Quick and Healthy Cream Sauce

    Here's a simple way to dress pasta for a super-fast dinner. Just make a sauce of reduced fat sour cream, a couple spoonfuls of ricotta, and some milk or cream (that would be the not-so-lowfat version). Add 3 or 4 crushed cloves of garlic and some frozen peas and you have a deliciously simple meal.

Indulgence. Simple and Sweet.

    When it looks like this outside...

    may I suggest making some of this inside?

    Cinnamon Spiced Whipped Cream:

    1 cup heavy whipping cream
    3/4 tsp groun cinnamon
    pinch of nutmeg
    3 Tbs confectioner's suger and a bit of brown sugar

    Spiced Cider:

    warm apple juice in a saucepan with a few cloves and a cinnamon stick until the flavors are just infused. Throw in a few cardamon pods for a little something special. Vanilla extract or a tad of bourbon may also be added.

Oops...forgot - that's still in the fridge?

    Over Thanksgiving my mama took me to Trader Joe's and I was finally able to buy some real cheese. Oh how I love cheese. What's really wonderful is that I am no longer an overweight child so I can make myself an ooey gooey, buttery grilled cheese with (almost) no guilt and without having to dab the oil off the top before I eat it. Oh those days...

    Anyway, the weekend after they left I was in my room going over slides of the respiratory system and I suddenly remembered I hadn't used the cheese yet. Oh no. Had it gone bad? Fortunately not and so I got to work making a cheese sauce to beat all cheese sauces.

    I am always trying to perfect my cheese sauce - it really has to have a lot of flavor. That's key for me. So cheese and spices are very important. I always try for a semi-hard, semi-soft, and soft/tangy variety. I didn't have goat cheese one hand, so I used about a half cup of sour cream. Next a whole block of pepper-jack, and finally, a block of Trader Joe English Cheddar with a tiny bit left over for me to snack on because there is nothing as sinfully satisfying as biting into a block of cheese when no one is looking.

    Too cute - tiny Tupperware for tiny cheese :0

    Here's the recipe - enjoy and try experiment with your own combos.

    "Good 'Ole English, nummy nummy cheddar!" in the words of Mouse on the Mayflower

    - one large block pepper-jack cheese (I find the TJ brand is most flavorful and it super cheap for the amount you get)
    - one block English Cheddar
    - 2 cups milk
    - 3 Tbs butter
    - 2-3 Tbs flour
    - salt, pepper, chili powder, red pepper flakes
    - 2-3 Tbs heavy cream
    - 2-3 Tbs ricotta

    Start by making a rue. Let the butter melt under medium high, add the flour and cook quickly, stirring with a whisk. Add the milk and spices and let thicken - turn back the heat to medium. This takes about 5 to 7 minutes.

    The bechemel (butter, flour, milk combo) should be thick enough that a run of the finger leaves an imprint on the back of a spoon.

    If you mixture is too runny, add a slurry of 1/2 Tbs cornstarch and 1Tbs milk. Next, take off the heat and add the soft cheese and finally the pepper-jack and cheddar.

    After making to sauce, you can actually freeze it for as much as a month. Let it cool to room temp before wrapping well and throwing into the freezer. When you are ready to use, try the "defrost" setting on your microwave till it's malleable, then finish reheating on the stove. Use shell pasta because it grabs the sauce nicely and cover with a breadcrumb/butter mixture before heating it in a 350 degree over for about a half hour. If you're like me and like a creamier consistancy, forego the oven, grab a bowl, and get to picking out the cheesiest shells ;)

Persian Coutlets...the recipe you've been waiting for

    Coulet has been in my family for years. I remember my grandmother making them in her kitchen when I was a very small girl. You have to eat them right off the griddle, while they still have a nice crust on them. But cold is fine, too. We usually wrap them in pita bread with a little yogurt or onion and cucumber. Greek yogurt is best. And if you want, try adding a few shards of French Feta. And just fry any leftover potato bits - wasting is not an option with something this good :)

