Monthly Archives: June 2015

The CD entertains: The wine(ry) picnic and the perfect cheese board

Have you ever felt intimidated about pairing food with wine? Whether you’re planning a winery picnic or hosting a wine tasting or casual gathering at home, The CD shares our favorites, from the orthodox to the non-orthodox. Goldfish crackers with rose? Cambozola Bleu with red, white, or rose? Must we always eat cheese? Absolutely not. We’ll share a little something for everywine, er, everyone.

One of my favorite weekend activities is a visit to a winery. Even if the wine is overpriced and subpar, the lovely pastoral setting, the fresh air, friends, wine, and of course, food form a winning combination. I love organizing a mini-picnic to make the experience even better.

The CD’s General Guidelines
Wherever you’re going and regardless of the wines you’ll likely drink, I have a few ‘standards’ that usually guide my planning. If I’m planning a picnic, presentation is last priority. Mobility and safe storage take precedence. When wind, sudden rain or thunderstorms, and insects are real threats to your picnic (ever had food flip upside down, lost to the birds?), you can’t worry about setting a nice table. I bring one small cooler for perishables and put everything else in grocery bags or sacks. I keep most every item in its original packaging for easy transport and clean-up. I bring plastic utensils (excepting a sturdy knife for cheese and cutting fruit), and only if necessary, paper plates. I try to pack a picnic that requires no individual utensils and plates, but if you or your friends are weird about dipping crackers and veggies in a communal container of hummus, for example, you may want to bring enough for everyone.
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My haul always includes a selection of cheeses. Nothing compliments wine the way cheese does. One arguably can make an entire meal of just wine and cheese, maybe with some bread or crackers, but I like to give options for the non-cheese lovers and some balance to make it a real meal and feast.

The perfect cheese board
My rule of thumb is at least one hard cheese and one soft cheese. I typically try to bring three types of cheeses, but for a group of two or three people, that may be a bit much. I’ll share a few of my favorites for each category of wine.

Cheeses for white wines

  • Brie. One can never go wrong with brie (really, I know how cliched it is, but it’s brie!). Look for triple cream varieties actually imported from France, as American and Canadian produced bries have a firmer texture and lack the complexity in flavor that makes French brie so irresistible. Avoid ‘smelly’ varieties. They taste great out of the refrigerator, but after an hour or two outdoors, the smell can become unbearable. Just ask the passengers on my insanely long train ride through the Alps from Paris to Milan several years ago. As long as you store it appropriately, brie is wonderful with a hot, fresh French baguette or demi loaf, or a sliced, tart apple together to compliment the apple and citrus notes of a good white wine. If you don’t have time for fresh bread, I love brie paired with a sweet, nutty toast. Trader Joe’s Fig and Olive crackers, Rainforest Crisps (any variety), or the Kii Naturals (Canadian) Date and Almond crisps pictured above, are great bets for this or any soft cheese.
  • Emmenthaler. Speaking of the Alps, this firm cheese was elevated to one of my favorites after a long night in Austria. It was delicious with semi-dry Austrian white wines. Its nuttiness also makes it a decent pairing with heavy red wines. Great paired with seeded crispbreads or dark rye bread; it works well with berry jams and dried apricots.
  • Dubliner Irish cheese. This is my go-to cheese. Everyone loves it. It has the mellow nuttiness of Parmesan with a bit more of a tangy, salty kick. It goes with any cracker, plain or flavored. I love them with rosemary flatbread crackers in particular. This cheese is also wonderful with tomatoes – tomato relish or bruscetta mixes. This cheese works with any wine, but it really brings out the citrus notes and sweetness of white wines.

