Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy (chinese) New Year!

Just when you thought you were done celebrating the arrival of a new year, February 3rd rolls around and out walks the lion, in hops the hare...and the festivities begin once more.

That's right. The Chinese New Years begins on February 3rd this year. Just a few days away!

If you're lucky enough to live in a big city with a Chinatown during the Chinese New Year you're in for a treat. There is plenty of food, festivities, firecrackers and dancing dragons.

People hang food outside of their doors as an offering to a mythical beast called Nien, who legend says would destroy livestock and crops, in hopes that he would enjoy the food offered and leave the crops and such be. Colorful red lanterns and firecrackers are also hung and lit in doorways to scare off the new year beast.

The "dragon" dances up and down the Chinatown streets, all the while firecrackers are set off and dancers fight against the dragon. It's a wonderful sight to behold.

And each new year brings influence of a different animal. Last year was the tiger...this year it's the hare (what is your Chinese zodiac sign?).

There is so, so, so much more to the history and tradition of the Chinese New year that I'm not familiar with. There is, however, one part of the celebration and tradition that I'm all about...that's right...the food!!!

Cakes filled with lotus bean paste. Long noodles. Spring rolls. Whole fish. Tangerines. All are considered good luck or are symbolic of wealth, long life and good fortune for the coming new year.

Long noodles represent long life. Spring rolls resemble gold bouillon. The word for fish sounds like the words for wish and abundance. And if served whole, head and tail attached, a fish for dinner symbolizes a good beginning and end of the coming year.

Even if you're firecrackers and red lanterns are in storage. Even if your dragon costume is at the dry cleaners. Even if you don't participate in any other festivities to ring in the Chinese New can always eat your way into the year of the hare...and here's how to do it............

Visit Viet Hoa Food Market right here in Louisville. This place has everything you need for your Chinese New Year feast...and much, much more.

If you're not confident in your cooking skills they have aisle after aisle of traditional Chinese pre-made frozen goods...many of which you would find on a dim sum menu. Be adventurous! Grab a cart and fill it up! All you'll have to do is re-heat it all when you get home.

Try a new noodle...they have dozens of varieties. Be brave and roast a whole fish for dinner...they have plenty.

And don't forget dessert! If you can't find anything with lotus paste, red bean paste filled treats are always yummy.

Nick and I visited Viet Hoa a few weeks ago and filled our cart with dozens of our favorite things...Chinese sausage, fish balls, our favorite type of red chili paste, dried mushrooms of every variety, noodles, sauces...the list goes on.

And don't worry about the language barrier. Viet Hoa marks just about every item with an English description. If it isn't in English on the package simply look at the shelf tag for an idea of what it is.

So ring in the Chinese New Year with traditional Chinese fare. Leave the General Tso Chicken for another time and partake in some truly delicious (and perhaps lucky) food.

Viet Hoa Food Market
7100 Preston Hwy #107
Louisville, KY 40219

P.S. They don't JUST have Chinese goods. They carry food from all across Asia...if not all across the globe.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Fish House and Cafe Beignet - New Orleans Just Got A Little Bit Closer

A few years ago the hubby and I visited New Orleans with some friends. We stayed in an amazing hotel. We ventured off the beaten path and listened to some unbelievably good local musicians play their hearts out. We partied until we could party no more. We ate until we burst. We were there for 3 nights and were so exhausted when our trip was over that the flight attendant actually had to shake us awake in our seats when the plane touched down. Who knew having the time of your life could be so much work?

I always arm myself with a list of things to do, places to see, and stuff to eat...A LOT of stuff to eat. And finding time to fit in all that food isn't always easy. I mean, as much as I say things like "I'm always hungry", it's not really true. Stuffing down a po boy when you're not hungry for the sake of having a po boy while in NOLA isn't always as pleasurable as you think...and the same goes for those ever famous beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

I remember thinking to myself while eating the admittedly, just not mind blowing-ly, yummy beignets at Cafe Du Mond, that they would be so much enjoyable at another time and place.

I have found that time...and I have found that place. Dear Louisville, the time is this weekend, and the place is Cafe Beignet(also known as the Fish House).

Who would have guessed that you could get an amazing breakfast in a restaurant that cranks out fried fish all week? Seeing happens to be believing...or more appropriately...eating happens to be believing in this case.

Cafe Beignet serves up some truly delicious deep fried delights. Their beignets were light and fluffy...melt in your mouth without being greasy...balls of powdered sugar covered goodness. I'm not typically a donut loving girl but there's something different about beignets. And these, especially, were quite a treat.

Of course beignets(1 for $1.25 or 3 for $2.95) weren't the only thing offered for breakfast that morning. The hubby and I also ordered some eggs-in-a-hole, with sides of potato pancakes and andouille sausage.

The egg-in-a-hole was good enough. It's basic breakfast comfort food. It was cooked well...the yolk was perfectly runny. I enjoyed it as well as it's price (I think it was around $2).

