Early Bird Lemon Chicken Stir-Fry

It’s a common joke that it’s impossible to read half the ingredients in food today. Sadly, with all the processed foods for sale today, this isn’t actually a joke. As Michael Pollan says, “Don’t eat anything your great grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” Good advice for unreadable ingredients.

Another problem is much more basic though. Some Americans can’t read the food labels at all.

Illiteracy in America is a problem for all of us to solve. More than 40% of people with low literacy skills live in poverty, unable to find jobs or advance in the jobs they have. Illiteracy hurts families, robbing parents of the joy of sharing stories with their children. And without outside help, their children are likely to have low literacy skills as well.

Not all the news is bad news though. There are dedicated folks in our community who are working to turn the tide. Literacy Mid South has worked for over 30 years to increase literacy among our neighbors. Their work with adults creates proud and productive citizens. Their work with children is creating new generations who love to read.

Angela created this recipe to give students at Literacy Mid South a place to go when they are practicing their reading and internet skills. Of course we hope everyone who visits our site tries the recipe and lets us know how they like it. But it is all you adult learners that we really hope to hear from. We are so proud of you and your accomplishments. Writing this for you is one of the most humbling things we have ever done. We wish you much happiness and every success.

Paul and Angela

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Buffet Americana at the Gold Strike

There are destination restaurants, restaurants worth the trip for a meal. That’s essentially the entire premise of the Michelin system. The more stars the longer the acceptable journey.

What there aren’t many of is destination buffets. The vast majority of buffets are simply opportunities for diners to maximize their intake. There are advantages to a buffet. Little Billy only eats chicken fingers? And little Suzy doesn’t like anything on her plate to touch? Load up little Billy with chicken fingers and get little Suzy a new plate for each item. Then Mom and Dad can eat what they want. Unfortunately, it is usually steam table upon steam table of mediocrity and mass production.

There are exceptions, however. One is the Old Country Store in Jackson, Tennessee. Yes, they are cooking tremendous amounts of food every day, but they are doing it well. Their home style cooking stands up against anyone’s. But they’re not the only one out there.

We were recently invited to visit Buffet Americana at the Gold Strike casino in Tunica. When you hear Americana in the context of food, your mind tends to jump straight to American icon foods like hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, and apple pie. But that’s not all that Buffet Americana is about.

The Gold Strike’s director of cuisine, Chef Andrew Smith, has a much broader vision of modern American food. There’s a tandoori oven baking na’an and turning out wonderful meats. Across the room, there’s a Mongolian barbecue grill, and in between is food representing much more than just the standard fare.

Buffet Americana

One treat that won’t fit on your plate. Billboard star, chef Terrence Ward, supervises the food and greets guests.

That’s not to say that the classics are ignored. Roast beef, ham, and turkey are available with gravies and au jus. (Pro tip: If you plan to fit anything else on your plate, ask for a small slice of roast beef.) The vegetables offered vary daily, but you can always get greens and peas or beans. It is the South after all.

Buffet Americana Sides

The buffet keeps many of its side dishes in Lodge enameled cast iron pots because, as Chef Smith says, “It just makes the food taste better.”

Wandering into the international section, we found shrimp Creole, coconut jasmine rice, and more. The Asian section offered several favorites from noodles to gyoza to whole roasted striped bass.

Buffet Americana Decor

The dining room decor includes reclaimed wood from an old barn and this wall made not of wood but of industrial leather belts.

Angela’s favorite item of the evening was the beef Mongolian barbecue with mirin soy sauce. Chef Smith said that guest acceptance of the dish has been slow because many are unfamiliar with it. The process is simple. Grab a bowl and fill it with your choice of fresh vegetables. Next, give the bowl to one of the workers at the grill. Tell them what kind of meat and what sauce you want. Then just stand back and watch while they grill up a dish just for you, fresh and with just the things you like in it. Once folks figure that out, it will catch on fast.

Buffet Americana Decor

This large installation is a decorative take on a loom while the opposite wall features large rolls of denim. These modern abstract works are nods to the history of the Mississippi Delta as a cotton growing region.

