Sunday, May 30, 2010

ManBQue Practice Round

Pretty soon, Dayton is going to have a ManBQue chapter to call its own. The official kick off will be in June or July, but this weekend Mr. FvF and I decided to host a CoedBQue (read the rules, totally allowed on weekends) to let some folks try out their recipes.
GK served up some fabulous Buffet burgers, stuffed with beer-can peppers and onions and smothered in pepper jack cheese...
Hoeflich grilled up some ribeyes that "fell off a truck," marinated in bacon fat and garlic...

and Evil Josh had the brilliant idea of stuffing skirt steak with apples, smoked mozzarella and crushed almonds.
Even though all of that was tough to top, the Mister's Double Buffalo Sliders stole the show. Even though I'm sure you've already gorged on your share of holiday meats, you're going to want these inside you. Waddle on over to ManBQue for the recipe!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Linh's Restaurant (Chinese & Vietnamese) - Dayton, OH

Once Mr. FvF and I finally made it back to the Dirty D yesterday evening, the last thing I wanted to do was cook. I mentioned going to the Hasty Tasty for an early bird special, but the poor guy had taken my bossin' the whole ride home, so I let him veto my vote for Hasty in favor of Chinese food.
Only problem is, I'm really picky about Chinese food. I really like North China in Centerville, and China cottage is pretty good, too - but neither are close to the East end. After poking around on UrbanSpoon, I found that a little place on Airway Rd called Linh's was bested in ratings only by P.F. Chang's in the Dayton area. Thankfully, they have an online menu, so we phoned in our order and went to pick it up.
Mr. FvF ordered the Empress chicken and I ordered the Crispy orange beef, both in deluxe dinner specials. They each came with a side of rice, eggroll or crab rangoon, and a choice of soup. We both got eggrolls, and I got the wonton soup while he opted for the hot & sour.

We got home and Mr. FvF started unloading and I went to get some extra plates.
Me: "Do we need extra napkins?"
Mr FvF: "No, but we might need an extra table."

It was an absolute ton of food, no matter how tightly they had it crammed into tiny little cartons. We chowed down and both sampled one another's dishes, and decided that it was some of the best damn Chinese food we'd ever consumed. He says the hot & sour soup doesn't top China Cottage's, and I agreed that my wonton soup wasn't as good as what I get at North China.
His Empress Chicken had a great spice in the glaze, but the first hint of heat you got was as far as it went - it didn't intensify as you kept eating.

My Crispy Orange Beef was tender, lightly breaded, and smothered in a sauce that wasn't overly sweet and swimming in orange rind (one of my favorite things). I added a little red pepper flake to kick up the flavor a bit, which worked really well.

We didn't dine in, but the phone service was pleasant, and it wasn't too pricey. More than a lot of Chinese takeout joints, but you're getting restaurant quality food (as opposed to the chewy cat meat found at places like New China down the other end of the road), so $10 a piece isn't too shabby.

5 out of 5 sporks!

Lihn's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Waffle King - Corbin, KY

At the end of our mini-vacation, we stopped on the way out of town for some breakfast before heading back to Ohio. I'm sure there were better places we could have found, had we not been starving - but for some reason my UrbanSpoon mobile app always sets me to Seattle and won't let me change it. So, we settled for Waffle King.

The place was packed, and so small only one person can come through the doorway at once, plus they only had one table that seated more than four, so we had to split up. The Waffle King menu looks exactly like the Waffle House menu, except for the fact that it basically advertises that nothing but the waffles are made in-house. Smucker's jam, Pillsbury biscuits, Hormel breakfast meats, Tyson pork chops - nearly everything had a brand name stamped on it. Oddly enough, not an artificial sweetener to be found for the coffee, though - only sugar.

Our order was taken quickly, but the food took what seemed like ages to come out. Lack of homemade-ness be damned, I'd be lying if I said everything wasn't pretty delicious. The scrambled eggs were fluffy, bacon was thick and crispy, grits were the right consistency and the hash browns had a great crispy layer on the outside.

The service was just okay. Coffee was refilled once, I think, but nothing outstanding. I really wish I had more to say, but it was just breakfast. Good food and bad everything else doesn't impress me. As for breakfast food, it was quite a bit better than someplace like Hasty Tasty - but I'll take HT's top-notch service and hit-or-miss homemade food over a joint like this any day.

