Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Green Machine: Asian-Zing Zucchini and Avocado Salad

The last days of summer are upon us. The temperature is still blistering during the day, especially in the sun, but if you venture out in the wee hours you can smell that autumn is on her way. The dew is sweet, the air is crisping up, and the breeze has a little coolness to her. I always welcome autumn, but saying goodbye to summer is always sad, especially from a foodie's point-of-view. Today I am going to celebrate all that beautiful green by marrying the ever so delicious avocado with zucchini in a fabulous summer salad.

I am still at the point where I don't want to fire up the stove or oven or spend hours slow-cooking my meal. No, I want to eat raw, vitamin-rich, happy food while I still can (speaking of can...I need to see if I can do some canning this year), which means that heat doesn't have to touch my lunch dishes just yet. This afternoon I whipped up something off-the-cuff, yet still inspired by some musings that a friend was ranting about the other day: Zucchini-noodles. I saw a nice recipe on the Love and Lemons blog on her zucchini noodles with an avocado-miso dressing. Of course, I changed it up a bit depending on what I had at home, or what I was feeling like I needed in my diet--the body has an amazing way of telling us if we're willing to listen; I love that!

I wanted to eat all the colors of the summer, especially the greens. All in all I had mostly green and purple with some yellow from the lemon. Anytime I see purple and green together in a bowl, I just get all giddy and excited because I know something great is about to be consumed. The Japanese Bento tradition for lunch has always inspired me because the meal is based on pillar colors and textures to balance the diet, meeting all of the body's nutritional needs. I'll probably get more into this when I have to make take-away lunches...something to look forward to!

Moving on to the evolution of this dish... I couldn't find the julienne today so I couldn't make beautiful noodles, but grating them on a cheese grater on the fattest hole worked just fine for my anxious taste buds. I had a gigantic zucchini from the farmer's market, so I cut it in half and grated it lengthwise to get long, continuous strands. Then I combined some additional flavors I had kickin' around in the kitchen, and made a delicious asian-style dressing to toss everything in. Want to know more? Of course you do :)

Asian-Zing Zucchini and Avocado Salad
Wasabi peas
Red cabbage
Fresh ginger
Sesame oil
Olive oil
Chili powder

First, you need to prepare all of the ingredients in order to assemble them. The zucchini should be washed and grated as per the aforementioned directions. Cut the avocado in half and remove the pit--the easiest way to do this is to get a sharp knife and tap it into the pit, then you have some leverage to pull it out. Score the avocado while it is still in its skin--this makes for easy removal, just turn the skin inside-out--or just scoop it out with a spoon. Measure out some wasabi peas in the palm of your hand and reserve. Wash the red cabbage and remove the not-so-delightful outer leaves, then thinly slice a few shreds off of the top. Final prep is preparing the ginger: take off a little thumb of ginger, peel the outer skin off and mince. Remember! You can keep the skin of the ginger and steep it with your green tea later in the is wonderful for settling the stomach, it tastes great, and you lessen your food waste! Yay!
Next, you can prepare your salad dressing. I took the avocado that I already had in cute little cubes, thanks to my scoring technique, and then I added about 2 tsp each of the sesame and olive oils. Slice off a smallish piece of the lemon and squeeze the juice out--you can add zest too if you want...even more colors! Then season with salt and chili powder to taste. Pulverize these ingredients in a mixer, immersion blender, or with a fork, like my lazy bum did. Next time I make this, I would also put in black and white sesame seeds.

Finally, the assembly: Take your zucchini noodles and put them in the bowl first, then add the fresh ginger, wasabi peas, and sliced red cabbage. Toss together well. Then you add that glorious green dressing on top and toss yet again, and you're good to go!

The wasabi peas and the ginger give this salad a nice little kick, but it isn't overpowering for those of you who have picante-aversion. The avocado balances the flavors nicely as its amazing velvety texture usually does. The red cabbage brings the colors to life and also has a great flavor and crunch. All in all, I was pretty happy with how it turned out. I sat down with some pita chips, a fork, and a glass of water, and I was totally satisfied by the end of my meal! I hope you enjoy it too.

Eat well!

Snack Attack! Avocado and Queso Fresco Toasties

I've been gaining inspiration via the lovely avocado lately. It is quite possibly my favorite vegetable due to it's incredibly fun texture and brilliant coloring. I love to be able to open a fruit and vegetable and just marvel at nature's art. Some good examples of this would be dragonfruit, papaya, peaches, red onion, okra, heirloom tomatoes, the list goes on. Perhaps this is why I have such an affinity for knife-work...I just like to see what rolls out when that first chop is finished.

Today I will bring you a snack that the Handsome Spaniard and I prepared back in Barcelona. I love the picture it took (even with my old camera/camera skills) and I promise you that this snack is the most satisfying nibblie imaginable. Simple as can be, and you can take advantage of those beautiful soft, velvety avocados begging to be eaten! Love it!

The queso fresco that we used came from Granja Armengol in Gràcia, Barcelona--the most majestic dairy store I have ever been to. To be honest, it is the only purely dairy store I have been to, and they have been in operation since 1036--nearly 1,000 years of awesome cheese-making, yoghurt, ice cream, whipped cream, chocolate, honey, jam, and milk-making. Please do this recipe justice by using your favorite queso fresco (ricotta would work too), hearty multi-grain bread or a bread with a quality crust, and a high-quality olive oil that pours with a golden color and has real flavor to it, all that will make the experience even more enjoyable. On to the Snack Attack!

This recipe was originally inspired by an endnote on a Bon Appétit blog (one that I can't find right now).

Avocado and Queso Fresco Toasties
Hearty multi-grain bread 
Queso fresco
High-quality olive oil 
Chili powder (I use Chimayo chili)

Toast the crusty bread in slices as thick as your toaster will allow. Spread avocado over the bread like the beautiful green butter it truly is. Then you slice up the queso fresco and lay them on top of the green, while letting a little bit show through. Finally, you sprinkle with a little bit of salt (the queso fresco has salt in it, so you don't have to overdo it), drizzle liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle with chili powder.

You're good to go! Enjoy your snack attack :)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Lil' Cheezers Restaurant: Cheesy in a good way!

