When I was a kid, I loved ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches. I’m not talking about grilled cheesy goodness dunked in ketchup, here; this was two pieces of Home Pride, a single slice of Kraft American, and a heavy-handed squiggle of Heinz 57. I was obsessed with ketchup. Ketchup made everything better. Although both parents deny preparing said ketchup-and-cheese sandwiches for us kids and my sister says the thought of such a sandwich “makes her want to hurk,” there’s no denying that ketchup was the star ingredient in my mom’s meatloaf. I was, of course, meatloaf’s number one fan. Just the word “meatloaf” takes me back to those days, standing in the kitchen, watching my mom transform a mound of ground beef into a perfect oval with rapid two-handed pats before she iced the whole thing with ketchup and tossed it into the oven. It killed me that meatloaf took so long to cook. An hour?! Really, Mom? And then, as we (finally) sat down to eat, I’d silently start hoping for leftovers, because the only thing better than Mom’s meatloaf was a cold, leftover meatloaf-and-ketchup sandwich the next day.
Now that I’m all old and mature, my ketchup-and-cheese sandwich has been upgraded to a crusty baguette with hunks of gooey brie, and a taste for wine has replaced my craving for all things ketchup. And meatloaf? Well, I still love it, and this cheesy Marsala-glazed meatloaf recipe puts a classy spin on the nostalgic meal. It’s still got ketchup (as all good meatloaves do), but this one has hunks of gooey, white cheddar cheese and is dressed with a sweet wine glaze. It tastes indulgent and traditional all at once, and it’s a dinner both kids and adults will enjoy.
Dry Marsala wine is fantastic in this recipe (I used Colombo Fine Dry Marsala Wine, which has hints of vanilla and raisin). The meatloaf can be prepared a day ahead and stored covered in the fridge for a hearty, low-stress meal the next day.Read More
Ballantyne’s Elwoods BBQ opened back in 2009, and the reviews were, well, not great. Things took a turn for the barbecue better this October when two brothers-in-law, Dan Anderson and Jeremy Johnson, purchased the joint. While the face of the restaurant hasn’t changed much and the menu offerings aren’t drastically different, the quality of food being served has seen substantial improvement with the arrival of the new owners and Chef Mike Theimer, previously with the Burger Co., heading up the kitchen. What’s in the past is in the past; nowadays, Elwoods is smoking their meats daily, grinding burgers in-house, and making everything they possibly can from scratch.
Think of Elwoods as a BBQ melting pot: they’ve got Carolina pulled pork covered, of course, but they’re also smoking Texas style beef brisket, St Louis ribs, chicken, and (my personal favorite) the Kansas City burnt ends. Considered a barbecue delicacy by many, some folks (especially northerners like me who aren’t akin to these little nuggets of beef) find the burnt ends crispy, tough, and dry. I can admit I previously fell into that camp, but the burnt ends at Elwoods changed my mind on the very first bite, with a juicy, chewy texture that reminded me more of pork belly than the dehydrated meat bits I’d had from other guys in town.Read More
Obsessed. That about sums up my thoughts on Viva Chicken. Located in Elizabeth (on the charming Elizabeth Street), Viva Chicken is my go-to spot for fresh, great tasting food that’s actually healthy. I’m sure some people go there for the chicken–they do specialize in Peruvian Rotisserie, after all. But me? I go there for the Aji Amarillo sauce. It’s one of their three hot sauces, the mild one, and (to quote the Frank’s Red Hot Granny) I’d put that **** on everything. And that includes the awesome sandwiches at Viva Chicken, which they make with chewy grilled ciabatta bread. My favorites are the Butfiarra (roasted pork with lime marinated onions and smoked rocoto (hot pepper) mayo) and the Wow Lomito (char-grilled sirloin with peppers and onions). You can add sliced avocado and provolone to any sandwich, and I highly recommend you do.
When I’m looking to keep things a little lighter (read: no carbs for the carb monster), I opt for the Viva Chicken Salad, which comes with large slices of avocado, tomato, cucumber, and feta. It’s served with their house balsamic dressing, but more often than not, I substitute the mild Aji Amarillo sauce instead.
There’s also the quinoa stuffed avocado, which is quickly becoming a Charlotte legend. You get a whole avocado, loaded with a fresh quinoa salad, topped with balsamic dressing and a drizzle of rocoto mayo, and you have the option of adding pulled rotisserie chicken (do it.).
The Sopa De Pollo is a mild tasting soup, with lots of cilantro and a simple chicken broth. It’s not the most exciting dish on the menu, but (speaking from experience) it’s great to slurp on when you’re sick.
