06 October 2010

Big Orange - Part 2

[If you haven't read Part 1, yet, please scroll down to the next posting and read it first.]

Sushi in Knoxville?  Well, it *is* on the Tennessee River, after all, but our server, Trey, assured us it's flown in daily from the coasts.

We had read reviews of Nama on the Internet prior to our trip, and like most consumer-posted reviews, they were all polarized -- loved it or hated it.  But there was more love than hate, so we thought we'd give it a go.  It's located just north of Market Square on Gay Street, and when we arrived, the place was hoppin'.  After a short wait, we were seated in prime seats at the corner of the sushi bar.  (I have no clout or creds here; this was purely coincidental.)  Like most restaurants, they have menus, but our server explained that what most people like to do is get what is essentially the "chef's choice".  You tell them how much you want to spend, what you like and don't like, and any special requests, and the sushi chef builds a platter based on that.  It's a great way to taste things that you otherwise wouldn't have ordered a la carte.  We ordered $40 of sashimi, no mackerel, no octopus, love salmon and tuna.  We were rewarded with two platters full of fish, veggies, and tofu that were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the palate.

As we neared the end of our fish binge, two ladies were seated at the bar beside us.  They ordered some sort of roll that was so pretty I had to ask what it was.  The lady next to me politely replied, and then asked if this was our first time at Nama.  The conversation continued, and when she learned that we live in Dallas, she said she is dating a man from Dallas.  After more conversation and wine, we discovered that the guy she's dating used to live next door to us.  No kidding.  What are the odds?  We broke into a round of "It's a Small World" (not really, but now that song is going to be stuck in your head for a while!) and then shared stories of our mutual friend.  The stories are the "RICH" part, but I won't go into detail here.  Call me if you want more.

Saturday was game day.  Mother and Daddy met us at the hotel, and we walked the half mile or so to Neyland Stadium for all the game-day activities.  The day was overcast, but the sea of orange that filled Phillip Fulmer Way was blinding.  Mother picked the perfect corner for us, as she knew the Pride of the Southland's band routine.  After a while, the band marched down the hill (not "The Hill", which is another site on campus), did a short street performance, and then marched on into the stadium.

The game was unnecessarily exciting as the UAB Blazers gave the Vols a run for their money, and the UT emotions were as those of a menopausal woman.  It ended up in two overtimes, but the Vols finally prevailed, and "Rocky Top" was tattooed into our heads.  (Ask Tom about that.)

Sunday was a soppy day; the clouds that had threatened all day Saturday cut loose on Sunday.  We had a late flight out of TYS, so we spent another day with my parents in Cades Cove.  The place is stunningly beautiful, and during a break in the rain, we did the 9-mile scenic loop drive.  With all the foggy mist hugging the hills, we were reminded why it's called "The Great Smoky Mountains".

28 September 2010

Big Orange - Part 1

Those of you who know me probably know of my Tennessee heritage already, but for those of you who don't, my parents are both native Tennesseans and alums of the university thereof.  Daddy earned an electrical engineering degree there, and Mother worked at the school to support them.  Memorial Day week was my family's annual reunion at Cades Cove in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  While there earlier this year, Tom and I decided that we wanted to attend a UT (the original UT) football game in the fall, and we asked my parents to "chaperone" us and share the traditions of UT football.

We arrived on Thursday, checked into the hotel, and headed out on foot to get lunch and do some sight-seeing in historic downtown Knoxville.  From our Internet research, we knew that Market Square was the place to go, and we were not disappointed.  The four-block area bustles with restaurants and bars of all flavors and shops of all wares.  And it is all housed in original structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  The hub of the square is a wide pedestrian plaza with gardens, sculptures, fountains, and a make-shift movie screen (the only new structure in sight) where they show free "walk-in" movies weekly.  The only blight on the landscape is the unfortunately large yellow "Subway" sign above what I believe is the square's only chain restaurant.

We ambled into Cafe Trio for a late lunch.  It's a burger and sandwich spot with a simple, but effective, menu.  My blue cheese burger was good, although they refused to serve it rare, and the medium-rare on which I compromised came out a bit beyond medium. The fries were excellent.

We headed over to the "back side" of Market Square on Gay Street and found Mast General Store.  Imagine all this under one roof:  outdoor clothing, fashion clothing, over-alls, shoes, camping supplies, specialty foods, old-fashion bulk candy, old-fashion toys, cast-iron cookware, Fiesta dinnerware, cutlery, linens, books, and most importantly, orange Moon Pies and orange Nehi soda!  (This is Big Orange Country, after all.)  This place is more fun than an amusement park, and admission is free!

