Monday, October 27, 2008

Los Rosales

In America, most Mexican cuisine has been reduced to order-by-number restaurants, cheese-smothered everything (nothing wrong with that by the way), 4th Meals, or as my friend Olaf used to say - "The Same Seven Ingredients ANY WAY YOU WANT IT!"

Mexican food has been the last thing Wendy wants with one exception: Taco Bell soft tacos, no cheese, add tomatoes (usually from home), with Valentina or Mild Taco Bell Sauce. Though she's no longer the dairy-phobic eater she once was, the limited varieties of most Mexican restaurants offer nothing exciting enough to make them our dining destination. Despite this, I've guilt-tripped Wendy into trying out local spots along Nolensville road - a converted pizza hut (still in "hut" shape) now called Las Chivas and a place in Brentwood called Las Palmas. Both were disappointments that ended with Wendy swearing off future experiments.

Wendy here, I'm taking over the post. I can't say I like the fact that Mark outed me on my Taco Bell indulgences...Hey, we live right beside the Taco Bell. & besides, Speidi likes it.

Inwardly chanting, "We are not worthless, we are not worthless."

When we pulled into the parking lot of Los Rosales, I told Mark that this may well be the very last time I agree to eating at a Mexican restaurant. I was encouraged by a great review over at Lesley Eats. I was not disappointed. In fact, I was so excited that I wanted to call up Amanda Yarbro-Dill and tell her that I finally am able to eat Mexican food that's not prepared in my own kitchen. We didn't take pictures that first visit, but I wish I had. I ordered a steak and pinto bean dish that had these lovely pearl onions in it. Mark got a shrimp dish with avocado sauce. When attempting to cut the shrimp, he accidentally slung it on his shirt. Luckily, he had an extra shirt in his car, so he went out and changed. When he returned to our table, his shirt was unbuttoned three buttons. It was very cute.

The next visit, we got the queso fundido.

Now I'm not one to eat cheese dip, but this stuff is superb. Sometimes we get it without the chirizo and it's just as good. Their tortillas and tortilla chips are housemade and can't be beat.

Everything we've ordered there is really spectacular and the service is always top-notch, which is something I've never experienced in the Mexican restaurants we've visited in the past. The owner, Carlos Moncayo, is always present and is really sweet.

He once sent us a flaming mango for dessert. It was something he was trying out and wanted to get our opinion.
Our favorite dish so far has been the Filets Montes:

Not so photogenic, but really, really good. Usually Mark and I split it.

However, this last visit may have been our most successful. I got spinach enchiladas:

Mark ordered the Great Melee, or that's what he thinks it was called. It was absolutely stellar...

scallops, clams, octopus, shrimp and this wonderful tilapia - all of it grilled. It came with a really subtle, darkly-sweet sauce with a rich seafood stock base which Carlos explained was made with 8 types of seafood, including calamari. The sauce was great because it didn't overpower the seafood, but instead accented it.

Other highlights:

Veggie Fajitas

Cactus Soup

Also, Carlos is the owner of Ibiza Night Club on Old Hickory in Nashville.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Indian Food, Part II

Bombay Palace

I feel as if I've committed an infidelity...

Bombay Palace is the new kid in town and it certainly gives Sitar a run for its money. First of all, the service is about a million times better. Ron (his Americanized name), the owner, went above and beyond what was expected to make us feel welcome telling us, “this back door is open for you anytime.”

I’d heard great things, but I was still reluctant to pass up a Saturday at Sitar to try this place out. We were not disappointed. Ron immediately introduced himself and brought us some pillowy fresh naan. Then there was an incredibly creamy and complex cauliflower dish, Mark thinks it was called Galoo Jobni...whatever it was, the translation was incredible cauliflower. Among other delights was a delicious cinnamon and curry dal, pakora fritters, chiken tiki masala (also amazing), and tandoori chicken which was unfortunately a bit cold, but still quite nice. Unlike Sitar, they have a separate area for salads, fruit, dessert, and chutneys. Mark really liked their raita, the yogurt hound he is and I, of course, doused all my food in the tamarind sauce. We Americans, the majority of us, like our food covered and smothered in sauce. Tamarind is my ranch dressing, kiddies.

