Friday, May 01, 2009

We interrupt this gestation... point you towards a new website:

Drop by today for a free sample of crazy good food, drink and pop culture (

Food2 is also the new home of the Amateur Gourmet web show! Go check it out.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What's Cooking?

I've abandoned this blog, I know. And lost my readers, no doubt. But for once I have a decent excuse, which is this:

Yep, that's my little girl up there, all of 20 weeks along (though I'm closer to 22 weeks by now). Due May 23rd and beyond happy about it. Even writing about it here:

Most women, by the 22nd week of their pregnancy, have developed a lustful passion for food, to make up for the misery of 1st trimester nausea. Lucky me, I had pretty much no nausea, maybe one or two days of mild, seasick discomfort in total. Instead, I don't care about food. At all. I am not exaggerating, no cravings, nothing sounds particularly appealing, I have to make myself eat every two hours, like clockwork, or I'll forget all together.

You can see why this might make food blogging difficult! I've been cooking, sure, but most of the time I have to choke it down and the very act of chewing pisses me off. Not exactly the time to lovingly photograph food and wax rhapsodic about the brilliant dishes I've been making.

I'm not going anywhere. I can only assume (and hope, oh PLEASE), that I will get back to normal eventually, and regain my passion for food. I've never realized just how much I identify myself as a person who loves food, cooking it and eating it. It's been kind of depressing to lose that, but it can't be permanent.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


I threw a (mostly) vegan dinner party on Sunday, and no one starved. In fact, the food and company were delicious and plentiful. I say "mostly" vegan because I realized that Quorn crumbles--the base for my empanada filling--have egg white in them. No worries, I just made a batch with a spicy black bean filling.

I was determined to take pictures--of the two sheet pans of gorgeous vegetables, waiting for the grill...of the aforementioned empanadas with their raisin, redwine, chipotle, and caper-spike filling...of my favorite quinoa and black bean salad...of the last minute salsa I whipped up that I could eat every day until I die...of the grilled peach halves with a scoop of coconut sorbet melting on top. But I didn't. I didn't take a single picture and while I know that just means we were having too much fun to bother with it, I'm mad at myself.

Oh well, yet another reason to do it again, and soon. After a summer of not entertaining at home I am energized and planning 10 different gatherings in my head. I do love a hoopla.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Unemployed Cook Omnivore’s Hundred

Fun little experiment on this site, with the following instructions:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.

2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.

3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating.

4) Optional extra: Post a comment at linking to your results.

Well, I'm working late and my editor is on his dinner break so why not?

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos Rancheros
4. Steak Tartare
5. Crocodile (well, Alligator)
6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue
8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich
14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle
18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24.Rice and Beans
25. Brawn, or head cheese
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce De Leche
28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl
33. Salted lassi
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted cream tea
38. Vodka jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat
42. Whole insects
43. Phaal
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth £60/$120 or more
46. Fugu
47. Chicken Tikka Masala
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut
50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly Pear (does prickly pear juice count?)
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle
57. Dirty gin martini
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine
60. Carob chips
61. S'mores
62. Sweetbreads
63. Kaolin
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
70. Chitterlings, or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe
74. Gjetost
75. Roadkill
76. Baijiu (I've had soju, is that close?)
77. Hostess Fruit Pie
78. Snail
79. Lapsang souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom yum
82. Eggs Benedict
83. Pocky
84. Tasting menu at a three-Michelin-star restaurant. (I feel Blackberry Farm should count for something here, but alas)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers
89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft Shelled Crab
93. Rose harissa
94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermador
98. Polenta
99. Jamaican Blue Mountain Coffee
100. Snake

Pretty random and arbitrary little list, isn't it? But that killed a half hour. Oh dear, am I really to be here until 2am? Ouch.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Summer Sides

Fall is looming, even if the temperatures don't show it. Labor day is literally around the corner and my enormous maple tree is flecked with orange, gearing up for its big show (and making me dread all of the raking to come). But at the Farmer's Market, and in my little kitchen, it's still pure summer.