    The recipe is really quite simple:

    1 onion, grated - keep the juice
    1 pound ground beef - a lean kind
    3 to 4 grated potatoes
    1 egg
    ground cornflakes (for breading)
    salt, pepper, garlic powder, turmeric

    Boil the potatoes and grate them into a bowl

    Grate the onion into the bowl as well, keeping the juice because that's where a lot of the flavor comes from

    Add the meat and spices - normally, we add a Persian spice here, but the recipe is fine without it

    Add the egg and mush everything together with your hands (or a fork)

    Form into patties and roll in cornflakes seasoned with turmeric and salt and pepper

    Fry in olive oil until they turn golden brown - because of the turmeric they will turn pretty dark when they fry, but be sure they don't burn!

Louisiana Flair - Great Food, Better Company

    Every day - and I do mean every day since I moved here in August - on my way to school, I passed by a little restaurant called Louisiana Flair. At first I was a bit scared of the place because right near the window stood a mannequin and as many of you know, I am terrified of those things. Then, over time, I grew more and more intrigued. Every morning at 7am, right when I walk over for classes, I saw a man at the stove smiling and laughing with his customers. One day we made eye contact and I couldn't help myself - I smiled and waved - like we were old chums. Except we'd never actually met. Imagine my extreme happiness when he returned the favor. In a program like mine, you learn to find happiness in any place and my morning walks and waves became something I looked forward to. Every day I saw him working and every day I promised myself that one day, I'd pop in and meet him.

    That day came - today. Nate, as I learned, is the owner of this special place. People come from all over Richmond to try his family's recipe for gumbo and his delish catfish po' boy. Every day the specials stand, on a chalkboard outside the restaurant, ready to be devoured by his loyal customers. Heck, on a plane to Atlanta I heard people from Louisiana commenting on how good the jambalaya is. And aren't I lucky to be living so close by? The service was wonderful - fast and friendly and so warm and comfortable. I was also able to sample some original sausage from New Orleans and it was amazing - hot a spicy and perfect for sandwiches.

    I hear breakfast is pretty awesome too, so I'll have to go back. In the meantime, I'll keep myself happy grinning and waving to the kind man at the stove: my new Richmond friend, Nate.

Jump On the Bandwagon...

    My brother loves pumpkin pie but I never completely fell in love with it. Something about the texture, I think. And the fact that if I wanted to eat a pie that tastes like pumpkin, why didn't I just roast some dang pumpkin? Cheesecake, though. I can do pumpkin cheesecake. One of my favorite things to do is experiment with different flavors of cheesecake until I get the right combo for the filling - I hate using only cream cheese because it is so one-dimensional and fattening. Switch to the 1/3 fat kind, add a few spoons of ricotta instead, and a dollop of sour cream and you've got an amazing concoction that will make people wonder how come there own versions are so bland.

    Another way to take your dessert over the top is to find the right crust. I actually thought of this when I was about 15, so wayyy before Williams Sonoma suggested it in their 2007 Thanksgiving cookbook. For instance, if you're making a pumpkin cheesecake, forgo the traditional graham cracker and try a gingersnap version. Use shortbread cookies and spice them with the same ingredients you use in the recipe - lemon zest, orange peel, or sugared ginger, maybe?

    And finally, you eat with your eyes first - so find creative yet simple ways to decorate the top (and sides) of your cheesecake. One of my personal favorites is to take pine branches, strip the tops slightly, and then arrange them around and under your cheesecakes during the winter holidays. It smells wonderful and looks even better. Just remember to wash them first. Caramelized limes are pretty on a key lime cheesecake (see a previous post), and dollops of whipped cream with a little cinnamon over the top are nice for any light-colored cheesecake, like this pumpkin one:

    Yep, pumpkin is the new look for fall, so whether it's a cake, a bread, a pie, or a cheesecake, whip out those recipes, kids and embrace the craze!

