Monday, March 17, 2008

Some love for the Atlanta food scene

One of my daily reads, The Amateur Gourmet, wrote a delightful post on his visit to Atlanta last week. Adam lived here for several years and developed quite a fondness for this city.

Hopefully, with ambassadors like Adam Roberts, food TV stars like Alton Brown, Kevin Rathbun and Richard Blais, and the numerous local chefs and restaurants featured regularly in the pages of Gourmet/Bon Apetit/F&W, Atlanta will finally be recognized as the interesting, cosmopolitan, progressive city that I know and love.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Diminuitive Hamburger Odyssey

Last week, pondering various recipes to make for my monthly bookclub, I decided on an adorable little hamburger (trendily called "sliders" these days) inspired by a recipe in Hors D'ouevres, by Victoria Blashford-Snell and Eric Treuille, which is my favorite go-to for simple, elegant little bites. Admittedly, there is nothing at all inspired about this dish, but it fulfilled my main goals of: giving me something that was easy to execute during the busy workweek, providing something substantial enough for dinner but small enough to serve conveniently, and most importantly, something to absorb the large amounts of wine usually consumed at bookclub!

My small twist was that instead of biscuit-cutting little bun circles or making my own mini buns (as if), I used the butter-laden and sinfully delicious Sister Schubert's Yeast Rolls, which can be found in the freezer section of most grocery stores. I've found them to be quite versatile and crowd-pleasing, so I now keep a couple of packages on hand at all times.

For my burger patties, I typically like to add freshly chopped garlic and onion, but this time I was lazy and added those flavors with the powdered stuff:

1.5 lbs ground chuck
1 egg
1/4 cup panko
2 T Soy sauce
2 T Worchestershire sauce
1/2 T Garlic powder
1/2 T onion powder
1/2 T Salt
Pepper to taste

Master blogger and good friend, Dave, encouraged me to photograph the evidence. So, here we have it (my food styling and photography skills still need some work):

Seasoned goodness.

Pan-seared a test patty before broiling the remaining.

Mel's mini-burger. Deconstructed.
Opted for simplicity - mustard, ketchup, sliced dill spear.

Mel's mini-burger. Cross section.


The burgers were a success, and I'll likely make them again - I'm thinking a bit of Roquefort and caramelized onion for a fancier accoutrement? Stay tuned....!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Great Tips to Ignore with Abandon

Reach for some of these at your upcoming holiday party, hit the dance floor, and you'll start January ahead of the game. Or just look at this list, think "wow, that's cool....negative calories," and then grab another mini beef wellington from the buffet. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Kir Royales

Pinot Noir from CA Central Coast

Roast Turkey
Cherry-Shallot Confit
Mashed Potatoes
Cornbread Dressing
Sweet Potato Souffle
Squash Casserole
Sauteed Green Beans
Lima & Butter Beans with Bacon

Apple Crostada a la Mode

Yea! Thanksgiving is upon us and I just picked up my fresh, free-range 12-pound bird from Whole Foods which that Tim and I will be roasting on Friday evening. He (the turkey, not Tim) will be massaged thoroughly with a rich shallot and herb butter. And though the recipe doesn't call for it, it seems that the turkey would be much happier stuffed with apples, Vidalias and few dozen cloves of garlic. So that's what we'll do.

I've only roasted a turkey one other time, about four years ago. I didn't have a proper roasting pan or meat thermometer, had to take the bird out a leeetle bit early, and drive him, bundled in tin foil, to my Grandmother's house about 2 hours away. It actually turned out pretty good as I recall, but the whole thing was fairly unromantic, with no glistening fond gravy or beautifully garnished platter. This year, that bird will rest splendidly on a green ceramic plate (whose label says "not safe for food" but I'm gonna take my chances anyway) with sliced figs and Satsumas and maybe a few maple leaves.