I've never been one to curse the heat and pray for the relief of fall. Fall, while very lovely, always makes me a bit melancholy. I think it's because no matter how gorgeous fall is, winter is around the corner. And I hate winter, even the mild winter we have in East Tennessee. If I had my way it would be winter just for 6 weeks around Christmas and New Year's Eve, then Spring would takeover.
One of my favorite post-Farmer's Market activities is shelling beans. Tedious to some, I find it very relaxing, and of course it helps that fresh shelled beans are truly delectable--a seasonal treat not to be missed. These lovely beans are Purple Hull Peas, and they are tender and flavorful. They hardly require a recipe, just shell, cover with water, and simmer until they are as tender as you prefer. Since I was making a Very Southern Sunday Dinner I dropped in a couple of slices of salt pork and a vegetable boullion cube. The salt pork has a clean, porky flavor but doesn't add smoke. And the boullion, while not very fancy, is how Chris' grandmother cooked her peas and they were always so delicious.

I also picked up some very perfect zucchini. I know this is about the time when people start to feel overwhelmed by their squash and zucchini harvests but I just LOVE zucchini. I probably have a dozen favorite ways to make it, though this is a new favorite. The inspiration came from my friend Jessica highly recommending this squash recipe. It looked like comforting goodness, but I like my squash to have a bit more texture to it. Also, I just had zucchini, no yellow squash, so I had some meddling to do.

Zucchini Casserole
serves 4
salting the zucchini while sauteeing helps draw out the moisture, avoiding a soggy casserole.

2 large zucchini, chunked
Vegetable oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup sour cream
kosher salt and fresh pepper
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup crushed saltine crackers tossed with 1 tbsp melted butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Heat a splash of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add zucchini and a generous pinch of salt and saute until beginning to soften. Dump zucchini into a sieve and let drain for 10 minutes, pressing gently with the back of a wooden spoon on occasion.

Wipe out your skillet and melt the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion in butter for 5 minutes. Remove from pan and mix all ingredients together except cracker crumbs. Pour mixture into a buttered casserole dish and top with cracker crumbs. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Leftover Lunch: Sweet Pea Risotto Cakes with Grilled Shrimp and Corn Vinaigrette

Ah, the mighty leftover. Last week I made a delicious risotto loosely based on a Cooking Light recipe. It was a veggie-packed risotto in a lovely moat of sweet corn broth, and I topped the lot with grilled garlicky shrimp. Pure summer, and good for you to boot. And of course, I cooked for your average family of four, as I often seem to. I dutifully packed the leftovers away and vowed to not let them go to waste.

The next day I scooped out two balls of the chilled risotto, flattened them slightly, and dredged them in cracker meal. Not unlike the more traditional arancini, I then quickly pan fried them in a little olive oil.

The warm cakes found their home on a pile of baby lettuces, topped with the cool leftover grilled shrimp (I didn't want them to be overcooked so I didn't reheat them). The corn broth I whisked into a quick vinagrette, which made a sweet savory dressing that perfectly complimented the salad. All told I think it took me 10 minutes to make this leftover lunch that ended up being worthy of first-run respect. Yum.

Sweet Corn and Pea Risotto with Corn Broth
serves 2, with leftovers

for the corn broth:
2 1/2 cups water
2 cups fresh corn kernels
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine 2 1/2 cups water and 2 cups corn kernels in a small saucepan; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until corn is tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt. Place corn mixture in blender or food processor; process until smooth. Strain corn mixture through a sieve into a bowl. Set aside and keep warm. This would also make a lovely soup all on its own!

for the risotto:
3-4 cups organic vegetable or chicken broth
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 cup uncooked arborio rice
1/2 cup diced onion
1 medium carrot, minced (or more if desired)
1 medium stalk celery, minced (or more if desired)
1 cup frozen green peas
2 cups fresh corn kernels
grated Parmesan cheese and basil, chives or parsley for garnish

Warm broth either in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add rice; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add onion, carrot, and celery; cook 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add warm broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each portion of broth is absorbed before adding the next. Add peas, corn kernels, a good grating of the cheese, and herbs, stirring until blended and hot.

Place a mound of risotto in a shallow bowl and ladle some corn broth around it. Top with more cheese and herbs if you desire. This is great with some garlicky grilled shrimp piled on top, but also makes a lovely light vegetarian meal. And obviously, these pictures are not of the original recipe, but of my leftover feast. Enjoy!

Roasted Baby Eggplants

What is it about tiny fruits and vegetables? Why do I find them so endlessly appealing and adorable? Take these mini eggplants:

ADORABLE! And look at these tiny heads of garlic:

I mean people, I practically squealed.

So excited was I to find these at the Farmer's Market that I quickly came home and prepared them for dinner. I split the eggplants almost completely, leaving the tops intact, and stuffed them with crushed tiny cloves of garlic (eee!) and slivers of lemon.