The andouille link was big, delicious, and a perfectly savory meat accompaniment. You can get bacon anywhere, but a smokey, spicy link of sausage for breakfast is something to swoon over.

The potato pancakes were some of the best I've ever had...honest-to-goodness. I've been to LatkePalooza at the Gershman Y in Philly and let me tell you, Cafe Beignet's potato pancakes were top notch. They were crispy on the outside and creamy on the inside, as most potato pancakes should be. But the thing that set them apart was the seasoning...delicious. I would love a plate of them right now(and just look at that portion!).

The rest of the breakfast menu wasn't terribly long but included a few types of omelets(which I spotted on other people's plates and which looked very good), a few more side dishes, and of course the beignet of the day, which happened to be of the "turtle" variety. Chocolate chips were mixed into the classic batter and the finished product was drizzled with caramel. We decided to be purists and try them au natural instead, but I have no doubt that combination was delicious.

The price for everything on the menu was right...very right. They offer a value meal of sorts where you can get an order of 3 beignets and then pick two other items from a white board for around $6(like a plate of beignets, an egg in a hole and a side of potato pancakes). That's a lot of food, let me tell you.

They also offer chicory coffee which is an unexpected treat for those who like it but don't typically see it listed on menus.

The atmosphere was relaxed and cozy-ish. I mean, it is a fried fish joint most of the time so don't expect it to look like Starbucks. But it was filled with a lot of regulars sipping their chicory coffee and reading the paper. And unlike MANY breakfast joints in Louisville, there was no wait for a table and practically no wait for food(I have to wait to eat at almost EVERY breakfast joint in town from the Waffle House to Wild wait was a big bonus).

The servers were very pleasant, and when they realized we were first-timers were nice enough to point out things like the chicory coffee and how the ordering process worked. Table service didn't really exist. It was more of a, refill your own coffee, and, order at the front counter and we'll bring it out to you sort of operation. But that was just fine by us.

The only thing I would change was the silverware...or lack thereof. My food was really, really yummy, and it sort of felt a disservice to those fantastic potato pancakes to eat them with plastic cutlery. I mean, it's really a non-issue, but just something that I thought of while I was dining.

The hubby wished they offered an egg cooked to order. He said he would have loved two eggs over easy to go with his andouille sausage. Personally, I liked my egg-in-a-hole, but I understood his point.

I don't review breakfast joints all that often. I mean, there are a few places out there that are doing crazy-good things(and I really should review them more often...I think I even have a few in the hopper that I haven't posted about). But the other places...the more basic joints...are serving up good grub, sure, but I doubt anyone wants to read about my fried egg and side of bacon.

Cafe Beignet is a horse of a different color. It breaks all the breakfast joint rules and does it's own thing...and I love it. They offer up cheap and delicious breakfast food with out of the ordinary options...from their coffee to their donuts...their meat to their potatoes.

They're another one of those diamond-in-the-rough establishments I love finding...and I'm happy to have found it right here in Louisville.

P.S. I will return for dinner to give the fish a try and let you know how it goes!

The Fish House and Cafe Beignet on Urbanspoon
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Friday, January 21, 2011

Havana Rumba - The highs were high...But the lows were low

The setting: A beach front bar in Aruba

The cast: Nick, me of course, and an extremely friendly Canadian woman

The plot: A conversation about Cuba...and why it's a truly amazing place to visit

There's something about beach front bars that bring out the best in people. In any other bar, in any other place, no one would sit down next to you and start up a conversation out of the blue. But when you're barefoot and somewhat tipsy, all bets are off and you find yourself making friends left and right

This particular evening in Aruba, Nick and I befriended a nice, and extremely gregarious woman from Canada. We got to talking about the resort and other warm weather destinations we had visited. Then, very quickly, the conversation turns from "that sounds nice" to "that's nothing...let me tell you about THIS place".

Perhaps it's me(actually, Nick will tell you it most certainly IS me) but when we start talking to people about travel over a round(or 5) of drinks, I start to brag and try to one-up our new friends' stories. I'm unaware it's happening until I glance at my husband and see him begin to sink into his chair and perhaps glance at the ocean as to say "I'd be more comfortable half drowning in that angry sea right now than listening to you say, "oh...we travel A LOT" one more time". At this point I try to repair the damage done and become uncharacteristically quiet in an attempt to let the other parties squeeze a word in edgewise.

When I finally quiet down I'm always happy I did, because I learn some of the most amazing things from strangers at ocean front bars. Like about Cuba and it's overall awesomeness when it comes to being a tourist destination.

Apparently Cuba is an awesome place to visit. And this isn't the first time I've heard this. People say there's amazing music, food and parties everywhere. They say that the architecture is charming. The beaches are beautiful. The people are warm and friendly.

I sure would love to go one day(and god help the first group of people I brag to about it...Nick...I'm giving you a heads may want to have an escape route that evening).