The salad bar offers three lettuce mixes and all the toppings you could want plus a selection of cold salads. When we were there, the cold salads included a corn fajita salad and a squash blue cheese salad. Four different soups are available as well. Another of Angela’s favorite offerings were the cheeses, meats and antipasti. She had sage derby and ham. Smoked gouda tempted me, but my massive slice of roast beef didn’t leave room. I ended up getting distracted by all the other goodies, and I never did get my cheese.

On Friday and Saturday nights, part of the salad bar is cleared off to make room for sushi and seafood. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to try that, but we will be returning to celebrate the boy’s 19th birthday. Entertainment that evening will be provided by the boy himself as he devours enormous quantities of sushi and seafood. And who knows what else.

That does remind me of another benefit of Buffet Americana; it is very kid friendly. Kids five and under eat free, and those 12 and under get discounted meals. And there is plenty they will want to eat, including frozen yogurt for dessert.

We have never been frequent visitors to Tunica because we don’t gamble. After seeing all that Buffet Americana has to offer, however, we will be traveling that way more often. With food this good, you can only win.

Disclosure: Gold Strike Casino provided us with dinner and a stay in their hotel.

The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen

Lee_Bros_CK

What can you say about a book that’s so obviously written with love for its topic? Matt and Ted Lee make you long to be in Charleston with this book and its beautifully deep dive into the city’s food culture. Have you ever eaten a loquat? You’ll want to after reading about Matt and Ted discovering them as children. And then you’ll want to go find a tree to pick some of your own. And then you’ll want to start steeping some loquat liqueur in your pantry.

The same holds true for many of the city’s signature food items, from boiled peanuts to roasted oysters. The Lee Bros. Charleston Kitchen gives you more than just a glimpse into life behind the garden gates. It teaches you why Charleston food is what it is today by looking at the history behind it. For example, for an urban area, so many of the city’s food traditions are based around the outdoors. Before the Civil War, kitchens were typically detached from the house as a fire safety precaution, but after the war that building was often turned into valuable rental property with a new kitchen framed into the gap between the buildings. These kitchens were tiny, hot, and humid places to work, so bringing some of that work out of doors made it more bearable for the people doing it. It’s common sense, but if you only see the houses from the outside, you’d never know it.

This recipe isn’t the most seasonal right now, but it is a perfect example of what you’ll find in this book: easy-to-follow, well-written recipes that provide fresh takes on ingredients that you may take for granted. Grapefruit works beautifully with asparagus.

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McBomination 2: The Stackening

So here we are at the Atlanta Food & Wine Festival. We have been to fascinating classes, met brilliant chefs, and stuffed our faces at the tasting tents. After a long day, we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up for the last day of the festival and get some writing done. On the way, we saw a sign that spoke to the dark side of our culinary souls: “Hotcakes and McNuggets available all day.” Had McDonalds made an entry into our beloved world of chicken and waffles?

We were hot after our time in the tasting tents, so a stop for sweet tea and clarification was in order. It turns out that, no, they aren’t sold together. Still, unlike Memphis, they’re sold at the same time, so an enterprising soul could do something completely contrary to the day of fine dining they just experienced.

Honestly, though, the plan was to head to Pollo Campero, the excellent Latin American fried chicken place that we don’t get to visit often. Unfortunately, write then go get chicken turned to write, nap, then wake up five minutes after the place closes. Maybe that was a sign. We certainly took it that way.

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Introducing Farm Fresh Tennessee

Farm Fresh Tennessee
Angela and I are thrilled to announce the publication of our second book, Farm Fresh Tennessee: The Go-To Guide to Great Farmers’ Markets, Farm Stands, Farms, U-Picks, Kids’ Activities, Lodging, Dining, Wineries, Breweries, Distilleries, Festivals, and More.

We spent a year traveling from one end of our great state to the other, visiting nearly 400 great agritourism destinations. We had fun at festivals, on farm tours, at producers of cheese, sorghum, country ham, and more. We dined in restaurants and shopped in stores that offer local products. There were things that surprised us like kangaroos on a cotton farm and cranberries in east Tennessee.

The thing that didn’t surprise us was the graciousness and warmth of our fellow Tennesseans. All across the state, there are people working to provide us with food, clothing, and shelter, but they will take time out of their busy lives to help others understand what they do and why they do it.