Dinner was at Cafe 4, so named because its address is 4 Market Square.  It's an upscale blue plate kind of place; I had fried chicken and waffles, and Tom had lobster mac and cheese.  Both were comfortable, simple, reasonably priced, and delicious.

Friday, we headed south to spend the day with my parents, who were camping at Cades Cove inside the park.  We stopped for breakfast at the Waffle House in Alcoa (town named for its largest employer), close to the Knoxville airport.  While there, Tom wondered, "Is the mascot of Alcoa High School the Fighting Foil?"  I LOVE the WH, and seek them out whenever we're on the road looking for breakfast.  This location was especially clean and as entertaining as any we have visited.  (WH staff is always entertaining, even if they don't mean to be.)  Breakfast was predictably filling, and the experience was priceless.

We headed on to Cades Cove and had a great time reminiscing with my parents.  We returned to Knoxville in the evening and walked to Nama Sushi for dinner.  This would prove to be a RICH evening.  (Stay tuned...)

13 May 2010

Keys Vacation, Day by Day

Day 1

Miami's airport has a bad reputation.  A recent Travel+Leisure magazine article listed it as one of the 4 worst in the country.  On the first day of our Florida Keys vacation, we learned why.  It's cramped, crowded, and horribly signed; we had to ask a TSA agent how to get to ground transportation because while there was copious signage pointing to departure gates, toilets, and baggage claim, there was none pointing to ground transportation.  We eventually made it to our Mustang convertible and were off to Islamorada, the Village of Islands.  (Thanks be to Debbi for enabling this fantastic trip!)

According to Google Maps, the trip from MIA (the airport) to Debbi's condo in Islamorada is "about 1 hour 25 minutes".  That's a bunch of hooey.  With Miami's chronic traffic congestion and road construction, that is physically impossible.  Once we finally made it to the upper Keys, we had been in the car almost 2 hours.  We stopped in Key Largo for a nice, slow lunch, and then were back on the "1" (Highway 1, that is) to count the mile markers.

If you've ever driven the Keys, then you know that everything is based on the "MM" (mile marker) system.  Locations to any venue on any key are given by MM.  The MMs are something akin to The Big Chicken in Marietta, Georgia.  All locations in Marietta are given in distance and direction from The Big Chicken.

Debbi's condo is at MM 88, so we had about 20 miles to go.  We arrived, got settled, relaxed, and then headed to the Winn Dixie for provisions.

We were fortunate to have arrived on the weekend following a full moon.  Pierre's and Morada Bay Beach Club (sister restaurants that share a beach at MM 81) host the Full Moon Party from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM every full moon Saturday/Sunday.  We had made dinner reservations at Pierre's before leaving Dallas, so that was our first dinner of the trip.  We dined on the upstairs veranda (a porch, for those of you not fortunate enough to have grown up in the South) on seafood and fois gras.  (See pictures at www.gregtaylor.com.)  The restaurant is plantation beautiful and the mood is Florida Keys relaxed -- no hurry, no worry.  The beach party followed dinner.  It's sort of Medieval festival meets Florida Bay.  We lasted until close to midnight, and then headed back to the condo.

Day 2

Sunday brunch took us to Island Grill, an indoor/outdoor spot that hugs an inland waterway and the mangrove trees growing along the shore.  We ambled out to the waterfront patio and right into the local bikers club election meeting.  The patio was filled with bikers running for various offices.  (That explains the parking lot full of Hogs that greeted us upon arrival.)  I wanted to run for sergeant-at-arms, but Tom wouldn't let me.  I can't imagine why a biker club in the Keys needs a sergeant-at-arms, but it sounds impressive.  The brunch buffet was impeccably stocked with lobster bits, crab legs, eggs of all varieties, meats, and fruits.  Once the club meeting adjourned, a hula dancer entertained us on the patio.  (Again, see pics at www.gregtaylor.com.)  Unlike much of the crowd, hula lady had all of her teeth.  What an eclectic afternoon!

We had dinner at Green Turtle Inn.  Yet more stellar seafood awaited us there.  As you will read in days to come, we had no disappointing meal the entire trip (except the beef fajita salad served by American on the flight home, but that's much later).  We opted to eat at the bar, because that gave me a full-on view of the swarming activity in the open kitchen.  I love watching a well-run kitchen at work.  The bartender befriended us, but I really think she just liked my iPad.  Either way, we got a good dinner recommendation for Monday night.  Stay tuned for that...