Since it doesn't look like I'll be heading to Cuba anytime soon I suppose I can supplement my wanderlust with food lust. Yes. That will do nicely.

Nick and I visited Havana Rumba one evening after being told that the food was amazing. Always in the mood for a good mojito and some bitchin' pork, we made a b-line for the restaurant.

We arrived early-ish on a Friday evening(6:45 or so) and walked into a waiting area which was already jam packed. We spotted two open seats at the bar and decided to make our wait a bit more enjoyable with the aid of a few mojitos.

We ordered two mojitos and, unfortunately, instead of seeing the bartender reach for some fresh mint leaves, or some fresh lime, or a muddle stick(I'm sure that's not it's real name), we saw her reach for a bottle of slime green liquid. She poured this pre-made mixture into our glasses and garnished it with a slice of lime(a bit too late if you ask me) and a sugar cane stick.

I held out hopes that it just looked gross but would taste delicious. I was wrong. All of that lovely fresh, bright flavor that makes a mojito such a dreamy drink was gone. It was vaguely reminiscent of a mojito but I wouldn't be ordering another that evening.

We were seated quickly after receiving our drinks and ordered our appetizer, a special for the evening, fried seafood cakes.

The seafood cakes were delicious. They were chock-full of seafood flavor, fried perfectly and came with a delicious spicy dipping sauce and creamy avocado mayo. Perhaps, we thought, the mojito was a fluke, as we were very happy with our appetizer.

For entrees I ordered the special, a braised short rib, and Nick ordered one of the "house favorites" the Lechon Asado...slow roasted pork.

Between the appetizer and the entrees a basket of bread was brought to our table and after taking a bite, went back to thinking that perhaps the mojito wasn't a fluke after all and was a sign of things to come. The bread was very obviously day old. Nick tried to play devil's advocate and said, "maybe they just left it in the oven to heat up too long". But one more bite and he changed his mind and decided that it was in fact stale.

Our entrees arrived and we were back to thinking that the bread and mojito were small oversights because the meats were cooked perfectly.

Nick's pork was flavorful, tender, delicious and ample. It came with a side of rice and beans and a dinosaur egg size hunk of boiled yuca. The rice and beans were good but the yuca was bland(I mean, I know yuca itself is pretty bland but they could have done something, anything to elevate it), and comically huge. But overall, Nick's dish was tasty and well received.

My short ribs were also well cooked, bursting with deep, rich flavor and fall off the bone tender...but they were cold. I'm not talking warm-ish...they were a few degrees below room temperature. And it's such a shame because they were cooked really, really well. They were seasoned really, really well. And they came with some super yummy fried sweet plantains. The dish was really a success...but a cold success, unfortunately.

So what do I say or do now? Whoever prepared that meat was certainly a gifted cook. There's no doubt about it. Whoever prepared the seafood cakes did a bang up job and delivered well on flavor and texture. There's no doubt about that either.

The failures were in the simplest things, really. If you spend all that time and energy braising short ribs why on earth would you serve them cold? If you own a popular(it seemed very popular that evening) Cuban restaurant why would you serve a truly sub-par mojito? And stale bread, although not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, is easily avoidable.

Perhaps they were very busy that evening and didn't put my short ribs under a heat lamp. The place was packed. Perhaps they find it necessary to cut corners on things like mojitos by pre-mixing them to keep up with demand. But one of the reasons I went there at all was for a good mojito!

I'm honestly not sure why there were so many failures that evening.

Perhaps it really was a fluke.

And perhaps I'll give Havana Rumba another shot. It's hard to deny the tastiness of the meat dishes...but it's also hard to overlook everything else.

Havana Rumba Cuban on Urbanspoon
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Food for thought

I'm currently reading two books. One is historical fiction, and the other is Anthony Bourdain's new book, Medium Raw. Guess which one I'm going to talk about in this post.

Whether you like Anthony Bourdain or not. Whether you think he's a washed up used-to-be-chef or a great personality with a vast knowledge of cuisine. One thing is for sure. He spent the early part of his life in restaurant kitchens, and as of late he's been brought into the inner sanctum of celebrity chefs, high end restaurants and food-in-general the world round. It's safe to say he knows some things.

This book, unlike Kitchen Confidential which focuses on the down and dirty behind the scenes goings on in restaurant kitchens, seems to focus(so far anyway...I'm only a few chapters in) on the greater scheme of all things culinary. He's talking about profit margins and markup on wine. He's talking about how, prior to this nation's recent economic decline, so many big shots were willing to pay wayyyyy too much for mediocre food, but now trends seem to be shifting to more affordable cuisine . I's eye opening.