Easy Orzo with Sundried Tomatoes and Garlic

    For that past....well, I can't even remember how long it's been - months, let's say, I have had a pound of orzo sitting in the cupboard. I bought it with Weston many moons ago when Bush's was having a sale on pasta and we were sick of spaghetti and thought we'd be ambitious and try to make something with orzo. But here's the thing with orzo - it can't take heavy sauces - so things like Mac and Cheese or a simple meat sauce are just too overpowering. And since we both are BIG mac and cheese people, we never got around to our little experiment.

    But since I am by myself now, I take great joy in tying up loose recipe ends such as this. So, thank you to Nino, the head chef of the villa I stayed at in Italy, for being the inspiration for the following recipe. I think I found the perfect meal for any occasion - from a summertime BBQ to a family gathering crowd pleaser.

    FYI: this recipe makes A LOT - probably 8 to 10 servings worth so cut it in half if making for less, or invite a whole bunch of friends over for a potluck :)

    What you need -

    1 pound orzo - cooked in salted boiling water until just soft to the bite
    2-3 large cloves of fresh garlic, finely minced
    salt and pepper to taste
    2 Tbs (or more if you'd like) good olive oil - a light, a fruity olive oil would be good, nothing too heavy
    10 slices sun-dried tomatoes, packaged in oil and reconstituted in boiling water until soft
    1 package cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
    1 block feta (8 oz) - I like French - cut into medium-small cubes
    juice of about 1 small lemon
    1 can Northern Beans
    *optional: any leafy herb you have on hand: basil or flat-leafed parsley would be best, 4 or 5 hard-boiled eggs cut into teeny pieces

    Make the orzo and set aside to cool.

    Add all the mix-ins - no dressing yet.

    Make the dressing by whisking the lemon juice and olive oil - amount adjusted to your liking. Add the spices and pour over the pasta.

    The dressing will seep into the pasta over time, so I like to do a preliminary coating and then coast with more dressing before serving, so you get two punches of flavor.


    Please please please do not take this dish and throw on some of that Kraft ready-made balsamic or Italian style vinaigrette. Nothing against Kraft but it just makes the dish taste...artificial. You'd be surprised how wonderful a little olive oil and lemon juice are together.

Something Old, Something New

    ...oh yes. Winter is the time. The time for soup. I've gotten quite good at perfecting the art of soup, if I do say so myself. I used to think brewing up a pot of homemade goodness was such a hassle, but really it couldn't be easier so long as you have some type of stock and veggies/beans on hand.

    The following is quite possibly the crowning glory of any soup I've ever made. I walked into the kitchen completely uninspired and then something amazing just happened and the following recipe was born:

    What you need:

    2 onions, chopped
    1 cup tomato sauce (homemade is best - I always add oregano to mine, so if you're using sauce without it, add about 1/2 tsp)
    3 carrots, chopped
    5 potatoes, chopped
    5-6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable)
    1 tsp sage
    salt, pepper, garlic powder
    5-6 cloves chopped garlic
    1/2 tsp turmeric
    1 can cannelloni beans, not drained
    2-3 pats butter and 2 Tbs oil

    What you do:

    Saute the onions in the oil until they are nice and almost caramelized, then add all the potatoes and carrots and saute down until the onions are almost melted and dark brown. Toss in your butter. Add the spices, tomato sauce, and stock. Put a lid on the top and cook for about 30 minutes, then add the beans (don't drain them - this helps thicken the soup). Cook another 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are cooked a bit past their "tender" stage.

    There are a few things that, I think, make this soup especially wonderful. First, it uses things everyone has on hand but perhaps never thought to put together. Second, it's cheap, and don't we all love that? Third, and most important - it is so good for you! Hardly any fat at all, brothy, and high in protein and nutrients from the tomatoes, stock, and garlic - ward of those pesky colds. The broth in itself is a thing of beauty because the butter adds another level of decadence and a wonderful viscosity not typical of your regular runny broth.

