Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Carnivore at St. John's Town Center: Ted's Montana Grill

barbecue bison short ribs: I arrived famished as I just had a pear for breakfast all morning. I'm a pear freak and have been obsessed with the Forelle pears that have been available lately. But this morning I ran out of those and had a boring standby: the Bartlett. Spent the entire morning writing PR stuff about food and analyzing a recipe format on an empty stomach. Who ever heard of a food writer working on an empty stomach? I do that too often and end up eating half a cow before the end of the day. The short ribs hit the spot; although my recipe is better and a bit more outlandish than this one. Yet I found this dish quite acceptable. I liked the fact they were still on the bone and the one I was plated had the marrow looking right up at me. I love bone marrow; reminds me of southern France. Since living in the South (Florida!); I have finally become accustomed to overcooked-over salted green beans; which I ordered alongside the ribs. I actually crave it now. You could see how hungry I was by the mega bite on my biscuit (see left of this photo)


fresh pickling cukes arrive as you sit down


bleu creek burger aka bleu cheese burger shown here accosted by grilled onions AND deep fried onion rings


can't leave a place like this without an onion ring: thick slices of meaty white onions......did not come across any onion skins....a pet peeve of mine

I know....I know....this is a chain restaurant.....yet I had to think quick on my feet and find a place pronto for the 'girls' to lunch and this spot was middle ground to all of us. Plus I had been there several times prior and it will seem bizarre yet refreshing to let you know that Ted's Montana Grill in Jacksonville is probably ONE of the ONLY chain restaurants here in town that has decent service and sanitation since I've been.....

I've been there about three times and every time I've dined I am amazed that I have been served with eloquence and decency from the hostess to the wait staff.

The other thing I like is my arms don't stick to the table; but that might be because they have that rustic craft paper on all the tables but anyhow the last three visits have been sobering COMPARED to the other chains located in close proximity to this establishment. At THOSE places I felt like THEY WERE DOING ME A REAL FAVOR just by slapping me down on a greasy table and showing up to serve me food.

Plus I love the fact that their restaurant & MEATS are Eco-friendly, natural and hormone free. It's always good to minus the extra hormones; like women need any more of that....

Lately, I've been dining and eating more than I can POST.

So please be patient as I have a backlog of photos and posts of delectable dining adventures to share with you. At the same time trying to manage my treadmill and computer time while trying to eat (more than pears).

Tomorrow I'm going to favorite spot that changed ownership approx. 8 months ago. I have dined there once since and it was *smashing*.

It's an excuse to dine there twice to give them a proper profile. It's in downtown -I'll tell you about latr.....

I love the paper straws Ted's supplies with all their drinks. Do you remember paper straws?

We sat there with our ice teas while our straws bobbed against the glass. I noticed everyone had a different shade of lipstick on their straw. I kept holding myself back from wanting to get the tip of my straw really really wet so it would tear and shred. I remember doing that as a kid and I had to refrain myself from odd habits as that.

If you love meat, love potatoes and enjoy being served properly when dining out....Ted's is quaint visit and a good excuse chill at Sephora afterwards.

the bison short ribs can be found under their blue plate specials


I almost never made it there the first time due to the fact that I was with someone that couldn't stand Ted Turner and wouldn't dine there to support Ted Turner et al.

Well it worked out that day to my advantage because I am a girl and I wanted to eat meat THERE on THAT DAY; so he reluctantly gave in and to his amusement enjoyed himself immensely.

Ted's Montana Grill is located in St. John's Town Center as well a Orange Park. I have only dined at the St. John's Town Center location and have no idea if the OP location is comparable is service and so forth. The only issue I had was the 'plating' as I'm always about presentation. It does look pretty on their website as well pretty good going down.

Ted's Montana Grill
10281 Midtown Parkway, Suite 221 at St. John's Town Center
Jacksonville, Florida
Tel 904.998.0010

www.tedsmontanagrill.com

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

supermarket pizza dough?: Publix pizza dough to go

16 oz. of fun.....


a glorious sight for pizza fans


the kids favorite with boar's head pepperoni


pepperoni, black olive tapenade & scallions


my bite is bigger than my bark


sort of self-portrait: i just couldn't resist......