I've heard it said that the rule of thumb for markup on restaurant wine is 3 to 1. And Anthony Bourdain says, and it's not hard to believe, that liquor is basically the only place that restaurants make any substantial profit. But with people not willing to shell out 3 times as much for a bottle of vino, what are restaurants to do? How will they stay afloat? It seems, from what I've been reading in books and online, that good, honest food, sometimes prepared imaginatively, but always prepared well, seems to be making it's way to the forefront of what's-important-in-a-restaurant. It may mean putting the Kobe beef on the back burner and moving the hanger steak to the front, but hey, hanger steak is friggin' delicious.

The idea of overpaying for food is something I think about constantly, and so must everyone else, because in the past few weeks I've read countless articles about an affordable new shift in food trends. CNN's Eatocracy is featuring an article called Vegas takes off its fancy pants, and explains how the high end restaurants in the city of excess are failing and visitors are looking for reasonably priced food (the last time Nick and I were in Vegas we found high prices everywhere we looked and really had to dig deep to find those diamonds in the rough).

Food & Wine listed "foodie courts", which would basically be high quality food stands in a food court type atmosphere, as one of their "Food trends for 2011". Countries all across the globe have massive "foodie courts"...they're lining the sidewalks...they're street food vendors, and they certainly aren't just serving hot dogs. They've been doing this for ages and they're beloved by the upper class, lower class and everyone in between. Street food vendors are experiencing a renaissance in the states as well. What more sign do you need that Americans are growing weary of overpaying for hackneyed food?

And closer to home...the thing that makes me smile from ear to ear, is the feedback I've been getting about lots of modest looking and inexpensive(yet completely delicious) restaurants in Louisville, like Pho Binh Minh. I've had comments and emails saying how much they loved the food, the "dining at someone's home" atmosphere and of course the price.

It seems that whether dining in Manhattan, London, Las Vegas or Louisville, people want the same thing.

Now, I'm not saying there's not a place for extremely high end restaurants, or even moderately high-end places. I have eaten at some pretty pricey establishments and have had some mind blowing meals. I'm talking food that years later I still bring up at dinner parties. But for the average American diner (like ME) these places are only accessible as treats and not as the norm.

If you eat dinner out just once a week that's 52 times a year. If you're paying $30 or more a plate and buying a bottle of wine for the same price...add in a $12 starter, tax, tip, and a cocktail...and dinner for two once a week could end up costing almost $8,000.00 a year(and this isn't even in the same ballpark price wise as the type of high-end restaurant Anthony Bourdain is talking about).

Cut the price per plate down to around $18 with a $6 starter and $5 drinks and you're only spending around $4,000.00 a year. (note...I didn't just make these figures up...I took average prices from two price tiers of restaurants I've visited in the past year or so).

And when I look closer and compare meal by meal at the higher priced restaurant versus the lower priced place one thing seems to stand out. The lower priced places are taking more seasonal and less high-end cuts of meat and ingredients and transforming them into things that, often, are much more flavorful and restaurant worthy than that piece of filet mignon. I can cook a filet...and I do...I would never think, however, of braising pork ribs in sauerkraut(Eiderdown $16) or deconstructing a peasant dish like cassoulet to transform it into something out of the box amazing(Wiltshire on Market $18). That's why I go out to eat.

So it looks like Nick and I aren't out-of-style after all. Our love of un-stuffy, cozy and casual places that serve inventive and even amazing food at reasonable prices isn't uncommon, or for that matter, impossible to find. I can think of about a half dozen places I've blogged about here in Louisville right off the bat that fit the bill, and I look for more every single day.

So lets hope Louisville keeps up with this budding worldwide food trend of high quality food that people can actually afford. I think this town would love a "foodie court" where the ever so popular food-truck-type-food can come together in a comfortable indoor market(and you don't have to sit on a curb to enjoy it). Or how about more gastro-pub type places? There's room for them both!

I know I'll support this trend whole heartily...and bite by bite...heck...I already do.
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Monday, January 17, 2011

Burgoo for you? - Ole Hickory Pit has it, and it only comes once a year

Gosh we live in a cool country. Don't we?

You can travel from state to state, town to town, and discover new food after new food...all while still being in the U.S.ofA. That's pretty darn neat if you ask me.

One of the great joys of living in different parts of the country is discovering and embracing regional cuisine. I'm always amazed at how diverse our food culture is. America isn't just hot dogs and hamburgers. America is smoked white fish on bagels. America is gumbo. America is lobster rolls. America is creamy grits. America is a big 'ol bowl of chili. America is different and delicious.

America right now, for me, is Burgoo.

I've experienced so many new things since moving to Louisville. I'm borderline addicted to liver cheese. One of my favorite new sandwiches is a Goetta BLT (or a GLT I suppose). And just today I had my first bowl of Burgoo.

Nick took me to the Ole Hickory Pit for lunch because, since driving by there a few days ago, and spotting their sign that says they had Burgoo and it's only there once a year, I would pretty much not shut up about it.

