A few weeks ago I received an email from Southern City Flavors, a local purveyor of barbecue sauces, jams, spreads and grits. They wondered if I’d want to try their products. I get a lot of requests like that that I don’t normally act on, but the gal who reached out to me was so pleasant and nice, I just had to take her up on it. Plus, I was excited to try the grits.
As a girl who grew up in the Midwest, the closest thing to grits I knew was Cream of Wheat, a breakfast porridge. It’s finer than grits since it’s made of ground wheat instead of ground corn. Cream of Wheat has a certain nostalgic quality to me – I can remember eating it on cold mornings before school – but grits are seriously so much better.
Southern City Flavors’ grits are stone ground and, according to their package, made at one of the few water-powered mills left in the U.S. They have terrific texture and more nutrients since stone grinding doesn’t grind the grains as evenly as more modern production methods would.
The texture of these grits was wonderful! They were smooth and creamy but still had some bite and chewiness to them.
Also in the package was Sweet Potato Butter, which is TO DIE FOR. It’s got cinnamon and spice and reminds me of apple butter in its consistency. I made biscuits for some friends the other weekend, and we couldn’t get enough of this sweet potato butter.
Last Sunday, I cooked up the grits with some cheddar cheese and plopped a fried egg on top. I cut up some apples and served toast with the sweet potato butter on it on the side. It was a fabulous fall breakfast.
These grits would also be tasty for dinner. They cook in just 20 minutes, and would be wonderful with a piece of grilled fish or even just some grilled vegetables on the side. Martha Stewart has a simple Chipotle Shrimp and Cheddar Grits recipe I like. Although now I’ll use Southern City Flavors grits instead of the instant grits this recipe calls for.
I can’t wait to introduce my relatives to grits this year for Christmas. You better believe Southern City Flavors Stone Ground Grits will be on my list.
Cheddar Cheese Grits & Eggs
You can use any kind of cheese in these grits. I had cheddar cheese on hand, but the original recipe called for Havarti which would also be tasty.
1 cup broth
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup Southern City Flavors Stone Ground Grits
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
freshly ground pepper
hot sauce, if desired
Bring broth, water, salt and butter to a boil in a heavy-bottomed sauce pan. Add grits and turn heat down to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring at least once. During the last few minutes of cooking, add the cheese and stir to combine.
Fry two eggs however you like - I like mine over easy - and place on top of grits in two bowls. Grind fresh pepper on top. Serve with hot sauce, if using.
This is more of a “drink” blog post than a “food” blog post. Although we did have some good food.
The other weekend Andrew and I hit up Asheville for our TWO year anniversary. Time flies! We’d been five or six years before for a friend’s birthday, but neither of us could remember much about this beer-centric, mountain town.
We also got recommendations from co-workers, including this great list of brewery stops, which Andrew got from his beer connoisseur co-worker, Jeff.
We hit up The Admiral on Friday night. I wish I had a picture of the outside of the building. It’s a one-story cinder-block box. The inside is equally unimpressive. It basically looks like the dive bar it apparently once was.
Here’s what The Admiral says about their concept from website:
But the food – the food! – was the star. They change the menu pretty regularly. Here’s what we were up against on our visit.
We started with the mushroom dashi soup. Dashi is a broth made of fish and kelp that’s popular in Japanese cooking. In it was a soft-cooked egg yolk (no white!), some seaweed, delicate soba noodles, shitake mushrooms and a few green nasturtium leaves for color. The broth was amazingly light, and the super flavorful.
Next up were melt-in-your mouth short ribs with a sweet potato hash and radicchio slaw. I think this one was Andrew’s favorite.
My favorite was the NC Trout. It had a chiogga (candy-striped) beat puree, smoked balsamic reduction and apricot cous cous underneath the flavorful, crispy-skinned fish.
Our final dish was scallops with a lobster risotto and pea puree. This was the richest of the dishes. We ordered it after the lady at the table next to us implored us to get it – and it really was good. And so pretty.
The trout and short ribs were supposed to be small plates, but they were basically entrees on their own. So by the time we got to the scallops, we were filled to the brim!