14 March 2010

21-Day Purification: The Final Countdown

We're through Day 16 of The Process and feeling great!  We have reintroduced lean meat and fish into the diet, and this evening we had some neighbors over for dinner.  The menu included grilled salmon, portabellas, tomatoes, and beans.  (Obviously, the beans were not grilled.)  It was also the 2010 debut for The Big Green Egg.  She had been hibernating in her Big Green blanket since November, and she seems to have weathered the record-breaking snowy winter without a shiver.  Friday marks the conclusion of The Process, and we'll be crowning our achievement by resuming our neighborhood happy hour tradition here at the house.

Back to tonight's dinner event, it was a fairly straightforward affair.  I marinated/glazed the salmon with a modified vinaigrette dressing.  It was very heavy on the garlic, and I let it marinate for about 30 minutes in the glaze before grilling.  By grilling the salmon skin-side-down on foil, the skin sticks to the foil after grilling and the fish lifts right off of the skin.  The portabellas were brushed with olive oil on both sides just before grilling, and then I drizzled some balsamic vinegar into the underside of the caps.  The tomatoes were straight out of an English breakfast, but "broiled" up-side-down on the grill to render a beautiful carmelization and grill marks.  (As the proverb goes, you eat with your eyes first.)  As they were approaching doneness, I turned the tomatoes over such that they were cut-side-up, drizzled them with some balsamic, and dusted them with our new favorite organic seasoning, Spike Vegit.

Here's the menu:

Grilled Portobella Caps

4 portabella mushrooms
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
seasoning to taste

Preheat oven to 200F.
Brush both sides of the mushrooms with olive oil.  Drizzle the vinegar into the caps, about 1 teaspoon each.  Sprinkle with seasoning.  Let rest face-up for 2-3 minutes so the mushrooms can absorb the vinegar.
Place on the hot grill underside-down.  When the mushroom starts to shrivel (4-5 minutes), flip them and grill an additional 3-4 minutes.
Remove from grill, cover with foil, and keep warm in the oven.

Grill-"Broiled" Tomatoes

4 small hot-house tomatoes, top quarter removed
olive oil
seasoning to taste
balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 200F.
Drizzle the exposed flesh of the tomato with a little olive oil.
Place flesh-side-down on the hot grill.  When the tomatoes start to soften (3-4 minutes), turn them over and drizzle the exposed flesh with some of the vinegar.  Continue grilling flesh-side-up until the tomatoes are tender, about 3 minutes more.  (Hey!  The tomatoes take about as long as the mushrooms!)
Remove from grill, cover loosely with foil, and keep warm in the oven.

Grilled Salmon

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup minced garlic (This sounds like a lot, and it is, but remember that 1/4 cup = 4 tablespoons.)
2 tablespoons dill weed
fresh-ground pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 salmon fillet, skin-on, about 1-1/2 pounds
6-8 thin lemon slices

Make the marinade by combing the first 6 ingredients in a bowl.  Whisk briskly to blend.
Place the salmon skin-side-down on a piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil slightly larger than the fillet.  Turn up the edges of the foil to prevent the marinade from dripping over the edge.  Brush 2/3 of the marinade over the flesh of the salmon.  Let marinate out of the refrigerator 20-30 minutes.
Transfer the foil and fish to the hot grill.  Close the grill lid and maintain a temperature of 350F.  After 10 minutes, pour the remaining marinade over the fish and continue grilling with the lid closed until done.  My fish was about an inch at the thickest, and I grilled it for 18 minutes.
Remove the fish and foil from the grill and use a spatula to divide the fish into 4 equal pieces.  Serve each with one of the cooked lemon slices.  For a more dramatic presentation (remember, eyes first), grill 4 new lemon slices on one side for about a minute and place atop the fish (grill marks up) before serving.

As you can tell, balsamic vinegar is one of our favorite ingredients.  In addition to being a marvelous marinade for meat and fish, it also makes a great semi-sweet reduction.  Drizzle the reduction over fresh berries and vanilla ice cream for a deliciously decadent dessert.  And if that's not enough, Tom mixes a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar with 8 ounces (a high-ball's worth) of soda water for a refreshingly dry tonic.

To quote Einstein, "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."  This dinner was simply sensational.

08 March 2010

21-Day Purification: Half Way There!

Today was Day 10, and we're still going strong.  I have increased energy during the day, sleep much better at night, and have shed a few pounds along the way.  I also now find that when my alarm clock sounds at 6:00 AM for me to get up for my 7:00 AM conference call, it is much easier to get out of bed right away without hitting the snooze button countless times.  This purification thing is not all bad!