Lil' Cheezers is officially open for permanence on Baxter Avenue right in the middle of what I call the Celtic Quarter (the block where Molly's, Flannagan's, and O'Shea's are). I have loved this place ever since I found their delightful food truck a couple years back after a long night out. It was a beacon of light in the Highlands night, promising serendipitous melty goodness. There were so many scrumptious choices that it took me quite a while to decide, and I still remember what I ordered after so long: a special (because I usually go for those anyway when I can't make a decision) of Dubliner Cheddar with caramelized onions on wheatberry toast. Yes, simple I agree, yet so satisfying that Lil' Cheezers' name was etched in my Hall of Fame for years to come. My friends probably remember my groans of ecstasy at swimming in warm cheddar, which extended until the end of my sandwich--as a result everyone else bought one too, so I guess it was good for them!

We actually planned on going for the soft opening this past week, but we were caught up in our current move. If you are wondering why I am going to be posting on so many restaurants, it is because our stove/oven is not hooked up yet *grits teeth*--but, never fear, I will be fresh and ready for new kitchen creations once the right hoses are connected! Patience is quickly learned when you have to make French press coffee from "hot" tap water...hmm. Good news? We get to indulge in new and wonderful food all around our fair city! Lil' Cheezers is definitely on my list, and now you get to hear about my experience.

While waiting on the movers to arrive, the rumble of hunger started calling furiously and we had to answer quickly in order to keep grumpiness at bay. This is very important while moving your life from one apartment to another. Thus, the obvious answer was pure comfort food and Lil' Cheezers had the fine anecdote.

We walked right in to the welcoming restaurant, aptly decorated with the Louisville Fleur de Lis and warm coloring that conveniently reminds one of gooey cheese. We dined in the front room, but I also noted that there was additional seating in a back room, so no worries about not getting a seat. There is a very inviting patio too, but the afternoon was a bit balmy in the direct sunlight, so we elected to stay inside. The employees were very pleasant and they all got along well, so whatever conversation we happened to overhear being seated right next to the sandwich bar was just fine--plus I was in cheese-induced euphoria, so nothing could have brought me down at that moment.

Mmm Fancy Pants: Elegance in Grilled Cheese
Let me tell you what I will cry tears of joy just like I did. I had what was called the Fancy Pants, and boy was it fancy. This sandwich is a glorious collaboration between brie cheese, grilled onions, walnuts, and crisp green apples. Oh the explosion of happiness in my mouth was just wonderful. The brie had great flavor, not like that bland noise you unfortunately find on most menus-THANK YOU! The walnuts were soft, so they added the glory of fresh nuts, which completed the texture quadrangle alongside the crisp bite of the apple and the soft surrender of the brie and grilled onions. Pure beauty. The accompanying sweet potato fries were punctuated by the incredible curry ketchup that they serve on the side. I promise you, I haven't seen curry ketchup since my days living in Austria, and it brought me back to very happy days--ultimate comfort food experience for me!

See that pepperoni peaking out? Legendary!
My roommate, equally panged by the hunger that lifting heavy objects induces, ordered the Legalize Marinara. Cute name, fantastic product. This was an Italian explosion of pepperoni, mozzarella, tomatoes, and garlic. In the bite that I managed to get before the whole thing was demolished by my dear roommate (totally understandable), I noted that the pepperoni was what really made this sandwich.  The pepperoni had a fantastic spice, unlike many that I have had on this side of the pond--I wonder where it's from...

Also on the menu are great dessert choices (which we couldn't handle on that visit, but is definitely on the docket for the next time I pass) including the Elvis, the Smore, the PB&J, and of course the cupcakes from Jamie's 14K Cupcakes. I really love that they kept the cupcakes on the menu, because the building used to be that same cupcake bakery. It's a nice sign of keeping it in the neighborhood, and also keeping a little bit of a tradition for the building--good karma. In addition, the fountain drinks included root beer and orange Fanta, as well as Rooibee Red Tea--choices you don't see in every place. I would recommend adding Ale-8 (a late one) just to complete the locality of the whole thing--plus Ale-8 with grilled cheese is amazing.

Lil' Cheezers has made a great place out of a principal comfort food. I know that they will be successful just from what I have heard from people enjoying their food truck experiences. Now that they are in one place, I can promise that I will become a regular, and I will be equally as delighted when I find them rolling about around town. This restaurant is made of great food, locally minded products, and very down-to-earth people. I look forward to great things from them, and I can't wait to come back for more!

Lil' Cheezers
938 Baxter Ave.
Louisville, KY 40205
Phone: 502.409.7424
Email: (owner) (general manager)
Check out their website for the food truck schedule as well as a complete menu. You can also rent the truck for special events and request the truck's majestic presence on their website.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Migas Spanish-Style

This is yet another recipe to do with day-old bread. The first time I visited my boyfriend's family in Extremadura, Spain, I was introduced to the deliciousness of Migas. It is a traditional dish of that region, and also shows up in different variations all across Spain. I remember eating it for the first time at an awesome café in Badajoz called El Venero. Venero doesn't mean anything, but to everyone who has been there, it means incredible breakfasting! I promise you that you have never had real orange juice until you have had zumo de naranja in Spain....I don't care if you have seen a Florida orange squeezed to death into a glass, it just isn't the same. Sunshine in a glass. Also, instead of coffee many Spaniards indulge in a Cola Cao, or hot chocolate (best hot chocolate I've ever had come from a powder). The Handsome Spaniard makes a special rendition of Migas by dipping it in his Cola Cao--I could never get over the mixture of garlic and chocolate, but he swears by it. Yeah, we all have our own tastes I guess.

Anyways, the second time I had migas was homemade by his mother. It is a really difficult dish to master, and I'm well on my way, but I had some good instruction while I was there. I guess what makes it difficult is preparing the hard bread by sprinkling water on it and letting it sit overnight until you're ready to make it. You could probably let it sit for just a couple of hours and you would get a good result as well, however this is the technique I learned in good ol' Badajoz, so that's what I'm sticking with. I had the Handsome Spaniard give me a refresher course on preparation so that I didn't leave anything out. Sometimes when you learn recipes in another language, some important details are left out...haha, imagine that!

