Monthly Archives: April 2011

The bread of my (sinus) affliction

Colds are a downer. Spring colds are a special kind of downer because it’s so gorgeous outside, I’d rather be patioing on this lovely Friday evening than sitting in here in my jammies contemplating going back to bed. After waking up from my two-hour post-work nap, I decided to have some leftover soup and realized I hadn’t written about this week’s cooking. Silly me.

Easter gets a lot of play and all, but my focus this week was Passover. It’s that special time of year where I get to eat gefilte fish. Hubster thinks it is one of the most revolting things he’s ever encountered (even more than mayonnaise, I think) but I find it to be heavenly. And I don’t mess mine up with a bunch of condiments. Straight out of the jar for me, thank you Manichewitz.

Passover is one of those holidays that gives me warm fuzzies because: our family was always together, it was the one time a year we would break out the good china, and it was the first time I got drunk. You didn’t think this would be entirely serious did you?

Passover in our house had two forms – formal and picnic-style. First seder was generally the formal one featuring the china, the fancy silverware and Zada’s old Haggadot with pictures of Streit’s Matzos and Maxwell House Coffee from the 1950s. Second seder would just be the four of us and some years we decided to picnic on the floor in the living room. Mom and Dad would put down a blanket, we’d use paper plates and lounge. Totally in the spirit of the holiday which commands that you recline, as that was the sign of a free person back in the days of Hebrew slavery in Egypt. Plus it was fun for me and my brother because we didn’t have to sit up straight.

Picnic seder the year after my bat mitzvah was an event because, as I saw it, I was now considered an “adult” by the Jewish community, so I should get to have real wine for Passover. Note: during the Passover seder, one is supposed to consume four glasses of wine. My parents, having the foresight they did, decided it would be an excellent time to teach a lesson about drinking. And it was one I learned because, after that evening, I didn’t have another drink until I was practically in college. Again, thank you Manichewitz.

So this year, thanks to a quick after-workout trip to Tom Thumb on Monday, I had my usual Passover ingredients ready. To be honest, we don’t do a full seder at my house. Two reasons: 1. I know I wouldn’t create one as great as my mom’s; 2. Hubster would likely fall asleep on his non-gefilte-fish-covered plate. Instead, we opt for some delicious matzo ball soup, charoset and macaroons. I keep matzo, hard boiled eggs and some of the other foods around for consumption throughout the week-long holiday, but we keep it simple those first couple of nights.

Matzo ball soup

Mom’s matzo ball soup is all about the matzo ball. Very little in the way of veggies and the like. Mostly broth and ball. In my house, we do it a little differently, creating a hearty chicken soup with carrots, celery, leeks and big chunks of chicken, capped off with a good number of fluffy matzo balls.

Creating the perfect matzo ball is difficult. Sometimes they work for you. Other times they don’t. Two important notes when creating matzo balls: 1. once you’ve put them in the pot, KEEP THE LID ON. Don’t go peeking at your balls. The steam helps them poof up. 2. For extra poofiness, use a little club soda in your matzo ball mix. The bubbles help.

It’s okay to buy the matzo ball mix…but skip the soup mix. Make your own. Trust me.

Charoset with a side of macaroons

To accompany the soup, I always make charoset. Charoset has always been my favorite Passover food because it is so simple and so incredibly tasty. It is simply shredded apples, chopped walnuts (or pecans), cinnamon, sugar and wine. For full flavor, it is best to make it a day ahead, so the flavors have a chance to come together and all of that delicious wine can be absorbed. The sugar is optional, and I only add it if I’ve used a particularly dry wine in the recipe. If you’re going traditional and opt for Mogen David or Manichewitz to make your charoset, you won’t need sugar. The wine will bring enough sweetness.

You’re probably expecting a recipe here, but I honestly can’t give you mine because I eyeball all of it. In the case of this year’s charoset, I shredded three apples, used 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts and then seasoned and wined to taste. The apple to nut ratio is totally up to you. Get crazy.

If you paid attention to the title of this post, you’re probably left a little bit confused as there has been no mention of bread. Matzo is often called the “bread of affliction” because it was made in haste as the Hebrews were fleeing Egypt. As the story goes, they didn’t have time to let their bread rise, so we eat these flat (and very dry, might I add) crackery things as our bread during the holiday. I like to think it isn’t a coincidence that, out of matzo (bread of affliction) we get matzo ball soup (Jewish penicillin).