3.5 out of 5 sporks!

Bubba Brew's - Maynardville, TN (Norris Lake)

We had beautiful weather Friday afternoon, despite every weather forecast saying it would rain all day. We got out on the boat again and searched out the Old 33 bridge, and found a little place just past there on the water and decided to stop in for a bite. Bubba Brew's is just as easily accessed from the water as it is dry land, sitting just off-shore and operating almost completely outdoors.
Having gotten carried away with our boat ride, we were now eating a very late lunch and decided to get some appetizers to share. Our server Zack (who we found out later had not waited a table at BB's up until we strolled in) came over to take our drink order. I was more than overjoyed to find out that in this dry county, Bubba's somehow found a loophole to have a full bar at this place. We all ordered cocktails, as well as buffalo wings, mini corn dogs, loaded nachos, french fries, southwestern spring rolls and chicken fries.

Everything was pretty much as we expected - nice, strong drinks and good bar food. The two things that stood out were the fries - which had been lightly battered - and the nachos. Those nachos were epic. They came out in a giant chip tray with the dip bowl hollowed out in the middle and it was brimming with tortilla chips covered in chili, onions, cheese and tomatoes. Basically, coney fixins reincarnated for nachos. Why haven't I ever thought of that!? We could have just ordered that alone and split it between all six of us.

Zack was a kick-ass server, even bringing my mom some tonic when he spotted that she'd clumsily gotten BBQ sauce on her sweater. Knowing that managers usually only hear about bad service, we asked Zack to bring her out so we could tell her what a fantastic job he'd done. Let's just say a very attractive, blonde twenty-something wasn't what I was expecting when meeting the owner of one of the larger restaurants in the lake area. Nancy Bass and her husband (Bubba, naturally) moved up here a few years ago from Arkansas and started Bubba Brew's to cater to the Norris Lake crowd, which it seems had been largely neglected up until that point. She also told me that they'd built the majority of the outdoor portion of the restaurant just this winter. As with any Bible-belt joint serving liquor to the unwashed masses, the Basses probably have just as many foes as they have fans. But as we like to say in the North, screw'em.

If you're ever in the Norris Lake area, this is a definite must. And even though the outdoor area is comfy and roomy, don't forget to check out the awesome lighting on the indoor bar. Clever!
5 out of 5 sporks!

El Mariachi - Tazewell, TN

I know you've missed me, but I promise I'll make up for it. The fam and I spent a long weekend at Norris Lake over the last few days - sunning, boating, cocktailing and of course, eating. Lucky for you, I'll be detailing this gastro-riffic journey!

The first night we got into town, we had just enough time to get out on the boat before sunset. Afterwards, we ventured out for a grocery run and to grab a late dinner. Most of the joints in this little lake town close early, and the only place we could find open past 8:50pm was El Mariachi.
It looked like the typical hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint, so I wasn't expecting much - but we were all pleasantly surprised. We all ordered beers to accompany our salsa & chips brought to the table, and our food came out no more than 10 minutes after we'd ordered. The servings were plentiful and some of the best Mexican food any of us have had in a while. The most memorable dishes were dad's Picadillo (steak grilled with onions, peppers and tomatoes) and Mr. FvF's Pollo Loco (marinated grilled chicken in a spicy tomato sauce and oodles of cheese). Naturally, I sampled them both to make sure they weren't exaggerating the goodness because they were starving.

I'd love to tell you that I have pictures for you, but we hadn't eaten in 9+ hours, so there just wasn't time for such foolishness. The service was tops, and as far as Mexican food goes, it was pretty authentic and total taste bud annihilation.

5 out of 5 sporks!

Elmariachi Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Smokin' Aces - Xenia, Ohio

Yesterday an acquaintance of mine posted on Facebook that he was helping open a BBQ joint and needed some wait staff. Ever the gumshoe, I started shooting emails back and forth with him and arranged to meet up with both him and the owners today to get the scoop on the location, opening date, and most importantly - the menu.