Cheeses for red wines

  • Chevre. Whether you pick a ‘naked’ chevre or one rolled in herbs, cranberries, or blueberries, the tanginess of a soft chevre log works well with the bold, berry notes of red wine.
  • Smoked gouda or Old Amsterdam. The two are not synonymous, despite that they both hail from The Netherlands. Smoked gouda really works well with heavier reds with those hard-to-place leather and tobacco notes. If a red is too oaky for me, gouda strangely helps make it more palatable. Old Amsterdam Unikaas is firm, almost crumbly, but it has this wonderfully aged mellowness. It tends to be pretty pricy for a reason.
  • Bleu cheeses. Again, the sharp, tangy character of bleus complements the berry and cherry notes in red wines. I’ll save my favorite bleu for the roses, but I recommend picking a soft or semi-soft bleu. Those are less messy, and I find them to be a bit milder for those who don’t tend to love bleus.

Cheeses for rose wines

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  • Cambozola Blue. With the creaminess and soft texture of camembert (“the Camb”) and a hint of tanginess of gorgonzola (the “zola”), this German soft cheese is the one blue cheese for people who hate blue cheese. Because it is milder than most blues, it is perfectly paired with a semi-dry rose. “Sort-of-blue” meets “sort-of-red”. It’s also great with a sweeter cracker and fruit.
  • Manchego: It may be blasphemy, but it seems like Manchego cheese was made for Spain’s dry rose wines. It has enough bitterness to pair with red, but the nuttiness that works with white, so when you get a rose wine that has characteristics of each, that Manchego sings.
  • Cheddar. I am not a cheddar fan, let me be perfectly clear (English white cheddar being my only exception; its flavor is fuller and more mellow). But if I were to eat cheddar, I would pair it with rose wine. I swear that it is a wonderful combination. I will, however, gladly eat sharp cheddar cheese crackers (think Goldfish or Cheez-Its) with rose wine. It just works. Trust me!
  • Drunken Goat. This slightly nutty, firm, and mild goat cheese is good with any wine, but it is best with rose, in my opinion.
  • Any of the cheeses listed in this post. The transitional nature of rose wine (red grapes, less contact with skin!) is suited to a wider variety of cheeses and accompaniments. Just please don’t drink White Zinfandel. Friends don’t let friends drink White Zin, unless it’s before the age of 25 and after the age of 70. I do not categorize it as a rose wine.

Cheeses for bubbly
In general, I stick to soft or semi-soft cheeses, such as brie, Camembert, or a soft, melting goat cheese, when pairing with a sparkling wine. The effervescence and dryness or sweetness do not work as well with sharper and firmer cheeses. But sparkling wine makes everything taste better, so throw caution to the wind and try something new!

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Because one cannot live on cheese alone:
Though I could, it probably would not be wise. Having a bit of variety can really help play up your wines, not to mention that it will make everyone feel satisfied. Hummus, baba ghanouj, and tzatziki (either purchased or homemade – try my recipes!) are great non-cheese noshes to break up the cheese monotony, and they all are fairly wine-neutral. I bring a variety of crackers, usually driven by the types of cheese I pick, typically a neutral cracker and at least one interesting type of cracker (seeded, sweet, or herbed). A sharp cheddar cracker, even as low-brow as Goldfish or Cheez Its, is spectacular with dry rose wine.

Charcuterie:  Packaged prosciutto and salamis have become commonplace at most supermarkets and they make a great protein sidekick to cheeses. Add a touch of exotic by visiting a local butcher and trying a specialty meat sliced to order, such as the pork lonzo pictured in the above photo.

I also try to bring enough vegetables for dipping and fruit to balance out the indulgence of the cheese. I love sugar snap peas, baby carrots, or bell pepper strips to dip in mezze or top with cheese. Berries work particularly well with red or rose wine, while apples, pears, and even citrus/tropical fruit are better with white or sparkling wine. Mixed nuts are great with sparkling wine; marcona almonds and kalamata olives are fantastic with dry whites, roses, or light reds.

Sweet endings:
Dark chocolate and red or port-style dessert wine is an amazingly simple ending to a wine tasting at home. However, in the heat of summer (or a closed vehicle), it’s not practical to bring dark chocolate bars, and chilling them can stifle the flavor and mouth feel. NEVER chill and thaw solid chocolate! My decadent brownie recipe or Sunday’s shortbread are safer bets for traveling, but dried cherries, apricots (go for organic, unsulfured Turkish varieties – they have a sweeter, honey characteristic), or figs are equally delicious and require less pre-planning.
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Whichever combinations you choose, it’s hard not to throw a successful wine tasting or winery picnic. Who knew pairing wine with food was so simple?

