26 February 2015

Winter Travel Tips from DrinkFoodTravel

This may not be the most thrilling post I have ever written (come to think of it, what is?  That review of Uncle? Ideas for cheese plates?), but many of us travelers all across the country are dealing with dangerous winter conditions right now. If you're on the road, whether you'r going far or not, consider keeping some extra junk in your trunk.

I really do keep all of the following in a big Tupperware container in the back of my car:
  • a shovel
  • windshield scraper and small broom
  • flashlight with extra batteries
  • water
  • snack food including energy bars
  • matches and small candles
  • extra hats, socks and mittens
  • extra pair of boots
  • snow shoes
  • First aid kit with pocket knife
  • sleeping bag & space blanket
  • tow chain or rope
  • cat litter for traction
  • booster cables
  • emergency flares and reflectors
  • Cell phone adapter to plug into lighter
My parents also got me this great personal locator beacon for times when there's no cell reception.  I hope never to use it, but I feel good knowing it's in the glove compartment!

And if there's any possibility that you just can't get to where you're going, keep some essential toiletries and an extra pair of sweats in the car, too.  I have made great use of the hotels.com app on my phone for booking last-minute hotel deals and getting credit towards a free room.  Sadly, I have also cashed in my free room, which I was hoping to save for something planned and slightly more luxurious than Cheyenne. Alas...

Be safe out there, everybody! 

20 February 2015

Some new favorites in Omaha

After driving across Illinois, Iowa, and Nebraska to reach my new home of northern Colorado twelve years ago, I made a vow to myself that I would never drive across the states of Nebraska or Iowa again (Illinois gets a pass because I occasionally visit family).  The hot July day in 2003 that I spent trapped in my '97 Saturn taught me that Omaha has the most traffic in the state, and that there is a lot of construction; that was all I cared to know.  So, it was with great delight that I learned on a recent tour with my trio that Omaha is actually a very nice little city! There are a variety of neighborhoods with different feels to them, and there are definitely some good restaurants and bars worth the stop.  Here were a couple of my favorites:

Dario's Brasserie The inside is an old-school, warmly lit French restaurant you'd expect to see in a movie, as you can see from the picture above. The menu is also pretty traditional French, though they have a penchant for interesting Belgian beers. I desperately wanted the Chicken Waterzooi, and they were unapologetically out that night with no chicken dish to substitute.  When I reluctantly ordered the steak frites, I was amazed at how happy it made me.  Perfectly cooked, perfect seasoning, perfect crisp-tender vegetables...the cartoonish mountain of frites would have been great to share if I'd had any takers.  The organic king salmon was also very nice, and the moules a la flamanade had the most extraordinary sauce I'd ever tasted.

You can stumble around all night doing this at Brix.

Brix at Midtown Crossing is in a new-looking shopping district.  Sleek and brightly lit by day (appropriately dark in the restaurant side at night), this wine shop/ market/ bar/ restaurant serves a mind-boggling number of wines, by the bottle, glass, or sample pour from Vegas-style dispensers located around the perimeter of the eating space.  But if wine isn't for you, the beer selection is quite varied, and the cocktails are expertly made.  The Manhattan I had was rich and syrupy, and the dirty martini I tried from several at the table was well-balanced and generous in size.  As a snack, I am still patting myself on the back for having the willpower to resist the fried cheese curds.  The flatbread was cheesy enough, and the mixed veggies and balsamic reduction were just right.

This is Pitch's very beautiful professional pic of our pizza, not mine. 

Pitch Pizzeria has more than just pizza, but who doesn't want pizza?  The salads are also some of the most fascinating, creative things I have seen on a menu, so we got a salad and a pizza and shared.  The long-stem artichoke salad had white beans, red onion, ricotta, and cherry tomatoes, all to complement the beautifully grilled artichokes promised in the title. We got the Bianco Verde pizza, which had more ricotta (?!), prosciutto, caramelized onion, arugula, and mozarella on a thin, crispy, coal-fired crust. Sadly, we had a gig that night and chose not to show up drunk, but the beer and wine list looked great, too. It's in some hipster neighborhood called Dundee, and all the skinny jeans-wearers were perfectly nice.

I forgot to mention that silly little orange everyone got. 