I drizzled olive oil and lemon juice over the tops and sprinkled with salt and pepper. Some thyme sprigs rounded things out.

Cover and cook for 45 minutes in a 400 degree oven, then uncover and cook until they are as soft as you'd like.

As ravenous as I was, I didn't get a shot of the final product in the dish, but it's very pretty. I did catch the leftovers, which I took with my lunch the next morning.

The result? Did the tininess make the eggplants more delicious? Honestly they were a little bitter but made a good foil against some rich salmon we had alongside.

But you can't beat them for sheer adorableness.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Change is good...change is good...sometimes I have to tell myself this, creature of habit that I am. But change is good, it's exciting and it's challenging.

For a while now the magazine I write for has been moving in a new direction, not a bad one, but...different. Moving away from the standard food and wine review and more towards straight journalism--interviewing chefs and owners of local restaurants. Interesting and insightful, but also not my passion.

And so, I'm taking some time off, and to be honest I'm really excited. I am feeling energized about the blog again and I plan to incorporate more reviews into the current structure, along with the literally dozens of great recipes that I've taken photos of, but haven't written up yet.

Eventually I would like to create an email list for those Knoxvillians interested in receiving my latest review in their inbox. My partnership with Foodbuzz is going to be great for this as well.

So it's true, change is good. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Quickie: Salmon Niçoise Salad

Oh, delicious! I slow roasted the salmon using Bill Granger's method--steep a handful of cherry tomatoes and a couple bruised garlic cloves in a generous splash or two of olive oil. Warm up the whole thing in a 350-degree oven until it smells delicious and the tomatoes have split.

Lower heat to 250-degrees, remove the tomatoes and garlic, and lavish a couple of salmon fillets in the scented oil. Add a hefty sprinkle of kosher salt and pepper and roast until cooked to your desire--20 to 30 minutes usually. It's hard to overcook the salmon with this method and it flakes apart beautifully for salads.

I made mine with the usual suspects for a Niçoise, as well as my most favorite Perfect Vinaigrette ( opted for raw tomatoes but the slow roasted tomatoes are very nice as well. Summer in a bowl, I tell you.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Escape To Your Own Backyard

Blackberry Farm feeds mind, body, and soul with untold luxury
(Some content originally published in Cityview Magazine. Photos by Christie Chassareau)

You want to be pampered. You want 5-star accommodations; you want all of the amenities that you’re always reading about in the world’s top food, wine, and travel magazines. But…

Airfare these days is so expensive, and even if you land a flight reservation you must endure the endless indignities that accompany air travel these days. And really, for $1500 for travel alone, don’t you deserve to be treated with some respect?

What if I told you that one of the top 10 small hotels in the world was 40 minutes outside of Knoxville? What if I told you that it was consistently ranked #1 in service by the most esteemed publications in the world? And, what if I told you that you could experience, on top of the immaculate service and surroundings, a food and wine event befitting royalty?

Welcome to Blackberry Farm, the five star resort located in Walland (yes, Walland!), Tennessee. Maybe you’ve heard of it, mentioned here and there. Maybe it’s been dismissed as too expensive, too exclusive, too close to home. I am here to tell you, however, that it should be faulted for none of the above. For you can travel to a place unlike any other, for an experience of a lifetime, without having to refill your gas tank.

Yes, Blackberry Farm is for you, East Tennessean. It is, in fact, a resort that celebrates absolutely everything about this area that you might love—it just does it so much better. Are you an outdoor lover? Revel in the miles and miles of hiking trails, the fly fishing lessons, the horseback riding. Is relaxation and meditation more your pace? There is one of the only Aveda Destination Spas in the country at Blackberry, as well as yoga aside a tranquil pond and countless picturesque nooks in which to curl up with a book. Does your passion lie in the epicurean? Sign up for one of the culinary events Blackberry is quickly becoming famous for, and experience, as I did, an awakening to all of the things I never realized I adored about our fair corner of this state.

Driving through Maryville towards Walland, I am happy to see that the trip has not changed so much since I was a girl—maybe a new antique mall or two, an unfamiliar billboard here and there—but it’s the same drive through lazy foothills, grey-blue mountains looming on the horizon. The road to Blackberry Farm is an admittedly unremarkable one, dotted with horse and cow-filled pastures and modest country homes. And yet, the air changes once you come across the signature white fence…the road gets a bit more curvy, the forest dense and green even after our drought-plagued summer. Pulling up to the Oak Cottage, Blackberry’s outpost, everything familiar about East Tennessee is suddenly taken up a notch.

