Dump and Dine: Don’t Say I Never Did Anything For You

It’s 5 o’clock. You just got home from a grueling day, your nose having been surgically removed from the grindstone, when suddenly you realize you forgot to make anything to feed the book club gathering in your living room at 6:30 p.m. Or maybe it’s a last minute invite to a really great pot luck or your favorite uncle’s surprise funeral.

Whatever the reason, sometimes life gives us dining deadlines we simply don’t have time to cook for. Well, hopefully, you at least have time to shop or maybe you’ve got everything you need for this dish just lying around at house—or will after reading this post.

That’s why I’ve decided to share with you, Gentle Readers, the secret to my social success. That is, the dish that will get you invited back but that you won’t mind actually making. That is, my Dump and Dine Pasta (the concept graciously given to me by some chick named, Cathy, whom I used to know in New Orleans in 1995. But I digress….)

Dump and Dine Pasta

In some order make or obtain the following:

About one cup of basil pesto. You can make your own from last year’s home-grown basil crop, as I did, or if you hate the people you are serving, use that crap in the pouch with all the chemicals in it. Your call.

About one cup of alfredo sauce. Same note as with the pesto, above. Hatred optional.

One can of diced tomatoes, drained.

One jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained.

OPTIONAL: About 2 oz of some kind of protein. Smoked salmon or ahi tuna, grilled chicken breast, boiled or sauteed shrimp, etc., will do, according to your taste.

12 to 16 oz. of your favorite pasta shape, cooked and cooled.  Something like farfalle, penne, or fusilli is what you are shooting for. You know, something that will hold a heavy sauce.

Dump (into a 9″ x 12″ dish), toss, and serve. Should look something like this:

The glorious final dish!

See? Stupidly easy. And awesomely delicious. Now, don’t say I never did anything for you!

Rawr!

A Taste of Tuscany Right Here in Virginia Highlands

It has been about three months since Foodiesaurus went away for her big European food crawl. Therefore, it’s been three LONG months since Foodie’s visit to Florence and, specifically, to Pipistrello Pizzeria and its Pizza Maialona con Bufalo and to Tuscany’s amazing gelaterias. That’s a long time—even for a dinosaur.

So, on one recent Sunday afternoon, Foodie set out to see how Atlanta’s Italian-inspired cuisine would fare by comparison. And it was good!

The first stop was Fritti in Atlanta’s Virginia Highlands area near Inman Park. The lunch menu highlighted Fritti’s Verace Pizza Napoletana, but a little lower I hit pay dirt: a locally-available Maialona. The Italian version of this traditional pizza (which you may recall I ate three or four times in eight days while visiting Florence) featured the same toppings, only in Italy the meats were mixed up and the pizza was topped with fresh buffalo mozzarella.

Unexpectedly, the local version segregated each meat into its own triangular zone so when you cut the pie (as you would in Italy), you either ended up with a slice of only salame, only sausage, etc., or at most, a slice with half of one meat and half of another. I must confess, I like the Florentine version better and next time I order the Maialona at Fritti, I plan to request it “scrambled.”

The only other challenge I had with the Fritti Maialona was that the salame read more like pepperoni than the salame served in Florence Otherwise, the Fritti Maialona was terrific. I will certainly be back for more!

Next up was Paolo’s Gelato near the corner of Highland Avenue and Virginia Avenue. Featured on loads of local and national television programs and in magazines galore, Paolo’s truly is the best gelato I’ve eaten in the States. I think in Florence, however, I would consider the pistachio and straciatella I tried the second or third best gelato. All things considered, that ain’t bad and lucky are those (like me) who can get gelato of this quality not too far from home!

In the final analysis, the Virginia Highlands are blessed by Italians doing the food thing as well as if they were home. And we, the citizens of the Greater Atlanta area are the beneficiaries of this largess. You could spend a lot more time on a plane before finding Italian fare this good.

Rawr!
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Fritti—

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Paolo’s Gelato—

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Full-fat Oatmeal Recipe

As part of my effort to cram as much fat as possible back into food other people have “low-fat-ified,” I have invented a recipe for oatmeal that actually tastes not like minced cardboard. It’s a riff on one of Alton Brown’s Steel Cut Oats recipes and it’s awesomely good.