Given the presence of animal protein in the restaurant name, I was surprised to see there are quite a few vegetarian options on the menu (in addition to the quinoa stuffed avocado), like the Naked Peruvian, a ciabatta sandwich with lots of veggies and avocado, and the Inca wrap with Peruvian canary beans. The menu also includes some Asian-inspired dishes, like strip steak stir fry and soy ginger noodles.
Viva is a fast casual place–you order at counter, grab a number, and the food magically appears mere minutes later. They have an iphone app(!) that lets you order and pay right from your phone, if you so choose. The only thing I don’t love about Viva Chicken is the music in the dining room–it’s a little too loud and a lot too clubby.
When people ask me what the best food trucks in Charlotte are, the Herban Legend is always at the top of my list. Owned and operated by Chef Brian Seeley, the Herban Legend truck specializes in fresh American and international street food, and the menu reflects the period Chef Brian spent living in the Persian Gulf area. The rotating specials have cross-country flair and include Arabic shawarma, Fillipino pork belly, Sri Lankan curry, Carribean jerk chicken, pork and chorizo tostados, and duck ramen, plus Chicago dogs for an American throwback. Chef Brian does a great job of posting the daily menu on the truck’s Facebook and Twitter pages–so be sure to check them out.
Let’s get back to the food. There are LOTS of great things on the truck, but my absolute favorite (the one food I’ve tweeted, texted, and raved about most in the last year) is the chicken shawarma. It’s a warm, chewy flatbread, loaded with grilled chicken, tomatoes, tabouleh, french fries (yep, they’re inside the wrap), a slathering of tzatziki, and a secret (at least to me) spicy sauce. I’ve enjoyed the surf and turf burrito a handful of times, which has coffee-seared steak, baja shrimp, guacamole, chimichurri, and chipotle sauce, and their black bean burger with chipotle aioli is a solid meat-free option.
Here’s a shot of my beloved chicken shawarma… cue the shawarma happy dance!!!
I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house. We were sitting cross-legged on the floor, huddled around a wicker coffee table, our plates just inches from our mouths. There was other food, I’m sure, chicken or maybe meatloaf or some other forgotten piece of protein I’d pushed to the side to make room for the Halasa family mashed potatoes. I’d started with a mountain of them, yellow from the excessive butter content and so dense they required I carry the paper plate two-handed to our roost at the kids’ table.
Sitting there on the floor with my girlfriends, I momentarily admired the mass on my plate, eager and anxious, before bringing one mounding forkful of those creamy, lumpless potatoes to my mouth. I delicately slid the fork between my lips, twitterpated as my eyes squeezed closed and the warmth of the potatoes coated my tongue and throat. After each bite, I’d drag the edge of my fork over the potatoes, smoothing out the craters, like a Zamboni methodically perfecting the surface of an ice rink.
Moderation was a mystery to me, and each swallow brought me simultaneous pleasure and nausea; I was powerless to the potatoes. Forget meat sweats, I was fighting carb-induced hysteria. As I battled my inner ever-present demons of gluttony, I placed my fork on the table, letting my fingers linger on the warm metal while the internal turmoil waged on. Abruptly, I jerked my fingers away from the fork and scooped up the remaining mashed potatoes with a cupped right hand. I brought them to my mouth, hesitating for just a moment at my lips, questioning and confused, when a brash flash of clarity zapped through my mind and I quickly and swiftly smeared the mashed potatoes across my right cheek, followed immediately by a scoopful slathered across the left. It was fast, like an impatient father slapping sunscreen on a squirming toddler, and when I lifted my potato-masked face I found two silent, slightly horrified teenage girls staring at me.
Unlike most people, when I say something is so good, I want to smear it all over my face, I’m speaking from hands-on experience. I know exactly what it takes to trigger that sort of primal action. I know the complete lack of self-control delicious food can cause. I know what potatoes can do to a girl.
Of all the sessions at the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference, my favorite was Kim O’Donnel’s interactive writing workshop, which focused on breaking through writer’s block by reminding us that we all have something to write about, the trick is starting small-scale. We started with “I remember” and then rapidly jotted down as many memories as we could conjure over the course of three minutes. ”I remember eating mashed potatoes on the sunporch at my friend Allison’s house” was one of many memories on my list, and I’m so happy to finally have this specific memory written on the blog.
I would like to send one last HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC! Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.
Last week, I headed west for the International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. While the conference was my primary purpose for making the journey, I had my mind set on doing some big eating and on spending some quality time at Pike Place Market. So, the moment I arrived at my hotel after twelve hours of travel, I threw my bags in the room, and walked as fast as my tired legs could carry me, down the hill to see the sun setting over Elliot Bay. It was magical.
