Friday, August 30, 2019

John's Slaw




I am proud of Birmingham for becoming such a great destination for foodies. Thanks to chefs like Frank Stitt, Chris Hastings and others, Birmingham can truly boast about its culinary culture. It seems like every day there is another wonderful new restaurant to try. A few of the old greats are still around, too. Restaurants like Niki's West and Bright Star are just as vibrant and delicious as they ever were. 

Still, I find myself missing some of the iconic Birmingham restaurants of the past. Establishments that have long since closed their doors, restaurants that remind me of a time when a trip to Birmingham was special and eating out was truly a treat. I loved going to the Alabama Theater to see a movie, to Loveman's and Pizitz to shop and I so looked forward going to one of our favorite restaurants. I fondly recall dinners at GG's in the Park, Joy Young's and John's Restaurant. I remember the rolls, butterfly shrimp and egg rolls at Joy Young's, the snapper amandine at GG's in the Park and the Greek snapper, coleslaw and cornbread sticks at John's. Yes, I realize John's City Diner has taken the place of John's, but let's be honest, it's not the same. I also realize you can pick up a bottle of John's slaw dressing at the grocery store, but it, too, is not the same.

For the uninitiated, John's slaw was simple. Shredded angel hair cabbage was piled on a plate and covered in this creamy orange, honey flavored dressing. It was different, delicious and distinctly Birmingham. I've never been to another city where this particular coleslaw was served. 

Luckily, Niki's West and Bright Star still serve up John's slaw, but if you don't happen to be in Birmingham and you don't really want the bottled stuff, I've got the solution. My family has had the recipe for years. I think it was one of those recipes clipped from the Birmingham News at some point in time. We used to make it more often than we do now, but occasionally we will get it out and whip up our own John's slaw. The dressing is easy to make in your blender and you can buy the cabbage pre-shredded, but I love cutting my own into thin angel hair strands. Try it. Maybe it will take you on a stroll down memory lane. 

John's Slaw Dressing

1 c. vegetable oil
1/2 c. catsup
1/4 c. white vinegar
1 small onion, diced
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. honey
1 t. Worcestershire sauce

Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve with angel hair cabbage and cornbread sticks. 


Sunday, August 18, 2019

Best Hummus Ever


I love hummus. Good hummus, that is. Sometimes the pre-made stuff in the grocery store is barely deserving of the name hummus. Grainy, gritty, and tasteless, it isn't worth the calories or the cost. When I hear people say they do not like hummus, I have to wonder if they've been the victim of some of that pre-packaged paste.


Not only do I love well-made hummus, I love hummus accoutrements. Hamilton's in Auburn has some of the best, in my opinion. Rob and I love it so much, we've been known to order two plates of the stuff. These are not small plates either. Hamilton's serves up full sized plates of hummus, sprinkled heavily with smoked paprika and surrounded by warm pita wedges, pickled onions, olives and pepperoncini pepper rings. It's so good!

Lately, I've been on a mission to perfect my hummus making skills. I've done it every way you can imagine, with canned garbanzos and with dried, plain and with add-ins, but in the back of my mind, I always thought it could be better.

With hummus, texture is a big deal. If it is too grainy or too pasty, the taste suffers. I want a hummus that is seriously fluffy and creamy. The stuff dreams are made of. I was flipping through some hummus recipes the other day and discovered that Bon Appétit had named hummus as their 2015 Dish of the Year. I decided it must be some really delicious hummus to garner that billing, so I checked it out. The hummus in question is the creation of a Philadelphia chef named Michael Solomonov and he has some interesting tips for making hummus.

1. Boil the garbanzos in water into which baking soda has been added. I'm no chemist, but according to Solomonov, this raises the pH of the water and helps break down the proteins in the beans which, in turn, creates an ultra-smooth purée when you put them in the food processor.

2. Use good tahini and lots of it. Do not skimp on this ingredient. While I have not yet tried Chef Solomonov's favorite tahini from Soom Foods, I do have it on order. I cannot wait to try it, because the Chef's other suggestions have made a world of difference to my hummus.

3. Chop the garlic cloves finely and puree with freshly squeezed lemon juice. Let sit for at least 10 minutes to give the garlic time to mellow.  This prevents that sharp garlic bite that can sometimes overtake recipes.