Ron came and introduced himself to thank us for stopping by almost immediately. He made a point of asking for our names and came over a few more times during the meal to get our opinion about it all (not annoying or intrusive in any way...he could tell we were really enthusiastic about finding the place. Lord knows, we like to eat). On our way out, as we came in the back door, we passed through the kitchen and he introduced us to the "chef" Sam. He looked young and sweet-faced. I could insinuate something...but we don't talk like that about Indian cooks who make us like cauliflower regardless of our past hatred of it.

After the lovely first impression we talked some friends into revisiting on the Friday night of the David Sedaris show. Ron, sweetheart that he is, remembered our names.

We all started with soup except for Mark. Logan got this incredibly rich chicken soup, Christin got coconut milk with saffron, and I opted for tomato. I got tastes of all and they were just dandy. As with all the dishes at Bombay, the flavors are really vibrant...Sitar's fare seems, in retrospect, much blander and less fresh tasting. Ron, I guess thinking Mark felt left out, brought him some vegetable fritters.

For entrees:
Christin ordered Lamb Korma. Logan got Sag Paneer (spinach and cheese) with lamb in it. Mark was trying to find that same cauliflower dish from the other day, but settled on another one. I got the chana masala.

As mentioned earlier, the flavors are much more vibrant and multi-dimensional. Also, the presentation was quite nice.

Bombay is near Centennial Park in a strip mall that's proven toxic to lots of restaurants who've made a go of it there. Let's hope Bombay doesn't succumb to that curse. We'd like to continue to be spoiled by having two wonderful Indian eateries to choose from.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Indian Food, Part I

As mentioned in an earlier post, I’m smitten with Indian food. Sitar has always been near and dear to our hearts. In fact, Mark and I ate lunch there, just the two of us, on our wedding day. We take lots of out-of-towners, including my oldest niece Kelley, who proved to be a very adventurous eater for a 10 year old. She actually liked it even though the usually pedestrian lunch buffet was extra spicy that day.

My favorite dish is the Chana Sag.

Bottom Left: The chana sag: chickpeas, spinach, tomatoes, ginger, and, I'm certain, a good amount of ghee. In the middle: Garlic Naan, Top Right: Mark's scrambled cheese dish (It's hilarious when he orders it, because the waiter inevitably asks him if he's sure he wants to order that dish. Mark has to assure him that he's had it before).

The sag is almost like a dessert if it’s made mild enough (of course, I order mine spicy). I haven’t come across it on any other menu, but then again, I haven’t been to that many Indian restaurants. We’ve also tried Woodland’s…not memorable or too very exciting. The menu is entirely vegetarian, but I almost always order vegetarian at Indian restaurants and I've found much better elsewhere.

In Portland we had the pleasure of dining at Vindalho. Oh, Vindalho. I wish we hadn’t waited until the night before leaving town to go for the first time. There were so many things I wanted to try, but we’d consistently been ordering too much food everywhere we went and we had no way of storing or reheating leftovers...What we did experience was quite nice, though.

We started with the onion rings with 4 different chutneys.
God love us, Mark and I can’t pass up fried onions (though in hindsight, I wish we'd gone with something more interesting) and dipping sauces. In this case, the dipping sauces are referred to as chutneys and they we're complex and sophisticated. We got a chutney sampler that consisted of fresh peach, tomato, date, and mint. Surprisingly, the date chutney was my favorite. I thought I hated dates.

For an entrée, we shared the Tandoori Flat-Iron Steak with chickpea and mushroom curry (you can’t keep me from the chickpeas). I didn’t realize it would be drizzled with yogurt sauce, but I was a big girl and ate it without complaint anyway. It was wonderfully tender and quite beautifully presented. Sadly, we tore into it without a thought of taking a picture beforehand. When we came to our senses, it looked like this:

Bonus Pic:
This is what happens when you imbibe the curry with wild abandon:

P.S. That's an airbrushed lamb on that t-shirt.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Decatur County Weekend

Mark guest post

After seeing David Sedaris Friday night and nearly wetting ourselves with laughter we made our way westward to see the Fam.