I had never heard of Burgoo prior to living in Kentucky. It caught my interest because I heard it was traditionally made with mutton, a meat that isn't all that popular across the rest of the country, however, since it had been such a hot summer, I wasn't really in the mood for a steaming bowl of mutton soup until recently when the weather turned cold.

I'm happy to report that my first taste of Burgoo did not disappoint. It was basically a rich(very rich) broth based soup with veggies and strips of pulled meat. But it's the flavor of the broth, really, that made the dish for me. It was so jam packed with hearty meaty flavor. I almost could have done without the meat itself and just sipped the broth.

For $4.99 I got a steaming bowl of rich, delicious comfort on a cold, rainy, in this corner of America.

Are there any regional dishes or food items you think I should try? Please let me in on the secret. I love discovering this part of the bite at a time.

P.S. The bbq at Ole Hickory Pit is darn tasty as well. Nick often goes there for lunch and has yet to find something he doesn't like. Today I had a bite of his fried corn bread and I MUST have that again. He's a fan of all of the sandwiches...the mutton especially. Also, the ribs are smokey, fall off the bone yummy(I had a bite of his today). Try the white beans as a side dish. They're a great flavor contrast to the sweet, rich ribs.

Ole Hickory Pit on Urbanspoon
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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Eiderdown - Food & Drink

Isn't thinking up names for things fun? When Nick and I named our first flock of chickens it was a hoot. And naming the dog was by far one of the most enjoyable activities of my life (her name is Lindy...named after the Triple Lindy dive in the Rodney Dangerfield classic Back To School...genius, I know). So I can only imagine how awesome it would be to name my own restaurant. Truth be told, I already have a few imaginary restaurants in my mind that I've named...a girl can dream can't she?

Although it's probably the easiest part of opening a restaurant, and sure to be fun, naming it must also be a bit scary. I mean, I've been known to put off visiting a new eatery for no reason other than the fact that I wasn't too fond of their name. Silly I know, but true.

A restaurant name can set expectations about the type of food, atmosphere, price. It's literally the first impression.

Let's take the new Germantown eatery Eiderdown for example. The name sounds German. When you Google it you find out that it's actually the down from an eider duck that you would probably use to stuff pillows or quilts(also, it's in a Gordon Lightfoot song for all you old hippies out there). And when you look it up on Urbanspoon or Yelp, because Eiderdown's website isn't currently up and running and an online menu is hard to find, you see it described as "German", "American", "European" and "Gastropub".

At this point there's only one option...visit and find out what it's all about for we did.

I made a reservation for Eiderdown last Friday afternoon, for that evening. Once again, I'm glad I took the time to make a quick call and stake our claim on a table because this place was absolutely, positively hopping.

Eiderdown's ambiance can easily be described as warm, rustic and inviting. There was a long, lovely bar on one side of the room, perfect for enjoying one of their many beers on tap or interesting wines. Our table was made of worn wood and the walls were a mix of exposed brick and old, white tile. I immediately gave them an A+ for ambiance.

For drinks we decided on a few beers that they had on tap(and they had quite a nice draught selection), although the wine list offered some interesting wine options we would have loved to try as well.

I chose the Ayinger Celebrator, a delicious dark German beer that I would order again in a heartbeat. It was mild yet flavorful and offered that mix of coffee, malty, nutty goodness that I love in dark brews. Seriously...I highly recommend it.

Nick ordered the Duchesse De Bourgogne. It was a Flemmish Red that I didn't particularly care for but he seemed to enjoy. I found it to be a bit tart and acidic for my liking, but it's certainly worth a try as it was definitely an interesting brew.

Now onto the food!

Eiderdown's menu seemed perfect for drinking and munching. It was filled with inexpensive yet inventive bites, sandwiches with the flavor volume turned up a bit and it also offered some more fine dining options.

Though we were immediately drawn to the duck fat popcorn we decided on the chicken livers as our starter.

5 little(actually, pretty sizable) balls of batter dipped and fried chicken liver mousse with a side of mincemeat jam arrived at our table and we dug right in.

The chicken liver was, as we had hoped, full of rich livery goodness. Chicken livers have such wonderful flavor and I was happy to see them embrace it in this dish. The texture of the mousse was very good in my opinion (I read a review where someone said it wasn't silky enough, but in order to deep fry something there needs to be a certain level of firmness and I think they pulled it off), and the batter was light and crisp(although if it was a bit more beer-batter-y it would have been mind blowing), but the winner...the star of this plate...was that mincemeat jam. Holy moly was that stuff good. The sweet and savory mix of chicken liver and mincemeat jam was a home run. Both Nick and I took turns dipping our forks in the remainder of the jam long after the liver balls were gone. Yummy.

Nick and I always try to order one nightly special and one plate that, to us, seems to represent a restaurant's "signature" dish. This evening Nick chose the "signature" dish...Homer's Daydream. It was pork ribs braised in sauerkraut with apples and potatoes. It was really delicious.