Tonight, we prepared one of our best dinners, yet, since embarking on this three-week adventure.  We had some odds and ends left in the refrigerator that needed to be cooked or composted.  These included:

a zucchini
some white onions
some mushrooms
baby spinach

I concocted a stuffed zucchini main course (remember, we ain't eatin' meat).  Tom sweated the spinach with some fantastic smoked garlic cloves he had gotten a few days ago at Whole Foods.  We needed a third item on the plate, so we cooked some frozen Lima beans; it had been years since I had Lima beans, and I had forgotten how buttery, starchy, and delicious they are.  We finished our three-veggie medley with a sliced avocado (from Mexico!) sprinkled with Spike Vegit seasoning - our new all-natural organic favorite.  (Thanks to the Richeys for that recommendation!)

The Process allows us to start having fish and lean meat tomorrow, but we will continue preparing and enjoying these hearty vegetable dishes for the remainder of the 21-day process and long after that!

Stuffed Zucchini for Two

1 zucchini
2 small white or yellow onions, chopped
6 medium mushrooms, chopped
2 tablespoons Italian seasoning
extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 350F.
Slice the zucchini in half length-wise.  Use a spoon to dredge out the seeds down the center of each half, about 1/2 inch deep.  Discard the seeds.  Sprinkle the flesh of the zucchini generously with sea salt.  Let stand 10 minutes.  Use a paper towel to wipe off excess salt and rendered water from the surface of the flesh.
Brush the flesh side of zucchini lightly with olive oil.  Place flesh-side-up on a baking dish and bake for 20-25 minutes, until the zucchini is slightly softened.
Meanwhile, saute the onions in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 4-5 minutes.  Add the mushrooms and seasoning, and saute for 3-4 minutes longer.  The mixture should be dry.  Remove from heat.
Spoon the onion and mushroom mixture into the troughs of the zucchini slices, pressing down with the inverted spoon to pack it in.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil.
Return to oven and bake 15-20 minutes more until the stuffing is heated through and the edges of the zucchini start to brown.

NOTE:  This would be great with some Parmesan cheese mixed into the partially cooled onion and mushroom mixture before stuffing.  It would also be great topped with a dusting of Parmesan.  I omitted the Parmesan in ours because The Process doesn't allow dairy during the 21 days.

Another NOTE:  There are two reasons for generously salting the exposed zucchini flesh:  (1)  It seasons the "base" of this dish.  You can salt it heavier than you normally would because you're going to wipe most of it off.  (2)  Rendering some of the moisture from the zucchini prevents it from getting soggy as it bakes.

Some day I will remember to photograph this stuff before we devour it.  Until then, though, you'll just have to imagine how pretty the plated food was or, even better, prepare it for yourself!

03 March 2010

21-Day Purification: Days 2-4

The Process is going well.  After the Day 1 smoothie snafu, we now have that process down to a science.  And along the way, we have learned lots of different ways to season and serve fruits, vegetables, and condiments.  It turns out that with a good mix of fruit and veggies at each meal, the cravings for meats and sweets are WAY diminished.

Our day 2 dinner is a case in point.  Tom went to the local Half Price Books bookstore and found a large hard-bound vegetarian cookbook marked down to $9.98.  In it, he found a recipe for Sesame Eggplant.  The problem with that recipe, though, is that seeds are forbidden on The Process.  No problem, though; there are enough other flavors in this that omitting them was a no-brainer.

The broccoli is simple and delicious.  You can spice it up as much or as little as you want (with allowable spices, of course).  When roasting it, just be sure to check it regularly to make sure it's not over-cooked.  Nobody like soggy droopy broccoli spears.

The salad dressing is rich in flavor and versatile, with the Tamari giving it a nice Asian tint.

Sesame Eggplant Sans Sesame

large skillet
flat-bottom dish or zipper bag for marinating

1 standard eggplant or 4 Japanese ones
2 tablespoons Tamari (soy sauce made without wheat)
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Garlic-Chili Roasted Broccoli

large mixing bowl
sheet pan

1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 tablespoon Spike seasoning
1 large head broccoli, cut into thing long spears

Prehead oven to 425F.
Place the oil, garlic, chili powder, and Spike in the mixing bowl.  Add the broccoli and coat evenly.  Place broccoli on the sheet pan.
Roast until the ends are crisp and brown and the stalks are just tender, abut 15 minutes.

Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Marinate in Tamari for 1 hour.
Heat the oil in the skillet.  Add the ginger and brown the eggplant, turning it several time adding water (not more oil) as needed to keep it moist until tender.
Sprinkle with lemon juice and parsley.