And that is really the crux of Blackberry Farm—it does not fight its Foothills birthright, instead it gives tribute to it in the most remarkable way. If only every person, resident or not, who has dismissed East Tennessee as pedestrian or backwards could have a stay here. It is truly the very best of our homeland, highlighting and showcasing the things that natives are lucky enough to be acquainted with already.

I am checked in before I even realize I’m here, whisked onto a cozy golf cart with a cool bottle of water and my own personal guide to the estate. He whisks me through a garden, past the Main House where the dining room and some guest accommodations are located. Suddenly, ducking through two outbuildings, we burst forth upon the crest of a hill and all I can see is mountains, a pond, and a pastoral collection of sheep seemingly there for solely the benefit of my view. I’ve been at Blackberry for less than 10 minutes, and away from home for just under an hour, and I am positively enchanted.

The guide to my cabin tolerates my endless patter of questions with an exemplary attitude, showing that no matter the job at Blackberry, everyone is more than capably trained. We dart across the main road while discussing the fact that I will be staying in one of the newest cabins built on the property, just opened in late July. We pull in to the golf-cart sized driveway where I immediately spy a cart of my own to use when traversing the thousands of acres encompassing the resort. My cabin, aptly named Speckled Sussex after a breed of chicken housed on the farm, is the embodiment of luxury, encased in a cozy “rustic” shell. Keihl’s toiletries, Frette linens, wide slabs of antiqued wood that disguise heated floors, and a fully stocked (and complementary, outside of the alcoholic offerings) pantry and fridge—I’m not exaggerating when I say I could happily while away many days in this spot. The beds are a confection of memory foam, feather beds, and luxe linens, and a flat screen television lurks behind a panel of biological prints.

But there is not time for too much relaxing, not yet, because I am not here for any average visit. No, I am attending this weekend’s “Smoky Mountain Table” event, featuring lectures from the Farm’s master gardener John Coykendall, Guest Vinter Bob Lindquist of Qupé Wines in Napa Valley, and Blackberry’s new chef, Peter Glander. I quickly freshen up and hop back in my cart to zip across the hills to the Welcome Reception listed foremost on my event itinerary.

The “reception” is honestly a relief—I am expecting some sort of forced revelry but instead I am handed a fantastic glass of champagne and left to enjoy the magnificent view from the Main House’s veranda. Not that the weekend’s attendants and hosts are anything but friendly—I am quickly greeted and made to feel at home among the diverse crowd. Before much longer we are ushered inside to kick off the dinner, where Blackberry proprietor Sam Beall welcomes all of the guests and gives us a glimpse of what is to come in the next few days. As he speaks, servers glid in like ghosts and set before us our first bite of food for the evening—Smoked North Carolina Steelhead Roe with Crème Fraîche Panna Cotta & a Fingerling Potato Chip. Hilariously, the first thing I think of is the best smoked salmon and cream cheese I can possibly imagine—and I mean that as a compliment to the highest degree. This salty bite is a mighty harbinger of the delights to come.

Along with the incredible food that night—and incredible it is, featuring such delights as Diver Scallop Tartare, Torchon of Foie Gras, Lamb Breast Confit, and Wagyu Beef Sirloin—is a selection of wines that does nothing more than make me want to learn everything about the people behind Qupé wines. Lindquist, a charming bear of a man, imparts the joy and rapture only one that truly loves his work can communicate, and his wife Luisa shows a similar passion. After this one night, people I first looked upon as strangers have already become familiar, and everyone is feeling convivial indeed.

Bright and early the next morning I head to the garden, for a tour and lecture from Master Gardener Coykendall and breakfast under the shade trees on the periphery. Coykendall quickly charms with both his knowledge and delightful personality—I am quickly realizing that no one is involved with Blackberry Farm that isn’t beyond passionate about their calling in life. After a lovely stroll through only a fraction of the Farm’s massive gardens, we are treated to a refreshing breakfast, starting with heirloom tomato and watermelon juice and quickly followed by tiny, jewel-like figs, syrupy melon wrapped in salty local ham, and an assortment of sweet breads. After the previous nights feast, this light repast is exactly what I am craving.