For each serving: Measure out 1/4 cup organic steel cut oats. Chop about the same amount of organic walnuts. Boil 3/4 cup filtered water. Melt 2 tablespoons of pastured butter in a saucepan.

Once the butter is melted, add the oats and walnuts and toast for about two minutes, stirring constantly. Pour in the boiling water (very carefully, so you don’t burn your fingers when the steam and splatters inevitably occur). Simmer until the mixture thickens.

Then add 1/4 cup or so of heavy whipping cream. I use a local brand with no ingredients except milk and 40% fat. You can also add fruit, liked diced apples at this point. Allow to thicken a second time. Remove and top with freshly grated cinnamon and honey or evaporated cane juice crystals and serve.

Hey, if you are worried about the extra calories, just wear fewer layers on a cold day. You probably won’t even notice the shivering if you’ve eaten this for breakfast.

Rawr!

Firenze–Well Worth the Extra Five Pounds!

A few things I learned while in Florence may help you should you ever find yourself there—how to order a quarter liter of the house red wine in competent Italian (“un quarto vino rosso della casa”) and to always avoid eating anywhere all of the other diners are American. The rest has to be experienced. And that I did.

What remains of the ubiquitous quarto litro vino rosso della casa.

Although I brought a “list” of “must” eat places given to me by a friend of a friend whose friend recently lived in Florence for a year, I am certainly glad I stayed with a local possessing a really good palate. That’s because I tried two places off the “list” and both were full of Americans (see rule #2, above) and average food. The following is a list of places that didn’t make “the” list, but should have:

The night I arrived at my B&B in the San Gaggio area altrarno and south of the Porta Romana, I was looking for a nearby place for a bite. My hostess told me about some places a tourist might like, but we eventually got over that. After ruling out the nearest and best trattoria as already too packed for reservations, she recommended a pizzeria that I returned to three more times afterward—Pizzeria Il Pipistrello on Via Senese.

Although extremely local, one waitress spoke English well enough to help me order and at least one waiter did as well. That night, I ate the absolute best thing in the form of flat round dough, cheese, sauce and meat I’ve ever had. It was called Pizza Maialona con Bufulo, it featured three kinds of pork meat—salami, ham, and sausage—and buffalo mozzerella, and it was heaven. This was one of those dishes you start craving again as you leave the restaurant. In an amazing show of restraint, however, I didn’t eat it again until my third visit.

Pizza maialona con bufulo (notice the quarto litro in the background).

On my second trip to Pipistrello, I tried the comparatively austere but equally fabulous salami and ham pizza. And on the fourth and final visit, I mastered the positively mind-blowing “house” pizza, featuring just about everything and an egg baked in the center. Ummm. Filling. I found the prices to be reasonable. I ate and drank very well for a bit less than €15.

The Pipistrello "House" Pizza (featuring a real egg in the middle). Ummm. Filling.

Over the next several days, I also ate twice at a wine bar across from the Palazzo Pitti featuring an extraordinary menu, called Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina. Besides several fine Chiantis and Sangioveses, there was for a starter a gorgeous terrine of fois gras topped with sage and served with crostini, on a reduction of vin santo (that was reminiscent of a light cane syrup but with stronger molasses-like flavors as well) and scattered rock salt. The contrast of textures and sweet with salt was unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. And it was good.

Fresh pasta triangles stuffed with spinach and ricotta and topped with shaved black truffles.

For mains, I had triangles of fresh pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with shaved black truffles one night, and on a different night, a wonderful steak tartare with orange and mint. Here, the prices were a bit steep for the portions. I found it difficult to get out of there for less than €35.

Steak tartare with orange and mint. Served with a little mound of peas, carrots, diced potatoes, and halved grape tomatoes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the gelato front—two were noteworthy in my estimation. The first is the best: Vivoli near the Museo del Bargello and the Teatro Verdi. You pay in advance, and though it is packed with locals, the servers know enough English to hook you up with what you want. Here the gelato is served only in cups, and it is magnificent. The first time I visited I tried hazelnut and pistachio. The second, hazelnut and chocolate-hazelnut. All flavors were the best versions of their kind I’ve ever tried.