Who would have known my local supermarket here in Jacksonville carries pizza dough?

I always here about it on the t.v. food shows when the host exclaims 'just go to your local supermarket or pizzeria and pick up some fresh pizza dough....'

Well, I just never thought here?

I ACCIDENTALLY came across it when I was shopping at my neighborhood Publix supermarket and saw a man walking around with what appeared to be two bags of pizza dough as he was leaving the bakery section.

I was WATCHING the TWO bags of pizza DOUGH; mind you.

Anyways, then I came across it again at another Publix on the other side o' town as I was frantically trying to pick up dinner.

As I rushed through the bakery section I glanced from the corners of my eyes a series of tantalizing globes resting in the refrigerator section near some cream puffs I believe.

So I mentally arranged a pizza night at home with the kids.

It was easy so I picked up some pepperoni, shredded cheese, a jar of sauce and I figured I would throw on there what was in the fridge & pantry for myself.

One 16 oz. bag was a whopping one dollar and some change.

It's always fun making pizza at home and now I have an easy excuse to do this more often. Well aside from the carb factor; which I always say Sunday night and then when Monday rolls around its just another story. So I minus the beer. Even though the combined rhetorical sound of 'pizza & beer' sounds soooo good; it's better in my case to go one less carb and go solo with 'pizza'.

Another good reason to make homemade pizza: I cannot find edible PIZZA here. Some say I'm high maintenance. Any suggestions out there?(for pizza that is).

My gluttony with pizza began during my college years and I have forever been doomed since I ate at Zachary's Pizza when I was in art school in Oakland.

It was in between classes and we ran down College Avenue near the border of Oakland & Berkeley and ordered a basil, spinach & garlic pizza.

It was the FIRST TIME I had Chicago deep dish pizza and it blew me away. I don't know what frame of mind I was in as a twenty year old to order basil, spinach and garlic on my pizza but it was good. I remember a bottle of spunky fragrant beer too. After being seduced by garlic, yeast & German beer; I recall running through the fog and traffic to make it back to class in some sort of coherent fashion.

I was also spoiled further in my later years when we lived in northeast Ohio. Major pizza underbelly over there.

We came to Jacksonville and all I've come across is gloppy, cheesy, gooey and tasteless cardboard forum they call pizza. And have you noticed the sign that always reads "voted BEST pizza in Jacksonville" or "authentic New York style pizza". What the heck and who told them that???

Send me a sign someone.......

If you can't find the pizza dough in the fridge section in the Publix bakery; ask the kind people behind the bakery cases and they'll gracefully prep you a wad to go.

eat & buy local:

Publix
www.publix.com

Monday, September 17, 2007

Food Network Guest: Mory Thomas visits Jacksonville

*

I read the other day that the California based 'fast food' chain EL POLLO LOCO is contemplating a move to the 'South'. If that happens and they end up in Jacksonville; much to my embarrassment I would welcome them here.

There are some decent/acceptable fast food chains in Calif/esp. L.A. - are you now laughing at my hypocrisy? EL POLLO LOCO is one of them with their citrusy and slightly spicy grilled chicken with a Mexican twist. At least it's not adding to the deep fried renditions of pollo at the local fast food elements about town.

When I was an L.A. girl - el pollo was mainstay on nights right after work if I wasn't off to an event or out & about (yes - I had a life then....or the beach, the gym, a date or after work hike in the Malibu mountains *sigh*) and heading straight back to my loft apartment and two cats).

Always a take home order with a side of fat pickled jalapeno pepper and if I was lucky some carrots in the mix.

Then there's In-n-Out. Don't get me started on In-n-Out Burger.

I hope we get an In-n-Out - if so; I might want to be one of their general managers. They don't franchise - it's still a family operation. With the best *#$#&@! burgers in the world!

Moving towards a finer palate - we just had a highly coveted guest here last Friday from the Food Network. Mory Thomas, Food Network's Recipe Developer arrived and had a much anticipated visit at the kitchens of Publix Aprons Cooking School.

I had too much on my plate that night (hah!); and you will be delighted to know that my friend *M* (you may recall her from the Botan Japanese Restaurant journey I posted about) went on special assignment for tastememory.com.