We typically eat pork ribs slathered in bbq sauce right? Not anymore. Braising them in sauerkraut and mixing in some sweet apples and hearty potatoes created a flavor combination that might change the way you eat pork ribs forever. Honestly...I think this dish was amazing and I'm jealous that I didn't think of it first.

I chose one of the honor of the namesake duck down(and because I love duck confit). It was served over a pool of veal stock with a cauliflower biscuit and brussel sprouts.

My dish was good. The duck was moist and flavorful. The veal stock was the perfect accompaniment to the duck, and the cauliflower biscuit soaked up that stock to almost make a chicken and dumpling type marriage. But then I ran into a bit of a problem.

Although I hate to say it I had one major issue with the duck... the skin. The skin wasn't all.

The duck meat itself really was cooked well, and I was willing to push the droopy, frankly unappetizing skin to the side of the plate and truthfully enjoy the rest of my meal, but when you get right down to it, no one ever wants limp or un-rendered skin on any piece of protein, be it fish, chicken, etc. They really did create an amazing symphony of flavors...but that skin was a mistake that I feel shouldn't have been overlooked and sent to the table. That's just my two cents.

Aside from that one slip-up, Nick and I had a lovely evening at Eiderdown. The service was helpful, friendly and even apologetic when our server thought that our appetizer took a smidgen too long to come out(although I didn't think it took too long at all). The menu(which can be found in very small writing at or here: EiderdownMenu) was filled with enough diverse, flavorful options to bring me back for seconds, and the beer and wine list might even bring me back for thirds.

When all is said and done I'm still not sure how to label the food at Eiderdown. It wasn't all American...nor was it all that German. It wasn't very southern...nor was it all that European.

I suppose when it comes down to it good flavors make good food, and restaurants don't necessarily need to follow a set of rules in order to successfully get that food to their customers. They don't have to be "New American" or "Fusion". They can even offer higher end food on the same menu as sandwiches and popcorn(I don't want to say gastropub because I'm trying to avoid a label but perhaps they took a page from that book).

They really did try to make delicious food for any palate with a unique and inventive twist. That should certainly be applauded. Also, they've succeeded(almost...I still can't let them forget about my unctuous duck skin) in offering fine-dining-type food to their customers at a very reasonable price. I think both of our entrees were priced at $16 and the starter was around $6. The beers were around $5 a pop and you could get individual glasses of wine for around that price as well.

So call Eiderdown's style of cuisine whatever you like...just be sure to also call ahead...because it seems that Louisville diners are calling it a hot new restaurant.
Eiderdown on Urbanspoon
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Friday, January 7, 2011

Slide show!

Hi all! I finally got around to putting together a slide show of our trip to Belgium and the Netherlands and here it is!(left) If you click on the photo it will open in Picasa and you can read the captions and see the pictures full screen..........or you can just click this link:

Hope you enjoy it!
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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Lotsa Pasta - Dinner is in the bag

I made pasta for dinner last night.

When I say I made pasta I mean I actually mixed eggs and flour, kneaded them together, let the dough ball rest, ran it through my imported hand crank pasta roller(which I LOVE...thank you Nick!!!) and cut the sheets into fettuccine sized strips. Then I sauteed up some pancetta and made a carbonara. It was time consuming but oh so delicious.

I do this often, make pasta from scratch. Although it takes a bit of time and patience I find it so very enjoyable. It's like Playdough for adults...with the added bonus of eating your results.

Some pastas are a bit more arduous to make than others of course. My fettuccine took about an hour total to make. My raviolis take all afternoon. And don't get me started on tortellini.

So when I heard good things(from lots of people) about Lotsa Pasta's homemade fresh pasta and bread I decided to check it out. We don't always have an entire afternoon free to make stuffed dough now do we?

When Nick and I walked into the store a few weeks ago we simply couldn't believe it had taken us 5 months to go there. It was the type of specialty food store we love to visit. It had a very nice cheese and cured meat selection. A wall of lovely, freshly baked bread. Plenty of specialty dry goods and last but certainly not least, a cooler full of fresh pastas.

We chose a package of their house made porcini tortellini, a package of their house made hot Italian sausage and a loaf of their mini ciabatta. We also grabbed a small triangle of Pecorino Romano cheese and a big 'ol can of their Lotsa Pasta brand tomato sauce to finish off our "meal in a bag".

When we got home we could hardly wait for the pot of water to boil so we could dive into our dinner.

I'm pleased to announce that everything was delicious. The porcini tortellini had porcini mushrooms actually incorporated into the dough as well as the filling giving them quite a mushroom kick. They cooked up wonderfully and had great texture as well.

The hot Italian sausage was pretty much a home run in my eyes. I have eaten some good Italian sausage in my day...believe you I'm a tough sell when it comes to that particular brand of meaty goodness. This one had a great balance of spice and fat, so important in any sausage.