The second gelateria was also better than any other, except Vivoli. It was called Gelateria La Carraia and was near the Arno and the Ponte alla Carraia. Here, I tried the Tiramisu mousse combined with the espresso. It was heaven in a cone. Soft and light and *uh* words fail. With either of these, you can’t go wrong. Vivoli was €2.50 for about 5 oz; La Carraia charged €1.50 for a small cone.

Like Gola e Cantina, another great favorite of mine violated the rule I’d been given about “don’t eat within sight of any famous tourist destination.” While Gola e Cantina is near the Palazzo Pitti, Ringo is near the Ponte Vecchio on the Borgo San Jacopo, and it’s three umbrella-covered tables outside sit pretty much in the street. Yes, there is a sign above the door that reads: “Hamburgers, Cheeseburgers, Hot Dogs.” Ignore all that. The food here is really good anyway.

The first time I shared the bruchetta with pomodora, basil, and ham, and ate the Insalada con Bacon as my main. OMG. Both were incredibly fresh, the second featuring avocado, round slices of very small zucchini, tomato, and Italian ham.

At the very strong urging of my hostess, on my second visit to Ringo, I violated a rule I had no intention of breaking: the “thou shall not eat American food in Europe” rule. But in this case, I’m glad I did. In fact, the hamburger at Ringo is among the best I’ve ever eaten anywhere. It was served on a firm egg-washed bun with tomato, pickles, catsup, onions, and mustard or vinegar or something else really wonderfully tangy. Nothing is served on the side but a fork and knife, which you will need. It is so good, I actually ate it again a few days later. Just to be sure, you understand.

Amazing fork and knife burger. Better than all but one I've had in America.

One thing to be aware of at Ringo, is that each dish is made by one person and is served one at a time. So each time I ate with two other companions, we were served at different times. And it turns out, the shared starter plate was a really good idea. The cost was very reasonable at about €80 for three including at least two glasses of wine per person and several bottles water for the table.

Another place I ate more than once was the local trattoria I couldn’t get into on my first night—Ruggero. For a starter, I tried the ground chicken liver in olive oil spread on crostini (reportedly very traditional, and actually very delicious). For the main, I was served breaded veal in an onion-tomato gravy with large, flat green beans in bacon. Again, very good. By the second visit, all I wanted was a salad, which is understandable given all of the other stuff I’d been eating until then. That day they had one featuring copious amounts of sliced mushrooms. I asked for a side of sliced salami, which request they graciously obliged.

Finally, for the lunch of my last full day, I tried a place that reportedly hosted Sarah Jessica Parker on her visit to Florence—Cambi (or Antica Ristoro di Cambi, if you want the full treatment). There I ate the most famous dish of the city—Bistecca Florentine (por un, per favore). What I received was a 750g delicious, rare T-bone, marinated somehow into a state of fabulousness not attainable at, say, Shula’s. I was advised to go traditional with the sides and so had white beans I sprinkled with salt and fresh ground black pepper and then drizzled with EVOO (fagioli con olio di oliva). Solid.

Bistecca Florentine con fagiolo con olio di oliva. (*that sucking noise Hannibal Lecter made in Silence of the Lambs*)

I must say, this is the only place I ever felt I absolutely had to ask for a take-away box. I wasn’t sure if this was considered rude, but they were very obliging and I enjoyed the remainder of the steak the next morning with breakfast. I can’t imagine how big the Bistecca por due must be!

These were not the only places recommended to me, but by the time I dodged the various Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday closing days of sundry establishments, the eateries listed above were the ones that made the cut. And, believe me, the five pounds I earned are not regretted in the least. Florence was a beautiful place to bulk up and make food memories to last a lifetime.

Rawr!

The Winding Stair is worth the climb

The Winding Stair restaurant is a quaint little bistro on Bachelor’s Walk looking out at the Ha’penny Bridge over River Liffey in Dublin.