After we left The Admiral, we went downtown to explore the bar scene and have a night cap. We hit up the the basement of The Thirsty Monk, which specializes in Belgian beers. I love this style of beer – so floral and spicy.
We stayed at the OM Sanctuary, a retreat space about 1.5 miles from downtown Asheville. We weren’t sure what to expect but it was so lovely! No TVs, beautiful rooms, free yoga, healthy breakfasts and an amazing garden with a waterfall we could hear from our room. And the rates were great – $150 per night which was by far the most economic option we found (it can be EXPENSIVE). It’s two miles from town, so we did have to drive a bit, but Asheville just got Uber ride sharing and I hear Lyft is on the way, so we were able to get around pretty easily between the breweries.
This was the garden right outside our window.
On Saturday morning, we started the day with a hike. We went up to Lookout Mountain, which offered stunning views and an easy, pretty, 0.57 mile hike. The elevation was pretty steep getting up there, but it was worth it. Here are details on how to find the trailhead.
Check out these views! It was the perfect distance to hike – we were ready for beer drinking right after.
Which is exactly what we did! Pisgah Brewing is in Black Mountain, a town neighboring town Asheville, which was also where the Mt. Lookout trailhead was. It was an easy stop on the way back.
The ambiance here was cool – the tap room was kind of hidden at the back of an industrial park. It was a perfectly crisp, sunny fall day, and the garage doors in the back were wide open letting in a nice breeze.
You could do small 4-ounce pours for $1 apiece! So we tried them all.
After Pisgah, we went downtown for lunch at Salsa’s, a Mexican-Caribbean place we’d heard good things about. The only picture I managed to get was of the salsas, which were really interesting. We tried three to start, Fire-roasted Chipotle Peanut, Tomatillo Pumpkinseed, and the Guacamole. They had satisfying texture and flavor in each bite.
We tried to hydrate here, too. A long afternoon of beer drinking awaited us!
Before we hit up the next brewery, we did a little sightseeing. Asheville entered its initial heyday in the 1920′s, and it’s evident in the architecture. Check out this pink, art-deco number downtown. It’s City Hall!
Next up was Burial Beer. This was probably my favorite-tasting beer. They’re doing a couple of saisons – farmhouse ales – including an amber one. Those are a little but fruity, but light and crisp at the same time.
Here’ the view from within the tiny taproom.
Next up was The Wedge. This one was in an old warehouse down by the train tracks.
We found a good spot outside at a picnic table and ate peanuts while we drank our beer. Andrew had an Iron Rail IPA, which was probably his favorite beer of the trip.
After Wedge, which was a mile or so outside of town, we walked back up the hill to town and stumbled upon Hi-Wire Brewing. One of the nice things about Asheville being a brewing town is that they’ll let you try small, 6- or 8-oz pours in addition to a regular glass so you can try more. Hi-Wire also had a sense of humor.
Our last stop of the night was Wicked Weed, which was one of the more established breweries in Asheville. In the basement they have a sour beer bar. Sour beer is a style of beer that’s become popular again. The beer has a sour, acidic, crisp taste to it. I really liked it.
The next day we wound our way down to an edible park, which means there are pecan, hazelnut and apple trees growing and you’re encouraged to sample the goods! We found out about this place through the NY Times 36-Hours piece.
Apples were the only fruit in season, so I helped myself.
We had to cross a neat covered pedestrian path to get there.
It was a delightful trip to Asheville. We’ll certainly try to get another trip on our radar soon. I couldn’t help but hyperlapse the view in the mountains on the way home.
This post is my goodbye to summer. These last few cherry tomatoes were so high up on my gargantuan tomato plants I nearly needed a step ladder to reach them. Fall is a coming, but not in my mind before I can put the last few fresh cherry tomatoes to good use.
It looks so pretty as it’s coming together in the bowl.
I made this Quinoa and Garbanzo Greek Salad and thoroughly enjoyed all its flavors and textures.
