Sunday, October 11, 2009

Charlotte, North Bear-alina...this one's for you...this one's for us us...

Betty and I took a last minute trip to Hilton Head last month and stopped in to visit some fam and friends in Charlotte, NC on the way. We had some good eats and the highlight of the trip was getting some quality time with our friends and family whom we don't get to visit with often. We kicked off opening night at a Mexican restaurant which of course I was eager to try. Our friend took us to Azteca. I must admit the location of the restaurant was slightly seedy as it was connected to a hotel but there was a warm vibe in the air which included a Mariachi band and folks who would stop by your table and make fresh guacamole.

chips & salsa w/ an interesting cabbage salad/salsa/slaw?

$8 guacamole made fresh in front of you

carnitas de puerca aka pork tacos.

sopapilla-esque dessert with fruit topping

Overall I was pleased with the meal, the vibe and the great conversation during dinner. There was perhaps slightly a bit of ADD in the air with all the music and action happening in the restaurant but it was fun none-the-less. The chips and salsa were standard. The cabbage dip was intriguing though not my favorite. I asked for hot sauce and hot salsa and was underwhelmed with both options that were brought out. The $8 guac tasted more like $5.75 guac but was still decent. The highlight of my meal was my carnitas taco dinner. The pork was extremely delicious and cooked tender topped with my favorite veggie red onions. Does it really get any better than this? I thoroughly enjoyed my tacos. Dessert was very delicious and a palette cleanser to change up everything we had been eating all evening.

The next morning I noted there was a Bojangles nearby our friend's place so I had to let Betty experience the guilty fried indulgence that is Bojangles.

biscuits & gravy to the left to the left & a spicy chicken biscuit with taters to the right to the right...

The biscuits and gravy were sinfully delicious. I really need to find a recipe for biscuits and gravy because I really love and crave them. I know Bojangles is fast food -- but their biscuit and gravy gives all the other dine-in joints up north a run for their money. The chicken biscuit was very good too. The potato wedges were a'ight but not anything too exciting. We also ordered a blue berry biscuit from them which was excessively rich and buttery but also delicious. It was fun to share this Southern fast food tradition with Betty though you really only need to eat Bojangles once every 2-3 years.

Betty and her bear-friend went to get their paws done at the bear-lon so I decided to stop by and visit my aunt and uncle. I was treated to some fantastic-ly fresh and tasty Indian food.

my aunt's Indian falafel

These were great. The meal was a take on Greek falafel but consisted of chick peas and lentils in the batter. The balls were rolled, deep fried and then served with a pita with some very tasty cilantro cream chutney. Talking to my aunt about how she made the Indian falafel made me want to revisit the process of deep frying foods. Betty got me a fry daddy when we still lived in the Short North but I was always scared to use it.

Up next was my aunt's golgappa a true Indian delicacy:

golgappa covered with seasoned yogurt, tamarind chutney, cilantro and chick peas

When I ate this yummy dish I couldn't help but reflect on how my tastebuds have evolved since I was a bitty bear. I never liked this dish as a cub -- i think mostly because the sweet and sourness confused me -- but now being somewhat older my taste buds have matured or something and this dish hit the spot. For those not familiar with golgappa -- it is essentially deep-fried mini crispy bread shells topped with chick peas, onions and usually a mix of yogurt and sweet-and-spicy chutneys.

In the evening Betty and I visited my cousin and her husband in the heart of downtown Charlotte. My cousin prepared for us an organic vegetarian Mexican dish of chili verde enchiladas. Not pictured were some tasty appetizers of guacamole and a cheesy bean dip.

chili verde vegetable enchilada stack

The enchiladas were fresh, simple and pretty tasty. A little light on the spice for my tastes but all in all a good meal. During dinner Betty and I had great discussion with my cousin and her hubs about the China Study, the challenges of maintaining an organic lifestyle and bear-ituality. Good times indeed.

The next day we caught up with more fam and hit up Big Daddy's Burger Bar which is a burger joint that prides itself on grass-fed hormone free burgers. Since I was down in the South I figured I should try their Classic Southern Burger:

Classic Southern Burger: burger topped with chili, American cheese, relish, mustard and slaw along & french fries fried in duck fat.

This burger was fresh and tasty but a bit of a mess. I suppose you get what you order right? The duck fat fries were good but I couldn't really distinguish the taste of the duck fat from the usual french fry preparation except for the fact they tasted firmer and were a little on the salty side. No worries because this place specialized in soft serve for dessert which was the perfect way to end the meal.

ultra sweet-soft serve with sprinkles

I forgot to take a picture of our last home cooked meal with my cousins and aunt but it was a delicious meal of cholay and dal. Betty and I had a lot of fun in Charlotte. I was impressed with all the yummy home cooked meals my family shared with us and really the best part was getting to visit with everyone and seeing our family and friends. I was happy to learn of similar cooking and diet interests with my cousins -- and hopefully next time we visit I'll get to share with them some of my ck freestylings in the kitchen. Word is bear-log!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

the best taco-sense is a good b-fense...Mexican style tacos in the house

During my 2 month hiatus of not blogging -- I was still busy in the kitchen with the thoughts of Mexican style tacos on my mind. My trip to Los Potosinos definitely impacted my taste palette and since then I can't get enough of corn tortillas, onions, cilantro and limes with any assortment of meats or legumes. The bear-fense aka b-fense wishes to present the following evidence of such obsession with all things Mexican style.