Migas are so fluffy and so wonderful as breakfast or an afternoon snack (Merienda). They are robust and filling even though they only have three ingredients. That is my favorite part of traditional Spanish food, they can pack so much flavor into very little complication, most of which has to do with the powerhouse that is their olive oil. So. Much. Flavor!!! I remember going to olive oil tastings and seriously just sipping the olive oil out of little cups like tasting fine wine. Honestly, they had more flavor and complexity than many wines I have tried--so gorgeous they don't even need to be bothered with the pieces of bread they have set out. I went to a similar olive oil tasting at the farmer's market today, and it just wasn't the same, so I went sulking away until I found a delicious booth with candy onions and beautiful zucchini five seconds later (it doesn't take much to cheer me up at a farmer's market!).

If you happen to have some staled bread, or bread you just need to get rid of, cube it up and dry it out first (in the oven if you're pressed on time). I actually used some of the bread from the french bread recipe that I made last week! Great choice. So pick your favorite bread, prepare it and then you can go to work on these Migas!

Traditional Migas (Extremadura-style)
Hard cubed bread 
(I'd say a loaf would make a good batch, more if you want it to last the week)
Olive oil
Salt (optional)
Garlic (3-4 cloves will do), smashed with skin-on or roughly sliced

The first thing you need to do is choose a pan to cook the migas in. It should be a deep pan with enough room to stir around the bread cubes without them flying out everywhere--I know, it gets a little exciting. Transfer all of your bread into a large bowl and set up a little rice bowl next to you filled with about a cup of water. Dip your hand in the bowl and then sprinkle water all over the bread, as evenly as possible. You should flip around the bread every so often to make sure that the bottom bread cubes are also getting their share. They definitely shouldn't be soaking wet and soggy, that's why you do the sprinkling action, but they should be notably moistened. When you have reached that point, cover them with plastic wrap or a lid and let them sit for 3-4 hours or overnight. I'm just guessing on the 3-4 hours, but I imagine that the bread would soak in all the moisture by then.
Now it is time for the fun! Turn on the heat to medium-high. Pick a really good olive oil, your favorite, and pour a few tablespoons in the pan--I just poured enough olive oil to make the shape of a normal-sized pancake and waited until the oil was hot enough to shimmer. Then, you distribute the bread evenly in the pan and keep them moving with a wooden spoon so they are all fairly covered in olive oil. Add the garlic and turn the heat down to medium-low. 

You should keep moving the bread and mashing it down with the spoon to make a "polvo" which means dust in English--so you want little crumbs out of your cubes. I like a mixture of cubes and polvo, but you can turn it all to dust if you feel like it. The crumbs and smaller pieces make the migas even more fluffy, so the more polvo, the fluffier it will be. You should keep stirring and mashing for about 20-30 minutes. It takes patience, but is totally worth it.

The end result should be golden Migas that are fluffy and full of deliciousness. Because it is just bread and garlic, you need to add some fruit, protein, or vegetables to balance the meal, or you can just eat them on your own if you are into that--like most people do with Rice Krispies. You can crumble up some bacon and throw it in there, have it as a side with eggs, eat it like you would oatmeal, and you can save it for the whole week (it won't last that long), just remember to put a lid on it. If you happen to have Cola Cao it makes a nice accompaniment, but hot chocolate of any sort, orange juice, coffee, and tea also work well. Start the day of Spanish-style!

¡Que aproveches!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Cake Flour: A Sweet Dusting of Good Sense

When Cake Flour opened at the gateway of the up and coming NuLu Art District neighborhood, I couldn't have been more delighted. I regard a good bakery as an indispensable part of a happy lifestyle, and I doubt I'm alone! This particular bakery doesn't just have your basic pastries and cakes, oh no no no, it is a veritable kaleidoscope of delectable goodness, from the sweet and savory categories. Their mission is to deliver quality-made products out of organic and all-natural ingredients, and in my opinion they do so with great passion and talent. Everything I have ever chosen has been absolutely phenomenal and I float closer to nirvana with every bite of those Opera bars...seriously.
Today's story begins at the County Clerk's office--so it is logical that we ended up using chocolate therapy to recover from our unnecessarily long visit to renew the car tags. Goodness. It is as hot as can be (I recommend a good friend's blog post on August to get an idea), insufferable, and I had to go out to the parking meter three times to assist our public workers in their processing. By the time everything was ready set to go, my roommate and I were in need of either a brewski or mainline chocolate. Cake Flour had the perfect remedy on the way home.

Every time you walk into Cake Flour, you will meet a friendly face, I promise. I feel like I am at home, except there are far more baked goods than a home kitchen can churn out (or at least more than we have attempted...challenge accepted!). Anyways, you go in there and are met by a welcoming glass display case with many many choices ahead of you. The gentle hum of the bakery's fans calm you and you enter a zen moment where the only important choices you have to make are between lavender, vanilla, and chocolate (and more, but you get the idea). If you can't make the choice, you can take them all--I know, it is a beautiful thing. 

We ended up filling a box and then scarfing down a flourless chocolate cake, which was truly decadent indulgence. Today's choices included the ladybugs, opera bars, and two chocolate cupcakes with earl grey lavender frosting--WIN. 

Cake Flour also features daily specials, which you can see everyday if you are a Facebook friend. I would call that moment of my day the culinary wake-up call, and I love it! I unfortunately can't go everyday to try the specials, but I would if I could. The savory scones always make me feel warm and fuzzy, the quiche is flawless, and their flavor combinations based on seasonal ingredients are always inspired. In addition to daily specials, they also accept special orders for birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, weddings, basically any occasion that deserves a cake. I ordered a cake last year for my roommate and I was so happy to see the choices, I could choose the cake flavor, the filling flavor, the frosting and decoration and I couldn't have been more pleased.

This Louisville Lady Gourmet gives Cake Flour a big thank you for making gorgeous sweets that keeps Louisville a little more sane. Bravo! So go get some pure, all natural, organic bakery in your life for breakfast, lunch, or dinner--you will return on many occasions thereafter!

Cake Flour: A Natural Baking Company
900 E. Market St. Suite 100
Louisville, KY 
Phone: 502.719.0173

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Evolution of the Croissant: French Toast Croissants

I have done quite a few slightly crazy things in my life, but it all seems to come out alright in the end. One of those off-the-wall decisions happened to be a move to Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts for the summer before my study abroad. I worked a couple of jobs adding up to way too many hours a week. Luckily, I had one job I liked, and that was working at the Doctor's House Bed and Breakfast in Vineyard Haven. I was kind of the jack of all trades there, working on the grounds, housekeeping, some catering work, tutoring, and best of all serving and making breakfast.