Some people are weirded out by textures in their food. They don’t like shellfish for its slipperiness, for example. I am the opposite. I prefer lots of textures in my food. Crunchy nuts, crisp-tender roasted vegetables, cooked beans with firm skins and creamy centers, juicy citrus segments, silky over-easy egg yolks – even slippery shellfish. The more interesting shapes and varied ingredients the merrier.
More textures also probably mean more healthful ingredients. Leaving the skin on a cucumber or crust on bread for croutons, for example, will add more to the chew, and those parts, skins and crusts, have more nutrients.
Here are some quick tips for adding more texture to dishes like salads, soups, stews, rice bowls, quesadillas and stir fries.
Add poppy or sunflower seeds, or chopped cashews, peanuts or almonds to almost any dish.
Include multiple parts of a vegetable in a pasta, such as the florets, stalks and leaves (sautéed) of broccoli.
Use a vegetable or fruit in different forms, such as spinach sautéed in a soup and chopped fresh into ribbons for garnish, or include onions sautéed, raw and pickled in a rice bowl.
Use different kinds of noodles (penne and fusilli) or rice (brown and basmati) in soups and stir fries.
Add a pile of fresh herbs to nearly anything.
Make a vegetable soup and purée half the cooked veggies and leave the other half whole or at least chunky.
Get creative with toppings like dried fruit for salads and rice bowls (raisins are awesome in Mexican-flavored dishes) or olives and capers to pasta.
Choose naturally textured foods like chunky peanut butter and jam with its seeds instead of jelly.
The smooth garbanzos and wiry quinoa in this recipe have very different textures and together make a hearty base for the salad. The unpeeled cucumber and creamy feta cling together while the crunchy sunflower seeds peek around every nook and cranny. Even the dressing gets heft from the pile of fresh chopped herbs infusing it.
Enjoy this last burst of summer. Fall weather – and vegetables – will be here before we know it.
Quinoa and Garbanzo Greek Salad
This recipe makes a lot. I make it on Sundays and we munch on it throughout the week in salads with greens and other veggies, in a bowl with spice sautéed greens and an egg on top, or in quesadillas.
1 cup uncooked quinoa
Juice from two lemons at room temperature
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup (or thereabouts) fresh herbs minced such as dill, thyme, oregano, and/or parsley (I grow all of these herbs so I use a mix, but if you don't have easy access, go with the dill and thyme.)
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 container feta cheese
1 whole cucumber, unpeeled (more nutrients that way but peel it if you prefer), chopped
1/2 red onion, minced as small as you can make it (nobody except maybe my Dad likes a big bite of raw red onion)
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved or quartered if large
1/2 to 3/4 hulled sunflower seeds
Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Meanwhile, make the dressing by combining the lemon juice, olive oil and mustard in a pint jar. Tightly screw on a lid and shake vigorously until emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add herbs and shake to combine; set aside.
Combine remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Add quinoa once cooked and cooled slightly. Stir to combine then pour dressing over and mix well.
If you’re looking for something fun to do over Labor Day weekend, consider participating in a food crawl down Nolensville Road! The Nolensville Road corridor is a true melting pot of ethnic restaurants, grocery stores and bakeries. In a relatively small area, you can find Ethiopian, Thai, Mexican, Kurdish, Turkish and El Salvadorian cuisines, and lots, LOTS more.
The tour takes place on Saturday, August 30, from noon to 3pm.Organized by TIRCC, the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, this tour will surely unearth all kinds of tasty hidden gems along the corridor.
TIRRCis a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create a strong, welcoming, and inclusive environment.
Over the weekend I made a blueberry pie. There are few things more satisfying than making a pie completely from scratch. The pie featured fresh blueberries we picked ourselves. The crust also has 1/4 cup cornmeal in it, and blueberry and cornmeal together is a delicious combo. It got RAVE reviews from the recipients.
The pie was even more special because we picked the blueberries ourselves last weekend from The Blue Berry Patch in Murfreesboro. It was so fun! It took about an hour to pick 9 pounds of blueberries. Very sweet place about 45 minutes from Nashville.
I mean these things were so good I could have eaten them right off the bush. Which I did a few times.
I call this one city meets country.
The pie-making process is just so pretty.
I was so pleased with myself when it came out of the oven I decided to parade it around the house a bit.