Exhibit 1: Mexican style tacos with ground turkey & homemade black bean salsa with the El Yucataco pasa doble bringing up the rear

This meal was delicious though unfortunately we were short of limes -- so I soaked the onions in vinegar to emulate the acidic clean taste of missing limes. Despite it's deliciousness I think I prefer non-ground meats in my tacos. There's more substance and diversity of texture. See Exhibit 2:

Exhibit 2: Mexican style tacos with grilled chicken with guacamole salad and Traders Joes Chimichurri rice with the El Yucataco pasa doble bringing up the rear again...

Holy bear-ito. These tacos were on-point. I grilled the chicken on the stove with this Buckeye Rub that I got from Hill's market -- and it gave the chicken a fantastical smokey sweet flavor that really enhanced the taco. Though not pictured we had fresh squeezed lime juice. This meal was replete -- the true gem was the improvisational guacamole salad that I free styled after noticing how Los Potosinos and most other taco reviews revealed that radishes were common with your taco truck experience. This was also my first time making guacamole since Betty makes one that will blow your paws off. The guacamole salad consisted of:
  • 3 avocados
  • juice from 1.5 limes
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 jalapenos diced with membrane removed
  • defrosted frozen organic corn from WholeFoods
  • a bunch of radishes sliced chunky
  • some diced tomatoes
  • diced onions
  • splash of El Yucateco green sauce
For the guac -- I placed everything in a covered bowl and shaked it up like a polaroid picture to let the ingredients combine naturally at first -- then went through with a fork and did some slight smashing. The guac has become a mainstay at our cave these days and Betty finally realized the true unleashed flavor of Mexican style tacos.

Exhibit 3: Mexican style tacos with grilled mahi mahi + radishes and said Trader Joes Chimichurri sauce

You thought I was kiddin'...nope. I kept remixing these tacos I tell you. Exhibit 3 brought out the fish in all of us. I know humans stereotype bears to eat only salmon -- but this bear likes to get his fish on with mahi mahi. I grilled up some mahi mahi -- frozen from WholeFoods -- with seasoned salt, lemon and then splashed it with some vinegar. Then topped it with all the usual fixins but also added diced radishes. This was my first time EVER cooking with fish and it seemed too easy. Ultimately this meal was simply outstanding.

For our final exhibit -- Betty and I decided to hit up La Casita for only our second time as I was craving some authentic Mexican food. After having success at Cazuelas and Don Patron 3 I was amped to see how La Casita fared with their taco offerings. I ordered their taco platter that came with beans and rice.

Exhibit 4A: from La Casita: Mexican style taco trifecta featuring: carnitas, pastor and chorizo

Exibit 4B: refried beans and Mexican rice from La Casita

Well...go figure my taco bear-ble was busted at La Casita. I had a bite of the first taco which was a carnitas taco and it was very tasty though a bit fatty for my tastes. I then had the pastor taco which was greasy and showed no semblance of the sweet tasting pork I had learned to savor. The same greasiness also showed up again when I ate the chorizo sausage. No real smoky kick -just salty greasy strangeness. The highlight of this meal was the beans and rice and I suppose the first taco. This is the first time that I would say I did not like the food at a Mexican restaurant. I felt a little queazy in the post-meal discussion with Betty thinking about the fattiness and greasiness of the meats. Her meal was so so as well. She had a chicken dish with a tangy sour cream sauce. Perhaps this meal was a sign telling us that we are long overdue to hit up El Vaquero? Who knows.

What the b-fense has hoped to show and offer up today is that
  1. I love Mexican style tacos which generally utilize corn tortillas sometimes 2 for the base then topped with some form of protein, diced onions, cilantro and a lime wedge.
  2. They are pretty easy to make at home using a variety of different proteins.
  3. Don't be afraid of radishes. They taste very good in guacamole and on top of fish tacos.
  4. Similar to the Dew's Pizza post -- while restaurants & taco trucks can serve up tasty authentic tacos -- sometimes there's no taco like home-made...which is why I say the best taco-sense is a good b-fense...
  5. Word is bear-log.

