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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Eating Our Way Around Indy

I've been to Indianapolis a few times, but usually just as a stopover on my way to Chicago. While I've raced around the Indy Speedway, enjoyed the works of Georgia O'Keeffe at the Museum of Art, and toured the Medical History Museum (highly underrated and well worth a visit), I've not spent much time exploring the local restaurants. So I was pleased to head up there this past weekend for a food and walking tour. We ate and ate, and then ate some more. It turns out that Indianapolis has some great food!

The Rathskeller

Our tour started at 3pm at The Rathskeller, where we were greeted by our guide Dani.

The German House was built by the city's German community in the 19th century. Its goal was to provide one location for their many social, political, and sporting clubs. Renamed the Athenaeum during World War I, the building now houses a YMCA, several theatre companies, and many other organizations. It is still home to the Rathskeller restaurant and beer garden.

Heading inside, we took our seats in the large event hall, ready for the first portion of our feast. I have never had a light German meal, and this was no exception. In addition to the beer of our choice, we were treated to plates of fresh pretzels, complete with two types of mustard, one of which gave the sinuses a good cleaning!

Then came the serious food - a plate featuring our types of sausage, sauerkraut, rotkraut, and spaetzle.

It was all delicious. I had fully intended to pace myself, having read the reviews of the tour and knowing that we had more food stops ahead of us. Let's just say once I tried the food, all hopes of pacing vanished.

The Rathskeller Sample Plate

One of the beautiful historic properties of Lockerbie Square.
Following our hearty German sampler was an opportunity to walk off some of our recently ingested calories with a stroll through the historic Lockerbie Square. Here Dani shared the history of the many charming houses in the neighborhood.

One stop along our route was the James Whitcomb Riley Museum Home. Famous poet James Whitcomb Riley, creator of Little Orphan Annie, lived in the home as a lodger for several decades. We were shown around the first floor, and I fell in love with the highly polished and very impressive stove. I believe if I were to rip out all of the appliances in my tiny kitchen, I may just have room for such a beast.

The Peachy Pig and Sweet Potato Fries at Ralston's
The tour's second food stop was Ralston's DraftHouse on Massachusetts Avenue. At 4pm on a Saturday afternoon, the place was a-hopping.

In an effort to pace myself, I decided to skip the beer. (I had heard that the margaritas at our next stop were not to be missed). However, Nic ordered a cherry mead ale that was as full of flavor as it was color.

The dishes provided for us on this stop consisted of two types of flatbread and sweet potato fries.

No soggy tomatoes in this ratatouille!
The Peachy Pig was topped with pulled pork, cheddar, ginger, cilantro, and a peach-chipotle reduction. The combination of pork and peach is one that I plan to do myself on a homemade pizza.

I was a little more reserved about the Ratatouille Flatbread... until I tried it. Usually ratatouille is one of those-take-it-or-leave-it dishes for me, overly swimming in stewed tomatoes. This was far beyond my expectations, with the perfect blend of eggplant, peppers, onions, squash, and tomatoes, topped with cheese.

The sweet potato fries were a tasty side, and came with ketchup and cinnamon cream cheese.

I could have happily spent more time at Ralston's soaking up the atmosphere, but we had more exploring to do, and so on to the next.

After admiring the architecture of the Murat Centre and stopping to say hi to Kurt Vonnegut, we continued our way along Massachusetts Avenue to Bakersfield.

Indianapolis' most famous son.
Before I mention Bakersfield, I should note some of the benefits of doing a tour like this. Obviously, the food is a highlight; you get to try samplers at places you may not have tried before. You also meet a fascinating variety of people, and have the added bonus of a knowledgeable guide to tell you the history of the area. But another benefit is that you have a table waiting for you. Take for example Bakersfield. They do not take reservations and on a Saturday evening, they are filled to the gills. They do keep a space for a tour though, meaning that we were able to walk right in and find the food ready and waiting.

Chicken tacos
 Aiming for a vibe similar to its namesake city in California, Bakersfield prides itself on three things: tacos, tequila, and whiskey. Dani had told us about the excellent margaritas and she was not wrong. It may well be the best margarita I have ever tasted, surpassing the ones I had in Mexico and even the ones at my favorite local Mexican restaurant. If you find yourself in Indy, go and order a margarita at Bakersfield, stat!

To accompany our drinks, we were presented with platters of chicken and fish tacos, both delicious.
Fish tacos at Bakersfield
 The fish was particularly surprising. All too often, I come across fried fish that has gone soggy. These pieces of fish were firm with a crisp batter. Very nice indeed.

And finally, we reached our last stop: The Flying Cupcake bakery. Given my choice of cupcakes, I picked out a bananas foster but took it with me for later enjoyment. For now, I was stuffed.