David Sedaris (before he quit smoking)

After stopping in at the house, we made our way to Perryville, specifically the River Arts Community there. Our bro, Jeremy Gibson, was playing a set on the stage there while the local news crew got the story - Wendy and I walked about to see what we could find (Note by Wendy: I found an incredible owl clock at a yard sale, full of kitchy good vibes).

The Stage (love the rebel flag amp)

Right across the road from the stage was this lovely house, with an open front door.

Inside we met the owner of the house, Stan J. Valencis. He creates a wide variety of work: acrylics, watercolors, pastels, sculptures, and murals.

He had some sweet cats, and the whole front room of his house was a gallery and studio.

The community is cute in so many ways. Sweet little houses with murals painted on the outside.

Note the mural on the retaining wall and the tree painted to the corner of the house.

Lots of baby making in this community...

Saturday's dinner was supposed to be Giada's mushroom pasta, however, our plans were thwarted when the fam decided we needed The Rusty Fish Hook in Linden. It was a smart move in the end so that we could relax and focus on hanging out.

The conversation hilariously bounced from talk of Sarah Palin to the Girls Next Door on E! to discussion of Paula Dean's most outrageous moments. Wendy shocked everyone with the story of Paula's breakfast hamburger, topped with bacon, an egg, and most insanely replacing the bun with two glazed Krispy Kreme donuts.

"That's the most outrageous thing I've ever heard," said Lacey - without pause, "Get me a Whopper!" We all burst into laughter. She's learned that she can really milk the laughs with her impersonation of that line.

Freddy ate a huge 20oz. steak

Kelley's dramatic take on our dinner - "Hooked"

I promised the girls we'd make pasta together. When they visited us in the summer they had such a good time making pizza dough, I knew they'd love the pasta process. I was so impressed how much they remembered from the pizza dough: what ingredients we use, specifically they remembered my borrowed (from Alton Brown) explanation of how yeast "burps" and creates the air which rises the dough, and the steps of the process.

We tore a neon yellow stalk off the "bright lights" swiss chard and used it to make bright yellow pasta - using the Tom Lazzaroli method passed to me in a magical conversation at his store. Here's a slideshow of the dough-making process.

On Sunday we finally made good on the mushroom pasta:

It was so very good. Half of the fam didn't even like mushrooms, but still raved about it.

Coming Soon: Zena, a life story

Friday, October 17, 2008

no pasta? must be pizza

midweek meals, midweek interest

veggies sauteed in plugra and sauvignon blanc.

mark hooked up the cat toilet.

we joined an intellectual bowling league based on some ideas found here:

Andrew Summa, Ed.D., Ph.D.
Don't get me started. This guy's a saint.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Aren't you tired of cheesy pasta?

For a girl who has never known her, yeah...I kinda am tired of the barrage of pasta dishes. Sorry. Maybe this will be the last horah for a little while.

Saturday night, we tried another recipe out of How to Eat Supper. This time, it was in the name of using up tomatoes (I know, you've heard it all before). The title sounds dramatic:

Cheese-Gilded Linguine with Smokey Tomatoes

What you'll need:
* 5 quarts salted water in a 6-quart pot
* Extra-virgin olive oil
* 6 thick slices bacon, sliced into 1/4-inch-wide sticks (I didn't use thick bacon)
* 1 medium to large onion, chopped into 1/4-inch dice
* Salt and fresh-ground black pepper
* 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
* 5 large garlic cloves, minced
* 2-1/2 to 3 pounds delicious ripe tomatoes, cored and fine chopped (do not peel or seed); or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes with their liquid, plus one 14-ounce can, drained(I used one can whole and one can chopped)
* 1 pound imported linguine (We used Mark's homemade chive pasta)
* 1 generous cup fresh-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for the table

What you might do:
1. Make fresh pasta a la Mark Barrett

false start pasta... too sticky to be salvaged and sad about it

2. Boil then generously salt water.

3. Lightly film a straight-sided 12-inch saute pan with oil (I didn't add any oil), add the bacon, and set over medium-high heat. Saute until the bacon is golden. Remove it with a slotted spoon, setting it on paper towels to drain. Pour off all but about 3 tablespoons of the fat from the pan (We only had about 6 tablespoons total, so we transferred three into the next pan over--kale side dish, mentioned below).