4. Use ice water to bring the mixture to its creamy, dreamy smoothness.

5. Chef Solomonov does not add olive oil to his hummus, but he does drizzle the hummus liberally with olive oil before serving. I did add just a little to my hummus while processing, but not nearly as much as I have with previous recipes.

6. Dr. Rick Marshall, aka Will Ferrell, says in Land of the Lost, "If Chaka meat were the secret ingredient on Iron Chef, I'm sure Bobby Flay would probably serve it with roasted red peppers and a dash of cumin and a braised polenta." Well, Solomonov, would probably agree, because he also adds a dash of cumin to his hummus. It's that little bit of umami that makes the difference. 

6. Chef Solomonov suggests the following toppings: hot smoked Spanish paprika, fresh lemon juice, chopped parsley, radishes, fennel fronds, and mango pickles. I am going to figure out how to duplicate Hamilton's pickled onions and throw on the pepperoncini pepper rings.


Another favorite hummus topping of mine is a Galli Hot Pepper Italian Salad of jalapeños and olives made in Destin, FL. We've been buying this stuff since we first discovered it in a little shop in Callaway Gardens thirty years ago. Now we just order it from Amazon.


My newest discovery is Burrata, which is a mild, fresh mozzarella, stuffed with mozzarella curds and cream. It tastes a lot like whipped unsweetened cream and is divine when spread on top of hummus and sprinkled with salt and red pepper flakes. If you've never bought Burrata, here are a couple of things you might want to know. It is packed in water, like fresh mozzarella. There are only two Burrata balls in the BelGiosioso container, so you aren't getting a lot, as the container is mostly filled with water. You cut the mozzarella ball open to dig out the creamy goodness inside. That's the part you spread on your hummus.

But make no mistake, this hummus is delicious all on it's own on pita wedges or with tortilla chips.

Here's the recipe:

1 can garbanzo beans...pour into a saucepan, cover with several inches of water, add 1/2 t. baking soda and let boil for 20 minutes. Remove from heat, pour into mesh strainer and rinse with cold running water for about 30 seconds. Set aside.

2. 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped and the juice of 2 freshly squeezed lemons...add these to food processor with1/2 t. salt and puree away until the garlic is super fine. Let sit for at least 10 minutes.

3. 1/2 c. of the best tahini you can find...add to lemon garlic mixture in food processor. While motor runs, splash in 2 T. ice water and blend until smooth, creamy and very light in color.

4. 1/2 t. cumin and 1 T. Extra Virgin Olive Oil...add these to the tahini lemon mixture in the food processor along with the cooked and drained garbanzos. Continue processing until the hummus is fluffy and light, super creamy and cloud-like. Place in serving dish, drizzle liberally with good olive oil and sprinkle with smoked paprika, freshly chopped parsley or fresh cracked pepper. Enjoy!




Monday, July 1, 2019

Here's to St. Augustine



                              

Are you looking for a destination that combines scenery, beach, history, shopping and food all in one package? Well, look no further than the oldest city in America, St. Augustine, Florida. This quaint old port city with brick paved streets and Spanish architecture is drenched in history, beauty and culture. My friends, Merri, Julie, Allison, Susan and I recently returned from a trip to the Ancient City. Here are our suggestions for where to stay, what to do and what to eat.

Lodging

                             

If you have enough people to justify renting a house, we have just the place for you. At the corner of Saragossa and Sevilla streets in the historic downtown district of old St. Augustine sits a beautiful home, built in 1910, and listed on VRBO as Casa Antigua. The two-story home has 3 large bedrooms, 2 bathrooms with showers, a large living room, formal dining room and completely renovated kitchen. The house is in a quiet neighborhood that is only a five minute walk from all downtown destinations such as the bay front, fort, restaurants, art galleries and shopping. The grapefruit tree growing in the front yard is an unexpected bonus! We had a blast at Casa Antigua.

If you have a smaller group, or if you would prefer to be on the beach instead of in the historic district, St. Augustine has tons of options. From hotels to condominiums to B&B, you are sure to find accommodations to suit your needs. 