20110912-101042.jpgThe name is taken, perhaps obviously, from the entry which is a stair that twists back upon itself before lead to the dining room.

Decor is like something out of a Bogart and Bacall movie but on a smaller scale. The bar is dark heavy oak and a large espresso machine.

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On the opposite wall is a chalkboard listing the rather lovely wine list and featuring bookshelves containing the kind of odd assortment of titles a decorator would choose for the broken clothbound and gilded spines. There was Albert Schweitzer in the original German alongside Coleridge. See what mean?

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The emphasis of the kitchen clearly was organic and local food though. In other words, exactly what I hoped to find.

There is an early bird menu at 5 p.m., as well as daily specials but, after a quick scan of the main menu, I wanted only the mussels and chips (pomme frite) served with a gorgeous paprika enhanced aioli.

The mussels were harvested on the west coast of Ireland and were generally quite fine– flavorful in an onion and white wine broth. A few were gritty however and several had not opened.

Nevertheless, I was served so so many, the dish was still more than enough for one. The broth certainly enhanced the already tasty mussels but it was a bit too salty to sip afterward.

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The chips were thickly cut and crispy. No oil was evident and their flavor was fabulous, especially when paired with the smoked paprika aoili. Mmmmmm. The Portuguese Syrah I drank was also really nice.

The service was also helpful and attentive, although the dining room admittedly was sparsely populated when I was eating at a little before 5 p.m.

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Overall, this was a very enjoyable meal and the sort of place that should be supported as Ireland earns it’s place at the big-people table in European cuisine.

Rawr!

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Overall:
Four Bones

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Four Bones

Ambiance:
Five Bones

Big Announcement: Foodiesaurus is Taking You Along on Her European Food Vacation! (You’re welcome.)

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed a recent decrease in the frequency of posts hereto. And there’s a darn good reason for that–and it’s about to change!  The reason is, your favorite dinosaur and mine has been planning a food trip to Ireland and Italy, and she’s taking you along for the ride!

So buckle up ’cause next week we begin with two days in Dublin to find out whether Bobby Flay was really on to something when he suggested Irish food didn’t suck anymore in his Food TV special, “Bobby’s Ireland.”

From Dublin, we take a train to Waterford City to attend the final three days of the newest Irish food festival, the Waterford Harvest Festival. The festival features many Slow Food Ireland and Grow It Yourself Ireland (GIY) events, among others, all designed to increase awareness about locally-grown Irish food. While there, we will attend a tasting of Irish beer and cheese, the GIY street feast, and an open air harvest market.

After that, we travel to the heart of Tuscany: Florence, that is. There we will learn the subtle art of chilling out with locals who do it pro-style. And of course, we will eat. If we happen to trip over some art or architecture on the way to eating, we might even write about that too.

So join me on a food exploration of parts of two European countries beginning with the letter “I.” Oh, and I’ll be doing it all from my iPhone and any WiFi connections I happen to find along the way. Now THAT’S going to be an adventure!

Rawr!

Foodiesaurus’ Uptown Crawl

Yesterday was a day like Foodisaurus hadn’t enjoyed in a long time. Yes, it was hot on this June day in Uptown New Orleans. Yes, it was humid. And yes, the resurfacing of Magazine Street made us long for a nice gravel drive. But the food and locales I discovered on my brief, two meal tour made all of that well worth it.

First, my dining companion and I visited Mid-City and the former J.P. McMahon Funeral Home on Canal Street, now known as Mystère Mansion. Only in New Orleans would people line up out of the door to get married at a slightly post-bellum home, next to a cemetery, across from a mausoleum, which had been most recently used as a mortuary and funeral home.

Rumored to be haunted, the building was stripped to the studs by a corporation which bought the building in 2004 in order to convert it to a day spa. Rebuilding was stopped after the company’s CEO died and the board abandoned the project. Then Katrina struck and the home sat vacant until 2007, when it was purchased and returned to its former glory as a premier events venue and kick-ass haunted house destination during the month of October.