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(Dining) Adventures in NorCal Part 2

As I stare down the barrel of my next work trip, I realize that I never finished writing about all of the food on my last one. I fear I might be too ADD to maintain this blog on a super-regular basis, but I’m trying. Maybe it’s just that even I don’t want to hear what I have to say that often.

When I left off the last NorCal post, Glynis and I had just enjoyed a lovely breakfast at Meadowood and then set out for a meeting at Spring Mountain Vineyard. If you ever find yourself with an opportunity to try their wines, they make a lovely sauvignon blanc as well as a great cabernet sauvignon. Unfortunately we didn’t get to taste as many wines as I’d have liked (time was of the essence), but the property is beautiful and definitely worth the stop, if you find yourself in the Napa Valley. Note – you’ll have to venture off the main roads to find the winery, but you’ll be glad you did.

It is also at this juncture that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the good people at Back Room Wines in downtown Napa. A winemaker friend suggested we check it out for some delicious grape products for shipping home. Such a great find! Awesome selection of well-known labels as well as smaller producers. And, they had an Orin Swift wine I hadn’t tried yet. What more could this girl ask for?

Clos de Cordeliers Samur Champigny 2009

Chris took excellent care of us, providing recommendations and then relieving us of our money when it was time to pay and ship. The wine arrived just as promised and – as is a must for this service-oriented gal – a follow-up email was sent just because. Two enthusiastic taste buds up for Back Room Wines. PS – I’m currently enjoying a 2009 Clos des Cordeliers Samur Champigny from the Loire Valley in France. If you look for wines based on the importer, chalk this one up to Paul M. Young out of Los Angeles.

That evening, G and I had the pleasure of dining with one of my favorite peeps – the incomparable Matt I. And he made sure to book us at a fantastic restaurant in San Francisco – Epic Roasthouse. The restaurant is on The Embarcadero, with beautiful views of the bay. Not a bad way to spend an evening.

Nickel & Nickel deliciousness

We wasted no time, starting out by ordering a 2005 Vogt Vineyard Nickel & Nickel Cabernet Sauvignon. When in Northern California, have an amazing Northern California wine, no? Incredibly rich and smooth, with balanced tannins. I probably could have had the entire bottle myself, but I was well behaved. Nickel & Nickel focuses on producing single-vineyard wines focused on a single varietal. And I have yet to have anything from their label that doesn’t completely satisfy.

Don’t get too excited – this won’t be a multi-course post. We kept it simple – each ordering entrees and then sharing dessert. That’s the thing about great food. You don’t have to overdo it by loading up on a bunch of different items because the right amount of something phenomenal is more than satisfying. 

Pretty little pheasant

Matt I and I opted for the same main course – the Steak and Cake – a petit filet (ordered medium, of course) with a spicy crab cake accompanied by a dungeness crabmeat hollandaise and tomato salsa. While we zigged, Glynis zagged and went with the roasted pheasant with fava bean pesto, chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized shallots, potato coins and pinot noir sauce. I must say, mine tasted delicious, but for presentation, the pheasant won, hands down.


Steak n Cake

My steak was clearly of great quality and was a perfectly cooked medium (you hear that Eddie V’s?). The crab cake was the star, though. It’s hard for me to say that, considering how much I love a good steak. But it’s true. More crab than cake, and with just enough spice to give it a little heat at the end. I could have eaten three of these bad boys. then slather everything in the crab hollandaise and I was in H-E-A-V-E-N.


This cake IS the devils food

Dessert. Ah yes, dessert. Devil’s food cake with toasted pecans and a toffee sauce. Did I mention it came with a bourbon milkshake? Um, hello! Bourbon. Milkshake. I love both and yet, someone much smarter than me had the insight to put the two together. Nothing short of genius. In fact, I got so excited, that I knocked over my milkshake about halfway through and then asked them to bring me another because I just didn’t want to miss out. I think the waiter was a bit dubious though – the replacement was far less bourbon-y than the original. Oh well.