Casa Antigua
                             

    



                                                   

Living Room
                                     

Kitchen
                                     
     
Dining Room

The Grapefruits in the Front Yard were delicious!
                           

History and Architecture

As the oldest city in the country, St. Augustine is brimming with history and beautiful old buildings. You can't miss St. Augustine's iconic fort, the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest and largest masonry fort in the continental United States, which dominates the coastline and beautiful Flaglar College, built by rail mogul Henry Flaglar. Other sites which might not be so obvious but are also worth checking out, are the beautiful Lightner Museum, the Oldest Wooden Schoolhouse in the country, St. Augustine Lighthouse, the Old Jail Museum, the Oldest House in the country, the Bridge of Lions, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine and the Grace United Methodist Church, just to name a few. 

You will find the name Flaglar all over the city. Henry Flaglar, the founder of Standard Oil, developed Florida's east coast. He was responsible for building the Florida East Coast Railway from Daytona to Key West. In 1885, he began construction on the 540 room Hotel Ponce de Leon hotel, which is now part of Flaglar College.  


Flaglar College



                         
We had so much fun exploring St. Augustine.

                                   
You know a bunch of teachers just had to pose in front of the nation's Oldest Wooden School House.
                           

Lightner Museum
                           

Cafe Alcazar in the Lightner Museum used to be the Largest Indoor Pool in the country. You can see where the water level used to be just below the second story balcony.


                            


                                    

Something beautiful everywhere you look.
The Oldest House in America.

                            









                         
                         



Cannonball in the wall?



Bridge of Lions
Leon
                         


Grace United Methodist Church
                         

Grace United Methodist Church is also beautiful at night.

                                               


St. Augustine Lighthouse

Everywhere we looked...the streets were paved Reynolds' Bricks.




Shopping

Opportunities for shopping in St. Augustine are abundant. We found jewelry, herbs, spices, teas snacks, pottery, and did I mention snacks? From Cuban churros and French Macarons to popsicles and pastries, we shopped and snacked our way through the Old City. The jewelry shops are full of treasure and the spice and herb shops are a delight for the senses.

Shopping in Old St. Augustine.






The Spice and Tea Exchange smells heavenly!


I just read this cute little bake shop on Saint George St. is permanently closed. What a shame!

But Le Macaron is still open! Thank goodness!



                           
And so is The Cuban Bakery,

Where you can get these great churros!

Cool off with a gourmet ice pop at The Hyppo.


Dining


Catch 27

On our first night in St. Augustine, we had dinner at Catch 27, located on Charlotte Street in the historic district. As the name implies, Catch 27 specializes in fresh seafood. We enjoyed our meal, from the fish to the shrimp, but that local cheese board with Georgia honeycomb and crostini was a particular favorite.

Love these friends!

Local Cheese Board



Shaved Pear and Blue Cheese Salad with Catch of the Day
Shaved Pear and Blue Cheese Salad with Shrimp




Columbia

Night number two was spent at Columbia on Saint George St. in the historic district. The cuisine is Spanish and Cuban with emphasis on fresh seafood. We enjoyed a Sangria made at our table.











The Floridian

Dinner number three found us at The Floridian on Spanish St., also in the historic district. The Floridian is a casual affair with regionally inspired dishes. One of our favorite dishes was the pickled shrimp appetizer.







House Fish Dip with Corn Tostadas



Addictive Pickled Pepper Shrimps

Fried Green Tomato BLT with house made Chips


Fried Green Tomatoes




Buttermilk Biscuit with Braised Pork Belly and Hot Sauce Honey

Cheese Board with Candied Pecans and Florida Honey
Preserved

Preserved Restaurant is located in one of the oldest houses in St. Augustine's Lincolnville Historic District. President Thomas Jefferson's great granddaughter, Maria Jefferson Shine, lived in the home in 1892. The ingredient driven menu at Preserved features innovative Southern cuisine. Everything we had at Preserved was divine, but those house made scones with homemade jam were a particular favorite.