Spagio's = weaksauce...well sorta. - Spagios

Betty and I were craving some yummy lobster bisque so we decided to stop off at Spagio's and this time order some real dinners instead of the pizzas that we had last time. For those who didn't read our first trip there -- Betty and I declared Spagios to have a truly wonderful lobster bisque soup that was pretty much bonkers. Their pizzas were very tasty as well but this visit we wanted to put their menu to the test and decided to order some entrees as well. I did not document our lobster bisque soups this time -- but rest assured...they were what we thought they were...certified yums-in-my-tums.

from their menu: Grilled Diver Scallops - Diver Scallops wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon and perched atop a flour tortilla with avocado-tomato salad, freshly squeezed lime juice and fresh herbs $28

from their menu: 8 oz Choice Beef Tenderloin served with Aged Gouda potato soufflé , haricots verts with shallots and bacon $25

After a great experience with the soup we were eager to try our dinner entrees...unfortunately...they did not deliver. The scallops were cooked well but had a somewhat bland taste not mention that I failed to grasp the concept of the flour tortilla. It was like I ate an expensive bland scallop tostada. The tastes did not jell together for me especially for as much as this meal cost. They say everything tastes better with bacon -- but it was work to finish the meal. Just say no to this entree. Betty had the beef tenderloin and it failed to deliver as well. The sides were slightly tastier then wedding food and the beef tenderloin -- though strong in taste was underwhelming. I had a bite to confirm the inevitable weaksauce edict. The kicker was the bill. The food was way to pricey for the lack of execution and taste-euphoria. Betty and I decided in the future we will stick to Spagio's lobster bisque, bread, appetizers and pizza and pass on their dinner entrees which just don't make the cut hence...Spagio's=weaksauce...well sorta -- because we'd still go back there -- this in contrast to Deepwood.

bear-eakfast of champions vs. 2.0 and 3.0: remix my mornings

As you probably know by now Betty and I like to do up breakfast on the weekends. I've started a new breakfast series called the bear-eakfast of champions (BOC) for the excessively hearty and delicious concoctions that I whip up. It all started with version 1.0. With out further delay ladies, gentlemen and fellow bear-ethren BOC 2.0 and BOC 2.0:

BOC 2.0: two slices of toasted Brownberry Health Nut bread topped with 2 eggs over medium with a layer of shredded WholeFoods salsa jack in between, a tomato, red onion, jalapeno relish, 3 slices of crispy bacon and breakfast potatoes seasoned with cajun seasoning topped with previously mentioned salsa jack and onions

BOC 3.0: ck remix on huevos rancheros meets chilaquiles: seasoned black beans with corn topped with pan grilled zuccini, squash and red onions, topped with jalapeno jack cheese, 2 eggs over medium all then topped with a scoop of sour cream and said tomato relish from BOC 2.0, accompanied with fried tortillas for dipping and of course el yucateco pasa doble to boot.

Both meals were fantastically delicious -- and no I didn't eat them both in one day. The only question is what should the next breakfast of champions feature? Holla' at me with your favorite hearty breakfast recipes because you know I'm game. Word is bear-log.

there's no pizza like home-ade...Dew's Pizza

2 months later... cholesterolking re-engages! it was like a torbear-nado picked me up and took me away from Kansas Columbus...but I've returned and I sure have a back-log of posting to do...and so we begin:
Now for my unreaders--formerly my readers -- you know that my favorite pizza joints include Adriaticos, Hound Dogs and Surly Girl's. I also used to make some homemade pizzas from a variety of ingredients that included bagels, pitas, flatbreads and the like -- but really I have moved on from making pizza at home -- and in all honesty -- the pies were not really homemade because the crusts were not made from scratch... (Pause.)

Enter columbusyogurt's culinary skills what I will refer to as Dew's Pizza not to be confused with Dewey's pizza...:

homemade dough, olive oil + herbs, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, red onions, perfectly crisped bacon and TLC from columbusyogurt

said pizza from above baked to perfection

said pizza from above plated...

baked homemade dough, fresh tomatoes, mozzarella, basil and TLC from columbusyogurt

said pizza from above plated.

Have you stopped salivating? I sure haven't. This pizza was some of the best tasting, freshest tasting pizza that I've ever had in my bear-life. You know it gets the CK-signature yums-in-my-tums approval. Posting this reminds me that I need to wrangle the ingredients of the crust from Mr. Columbusyogurt (CY)...but with that being said -- homemade crust an amazing pizza does not CY prepared the pizza there was a TLC element that comes only with prior pizza construction experience. CY formerly of Figlio's at one point in his career has detailed pizza blueprint knowledge that was very apparent in this culinary masterpiece. Everything about this pizza was fresh. There was no bottled/canned sauces or veggies. CY used only olive oil and herbs as the sauce on the first pie and only fresh tomatoes and possibly olive oil on the second pie. The mozzarella was fresh instead of store bought pre-shredded blends -- though I still profess my love for the quattro-formaggio from Trader Joes. The careful preparation of ingredients and the personification of calmness and coolness in the kitchen all translated into the amazing taste of this pie. At this time -- I should give praise to Mrs. CY for prepping the crust as well while CY was at work.

I will definitely have to consider revisiting home-made pizza goodness at the Chateau because as we all know...there's truly no pizza like home-ade...there's no pizza like home-made...doubly true if you are a Dew.