Friday, November 22, 2013

Christmas Gifts: 2013 edition

I was going to wait another week or so for this particular post, but one of my gift suggestions has free shipping through the weekend.  Usually everyone on my list will get at least one food oriented gift a year.  I think food gifts are perfect for everyone, especially those who are difficult to shop for.  I like to find unique products that someone (like my parents) wouldn't buy for themselves on a regular basis.

Alright, lets get to the goodies.

1.  The Southern Vegetarian--You probably know my love of The Chubby Vegetarian's blog by now.  earlier this year Justin Fox Burks released his first cookbook, and it is amazing.  Sure it is vegetarian, but there are some simply fantastic recipes in here that are sure to please.

2.  Locally Roasted Coffee--This has been a growing trend over the last few years.  Micro-roasters have been popping up as fast as micro-breweries.  Importing fresh coffee berries and roasting them on site can produce some truly terrible coffee.  But it can also produce coffee that is probably magic.  The Nashville area is clogging up with some really good roasters.  I happen to live about a mile from Just Love, which is one of the best within an hour of me.

3.  Micro-brews, spirits, and local vineyards--Speaking of micro-breweries....  Nashville also has some incredible beer:  Blackstone, Yazoo, Fat-bottom, Mayday.  Mayday is actually in Murfreesboro, a few miles from me.  If you pick up a growler of Evil Octopus (a black-BLACK!-IPA), you will not be disappointed.  Micro-stills are also poking their heads through the woodwork.  Middle Tennessee clearly is home to Jack Daniels, but we also have Short Mountain (my favorite moonshine) and Corsair Distillery.  And let's not leave out Arrington Vineyards.  However, I suggest finding business local to you... I mean, unless you want to sample the awesomeness of Middle Tennessee (and we are pretty freaking awesome.)

4.  Oils and Vinegars--Upscale oil and vinegar "taprooms" are making appearances in many high end shopping centers.  I am a big fan of Seasons.  Every single oil and vinegar I tried (and I tried, like, 30) was delicious.  The price per bottle may seem steep, but their premium products are worth every penny.  And they have recently introduced gift boxes!  Through Sunday (Nov 24) , they are offering free shipping on orders over $30.

5.  Cackalacky--This is a North Carolina original.  I met these guys at the bluegrass convention in Raleigh in September.  This is hands down the best hot sauce I have tried this year.  Maybe one of the best I've ever had.  It isn't aggressively spicy, and it has a thicker consistency than many hot sauces which makes it perfect for dousing a chicken breast or piece of fish straight from the bottle.  They have also started making a Cheerwine BBQ sauce that I'm sure is stupidly tasty.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Fried Tofu

We've been cooking more and more tofu over the last few months.  I've gotten pretty good at cooking it, and it is cheap (less than $2/lb for organic.)  The most difficult thing is giving it enough time to press/drain.

A few weeks ago after a late night Muay Thai class (not where we usually go), we stopped at Whole Foods for dinner.  The nearest Whole Foods is 45 minutes away from us, so it was kind of a treat.  I saw chicken fried tofu at the hot bar and clearly had to try it.  Funny thing, I also had some simmered beef thing that was really good.  The sauce from the beef on the tofu was deeeelicious.  They should consider making it a new dish.

I became mildly obsessed with the idea of chicken fried tofu.  I had to make it.  And honestly, I think my version is better.  If only because mine wasn't sitting on the hot bar so it was still freshly crispy.  But the spice blend I used to season it is really good, so that helps too.  I do think their version is vegan, whereas mine is vegetarian.  Maybe I will come up with a vegan variation next time.

Moroccan Spiced Chicken Fried Tofu
1-1 lb block extra firm tofu
1 large egg
1/2 C buttermilk
about 3/4 C flour
about 1/2 C coarse ground cornmeal
salt and pepper
oil for frying (I used vegetable)

   Portion tofu into 4-6 slices, depending on how thick you want them.  I think 4 is best, cut from the long side of the block.  Place tofu between paper towels in a clean dish cloth.  Put a cutting board and something to weigh it down on top, a 28oz can of something works well.  Let press/drain for at least 45 minutes.*
   Liberally season with Moroccan spice blend.  The blend I have doesn't have a lot of salt, so I can coat things pretty well.  Just be careful with different brands.
   Combine egg and buttermilk.
   Combine flour and cornmeal.  Salt and pepper the flour mixture (about 1 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp black pepper).
   Coat tofu slices with flour, then egg mixture, then flour, egg, flour.
   Fry in a shallow pan w/ about 1/3 inch of oil heated over med/med-high heat for about 3 minutes on the first side and 2 on the second.  Drain on paper towels.
   Serves 4-6.

