Monday, November 29, 2010

Top Chef Mixer at Cha Chah

Mr. Eats and I are huge fans of Top Chef. So of course we were excited when one of our favorite local chefs, Arnold Myint appeared on the show last season. I followed him on Twitter for his colorful commentary each Wednesday night and still follow him to keep up with what's new at his restaurants.

That's how I found out that fellow cheftestant Kenny Gilbert would be visiting last week and would be hanging out at Cha Chah for dinner and drinks and we were welcome to come and meet them. Kenny was a favorite of the husband, so he was particularly excited. I was also happy to get a night out and finally try the falafel that Beth had been raving about.

It was a fun night with Beth, Tabitha, Vivek, Zarna and a few others just chatting and having a good time.

Kenny, me, and Arnold!

The fantastic quinoa falafel with feta, curried vegetable barigoule
 and lotus chips

Thanks so much to Arnold for hosting!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

A Venezuelan feast

I love arepas. Whether at Bonnaroo or my favorite little place in NYC. But there's more to Venezuelan food and a lot of it is vegetarian-friendly. I got a crash course in making my own arepas and empanadas as well as a few other dishes from my friend who lived there many years during her childhood. My friend happens to be a wonderful cook, thankfully!

Since then, I've had a Venezuelan feast of my own. Twice! Arepas, empanadas, pigeon peas and rice and plantains. My preparation isn't as authentic or good, but I'm still pretty happy with what I've come up with.

If you're interested in preparing a Venezuelan dinner at home, the first thing you need to do is get Harina P.A.N. flour. Here in Nashville, it's available at the K&S International Markets as well as the Publix on Charlotte Pike (and perhaps at other locations). There are white and yellow versions and just like with cornmeal, the choice should be based on your preference. I like yellow, which is a bit sweeter. Next, learn how to make arepas. Oh, that's why you're reading? Well, there are some nice video tutorials, but here's the short version:
1. Pour some flour into a bowl (start with two cups), add a pinch of salt and then set aside two cups of water.
2. Add the water slowly, mixing briskly with your fingers to get out any lumps and until it feels like the consistency of Play-Doh--it should stick together well, but not to your hands. You may need to add more water as you make the arepas if they start to dry out, so keep it nearby.
3. Next, you pinch off some dough, roll it into a ball and then flatten it into a disk. Fry it on both sides in a well-seasoned skillet or with a tiny bit of oil until it's browned "like the spots of a leopard."
4. Once you have the number you want, put them on a baking sheet in the oven to cook for about 15-20 minutes on 250 degrees (time depends on thickness). When they're cooked through, they'll sound hollow when thumped.

Arepas fried and now baking in the oven

And you're done. THAT'S IT. It's that easy! What to do now? If they're thick enough, cut them in the middle to form a pocket to stuff with cheese (queso fresco) and avocado and cilantro or top them with your favorite things. For breakfast, top them with cheese or a fried egg. Or just eat them plain.

Baby Eats enjoys a mini arepa (plain)

For empanadas, flatten your disc a little thinner, put some cheese and cilantro on it, fold it together side-to-side and cut out a half-moon shape with a small bowl. Cook it until the cheese has melted. THAT'S IT. Really!

Next up, pigeon peas and rice. Both K&S and Publix sells canned peas. I used Mahatma yellow rice, cooked it according to directions, added the peas (drained) and shook in some Jamaican curry powder (a spice blend comprised mostly of turmeric and cumin--also available at both K&S and Publix) and a little salsa. THAT'S IT! (Sensing a theme? Yes, it's really easy to have a good Venezuelan meal with little effort and just a little more time).

And to top it all off, fried plantains. This is the easiest part because both K&S and Publix have frozen plantains ready to just heat in a skillet (THAT'S IT) and they're delicious. Seems like it would be easy to prepare them from a fresh plantain, but it's not. Trust me and Mr. Eats who ate a woody, hollow fried plantain that was terrible. Don't be fancy y'all; use the frozen plantains. Might even be cheaper than buying a fresh one.