Sakura Bana might have offered the best deals of any sushi restaurant I have ever visited, and it is very conveniently located near the UNO campus, if you're headed that way.  It's in a bit of a dense shopping area and is tucked into the parking lot a little bit, so use you GPS.  I had a lunch special (Combination C, for those of you wondering), which included miso soup, a generous portion of chicken teriyaki--the best, most delicately flavored sauce I've ever had, actually--rice, a large salad with delicious sesame dressing, three pieces of California roll (not my favorite, but this was really good), and two other pieces of fish, a white fish and piece of tuna. The fish was tender, briny, and in good condition, and I was so full I didn't need dinner for a looong time.  They also served matcha as their standard tea, which was delicious and much appreciated (by me).

(PS--Housing: The Embassy Suites at Downtown/Old Market was fine, but as always, they nickel and dime you to death for the parking and wireless.  I did enjoy being called sweetie by the breakfast cook who gave me about 10 pieces of bacon in the morning, however. But I discovered a new favorite in Staybridge Suites near UNO on Dodge; rooms were amazing, breakfast, happy hour, and free light dinners mid-week were all delish, and the staff were very helpful.  I recommend it highly.)

In conclusion, Omaha is a nice place and you needn't complain about going there.  The rest of the state is still a very boring drive, though.  Sorry, Nebraska--I LOVE YOU ALL!!!

17 February 2015

Eat your veggies!

Call it a smoothie deconstructed; I got a cold, and ransacked the vegetable drawer looking for the makings of a meal that would give me a false sense of agency over my scratchy throat. What I ended up with was a dish that can be eaten hot or cold, any time of day (a small amount is quite nice with a fried egg on top for breakfast).

Kale, Beet, and Grain Salad

Serves 4

1 cup cooked quinoa
1 cup cooked white rice
½ cup cooked wheat berries, farro, or barley
¼ cup toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon canola oil
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 roasted beets, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups chopped fresh kale

For the dressing:
½ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup water
¼ cup white miso
¼ cup chopped green onion
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil

Combine the quinoa, rice, wheat berries, and sesame seeds.  Season with salt and warm in a serving bowl.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat.  Sauté the onion until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the kale, garlic, and a pinch of salt and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until kale is wilted.  Add the beets and heat through. Toss in the dressing (use what you want; leftovers will keep in the refrigerator for 3 weeks).  Serve on top of mixed grains.

13 February 2015

Getting Lowdown for breakfast

A couple of weekends ago, I had a trip planned to Denver on a Sunday to enjoy brunch and a concert.  I knew it was a risk, as Denverites like their brunches almost as much as New Orleansians, but I decided to pop in to City O City, a hipster vegetarian place with an amazing breakfast menu and the quirky slogan, "breakfast all day". It was packed and there was an hour wait.  No, I said, I am too hungry for that shit.  So we wandered (well, drove) over to Lowdown, and I had the best tacos of my life.  I'm not exaggerating.  The beers were also fantastic--the grapefruity IPA, the toasty, chocolaty rye porter...I don't think I'll ever go anywhere else for brunch in Denver.  The tacos, by the way, charmingly called "Soooo I'll Call You... (yes, the brunch items all have snarky, youthful titles implying that the diner is a sexpot who is always hung over on the weekends), are pictured below:

I ate one of them before I took the picture because I was so excited when I saw them. But I cannot just go down to Denver willy-nilly and eat tacos and drink beer whenever I want!, so I have also painstakingly recreated the deliciousness, which is actually quite easy to do, below. (Seriously, though, go to Lowdown.  The Cuban was really good, too.)

Best Breakfast Tacos Ever
(copied from Lowdown’s Soooo I’ll Call You...)

Serves 4

Warm flour tortillas
1 pound chorizo without casings
½ pound bacon
8 eggs
½ cup milk
Salt and black pepper to taste

For the pico de gallo:
Four plum tomatoes, cored and chopped
¼ small red onion, finely chopped
¼ packed cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Lime wedges, crumbled queso fresco, and crema* for serving

Combine the eggs, milk, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl.  Whisk thoroughly and set aside.

In a large frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp over medium-low heat.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.  When cool enough, crumble into small(ish) pieces.