Scottish brown sugar shortbread: Turning disaster into delicious

Crumbly, buttery shortbread. Three key ingredients. Baking doesn’t get much more simple – or crowd-pleasing. Whole wheat flour, the subtle caramel of brown sugar, and hints of vanilla and almond make it special. It also has the distinction of surviving a kitchen disaster, and thus I am certain that it is resilient enough so that all of you can make it in your own kitchens!

Shortbread is one of the most mesmerizingly simple cookies.   With its origins in the British Isles, it is no surprise that technique and texture are critical to something traditionally made from only three ingredients:  flour, butter, and sugar.  That’s it.  No wonder it has withstood the test of time and globalization. Like making a pie crust or pastry dough, kneading in cold butter is the trick to achieving that perfectly flaky, yet soft cookie.

I don’t know about all of you, but I lack the patience and precision to make it authentically perfect.  I certainly didn’t want to mess with a good thing, but I made a few minor tweaks so that you can easily reproduce it in your own kitchen. I used whole wheat pastry flour to add at least a hint of nutrition and less refined carbs, and I added vanilla and almond extracts.  I believe that it is a baking sin to leave out vanilla in most sweet baked goods.  I also did not go through the precarious steps of folding in the cold butter to the flour, because I didn’t think you would want to deal with that step, either.  Just don’t do what I did the first time I attempted it.

If you ever want to feel less clumsy in the kitchen, read this story.  I know I risk completely destroying any culinary credibility I had with you by telling it so publicly, but I also am willing to humiliate myself because kitchen disasters happen to all but the most OCD of us! It is a lesson that disasters happen, but hopefully the recipe is half as resilient as the people who first created it long ago.

So anyway, I made the dough with the below recipe, rolled it out, pressed it into the pan evenly, strategically pricked it with a fork, and set it in the oven.  Halfway through baking, it appeared to be on track for success. I removed the pan about 25 minutes into baking in order to sprinkle course (caster for you in the UK) sugar atop it to add a crunch and give it a hint of a crust. I sifted the sugar, but some of the pan was unevenly covered with it.  So I moved the hot pan to the sink to shake loose any excess sugar, slightly inverting it. Ok at this point, you’re reading this wondering, what was she thinking?

Hubris. Excessive pride in my baking ability – hello, I’ve been baking since I was eight.  But one aspect of shortbread I wasn’t used to was its high butter content.

So as I continued to invert the pan with only my hand to protect it,  the dough started to slide out of the pan and into the sink, burning my hand in the process.  I did not accept defeat.  I salvaged what didn’t slide into the sink by spreading it – much more thinly – across the pan by hand (did I mention my hand already was burnt?). I sprinkled sugar back on top, leaving it alone this time before placing it back in the oven.  Twenty minutes later, it was done.  And surprisingly, it worked. It was delicious. It got eaten (shh, don’t tell my colleagues!) with rave reviews.

So the real moral of this story is just because it tastes perfect doesn’t mean it is. So suspect the chef!  I kid.

What I mean to say is that accidents happen. You might not execute a recipe the way your cooking show host did on television (or You Tube. Whatever!) or the way it looks in those Pinterest photos. Recover and move on. It will turn out ok. If not, try again!  And in the end, few probably will be able to  tell the difference!
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Scottish brown sugar shortbread

  • 4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 cups (1 lb.) salted butter
  • 1 cup light brown sugar, packed
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. almond extract (Optional)
  • Pinch of salt.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large mixing bowl, slowly cream butter and sugar by hand or with an electric mixer on its lowest speed setting. Add in vanilla, almond extract. Gradually mix in flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until just incorporated – don’t overmix!