So how would I rate the tour? Excellent. Dani was a wonderful guide. Each of the food stops was a delight. If I had to pick a favorite dish, I would probably say it was the Peachy Pig, but that is a tough call, because I did enjoy everything. I actually can't wait to go back to Indianapolis to revisit some of my new food discoveries.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Easy Caramelized Onions

A few years ago, I came across an article online mocking the idea that caramelized onions could be made within a few minutes.

I see plenty of recipes claiming that you should put onions in a skillet and leave them to caramelize within 3-5 minutes. I have no idea how they're doing that; I've yet to see that happen. But this method, from Bon Appetit, did give me nicely caramelized onions in about half an hour. Just remember to slice your onions nice and thinly. I used balsamic vinegar instead of white wine (going with what I had on hand in the kitchen).

The result was a nice batch of caramelized onions, some to go on my sausage and lentil dinner, with plenty more for the next few days.

Apologies for the blurry pic but here they are on a bed of lentils, spinach, and Italian sausage.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Food Shows and BAT Burgers

It's been an interesting few days of food, with two shows, a meaty discovery, and a new twist on the BLT.

First the food shows.

Despite having lived in Lexington for some 14 years, I had no idea that we had an agricultural school until last week, although in all fairness I don't think it's been in existence that long. Locust Trace AgriScience Center, on Leestown Road, is a wonderful facility where high-school students can pursue programs in Equine Studies, Plant Science, Agricultural Mechanics, and other related subject areas. The school held a food show last week with a local farmer's market, restaurants, and more. If they hold another, be sure to go along and meet our future generation of farmers.

Then on Saturday, I headed over to the Lexington Convention Center and Heritage Hall for the Kentucky Proud Incredible Food Show. Last year, I was signing books and giving a seminar, so this year I enjoyed the chance to just wander and sample.

A few disappointments:

  • A show highlighting the best in local produce and food has a booth for McDonalds with nutritionists highlighting the value of their meals and giving away sugar-filled yogurts. 
  • A book section that seems to shrink each year.
  • A craft beer section that, upon inspection, seemed to have only one craft brewer present. Kudos to West Sixth for their continuing support of community events (and their wonderful beer). But we have a number of local craft brewers here in town, in nearby Danville and Louisville. Come on guys!
  • This year was the first year for Biscuit Alley, a competitive area with five local restaurants and catering companies presenting their take on the traditional biscuit. Try all of them and vote for your favorite. A great idea. However because of its location, a great many people attended the show and never knew it was there.

But the positives, and these truly shone.

  • Every year, I enjoy seeing the huge variety that is Kentucky Proud. This year, I saw fewer candies and beer cheese than in previous years, but more meats, especially the more "exotic" meats. I love goat and lamb and am always pleased to see them get some attention. But this year's key discovery for our household was alpaca. I stopped by the River Hill Ranch booth for a lengthy chat about their alpaca herd, and then tried a sample. The meat had the cleanest flavor of anything I have ever tried. It was slightly sweet, very tender, and absolutely delicious. I came home with some of their alpaca chorizo to try and I see a visit to their farm in my future.
  • Lots of ice-cream at this year's show - Brusters, Crank & Boom, The Comfy Cow, and others I'm sure I've forgotten. 
  • Perennial favorite Glier's Goetta. I hunt them out every year for my goetta sandwich. 
  • I spent some time chatting with Nick Semertzides of Cincinnati-based Mt. Kofinas. Their olive oils and honey all come from a specific part of Crete and are worth a taste or two or three. Among our topics of conversation: the lack of allergies in Crete, the purity of the honey and oils, and yes, why every other Greek man is called Nick (a fact which pleased my hubby, Nic, immensely).
And so we get to the food. Regardless of how many people love them, the BLT has just never grabbed me as a sandwich. Lettuce is one of the most pointless greens around (lacking in flavor and nutritional value); tomatoes are all well and good, and bacon - who doesn't love bacon. But put them all together and you have a rather lackluster combination.

So instead of BLT, try a BAT. Replace that limp lettuce with some creamy avocado.

But we're not stopping there.

Bacon is great, and I'm not going to get into the latest scaremongering about it. Jalapeno bacon is even better. We love spice in our household; a good dose of chili flakes can lift just about anything. So when I saw that Hormel now have a jalapeno bacon and it was on sale in our local store, there was the next addition.

And finally the tomato. Maple-roasted. Giving you a sassy sweetness to accompany the spicy kick of the bacon, and avocado creaminess to round it all out. No mayo, mustard, or what-have-you needed here.