My lovely boss had lived a very full life as well, being a traveler and chef herself. However, she felt a little burnt out on the whole cooking thing (something I can't even imagine...yet), so she had a proposition for me during the summer. I could cook anything I wanted and she would foot the bill, just as long as she could enjoy it as well. I was more than psyched! This was the summer where all this foodie business got started. I learned techniques in the kitchen, I had access to resources like I never had before, and I had a guide to give me great feedback. I learned a wealth of skills in just a few months, and I was happy to do the work. On top of all that, I built a great relationship with my boss, whom I am still in contact with--a relationship that was created through food, laughter, and great conversation.

I honestly think that food can make everything okay. If you are sad, whip up a batch of brownies and tell me you don't feel better. If you are out with a group of your good friends, you are usually around a table or at the bar sharing a meal. Even business knows that food makes transactions a little easier. Finally, the university knows that in order to get the students to do anything, you need to give free food (now whether it's good or not is debatable, but the average college palate is generally not that concerned with flavor).

Sharing food could quite possibly solve our world's problems, if we would only be willing to share with those we traditionally would not. I call this gastronomic diplomacy--it's going to be a thing. Traveling teaches you that sharing food with the natives is the best way to gain entrée into the society and their true culture. I could go on a diatribe about how cuisine represents the soul of people through its nourishment, but I digress (because that would take us into a near-thesis discussion).

The true purpose of this post brings me back to the Vineyard, where a delicious breakfast menu welcomes every sunny morning. My favorite and most delightful surprise was the French Toast Croissant. Yes, the evolution of a classic, turned into a fluffy cloud of eggy goodness is pure genius. This was one of my most important epiphanies in my gastronomic career--eventually leading me to a deep respect for experimentation in the kitchen. Nowadays, I feel like I only experiment, and I love having that ability. I love opening the fridge to see nearly nothing and I can still make a meal out of it--if that isn't a mark of good training, I don't know what is!

Let's stop all this chit-chat and get on to the recipe. I hope the Doctor's House won't kill me for this one :) Some notes before we start:
You can buy croissants in bulk and freeze them, this not only allows you to have french toast croissants for a whole month, it also makes for easy cutting. It is important to keep the croissant's shape and not to deflate it--so either take out a really awesome bread knife and nimble movements, or freeze and not worry about it.
Also, you can top the croissants with maple syrup or honey, both are equally delightful. I'm sure they would be lovely with preserves and fresh fruit or whipped cream. Today, I present them with the traditional maple syrup and powdered sugar.

French Toast Croissant
Recipe originally adapted from the Doctor's House on Martha's Vineyard

(they are cut in half, so one croissant makes two slices)
Milk or cream 
(depending on the decadence)
A touch of sugar

First you need to cut the croissant in half (see note above), making sure not to deflate it's flaky beauty. When your croissants are halved, set aside. Start heating a pan on the stove with butter, but don't let the butter brown, just let it get foamy. I like to use my cast iron skillet (as if I really use anything else nowadays) because the heat distribution is even and it holds heat well, so I don't have to use the fire as much.

As the pan is heating, get a mixing bowl out and combine the egg, milk or cream, vanilla, cinnamon, and sugar. You need to beat this mixture, with a whisk if possible, in order to attain the fluffiness that you really want. The mixture should be homogenous except for the flecks of cinnamon and sugar. Then, you need to soak the croissants long enough for them to sop up the egg mixture in all the small nooks and crannies of the bread--flip and soak the outside too. I would say a rule of thumb would be an egg for every croissant, but you can stretch that with milk, or even more with cream, but I wouldn't go too far.

Because your pan is already heated to the right temperature (medium high), you can just throw the croissant halves in when you have finished sopping up the mixture. Make sure that you keep your bowl close to the stove in order to stave off catastrophe. Use a spatula to flip the croissants. Don't flip until they have reached their fluffy potential, but make sure they don't burn at the same time. If you are using an iron skillet, you don't need to keep the temperature that high, in fact you can turn it off when you're on your last piece if you want. This also goes for decent pans that hold heat, you know it if you have them.

Now the only thing you have to do is plate the beauties. You can garnish with fresh fruit, like a fanned strawberry, or you can just let them take up the whole plate and drown them in powdered sugar and syrup. Honestly, they can be eaten piping hot straight out of the pan without any dressings, but you should restrain yourself because if you are making a french toast croissant, chances are you're trying to be fancy. I made a full breakfast with a glass of orange juice, a cup of tea, a bowl of watermelon, and the super french toast croissants.

Bon appétit mes amis!

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Irish Rover: Louisville's Irish Staple

Guinness imported direct from Dublin
In an effort to network some more in the Arts sphere of Louisville, I joined the Actors Theatre Generation One Board. It is a great group of people who work on projects from social events to fundraising benefits for the theatre. I'm pretty excited about it, and my friend and I had a great time touring backstage and meeting the behind the scenes masterminds. I look forward to getting further involved in their work. After years of work volunteering, it is nice to be back in the Arts field, and I'm glad Actors has this outlet for me to take advantage of!

After our evening at Actors, we were still a little hungry (no surprise there) and we decided to hit up Frankfort Avenue to see what was going on. The Irish Rover beckoned us in and we took shelter from a surprise thunderstorm. I feel like a pub is the perfect place to take refuge, especially with the image of the typical pub in some rainy countryside in Ireland. We nestled into a booth; my friend ordered the staple Guinness and I the Magner's cider, then my roommate joined us with her cider and we were all set to go!

We wanted to make it a kind of pub grub meal, Irish tapas if you will, so we picked four dishes to share between us all. The Beef and Blue, the Bubble and Squeak, the Smoked Salmon Pâté, and the Blue Cheesecake. Normally, I come to the Irish Rover with a raging appetite, so I hadn't yet had the chance to try the pub grub--I mean, when you have the promise of really great fish and chips, I don't know why you would try something less majestic. This was a new experience, and I was pleasantly surprised for the most part.