And poof it was gone! It would have been even better with vanilla – or better yet lemon – ice cream.
The recipe comes from – where else – Epicurious. Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust. It also includes a link to a Lemon Cream recipe that I didn’t end up making, but it gets rave reviews so I probably will next time.
Heavenly Blueberry Pie with Cornmeal Crust
This pie rules! The cornmeal crust can easily be made a day in advance and stored in the refrigerator. Serve it with vanilla ice cream.
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
3 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2 sticks plus two tablespoons total) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons (or more) ice water
5 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon water
For the crust:
Combine the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add butter and pulse until it resembles coarse meal. Add 4 to five tablespoons of ice water and blend until it starts to clump up. Add more water if necessary (I added 2 to 3). Pinch pieces with your fingers until it starts to stick together like dough. Turn dough out onto the counter and roll into a ball. Divide in half with a knife and flatten each half into a disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least one hour in the fridge or as long as a day. Keep the dough chilled and bring out 10 minutes before you want to roll. It will appear hard but start working it with the rolling pin and it'll flatten right out.
Mix the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and 1 tablespoon water in large bowl and combine with a spoon. Let this mixture stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or so to let the juices start to leak out.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prepare the pie dish by placing it on a rimmed baking sheet lined with foil.
Roll the first disk of dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment. Once the dough is large enough to fit in a 9-inch pie pan with some hanging over, invert it into the dish then carefully peel off the parchment. dough into 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Carefully peel off second parchment sheet. Gently push the dough down so if neatly fills the pie dish, then spoon in the filling.
Do the same with the second disk of dough, then flip it onto the pie and remove the parchment. Trip what hangs over too far then press to seal. Somehow, decoratively make the crust. I never do this well. Make sure you cut slits into the top to let the steam escape.
Bake pie for 15 minutes, then turn it down to 350 degrees and keep cooking for another 1 hour and 15 minutes until the blueberries are bubbling thickly through the slits and the crust is golden brown. Cover crust with foil if the crust gets too brown.
I almost called this post “Snails, Sardines and Gooseneck Barnacles” but thought that might not sound as appetizing. Although we did eat those things during our nearly two weeks in Lisbon (pronounced “lish-boa” in Portuguese – go on, say it! It’s a fun accent) the capital and largest city, then Porto, the second largest city three hours up the coast, along with a few day trips to near by towns. We also took a trip to Greece in the middle to celebrate the wedding of two dear friends. You can read all about them in this post, and you can get a delightful recipe for moussaka.
Here’s a shot of one of the beautiful plaza’s in Lisbon.
Eating is such a great way to experience a new culture, and we took full advantage of the country’s offerings.
During our first dinner, we walked into a tiny neighborhood place near our hostel outside the hustle of the tourist zone. I noticed plates of small tan and brown bean-shaped morsels on most everyone’s tables, and requested a plate of the same before we even got our menus. They were snails! Tiny brown snails, still in their shells, sautéed or boiled and bathed in olive oil and garlic. I honestly enjoyed their flavor but couldn’t do more than about half the plate.
The rest of the meal was soft cheese and fresh bread, boiled potatoes and olive-oil poached shark.
The next evening we found a great little cafe with a view of Lisbon.
The heart of old Lisbon is located on a river very near the Atlantic Coast, so seafood is huge here. Grilled sardines are another local specialty so I tried those our second night. They were served with salad, and I ordered a chilled gazpacho (chunky tomato bread soup) with it. The sardines have a pretty strong flavor but the char from the grill was pleasant paired with it. Grilled sardines are a traditional dish in Portugal – you could find them on almost every menu.
The next day, after wandering around a 1,000-year-old castle (no big deal), we spent the afternoon at a cafe, sipping Sagres beer (a refreshing lager brewed in Lisbon), and eating bread with sun dried tomato spread and olives. So civilized.
The Portuguese like pork. A lot. One of our favorite pork experiences was in sandwich form at this pop-up place in the middle of a large, main plaza in Lisbon. Dry-cured pork, similar to Spanish “jamon serrano” or Italian prosciuotto, was layered on super fresh bread smeared with queijo amarelo, a super soft, almost runny cheese, sort of similar to brie. Yum.