So here's *M* girl's insight about Mory's visit which I heard was quite captivating by our guest blogger....I wish I could have clicked my heels and been there:

**Mory Thomas, Recipe Developer for Food Network

written by *M*:
I must confess I was pretty excited at the prospect of being on “special assignment” to cover the Apron’s Cooking class with Mory Thomas of Food Network — and was duly rewarded.

Going in, I felt a little like Gail to Inga’s Oprah; standing in for my oh-so creative and provocative friend who was otherwise committed and could not attend (though I am, after all, already known on this site as the elusive “M”).

Here is my first observation: if you are a bit of a novice in the kitchen, just getting interested/learning, etc. this is a great forum....and I feel I can say this as a veteran of about 2 years of cooking classes myself.

By the time the class got underway; there was a good mix of couples and what appeared to be family and girlfriend “groups”. Chef Patrick Walley, Resident Chef of the Jacksonville Publix Apron's Cooking School began by educating the audience about upcoming classes (including legendary Paul Prudhomme - reservations for fall classes start 9-17-07 so call early or be disappointed!) and shared that all the cookware being used in the class would be available for 20% off – nice touch!


***Pulled pork seasoned plentiful with jicama & mango to the punch atop hand made corn tortilla

He then introduced the *star* of the show: Mory Thomas of Food Network.

Mory is a recipe developer in the Food Network test kitchen (he is one of only two!) where over 3,000 recipes have evolved from. He has culinary and restaurant management degrees and has worked for Martha Stewart Living (including a brief stint as her personal chef) and Food & Wine magazine - pretty impressive. He hails from Texas and loves all things Southwestern and had just returned from a trip to Mexico; thus the featured menu. He brought photos from his trip to share with the audience which was not only fun to see but really quite good (definitely better than the ones I took to accompany this piece!) Throughout the evening he entertained us with anecdotes about ingredients, techniques and experiences from work and travel - not the least of which was a lesson is cactus trimming for our first dish: Cactus & Shrimp Quesadillas.

Unbeknownst to most of us, a “classic” quesadilla is much smaller than what is served in our local eateries and made with a corn, not flour, tortilla. I was so anxious to taste this when it was delivered to me I completely forgot to photograph it (looks like you’d expect, tasted INCOMPARABLY better than anything you’ll be served at Chili’s) The cactus did not add any “weird” flavors, it was actually texture that made the difference…other ingredients you’d expect: shrimp, cheese, chilies, seasoning, etc.

****Esquite me ......

Mory quickly moved through a lesson on making tortillas from scratch (very cool and very easy) and eased into the second course: Esquites. Have no idea what it means but it is a classic corn dish in Mexico and big time delicioso. Chorizo, fresh corn, chilies, cilantro all tossed with lime juice, cheese and a dollop of mayonnaise (I know, but trust me, it works). He then prepared a Turkey Breast in Mole Verde....and have I mentioned all of the recipes were developed by Mory specifically for this class? Mole, as he explained it, is a “category” of sauce in Mexican cooking and there are many variations beyond the chocolate/cinnamon variety you might anticipate. The “verde” in this mole came from tomatillos and romaine lettuce...and the beauty of this dish is its simplicity of preparation. Blend @16 ingredients, strain and pour over a browned turkey breast to bake in a Dutch oven---but such flavors (cumin, cloves, cilantro, and brown sugar!!) Bueno!

The last course was a highlight: Mexican Pulled Pork for Puffy Taco topped with Mory gave us the lesson on tortillas from scratch but he did point out that this variation on a tortilla/taco shell is actually TexMex, originating in San Antonio. Imagine pork steeped (not correct culinary terminology but I’m going for imagery here) in 3 kinds of chilies, garlic and beer…among other ingredients…served atop a puffed taco and finished with fresh jicama (Mory likened it to a cross between a potato and pear), mango, cilantro and red cabbage tossed with lime juice and garnished with Queso Fresco.....I asked for seconds.