Pour out the grease and increase to medium heat.  Add the chorizo, chopping into fine pieces with a wooden spoon as you cook.  When chorizo is thoroughly cooked,  move to one side in the pan and add the egg mixture to the other side.  Working quickly and tilting the pan to keep eggs separate from chorizo, scramble the eggs, getting them a little bit dry.  Mix the eggs and chorizo together and add the crumbled bacon.

To assemble, place some egg and meat filling in the center of a warm tortilla, top with pico and cheese, drizzle crema on top, and squeeze some lime over the top.

* crema can be faked with sour cream or plain yogurt and a little milk added to make it runny like a sauce. 

My version at home. 

10 February 2015

Gingery Chick Pea Stir Fry

Is it Asian? Middle Eastern? Random hippie food?  I don't know, but I have been chowing down on this for days.  I think I'm obsessed.

Gingery Chick Pea Stir Fry

Serves 4-6

½ cup cashew pieces
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ onion, diced
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
8 ounces sliced mushrooms
1 cup broccoli florets
2 garlic cloves, minced
½ red bell pepper, diced
2 cups cooked chick peas
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1/8 cup chopped parsley
White or brown rice for serving

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat and roast the cashew pieces, stirring constantly until golden.  Remove to a plate and reserve.

Lower to medium heat and add the olive oil to the pan.  When it’s warm, add the onion and cook until soft, about 5-6 minutes.  Add the ginger, cumin, paprika, and mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are soft and release some of their liquid. Add the broccoli, garlic, and pepper and continue to cook until broccoli is softened slightly and bright green.  Stir in the chick peas, lemon zest ad juice, and parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste and warm through.  Serve with rice.

06 February 2015

The Beauty of Mushroom Strudel

Mushroom Strudels are delicious, but they look intimidating.  Beautifully golden, perfectly sealed golden loaves of puff pastry with mushrooms and cheese inside are as beautiful as they are comforting (and yet appropriate for entertaining, especially if there are Eastern Europeans in the room).  But this recipe is easy, and thanks to these beautifully photographed, well-written directions from the brilliant CookinCannuck, you can make this centerpiece-worthy treat while drinking wine and being clever with your guests, too.  As you can see, I changed the recipe, but whatever, do what you want.

(Pretty easy) Mushroom Strudel

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
1 1/2 pounds assorted fresh mushrooms, sliced
Sea salt and black pepper
2 teaspoons each finely chopped thyme, tarragon, flat-leaf parsley and chives
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 package (1 sheet) puff pastry, thawed

In a large skillet, heat butter and olive oil. Add shallots and garlic and soften. Add sliced mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper and cook over low heat until tender. If juices exude, raise heat and cook until they evaporate. Stir in the herbs and remove from heat. Pour mushrooms into a colander to dry and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Roll defrosted sheet of puff pastry to a 9- by 12-inch rectangle. Spoon the mushroom mixture evenly, down the middle third of the puff pastry, leaving one third of puff pastry free on each side.  Top evenly with goat cheese. Fold one-third of puff pastry over the mushrooms to cover it. Using a small, sharp knife, cut the remaining third of into 1/2-inch strips. Fold one strip on either end to seal the strudel. Lay the remaining strips in decorative X pattern along the top of the strudel. See photos of step-by-step directions here.

Transfer the strudel to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until the puff pastry is golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Cut into 1 1/2 to 2-inch slices. Serve.

03 February 2015

Egg, Spinach, and Potato Chop

This works best if you've got some leftover roasted potatoes (or baked or steamed) sitting in the fridge.  If you do, you can whip this up for a hearty snack, lazy dinner, or heavy breakfast very quickly. Oh, I guess it helps to have hard boiled eggs on hand, too.  But you always do, right?  They keep a long time in the fridge and they're a great source of protein in a pinch or on the road. OK, I'll write the recipe assuming you have these things laying around.  If not, you really should consider adjusting your living habits a little bit.

This is my work snack as I update this blog!

Egg, Spinach, and Potato Chop

Serves 1

1 hard-boiled egg, peeled and chopped
1 cup loosely packed spinach leaves, washed and drained
1/2 cup chopped cooked potatoes
teaspoon olive oil
salt and Sriracha to taste
lemon wedge

In a small skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Saute the spinach with a little salt, and when it's wilted but still bright green, add the potatoes just to warm them up.  Remove from heat, toss with the chopped egg, and season with a squeeze of lemon and Sriracha.