We are big vegetable eaters in regular life and found greens and other healthful foods a bit difficult to come by in the restaurants. A soup of the day was offered at most places which was usually a vegetable broth soup, so we often ordered that to get a shot of veggies in.
“Caldo Verde” is a typical soup and literally means green broth. It’s made with chicken broth, potatoes and cabbage and or kale. That was one of our faves. The one below came with a poached egg.
Cherries were everywhere in Portugal! Often cherries were an option as dessert at the end of a meal. This restaurant served them over ice. A perfectly refreshing end to a heavy meal.
I love finding restaurants with good food AND good atmosphere. We had several meals on the windy, stair-studded steps of Lisbon, like this one.
We took planes, trains and automobiles to get between Portugal and Greece. On one leg of a flight we were served a surprise meal, smoked salmon sandwich, with a fruit smoothie! Also, contact solution came in the mix. Kind of a strange addition, but I’m not complaining.
And then we got to Greece for the wedding. And what a wedding it was! We were so so SO happy to celebrate with Chris and Maria. This is them during the Jewish part of the ceremony (the first part was in a beautiful Greek Orthodox church in the village) under the chuppah that some friends and I built.
Our time in Greece was spent doing wedding prep and hanging out with dear friends, but we did manage to sneak down to Amoudi Bay to have some fresh-grilled calamari. The calamari is only seasoned with salt, pepper and lemon juice so you can really taste the sea and the smokiness from the grill.
Absolutely delicious, especially when you’re sharing the meal with this guy.
We ate a lot of fine things in Greece, but the best part of those meals was dining with dear friends.
This was a shot from Myrto’s birthday party and the day before we left. What a delight.
See you later, Greece. We’ll be back soon.
On our way from Greece back to Porto, a city in Northern Portugal, we had a six-hour layover in Barcelona, so we went to La Boqueria, a large, public market, for breakfast.
We finally made it to Porto. What a beautiful city on the banks of the Rio Duoro. This is where Port wine is made, and another spot for excellent seafood.
When we first arrived, our hostel told us about “Francesinhas,” or “little Frenchman” sandwiches. Legend has it some drunk Frenchmen were missing home and asked a Portuguese restaurant to make them a croque madame, the famous grilled ham sandwich with an egg on top. Because they were drunk, they kept demanding more and more ingredients, and this sandwich was the result. It has about five kinds of meat sandwiched between two halves of white bread and cheese. There’s fragrant gravy – tomato and cumin-scented on top – along with the friend egg and fries. We both agreed it was something to try but one was enough for us.
I mean look at that. Wowza. We split one and were still super full.
One of my favorite travel food activities is to check out the chip flavors. You often see such crazy flavors! I like doing this so much I even wrote a blog post on the topic when Andrew and I were traveling in South America a few years ago. The “ketchup” flavored Ruffles were our faves on this trip.
We couldn’t go to Porto without tasting port. Everyone recommend Taylor’s, so we hiked up the hill to sample their ports. We tried tawny, ruby and a white port. I liked the tawnies best. Those are aged in smaller barrels which gives them more exposure to oxygen which makes them taste a bit sweeter and fruitier, and have a lighter color than the rubies.
If you go to Portugal, you MUST go into the Duoro Valley. We took the train up the Duoro river into the valley, then rented a car. We stumbled upon this guesthouse, Casa Grande do Serrado, on booking.com and boy did it work out. They not only had a gorgeous 200-year-old house to stay in, but they make their own wine and port so they took us out to vineyard for a private tour and tasting. All for $50! It was like Napa Valley but mountainous.
Our host Nuno was so hospitable and spent several hours sipping wine and port with us and talking about wine, soccer, Portugal and life. It was an absolute delight.
The next day we went to Lamego, a small town just south of where we were staying at Casa Grande. They’re famous for their sparkling wine. Andrew was driving so I finished the better part of this afternoon aperitif. Made the train ride back to Porto pretty entertaining!