And as much as I'm tempted to inject some gourmetness into this meal - something with quince, or maybe leeks, it just feels immoral. As a Southerner, I'm pretty sure I would burn in hell if there was no cornbread dressing or squash casserole on the table. My mashed potatoes will be fully peeled and beaten with half and half and butter....with maybe just a little nutmeg grated in, but none of this smashed garlic/parmesan potatoes business. Not on Thanksgiving anyway. I am breaking from tradition a bit with my cherry-shallot condiment, and hoping no one will miss that ribbed cranberry stuff. Tim is topping it all off with a perfectly flaky, syrupy, cinnamony apple crostada which he tested a few nights ago with fabulous results.

So....the next couple of days will be a flurry of chopping, dishwashing and tired feet as we prepare to entertain our parents and a few friends. I hope I'll remember to take photos this time. But it's more likely I'll be too busy eating, drinking, football watchin' and in general being thankful.

Something tells me that with a greasy roasting pan, four 9x13 casserole dishes, a couple of cookie sheets, and at least two dozen plates, I think what I'll be most thankful for is my dishwasher.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Just discovered a fantastic gift idea while doing some early browsing for holiday recipes. You can now create your own, hard-bound, beautifully photographed cookbook at In partnership with Epicurious, Tastebook allows you to compile up to 100 favorite recipes from all the publications in the Epicurious family into a customized, tabbed and ring-bound cookbook. You can even post your own recipes to your Tastebook account, and include those in your book. To create a custom look and feel, you are given the choice of about three dozen gorgeous photographs to use for your cover, and you can even add an accent from a nice color palette. I wish the title plate on the cover of the book didn't obscure the photo, but overall this is a really neat idea. Each book is $35 - not bad at all considering you get 100 recipes and a jolly good time putting your book together! Definitely going to put this on the gift list this Christmas.

Friday, October 19, 2007

So the Halloween dinner menu is set for next weekend, and I decided to keep it to a few close friends whose favorite cheeses I know and who provide enough laughs to fill the whole house with energy and fun.

I've never really aspired to be a Martha - don't have the talent or budget for that level of perfection. But for many years I forced menus that were too demanding, guest lists that were too ambitious or idealistic, and expectations that wound up making the whole endeavor of hospitality a bit more anxiety-ridden than it should be. Don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed every aspect of entertaining, I've just learned not to indulge my fantasies.

Some folks will never mingle with strangers despite your thoughtful, creative introductions or quantity of alcohol served.

Crostini won't remain crisp beyond about 5 minutes off the broiler. After that, your brilliant ricotta and fava bean topping won't be much of a pleasure when that chewy-ass slice of baguette is assaulting people's dental work.

A collage of white cat hair will undoubtedly wind up on someone's black pants - no matter how much you OCD-ly dust and vacuum before the party.

So in the spirit of simplyfing, next weekend I'm making one of the easiest menus ever - soup and soup! (or soup and chili technically) Tim and I used to attend an annual pumpkin carving party where the host made big pots of chili and corn chowder. I loved that combo, so I'm going to give it a whirl myself. Also going to try a pumpkin-hued cocktail of OJ, sparkling water, cherry liqueur and Limoncello. Weird combination admittedly, but it's festive and boozey, and probably won't suck. Guests are bringing desserts, which will no doubt be inspired and delicious.

I'm looking forward to this official kicking-off of the Holiday Trifecta - cat hair and all.

Friday, September 14, 2007

September, in Calories

So I've been out of touch - work has been crazy, yet there's been no shortage of food and fun! Football season has started, and the slight change in the sun's position alluvasudden has me looking at mums and recipes for roast parsnips. Yep, fall is around the corner, and is like a welcome, plaid-clad old friend.

A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to attend famed University of Georgia football announcer Larry Munson's season kick-off party. It was a sea of red and black, and a lot of adorable 19 year-olds with Miller Lites, strapless sundresses and no back fat. (Bitches.) The food spread was, for the most part, totally ho-hum. But they rolled out the big guns with a praline station, complete with copper kettle and all. I easily consumed 7,327 calories just in pralines (and a few Miller Lites, myself) and enjoyed every last finger-licking bite with absolutely no guilt. I'll upload a few pics of the evidence soon.