As the sun melted away, I strolled over to the market. Most of the shops and vendors were closed, and the place felt peaceful, like the calm before a massive storm. I savored every moment of this trip, the first of seven I made to the market during my three-and-a-half-day stay.
At the recommendation of a friend (and former Seattleite), I dined at the Pink Door, in the Post Alley near the market. Even with the restaurant name and address in hand, I was confused when I finally stumbled upon this simple, nondescript door in the subtlest of pink hues. No sign to confirm your destination, no windows or lights to verify the place was open for business.
I timidly pushed on the door, and found that behind the facade the restaurant buzzed with the energy of chatting diners, fast-moving servers, and live music. My friend raved about the Pink Door’s bechamel lasagna, but for my first meal in the city I was set on some Seattle-sourced seafood. At the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered the Cioppino: prawns, mussels, clams and calamari in a spicy tomato and white wine broth. As I sat at the bar, a solo traveler on the prelude of her first-ever cross-country expedition, sipping wine and dunking the crusty house bread into that delicate broth, I felt immensely satisfied both with the meal and with my first night in Seattle.
I’d been warned of the hills in Seattle, but their presence didn’t register with me until I made the trek from the Pink Door up to the hotel. My calf muscles were on fire, and I couldn’t catch my breath at the top. I wonder how often drunk people trip and fall and wind up tumbling head over heels all four blocks down to the water. They really should install some sort of a safety net system at each intersection. Letter to the mayor, perhaps? Or just a cheesy selfie as proof that I made it back to room unscathed.
Early the next morning, I took a run along the waterfront. It was sunny in Seattle that day, as it was for most of the trip, and I could not take my eyes off the hills on the opposite side of the bay. I wondered if this bank looked as beautiful to them as theirs did to me, and if their hills were as steep as those downtown, and I hoped, for the sake of their drunks, that they had some sidewalk safety nets installed.
After my run, I walked my sweaty self over to the market, just as the shops were opening.
The market was full of energy and movement: vendors unpacking, employees offering free samples of their produce, and shoppers hoping to witness a legendary monger fish toss.
Of all the food I ate in Seattle (and there was an abundance of eating), Piroshky, Piroshky, a Russian Bakery located at the market, was a hot contender for my favorite. A piroshky is a handheld pie of sorts, with either sweet or savory filling, and a delicious soft yeasty dough. I went there twice, emerging both times with a piroshky in each hand. My top picks were the potato and cheese, rhubarb, and the marzipan (with almond paste).
After eating my weight in piroshky, I spent a lot of time walking around the market area, which, just like the buttery crumpet I had at the Crumpet Shop, is full of delightful nooks and crannies.
I wasn’t happy about it, but I snapped a few shots of the legendary gum wall. My stomach clenched as I thought of all the dried saliva just inches from my face. I gagged as I snapped photos and my mind attempted to quantify the number of dislodged food particles stuck in those colorful gobs of gum.
Seattle is known for its coffee, and I drank my fair share while there, including a tall Pike from the original Starbucks, which somehow tasted smoother and less bitter than any I’d drank before, and a foamy cappuccino from the swanky, soon-to-be opened Storyville Coffee.
Saturday night, Urbanspoon hosted a dinner for all 300+ IFBC bloggers, which were divided into groups and sent to mystery dinner locations. There was quite the build up! Where would you go? Who would you dine with? What would you eat??
My group traveled to Bellevue, a city that sits next to Seattle, for a five-course dinner at John Howie Steak.
It was an extensive meal, my favorites of which were the scallops with pickled chanterelles (I’d never eaten pickled mushrooms before!) and the lobster mashed potatoes… and dessert, of course.
The next day, I went to Fremont with a few friends to try Paseo’s a small shop I’d heard had legendary Cuban sandwiches. When we arrived, the place was CLOSED, and I nearly cried. Luckily my foodie friends Suki, Ryan, and Johnny, rallied and we set off on a mini tasting of Fremont, including ice cream, dumplings, burgers, and booze.
Later that evening, I headed to dinner at Delancey, which is owned Molly Wizenberg (of the Orangette blog) and her husband. Molly is also one half of the Spilled Milk Podcast, which I love (LOVE!). I’ve heard Molly talk about Delancey on the podcast so many times, it was sort of surreal to dine there. My favorite item was the super simple tomato toast with anchovy aioli. Get this: the tomato actually tasted like a tomato!
Stay tuned for a post about the IFBC conference sessions!
I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC! Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates.