Bacon-Avocado-Tomato Sandwich
Aunt Millie's Onion Buns (I love these. They are wonderful for use with burgers, or with cheese and pickles. And unlike so many burger buns, they don't fall apart the minute you put something in them.)
Ripe avocado
Bacon (jalapeno is worth a try but whatever bacon you like)
Maple-roasted tomatoes

So you're wondering about the tomatoes? Easy as switching on an oven and leaving a tray of tomatoes in there for a few hours.

Maple-roasted Tomatoes
Tomatoes. Go for smallish ones. You can use grape or cherry if you like. I used Camparis, cut into quarters.
2 tbs maple syrup (I have some that I picked up at White Meadows Farm in Canada last year.)
2 tbs olive oil
salt, pepper, and a good shaking of ground thyme.

Line a baking tray with foil and place the tomatoes on it, skin side down.
Mix together the maple syrup, olive oil, and seasonings.
Drizzle over the tomatoes and place in a 250F oven for 4 or 5 hours.

Use them in your BAT or in salads, in pasta.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

A Fall Round-Up

Do you label every bag of leftovers that goes into your freezer? Or do you throw things in, convinced that you'll know what they are, only to find that mystery bag weeks or months later?

I confess, I am trying to get better about labelling things. In some cases, I know I have to. Otherwise, how will I ever distinguish the pawpaw pulp from the pumpkin? But there are some things I'm still bad about labelling.

Which is how I came to pull a bag out to thaw yesterday with absolutely no idea what was in it. Was it leftover stew? As it thawed throughout the day, I found myself going back to check it, an attempt to solve the great mystery that would dictate my dinner plans. Was that rice I could see? Maybe a few pieces of meat?

It turned out to be duck broth, allowing me to add a few vegetables, herbs, etc.for a very nice soup.

I will try to get better about labelling things.

But I must admit, there was a certain fun to anticipating what the contents of the freezer bag could be, and thinking about the different things I could make.

Maybe, I'll still keep a few mystery bags in there.

As you can tell from my warming soup, fall is finally in the air this weekend. It had to happen sooner or later, although we're still forecast a few seventy-something degree days next week.

Fall brings its own plethora of taste and I promise not to offer another treatise on the joys of pumpkin spice... everything.

But if you are back from the local orchard and overwhelmed with the season's harvest, be it pumpkin, squash, apples, even the last pawpaw of the year, here are a few previous blog posts with ideas about using it all up.

It seems I have quite a few pumpkin recipes in the archives. No surprise as I love its versatility. Here a few favorites:

When it comes to squash, I love it all.. except spaghetti. I've tried and tried it so don't try to convince me. It's up there with kale as something I just don't understand the fascination with. Not to worry as there are so many other fab squash around, butternut and acorn being two of my favorites.

I stock up on apples this time of year and do so much with them - canning, drying, freezing, etc.

And the pawpaw. If you are still lucky enough to have some of these, then head over to The Sausagetarian and pick up a copy of Sara Bir's The Pocket Pawpaw Cookbook. Paste Magazine's food editor, Sara, has compiled a fab little guide to all things pawpaw. In addition to tips on how to pick pawpaws, how to store them, and how to prepare them, Bir offers a number of recipes that are a pleasant and creative change from the usual ones I see. How do Pawpaw Spice Cupcakes with Lemony Cream Cheese Frosting sound? Pawpaw Habanero Hot Sauce? Pawpaw Lassis?

I will definitely be buying more pawpaws next season so that I can try some of these out for myself.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Oodles of Zoodles

I've been on several food kicks these past few weeks and tonight I combined them all for one fab meal.

Ladies and gents, I give you zucchini noodles, mussels, and cheesy baked onions.

1. The zucchini noodle (aka the zoodle). Why did it take me so long to discover these? I love pasta but have been steering clear of it as I have a tendency to eat too much and it leaves me feeling bloated.

I'd read about zucchini noodles but hubby isn't a huge fan of the courgette... unless it's a noodle, as it happens. You can use a mandolin to shred these. Alternatively, if you are tired of also shredding your fingers or of having a large piece that is unshredable, use one of the handy dandy tools out there. The spiralizer is a popular choice but a cheaper option is the vegetti. I picked one up earlier this week and it is so handy for making noodles without sacrificing my fingers. Just remember that you can end up with VERY (2ft plus) long noodles so cut or pause as you go. Eat the noodles raw or toss them in a skillet for a few minutes.


2. Fish, seafood, etc. I have been on a fishy kick lately. Salmon, shrimp, and now mussels. Cook them for a few minutes with some garlic and chili peppers and serve with noodles for a very healthy meal.

3. A cheesy baked onion. A friend had mentioned these repeatedly on Facebook and I knew I had to make them. Peel your onions and slice top and bottom off. Put them in an oven-safe dish with some olive oil, black pepper and freshly grated Parmesan. Baked at 375F for 25 minutes, then flip over, add some more cheese, and return to the oven for another half hour or so. I sprinkled some extra goat cheese over before serving.