Which brings up yet another point about Blackberry—the incredible intuitiveness of the staff and grounds themselves. There is very little that you could hope for or desire that couldn’t be delivered upon, and there were multiple times throughout the experience where I simply thought of something that would make things that much better and the literally appeared. I don’t want to know what witchcraft is involved to make this happen—I just want more of it.
Our morning in the garden then bleeds into a trip to the wine cellars at Maple Cottage, most recently the site of all cooking classes/demonstrations for the Farm. My hardy group, however, is the last to use this gorgeous home for such an occasion, but don’t weep for the future quests—an incredible new facility is being polished off as we speak…more on that later.

Because for now, the wines! Bob Lindquist leads us through a wine tasting that is as enjoyable as it is informational, and he manages to keep the interests of both the novices and true collectors. Indeed, most of the group is clamoring for more information on where to buy these remarkable and relatively affordable wines (qupé.com for more information). Pleasantly relaxed after the tasting, we head upstairs to find an impressive lunch waiting for us, including a soup that I will probably never forget—soft shell crawfish in a corn broth with heirloom tomatoes. Never has a dish captured a Southern summer in a more simple way.

A busy morning leads into a free afternoon to explore Blackberry’s other offerings. Some go horseback riding; others lounge by the pool, soaking in both the sun and the mountain view. I choose to curl up on my cabins porch with a cup of tea to do some writing. In the early evening I make my way to the main house and have a spectacular cocktail—the Farm’s own version of a mint julep. Made with small batch whiskey, homemade vanilla syrup, and garnished with a whole vanilla bean, I am quickly learning that you really can’t go wrong at Blackberry Farm.

That evenings dinner is on my own, letting me sample the dining experience the average guest has privy to. This is quite something on its own—a four course dinner with immaculate service. The food is divine, as expected, but I most enjoy the spirited conversation with one of Blackberry’s sommeliers. He recommends a white burgundy that is as delicious as it is in my budget, and I love that his enthusiasm carries over to even the more modest choices in the impressive wine list.

The next morning I wake up in my bowl of whipped cream masquerading as a bed, refreshed and excited about the mornings events. While a more elaborate breakfast is served in the Main House, I choose to duck across the way to the game room for some lighter fare. Settling in to a large leather chair with a bowl of berries; I nibble on some sweet bread and sip coffee until the time for my next encounter arrives. Today we are to be treated to a cooking demonstration from new head chef Peter Glander. Glander, who has a pedigree unlike anyone in the area I guarantee, has moved down to Walland to open The Barn, Blackberry’s newest 5-star dining experience. This barn, converted from an old structure moved from Pennsylvania, will not only house an amazing restaurant that will allow the Main House to take on a more casual, homey role; it will also contain the cooking classes and demonstrations, as well as an enormous wine cellar. But I digress…

Glander moves with the ease of someone with years of experience in a kitchen, yet he is also a fantastic teacher, answering questions all while preparing a selection of dishes that will also be featured in that evening’s grand finale dinner. Blackberry has provided notebooks with information on all of the wines we have sampled during this culinary journey, as well as the recipes Glander is preparing for us in the stately demonstration kitchen—a nice touch appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to frantically jot down the directions streaming from any television chef’s mouth.

Another afternoon free gives us time to reflect on the past few days, and to prepare for the once in a lifetime experience ahead of us. Rain is threatening the plans to dine in the stately gardens, and so our little troop becomes not only the last culinary group to utilize Maple Cottage for such an event; we are now the first ever group to dine in the new Barn facility. It is not complete, but is incredibly impressive nonetheless, and everyone involved is honored to be there for its christening.

Dinner is… amazing. I soak up conversation from new friends all while eating food that is as fresh and inviting as Blackberry itself. That night we are also treated to some of Qupé’s vintage selections, including one Roussanne that only remains in twelve cases.

Basking in the warmth of company and special treatment, I sit back and reflect on the past three days, which feels like over a week and miles and miles away from home. I came to Blackberry thinking it was out of my price range, that it wasn’t worth the money when I could use that to travel somewhere more exotic, further away. But now I have an entirely different outlook—where else could I experience a weekend like this? Could I learn about heirloom seeds and olive-oil poached salmon? Could I try wine varietals I’ve never even heard of? Nowhere, at least nowhere that I know of. Blackberry Farm is a place for you. A place to reconnect with your roots, to discover treasures in the land in Tennessee you never knew of, and to soak up the knowledge of a group of experts gathered for your benefit. The saying is more than true—Blackberry Farms is easy to find, and oh so hard to leave.

Blackberry Farm
1471 West Millers Cove Road
Walland, Tennessee 37886

(865) 380-2260

(out of a possible five stars)
Accommodations: *****
Dining: *****
Service: *****
Atmosphere: *****
Overall: *****

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Thanksgiving (remember that?)