On a whim, a whole eleven months ago, I bought a ticket to attend the 2013 International Food Blogger Conference in Seattle. The proofs right there, in black, size 10 Arial, in my 2012 budget spreadsheet, and when I look at that entry, sandwiched between an outrageous dry cleaning bill and a weekend trip to Trader Joe’s, I’m awestruck that I had the balls to buy the ticket. Somehow in that moment, I knew the coming year would kick me so hard in the keister that I’d need a cross-country escapade, and now all that stands between me and the Emerald City is a couple of days and a mere 2,800 miles. (Actually, it’s more like 5,000 miles, courtesy of my cheap plane ticket’s Texan layover… 12 hours of travel, totally worth it.)
Seattle has topped my travel wishlist since college, and not because of the sappy romance flicks filmed there—it’s deeper than that. It’s in my bones and my gut. It’s cosmic. And it’s why I’m making this voyage alone. Just me, a bag of snacks, a couple of books, and my big girl pants. Much has been written about the personal discovery one experiences when traveling solo, and for a gal whose been running on E since April, I’m aching for it. Maybe it’s just undiagnosed-ADD, but I have this insatiable craving for adventure. I’m constantly seeking opportunities to grow and learn and see and do, and in this vein, here’s what I’m hoping will come of my trip:
Grow. The first, and most personal, of my hopes is to enjoy this uninhibited opportunity to experience a new city, new people, and new food without feeling the need to fill my time with productivity and networking.
Learn. My creative brainwaves are desperate for stimulation, and of all the awesome seminars offered at the IFBC, I’m especially excited for those geared towards writing and photography. The agenda includes sessions on increasing blog traffic and readership, but that’s not where my head or heart are right now. Instead, I’ll be hanging out with Andrew Scrivani (photographer and food stylist for the New York Times) and listening to Dorie Greenspan speak (yes, that Dorie).
See. Aimless, unscripted meandering will be my primary pastime.
Do. In this context, “DO” loosely translates to “EAT.” It wouldn’t be a food blogger conference without an exorbitant amount of food, not to mention the awesome Seattle restaurant scene I’ve read so much about. My goal is to try new foods, especially those local and/or special to Seattle, and to eat my face off without eating myself sick… and maybe squeeze in a run or two.
I would like to send a HUGE thank you to Truly Good Foods for sponsoring my attendance at the IFBC! Truly Good Foods specializes in premium snack mixes, raw and freshly roasted nuts and seeds, dried fruit, and hundreds of bulk and packaged candies, spices, grains and specialty foods. Truly Good Foods has an extensive line of retail branded products, including Grabeez®, Buffalo Nuts® and Dip & Devour Dipping Chocolates. For those attending the IFBC, be sure to check out the Truly Good Foods goodies in the gift suite!
I thought about doing it for months. It’s just one of those things — a kitchen right of passage of sorts — that everyone has to do (at least once). Of course, I didn’t want to do it just to do it–I wanted it to be the juiciest most flavorful chicken EVER. So, I researched. To truss or not to truss? Butter on the skin or under? Which herbs? Breast side up or breast side down? I had this feeling in my gut that I was on the road to cosmic alignment—that somehow I’d channel the kitchen gods and miraculously stumble upon the “secret” to the perfect bird that I could then share with my friends and family and all those other folks on the interweb.
In actuality, the fact that I’d mustered the courage to even attempt roasting a whole chicken was somewhat of a miracle. Of all the meat phobias I’ve fostered over the years, chicken is the one animal that consistently causes me to question being a carnivore. Just the words “chicken skin” make my upper lip curl. So when I picked up the whole bird at Whole Foods, one handed, like I was palming a basketball, and felt the bird’s ribs, solid under a squishy layer of skin and flesh, I nearly gave up on the whole idea. I nearly gave up on eating meat, for that matter. Yes, my resolve was tested at the meat case and again, later that day, when it was time to give the bird its last bath. I used tongs to discard the white bag of parts-that-shall-not-be-named, but I had no kitchen contraption large enough to hold the carcass under the cold running water, that is, of course, except for my hands. As I rinsed the cavity out, I waited for the water to fill the bird to the tippy top, like a drinking glass does when you’re washing it, and it took me a minute or two to realize that because of the GIANT HOLE in the other end where the animal’s head and neck once were, there’d be no filling of the bird.
When all was said and done, the chicken turned out ok. Not miraculous, but glistening brown and cooked all the way through. And I realized, as I was eating it, that perhaps the reason I’d never roasted a whole chicken wasn’t because of my kitchen inferiority complex; I just don’t like chicken.Read More