In addition to two bars, a commercial kitchen for use of caterers, a “cake” room, reception room with dance floor and amps for a band or DJ, private theater/meeting room, and VIP guest room, the house also features a séance room (complete with “supernatural” special effects, if desired by client), and an underground “mortuary” which extends under Canal Street and is tricked out with all kinds of theme park quality scary stuff just for Halloween.

Hey, consider it a bonus if your wedding theme is “creepy.” But for other events, you’d never know the house was anything other than a beautifully-restored, traditional New Orleans manor. Fabulous!

Next stop, for lunch was a New Orleans classic—Five Happiness. It’s always nicer to visit a place with friends who have friends at the establishment, so maybe our service was a little more prompt than would ordinarily have been the case, I can’t say. But the food was prepared fresh to order and it showed in the flavor. I had the Twice Cooked Pork.

Mine was served with my choice of a wonderful example of hot and sour soup and shrimp fried brown rice, along with a large, crispy fried wonton (folded but with no discernable meat in the fold). We didn’t order appetizers or desserts, but there was so much on the plate, I was only able to finish the pork from the spicy-sweet (but not overly so) sauce, some of the included green bell peppers and onions, the small but plump shrimp from the rice, and the wonton.

Given that I avoid Chinese food like it’s a religious obligation, I was pleasantly surprised there is still an affordable place left in New Orleans that doesn’t think steamer trays, rapidly-aging “sushi,” and self-serve soft-serve ice cream is necessary for a classic Chinese experience.

After a brief shopping sojourn, we found it was seven o’clock and time for dinner. We decided a salad was in order. Regular readers of this blog may recall my abiding affection for salads at Coffee Rani in Covington, Louisiana. My friend suggested the Uptown location of same (she thought….) on Magazine Street.

As it turns out, though apparently related given the same essential menu, Café Rani clearly was not the same. First of all, there is no espresso machine. “Café” has no coffee. Hmmm. But it has a bar. Okay.

Unfortunately, there was also a weird “wet dog” smell my friend thought was like sewerage. And only two or three tables were occupied at what should have been the front end of the dinner “rush.” Not good. Now, I’ve watched enough Restaurant Impossible to know that sometimes bad smells may mean untold horrors.

Taking no chances, we abandoned ship and embarked on a search for the next place that led us quite serendipitously to possibly the best food I’ve ever eaten. In my life. Ever.

The Delachaise at 3442 St. Charles Avenue is housed in an odd, converted-rail-dining-car-looking building that, who knows, may very well have been one. We stopped because I seem to recall having eaten well in that location sometime in about 1995 or so and because there were diners on the patio facing St. Charles, braving the early evening mosquitoes to eat there. Good sign.

Inside, was a funky bar with a few tables and booths at which were seated casually-attired college students and professions and not a few couples who looked like they might get lucky. The walls were lined with chalk boards bearing handwritten notices of the day’s specials, which were, well, special. Among them the pate du jour. The boards also instructed us to order at the bar.

Along the way, we also found written menu. After some consultation with the Internet to translate the names of some ingredients, chose the Grilled Eggplant “Cannolis,” my second example of twice-cooked pork that day—the Cuban Twice-Cooked Pork—and a lovely Chianti by the glass.

I approached the bar and noticed a row of handwritten chalk boards adorned it as well, listing reasonably priced and very high quality liquor and mixed drinks. Our bartender allowed us to split the check but either payment upfront or a tab was required.

The wine came with a sidecar (bonus!) and the food was a work of art. Nonetheless, we dug right in.

The Eggplant Cannolis was group of three roulade about three inches long filled with ricotta, chevre, and herbs served on a bed of Muhammara with three olive oil drenched and perfectly crisped crostini. Muhammara, it turns out, is a spicy pepper dip originating from Syria. Although the base is apparently ground walnuts, it was reminiscent of smoked hummus, and along with the goat cheese, it elevated this dish to quite another level of awesomeness.

Given the quality and beauty of the first course, we tucked right into the pork entrée and were quickly rewarded.

The cubes of stewed pork were finished in the goose-fat fryer and the result was tender, crispy, slightly redolent of orange mojo, and unbelievably fabulous.