Lightly flour a large piece of parchment paper on a flat work surface. Knead the dough by hand, for about 5 minutes. Transfer to an ungreased 8″x8″ (for thick fingers) or 9″x12″ (for thinner cookies) baking pan.  Pat dough evenly; prick by fork throughout the dish to aerate and for decoration. Bake for approximately 45 minutes (one hour for thicker fingers), or until firm and edges are browned. Remove and cool in pan. Cut into narrow rectangular fingers.

The CD is entertained: Home-cooked South Indian food in the USA

A special night of home-cooked dishes from southern India brought back memories of a past trip to Karnataka.  If you’ve never traveled to India, you likely have eaten more dishes from northern India than from its south.  But Indian is so much more than what most of us know. Take a culinary jaunt to the state of Karnataka without leaving home.

With over 50 states and greater than 1/7 of the world’s population – that’s over 1.2 BILLION people out of over 7, India’s people and cuisine are quite diverse.  If you thought your neighborhood Indian restaurant’s menu was lengthy, that’s nothing! Outside of India, the most popular Indian dishes come from North India, and often from Punjab. If you love the rich cream, cashew, and tomato-based curries of your local Indian restaurant, then you’re probably less familiar with the rice and vegetable dishes of its southern states and regions. That’s not to say that people in the south don’t cook traditionally “northern” dishes or vice versa – think of it as a Californian making grits or chicken-fried steak, or a German cooking Italian. Yet with so many states and subcultures, food is a powerful source of community and family identity in India.

I was introduced to southern Indian cuisine a few years ago during a trip through the southern state of Karnataka and which also took me to the northern cities of Delhi (busy) and Agra (not a fan).  I was lucky enough to experience a home-cooked dinner and breakfast in Bangalore.  The food was magnificent and spicy, and most memorable was a spicy noodle breakfast dish made with rice vermicelli (semiya upma) and tossed with cashews, onions, chilis, curry leaf, and the distinctive flavor of whole mustard seeds.

So I was ecstatic when one of my good friends invited me over for her mother’s home cooking. I knew I would leave fat and happy, but it was more so than I expected.


The meal began  with hors d’oeurves of panipuri and mushroom cutlets.  Panipuris are deep-fried puffs stuffed with several fresh ingredients: channa (chickpeas), cooked potato, diced tomatoes, red onion, herbs, and familiar chutneys – brown, sweet tamarind, and green chile, mint, and coriander.  The single bite snack packs a spectacular burst of flavors – savory, sweet, spicy, earthy. I commented that they were so addictive that I would just as soon eat these at a Super Bowl party as Seven Layer Dip. The breaded mushroom cutlets were the night’s only store-bought course, but they were delicious comfort food with a surprisingly spicy kick.
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Our main course was the family’s own recipe for lemon chicken;  Tender drumsticks braised with greens, spices, and lemongrass are the family’s most demanded dish during family gatherings. The meal’s centerpiece was a fragrant lemon rice dish, called Chitranna in Kannada, the local language in Karnataka. Colored bright yellow with turmeric and seasoned with cumin, mustard seeds, curry leaves, peanuts, and, of course, lemon juice, it needs no heavy sauce.
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A delicious stewed eggplant side and another of greens and white beans rounded out the bold, flavorful meal and my quota of vegetables. In Karnataka, a small serving of plain yogurt follows the meal to aid in digestion, and we followed suit this evening.

For dessert, we went Western with pastries (I chose a mini-Napoleon) and bright orange mango. What could be better?

Answer:  Leftovers!  I was sent home with plenty of leftovers, which were every bit as good a few days later.

This meal brought back so many memories – and made new ones.  The food wouldn’t have been half as good without the wonderful company and hospitality of my hosts, as my friend’s mother regaled us with stories of her childhood. Her favorite dishes, her missions to fetch and blend her mother’s special coffee mix infused more love and life in her wonderful dishes.