The cake was dense with a refined chocolate flavor. The pecans were nicely toasted and the toffee sauce was just enough of an accompaniment without overpowering the rest of the dish. But – was it more memorable than any other chocolate cake? Not really. But that bourbon milkshake will stick with me for ages. In fact…I may figure out how to make one of those for myself this weekend. It would be kosher for Passover, right?
The night ended far too soon, but G and I had an early flight (which we nearly missed because I’m lame) to LA where the adventures continued…

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Why, Jake? Why?

I’ll go ahead and spoil the surprise. This isn’t going to be a positive post. Nor will it be a long one. In fact, I imagine I’ll still have the urge to write once this is done, so tonight may be a two-fer.

Saturday night, after much yard work, the hubster and I venture out for one of my favorite burger joints, Jake’s Hamburgers. If you’ve read previous posts, you might remember that I have a soft spot for their sweet potato fries. Add to that, we’d been at Sonic earlier in the day for a cherry limeade (for me) and hubster mused that a corn dog sounded pretty tasty. Jake’s delivers on all fronts.

Still looking kind of ragged from our day o’ work, we opted for the drive-thru, which only had one car in it when we pulled up. After waiting for a small eternity to actually place our order, we pull up to the window to pay. Once the transaction is complete, we’re told to pull forward…no food in hand. Apparently the kitchen is backed up and they’ll need to walk the food out to us.

Okay, so we scooch the car over and I settle in for a game of sudoku on my cell phone. I figure it will help pass the time and I’ll see if I can beat the puzzle before the food comes out. At this point…I play for time.

One of the employees comes out with a couple of bags and starts going to different vehicles to deliver dinners. Note – it is about 8:45pm at this juncture, so I’m sure most folks waiting there were ready to consume their own body parts, just like we were. I was trying to take solace in the fact that we were order #2. Alas, this would not help much.

Long story short – some other car got our food. Surprise, right? Hungry, inconvenienced people will do many things to quell their grumbly bellies, including making a claim that they are order #2 when they are, in fact, order #5. Except us. When the lady came to our car, we were honest about our order number. In retrospect, we should have just taken what she had in her hand and sped away like we’d stolen something.

As you know, service is my big thing, so this means that Jake’s and I need to take a break. Note, we’re not breaking up permanently. I reserve the right to booty call Jake’s when my urge for sweet potato fries is just so insatiable that nothing else will do. But Jake – you hurt me. *single tear*

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And now, for something different

Clearly I love food – the smell and flavor of a fantastic meal can define an experience. But what I generally think less about is how an experience can impact the food you’re eating. Until today, anyway.

This morning, my family got a call it has been waiting on for more than two years – the one notifying us that a kidney donor had been found for the hubster’s mom. As soon as I heard, I packed up my things and left the office, heading to meet everyone at the hospital. After showing up with a latte in tow (don’t worry – this post won’t be about my Starbucks addiction), we all sat together during the pre-op procedures, trading copious hugs just before surgery began.

From there, we – hubster, me, hubster’s dad and brother – headed to the hospital cafeteria to grab some lunch. After all, it was after 3pm and we had a long wait ahead of us.

Plastic trays in hand, we peruse the selection and end up with a mish-mash of food reminiscent of my days in my college dorm: pizza for bro, Chick-fil-A for pop-in-law, hamburger and fries for hubster and soup and some fruit for me. Oh – and it is worth mentioning that bro found an Oreo cookie parfait for dessert. Considering it was just crushed Oreos and pudding…it rocked.

Anyway, I haven’t asked hubster if his burger tasted any good. Or if the fries were crispy on the outside and deliciously fluffy on the inside. And it’s not because it was hospital food and I had low expectations. It’s because the food itself didn’t matter. My potato and leek soup – eaten anywhere else, on any other day – would have probably been disappointing. But today, on this day, as we cautiously celebrated an amazing woman’s new lease on life…I can’t imagine anything could have tasted sweeter than our shared mish-mash meal in the Baylor cafeteria.

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I’m a burger girl, in a burger world

After an unsuccessful attempt to try the new Katy Trail Ice House , the hubster and I ended up searching for a different locale at which to get our burger fix. Note – the Ice House officially opened March 25, and like all new Dallas dining/drinking establishments, was far too packed for us to wait. Hope to get a table there in the fairly near future, seeing as how they have a burger that is noted as Man v. Food.

Anyway, as we drove northward on McKinney Ave., passing such standbys as the Idle Rich Pub, Uptown Bar and Grill and Primo’s, we made our way past the West Village into the Knox/Henderson area and settled on a place called Burger Girl. It met our criteria for the evening – burgers (we hoped it wasn’t just a clever name), and a patio that had an open table.