The house made tomato sauce was good enough. I'm a purist when it comes to a tomato sauce. I like simplicity and this one certainly fit the bill as far as that was concerned, but I'm not sure I would make a separate trip just for the sauce.

I was also happy with their bread. Have you ever played "what would your last meal be" at a dinner party? I'm always so very torn when it's my turn because I've got a list a mile long of my favorite foods, but something that always rises to the top of my list is a great piece of crusty bread and good quality butter(maybe even a goat milk butter...SO good!). Needless to say...I like me some bread.

Their ciabatta was very good. Crusty on the outside and tender inside. But the thing I liked most was that they offer a variety of loaf sizes. Nick and I can never go through a whole loaf of bread(and still fit into our pants the next day) in one evening and day old Italian bread isn't good for much other than toast points, bread crumbs or the occasional bread pudding. So having the option to buy a loaf built for two was nice.

I have to say that I don't recommend putting this particular mixture of flavors together in one meal. We realized that we were thinking about each piece and it's individual yummy-ness when we purchased them and not their ability to play well together. I would still buy the same things but use them differently. The porcini tortellini would be paired with a very mild sauce...perhaps a really light cream sauce to let the mushrooms shine. Also, the sausage would go great with a more hearty and plain short cut pasta, or you could even slice it and serve it over a bed of cheesy polenta(great idea for my next batch of sausage!). But that's not to say that we didn't still lick our plates clean with our original combination.

When all was said and done our bag of goodies lasted us almost two whole meals and I just finished the block of Pecorino Romano yesterday so that provided a good bang for our buck.

Some things were a bit pricier than I would have liked but it is a specialty food store after all and that's to be expected. And they're really doing all the work for you in many cases so paying an extra buck for a package of great quality home made pasta is, in my very frugal opinion, worth it.

So the next time I'm in the mood for some great quality homemade pasta without having to deal with the effort, time and flour filled mess of doing it myself, I'll have no problem returning to Lotsa Pasta. I wonder what I'll pick next time.

Lotsa Pasta 3717 Lexington Rd.
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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Horse Of Course - Why are people so opposed to eating horse?

I was reading an article on this morning about whether or not the United States should re-legalize slaughtering horses for human consumption after it became illegal in 2007. My first question of course was, "Really? It was legal in 2007? How come I never saw it on a menu at my local gastro-pub???".

Apparently it was, in fact, legal and practiced as recently as 2007, and is currently legal and practiced...quite a bit Canada. If people all over the world have been eating horse for centuries and our very similar neighbors to the north of us are doing it, then why are we, as Americans, so put off by the idea of eating horseys?

Lets put aside some of the debate for the moment about pharmaceuticals in the meat, or how much money could be made exporting it overseas where it's in demand, or even the debate on whether we should eat animals at all. Lets focus on the part of this that confuses me the most. Why people think eating a pig is ok but eating a horse or a dog isn't.

Nick and I were sitting in a little restaurant in Brussels a few months back perusing the menu when what to our wondrous eyes should appear...but a horse steak...the house specialty in fact. Nick and I eat meat. We eat pig and cow and goat and chicken. We eat their feet and their ears. We even eat their heads boiled and set in aspic. Why wouldn't we eat horse? The answer is...we would. And we did.

Nick ordered it with a smile on his face and that excitement that comes with trying something new(picture above). And it WAS new. And it was exciting to try something that people in that area have been eating for centuries, but that is also taboo in our own area of the world. It wasn't particularly mind blowing in flavor or texture. If you were to blindfold me and ask me to taste it without knowing what it was I might almost guess that it WAS in fact horse because it tasted unlike any other meat I've ever eaten. It wasn't all that tender and it had a bit of gamy flavor to it but it was very good in it's own way and I'm very glad we tried it.

When we returned to the hotel that evening Nick was sure to post about our horse eating experience on his facebook page...and boy 'o boy did our friends and family think it was gross.

I will never understand why people think it's gross to eat one animal but not another. People get angry when they hear about people eating dogs in Asia, yet studies have shown that pigs are almost as smart as dogs in their own way(I mean...there's no dog/pig IQ test out there but you get the picture). They're social and curious. Loyal and intelligent. They're pets too for goodness sake. But we eat one and not the other.

And why do people think it's crazy when I tell them how much I love chicken feet or head cheese(boiled parts of a pig's head set in animal gelatin). Why is eating the pig's butt(ham) better than it's ear? Personally I find using and eating all parts of an animal to be a noble, and also lucky for me, delicious thing to do. What a waste it would be to slaughter a pig and only eat it's "ham", loin, belly(bacon) and ribs.

So I suppose the point of this post was to make you think about the food you eat and why you eat it, or for that matter, don't. I think about this whenever I travel to a new continent, country or even region of the good 'ol USofA.