Do Over Surprise... Congrats Carrot Cake

    I never understood the draw of carrot cake until about 2 years ago when I made Weston one for his 22nd birthday. I remember it so well, too - baking in a student-housing kitchen. A BOY's student housing kitchen. You can imagine the adventure, hmm? I think all I could find in the ways of ingredients were salt and cinnamon. The only recipe for carrot cake that I've ever known is the following one which my mom has been using for as far back as I can remember. The batter is divided into 3 parts and the secret is in the amazing flavor and moisture the added pineapple provides. Adding pineapple might not seems so special nowadays since people are throwing all kinds of things into cakes - tomato sauce, Coca Cola, you name it. But this recipe was honestly ground-breaking back in 1992; once again proving that my mama and her friends were way ahead of their time.

    Again, the recipe has been modified some because in my opinion, 4 eggs is wayyy too many for a cake and you never need 2 cups of oil when 1 will do the trick.

    Group A:

    3 eggs

    1 1/2 cups sugar

    1 cup oil

    Group B:

    ½ tsp. salt

    1 tsp. baking soda

    1 Tbs. cinnamon

    2 cups flour

    ½ tsp. nutmeg

    Group C:

    2 cups grated carrots

    1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

    ½ cup crushed pineapple

    ½ cup pineapple juice

    Mix Group A in a large bowl

    Mix all B in medium bowl

    Add A & B together

    Add Group C one at a time and mix

    Bake: grease and flour a 9 x 13 pan

    350° 35-40 minutes


    ½ stick butter

    1 cup powdered sugar

    8 oz. cream cheese (room temp so there are no lumps)

    1 tsp. vanilla extract

    1/4 cup sour cream (optional, but tasty)

    1 cup chopped pistachios (to sprinkle on top)

    Cream butter and cream cheese together

    Add remaining ingredients

    Frost, sprinkle with nuts

    * let cake cool BEFORE frosting otherwise you'll have an unsightly mess

    Now, this particular cake was created to surprise my friend Sharon, who you will remember from the plan that failed only a month ago - when I made her chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. This time, I was able to deliver her surprise with (almost) no hitches.. dang lab meetings running over all the time and sitting alone in the Student Center with a tiny cake in front of you :) Congrats to you for getting into VCU Med!!!!!!!!!

    Since I couldn't carry the entire thing to class, I got a little gung-ho about the upcoming holiday...

Eating Out: Part Three - Tastebuds American Bistro

    Dear Tastebuds,

    I am in love with you. From your tiny tasters which pack a punch to your ooey-gooey bread pudding which coats my stomach with creaminess to your chocolate cake which deserves some made-up name to capture the reality of its deliciousness.

    So, obviously this is not going to be the most impartial review but I can't help it, because I am in LOVE with their chef. Next time I go here, maybe I can meet him...hint hint.

    Ok, thinking cap on. Review. Go.

    Atmosphere: I am torn because the decor of this restaurant did not do homage to the heaven coming out of the kitchen. I think it would really do them well to add some hardwood in the eating area but overall, the place is quite welcoming - the walls are a nice red, the tablecloths white with black accents... then there's this vinyl black and white tile that just seems a little out of place. But you know what, at the end of the night I was feeling quite at home and cozy, so perhaps it's all part of a grander plan. Also, don't be discouraged by the...um, desolate location across from a creepy looking motel and next to a liquor store. Maybe this place looks different in the daytime???

    Service: I make a point to mention this because it was exceptional. Our waiter was so knowledgeable and attentive. Multiple times I noticed him wait until there was a lull in the conversation before he came over to speak with us. I never felt pushed to decide quickly and he humored me like no other when I asked for a complete run-down of the dessert menu. A group of regulars came in and it was clear they were regulars because the owner greeted them with a hearty smile and a bottle of wine. It was a tad weird since we were seated behind them and the owner never came over to ask us how the meal was...just saying.