*****Mory (center) with Jacksonville's Cooking School Staff

As I mentioned at the beginning, all of this was woven into cooking and technique tips, i.e. proper way to season, how to use a microplane, explanations of unusual ingredients and so on…it was wonderfully educational while at the same time exceptionally entertaining and massively satisfying. Oh, and we enjoyed a few wines in the process as well! I should also mention we were the beneficiaries of a great NYC restaurant recommendation from Mory---but to be privy to it, you’ll have to return to tastememory.com regularly and find it whenever revealed! And one more note on Mory’s behalf: Food Network is launching a line of cooking products and cookware which he reminded us of several times—watch for that as well as possibly discovering Mory on air!

Publix Apron’s Cooking School just published its fall class schedule and if you are even slightly curious: GO!

You will be satiated, educated and delighted....See you there! ~”M”

Publix Apron's Cooking School
10500 San Jose Blvd.
Jacksonville, Florida 32257
Cooking School: 904-262-4187

www.publix.com

* photo courtesy PD Photo.org
** photo courtesy Publix Apron's Cooking School
***, ****, ***** photo courtesy *M*

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

FLAVORS Essence of India

The Buffet Lunch: Squash Fry (green veggies at 6 o'clock then go clockwise) this was my repeated favorite, Aloo Ghobi (alongside relishes), Basmati rice, Sambar, Chicken Curry and Veg Pakora.


Vegetable Pakora: come forth


SAMBAR-Y save me!!!


First off - sorry about the crazy issues on the 'header art' & other art this past week. Having some major technical issues and hopefully it should get resolved in the next week.

For now; please enjoy the stark Bauhaus look of my header title with fonts only!

If you would have asked me five years ago to Indian food on a weekly basis I would have walked away. As Indian food was often an 'exotic twice a year treat' for my palate that I wasn't too accustomed to.

I was in a cooking class awhile back ago and indulged in a dish we prepared that day. I recall it was the chilled lemongrass soup which included the following delicate yet intense ingredients that punctuated the tasting:

- milk
- vanilla beans
- fresh lemongrass chopped
- sugar of course
- papaya diced
- dollop of coconut ice cream

Now of course; the milk, vanilla beans (split lengthwise to diffuse its *essence*), chopped lemongrass and sugar was brought to a low swimmer to fuse and heighten the flavors.

The final result was a taste sensation that included a myriad of Thai-Indochine spices and ingredients. I remarked “it tastes beautiful” and some one charged at me laughing and perhaps my remark was hokey.

I'm sure it was a hokey remark....yet...

Well, it did taste b e a u t i f u l to me.

Sweet sour lemony funky and slightly deranged. It was a complex confusion of flavors you often don't wake up to eat to.

Yes it was different.

An enjoyable challenge to eat something different. Though I'm not as brave as Anthony Bourdain trekking the Sahara's eating something bbq'd in dung & other questionable ingredients - I do love to try things that are out of the ordinary.

Thus, my current affection for Indian food.

We went to Flavors Essence of India Indian restaurant for lunch the other day.

Yes - in another Jacksonville strip mall located off Baymeadows Road.

It was formerly Souper Salad - which was one our *FAVORITE ORDINARY TRIED & TRUE* haunts for Sunday brunch.

Flavors has only been open for about a month and garnishes food from various regions of India. Regional cooking from southern to northern India; as well as 'Indochine' variants as mentioned by one of the restaurant partners Venkata (Venny) Koganti inspire many of their dishes. They specialize in the use of fresh traditional Indian produce, spices and ingredients that bring a power punch in their *flavors* - literally!

We enjoyed their weekly lunch buffet at only $7.99 per person! A regular dining menu is also available. You can visit their website for dining details.

A variety of chicken, goat & vegetarian dishes included curries, masalas were supplemented with fragrant offerings of Basmati rice.

There were also sweet, sour, spicy relishes to compliment your dish. Some lovely relishes included the mint chutney, tamarind spice and nutty coconut chutney.

During our lunch we enjoyed the Vegetable Pakora made with spinach and onions that were rolled in delicate spices with a light chickpea flour batter then deep fried to delectable madness.

There was also the usual Chicken Tandoori that is often served too dry and bland for my taste. Yet Flavors opted to present a tender, moist and extremely well seasoned version of this traditional clay oven dish.

We also enjoyed the creamy Chicken Curry, Goat Masala, Palak Paneer (spinach blended with delicate cheese and spices) and also the Channa Masala (chickpeas).