If you don't cook the whole meal, do think about adding arepas to your repertoire. They're as impressive to your family/guests as they are easy to make. Really!
The arepas were still baking, so we started with the empanadas--one yellow, one white

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sage at Aria --City Center, Las Vegas

While in Las Vegas, we celebrated our hosts' five-year wedding anniversary at Sage in the Aria hotel at City Center. We had lots of options, but Sage not only had several vegetarian dishes that were tempting, but the omnivores were pretty excited about the menu as well.

A cocktail with so many ingredients that I can't even remember them

Luckily, everyone else decided on the tasting menu, so I was able to have tasting sizes of both entrees as well as a starter and my choice of dessert.

I was excited to begin with the burrata as I haven't really done justice to the burrata I've had at home.

Next up was the risotto...unfortunately, the menu has changed and I don't have the official description, so I'll have to make do with my own. Um, it was delicious.

For the third course, I had the gnocchi. Mr. Eats was quite happy that I ordered the "nyo-kee" and not the "guh-nochee." I love to irritate him by mispronouncing it but I ain't gonna embarrass myself in a nice restaurant just to do so. I am not quite that crazy. This gnocchi is also a bit different from what's listed on the current menu. No surprise, the menu changes frequently based on what's available and what's good.


And then, of course--dessert!

We had a lovely time. It's a large enough space that you don't hear anyone from the neighboring tables, but it doesn't feel cavernous, either. And because it's Las Vegas, the dress code goes from khakis and logo shirts to cocktail attire. A quick look around indicated that at least half the tables were very obviously involved in business dinners. That is, an assortment of mismatched and slightly uncomfortable people who speak with their hands and keep pens in their pockets. I certainly miss visiting on an expense account, but I certainly appreciate being able to eat dinner with friends.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

Every year, we're faced with a challenge...what to do with all these winter squashes? Because, really you can have too much soup. So I decided to revisit my pumpkin risotto (that was way too pumpkin-y) and try it with a butternut squash instead.

This recipe requires a bit of planning ahead because of roasting the squash, though you can cheat and peel it, cube it and steam it in the microwave instead. I just prefer the roasted squash. This recipe is also perfect for smaller families. It yields 3 or so nice-sized servings (as a main dish) which means it's enough for two adults and two kids or two adults and a great leftover lunch for one of those two.

Butternut Squash Risotto
1 medium butternut squash
1 cup arborio rice
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup onion, minced
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

First, roast the squash. Cut it in half lengthwise and place cut side down in about a 1/4" of water in a glass baking pan. Cook at 450 degrees for 35 minutes or until tender. Set aside and let cool. Once it cools, scoop out the squash and mash in a bowl. Set aside.

In a medium size saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in the butter and olive oil for about 2-3 minutes on medium-high heat. Then stir in the rice and cook until the onion starts to brown (about another 5 minutes).

Reduce the heat to medium and stir in the butternut squash and 1/4 cup of broth. Stir constanly. Once the mixture has absorbed the broth, add another 1/4 cup of broth Repeat until you've used all the borth. The broth is absorbed rather quickly at first, but the last quarter cup is absorbed the slowest and the whole process takes about 25 minutes. Be sure to stir almost constantly so that it does not stick to the bottom of the pan. Finally, remove from heat and stir in the cheese and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this with some roasted broccoli or some crispy turnip greens. Both are in season! For a vegan alternative, use Earth Balance or olive oil instead of butter and flavor the risotto with two-three tablespoons of nutritional yeast.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blog Spotlight

A lot of people who read my little blog are not vegetarian, but many are trying to cut back on meat consumption for a variety of reasons. And just about everyone is looking for something new and good.

Frequently, I read blogs that have just a single item and the challenge I face each night is getting a good and balanced meal on the table. That's why I like What the Hell Does a Vegan Eat Anyway? Not only does it have great recipes, but it features complete meals.

And if you're a little daunted by the "vegan" term or maybe just a little intimidated by tofu, try this menu right here: Elvis Fried Tofu et al. Or just the tofu. If you think you don't like it, you probably haven't had it fried (like they have at select Whole Foods hot bars). Yummmmmm.