The past few weeks have also seen a fiesta-themed Labor Day brunch with Huevos Rancheros (courtesy of a Southern Living recipe I couldn't find a link to), Limesicle Margaritas and a half-drunken trip to the mall - which thankfully only resulted in a lip gloss and pair of pants from the Gap. I wasn't driving, BTW. We capped the day off at Tap, a most excellent addition to Peachtree St. , I must say. Love to Sue, J, and Stevie G - people I'm totally thrilled to spend any day with - labor or no labor.

Now I'm busy planning a Halloween party, the date of which is hinging on the TV scheduling of the GA-FLA game, but will definitely take place sometime between Oct 26 and 28th. Lots of recipes and ideas a'brewin' (get the pun?!). More on that later.

And before I close this schizo post, I must shout-out to my local cantina, La Casita in East Atlanta Village. We ate there just last night - a delicious meal of Carne Rojo and Tres Hongos tacos, and their addictive chips and Guajillo pepper salsa. La Casita has all the right ingredients - kind of grimy, packed with people, always delicious.

As we glide into another season, I bid you the crisp blue skies of autumn, with the sweet frozen memories of summer.......

Limesicle Margaritas

1/4 cup scoop lime sherbet or sorbet (I used Hola Fruita!)
1 oz. tequila
1/2 oz. Triple Sec or Grand Marnier

Scoop, pour, stir until frothy and enjoy. Chase with songs from Putamayo's Acoustic Brazil.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Food for Thought - Literally!

Happy Thursday! As the week winds down, I feel myself checking out mentally - ready to start a fun holiday weekend with friends, football, and good food. But alas, I still have two more days to keep my nose to the grindstone. As luck would have it, I stumbled upon a great list of foods that boost brain function and energy. Some you've probably heard of, others may be a surprise!