Some of my favorites include: The Sambar which is a very light stew made of vegetables which is another Indian staple. Another repeat for me was the Squash Fry they had that day. The first bite is delicate but keep going and you'll taste the curry leaves I was talking about during my rant about Cilantro Indian Cuisine weeks back.

The welcoming wait staff brought us baskets of chewy nan to go with our buffet lunch.

Flavors also has a full dinner menu which I'm sure will please timid and adventurous diner.

What I enjoyed so much about the restaurant FIRST is service & cleanliness; which is often an after thought in many places.

Yet alongside - I enjoyed their use of FRESH & HIGH QUALITY INGREDIENTS.

This is so essential in cooking that I cannot fathom why restaurants opt to go beneath the food chain often times to make an extra buck by use of questionable ingredients.

Another stand out for Flavors is their cooking is quite traditional.

I was immediately drawn towards their refreshing yet exact use of seeds. Yes seeds: coriander, cumin, fenugreek and mustard seeds to be exact!

Gone are the goodness sake awful bland and FLAT flavors to treat the American palate. What is noticeable is the outspoken blend of delicate with feisty spices that accentuate the broad colors of Indian cuisine.

which one....which one???


Bought a handful of these babes via top shelf: my replacement for lean cuisine to spice up the daily grind


More babies....


After our feast we walked a few doors down and visited their grocery store Flavors Indian Grocery.

You see top ramen (bottom left) in this mix!!??


Support your local grocer - says this *girl about town*


I love supporting local ethnic grocery stores. This is a small one but their inventory is growing and you can pick up many items there that are extremely reasonably priced.

We left with a semi-contentness that Jacksonville's dining is slightly escalating away from it's sorry unidentifiable deep fried haze of a state to a hopeful directional route to something inspiring.

As I was signing the restaurant's guest book upon leaving; I met 'Venny' and mentioned to him not to change a thing.

Restaurants in Jacksonville have a tendency to OPEN with a punch then fall to the side of mundane to please bland palate's (*yawn*) that fear anything different or spicy . What's wrong with a little tongue tingle?

Anyhow, I left with a smile as well as a bag of fresh curry leaves.

Flavors
Essence of India
(restaurant)
Tel 904.733.1525

Flavors Indian Grocery
Tel 904.733.1523

9550 Baymeadows Road
Jacksonville, Florida 32256

www.jaxflavors.com

Friday, September 7, 2007

French Pantry in Jacksonville: gem of a find

this drew me . . . .


grilled chicken salad with ruby red tomatoes and mozzarella on toasty crusty bread


tempura chicken salad with meaty portions of grilled portabella mushrooms and drizzled with balsamic vinegar


french fries that can't go wrong


This week has been an upheaval of elements. With the overcast skies and down flux of the weather - WINTER is impending; ugh what a poor element of surprise for me in northeast FLA!

Now northeast Florida does have SEASONS. It's not always sunny subtropical and I'm not saying I cringe from change; but I always get so accustomed to the lovely dewy humidity and SUN that it becomes at times hard to fathom the concept of WINTER.

I have absolutely nothing to complain about; esp. since I lived 5 years of my life in Cleveland - I guess I'm still t h a w i n g from that experience.

Subject of bread - namely FRENCH BREAD which is near impossible to find in Jacksonville that passes my taste test.

With the exception of FRENCH PANTRY.

Which is a quiet institution around here and an absolute NOT TO MISS lunch spot.

They are only open for lunch and they also yield a powerful pack as a bakery.

You will also find a gorgeous selection of muffins, cookies and beautifully formed artisanal breads that are so gem like that you will have to haul a take home bag of goodies right after your lunch.

Be cautious to arrive early though - at least by 11:30 a.m. as seating is extremely limited and there is literally a line up of passionate patrons at the door.

Table side seating is awesome in the communal seating arrangements and makes for fun dining too.

Check it out and don't forget what I said about their french bread: straight from the San Francisco girl's mouth!

French Pantry
6301 Powers Ave
Jacksonville, FL 32217

(904) 730-8696

I'm going Indian again for lunch today .

Be back with more *insight*