4. Return the pan to the heat, and stir in the onions, salt and pepper, and red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to medium. Sauté until the onions soften and start to color, 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Blend in the garlic, cooking for 1 minute, and then add the tomatoes. If using canned ones, crush them as they go into the pan. Stir in the cooked bacon. Bring the sauce to a lively bubble and cook until it is thick, 7 to 8 minutes, stirring to keep it from sticking. Remove from the heat, taste for seasoning, and cover the pan. The sauce can wait on the stovetop for up to an hour. Bring it to a bubble before adding it to the pasta.

6. Drop the pasta into the boiling water, and cook until it is tender but still a little firm to the bite. Drain, and turn it into a serving bowl. Toss with the 1 cup cheese until it clings to the noodles, then toss with the sauce. Serve hot, with additional cheese at the table if desired.

My process was a bit different as I was multi-tasking like the well-oiled efficient kitchen machine that I am. I sauteed a side dish of extremely well-seasoned and delicious kale (believe me, I was impressed as I haven't had much luck in the past) with baby turnips. Also, at the same time, I prepped a second recipe from the very same book for Carrie's brunch the next day:

21st Century Mac & Cheese

Here's the recipe from the book that serves 4, but we doubled it

  • 1/2 pound (2 cups ) raw penne pasta, cooked and drained (I used organic elbows)
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 small clove garlic (um, yeah right)
  • 3/4 medium onion, coarsely chopped (2 onions)
  • 1 generous cup (5 ounces) shredded good quality, extra-sharp cheddar cheese ( 1 c. Grafton's cheddar + 1 c. mixed bag of Gruyere, Pecorino Romano, and a bit more cheddar)
  • 5 ounces cream cheese, crumbled (as the recipe was supposed to be "doubled," I didn't remember the measurements while shopping, so I only used 1 8 oz. bar of cream cheese--organic--believe me, I used to be the biggest ol' el cheapo ever, but if you're going to all this trouble anyway, what's 60 cents? I can honestly taste the difference in organic dairy and I could talk for just about forever on the subject, but I won't, maybe later)
  • Generous 1/8 teaspoon each hot red pepper flakes, salt, and freshly ground black pepper
  • Generous 1/4 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika (I was careful with the paprika this time)
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I didn't make a crust because of time constraints)
  • 12 saltines, coarsely crumbled (you don't need saltines if you don't opt for the crust)

1. Preheat oven to 350. Butter a shallow 1 1/2 quart baking dish, and add cooked macaroni.

2. In a blender or food processor combine egg, milk, and garlic, and process 3 seconds. Add onion, cheeses, peppers, salt, and paprika, and blend 10 seconds. Turn into dish, folding into macaroni. Casserole could be covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated up to 24 hours at this point.

3. To bake, bring casserole close to room temperature. As mentioned earlier, I didn't make the crust because I woke up too late, but if you're good and set your alarm, you might: melt butter in a small saucepan. Coat crackers with butter and spread over top of casserole. Bake about 20 to 25 minutes, or until thick yet creamy. If top is not golden, slip under broiler for a minute. Remove from oven, let stand about 5 minutes, and serve.

Though this is my first undertaking of homemade mac and cheese, I've been around and read a few recipes and this one was different in that you don't start by making a roux, you just input everything into a food processor. I thought it questionable, but proceeded confidently knowing that Lynne and Sally wouldn't do me wrong.

As it turns out, it was quite nice:

The overabundance of cheesy noodles was due to the fact that Carrie was having a Sunday brunch. Mark's here with a montage of the highlights:

Also, here's Mark explaining to Alex how his new haircut, when the bangs are combed straight down, makes him look like Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber

For reference, the real Lloyd Christmas (in case you forgot):

It's Sunday, Pumpkin

We made all this stuff on Sunday, October 5th for those of you taking notes out there.