This fall has flown by so quickly that it really seems like Thanksgiving just happened. I had the pleasure of hosting my lovely family this year, and I have to say everything was pretty darned perfect. I ordered a fresh, organic, Amish turkey, brined it in all manner of delicious spices, and I have to say it was the best turkey I've ever had--and even better, my guests agreed.

Sadly, all of the cooking on my part left very little time or forethought to take pictures, which is a shame because my darling husband has given me a fancy new camera for and early Christmas present. It's a big girl camera with lenses and intimidating directions, but I'm learning and loving it.

I did grab one shot of the turkey after my triumphant carving job, and some random table and buffet shots. I hope that your day was as delicious and relaxed as ours was.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Revisiting Old Favorites.

I made both of these this week and realized that I've made a lot of subtle changes that aren't reflected in the original recipe. And so...

My Oven-Fried Buttermilk Chicken has benefited from experimenting with chicken legs in addition to thighs, and I finally upped the cooking time since my original 45 minutes was ridiculous--it always takes me at least an hour on the first side. I don't know what I was thinking!

Our favorite pasta dish is this Rigatoni Alla Bolognese Bianco, and I've improved it by doubling all of the vegetables (after realizing I was chasing every mushroom and carrot around the plate), adding ground beef or ground turkey, reducing the half & half a bit, and upping the pasta amount. It's making my mouth water just thinking about it, and we just had it! Fantastic for leftovers, too.

Comaburgers are even more outrageous when topped with pimento cheese. I also adjusted the portions here, because with all of the toppings a quarter pound burger made more sense.

Eat up!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

What I've been Cooking Lately...

No time for a real post, but I thought I would link to some recipes I've found online and made recently, to varying degrees of success.

The Ultimate Vegetable Torta from Cooking Light. This torta is seriously labor intensive, but pretty delicious. I've made it twice now and I'm not entirely sure it is worth the effort, however it is a great way to use up the results of an over-zealous Farmer's Market trip.

Roasted Cod with Warm-Olive-Caper Tapenade from Eating Well. Mmmm, I loved this and it was such a snap to pull together on a weeknight. If you like briney things you'll be all over this. I served it with the suggested orzo (cooked in vegetable broth) and spinach.

Ziti with Grilled Gazpacho Sauce and Sausage from Gourmet. Another total winner, smokey and delicious. I used penne, and turkey Italian sausage in a vain attempt to lighten the recipe. Delicious, great leftover as well.

Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa from Gourmet. Delicious, healthy, filling. I served this with something--grilled chicken or fish maybe? It should tell you a lot that the side dish stuck out a lot more than the main course. Would make a lovely vegetarian lunch all on its own.

Beef Saté with Peanut Dipping Sauce from Cooking Light. Another super speedy and tasty weeknight dish. The meat wasn't my absolute favorite but I liked this meal well enough. I made it with brown rice instead of the instant.

Chicken-Chorizo Burgers with Avocado Mayonnaise from Cooking Light. I liked these, although I over processed the meat mixture and I think that made it a bit tough. Great flavor, though, and a nice alternative to beef or turkey burgers. The recipe makes a lot and I froze a stack of the patties, seperated with parchment. I'll let you know how they fare after being thawed.

Green Onion Pancakes with Tomato-Avocado Salsa from Cooking Light. Oh, baby, I loved these. Served them with a pile of garlicky grilled shrimp. I used my own guacamole recipe, however, because I'm not a huge oregano fan. I also used Gruyeré in the pancakes.

Crispy Soft-Shelled Crabs with Bean Salad from Martha Stewart. The dish of the summer! If soft-shelled crabs were in season longer (and I could afford them), I think I'd make this all the danged time. I used some fresh black-eyed peas, edamame, and some coarsely chopped green beans in the salad. And make the homemade garlic mayo, please. You won't be disappointed. I made this same salad later in the summer to serve with crabcakes and it was lovely as well.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Review: Marty's Bistro

Originally published in Cityview Magazine.

Rooms For Improvement

Downtown’s newest upscale eatery has the right idea, but needs to find its footing.

When I think of hotel dining, I usually think of just one thing: room service. I used to have a job that required extensive travel and one of the only things I liked about that was coming back to my nice hotel room after a long day, getting into the enormous bed, ordering room service, and watching loads of bad television.