So if the powers that be in the US do decide to re-legalize the use of horse for human consumption will you be willing to give it a try? If you're worried that you won't like the way it tastes I can tell you right off the doesn't taste like chicken...but neither does lamb, or beef, or pork, or duck get the idea.
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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The Irish Rover - You get what you pay for - well...maybe not quite

The holidays are officially over and more likely than not, your pocket books are a little lighter than they were 4 weeks ago.

Between paying for airfare, gifts, wining and dining, the holiday season can cause a hurting on your budget.

So when I'm spending money hand over fist on fruit cake and egg nog, I don't know about you, but I like to seek out more "affordable" places to dine out around town. But I'm not looking for cheap and crappy. I'm looking for reasonably priced, well prepared food. Though there are certainly places that fit the bill, they can be hard to come by. The good news is, however, if you fail and fail and fail again when seeking them least you didn't spend too much on it.

A few weeks ago during one of those days that barely broke 20 degrees, the hubby and I set out to find an affordable and soul warming meal. We perused dozens of menus online and decided on The Irish Rover...apparently so did half of Louisville because the place was absolutely packed.

After ice skating to the front door we walked into a warm, bustling restaurant and were lucky enough to grab a booth. Without even having to look at the menu we knew we wanted to start off with some Irish whiskeys...Powers Irish whiskey to be more precise. Nick and I became huge Powers fans a few years back and were very happy to see they offered it here. We took this as a sign that we might be in for some authentic Irish grub.

After warming ourselves from the inside out with a few whiskeys it was time for dinner. Nick has never had a scotch egg but after hearing some time back that it was a hard boiled egg wrapped in sausage and deep fried, he's been dying to try one.

The scotch egg was awesome(pictured at top). Fried perfectly. Yummy pub food. Perfect for a cold day. We were a bit surprised that they only gave one per order, but at $3.95 a pop, it was a pretty inexpensive and yummy treat.

Now onto entrees.

This place had a menu of bar-type food that could choke a horse. The food, representing bar-type-food from a number of different cultures ranged from a grilled chicken sandwich to bangers and mash, and most everything on the menu was priced around $10. Wanting to try out some "traditional" Irish pub grub we ordered the Cottage Pie and the Dublin Smokies.

The hubby ordered the Cottage Pie because it was, in essence, a mix between a Guinness beef stew and a shepherds pie. It seemed like a two-fer. It was a bread bowl filled with stew and topped with mashed potatoes. When it arrived it seemed massive. This huge hunk of potato topped bread was placed in front of the hubby and his eyes lit up. Unfortunately, the joy was short lived.

When he actually dug into the bowl he found a very small amount of stew...a very large amount of bread...and a pile of potatoes. He said it was yummy enough but bread and potatoes with a hint of stew wasn't exactly what he had in mind.

I ordered the Dublin Smokies which was described as "a famous dish from the old-time Dublin street markets". It was supposed to be a casserole of smoked haddock and salmon, shrimp, garlic, onions and tomatoes, all baked in a cream sauce and topped with cheese. Personally, I pictures a chunky fish stew type thing baked off in a casserole dish. What I got wasn't quite that.

Have you ever opened a tin of cat food? Picture the texture of cat food and then mix in some whole shrimp. Now throw this mixture, as is, into a gratin dish, top it with some cheese and a few diced tomatoes. This was my dinner.

Now, I have to say...the taste wasn't all bad. It wasn't all good either, but it was the consistency that threw me for a loop...and trust me...I'll eat anything.

I pretty much never send back food. It holds up dinner for the rest of the party and unless the mistake is egregious, I can typically live with it. I didn't send this back and instead decided to put the warm, let's call it "seafood spread" on some dinner bread that was on the table. This helped the texture problem and made me feel as though I was eating a completed dish instead of warm cat food. I hate to give reviews where I call things cat food, but honestly, there's no better way to describe this texture.

Now, I've never had this dish in Ireland. It could quite possibly be exactly the way they make it there and it might also be a hometown favorite so I don't want to poo-poo on the dish as a whole. But I'm shocked that this dish is still on the menu at The Irish Rover. I can't imagine that many people come back for seconds of it.

As an added note before I come to my conclusion I should mention that the service was very good. The host and hostesses at the front were warm and helpful, and our server was attentive and pleasant.

Here's where the "you get what you pay for" part comes into play. Nick's meal cost $10.95 and mine was a mere $9.95. I suppose I shouldn't have expected a chunky Irish seafood stew with real pieces of fish for under $10, but I did. Nick's dish, however, if done right and served with a proper amount of stew in the bowl should really HAVE been priced at $10, and so his felt like a true rip-off.

So sometimes you hit and sometimes you miss when you're searching for affordable (and delicious) food around town. This to me, unfortunately, was a miss. But the silver lining was that we got a few glasses of our favorite Irish whiskey. Nick tried a scotch egg for the first time. And even though the entrees were a disappointment, we didn't really spend too much for the experience, so we had enough left in our pockets to try again somewhere else.

Irish Rover on Urbanspoon
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