Looks like me, no?

After sitting down – and realizing that my likeness had clearly been used as the logo for the establishment (see left) – we were approached by a waitress dressed head to toe in clingy black attire.

Drinks were ordered – a vodka rocks with lime for me, a Miller Lite for the hubster – as well as an order of fried pickles. Now, fried pickles and I have an interesting history. The first time I ever tried them was at Kirby’s on Greenville my first year in Dallas. And, it must be noted that I tried them with much reluctance. The concept of fried pickles was foreign to this Missouri-born lady. However, after sampling the crispy, zesty goodness that first time, I’ve
Fried pickles

been hooked. As a result, any restaurant that has fried pickles on the menu compels me to try them.

The pickles were rather good – nice and crispy with the right amount of seasoning in the breading. They came with a too-small side of ranch, though my dining companion opted to dip his in ketchup. Actually, my only complaint about this appetizer was that the portion size was way too big. I hate to waste a good fried pickle, but alas, they do not reheat well so no doggie bagging it for me.

For the main event, I opted for the sliders – three mini burgers with lettuce, tomato, pickles and Burger Girl’s “special sauce”. Note – I think the special sauce is primarily made up of mayonnaise and ketchup. I had provolone cheese added to my sliders and capped off the order with a side of sweet potato fries.
Sliders and sweet potato fries


The burgers were well seasoned and you could tell that the burgers were probably freshly ground. All of the toppings were fresh and crisp, and the bun was warm and pillowy as hoped. Solid burger times 3.

My sweet potato fries were well seasoned – nice and salty – and had a clean sweet potato flavor. I know that getting a crispy texture on sweet potato fries is pretty well impossible, but I found these to be softer than most. Maybe I’m just a harsh critic, but the texture of the fries left me feeling a bit disappointed.

My favorite part of the meal was actually the people watching. Two tables over was a group of four dudes who were clearly starting what will likely prove to be a long night out. I saw multiple rounds of shots served by the waitress and the group then departed in a pickup truck – two guys in front and two in the bed of said truck. Did I mention that one was wearing banana yellow short-shorts with a Mavs jersey? Don’t be discouraged, dear reader. I don’t think all patrons of Burger Girl are this douchey.

So the big question – would I go back? Well, I have mixed feelings. Clearly the food was tasty. The service was okay – a little slow, but this wasn’t an evening I was in a hurry. It was nice to just enjoy the weather and relax. But where Burger Girl falls off the radar for me is the price. For two entrees (burgers), two orders of fries, fried pickles and three drinks we paid more than $40. Each individual item is slightly overpriced, which leads to a larger-than-expected tab. On the drive home, I mentioned that the experience was only a notch above In-n-Out Burger, in my opinion, and not enough of a notch to substantiate the price difference. This definitely won’t be my random-Tuesday-night-let’s-grab-a-burger place, but if I’m looking for a quiet patio, a tasty burger and a possible Dallas douche sighting – well, surely you’ll see this burger girl.

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(Dining) Adventures in NorCal Part 1

Forgive me readers, for I have sinned. It has been many days since my last blog post. And – this one will be about my dining experiences in Napa last week. Stay tuned for the next installments, which will chronicle my night o’ steak in San Fran and a night o’ sushi in SoCal.

My job affords me the opportunity to do some travel from time to time. Well, that’s the case this year anyway. Last year, it was far more frequent than “from time to time.” At least I have my American Airlines platinum status to comfort me. This past week I had the extreme pleasure of visiting one of my favorite parts of the country – the SF Bay Area and the Napa Valley. If ever you cannot find me, this would be the first part of the world to look.

Le menu

On Tuesday, my colleague and I arrived in Napa to meet with some of our key partners, which included an amazing resort and a phenomenal winery. Not too shabby for a day’s work. Thanks to the resort – which also was kind enough to affordably host us for the evening – we ended up at a restaurant called Cook for dinner in St. Helena. The only direction we gave the hotel was that we wanted someplace really tasty that didn’t require us to dress up at all. And Cook more than surpassed all expectations. In fact, we were told by pretty much everyone that this was an insider’s place – a favorite of the locals, but not really well known to tourists. Couldn’t have been more perfect.