Ginger Dressing


1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon Tamari

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until the oil is emulsified and the mixture looks creamy, 1-2 minutes.

We've had this dressing with cucumber and tomato salad (pictured), spinach and mushroom salad, and as a dip for crudites.  Store left over dressing in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.  Note that after a few hours it will go "flat" and separate; you can reconstitute it (make it thick again) in the blender, or if you don't mind it being a little runny, just shake or whisk it to mix.

The only thing I really miss now is sashimi.  But we can have that starting next week (with wheat-free soy sauce, of course), so we'll see you then, Fai and Rex!

28 February 2010

21-Day Purification: Day 1 – The Explosive Smoothie

Starting yesterday (27-February), Tom and I embarked on a 21-day cleansing/purification process.  The process (called “Standard Process”) involves lots of low-glycemic fruits and vegetables, plus twice-a-day fortified fruit smoothies.  The first ten days are strictly vegetarian (although butter is encouraged in veggie prep), and starting on day 11, we can add moderate portions of lean meat and fish.

As is the case whenever you start something new, there is a learning curve at the front-end of the process.  Our education involved the blender…

Since we are both doing the process, we doubled the recipe for the first smoothie, using 3 cups of frozen berries, about a cup of powdered stuff (protein and fiber) and some fish oil.  The blender was fuller than I normally like for it to be, but when we fired it up, things worked fine – no splashes or eruptions.  Tom got a wooden spoon and started pushing stuff down from the top to encourage the circulation that is desired in a blender.

Suddenly, there was a cacophony over by Tom and the blender, and as soon as I could turn around, the entire kitchen was dripping in raspberry-and-blueberry purple ooze.  The official story is that the blender “sucked the spoon right out of [someone’s] hand”.  I’m not sure the blender is THAT powerful, but nonetheless, the normally pale green and off-white kitchen now had berry accents all around.

The process also encourages increased levels of physical activity, and we both got a good workout wiping down all of the kitchen’s surfaces.  The ceiling was the most challenging.  Lessons learned:  (1) Make one smoothie at a time, and (2) make sure the blender is OFF before inserting a wooden spoon.

29 January 2010

Not-the-Blue-Willow Peanut Butter Pie

I love peanut butter.  There is something about its savory stick-to-your-ribs-ness that I can't resist.  On a recent visit to Atlanta, my parents treated us to lunch at the Blue Willow Inn, an institution in Social Circle, Georgia, about 50 miles east of Atlanta.  Set in a large Victorian house, it's a HUGE buffet of all things Southern, including a dessert island loaded with everything imaginable.  One of the sweet treats was peanut butter pie, which I felt obliged to try.  Dense, creamy and crunchy, and covered with a thin layer of something sweet, it was the best PB pie I had ever tasted.

As luck would have it, my mother has the Blue Willow Cookbook.  As soon as we returned home, we made a beeline for the cookbook and found the recipe for the pie.  We copied it (for archival purposes, of course) and brought it back to Dallas.

Tom got the ingredients from our local Whole Foods Markup store, but instead of a graham cracker crust for which the recipe called, he got a chocolate cookie crust.  (Think Oreos.)  As it turns out, the label on the crust had its own recipe for a peanut butter pie.  What a quandary!  Do we make the tried-and-true Blue Willow pie, or gamble on "Wholly Wholesome's" suggestion?  Difficulty of preparation was not an issue because each recipe has six ingredients or fewer, and neither requires baking.  Tom went with the Wholly Wholesome pie.

With all due respect to the Blue Willow's impressive spread of Southern decadence, Wholly Wholesome's pie kicks it's [peanut] butt[er]!  It's lighter, a bit sweeter (although neither is overly sweet), and the chocolate crust takes it over the top.  I see a new Grand Champion in the making for the Annual MontiDelConcho Block Party dessert competition.  (All you neighbors may as well not bother entering.  It's THAT good!)

Tom's Wholly Wholesome Peanut Butter Pie

2 medium bowls
electric hand mixer or whisk

1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter (we used Skippy)
8 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
2 tbsp. whole milk
1 cup powdered (confectioner) sugar
1 cup heavy whipping cream
9" chocolate cookie pie crust (we used Wholly Wholesome, of course)

In one bowl, thoroughly mix the first 4 ingredients.
In the other bowl, whip the cream.
Fold the whipped cream into the peanut butter mixture.
Spread mixture into the crust.  (Tom made little decorative peaks on top of the pie for added flair.)
Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.  The recipe says it can be stored for up to 3 days, but it's unlikely there will be any left after the first meal.