One very good meal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Kentucky shorts: Salmon and Mama Lou's

A couple of shorts today from over the Labor Day weekend.

First up, some chile-seared salmon. I am very particular about the fish that I buy - where and how it was caught, if it is sustainable, etc. For salmon, I usually buy a large fillet of wild Alaskan and it into smaller pieces before freezing. I adore salmon, and am equally particular about how it is cooked. I've had too many restaurant meals of overcooked, dry fish. I like mine still rare in the middle, (or completely raw if I'm going for sushi).

This chile-seared salmon has a real kick and was perfect with little potatoes and a side salad.

I also made a "relish" of chopped pear, pineapple, dried cranberries and dried chile but, honestly, that was a little disappointing. It didn't add anything to the fish, and a simple dollop of peach chutney was much better.

Mix some dried, crushed chiles with a little salt and half a teaspoon of sugar. Rub into the fish. Heat a skillet and add a little oil. Sear the fish for a few minutes on either side, giving the sugar a chance to caramelize and form a nice spicy crust.


Next up is a dining experience at Mama Lou's Bar-B-Que in Munfordville, KY. Yesterday was Labor Day and so we decided to head to Kentucky Down Under for a dose of antipodean nature. After several hours of petting wallabies, tromping through caves, and making kookaburras laugh, we were hungry and ready to head back to Lexington. There is a cafe on site at Kentucky Down Under, and we had been chatting earlier to the cook who shared her recipe for sloppy joes and gave us a taste (excellent). But I had a hankering for BBQ, probably because I was still disappointed to learn that Bowling Green's Smokey Pig was closed on Mondays. A quick check on the old smartphone led us to Mama Lou's.

It's a little place that looks like it used to be a Pizza Hut. The staff are very friendly.

We shared an order of fried green tomatoes first. They were delicious and perfectly cooked. I always have trouble getting the breading to stick to mine, but these had just the right crunch.

After, we each had the "famous" loaded baked potato. A one-pound potato, topped with butter, sour cream, cheese, bacon, and eight ounces of pulled pork! It's one big potato. Plus a side of baked beans.

I should probably preface this with two things:
1. I've been on a very healthy kick lately: no pasta, hardly any refined carbs. So this was a shock to my stomach.
2. I have a bad habit of eating quickly, which means I don't realise just how full I am until it's too late.

You can see where this is leading. Yes, I ate the whole thing. Yes, it was wonderful. Yes, I spent the remainder of the day and evening in a starchy coma. Today I'm back to zucchini noodles.

But if you're in the neighborhood, stop by Mama Lou's.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Make Your Own Worcestershire Sauce

Worcestershire sauce.

Darkly hued. Tangy. Frequently mispronounced by non-Brits.

A great addition to soups, stews, scrambled eggs, roast beef... you name it, a dash of the W can add a splash of rich, spicy flavor.

Lea & Perrins ad from c. 1900.
(Image in Public Domain)
Based on an old Greco-Roman fish sauce, the most famous brand of Worcester sauce (either name is ok) is Lea & Perrins. They began making it available commercially in 1837, claiming it was based upon a sauce discovered in India by a British colonel. There is, however, no record of the colonel, or indeed any proven link to Indian cuisine.

More recently, I've been enjoying the locally-produced Bourbon Barrel Worcestershire Sauce. Brewed in Kentucky bourbon barrels, it has a much softer flavor than the Lea & Perrins, but is still a wonderful addition to many dishes. (The Bourbon Barrel version is also suitable for vegetarians since it does not contain anchovies.)

A few years ago, in the back of a Saveur issue, I came across a recipe for making your own Worcester sauce. Needless to say, I saved the clipping and can now say that I have made my very own bottle of the condiment.

Homemade Worcester Sauce (recipe from Saveur)
Makes about 2 cups.

2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
3 tbs yellow mustard seeds
3 tbs salt
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp curry powder
5 cardamom pods, crushed
4 chiles de arbol, chopped. If you can't find these, use the little Thai birdseye peppers or dried Indian Japones.
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1-inch stick of cinnamon
1 anchovy, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup sugar

Despite the large number of ingredients required, the process of making Worcester sauce is actually very easy.

Put all of the ingredients except for the sugar in a large pan. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Put the sugar in a skillet over a medium-high heat and cook until it forms a dark amber syrup (5-10 minutes). Add to the simmering vinegar mix and cook for another 5 minutes.

Pour into a glass jar, seal, and refrigerate for 3 weeks to give the flavors a time to meld.

Drain off the solids, and bottle.

There you go. I tried a spoonful this morning and it is spicy, tangy, with the perfect kick. I know what I'll be cooking with in the coming weeks!