or salt pork on the bottom of a baking pan to hold the meat loaf. Brush the loaf liberally with a mixture of half ketchup and half yellow mustard and then cross with 2 to 4 additional slices of bacon. Roast at 325°, basting occasionally with more ketchup and mustard, for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the loaf is cooked through.

Once the internal temperature reaches 155°F, the loaf is done and can be removed from the oven.  Let it stand for 10 to 15 minutes before carving to allow the juices to settle. If you want to try my Mom’s and Dom’s favorite preparation, wait until lunch the next day and sandwich a thick slice between pieces of crusty bread.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Culinary Local Launch at 1Kept

Imagine how great it would be to see all upcoming culinary events in one place with the added bonus of being able to register to attend them on the spot. This is the concept behind the newly launched Culinary Local which is a “curated marketplace for culinary events” bringing together people looking for delicious food and drink events with the companies that offer them. in a one-stop-shopping site for cooking classes, dinner experiences, wine tastings, food tours, festivals and food-based volunteer projects.

The creators of Culinary Local recently hosted a launch party at 1Kept Restaurant in Buckhead to unveil their new market platform and to promote their future Ambassador program available to food bloggers. Thaddeus Keefe, 1Kept co-owner, greeted the group while placing bowls of truffled popcorn on the table. He talked about his commitment to farm-fresh ingredients and more importantly the nurturing of his “family” referring to 1Kept’s “Collective Kitchen” concept. He and his team presented an amazing five-course menu featuring fresh, seasonal produce from the Turnip Truck as well as other locally-sourced ingredients. Each course of was expertly paired with inventive cocktails by the newest addition to the #1keptfamily, mixologist Jonathon Turner.

In teams of two, Yves Neidlinger, Culinary Local founder and architect, demonstrated his new fully integrated site, due to launch in a few short weeks as a deviled quail egg with tomato jam and lemon vinaigrette was delivered to each diner. Though tiny, the adorable little morsel was full of flavor and went well with the strawberry infused prosecco creation to match. Crystal Organic’s butterhead and frisee salad dressed with charred Vidalia onion vinaigrette accompanied by smoky bacon lardons, spiced cashews followed with my favorite cocktail of the evening which involved Square One Cucumber, Cocchi Americano, orange liqueur, lemon and cilantro.

A crispy flatbread innovation with fingerling potatoes, broccolini, garlic confit and a creamy house-made ricotta had surprising textures and flavors, while a large sea scallops perfectly seared plated with a carrot puree were as pretty to see as they were to eat. And, that carrot puree is the stuff dreams are made of. I resisted the urge to lick the plate. Last, but most certainly not least, was the artfully constructed Cioppino with roma tomatoes, fresh-off-the-cob corn, and red peppers and laden with calamari, shrimp and littleneck clams. The hefty piece of grilled sourdough was the perfect accessory to ensure that not even a drop of the superb broth went uneaten.

This remarkable menu tasting highlighting 1Kept’s seasonal dishes and new cocktail offerings was the perfect way for Yves to showcase the type of extraordinary events that Culinary Local patrons might experience. Even better, Culinary Local brings event updates, prices and registration information directly to your inbox. Simply subscribe to Culinary Local to be the first know about all culinary events happening in the Atlanta area.

While the food and beverage items we sampled were complimentary, I received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Uncorking a Southern Tradition Wine Dinner

As a major sponsor of the High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction* for the past 18 years, Wells Fargo holds an annual Winemaker Dinner with featured wines from elite vineyards. This year’s dinner, “Uncork a Southern Tradition,” featured a specially-designed menu by Executive Chef of The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Joseph Lenn, paired with wines from CIRQ Estate, Kosta Browne Winery and Realm Cellars.

Chef Joseph Lenn
The evening began with a reception at Descante, the luxurious home of Kelly Loeffler and Jeff Sprecher, and the passing of canapés and glasses of Realm, Ibid.Farella, Sauvignon Blanc, 2014. Guests nibbled quail legs with Alabama white barbecue sauce and house-made potato chips topped with caviar and mingled while admiring the owner’s art collection with pieces by Jean-Michel Basquiat and Carlos Nadal.

Tables were beautiful set in a transparent outdoor tent that allowed a fabulous view of the expansive landscaped property. Introductions and opening remarks were made followed by an appearance by the James Beard Award-winning Chef Joseph Lenn (originator of the refined and rugged “Foothills Cuisine®) made to describe his first dish to be presented: Smoked Sunburst Trout and roasted baby beets plated with yogurt and fresh dill sprigs served with Kosta Browne One Sixteen, Chardonnay, 2013.