    First Course:
    Acorn Squash & Goat Cheese Brulee with Salad of WheatBerries, Pears, Dried Cranberries, and Baby Greens
    Duck Leek spring roll with Ginger Pear Dipping Sauce

    Are you drooling yet? After reading another review of Tastebuds which tooted the duck roll, we had to try it and it was wonderful, just not for me - I can't handle deep fried. But it wasn't oily and it was definitely served to order. The dipping sauce didn't do much in my opinion, but the flavor of the roll was awesome. As a goat cheese lover, I was over-the-moon for small plate #1. I've never had wheat berry to be honest but I think I am going to start experimenting. The vinaigrette had a lovely delicate flavor with the right about of sweetness and acidity. The squash was buttery and creamy and you could tell it was a seasonal ingredient, another thing Tastebuds is known for. If this is served year-round, it's my new staple.

    Second Course:
    Shrimp and chili rubbed sirloin kabobs, squash with hominy, and coleslaw
    Sirloin with squash risotto and green beans

    Looking back, I think it would have done our pocketbooks a great deal if we had skipped the entree because we were both pretty full from the "small" plates. Ok, maybe I should just speak for myself because my babe has got about 4 stomachs. His shrimp was cooked perfectly and was a tad spicy which added some extra flavor. I think we did a trade so I could finish his leftovers of that. As for the beef, also cooked perfectly and spiced nicely. The risotto didn't knock my socks off and neither did the coleslaw for Weston. But he was in love with their hominy side dish and you really can tell that the chef uses local ingredients.

    Third Course:
    Dessert time!!! If you live close by, I'd say come here whenever you are craving anything particular because chances are, they've got it covered: fruit, chocolate, ice cream, etc. Tastebuds is known for their bread pudding and after sampling it for myself, I can honestly say it is the best I've ever had. Nice and crunchy on the outside and creamy and luscious on the inside - I could taste the butter. Up until this point I'd say the best bread pudding I've had was in Chicago at the Grand Luxe Cafe, if that gives you any comparison. This version was a tad more sophisticated. The other dessert we tried was their chocolate cake which was a nice large portion of basically, pure chocolate. But it didn't get old bite after bite which was a pleasant surprise.

    So service and atmosphere aside (which weren't bad to begin with), Tastebuds offers superb cuisine at an affordable price, it'd say. Tips from me would be to just order small plates and if you're really eying an entree, order one and split it. Split everything. Except maybe the bread pudding. Because that, my dears, is just too good to share.

One Oven = Chicken Two Ways

    As you all know by now, I do most of my cooking on the weekends so I always have something healthy ready for me when I come home starving. I've had a package of chicken thighs sitting in the freezer since September and I just feel like it's a good idea to rotate out frozen items otherwise they start to taste like...freezer crystals + (insert item name here).

    I've also had a box of corn flakes hanging around and so I thought - cornflake-coated chicken. Si I mixed about 3 cups of crushed corn flakes with salt, pepper, garlic powder, a little chili powder, paprika, and turmeric. The turmeric addition I got from my mom, because when we make "coutlet," a Persian dish, we coat with a similar blend of spices.

    After defrosting the thighs, I coated them with a little egg wash and then the corn flakes. I first coated with the finer crumbs so they'd stick, then re-doused in egg and covered with the bigger pieces.

    I ran out of corn flakes into this process, who I just coasted the "naked" thighs with salt, pepper, and good olive oil. These pieces, I figured, would be good for sandwiches during the week.

    After cooking in a 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes - wait till the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, allow the chicken to cool and serve atop a bed of wheat spaghetti and some homemade pasta sauce.

Homemade Granola Bars with a Twist

    I'm hooked on granola bars. Anything in bar form, really. Bar cookies and cheesecakes are particular favorites of mine. But granola bars - oh, I could eat them like candy. Which is bad. Very bad. Because many of the ones you buy at the store are full of sugar and low in fiber, which goes against the whole draw of granola bars in general; they should be energy food! Good for your body, good for your mind. Now, there are a few brands out there which are excellent sources of protein, fiber, and good-for-you fats: Larabar, Trio, and Kashi are good choices. But man are they expensive! So this weekend, when I was rummaging around trying to pack my lunches for the week, I had a brilliant idea: why not make my own?