We started with an antipasti plate and the fried calamari. While the antipasti plate could have used more cheese (you can never have too much cheese), the various salumis were well made and provided a good range of flavor. The whole roasted garlic was a nice touch, one not seen often enough, in this eater’s opinion. The calamari was nice and crisp. Perfectly cooked with the calamari tender in the center. And the lemon aioli was a nice, clean compliment.

Gargiulo G Major 7

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wine. Oh, the wine. Thanks to my dear friend Sharon at Gargiulo Vineyards, we had the sublime pleasure of enjoying a bottle of 2007 G Major 7 Cabernet Sauvignon. I encourage you to click the link to read more about it. Do yourself a favor – get some of this wine. And stockpile it…it’s a small production masterpiece.  The wine has a beautiful color, a pleasant, slightly tannic aroma, and a smooth flavor that complemented both entrees that we ordered for the evening.

For my dear friend Glynis – a teleme and carrot risotto with roasted lamb. For me, a pappardelle pasta with pork and porcini sugo. Both were delicious, but I will say that Glynis struck the jackpot with her entree.

Risotto and lamb

The risotto was creamy with a smooth, slightly sweet flavor. I didn’t even try the lamb and would have eaten multiple plates of the risotto, gotten full, and kept right on eating. Her restraint in not finishing the entire thing and then licking the plate was quite astounding. I don’t think I’d have done the same. The pappardelle was cooked perfectly and was freshly made. The pork was tender and the earthy flavor from the porcini was subtle but a nice addition to the dish. Glynis said it reminded her of beef stroganoff. I don’t entirely disagree, but the only resemblance I can attribute is that both are comfort dishes that just make you feel warm inside and out.

Dessert was extra-special, though caused a distinct divide at the table. I mentioned that I couldn’t decide between the flourless chocolate cake and the caramel-balsamic gelato, so we ordered both. Turns out, Glynis was going to go for the cake anyway. Things worked out nicely.

Cake and gelato. Mmm...

The cake was moist and surprisingly light, unlike most other flourless cakes I’ve had. Served with caramel, whipped cream and a little grey salt, it was a perfect example of sweet and salty. The gelato was a bit more controversial. I loved it…G hated it. The acidity of the balsamic was a great counterpoint to the sweetness of the caramel. It had a silky texture and I found it to be a refreshing end to the meal. Not too sweet, yet sweet enough to feel like dessert and wrap up the dinner.

No coffee or after dinner drinks for these ladies. Just a quick chat back on the patio at the hotel and then it was time to call it a night. I’m pretty sure my tummy actually smiled after dinner.

The next morning, we met before meetings commenced to have  breakfast at the Grill at Meadowood. I’m sure you’re thinking, “hotel breakfast”? Really? This is no ordinary hotel or resort. It is slightly reminiscent of the resort in Dirty Dancing. In fact, I may have practiced my best mambo while walking down one of the paths. Maybe.

That morning, Glynis and I opted for the same breakfast – omelets with smoked salmon, spinach and cream cheese paired with seasoned breakfast potatoes. We only differed in our bread choices – wheat toast for her, english muffin for me – and what we chose to put on said bread.

Hello marmalade

I never thought I liked orange marmalade. The few times I’d tried it in the past were less-than-memorable, and it certainly wasn’t anything I’d seek out. That is, until I tried the orange marmalade at Meadowood. Holy cow. I detected what we figured was a hint of star anise. It truly made all the difference. If it wouldn’t have been totally uncouth, I’d have eaten the marmalade with my spoon. Or perhaps just put a straw into the dish and slurped it all. I doubt I’d been invited back had either of those actions taken place.

Cream cheese in an omelet? Yes!

The omelet was fluffy and well cooked. I’m a weirdo when it comes to eggs. Typically I like them slightly more done than is considered appropriate by most chefs, but less done than my mom used to make them (sorry mom). In this case, the eggs were prepared just as I like them. The spinach was exceptionally fresh and just slightly wilted. The salmon was delicate and the cream cheese added a richness to the dish. The only thing missing, for my taste, was some fresh dill. My favorite salmon/cream cheese omelet is at Ann Sather in Chicago. They use dill. Just saying.

All in all, a successful 24 hours in Napa. And that was just the beginning. Just one phrase is necessary about my next post: In-n-Out Burger.

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