The Blue Cheesecake: Check out that tomato garnish!
For me, the most impressive dish was the Blue Cheesecake. It was something I had never seen done before, and I think the Rover executed it well. The crust for the Blue Cheesecake is walnut, but for some reason it reminded me of the breading on their scotch eggs. The filling was a creamy blue cheese that was baked into the crust to resemble a slice of traditional cheesecake. I loved the presentation, and it was absolutely divine spread on the accompanying brown soda bread. The garnish spinach salad and bright red summer tomatoes were absolutely beautiful as well.

Smoked Salmon Pâté

Next on my list was the Smoked Salmon Pâté. It was a phenomenal house-made pâté that took me straight back to Europe, where pâté is a food fit for humans, not just cats. It was beautiful, fluffy, full of actual smoked salmon, and the bowl seemed bottomless. Also with the brown soda bread, I was very happy.

The Bubble and Squeak did not come out very hot, but it is always a delight to eat--probably because the name is so adorable. It is a smooth potato-based griddle cake with vegetables and onion. Simple and delicious, perfect for the rainy day.

Bubble and Squeak!

Beef and Blue: I preferred the latter over the former
My least favorite was unfortunately the Beef and Blue. It was horribly spiced and not well cooked either. The beef tenderloin was tough and it tasted like a fistful of the forest floor--very heavy on the sage and black pepper. If you're into that, I guess that's cool, but I was expecting something a little more decadent. The blue cheese that accompanied it was a fabulous cheese, I was just sad that the beef was executed so poorly.

Our service was very good. The waiter was friendly and helpful, and was even patient with my cider-picking madness. The restaurant itself is super comfortable. I have been going there since I was a wee one, so I really do feel at home. It is an important part of the neighborhood and an equally important part of Louisville, a city that has a very proud Irish population (is there such a thing as Irish without pride?). The Reidys, the owners, are always involved in the community, and they have donated on multiple occasions to some of the fundraisers that I have personally organized. They are the perfect example of what a local Louisville restaurant is, and in turn they are a part of our hearts.

I will be going back soon, with a full appetite this time, in order to take advantage of those fish and chips I hold so dear!


There are two locations for your gastronomic pleasure:

The Irish Rover
2319 Frankfort Ave.
Louisville, KY 40206
Phone: 502.899.3544

The Irish Rover Too
117 East Main Street
LaGrange, KY 40031
Phone: 502.222.2286

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Mastering the Art of Patience (French Bread) with Julia

I know things have been blowing up all over the interwebs about Julia Child's centennial. The woman deserves all the standing ovations she receives. After conquering this recipe, I can attest to her uncanny ability to write a literal step-by-step recipe, which will lead you to some level of success no matter what.  The way I write recipes is not so calculated, because I never calculate myself when cooking--however, baking is another story and measurements are necessary for the science to work. I have worked well in the past with brioches and other sweeter breads (I think whenever you add sugar, you're going to have an easier time), but I have always been intimidated by the time-consuming effort of making french bread at home.

Portuguese Bread Soup: Lisbon. Look how beautiful it is!
I spent a few weeks in France with a dear friend of mine, whose mom made fresh bread everyday. She was a marvel. The beautiful round boules would sometimes come studded with dried fruits, but the plain loaf is what changed my life. I couldn't believe that fresh bread was an attainable part of everyday life--but it was, and I am adamant on getting that recipe one day or another. Then you add on the baguettes I got at the bakeries in France and basically any bread at the bakeries in Europe (Barcelona has a very large amount per capita of very accomplished bakers), and I can seriously scratch off the bucket list that I have had a fair amount of spectacular bread in my life already--as if that was an option.

I seriously have dreams about that bread. I go to a bakery and pick up a loaf, thump it on the bottom and hear that hollow reverberation sink into the soft inners of the hearty bread. I smell that incredible richness that can only come from the fabulous four: flour, yeast, salt, and water, and I gently squeeze that loaf of euphoria until it crackles its own song in my ear. Yes, this happens in real life, not just my dreams. I didn't exactly accomplish the crackly crust, but it was a decent crust that yielded to an extremely soft inside that was so satisfying I ate the whole bâtard between dinner and breakfast this morning. The remaining two I put in the freezer (Shh, don't tell the frenchies!).

My favorite part of this entire process, besides kneading, was the sound of the bread coming out of the oven. It was wonderful! I took the loaves out, transferred them to a cooling rack, and they started to crackle as if they were stretching after a long nap. What a beautiful sigh it was, relief from the super hot oven. After their 2-3 hour rest, it was time to enjoy their hard work, and it was worth every second. The bread was rich, as the yeast had its time to do its work. It was not too salty and it was far from bland. The bread was the best bread I have made, and on my first try I felt like a superhero. All thanks to Julia.

Follow this link to Epicurious to see Julia's step-by-step instructions. I won't copy and paste them, but I'll walk you through my experience.

It is a time-consuming process, so you will need a full day's dedication. There is an option to lengthen the process by refrigerating or freezing the dough at certain steps, but I'm not sure if the integrity of the bread will remain fully intact if you try to play with nature's process. I did it all in one day, and it took about 9 hours from the start to a piece of bread in my mouth. To be honest, it doesn't take too much active time, but a lot of patience and waiting.

The first action is to dissolve the yeast in warm water and then mix all of the ingredients together. They combine easily if you keep mixing at a good rate. Then you fold it out onto a floured board and let the slapping begin. I slapped and folded, slapped and folded until I reached a soft dough, which I continued to knead. The kneading probably took me 5-7 minutes until I reached what I thought was a decent bread dough: soft and smooth and it returns to its shape if you squish it down a little. At that time, it was ready for the first rest (3 hours). I covered the bowl with plastic wrap and a folded towel. Then I set it on a cushioned chair in the middle of my kitchen, where the air conditioning vents wouldn't reach it (no drafts!).

It tripled in volume by the end of the three hours and it was time for the deflation and subsequent second rising. I flattened the dough, and I didn't have many big bubbles, but I pinched a couple out, then I folded it into a little globe and returned it to the bowl. Also, I didn't oil the bowl like some people mentioned doing--it really isn't necessary, and I feel like that would do something to the dough when you incorporate it. I don't know--I guess these techniques work differently for everyone. My kitchen mantra: do what makes you feel good, and your food will be gracious in return. This second rise was 1.5 hours until doubled.