    Now, I have made granola bars before from my favorite cookbook back in Michigan and they were delicious - but I didn't have that recipe and I only had a limited amount of ingredients. Why? Because I depend on the kindness of others to take me shopping since I don't have a car and due to this crazy-mad grad program, none of us have had any time for a leisurely trip to the supermarket. Not to worry - I think the best creations come from the stuff you have on hand. There is a certain security in knowing you can make something out of nothing.

    After typing "granola bars" into Google, I clicked on the first link I found which turned out to be perfect for me - I had almost everything. I got the recipe here but made a few modifications which I HIGHLY suggest. They take these bars to the next level of yum.

    What you need:

    • 3 cups rolled oats
    • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
    • 1/4 cup white sugar
    • 3/4 cup crushed corn flakes
    • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1 cup all-purpose flour
    • 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 cup - 1/3 cup chopped dark chocolate
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon (change the amount up or down depending on how much you want to taste this)
    • 1/2 cup honey
    • 1 egg, beaten
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract

    What You Do:

    1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease a 9x13 inch baking pan. I used a Pyrex dish and that worked really well to get the bars out.
    2. Mix all the dry ingredients, make a well in the center, and add the wet. If the mixture looks too moist, you can add some more oats or corn flakes, but keep in mind that the moist mixture will soak into the dry ingredients over time. If the mixture looks too wet, add a bit more honey. I kept adding cardamom until I could smell it well - if you add too much it overpowers the flavor and too little will just taste like nothing.
    3. Using your hands, press into the baking dish.
    4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes in the preheated oven, until the bars begin to turn golden at the edges. Cool for 5 minutes, then cut into bars while still warm. Do not allow the bars to cool completely before cutting, or they will be too hard to cut. I cut mine into nice large squares - don't try for thin strips because the dough is a bit crumbly when warm.

    Tips from the Chef:

    - When doing #2 above, pour the oil into the batter first, then the honey - this makes the honey super easy to pour out and doesn't leave you with a sticky mess.

    - When performing #3 above, coat your hands with Pam spray or butter - this will assure the batter doesn't stick to you!

    - I let the bars cook about 40 minutes because I wanted them to be a little more golden brown.

    - Allow these to cool completely before storage or they will get soggy. Wrap individually in plastic wrap or aluminum foil and place into a plastic freezer bag - now you're all set to go! A quick and healthy snack you can just grab and head out the door with. And it feels so good knowing exactly what you put in them and how good they are for you, right?

    - Other tasty combos might be chocolate - with anything :) Cranberries and white chocolate, chopped dates or apricots, toasted nuts, or coconut. Whatever you like. You might add a bit of rosewater to give an extra something special if you decide on the cardamon and honey profile.

    Like I said, I am completely hooked on granola bars. And now that I've found an awesome recipe, I intend to play with the multitude of flavor profiles at my disposal.

    Got any favs? Send them my way!

Ghanaian Hash

    Word cannot describe the party in my mouth when my roommate, Roslyn, made a delicious Ghanian stew for us a while back. Oh-my-gosh it was soooo good. I have been meaning to write about it for weeks, but I wanted to give this post extra time and attention. It was amazing to watch as she took ingredients that to her were so familiar yet so foreign to me, and concocted something unlike anything I'd ever had before.

    With some help from her, I was able to recall the recipe. Here's how you too, can replicate this wonderful dinner.