*Some people say it is better to press/drain the tofu, freeze it, then drain it again by placing it between paper towels while it is thawing.  I tried this technique and it did dry out well, but I think just pressing/draining it well the first time is good enough.

Monday, November 18, 2013


I'm not entirely sure where the last two months have gone.  It was early September now it is only 10 days until Thanksgiving.  Some crazy stuff went down in my life the last 8 weeks, all good mind you.  I attended my first music convention/festival/awards show, The Americana Festival (AMAs).  The following week I took a rather bizarre, but good, trip to Raleigh, NC for the IMBA conference and awards show (International Bluegrass Music Association.)  My gym had a HUGE high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu tournament, and we moved to a swanky new location.  I busted my ass getting some amazing costumes together (Dany [blue tunic] and Jorah from Game of Thrones and Richard Harrow and Angela Darmody from Boardwalk Empire) for our first con, Wizard World Nashville.  That was incredible!  And I went to the CMA awards... that was the strangest, most uncomfortable live show I've ever attended.  

Oh, and did I mention that next Tuesday I will be an aunt?!?!  Utter insanity.

Being so busy, we've gotten into some serious food ruts.  Stir fry is a staple.  Chili, salads, tacos, roasted winter squash soup, and too much [delicious] take out often make regular appearances as well.  Food ruts make me reminisce hard.  Lately, I've been dreaming about sushi.  But not just any sushi, we get American style sushi every few weeks here.  This sushi is more authentic and so freakin' fresh is might just come back to life if you drop some water on it.

Rendezvous Sushi Cafe in West Bay, Roatan, Honduras is a tiny little place that is part sushi bar part art shop perched on the side of a hill.  It is owned by an American and his French-Canadian wife.  There are seats for about 10-15 people, so you have to make a reservation.  Even if you end up being the only people, you need them.  Don't plan for a quick meal, and bring plenty of cash.  They have a menu with stuff that they usually have, but I recommend asking what is fresh and local.  Those fishes will be the most delicious and won't be listed on the menu.  One thing that they almost always have, but isn't listed is local tuna quickly seared with a sesame crust.  Definitely order that.
That's a lion fish, if you didn't know.

This past year, many restaurants on Roatan started serving up lion fish, a species that is invasive and has been attempting to wreak havoc on the local reefs.  They've been doing a pretty good job of disrupting several species, but local divers and fisherman have banded together with special licensing to hunt these suckers.  One of my top priorities of vacation was to eat lionfish.  The first dish we had at Rendezvous was lion fish sashimi.  It was so light and delicate with a sweet, mild flavor; the translucent flesh melts in your mouth.  A light sprinkle of sesame seeds and a quick dip in soy made it perfection.

We ate quite a bit that night.  I remember a conch something, it wasn't one that is on the menu, but the spicy conch that they regularly have is fantastic.  The other stand out dish we had (which we ordered seconds of) was local marlin.  It was super fresh, so it wasn't funky or oily (which can happen with marlin).  It was meaty and assertive, similar to mahi mahi, and was dressed with a spicy sauce which complimented the heartiness well and didn't overpower the fish.

The wakame salad is always good, as is the coconut ginger soup.  Order the house juice if they have it, it's wonderful.  And all of the desserts are home made.  There may not be a huge selection, especially if you are there in the summer which is low season, but you will not be disappointed in any dessert you order.  Her fruit tarts are incredible, so it the chocolate cake.  Last time, we had a key lime semifreddo that was perfect for a warm night with only the gentlest of breezes.

It was a last minute decision to go there 5 or 6 years ago, and has become one of the restaurants we absolutely have to go to now.