I am absolutely besotted with Dorie Greenspan. Her blog reads like a dream. Upon seeing her post for stuffed sugar pumpkin, I knew I must make it immediately if not sooner.

I followed her recipe exactly only I added chopped parsley and chives from our garden. I would have loved to use Gruyere, my new pet cheese (I'm an amateur, I know), but I only had Grafton cheddar. It wasn't too much of a compromise.

It being Sunday, I was interested in an extended endeavor, so I thought I'd try out an idea I saw on one of my other favorite food blogs,

Last Night's Dinner. We had quite a few tomatoes that needed to be used up.

There was an incident while seasoning the polenta resulting in an overly paprika'd dish. It was okay, but the pie turned red as a result...and was a little too spicy because I'd added some chopped jalapeno (hey, we've got more of them than we know what to do with!).

The polenta pie

I had some beautiful swiss chard from the co-op, so we sauteed that up so our entire plate wasn't filled with orange. It's called "bright lights" and it lives up to its name:

Our colorful plate:

My lovely friends from Memphis, the Yarbro-Dills, sent me some excellent gifts, all arriving on my doorstep the very same day I received what may be my most favorite cookbook ever. It reads like a novel. I wish everyone I knew had a copy. I've always loved The Splendid Table gals, but I didn't know how much. I have an advanced tab system set up:
green tabs for those recipes I want to make immediately,
yellow tabs for dishes that look interesting, but can wait,
and red tabs for things I do not want to eat myself, but I'd like to make them for others (mostly egg-based dishes).

Either way, I thought it would be befitting to use the Yarbro-Dill sent apricot pistachio jam to make a super easy tart recipe from the aforementioned book.

Rustic Jam Shortbread Tart

- makes 4 to 6 servings -
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.


Zest of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup whole almonds
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
Generous pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into 6 chunks
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3/4 cup jam (tart cherry or and wild blueberry are recommended, but I used a mix of apricot pistachio and raspberry preserves)


1. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a 9-inch round silver-colored cake or tart pan. (If using a dark-colored pan, cut baking time by 5 minutes.)

2. With food processor running, drop in the lemon zest and almonds, and grind them fine. Stop the machine, scrape down sides, and add the flour, sugar, salt, butter, egg yolk, and almond extract. Pulse until they are blended and starting to come together in small clumps at the bottom of the processor. (They should look like clusters of peas.)

3. Turn the pastry dough into the pan. With your hands, pat it to evenly cover the bottom of the pan. Give the tart a standing rim by nudging the dough 1/2 inch up the sides of the pan. Don’t worry if it looks a little ragged.

4. Bake the crust in the center of the oven for 13 to 16 minutes, or until the edges are golden and the center is starting to color. The rim will sink down a little, which is fine.

5. Remove the pan from the oven, and turn the heat up to 500°F. Carefully spread the jam over the tart, and immediately return it to the oven (don’t wait for the temperature to reach 500°F). Bake for another 5 to 10 minutes, or until the jam is bubbly.

6. Cool the tart on a rack, slice it into squares or wedges, and serve. Serve the tart warm—but not hot, because hot jam can burn.

As an added bonus, they sent this guy as well.

Thanks Yarbro-Dills!

Monday, October 6, 2008

old + new friends + muscadines - (as much) verbage

Saturday was just dreamy.

Bethany’s birthday celebration rocked my socks off. We toured a small winery in Shelbyville, tasted their wares (I agree with Bethany that most were ridiculously sweet, but I bought a few bottles to give as gifts this Christmas. The red muscadine was my favorite), and had a small picnic outside under a tree. I tried and liked smoked gouda. I purchased some blackberry jam and spread it on bread with some was like buttah.

While we were all having a gay old time, little Dylan Thomas Mackin was working away in the kitchen back home. A word about the couple: Dylan and Bethany are definitely a force to be reckoned with. They both know what's up. Dylan is currently working a The Five Senses as their dessert chef.

We used to cook dinner together quite often when I lived next door to them 4 years ago. First of all, Dylan Thomas is named after Dylan Thomas, the poet, and Bethany has been one of the best friends I've ever known. She's an encouraging type. She was and is a sweet baby...& you have no hope in beating her at Scrabble.