Portugal is huge on custard pastries. We had a LOT of them. This one was coconut-flavored. It was super eggy and sweet – so good with an espresso. I don’t want to admit how often we stopped for these. Yum.
The most famous dessert in Portugal though, is Pastel de Nata. They are simply custard tartlets with caramelized sugar on the top, and you can find them everywhere.
On the way home one day we stopped in this fruit shop and stocked up on nectarines, peaches, bananas and oranges. It was so refreshing!
Our last night in Porto we took a tram out to the coast then walked up the beach several miles to a cluster of seafood restaurants. Our hostel had instructed us to try these sea barnacles (the small dark things at the bottom of the plate). They were hard to eat! You really had to dig in to pull out the small edible part. They sort of reminded me of crawfish – a lot of work for a small pay off. The shrimp we got were totally amazing and tasted very fresh. The dipping sauce you see is straight mayo.
After Porto, we headed back down to Lisbon, where our return flight departed from. To celebrate the last night of our trip we had a progressive dinner. We started around happy hour at Lost in Esplanada. Beautiful city views, happy hour specials and fresh, creative food. We had an impressive cheese plate with some roasted vegetables. I had rose and a beer while Andrew had an infused green tea and a beer. We relaxed, people-watched and enjoyed the view during our last night. It was totally delightful.
For Part II of our dinner, we splurged at Bistro 100 Maneiras, one of Chef Ljubomir Stanisic’s four restaurants. He seems to be a chef in the spotlight right now, and is food really proved that.
We started with smoked mushrooms in a jar with asparagus and a poached egg. The server brought the jar over, then mixed it all up and served each of us a portion. The mushrooms had some of their own liquid, which mixed with the poached egg. Definitely delicious.
Next up were these tasty little clams in an incredible ginger-garlic-dill broth. Really interesting. The grilled bread was totally necessary to soak up all the broth.
Our final course of the night was a dish of black pork with some fresh sprouts and polenta cakes. The pigs feast on mushrooms in a certain part of Portugal, which gives their meet a distinctive sweet taste. I read about black pork and other Portuguese delights in this post from Epicurious. A helpful read if you’re also planning a trip.
It was a delightful and delicious trip! I’d highly recommend Portugal to anyone. On to the next adventure!
A number of years ago my Aunt Julie and Uncle Mark introduced a black bean and corn salsa to the family. We were at a normal weekend potluck, and they put it out alongside the hotdogs and baked beans without fanfare. In my memory though, this was an exciting moment. With our first bites, my family members were transported into a musical complete with matching colorful outfits and coordinated moves, dancing to the hustle while we all crooned harmonically about our love for this delightful new dish.
Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic, but it really is good salsa. It’s become one of our families most beloved dishes. Julie and Mark say it originally came from Bon Appetit magazine, but they’ve tweaked the recipe over the years to really make it their own. The recipe below is from Julie’s memory; I edited it slightly for my taste.
The salsa is tasty with frozen corn (and easier) but if you’ve got some fresh ears on hand, boil or grill them then shave off the kernels. Fresh tomatoes are a must, and ’tis the season after all. I like to serve this with Tostitos Multigrain Scoops but any tortilla chip will do. It’s also suitable as a relish for hot dogs or grilled chicke, and perfectly good as a side dish on its own.
If you spontaneously break into song while eating this, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The Best Summertime Black Bean and Corn Salsa
Prep Time:20 minutes
This salsa is best after it sits for a bit. Make it early and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve to allow the favors to meld. It's also easily doubled.
1 10 oz. package of frozen corn
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
juice from two limes at room temperature
1 16 oz. can of black beans (undrained)
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered if large; add more if desired
1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon cumin
salt and pepper to taste
tortilla chips, if desired
Spread corn on paper towels or dish towels to thaw and drain. Meanwhile, chop onion and combine with the sugar and lime juice. The sugar will help tone down the raw onion flavor.
Chop tomatoes and cilantro. Add to onions along with black beans. Mix well to combine. Drizzle olive oil over salsa and add cumin and season to taste with salt and pepper.