Banana Nut French Toast with Berries

Scones and Jam


Shrimp and Grits
Black Hog Farms Fried Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Creamed Corn

Smoked Salmon Benedict with Poached Egg, Hollandaise, and Potatoes Lyonnaise 




Raintree

Raintree was a last minute decision and it was a good one. We were going to a play and needed something close by. Our friend, Susan, came to the rescue when she googled this wonderful place which happened to be right next door to our theater. Raintree is at the corner of San Marcos and Bernard Streets and serves an international, continental cuisine, heavy on seafood and steaks. It was all delicious, but the big surprise, to me, was the cinnamon banana crepe. I'm not usually overfond of crepes. They always seem to be a poor relation to pancakes, but this dessert was delicious!




Beautiful Outdoor Dining

Colorful Cocktails





Shrimps, Scallops and Angelhair Pasta

This fillet can be identified as Allison's because of the catsup in the left hand corner. Haha!
Filet with Bearnaisé 


Cinnamon Banana Crepes

All Gone!



Maple Street Biscuit Company

This quirky little biscuit joint started in nearby Jacksonville and has now locations in six states. The one in St. Augustine is on Cordova Street in the historic district and serves up some yummy breakfast foods. The uninitiated, as we were, should take note. When you sidle up to the counter to place your order, you will be asked a question. It may take you by surprise, but your answer to the question will be what will be called out over the speaker to let you know your order is ready to be picked up. On the day we went, the question was, What was the first song or album you ever bought? We were totally unprepared for this question and I think I stumbled around for five minutes trying to come up with an answer. The question of the day is posted on a chalk board near the entrance, so you can think about your answer before you reach the counter.

Everything we had was delicious. With names like The Five and Dime and The Squawking Goat, the menu is entertaining as well as inventive.

Maple Street Biscuit Company







The Sticky Maple


Biscuit, Butter, Jam and Grits


The Blue Hen Cafe

This little laid back joint was one of our favorites. Back to the Lincolnville Historic District, The Blue Hen offers up both fresh comfort food and healthy choices. My Baja fish sandwich was fresh and delicious, as was the blue crab quiche. And we all devoured the chocolate chip muffin.

The Blue Hen


Baja Fish Sandwich with Cilantro White Sauce



Blue Crab Quiche, Biscuit and Grits
Chocolate Chip Muffin




Sheila's Cafe at Anastasia Kitchen

On our last morning, we split up into two cars to go home. Merri, Allison and Susan planned take a route through Birmingham to drop Susan off. This group (the type A's) got up, had their act together and got on the road. Julie and I were in the laid back (Type B) car. We took our time, barely planned a route, stopped to check out St. Augustine's lighthouse and get breakfast before leaving town. We found this tiny, like maybe five tables tiny, cafe on Anastasia Island, over the Bridge of Lions, near the lighthouse. The name, Sheila's Cafe at Anastasia Kitchen is actually bigger than the place itself. Julie and I both had Mexican breakfast quesadillas. But we chose different sides. One of us got hashed browns and the other got grits. It was all hot, spicy and wonderful.







The Tini Martini Bar

One of our favorite hang-outs was the Tini Martini Bar at the Casablanca Inn on the bayfront street, Avenida Menendez. We loved sitting outside on the patio, watching the boats sail by in Matanzas Bay and listening to the clip clop of the horses as they pulled carriages up and down the street. The martini menu is extensive and the names are intriguing. We had a hard time deciding between such options as A Kiss on the Lips, Tahiti Tini, and Bikini Martini. But, between the five of us, we made a valiant effort to sample as many as we could.


Tini Martini Bar



These two took us on a tour of the historic district.

Boats in the Bay


Since we were in town over St. Patrick's Day, Merri made us some pretty cookies to celebrate. They tasted as good as they looked!

We admired this beautiful automobile sitting right outside The Tini Martini Bar.

It was a wonderful trip, with lots of laughs, good food and great memories. Maybe someday Julie and I will tell you about our trip back home. Let's just say we were having so much fun talking non-stop about our favorite television shows, Poldark and Outlander, that our trip home took a little (ok a lot longer than it should have). On the positive side, we bypassed Atlanta altogether! We laughed even harder thinking how our friends in the other car would have had a fit if they had been with us.

Three Friends and a Fork and these Five Friends give St. Augustine CHEERS and 3 Tini Martini Yums UP