My buddy Jason Ledbetter met sous chef Andrew Engler several years ago working at Moraine Country Club. Angler eventually moved on to the Downtown Cafe in Xenia, but recently decided it was time to venture out on his own. When Enlger and his girlfriend Kate Pasquinelli decided to make the investment and open a new restaurant, Jason was the first person he called to help get Smokin' Aces on its feet.

I met the three of them in their new location in downtown Xenia, just around the corner from Downtown Cafe where Angler most recently cheffed it up. Smokin' Aces is located in the former L.A. Sports bar space, which before that housed Noble Roman's Pizza, and apparently a handful of other retailers and eateries.

I always get to the important questions first, so YES - they do have a liquor license. They will be serving beer, wine and cocktails until 1 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and will give themselves a day of respite on Sundays. The proprietors were quick to let me know, though, that this wasn't just a bar that serves food - they'd prefer people think of it as the opposite - a great, family-friendly restaurant that happens to serve drinks. Based on the next hour we spent talking about food - that's no joke.

They'll have the standard BBQ fare you'd expect - ribs, pulled pork, chicken and steaks. Some of the side items will include house-made Saratoga chips, cole slaw, and Tabasco onion straws. You're also going to see a few things that aren't common in BBQ joints, or in Dayton at all. Instead of serving wings or chicken chunks (really, once Wendy's gets in on the action, it's no longer inventive to put it on your menu), he's going to do skewered chicken in the style you might find in a Chinese or Thai restaurant, with a few different options of marinades.
Another thing that I've personally never laid eyes on and can't wait to try, are the Hog Wings. They're basically a small section of pork shank, still on the bone, about the size of a chicken leg and very lean, tender meat. From the sounds of it, it's like eating ribs but the effort vs. reward ratio seems a lot better with hog wings. Engler will also be making his own barbecue sauces from scratch, starting with the basics - a sweeter red sauce and a Carolina gold sauce. He said he'll probably be adding a hotter version of the standard sauce if he thinks his customers want to see it. He's also using real smoke, not tossing in some Liquid Smoke, like some other chains whose names we'll omit as to not publicly shame them.

The price points are very reasonable, even for those of you ballin' on a budget. Smokin' Aces will have meal options starting around $5 for a daily special basket, up to about $16 for a giant ribeye steak or a full slab of ribs meal. Since they want to appeal to families, they'll have options for the kiddos, too - things like burgers, chicken tenders and hot dogs. They've got some desserts in mind, too, like the cheesecake-filled won-tons dusted in cinnamon and sugar that Andrew shared with me. Anything that comes as a sandwich will actually be served on pita bread, as opposed to a bun, but you can opt for a bun if you like, or even a tortilla. As for the ribs, Engler prefers not to put a name on them, but they'll all get the secret dry rub, but can also be sauced if you want'em that way. If you're not a big meat eater, or your life is empty -er, I mean if you're vegetarian, they'll have veggie options that will change daily. There's also the house salad, which will be an Iceberg-Romaine blend, topped with tomatoes, bacon, Engler's own signature horseradish dressing, house blend of cheddar, pepper jack and smoked gouda cheeses, and Tabasco onion straws. Diners will also be able to dig into family-style dining, and enjoy Smokin' Aces BBQ anywhere once their catering business gets its legs.

They plan on opening up the first week of June. The owners and operations managers had tentatively set a date of June 1, but are now possibly looking at a more realistic date of June 8 to open up shop. They're located at 40 West Main St (35) in downtown Xenia, just past 5/3 Bank in the Clocktower Shopping Plaza. They're still looking for a few good folks to add to their serving team, too! If you're interested, contact Jason Ledbetter via Facebook.
Considering the lack of good BBQ joints in the Dayton area, and the complete void of them east of town around Xenia, I think Smokin' Aces is going to do Gangbusters business. So, keep your eyes peeled for their grand opening, because you're definitely going to have to brawl with me and Mr. FvF if it comes down to the last empty table.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Dayton Restaurant News!

Stay tuned in the upcoming week to find out about a BBQ joint opening in Xenia called Smokin' Aces. The proprietor has agreed to give Food vs. Face an exclusive first look at the new digs, plus dish about the menu to get your mouths watering. It will be opening June 1st, so I promise to have the details to you before then!