A pleasure I’ve recently come to know is dining out alone. I’m not talking about a grab-n-go airport meal or quick lunch on a workday. I mean a proper, sit-down meal at a destination restaurant solo.
Part of the pleasure is being content to push myself out of my comfort zone, getting over whatever social pressures (real or perceived) exist telling us not to show up alone. I find a meal by myself in a public place a time to be alone with my thoughts, cell-phone free, ordering just what I want. If the circumstances are right, it can feel like a mental date with yourself.
I first realized I enjoyed this experience last summer when my husband was away on a backpacking trip for a few weeks. One night, bored with eating alone at home and not in the mood to coordinate a meal with a friend, I walked to a local restaurant I hadn’t yet tried. I took a magazine, ordered a beer, and casually chatted with the bartender in between articles. I enjoyed the experience so much more than I thought I would. It was almost therapeutic.
Since that first meal, I’ve found myself traveling alone on a couple of business trips, first to D.C. and then to Dallas. Having not spent much time in either city, and as a person who enjoys trying new restaurants, I was motivated to spend my evenings exploring. Armed with only my smartphone, I cross-referenced local culture magazine restaurant recommendations with my Yelp and LocalEats apps, then navigated my way to the chosen spot. Making the meal into a sort of adventure like this is really fun.
I make it a point not to use my smartphone during the meal. Perusing social networks or checking email sort of ruins the experience. You’re not really alone that way. It’s nice to just sit there, disconnected, present in the moment. I don’t think our culture does enough of that. The solitude reminds of being on an airplane, when electronic devices are turned off and you’re forced to be alone with your thoughts. I do some of my best thinking on planes and often use the time to journal. (Although, with the increasing prevalence of wifi-enabled planes and talk of adding cell service, I fear this final frontier of disconnectivity isn’t long for this world.)
Another great perk is ordering exactly what you want. When dining out with my husband, we often order everything to share, so I choose my dishes with both our tastes in mind. There’s an indulgence about ordering completely selfishly. Along those lines, I’ve found I often order dessert when I’m out alone, something I seldom do otherwise.
I had one of my favorite dining alone experiences recently in D.C. I ended up at a Spanish tapas bar within walking distance from my hotel. I sat at the bar, and the friendly bartender kept me company. I had salt cod crudo, a fresh grapefruit salad, a couple of Spanish cheeses, and a cheesecake featuring Manchego cheese, a Spanish specialty, for dessert. It was a totally “Annakate” order, and I loved it.
Before writing this article, I chatted with a friend about the subject of dining alone and realized it’s only enjoyable if it’s by choice. She’s in sales, and eating alone reminds her of sales trips solo in suburbs and office parks around the country. I can see her point.
With about a dozen solo meals under my belt, I’ve learned a few tricks to dining out alone. First, atmosphere is everything. You don’t want a place that’s too stuffy or too empty because you’ll draw attention to yourself, and that can be uncomfortable. A bar seat is my favorite, especially if it’s a chef’s bar or open kitchen so I can watch the food being made and maybe make some light conversation with the staff behind the bar. You’ll have more peace if choose a table, and that can be nice if you want some time to concentrate.
Waitstaff is another consideration. A seasoned server will know how attentive to be. Similarly, a friendly bartender can keep you company and connect you with others if you’re in the mood to chat.
These are a few of my favorite spots around town. Where are your faves?
Margot: The bar’s location near the door creates a great perch for people watching.
Silly Goose: This place is constantly packed, but the small bar overlooking the kitchen gives a solo diner a faster option.
Lockeland Table: Lots of solo seating options here. Choose from two bars (pizza and wet bar), communal table or patio.
Park Cafe: Intimate atmosphere and seasoned waitstaff to make you feel comfortable.
Some friends and I decided to start doing themed dinner parties each month. This month’s theme was “Thai,” and I volunteered to make the main course. I’ve made a few Thai-inspired dishes before, such as this Thai Black Rice Salad, which could be a main dish, but never a main main dish.
I found this recipe for Thai Shrimp Halibut Curry on Epicurious.com, and boy was it delicious and easy. I modified the recipe some to feature all shrimp instead of the halibut, but I’ll make it again with the halibut sometime. This would also be delicious with chicken or even tofu if you aren’t a seafood fan. I’d also add chickpeas, since I seem to be obsessed with chickpeas.