Then it was time to act fast and form the loaves. I cut the dough in three and let it rest 5 minutes so the gluten could get its groove on. Then I formed them into the bâtard loaves which involved flattening into an oval and folding it twice lengthwise (with the same oval-flattening between the folds). They rested on a baking sheet covered in kitchen towels prepped with flour. I covered them with another floured towel and plastic over top of it all. They then rested until three times their size (1.5 more hours)--I put empty paper towel rolls in between the to impede touching in the rising process and I had no problem.

The only tricky part came when Julia was describing how to flip the loaves onto the lightly buttered baking sheet. She suggested covering strong cardboard or a piece of plywood in cornmeal or pulverized pasta. I generally act out the actions in my head for techniques that I read before I try them, and in my mind the kitchen was covered in cornmeal from flipping all over the place. My solution? I sprinkled some cornmeal on the loaves and then I took my prepared baking pan and inverted it on top of the resting loaves. Gently, as to not destroy the 6 hours of rising yeast-action, I flipped the loaves over on the pan and didn't have to suffer a cleaning catastrophe. I guess this is from my training flipping Spanish Tortilla de Patata... I did get lazy with the slashing though, so I'll work on that--I just took some scissors and clipped the top, but to make it pretty you really need a sharp knife or a razor. Next time...

Finally, it was time to put the loaves in the oven. The oven needs to be preheated a half hour before you put the loaves in to ensure that the temperature reaches 450º--this is crucial because the bread needs a hot oven to create that luscious crust and soft inside.

After 25 minutes, it is time to transfer to a cooling rack and wait until completely cool. Yeah, this is super tempting, so I recommend leaving the house and coming back later. The result is majestic. Those lowly four ingredients turn into slices of heaven, seriously. You could enjoy with butter, oil, or just plain because they are so flavorful. I definitely challenge you to try this recipe--it is very rewarding.

To Julia--our great guide to French cuisine, curiosity in kitchen, and a true passion for all that tastes good in this world. Cheers!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Snack Attack! Heirloom Tomato and Watermelons?!

Today's Snack Attack is a quick little snippet from my day's experiments. I had two wonderful ingredients from this weekend's Farmer's Market: Heirloom Tomatoes and Watermelon.

I just had a feeling that the natural sweetness of the heirlooms we bought would lend themselves perfectly to the watermelon. Of course I was the only one in the house who would try this out, but I secretly knew that it would work. This recipe is inspired by the now closed restaurant 732 Social (RIP), where they served up a yellow heirloom tomato and watermelon salad with red onions and Gorgonzola cheese. If you ever had the chance to indulge in their $5.00 counter tapas and cocktail tastes, you were one of the lucky ones. So, in honor of one of the past greats, I bring you my first Snack Attack!

Just let the symphony of flavors wash over you, go ahead...

Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad
Heirloom Tomato (yellow, red, purple, rainbow, starburst, whatever!!!), cubed
Watermelon, cubed
Orange fleur de sel
Olive oil
This is a very simple and refreshing salad. It is a perfect way to celebrate the bounty of our summer season. Simply combine the heirloom tomato and watermelon cubes and toss them in some olive oil. Then tear some mint leaves over it all, season with orange fleur de sel (if you don't have orange, any kind of fleur de sel would work), and enjoy your masterpiece. Quick, elegant, and full of summer exuberance!

Enjoy your healthy afternoon snack!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Summer Night Cloudgazing--At Least We Brought Food!

This past weekend marked one of the best light shows of the year, the Perseid Meteor Shower. My roommate and I baked some cupcakes and savory nibblies, then we headed out to a friend's house in E-town to see this spectacular show without all that pesky light pollution. You know what we saw instead? Cloud pollution! The whole sky was full of fluffy cloud cover that completely blocked the sky from view. Apparently, that night hosted 40 visible meteors per hour with the best viewing between midnight and 4AM. With my trusty new iPhone I was able to tap into the NASA official viewing center and I saw those little beams of light streaking across the sky. Not really the same thing...

I sent my wishes up anyway! Clouds are just a bit of water after all.

The bright side of this event was that we chatted and enjoyed a nice sit-down snack, then we hopped in the pool for a nighttime dip. I prepared a potato salad from a recipe I learned from my days in Austria, and I made some cracker snacks out of sun-dried tomato cheese spread, roasted beets, and oven-crisped kale. I'm planning on getting my roommate to do a guest-post on her beautiful cupcakes with edible flowers (I'm going to give you all a sneak peek because they're just so darn pretty), that will be coming soon. I liked this little meal because it was a semi-late night snack, and was just the right amount for the three of us.

My Austrian Potato Salad recipe has a special ingredient that you can probably find at Rainbow Blossom or Whole Foods: Pumpkin Seed Oil (Kürbiskernöl)--I swear it has mystical properties. I lived in "das grüne Herz des Österreichs" or the "Green Heart of Austria" in Graz, Austria. It was seriously green, and the pumpkin seed oil flowed abundantly. It is an emerald green color and tastes great on anything, even vanilla ice cream! It imparts its nutty beauty upon everything it touches, especially this potato salad. I would recommend adding this to your condiments and using it often.

I also used blue potatoes that I picked up at the farmer's market. I love blue potatoes! I also love red, yellow, and all other potatoes! They are so great, and they add a wonderful aesthetic dimension to any dish. The opportunity to buy some blue potatoes was one of my favorite parts of the day, so I seized it. The blue potatoes are not a necessary part of this dish, but if you have red potatoes, I prefer those over any other for their texture in this salad. I mixed red and blue.

Now for the recipes!

Austrian Potato Salad
6-8 Potatoes (red and blue), boiled
1/4 Onion, grated
Pumpkin Seed Oil
Mustard (good German mustard or Dijon if you like that)
Apple Cider Vinegar
Black Pepper

Cut the boiled potatoes into half-inch cubes and reserve them in a bowl. Then make up your dressing, which consists of the remaining ingredients on the list. Let the dressing sit for 10 minutes to let the flavors marry. Then you pour all that deliciousness on top of the potatoes and toss them until coated. You can serve this warm, room temperature, or cold. It also keeps well for a few days. 