    What you need:

    seasoned salt
    garlic powder
    a bay leaf
    1 can of crushed tomatoes
    1 can of corned beef hash
    curry powder
    ground nutmeg
    cayenne pepper
    a few eggs

    What to do:

    Put the tomatoes and the onion in a blender, add some water, and blend into a thick mixture. Pour into a pot which has a little bit of oil at the bottom. Still and cook for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the spices and hash and cook for another 5-10 minutes. You use about a sprinkling of each spice - once around the pot, but you can adjust according to your preference. At the very end of the cooking process, add a few beater eggs to the mixture and break them up with a fork as they scramble. The idea here is to create a homogenous hash without too many lumps.

    The first thing that surprised me was the spice factor and the way her spice mixture really complimented the plantains. You HAVE to eat this dish with plantains, nothing else will do. All you do is wait until they ripen and then boil them until they are cooked through. Don't be impatient like me, though, and let them cool a bit before eating :)

Eating Out: Part Two - Ginger Thai

    Since moving to Richmond I have been on a quest to find some amazing Thai food. Unfortunately, after reading over a dozen reviews on over a dozen restaurants, there were no agreements on the "best" Thai place. So when Weston came in a few weeks ago, we did some research of our own and after much contemplation, settled on Ginger Thai in Carytown.

    No pictures so sorry about that - but I promise, here is a very detailed review for you.

    Atmosphere: BUSY BUSY We were waiting in the "foyer" for a good while. But the smell was awesome. If you're claustrophobic this might not be so good for you because we could literally bump elbows with the couple next to us and I definitely heard a possibly illegal conversation going on at the table to my right.

    First Course:

    We ordered their spring roll - not fried. It was alright - not worth $7 in my opinion, even if it came with a side of some pretty good peanut sauce. The filling was lackluster: a few mint leaves, some noodles, cabbage, and about 5 slivers of carrot. But it was enough for 2 to share.

    Second Course:

    Dish A - Yellow Curry:

    This was wonderful, in my opinion. Chicken cooked in chili infused coconut sauce - you can't go wrong with that. The curry also had pieces of potato and carrot in it. The carrot tasted a bit off - acid-like almost and the potato seemed like it had been baked and then put in the curry, so it had a slightly hard crust on it. But the chicken was cooked well and the flavor of the sauce was very good.

    Dish B - Pad Thai:

    Initially I thought this was very good, too, but then I spotted a flaw that I couldn't get over... The flavor was nice - on the spicy side which both Weston and I enjoy. And I loooove it when they serve that little wedge of lime because I think it adds so much flavor. There wasn't a puddle of oil under the noodles either, which I was grateful for. So what ruined the memory? The noodles. They were brittle. I don't know if it was because they weren't cooked through all the way or maybe that was how the restaurant intended to serve them. It just didn't do it for me. But I will say this: although the ingredient usage is not perfect, Ginger Thai does deliver on flavor.

    I suggest you order the Thai tea because it is really wonderful - not too sweet and not orange. The bill cost about $50 which seemed a tad high- but each entree was enough to share and we had a lot of leftovers. If you do decide to go, I'd stick to one appetizer and one entree. Then hop down the street to Bev's for a nice ice cream nightcap.

    For your enjoyment and a little added extra review - earlier in the day we tried that little bakery in the Carytown shopping center near CanCan - Jean Jacques, I believe it is called. AMAZING!!! I ordered a lemon poppy seed muffin and it was perfect - I have been dreaming about them since. Just enough fat to hold a nice crumb, lemon zest throughout, and the occasional pocket of baking soda so you know it's homemade. The way people were googling over their tiramisu, I am guessing this bakery has quite the following. Weston got a strawberry danish and since he didn't offer me any I'm guessing it too, was very good. In his defense, I don't think I shared my muffin either ;) Love you, sweetie! If you're looking for a cute place for breakfast tasties or entertaining delights, I suggest you give this bakery a try.

Just Fry It

    The other day my roommate had a leftover plantain and so graciously allowed me to try my hand at frying it. Now, the plantain was ripe, really ripe, so it really should have been boiled or grilled, but I wanted something crispy, so I decided to slice it up and fry it. Normally I shy away from frying things because of the amount of oil you need to use. Probably had something to do with the fact that I worry the oil will seep inside me if I even look at it. But I put all this aside because the desire for a sweet something overpowered my irrational fear of getting fat without actually ingestion. Thank you, Dr. Grider.