Here’s why this recipe was a great choice:
It didn’t require a lot of fancy (expensive) ingredients. Fish sauce and curry paste are easy to come by and inexpensive. The Thai Kitchen brand of curry is widely available and only has spices in it – no weird additional ingredients.
It was easy to make the curry and rice in advance. The shrimp only take a few minutes to cook so you reheat the curry right before serving and drop them in.
It’s transportable and freezable (the curry part – separate from the rice).
The recipe easily doubles.
It was super flavorful and pretty healthy.
My friend Allyn made a delicious Siam Sunray cocktail, featuring vodka and coconut rum muddled with ginger and a thai chile and topped with soda and a squeeze of lime. It was so refreshing!
Here’s a pic of the curry finishing on the stove. Once we brought it over to Nesrin’s (who hosted), I let it simmer on low until we were just about to eat. I let the shrimp cook in the curry for about five minutes before serving it.
It was a successful dinner party. Looking forward to the next one!
Thai Green Curry with Shrimp
Since it's freezable, flavorful and something different than pasta, this recipe would also make for a great meal to take to new parents. Up the dried peppers to make it spicier if you want. The curry on its own isn't very spicy.
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes
2 1/2 teaspoons Thai red curry paste (such as Thai Kitchen brand)
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3 large limes, divided
1 tablespoon fish sauce (don't be scared - it just adds flavor depth)
24-30 ounces uncooked peeled large shrimp (you could add more or less shrimp depending on your guests)
4 tablespoons butter (this made the sauce velvety)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
Cooked jasmine rice
Saute onions, pepper, ginger and chile flakes in olive oil in a deep skillet or saute pan (you can also use a stock pot or dutch oven) until onion is translucent. Add red curry paste and mix well until well distributed. Add coconut milk, zest and juice from two limes, and fish sauce. If making curry in advance, pause here and refrigerate or simmer on low for up to an hour.
Five minutes before serving (if curry has been chilled, reheat first), bring to a simmer and add shrimp and butter. Cook five minutes until shrimp is cooked through.
Serve with lime wedges from remaining lime, chopped cilantro and basil, and rice.
Bon Appetit is a great magazine. If you’ve read my blog for very long you’ll know I often post adaptations of their recipes. Not only are the recipes great (and more straightforward and unfussy than you might think), but I also look forward to the photography and styling, culture and travel stories, and prep school guide (their how-to section). To give you an idea, here’s a quick roundup of some of their most recent non-recipe articles.
Sometime last year I encountered a version of this recipe in the magazine. It’s a combination of roasted cauliflower, gigante beans (giant buttery white beans), parsley, and a delightful homemade mustard-lemon vinaigrette. It was so tasty it even made it onto our Thanksgiving table this year. The original recipe calls includes barley and leaves out the spinach and sunflower seeds, but I adapted it to suit what I had on hand.
I served this with a piece of tilapia and called it a night. Enjoy!
Cauliflower Gigante Bean Salad with Lemon-Mustard Vinaigrette
Total Time:25 minutes-ish
This is a great recipe for weeknights or for entertaining. It comes together quickly and is a little something different. As per usual, I like it because it contains inexpensive ingredients, is healthy, and doesn't require meat to be delicious.
1 head cauliflower, leaves removed, florets cut into uniform pieces
5 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon mayo
1 can gigante, butter or white beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup fresh spinach, chopped (I estimate this to be a good-sized handful)
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Toss cauliflower with 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast on a rimmed baking sheet for 20 minutes or so, until edges look crispy and browned.
Meanwhile, make dressing. In a 1/2 pint jar (or any small-ish jar with a tight-fitting lid), combine lemon zest and juice, mustard, mayo and remaining olive oil. Screw lid on and shake well to emulsify. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
In a large bowl combine roasted cauliflower with beans, spinach, parsley and sunflower seeds. Pour on dressing and toss with tongs to combine. Serve immediately (while cauliflower is still warm) or at room temperature.