Roasted Beets and Crispy Kale Crackers
4-5 Beets of roughly the same size
Kale, enough to cover a large oven pan
Olive oil
Sea salt
Sundried tomato cheese spread
Hearty Crackers

To roast beets you should coat them in olive oil and a little salt then wrap them loosely in foil. Bake them in a 350º oven for about 25-30 minutes or until you can pierce them with a fork. When you take them out, let them cool down completely. The next part is really fun! The skins of the beets come off so smoothly it is amazing. You can rub a little part and then peel off the rest. Then your beets are ready to cut into discs and reserve for use.

The kale should be trimmed and cut into smaller pieces. Spread them out evenly on an oven pan and drizzle liberally with olive oil, use your fingers to coat the kale well and salt to taste. Then you can cook them in the oven on 375º for about 10 minutes and lower the temperature to 325º for the last 5-10 minutes. They will come out as the most incredible chip you have ever put in your mouth. I eat them like popcorn (very healthy popcorn) and the crisp is just the most rewarding feeling. I love it. They are super quick and they taste great. I'm pairing them here with beets, but they easily mix with eggs, on their own, with macaroni and cheese, basically anything where you need a good green, and if you prepare them in this way you will have a light crisp to add as a texture--a texture that you can't find in many other places!

Now take your favorite cracker and smear some of that sun-dried tomato cheese spread (goat cheese spread would be lovely too...ooh, that just made my mouth water) and top with the beets and kale. Then, go to town on that crispity, crunchity cheesy happiness!

Now for the beauty pageant portion of this post: Happy Cupcakes with Edible Flowers!

Bon appétit!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Oishii Sushi: That's right, it means Delicious Sushi!

Back in my university days, my work-study job gave me some extra spending money. That money basically went to food, and my roommate and I had a designated jar for "Sushi money". In those days, we would go to sushi at least once a week for the love of Oishii Sushi. They first opened at a location that just recently closed on Bardstown Road--don't worry!--They reopened at a larger location on Taylorsville Road, and I am glad they did because the uncontrollable number of patrons tells us that I am not the only enamored one.

When they first opened, we would often find ourselves the only customers, sitting at the sushi bar, chatting it up with the magical sushi chefs. I vividly remember asking what a hand-roll was (apparently my skills of deduction hadn't developed yet--it's a roll you eat with your hands like a sushi-burrito), and they rolled up a fresh Big Daddy Hand Roll for me to try and see if I liked it, for free. We instantly became regulars. They would treat us to the occasional dessert roll or they would carve up an orange into some beautiful beach scene. Now that they are so busy, those little treats are not necessarily a part of our dining experience, but we understand and we don't really care. We have tried basically everything on the menu by now, and we just keep going back for more.

Seaweed salad, Gyoza, and Green tea
This time around we were a trio, sailing the sushi seas. We decided to start off with Green Tea, the Seaweed Salad, and Gyoza (pork dumplings) with ponzu sauce. I was so happy with the starters that I was almost too frazzled to decide on the sushi rolls, which is arguably more difficult. After much debate and considering how balanced our menu should be, we made the decision. Normally, we try to cover the bases by fish type: crab, tuna, salmon, eel, and shrimp. This technique allows us to explore new rolls and balance our meal so we don't have four rolls of just salmon--life wouldn't be horrible if that decision was made, but variety really is the spice of life. We chose the Spicy Mary roll (we had a Mary in our trio) with crab and tuna, the Dragon Roll with eel, the Crunchy Roll with shrimp, and the Fruits Roll with fruit, obviously. We'll catch up with the salmon next time.
Crunchy Roll: Shrimp is featured

The breakdown: The appetizer Seaweed Salad is a maritime way to start your sushi adventure. It has varied textures, sesame seed freckles, and it is fun to eat. The Gyoza were so succulent that we were fighting for the last pieces. Gyoza are fan-like dumplings that have a pork mixture made up principally of onions and ground pork but you can add peppers or anything else you want inside, you just need the patience to assemble and fry them--Oishii did a fine job for us.

The sushi rolls were brought out one by one, a detail that I greatly appreciate. Sometimes sushi places bring out all of your sushi rolls on a gigantic plate, so you are overwhelmed with the choices. If you are sharing, it just isn't the same experience as when you all enjoying the the same roll together. So, well done Oishii on that as well. The first roll we had was the Crunchy Roll. This is a cooked roll, tempura fried. The Crunchy Roll included shrimp, cucumber, spicy mayonnaise and eel sauce. It was different from the Crunchy Rolls I have had before, which were piled high with tempura chips and difficult to eat. This roll was perfectly compact and still preserved its mouthfeel: that crunchy crunchy!
Spicy Mary Roll: Crab and Tuna are featured.

Next we had the Spicy Mary, which was the all-inclusive crab and tuna tour. The presentation on this roll is stunning. I love the pink and red contrasted with the green of the avocado and the drizzle of the spicy mayo on top of it all. If it is delightful to look at, you better believe it is going to taste marvelous. The spicy crab inside the roll always has an interesting texture for me. The mixture is prepared and the fibers of the crab separate to make almost vermicelli-like crab noodles (that's the best comparison I can do for those who have never tried it) held together by spicy mayonnaise. The avocado adds some substance along with its beautiful color, and the smoothness of the avocado leads into a nice chew with the crab. On top of the roll is fresh tuna, and look at that vibrant red, it's shining like rubies on top of your sushi roll. Classy. All together, this roll is aesthetically pleasing and a surprising pop of texture in the mouth. Something else I love? The mountain of ginger that comes with every sushi dish! Pickled ginger is delicately spiced, great for settling the stomach and clearing the palate for the next roll to come.
Dragon Roll: Eel is featured.
The majestic Dragon Roll was presented next. To be honest, I am partial to the eel rolls. First off, Unagi (the Japanese name for eel) is a unique fish that I don't get to eat everyday, and second because the fish is so sweet it makes everything else yield to its power. Eel rolls generally come with avocado because the smoothness balances the texture of the eel, which is soft but with a notable crunch. The Dragon roll at Oishii includes the eel, cucumber, and avocado with tobico roe (the beautiful red sphere topping). The gentle little pops of the roe with the explosion of flavor in that tiny bite makes this roll an experience to eat. Plus, if you have never tried eel, I recommend this or the Geisha roll (with tempura banana, avocado and eel--my favorite!).