Dylan produced a veggie dish and a fish dish. We decided to get one of each so we could try everything. Here's the set list:

The main course was simple and amazing: Salmon, or crusted, mixed-mashed bean fillets, with asparagus, mashed potatoes, and buttery melted tomatoes. The salmon was amazingly cooked, just rare enough but not too much. The texture couldn't be beat. It, also, was like buttah. The bean fillet tasted like the best meat loaf I've ever had. The crunchy outside combined with the crunchy peppers and onions inside in a beautiful way. The texture was 100% perfect on both plates. Sometimes I think that's the most important part of a meal for me.

And DESSERT!!! Oh my. Thai Basil Ice Cream with a dab of caramel on cranberry apple cobbleresqueness...

This meal was truly sexual to me and I felt as if I just needed to lie on the couch and cuddle afterward...However, there were games to be played.

Mark's here with the commentary:
I have to say, our team was pretty stacked - Wendy, James, and myself. Wendy was a real sleeper competitor, providing clutch answers to my charades performances: what other team could guess "short-order cook" and "Queen Elizabeth" in less than 10 seconds? James provided great spatial intelligence skills, rendering very effective drawings, with or without sight, that enabled us to take an early lead - Yes, I'm still gloating. We won, and hopefully Bethany will send us the photos of our victory poses soon.

Overall, the night was sweet. I made fast friends with Bethany's new bandmate Susan. Every so often I meet someone and I feel as if we are kismitly (now an adverb!) linked. We made up a very successful (in my opinion) conceptual dance involving a windmill motion and a rolly chair. I hope I get to see them all again soon.

This may be my favorite pic of the night.

Name Changed to Protect the Innocent

I had to drop Skinny Cooks Can't Be Trusted. I don't want to be associated with this:

Friday, October 3, 2008

Beef Hangover

Pretty much all of last week was lackluster in the kitchen. We got knee-deep in a bunch of beef without really meaning to. It started out with the burgers from last Saturday. We had some leftover sirloin and I figured we’d just use it in some ghetto spaghetti or something (I knew we’d be busy bees this week and I’ve been kind of easing off the food reading for a couple of days, trying to focus on my thesis). Monday we had leftover burgers. Mark had purchased, with my encouragement, a lamb burger stuffed and studded with feta and spinach. I’m so silly; I can’t bring myself to eat lamb,* but I often think of fixing it for Mark because I know he loves it so.

*(I’ve tasted it, but it’s just hard for me to swallow…pun intended? I’ve seen too many of those little pamphlets about how lambs are treated…I mean, I know that depending on where you buy your meat, pretty much any animal you eat has a fair chance of being prodded inappropriately or worse, I don’t even want to know, but lamb… lambs = sweet baby Jesus and, though the Baptist may have been leached out of me, I still can’t think of eating lamb and enjoying it…we’ll see what happens though, I think I need a food sherpa and I’m accepting applications).

On Tuesday, our neighbor Lisa asked us to “check in” on her son, Dakota. Mark’s been giving him drum lessons for a little while now and they’ve developed a sweet friendship. Mark’s idea was to have a shortened lesson and bring Dakota over to help out with dinner. I mistakenly said we could have tacos or ghetto spaghetti, and Dakota naturally leaned towards tacos, but we didn’t have enough meat, only enough for about 3 tacos probably. No matter how much I sweet talked the idea of spaghetti to them, their little faces still registered disappointment. So Mark and Dakota ran to Kroger and got more beef – Ugh. Mark and I had committed to a limited amount of grocery trips/expenditures this week, but it was okay, because this was a special occasion. We’ve never had Dakota over and I was really trying to be mindful of an 8th graders tastes. We made ghetto tacos and then Mark and Dakota played Nintendo Wii while I worked upstairs until Lisa came home. It all worked out, but we got stuck with too much beef. Our bowels have not really forgiven us yet.

I finally got some of the last sweet corn from a little produce stand near where I work. I made a lovely little salad to take for lunch:

It’s a tahini dressing, thinned hummus basically with some raw corn kernels, red onion, spinach, and some scallions.