Accompanying the pork were steak fry-like strips of yucca, rendered crispy on the outside and flaky, tender, slightly fiberous and a little sweet by its trip through the goose-fat fryer. The food rested on a bed of top-notch aoili and occupied a good-sized platter. My dining companion and I shared the appetizer and the main but left satisfied.

Unpretentious, affordable, and with totally mind-blowing food—The Delachaise on St. Charles should be a regular stop on any trip through the Big Easy.

Rawr!

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Five Happiness on Carrollton—

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Café Rani on Magazine—

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Food: Unknown

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The Delachaise on St. Charles—

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Rule, Brittania! The English Tea Room in Covington, Louisiana, brings the Motherland within reach

Every so often I return to visit the Motherland—Covington, Louisiana. Because I haven’t lived there in more than twenty years, I am often surprised by the dramatic ways in which this formerly sleepy old town has changed; first, becoming a bedroom community of New Orleans and then, after Katrina, when the city decided to spend all day there too.

On one particular trip a few years ago, I came upon something odd while taking an old familiar detour one block off of East Boston Street; something that changed my visits home thenceforth. A bit of Britain in Southeast Louisiana, it was the English Tea Room.

From the classic black limousine to the classic red phone booth to the two-out-of-five flags raised out front being the Union Jack, the first thing you realize is the proprietors of this establishment are hard-core Anglophiles. The interior of this converted Arts and Crafts bungalow is similarly welcoming with several small rooms and porches radiating from around the central kitchen and counter.

Looking more like your Grandma’s parlor than a restaurant, it is filled with chintz-covered tables and simply dripping with mismatched floral china and teaspoons, flower buds, and more tiny Union Jacks. So what keeps this shrine to shabby chic just on this side of grotesque? A very subtle undercurrent of irreverence permeates the place. Just the very tip of a tongue-in-cheek. You see, this is England with a twist.

For example, the establishment maintains a supply of men’s Bowlers, ladies’ hats suitable for Ascot, and feather boas for those who left theirs at home. The funny hats are optional, however. There is also a large cardboard cut-out of the Queen in full formal dress for those wish to obtain photographic evidence that they were once a seriously underdressed security threat at a British state function.

Sadly, Martin, the third in a line of authentic British ex-patriot managers, had been repatriated by the time I returned for my most recent visit, so my server was one of the actual (disappointingly American) owners. I arrived at two o’clock, thereby neatly avoiding both the lunch and tea crowd.

After choosing a table on one of the lace-enclosed sun porches, I ordered a Petite Windsor tea tray and a pot of Versailles Lavender Earl Grey from a list of, like, a hundred excellent and unique teas. The Earl Grey was served in its own three-cup pot and was divine with just a small lump of raw sugar.

Accompanying the tea pot was a three-tiered tray, the bottom plate of which contained four finger sandwiches—ham, cheddar and onion, cucumber, and egg salad. On the center plate were three tiny quiches, including two, warm bacon and cheese, and one, cool spinach and water chestnut. And on top were the desserts which consisted of warm scones (plain and chocolate chip), a mini-cake covered in fondant, a chocolate-covered strawberry, and three small bowls and demitasse spoons—one with lemon cured, clotted cream, and strawberry jam. (The full-sized Windsor tea is roughly double the size of this one.)

I ate everything. Well, the edible stuff, anyway. And the food was really good, even if the post-Martin service was just a tad slow.

On a side note, it may seem strange to outsiders that my favorite English tea house is in Louisiana, but the North Shore region, including Covington, originally was part of a British colony founded in 1763. The oldest families in the area are predominantly English, Irish, and Scottish, as a result.

In fact, St. Tammany and seven adjacent parishes were not even part of the Louisiana purchase and had very little in common with either the Spaniards who captured it from Britain twenty years later or nearby French-speaking New Orleans, which is roughly 30 miles to its South across Lake Pontchartrain.