Finally, we rounded off the meal with a Fruits Roll. We deem this the dessert roll of all dessert rolls. Inside the nori (seeweed wrapper, or the dark green line between the inside and the rice), we have avocado and tempura banana. Tempura is the flash frying batter technique used by the Japanese to create culinary joy. The banana will be slightly warm, but it won't melt everything around it. That is a welcome feeling alongside the cool avocado. Then, it is covered in carefully cut mangoes and strawberries and rolled up together. On top of it all, this roll has crushed nuts and eel sauce to complete the Fruits Roll package. Pure beauty. It satisfies the sweet tooth and is a great way to conclude your sushi tour.

Oishii sushi is hands-down my favorite sushi restaurant in Louisville, and I promise you that I have tried almost all of them. They have a relationship with their neighborhood, the price is right, there is no feeling of pretension, the sushi guys and the service are wonderfully friendly and professional, and the menu is as diverse as the rest of them. This doesn't mean it is the end-all sushi restaurant of the world, it just means it is a good fit for me, and for that this Louisville Lady Gourmet recommends it to you all. If you have a favorite roll or experience at Oishii, I would love to hear about it--just put it in the comment section!
Kanpai! (Cheers)!

Oishii Sushi
2810 Taylorsville Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Phone: (502)365-3474
Email: They have a contact form on their website <>

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Highland Morning: Breakfast of Champions

Ever since I won my battle with jet lag (this time around), I have been waking up around 8.30 everyday. Now this is a feat to accomplish, because I am certainly not a morning person. However, I have always been a huge fan of breakfast, and all breakfast food makes me endlessly happy. The weekends always involve at least one exaggerated brunch often completed with egg and pork product proteins, fresh fruit or some concoction of fruit, grains whipped into pancakes or wrapping up the goodness of a breakfast burrito, and the list goes on. I actually tried something fun this week and I made my favorite: Eggs in a Basket, but with a bagel! I know, I should have thought of that earlier...

Today we are going out for breakfast with the Louisville Lady Gourmet. This past week, a friend of mine and her mother came to visit Louisville for the first time-- I bet you can imagine my excitement. I was able to cover my favorite spots in the city, a few very important food destinations, and probably too many tidbits of information and history in just two days. Nonstop baby, nonstop. Well we stopped for food of course. Right before they left on their 10-hour leg back home, I had to squeeze in a visit to Highland Morning, my favorite spot for a substantial early breakfast in the Highlands.

We were lucky enough to have the best weather of the entire summer on their short visit. No, it wasn't a scorching 100+ degrees and 99% humidity, which normally requires us to grow a set of gills in order to breathe. In fact, it was in the 70s and low 80s (almost a miracle in August) with a sweet breeze and some sun. This serendipitous happening allowed us to grab a seat on the sidewalk to soak in the movement of the city and the morning sun, all while enjoying the tastes of Highland Morning.

If you have never been before, I would recommend going for the daily special menu. Right before I left for Spain, Highland Morning was just a budding restaurant, and I was so in love that I would go at least once a week. Their Grits of the Day are my mainstay (sun-dried tomato and basil grits?!...yes, you are a genius if you can make that happen), but I went for the french toast special this time. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed.

New Orleans French Toast: Breakfast of Champions
This time it was the New Orleans French Toast, which is a magical combination of bananas and apples cooked up in butter and brown sugar and mixed in with some cream cheese. That cream cheese mix is then spread between slices of perfectly cooked french toast, kissed with powdered sugar, garnished with strawberry, and subsequently drowned in maple syrup by me (it's been a while since I've had maple syrup guys, and I vow to never make that separation so long again). I was in love. It was the perfect start to my day, and a great way to prepare me for a visit to the Farmers Market...because we all know what I can do at the Farmers Market on an empty stomach >.>

If I recreated this New Orleans French Toast at home, I think I would fold in some crunchy granola (from Kizito!) and see what would happen. I just thought of that because the banana and apple mixture reminded me of a breakfast I used to prepare in Austria with my Swedish and Canadian roommates: fruits and granola pan fried in a little butter and brown sugar until happiness ensues. Gloriousness.

Loaded Baked Potato Omelet: Daily Special
My tablemates also made some delectible choices including: the Baked Potato Omelet (the other daily special), the Classic (bacon, eggs how you like, grits, and a biscuit), and the Classic Eggs Benedict. I weaseled my fork onto all of the plates, don't you worry, and everything tasted delicious. I must comment that the potatoes in the baked potato omelet could have been more cooked through--they were still edible, but not cooked to perfection as usual. I absolutely loved the hollandaise sauce because it didn't overdo it on the lemon juice...that's just embarrassing when that happens--but that day wasn't today, because Highland Morning knows what they're doing.
Eggs Bene: Hollandaise from Heaven

Along with breakfast they offer an array of breakfasty beverages (non-alcoholic and alcoholic) including an awesome mimosa, bloody marys with your choice of fire level, Highland Coffee coffee, tea, iced tea with different fruit flavors, fresh-squeezed orange juice (just like Spain, except without their oranges), and on and on. I had the Highland Coffee coffee, which came with free refills that assisted my expedited speech and twitching. Highland Coffee, for all you Louisville noobs, is an amazing coffee shop that is not far down the street from Highland Morning. You won't be able to look for their signs because Urban Outshitters has demaded all street advertisement with their new rental agreement, thus robbing Highland Morning and the Knit Nook of their street signage. If you are visiting, ask anyone on the street to point you in the right direction to Highland Coffee--then order the mocha with blackberry whipped cream (I know, right?!?!?!)

The Classic: You'll never go wrong with a side of grits!
Okay, back to Highland Morning. What I loved about this visit was that we could enjoy the outdoor patio, our food came out in a timely manner in all its quality deliciousness, and the service was prime. I specifically remember commenting to my fellow diners that the food runner was super pleasant--he was very happy and conversational, and you could tell he loved his job (please, former or present restaurant workers, when was the last time you met a gregarious food-runner?). I often see friendly service at restaurants in Louisville, but this kid and our very pleasant server were rockin' out, and thus made our experience all the more enjoyable. I'll be passing by soon for some grits of the day...always love a bit of soul in my food!

Highland Morning
1416 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40204
Phone: (502) 365-3900