    I couldn't help it - I had to try the plantain raw - it tasted delicious! I loved how it was a little starchy and had some bite to it. My mom and I share a weird love of under-ripe bananas and mealy nectarines.

    So I filled up a deep frying pan with a inch of oil and gently plopped the slices in, being careful (and unsuccessful) to not let the oil splatter onto my skin.

    Watch them carefully because they'll darken quickly. Set on a paper towel to drain any excess oil - honestly not much stays if they are allowed to crisp up. Sprinkle with salt to bring out the flavor.

Eating Out: Part One-Acacia MidTown

    Alright, y'all, I have decided to try my hand at restaurant reviewing. After all, I have been eating at some very lovely restaurants and it would be improper for me to withhold my findings from you.

    It being restaurant week, a friend from my program suggested a few of us - as in 10 of us! - try someplace on the list. We picked Acacia - which I was very excited about because so many people recommend this place when I first moved here. Now, many people stay out of restaurants on Restaurant Week, but I don't particularly agree with that. If a restaurant can pull out a great menu on a super busy night, then I know it'll be even better on a low-key one. And that's a handy thing to know.

    So, the decor. I must mention this because it confused me... like a rustic home/underground nightspot. There were wooden kitchen tables for large groups, and booths by a colorful bar, and then in the back a curtained area for parties. The lighting was low - very low, but I didn't mind that so much. The waitress greeted us with a smile and we were given the cocktail menu. It looked delish - but I just couldn't drop $10 on a drink. I'd go back exclusively for that, however.

    The variety of course offerings was quite impressive. For my first course, I decided on the homemade gnocchi with duck confit and cranberry sauce. In a word: divine. I have never, ever - not even in Italy - had gnocchi that good. They had been flash fried before service, giving a lovely little crunch and they weren't sticky or gluten-y at all. I was extremely impressed. The portion size was good, too - piled high with sauteed chard and duck, covered with the right amount of cranberry sauce.

    For my main course, I had to decide between the ribeye with bone marrow pancake and the duck breast wrapped in bacon with mashed sweet potatoes. My overall impression on this: 7. While my duck was cooked, my friend's was almost raw in places. And while I do think bacon is delicious, I thought they had over-wrapped the meat. Also, they stuffed it with pineapple which I didn't particularly enjoy - apple might have been better. I would have liked more spice and texture to the sweet potatoes, but the broccoli rabe was cooked perfectly. I took some of the duck home and ate it the day after and was very happy to find it tasted almost better than the day it was served - that's when I realized, they had served it lukewarm. I'll attribute this to the fact that there were 10 people in our group and everyone was served at once. The service was impeccable, can't forget that detail. Oh! and the duck in the picture below looks much larger than it actually was :) At any rate, the portion here was much better compared to the size of what we were served for dessert...

    For my last course I chose the apple ginger mouse cake with caramel mouse and creme fraiche sorbet. Faaaancy, eh? It was very good. The mouse had a wonderful flavor - like the burnt caramel part of creme brulee. The ginger apple layer was also very good - the constancy of apple butter. The cake part I could go without, personally - it was squeaky and tough to chew. The sorbet was nice, but let's face it - it was more like vanilla ice cream. Again, this is not to scale.

    Now, hilarity ensued when the following was placed in front of two guys at the table. Yes, this is what was marketed as "black forest cake with cherry sorbet." Where is the cake, you ask - oh it's there - those two crumbs. Seriously, Acacia? We were one of the last groups of costumers of the night so I doubt they had run THAT low on cake.

    Overall, I am glad I tried this restaurant. Their menu was seasonal and the ingredients were fresh and well prepared, for the most part. Acacia fell short on dessert and side dishes, but the gnocchi alone made the $25 worth it - they were THAT good.

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