 

Healthy Diplomat: Mediterranean pasta primavera


It is said that necessity is the mother of invention.  A full pantry (thanks to inheriting the contents of a friend’s), a bad storm, and fresh vegetables made for the perfect condition to create something new.  So create I did.  This pasta is a great way to use and enjoy late spring/early summer’s best vegetables. Packed with flavor, fiber, protein, and healthy fats, it’s a hearty yet light one pot meal. Leftovers serve double duty as a pasta salad side dish. Believe me, the citrus, feta, and herbs play well hot or cold.

I grew up thinking that pasta primavera was a vegetable pasta dish. It’s not far off, but ” primavera” just means “spring” in Italian. A good pasta primavera showcases seasonal spring ingredients. While officially it’s no longer spring, spring vegetables are in high peak in many areas, so take advantage of what you have on hand.

I used what I happened to have in my kitchen, but you could easily use other vegetables.  Adding 1/4 cup of diced Kalamata olives, substituting broccoli for the asparagus, or onions for the peas are other suggestions.  Omit the meat to keep it vegetarian, or eliminate the cheese to keep it dairy free.

I recommend using shaped pastas instead of noodles, as a small amount goes a long way and retains flavor. In this recipe, each cooked serving contains less than 100 calories (a half serving) of pasta. I used quinoa and brown rice fusilli, which happened to be gluten free and has a higher protein and fiber content than white semolina pasta. You won’t miss the starch with the bold flavors, colors, and textures of the vegetables, meat, and herbs.

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Mediterranean pantry pasta primavera

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 cup uncooked pasta (fusilli, rotini, cavatappi, catoesavatelli, penne, or orecchiette)
  • 1 lb. fresh asparagus
  • 1 large red bell pepper (capsicum
  • 1/2 cup sugar snap peas or snow peas
  • 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats
  • 3 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup cooked chicken breast, shredded or diced
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1 tsp. oregano, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp. fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • Pinch of salt

Roast the asparagus:  Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Wash and trim asparagus.  Transfer to roasting pan (or 13X9X2″ baking dish) and toss with juice of 1/2 lemon and 1 tbsp. olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Bake for 20 minutes or until asparagus is tender and stalks are bright green (heads slightly caramelized). Dice when complete.

While the asparagus roasts, bring 2-3 cups water to a boil in a medium pot.  Add pasta and cook al dente according to package directions. Drain, rinse, and return to pot; reduce heat to a simmer/low heat. Add remaining olive oil, lemon juice, and crushed garlic.

Meanwhile, dice the red bell pepper and pea pods. In a small skillet, heat 1 tbsp. olive oil over medium heat and sauté for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Remove from heat and set aside.

Add red pepper, snow/snap peas, asparagus, chicken, sundried tomatoes, and pistachios to the pasta.  Toss to combine; add feta cheese, remaining spices, and salt to taste. Warm over low heat/simmer and serve.  Garnish with additional fresh basil leaves and feta if desired.


 

 

 

Getting fancy in the mountains: Knife and Fork in Spruce Pine, North Carolina

I invite you to sample seasonal North Carolina meat and produce at their freshest, most respectfully prepared at Knife and Fork. Located in the breathtaking Blue Ridge Mountains in northwestern North Carolina, Knife and Fork’s delicate dishes are a surprising find far from the typical, big city devotees of the farm to table and slow food movements.

It didn’t seem that long ago (really? 15 years?) since the concept of farm to table took root in New York City and other urban metropolises starved for fresh, local, and seasonal food prepared with reverence. Yet the concept became a movement, joined in parallel by several others that has swept the developed world – and which I’ve seen firsthand (you can find a few great examples in my posts such as Neh and Ribe in Tallinn, Estonia; Bistrot Glouton in Bordeaux, France; Zielona Kuchnia in Krakow, Poland; and basically any of Gaston Acurio’s Peru-based restaurant empire). Check out the second episode of Netflix’s doumentary series, Chef’s Table, which features New York’s Dan Barber and his Blue Hill, to learn more about the origins and philosophy of the movement.