Farm Fresh Tennessee is a resource for everyone who eats their food on a wooden table while wearing cotton or wool clothes. Any and all of those products may have come from Tennessee agriculture. Families looking for an adventure for the kids or couples looking for a romantic getaway will find options here.

We hope you will check out Farm Fresh Tennessee. Chris Chamberlain of the Nashville Scene calls it “a book to keep in your glove compartment.”

We also encourage you to visit the official website for the book. We will be updating the site with new places to go as well as any closings that may occur. If you have any questions or suggestions for places to visit, you can contact us there.

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe

It’s impolite to review a restaurant before it has had at least a couple of weeks to work out the kinks. Reviewing a place on opening day is probably a mortal sin, but I’ll risk it because, darn, Taziki’s was good.

Taziki's Menu

Taziki’s Menu

We had no idea the Jim ‘n Nick’s sister chain was opening in Memphis until our server at the Cordova location of the barbecue restaurant told us last week. We also had no idea of the opening date. It was a fortuitous trip for groceries that led us to the restaurant for it’s grand opening.

Taziki_mezedes

Mezedes sampler platter

When given a menu — especially at a new place — our standard protocol is to order as close to “one of each” as we can. We made a valiant effort at Taziki’s. We started with the mezedes sampler platter. It came with very good hummus and taziki sauce with toasted pita chips for dipping.

The highlight of the platter — and indeed of my entire meal — was the dolmades. There are two primary differences between these and other dolmades I have eaten. First, these were shorter and fatter. As with fat sushi rolls, that makes them difficult to hold and eat. On the positive side, the ratio of grape leaf to rice is shifted in favor of the rice, reducing any hint of bitterness from the grape leaves. The second difference was the seasoning. These dolmades were more highly seasoned than most I have had; there was even a pleasant backnote of heat. I would be happy with just a plate of these.

Taziki_lemon_chicken_soup

Lemon chicken soup

Our next item was the lemon chicken soup. I often think of typical chicken soup as that fifth of five meals from one chicken when you’re just getting by on the broth and a handful of rice. Taziki’s soup is far from that. More akin to chicken au jus, this is a really good soup. It was a bit different from our expectations in other ways as well. The soup was not creamy rich like a traditional avgolemono, but that was no problem. The abundant chicken was lightly smoky, and that was a delight. Our only wish was that the lemon was more front and center.

Taziki_cucumber_tomato_salad

Cucumber tomato salad (Because it’s hard to make an egg and olive sandwich photogenic.)

Our main items consisted of two gyros and an egg and olive sandwich. My egg and olive was lovely. Angela’s lamb gyro was meltingly tender. Unsurprisingly, I never had a chance to taste Patric’s chicken pesto gyro. Everything was quite good. And it was still good from our to-go boxes the next day. We were too stuffed to even get baklava.

Taziki_chicken_pesto_gyro

Chicken pesto gyro with pasta salad

Yes, I suppose to be fair we should return to Taziki’s after a few weeks to give them a proper review. Honestly though, I doubt we can stay away that long. Gotta get that baklava.

Taziki_lamb_gyro

Lamb gyro with roasted potatoes

Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe
540 S. Mendenhall Road (map)
Memphis, TN 38117
(901) 290-1091

Of Procrastination, Pears, and Cookies

Procrastinators? Us? Really? Just because we haven’t blogged in over a while (October was really busy, and then there were the holidays, and we really do have manuscript deadlines), it doesn’t mean we didn’t have ideas that we just never got around to writing about… Or that we put off going to the grocery store for what Patric called “a shameful, pitiful” amount of time… And that laundry basket of spare bed linens may have been sitting there since April, but there’s nothing urgent in there to be washed (isn’t that what spare means?)…

Ok. We’re procrastinators. But at least we’re very good at it.

There are some things, though, that you can’t procrastinate about no matter how hard the urge strikes you. One of those things is an enormous box of fresh pears. They can only sit there for so long before very bad things start to happen, and you can only eat so many of them fresh. We received just such a box from Newman Farms (yes, the pork people have pears, too, and I do plan on making something that combines the two in the near future at some point).