Because of this affinity, I’ve never given much thought to eating in restaurants housed by hotels, especially here in Knoxville. And so when I heard that an attempt at fine dining was being made at the downtown Hilton, I was as curious as I was apprehensive. Could Marty’s Bistro be as good as it sounds? The description on the hotel website promises “eclectic new American cuisine with a special focus on regional ingredients and classical presentation…enhanced by our seasonal wine list featuring the best of California as well as alternative selections from around the world.” I really don’t look for much else from a local restaurant, so I was ready to go check it out.

The hotel itself was recently renovated and presents a gorgeous, open lobby upon entrance. Marty’s Bistro is tucked away next to the “Market Café”, which serves breakfast and lunch. Further down the lobby you can find a Starbucks and The Orange Martini, featuring specialty drinks and a casual bar menu.

Marty’s is a small restaurant but could clearly be opened up to include the Market Café space for larger occasions. The décor is sedate and contemporary, and much to my (and the harried solo server) surprise, the restaurant was at least half full. It seems that the rainy, cool spring night has kept many hotel guests in for the evening, giving the restaurant an unexpected boost of business. We were seated promptly and given menus and a wine list.

The wine list is more than adequate with a good range of prices for all diners. Don’t expect a sommelier in your server, however. Our server mistakenly thought that Sauvignon Blanc was a red wine and seemed flummoxed by the different varietals. However, all menu items are thoughtfully graced with wine pairings—usually at least two choices per dish (one available by the glass and one by the bottle).

The Low Country Crab Cakes ($9), while definitely more “southwestern” than “low country”, were packed full of lump crabmeat and topped with a grainy mustard remoulade and loads of spicy corn kernels, all puzzlingly resting atop a cornhusk. A perfectly fine start to the meal, even if wrongly named. The suggested Sauvignon Blanc wine pairing was indeed a nice match to the zesty cakes.

However, upon spying my neighbors Bleu Cheese Caesar ($4) I felt like I should have made a different choice. A tidy bundle of whole romaine leaves arrived encased by a Parmesan crisp and topped with a sprinkling of Stilton. If it tasted anywhere as good as it looked, I’d say it was quite a nice little salad indeed.

My dining companion quickly zeroed in on his entrée choice, the grilled Veal Chop with Bacon-Onion Polenta and Roasted Shallot Sauce ($26). I had a bit more trouble making my choice, but ultimately settled on the Lemon-Thyme Chicken served on a bed of Tomato Gnocchi, Fresh Asparagus Tips, and Sun-dried Tomatoes ($17). I’m not usually a chicken person but was tempted by the tomato gnocchi—not something you often see on menus around these parts and I was curious as to whether it was house made.

When I ordered the chicken I was told that it takes a bit longer to prepare than other dishes, but when it arrived I wasn’t sure why. It is basically a bone-in paillard—a thin breast cutlet. Seared to golden brown on each side, the chicken was nicely cooked and served atop a hearty serving of tomato gnocchi and chunks of asparagus and sun-dried tomato. The gnocchi had a non-uniform appearance that made me think it was indeed made in-house, but it was slightly heavy on the tongue and doughy. The flavor was good, however. The asparagus was asparagus, and while I’m not sure where the “lemon-thyme” flavor was, everything was tossed in a serviceable wine sauce.

My dining companion’s veal chop was a more impressive dish to look at, with a thick bone-in chop accompanied by two small wedges of fried polenta, steamed asparagus, and shallots. However, the smoky charred flavor brought on from the grilling tended to overwhelm the delicate veal flavor. The bacon polenta was delicious and my partner wished there was more on the plate to balance the enormous chop. Overall the dish was well prepared (after all, it is simply my preference to have veal seared instead of grilled) and lovely to look at.

The dessert options ranged from a pecan pie to a cheesecake, but we went with the one dessert made in-house, a chocolate torte. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what we received—a rather basic chocolate layer cake reminiscent of cake mix and layered with an insipid, over chilled chocolate mousse. Honestly, it was a disappointing dessert, especially as it was described as “melt in your mouth”.

I think that Marty’s Bistro is making an admirable attempt to be the only upscale restaurant housed in a downtown hotel. The space is nicely decorated and it seemed to be a draw to hotel guests. However, to attract a local crowd the hotel needs to have more people on staff (the sole server/busboy/host was in a complete panic by evening’s end, and I can’t blame the poor guy), revamp the menu to reflect more of the promised focus on local and seasonal ingredients, and promote the new space by including it on the signage outside the hotel. I think it is exciting that this endeavor is being made, and with continued efforts I feel that Marty’s Bistro could establish itself among other fine dining options in the downtown area.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Review: Ruby T.