So it shouldn’t have surprised me to find another gem in rural, mountainous North Carolina, but having grown up in the American South, Spruce Pine’s Western Sizzlin’ and heavy fast food were more in line with my snobby expectation. My world traveler’s snobbery got the best of me until I saw the light that is Knife and Fork.

Spruce Pine's former train depot

Spruce Pine’s former train depot

Spruce Pine’s historic ‘downtown’ is one street that parallels railroad tracks and a long-abandoned train depot. It’s not much to look at, but charming local businesses have staked their claim to Main Street fame (for the record, it’s actually Locust Street. But it works to say that with the Main St. vs. Wall St. comparison that popped up after the 2008 Global Financial Crisis). Knife and Fork, and its adjacent sister, Spoon cocktail lounge, have subtle signage. It’s almost as if they want to be the area’s most closely guarded secret for only those most worthy.

As soon as I walked in the door, Knife and Fork’s decor spoke my language. I didn’t need to so much as look at a menu to get its concept immediately: The blond wood, simple furnishings, antiqued gilt frames surrounding mirrors and art told me that it was going for the best and freshest presentation of local ingredients. If it wants to be western North Carolina’s culinary ambassador, it does its state proud.

Ok, enough rambling from a guilty yuppie. Onto the restaurant and its food!

First of all, I have to say that the menu is not straightforward.  It requires a bit of interpretation or explanation for most laypersons. Local trout, rabbit, and famous Carolina pork are easy enough to recognize, but obscure names for often lesser-known greens, herbs, and cheeses may be a bit confusing. I will admit that I had to shrug my own shoulders when trying to decipher a few offerings for my friends and humbly accept explanation from our waiter. Cavolo nero? No?  How about dinosaur kale, anyone? Nah, I was familiar with neither; they’re one and the same.

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The menu changes daily, depending upon seasonality and availability, so I can only help you, the prospective traveler, but so much! Nevertheless, you can expect a perfect sourdough loaf (above) accompanied by a homemade compound butter infused subtly with thyme, honey, and rendered pork fat to welcome you as you ponder the sometimes perplexing menu. I’ll share a few highlights from our group’s choices (menu pictured above in the featured image).

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The charcuterie board (above) is an over-the-top smorgasbord that successfully reimagines the European model with house-made jewels like smoked trout, head cheese terrine (you read that correctly. Google it if you’ve never made its acquaintance. If it turns your stomach, don’t write it off. My group loved it), a spring rabbit and asparagus terrine, beef pepperoni, smoked pork shoulder, and slightly blackened crostini.

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The three cheese board (above) is restrained in a very non-Southern manner. On this occasion, it featured small portions of regional blue and goat cheeses and also Manchego, which forced me to savor every tiny bite so that others could enjoy it too. Such a shame. I could have polished it off singlehandedly.

Our party’s overwhelming favorite entree was the flat iron steak, served that night with dandelion greens, crispy potatoes, and a mushroom butter. The steak was tender and simply cooked, and the greens and potatoes were hearty compliments without weighing down the meal.

Homemade pasta is one feat. Homemade spaghetti is another challenge entirely. Knife and Fork’s flat spaghetti was almost translucent in its fragility, served with Italian sausage, that dinosaur kale, and a light goat cheese whose Italian name escapes me -all form an assertive yang to the delicate pasta’s yin.

We also ordered several vegetable small plates. They were simply dressed, beautifully presented, and not at all overcooked. Broccoli came paired with shungiku (the bitter, leafy green of a daisy-like flowering plant), shiitake and chèvre. Summer squash (AKA zucchini) took on Italian simplicity with breadcrumbs, fresh flat leaf parsley (in lieu of basil as listed on the menu), black peppercorns, and just a hint of tomme de savoie cheese.