Energy and Brain Foods

  1. Eggplant: As long as you don’t forget to eat the skin, it doesn’t matter how you ingest your eggplant. Eggplant skin contains the nutrient naunin, which keeps your brain sharp by increasing communication between your brain cells and messenger molecules. You won’t be able to help staying focused after eating eggplant.
  2. Raisins: If you need a boost of energy, steer clear of the carbs and grab a pack of raisins. These high-energy fruits are low in fat and calories and rich in antioxidants which help restore your body’s most important cells. Visit the Sun Maid Web site for recipes and product info.
  3. Lima beans: Now that you’re over the age of eight, we hope you can finally appreciate why your mother made you eat your lima beans. Lima beans give you tons of energy from iron and dietary fiber while preventing your body from absorbing too much sugar. Iron helps you get a good night’s sleep, as it prevents anemia, a leading cause in sleepless nights for women.
  4. Corn: Eating corn can help combat stress, so eat up. The important nutrient pantothenic acid is prevalent in corn, which helps metabolism and alleviates stress.
  5. Figs: Figs have the best kind of dietary fiber that maintains high energy levels while keeping your appetite far away. Whether you find fresh figs or a pack of the dried fruit, enjoy its natural sweetness.
  6. Tuna: While doctors continue to debate over the good and bad effects of tuna, especially when consumed by pregnant women, there’s no way to ignore the fact that tuna is the original brain food. Not only does tuna help you focus, it also fends off depression. Tuna is good for your heart and helps prevent childhood asthma. Visit the U.S. Tuna Foundation for more information on recipes and mercury levels.
  7. Spinach: Make like Popeye and inhale that spinach. Full of practically every nutrient you could think of, spinach is the easiest way to take in all your vitamins at once. In addition to fighting cancer and building strong bones and muscles, spinach reduces stress and help keeps your brain young and focused.
  8. Chicken: Chicken is a lean alternative to beef. It is filled with protein and important B vitamins that give you loads of energy and speed up your metabolism. Eat chicken several times a week and you’ll never be too tired to exercise again.
  9. Turnip greens: Turnip greens usually don’t get as much credit as they should. A not-so-popular vegetable among children, turnip greens help keep your mind sharp as you creep into old age.
  10. Green beans: Top off your salad with fresh green beans and feel your energy bounce back. Green beans are packed with iron and zinc, as well as immune-strengthening vitamins A and C.
  11. Cod: Cod, like the other fish that appear on this list, is an optimal way to get your protein without indulging in a lot of calories. It also helps your brain stay focused and ward off depression.
  12. Hummus: This all-natural food is an easy way to get some energy-boosting protein fast. Spread hummus on whole grain bread or rye bread for a tasty and quick snack.
  13. Pita bread: Pick a hearty wheat or whole grain version of this ancient food to reap its health benefits. Pita bread generally has a few more calories than regular sliced bread, but it will help you stay full and focused longer.
  14. Peanut butter: Get back in the game after just a swallow of this childhood favorite. In moderation, peanut butter makes a great snack. Indulge in a spoonful to curb your appetite and cravings for sugar. Click on for a fun look at peanut butter’s history, recipes, and its own special month.
  15. Kidney beans: These large beans are vital for maintaining high energy levels for long periods of time. Add to chili for a satisfying meal.
  16. Honey: Drizzle a little honey on your morning toast, and you’ll not only get rid of your sugar cravings, you’ll also decrease your chances of catching a virus or other nasty disease.
  17. Walnuts: The omega 3 fatty acids found in walnuts help you think more clearly and keep you focused your day. Also excellent sources of protein, walnuts are a delicious alternative to potato chips.
  18. Sunflower seeds: Sunflower seeds are another popular, but uncommon, way to beat fatigue. They require a lot of work to eat, so your mouth will get a lot of exercise, forcing your body to work for its food.
  19. Lemons: A squeeze of lemon in your tea or even sucking a sliced lemon for a few seconds will wake up your mouth and give you that extra pep you need to finish the day.
  20. Sage: Banish forgetfulness with an extra dash of sage. Sage has been proven to improve memory, so you can start untying those strings from around your finger.
View the entire list of 100 Foods to Boost Your Productivity.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Rejoice! Peter Pan is Back

Next week, Peter Pan Peanut Butter returns to store shelves, and I am eagerly awaiting it - a slice of toast just hasn't been the same since!

When it was pulled from shelves last February, I tried Jif, Skippy, and a couple of other brands, but nothing tasted nearly as good as my beloved Peter Pan Reduced Fat Creamy. For a while I tried to switching to Whole Foods' fresh-ground almond butter, which is certainly healthier (if not cheap - at almost $9.00/lb!); but alas, it was just no substitute for the trans-fat and corn syrup-laden condiment I've loved since I was little.

I'll probably stick with the morning bowl of Total, fruit and slivered almonds - it feels like such a virtuous way to start the day. But I sure do look forward to a midnight rendezvous with a glass of skim milk, a spoon, and that sorely missed little green-clad imp.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Happy Hour Hunting

A friend sent me this list of happy hours and drink specials for bars and restaurants around Atlanta. Quite a handy little guide! Download it here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Flavor of the Gipsy Kings

There is probably no where I'd rather spend a summer evening than at Chastain Park Amphitheater. Live music, candles glowing from every seat, wine a-flowing, and gourmet food eaten off of tray tables - what's not to love?! I average about three concerts a year, but hope to work my way up to season tickets one of these days.

This past Sunday we saw the Gipsy Kings, whose music managed to be more sizzling than the high-90s temps. They are extraordinary musicians and performers, and I'll definitely be making some additions to my iTunes library this week.

Because the Chastain experience is as much about the food and wine as it is music, I always look forward to planning the picnic. Over the years, I've strived to find a perfect economy of special and simple. On the one hand, a concert there feels a bit like an occasion, worthy of more than Chick-fil-A nuggets or a Subway sandwich; on the other, it's usually hot, space-cramped and surface-deprived - not very luxurious conditions.