Finally, in 1810, the “Florida Parishes” staged a successful rebellion against its weak Spanish government and formed an independent republic. Seventy-three days later, representatives of the Republic of West Florida negotiated its annexation by the U.S., which included it in the Louisiana Territory it had purchased seven years before. (The Republics of California and Texas were the only other independent republics annexed by the U.S. to form the fifty states.)

So you see, we shouldn’t consider it is strange for there to be such a staunch bastion of the Commonwealth of Nations to be found in South Louisiana—only that it hasn’t been there always.

Bon Appetite!

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Fun Friday Recommended Reads

Happy Friday! Here’s a round-up of interesting stuff for you to read while waiting for your kid to finish up that letter to the Easter Bunny or the President:

Stocking the Broke-Ass pantry, and the magical three-day chicken,” by Broke-Ass Grouch, April 21, 2011, Grist.org.

Deep Flavor, No Browning Required,” John Willoughby, March 28, 2011, NYTimes.com.

South Sings Catfish Blues,” Julie Jargon, April 14, 2011, Grist.org.

Who Owns Your Favorite Organic Brand (Infographic),” June 2009, MindBodyGreen.com.

Wendy’s Natural Cut Fries: Better Tasting, Yes. Natural, No,” Melanie Warner, April 15, 2011, Yahoo!Finance.

What doesn’t kill you makes you gourmet ,” Rebecca Solnit, February 17, 2011, Grist.com.

TV show follows evolution of exurbanites’ farm,” MARY ESCH, April 17, 2011, Yahoo!News.

Foods That Interfere with Birth Control Pills,” David L. Katz, M.D., MSN Health.

Gulf Coast Seafood One Year After the Oil Spill,” Justine Sterling, April 20, 2011, Delish.com.

Portuguese Green Olive Dip,” David Leite, July 20, 2009, Leitesculinaria.com.

Nabeel’s Café & Market—Traditional Greek-Italian

It’s easy write reviews of restaurants such as Nabeel’s.   For more than 20 years, the Krontiras family has delivered outstandingly authentic examples of the food of their respective homelands, Greece and Italy.  Today at lunch I was reminded once again why I keep coming back to this fixture on Oxmoor Road in Homewood, Alabama, just south of Birmingham.

When I visit Nabeel’s, I must confess I tend to focus on their classic Greek dishes.  In the nearly 14 years I have dined there, the quality and taste of the dishes has never varied.  My favorite appetizer is a Greek feta wrapped in foil and baked with EVOO, garlic and oregano called Feta Theologos.  It is served with the foil twisted in the shape of a swan but the flavor on the inside is even prettier!

For an entrée, I love the Moussaka served with a Greek salad and slice of yeasty white bread made from scratch.  The meat of this dish is spiced with mint, cinnamon, and allspice—an admittedly freaky combination for a savory meat dish if you have never eaten Mediterranean food before.  But the spices in this example are balanced and so subtle I don’t even think a newbie would be offended.  The bechamel top layer is perfectly proportioned and fluffy giving the overall dish a creamy flavor and delicate texture. 

The only component of the dish that always surprises me is the cold tomato sauce on the plate surrounding the cassarole.  I’m not talking room temperature, here.  I’m talking right out of the refrigerator and onto the place.  But the sauce is delicious and, if used strategically, can take each bite of Moussaka from molten to palatable by the time your fork reaches your mouth.

Nor is the ubiquitous tag-along salad a throw-away.  Today, the last day of March, I was surprised by the garden-ripe flavor and smooth, slightly firm texture of the included tomatoes.  Where did they get such tomatoes in Northern Alabama at this time of year?!  And frankly, who cares?  Tomato snob that I am, I gobbled ’em up along with the rich feta, Kalamata olive, cucumber, and dried mint and red wine vinegar dressed lettuce.

I even adore the fact that iced tea here is not some tropical-fruity-flavored nonsense (gag me!), but is laced with mint.  Mint.  I love that in tea or even as tea.  And their wine selection is pretty darn good too.

This meal is just one representative of the fabulousness of everything I’ve ever eaten here.  The décor isn’t fancy, but it is warm and charming.  And after dinner, make a point of strolling through the market next door to find everything from dried meats to Jordan almonds.   You won’t regret it!

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