So, I decided to make pear preserves. With this quantity of pears, this is not a one-person endeavor, so I started out by drafting Paul and Patric to help with the peeling, coring, and dicing of pears. We started later in the day than we should have (surprise!), and there were really a lot of pears in that box, so it was midnight and Patric the pear peeler extraordinaire was ready to never see another pear for the rest of his life when we were done. I got the dicing job, so I was close to being in a pear coma. It might have been a sugar coma, because these were really good pears, and dicing leads to eating. That’s why I took that job. To put this all in perspective, we ended up with 24 pounds of diced pears. That’s right. After processing, these pears weighed more than our overweight cat, Van Peesman. That’s saying something, there. Especially since he ate some of them. That’s a whole other story there, though.

Anyway, we let them all macerate overnight with sugar in the refrigerator safely away from Van, and the next day (believe it or not) Patric and I made pear preserves. Since I’m more than a little bit insane, we ended up with twenty small batches of differently seasoned pear preserves. (I figured with that many pears, we’d get tired of plain before long.) We have pears with crystallized ginger, with cardamom, with cloves, allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, cayenne, berbere, rosemary, thyme, black pepper, lemon zest, orange zest, fennel, smoked paprika, ancho chile, mace, Chinese five spice, and vanilla. See. More than a little bit insane, but we’ll have pears for every occasion for a long time.

Since it took me so long to get around to finishing this post, as a side note, cardamom pears turned out to be the winner hands down. Cinnamon is nice and homey. The rest were really interesting, and none of them turned out inedible, so I put that in the win column. I wish I had tried a garam masala batch now. Oh well, maybe next time.

There’s also been a cookie recipe bumping around in my brain for a while that I finally broke down and made. This is one of those dump cookies that has a little bit of everything in it, but they turned out nicely if I do say so myself.

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Texas Eats cover

Texas Eats

Cookbooks can be the most wonderful works of art, but at heart they are products. They have to have some sort of shine to encourage sales. One technique is the gorgeous food porn cover — images of the recipes inside like you’ll never be able to recreate at home.

Another draw is the name on the cover. There are the TV personalities depending on name recognition and the celebrity chefs acting on reputation. And of course, sometimes those two sets intersect.

There is another set of names that is far more interesting. These are the folks who captivate you with their writing, their recipes, and their knowledge. The right name on a cookbook cover will practically make you drool. Robb Walsh is that kind of writer. Robb Walsh is a three napkin name.
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McBominations

So, it’s 2 a.m. Your dinner was a recipe test that went especially well. Nonetheless, it’s hours later, your insomnia is in full effect, and your stomach is rumbling. What are you to do? Test another recipe? That will keep you up even later and you’re hungry now. Then this is the recipe for you — even if you’re just hungry and not avoiding work.

And yeah, we know what you’re thinking — “you’re writing your third book. Surely you can do better.” Look, you try eating tweaked versions of the same ingredient six nights a week. And there’s the cleanup after. (Um, just ignore the dirty dishes in the background of a couple of those shots.) And we are working. We wrote down the recipe after all.

And our creativity isn’t gone. (Would you have thought of this? I think not.) Admittedly, this an homage to the beloved TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but it is at least a creative homage.

To those not in the know, in later seasons of BtVS, when times got tough financially, Buffy took a job at the Doublemeat Palace, a fast food restaurant famed for its Doublemeat Medley, a glorious creation consisting of “a pure beefy patty above the mid-bun and a slice of processed chicken product below the mid-bun.” This (and late night laziness) is the inspiration for the McBomination.

Long time readers of this blog (Hi, Mom! No, not really, she can barely work her cell phone. She just turned 77 after all. Happy birthday, Mom!) will remember (Not the beginning of this sentence, that’s for sure.) that we once did a Triple Meat Medley with free range chicken, pastured Angus beef, and pastured pork bacon to class it up a bit. To be more true to the original, though, we decided that this version should be Mc’d up.

Buffy fans, however, will be quick to point out that the “meat process” that resulted in the Doublemeat Medley involved no meat whatsoever. To them I say, “hey, we’re talking McDonalds here.”

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