The Gipsy Kings show was the ideal occasion for traditional tapas, however I wasn't organized enough to put that together this weekend. I opted for grilled toasts and an assortment of spreads - technically "small plates" and close enough. Clockwise from top: Pineapple Salsa, Pesto Pulled Chicken (inspired by the topping for Giada's Polenta & Chicken Tartlets recipe, Trader Joe's Tuscan White Bean Dip topped with roasted red and yellow peppers.

Pineapple Salsa
Whole Foods sells a similar salsa that a friend introduced me to. I liked the addition of fresh ginger in my recipe.

1 pineapple, cored and diced
1 peach (or 1/2 mango), peeled and diced
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves minced garlic
2 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 jalapeno pepper, diced
1/2 bunch chopped cilantro (opt)
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in bowl. For best flavor, refrigerate for 4-6 hours before serving.

Mel's Tips & Must Haves for a Good Ol' Chastain Time:
  • Surround items in cooler with large Ziploc bags full of ice instead of just filling up the cooler with loose cubes. You'll have clean ice to use in drinks, and don't have to empty the disgusting food debris/dirty wineglasses/floating beer labels out of the cooler the next morning. You know who you are.
  • Don't take more than about 3 individual dishes. Passing a bunch of bowls around is a major pain in the A when you don't have a lot of room to spread out. Not to mention, you may be too distracted setting up all your stuff that you miss Corrine Bailey Rae's first number.
  • Try to bring foods in individual portions such as snack-size bags of chips, kebabs, small containers of pasta or fruit salad, cookies/ brownies, etc.
  • Skip the flowers. Believe me, I love take it to 11 when it comes to atmosphere, but for me, the vase of flowers just isn't worth the hassle - you have to worry about the water sloshing out and blossoms being crushed. Sidenote: I once saw a woman in the table section with a (kid you not) 8-arm silver candelabra intertwined with ivy and silk flowers. Wrong on a lot of levels. I think people were more focused on the 8 teetering tapers all night than the music act!
  • Always carry along an oilcloth or vinyl tablecloth. It can serve its traditional purpose or provide cover if it starts to rain. Now that's a good tip, you have to admit! Better than sticking your head through a garbage bag, I say!
  • Bring one more bottle of wine than you think you'll need. And most importantly, while you're at it, bring a....
  • Designated driver
Happy concert-going!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Ladies & Gentlemen, My Weblog.

Hello out there!

After much consideration (totally unnecessary belaboring, to be honest) my little egg on the World Wide Web has finally hatched! In the spirit of celebrating this tiny achievement, I thought it appropriate to share Mumm Napa, one of my favorite producers of sparkling wine.

My husband and I visited Mumm last August on a splendid 30th birthday trip to the Napa Valley. While they have a traditional indoor tasting room, the large, casual terrace offers one of the most beautiful views in the Valley. We sampled a flight of three wines, my favorite of which was the spirited Brut Prestige, a wonderfully-balanced wine - zingy and rich and soft all at the same time. Thank the Lord they gave us some nibbles; three back-to-back tastings of champagne can put a considerable buzz on a girl (even me). Mumm serves Stonewall Kitchen's Down East Asiago Cheese Crackers with tastings; I found them to be the perfect buttery complement to white and red wines, and I've been totally hooked ever since. The Rosemary Parmesan ones are also delish. The visit to Mumm was the first of many delightful, sense-boggling experiences in CA that made me appreciate the beauty of life on Earth.

We popped open our souvenir bottle of Brut Prestige last weekend as a toast to new, newlywed friends (congrats Lexa & Tristan!) It was even better than I remembered, surely flavored with the sweetness of good music and lively conversation.

You know, I chose the topic of my "debut" post because it seemed festive and symbolic, and because I knew I could decently write about something I'd just consumed days earlier. :-) But, as it turns out, I think champagne is actually a perfect metaphor for my foray into this world o' blogging.
Bubbles, like words - eager to rise to the surface and bounce around.

Cheers, y'all.