Michael Browne, Founder and Executive Winemaker of Kosta Browne Winery shared the humble beginnings of his winemaking experience, which started with a half-ton of Pinot Noir grapes, a used barrel, and an old hand-crank stemmer-crusher. And while Pinot noir’s are his grand passion, this Montrachet-style chardonnay highlights the fabulous Russian River Valley region with its creamy, toasted citrus nuances.

Bowls of crispy, toasted buckwheat with grilled broccolini and roasted carrots with a brilliant red romesco were served with Kosta Browne Giusti Ranch Vineyard, Pinot Noir, 2012 and CIRQ Treehouse Vineyard, Pinot Noir, 2012 as Browne continued to regale diners with stories of days in the circus and golf cart antics with fellow winemaker Juan Mercado, founder of Realm Cellars.

The crowning moment was the arrival of Chef Lenn’s Ribeye Beef Cap served atop crème fraiche with smoked potatoes, wilted greens, goat cheese and leek ash paired with Realm, Farella Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, 2012. As Chef described it, “the beef cap is by far the most tantalizing cut of beef; I love cooking with it.” Of course, he was working with meat from our friends at Brasstown Beef, so it was beyond perfect. And, with the blackberry aromas and elegantly structured tannins of the accompanying Cabernet; sublime.

After closing remarks from our gracious hosts and sponsors, the socializing continued as trays of macarons and a decadent milk chocolate hazelnut crunch were offered. A last minute “usie “ with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan was an unexpected treat and a souvenir to show our football obsessed progeny. We were also generously gifted a bottle of Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast 2013 to cellar for a special occasion. Special thanks to Wells Fargo for including us in this truly amazing evening of food and wine.

*The High Museum’s Wine Auction which is the largest fundraising event for the High Museum of Art, is also the top charity fundraising event in Atlanta, the eighth largest charity wine auction in the U.S., and the number one charity wine auction benefiting the arts.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Healthy Granola That Tastes Good

As a kid, I spent a lot of time outdoors; climbing trees, catching frogs and the like. I even went through all the necessary steps to have 10 acres of wooded area on our homestead licensed as a wildlife sanctuary. Needless to say, I was a bonafide, tree-hugging, granola girl. And true to form, I enjoyed the nutty, crunchiness of granola cereal from an early age. Once the granola craze came along, generic grocery-store granola became more of a vehicle for brown sugar and cinnamon than the healthful morning repast of the past. Granola bars became the staple of every lunchbox and soccer game snack. As a result, I steered clear of the stuff for many years.

When the folks at Golden Girl Granola approached me to try their cereals, I took a few moments to read up on their products since I don’t endorse products that I don’t use or feel are beneficial. What I learned was that Golden Girl Granola is an all-natural, whole-grain granola that is non-GMO, dairy free, cholesterol free, casein free, trans-fat free, wheat free and has no preservatives, artificial color or flavors. Sounds too good to be true, huh? Fearing that anything that so healthy couldn’t be delicious, I decided to put it to the test.

A week or so later, I received a big box with four bags with incredibly tempting names: Truly Tropical, Pumpkin Harvest, Bluesberry and Chocolate Decadence. The delivery was actually perfectly timed because I was working on my Mocha Mug Muffin post and the Chocolate Decadence granola made the perfect topping, so I opened that bag first. I must admit that eating this as a breakfast cereal was hard for me. It contains a generous amount of chocolate chips, which were difficult to eat first thing in the morning. Instead I reserve this bag for topping yogurt and ice cream.

Next, I tried the Pumpkin Harvest which will be my autumn go-to from now on; crunchy granola with pepitas and cinnamon – very tasty. Bluesberry had a completely different flavor profile made with pure New England maple syrup, dried blueberries, coconut and sliced almonds, this was my favorite topping for my morning yogurt. Last but not least, I opened the Truly Tropical which turned out to be my hands-down favorite with its cashew pieces, dried mangoes, large coconut flakes, and baked with natural Merrimack Valley honey. I didn’t even bother with yogurt or milk, I found myself eating this right out of the bag! And, it is made with certified gluten free oats so it is completely gluten-free; it does not get better than that.

Golden Girl Granola is a family granola business based in Carlisle, MA.  They created Golden Girl Granola out of a love of gourmet food and began by baking small batches in their home kitchen and selling it at local farmers’ markets. Today, each batch is still hand-stirred to ensure that each bag is light and crunchy.

You can find Golden Girl Granolas available in 14 oz. pouches and 3 oz. snack bags at grocery stores throughout New England or you can buy directly from their website. For more information, visit them on Facebook and Twitter.

While the food items we sampled were complimentary, I received no additional remuneration. The opinions included herein are honest and unsolicited.

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