Originally published in Cityview Magazine.

A Foodie Divided:
The roots below Maryville’s newest hot spot might surprise you.

I have a confession: for the most part, chain restaurants make me cringe. I would always rather support a local business, and I feel like so often the quality suffers. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule—big restaurant conglomerates that manage to maintain the passion of a small boutique restaurant owner. I wouldn’t have thought to include the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain to be in that category, that they would be interested in opening a small, trendy, unique restaurant with little to no media fanfare or advertisement—but that is just what they’ve done. Ruby T opened not long ago and has quietly become a charming, bustling little restaurant.

With its use of bright lighting and slick stainless steel, the outside of Ruby T projects the feeling of a neo-modern diner. Inside, you’ll find an incongruous, but not unpleasing, blend of unstained wood, luxe patterned upholstery, and over-the-top light fixtures. Not a bit of “flair” to be seen. My guest and I were greeted warmly by the staff and continued to be very impressed by the level of service as the evening went on. It was a fairly busy Friday night, yet we were seated immediately (however, reservations are recommended for large groups). My only nit to pick on the atmosphere would be the salad bar placed in prime position. I admit that I hate salad bars and wish they would be regulated to fast food restaurants, but after checking it out I must begrudgingly admit that everything looked incredibly fresh and there were some unique choices such as edamame, marinated cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, and what appeared to be homemade dressings. And it seemed like the majority of patrons chose the salad option, further proving that I am mostly alone in my condemnation. Well played, Ruby T.

Perusing the wine list, I found it a bit limited, but I didn’t mind because there are some decent choices and very good values, such as the Cavit Pinot Grigio ($5.00/glass). Feeling festive, I was pleased to see some specialty drinks featuring fresh-squeezed juices and happily ordered a signature Ruby T Margarita ($7.00) from our darling waitress. This was a very nice margarita, one of the best I’ve had in a while, not too sweet and with lots of fresh-squeezed orange and lime juice.

My thirst quenched, we moved on to two appetizers—Chicken Dumplings ($7.00) and Thai Phoon Shrimp ($8.00). They came promptly with nice presentation and generous portions. The peanut sauce that accompanied the dumplings is positively delectable, and the dumplings themselves had the proper crisp yet tender exterior and delicious chicken and water chestnut interior. The shrimp were a surprise: they are served absolutely drenched in a creamy chili sauce. I actually really liked the sauce but found the application to be a bit heavy handed and the extra sauce on the side to be unnecessary. That said, these little crustaceans were addictive. The fried coating managed to stay crunchy even under the weight of the sauce, and there was a slow burn from the chilies that had me going back for more.

I found the entrée selection to be a little sparse, but there is something for everyone, including a comprehensive burger list on the back. I was in the mood for fish but disappointed to see only 3 offerings, 2 of them tilapia. And so, I went with the Chicken Oscar ($12.50) instead—the lump crab topping satisfying my craving. Topped with a generous mound of the aforementioned crab, a creamy sauce, and asparagus, the chicken was quite nice—seasoned well, moist and properly cooked, and another portion. The pile of steamed broccoli seemed unnecessary with the asparagus (and actually I would have liked more asparagus instead), but the white cheddar mashed potatoes were rich and flavorful.

My dining companion also enjoyed the potatoes but wasn’t blown away by his Ruby’s Ribeye ($15.00). The steak was on the thin side and weakly seasoned. Not bad, but not a great, steakhouse-quality steak.

At this point we were so sated that dessert seemed laughable. But on we forged, ordering the Double Chocolate Cake ($5.50). It was described as your typical decadent chocolate cake with an oozing, molten chocolate interior, but was actually something quite different. The cake was almost more of a sponge cake, with a depression in the center filled with warm chocolate sauce. However, I actually preferred this version to what I was expecting, because it was lighter and not as rich. Served with a wonderful vanilla ice cream, this is a dessert that can be easily split between two people.

Our entire meal, including tax and tip, came out under $80.00, and we ended up taking half of it home for leftovers. Ruby T is a great choice for those in the Maryville area seeking out a fun, trendy atmosphere and fairly priced food.

Food *** ½ (out of 5)
Atmosphere **** (out of 5)
Service ***** (out of 5)
Overall ****

Ruby T
216 W. Church Avenue
Maryville, TN 37801
(865) 980-1847