Unfortunately, I can comment on neither their lovely wine selection or desserts, as I was trying not to overdo it that night, but at a glance, their wine selection was varied enough to keep it interesting. Judging by the full house that night and Knife and Fork’s six years in business, its daily menu iterations keep patrons coming back and gaining new customers. It’s attracted so much positive buzz, in fact, that the Southern cultural icon, Southern Living Magazine named Knife and Fork one of its Top 100 restaurants in the South. K&F shares that distinction with standouts both new and established from across the South, such as Rose’s Luxury, Fiola Mare, and Rasika (West) in Washington, DC and Crook’s Corner in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

I wish I could have made a second trip – both to Knife and Fork and its bar, Spoon, to truly appreciate their ingredient selection and creativity. Regardless, this experience reminds me that often, the most interesting food adventures are the ones closest to our own backyards. End Carrie Bradshaw-esque, cheesy reflection!

The General Muir: New York deli meets Atlanta’s rising food scene

Far from the Big Apple, The General Muir, one of Atlanta’s hottest restaurants, combines modern precision with the vibrant traditions of New York’s Jewish delis: matzoh, pastrami, the reuben, bagels, lox, trout, and of course, a great brisket find an unexpected home alongside an eclectic mix of food trends that include burrata, lentils, beets, hangar steak, and poutine.

During a stay in Atlanta, The General Muir came highly recommended. With an open mind and empty stomach, we headed there for a weeknight dinner. Like most hot cosmopolitan restaurants, The General Muir changes its menu frequently and prints it daily. Don’t worry, many of its cult favorites, like The Burger (I’ll get to that!), are mainstays through the seasons.

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A wonderful wine flight whetted my appetite instantly. A prescribed Sonoma pinot noir was unavailable, but a wonderful rose took its place beside a smooth Sicilian Tascante nerello and Spanish Petalos mencia with smoky tannins. Their cocktail list, like their food menu, is subject to change but applies its own spin on current mixology trends. Bourbon, St. Germain, sparking wine, pisco, and ginger make obligatory but welcomed appearances.

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The three of us shared a burrata appetizer complimented with shaved beets, dark sweet cherries, and pesto.  It was fabulous and not too heavy.

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I continued my vegetarian theme by ordering stewed lentils with curried cauliflower (featured photo above). It was a hearty, filling combination for a rainy evening. One of us ordered the entree special, which was a strange but delicious hybrid of chicken noodle and matzoh ball soups. And of course, the third in our group ordered The Burger. The Burger deserves the capitalization of its name. It is renowned throughout not only Atlanta, but the nation’s burger scene, having been featured in several high-profile reviews, such as Eater. The Burger marries its ground beef patty with pastrami, caramelized onions, Russian dressing, and gruyere. It is a force to be reckoned with.

We skipped dessert at The General Muir to experience Decatur’s Butter & Cream once more, so I can’t comment on The General Muir’s dessert offerings – which were tempting. Dessert wasn’t necessary for us to appreciate The General Muir’s eclectic mix of traditional and trendy.

A visit to Atlanta’s Krog St. Market

Today, we explore Atlanta, Georgia’s Krog St. Market, an urban food hall and recent addition to Atlanta’s food scene. Farmer’s market it is not, but its eateries and vendors showcase local products, as well as food and craft artisans that appeal to hipsters and Buy Local fans alike.

The urban food hall is not a uniquely American phenomenon. Drawing from the traditions of the covered European food markets and stalls, American farmers’ markets, and the efficiency of shopping mall food courts of the 1980s and 1990s, this new hybrid venue has experienced a resurgence in recent years. Pioneered by San Francisco’s Embarcadero, Seattle’s Pike Place Market, New Orleans’ French Market, and others, cities around the U.S. and Europe have given birth to new – or in some cases, revived – markets to showcase local food artisans and their products. Yes, I just said ‘food artisans.’ Their products, much like those proudly displayed at craft fairs, are works of art and creativity in their own right.
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At Atlanta’s Krog Market (also known as KSM), the likely suspects – Southern barbecue and ice cream – join eateries and stalls influenced by flavors far beyond Georgia. The resemblance to the markets of the American West Coast is purely intentional. Housed in a renovated 1920’s warehouse in the Inman Park neighborhood, full-service restaurants and brew pubs fringe the market’s exterior. Once inside, the interior hallway rings a series of retail and food stalls and fast food eateries. Homemade tarts from The Little Tart Bakeshop catch one’s eye and nose immediately upon entering KSM. Gu’s Dumplings, Fred’s Meat and Bread, GC BBQ (Grand Champion BBQ), and the yakitori and sushi of Craft Izakaya mingle among retail stalls, such as French Market Flowers and Inman Park Pet Works. Several additional retail and restaurant outlets remain planned, including an organic market and spicy chicken stall. With enough existing choices to make mealtime difficult, I made a grab at three stalls, which I’ll highlight here:

Yalla!
When I see Mediterranean food – especially hummus, falafel, shawarma, and baba ghanouj – I am immediately drawn to it. So it was natural that I had to try a shawarma bowl from Yalla! This eatery bills itself as a contemporary Mediterranean food stall and is the brainchild of chef Todd Ginsberg, a James Beard semifinalist, Shelly Sweet, and Jennifer and Ben Johnson, a team with other great eateries under their belt (including KSM’s Fred’s Meat and Bread, a sandwich stall). Think of the Chipotle (or, more similarly, Roti) model of menus and food assembly. In addition to salatim and appetizer/mezze plates, Yalla! offers several familiar Middle Eastern/Mediterranean dishes in three forms: pita, laffa (a giant, chewy wrap – like a massive tortilla for all you Mexican food lovers), and bowl. Each is a crazy, multitasking mash-up of ingredients that create one delicious meal. With any of these options, it is nearly impossible not to have to waddle away from KSM (ideally on foot or bicycle down Atlanta’s Beltline trail to burn off those calories and lessen your carbon footprint).

For my binge, I chose a shawarma bowl. Lined like an adult, abstract art project with thin layers of baba ghanouj, tahini, and hummus, it is filled with Israeli salad and pickled vegetables, roasted chicken, and most delectably, fried eggplant. The eggplant was phenomenal. I could have eaten a bowl of the eggplant alone. It was that good. The entire concoction is topped with yellow amba, a sauce resembling mustard only in color. It did not look lovely, but it was abstract art I’d be happy to eat anytime (well, maybe just half of a portion).

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams


I find $6 to be a bit excessive to spend on one scoop of ice cream. But as a blogger and lover of both making and eating ice cream, I decided it was only my civic duty to eat and write about doing exactly that – even after the heavy shawarma bowl at Yalla. Once I read Jeni’s list of ice cream and sorbets, I had no choice. Wildberry lavender, brown butter almond brittle, sun-popped corn, pistachio and honey, and mango lassi frozen yogurt are just a few of the artisanal flavors Jeni’s offers. If you’ve read any of my own ice cream or gelato recipes, you might not be surprised that I chose the brown butter almond brittle easily as my first mini-scoop. It was a toss-up, but ultimately, the sun-popped corn won me over for the second scoop flavor. It turned out to be an excellent choice. It had that county fair sweet-and-salty kettle corn flavor profile. I would go back for that one. While my wallet and waistline were not fans, my taste buds definitely gravitated towards Jeni’s. If you don’t live or travel to Atlanta, you can still find Jeni’s scoop shops in seven other locations across the USA (spanning from South Carolina to Los Angeles, CA) and try their goodness there!

XOCOLATL
Last, but surely not least, was Xocolatl. How can anyone resist $9 chocolate bars? Sarcasm aside, Xocolatl’s small batch chocolates were rich and complex. Free samples allowed me to see just what $9 can get you. I was impressed with the quality and creativity of their dark chocolate blends – as well as the business’s clever name choice. The latter evokes native chocolate traditions of central and South America, as well as the not so hidden ATL (if you’re not from the American east coast, this is the trigraph for the Atlanta International Airport). I caved and purchased their Oh Nuts! 68% dark chocolate with roasted almonds and vanilla-infused sea salt. On a given day, Xocolatl sells only a fraction of their roster of flavor and sourcing combinations. This is not a problem if you live in Atlanta. Even if you don’t, you can rest assured that this retail stall will sell you a flavor that will excite and delight.