El Toro - Dayton, Ohio

I took one of my favorite clients to lunch today and she suggested El Toro, since it was right down the street on Harshman Road and she couldn't spare much more than an hour. I'd eaten at the one on Old Troy Pike before and remembered not being terribly impressed,but figured they may have made some improvements over the last year or so.

For having an empty restaurant, our server was pretty anxious - asking if we were ready to order after just being seated and given menus. Uhhhh, no - of course we're not ready to order. Our menus haven't even been opened. Once we had a chance to peruse, I ordered the carnitas (with a side of guacamole), mostly out of curiosity to see how they would measure up to my own.

I apologize for the bad cell phone pic, it really did look more appetizing than this. Of course, there were the standard yellow rice and refried beans (which tastes like the rice and beans at any other Mexican joint), and the carnitas were big 2-3" chunks of pork tenderloin. Not a bad thing, per se, but also NOT carnitas. They're supposed to be relatively shredded, very moist, and very flavorful. Now, had I ordered big chunks of pork tenderloin, I would have been okay with this dish. They were cooked nicely (not too dry), and well seasoned if we're just talking regular pork. I didn't pick up on any hints of cumin, chiles, or any other run-of-the-mill Mexican flavors. They were served smothered in grilled onions, though, so that helped amp up the flavor factor just enough to save me from being quite a bit sassier about the situation. I'm pretty sure the menu also advertised a tomatillo sauce they'd be served with, which I never got.

The other huge disappointment was the guacamole. Considering even Chili's can serve halfway decent guac, I was really miffed to see the bowl of neon green mess that came to the table - and also happened to look AND taste exactly like Dean's Guacamole flavored dip that you can find at any major grocer. It was masked with sour cream, and entirely too sweet. Gross.

The service continued to be unimpressive, with our server disappearing just as our drinks ran empty and we really needed to get our check. Overall, it was just okay, and that doesn't get it in my book.

2.5 out of 5 sporks

Friday, May 14, 2010

ManBQue: All aboard the gravy train!

I promised I'd post a gravy tutorial to follow up John's biscuit recipe, and last night's BFMFD finally gave me the chance to fulfill my obligation.

In the kind of household I grew up in, gravy was considered a condiment fit to put on almost anything - biscuits, eggs, toast, chicken, ham, potatoes, etc. Hell, it was practically considered a beverage. Mine was a very blue collar home, meaning we weren't wiping our asses with hundred dollar bills, and gravy was often used to "round out a meal." That probably explains a lot about my figure, actually.

Now's the time that you'll toddle on over to ManBQue for fulfillment of your wildest gravy fantasies.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Heights Cafe - Huber Heights, Ohio

A friend and I decided to pop in on an old networking colleague of ours who has now moved on to much more mellow pastures at The Heights Cafe in Huber Heights. I'm pretty sure the place has only opened within the last few months in the shopping center at Chambersburg, so, as with all start-ups, I wasn't expecting much. We figured we'd say hello, grab some coffee, and be on our way.

The location was very unassuming, but I was already impressed as we walked through the door. Muted, but modern decor - and nice, warm colors. A chalk board at the entrance told us about some specials and we were greeted by friendly employees right away. Before we even placed our coffee order, Chef Jeff LaFollette gave us a warm welcome as well. Not being a big coffee drinker, I just ordered a decaff latte, but wished I wasn't so full because their house-made pies and pastries looked absolutely amazing.

Turns out, we'd gotten their just in time for our buddy's lunch break, so we took a table together and caught up while she ate her lunch. She ordered the "Original 1762" sandwich - roast beef, horseradish sauce and cheddar on griddles white bread, which came with their own house-made potato chips (which I took the liberty of sampling one of - NOM!) and dill pickle chips.

Cheff Jeff and the owner, Eric Knowlton, eventually joined in our conversation, talking about plans for menu additions (for an already very encompassing menu) and how business was going. Most importantly, we got pie samples of the peanut butter pie I was eyeballing since we arrived. I know what you're thinking - but no, it's not just because our friend worked there - they actually do this on the regular for anyone! So, even if you're not Dayton's #1 food blogger (*brushes shoulders off*), you can still get yourself a sample. And trust me, you want one. You NEED one.

End result, I'm going to go ahead and give them 5 out of 5 sporks before I even eat a meal there. This is unprecedented on FvF history, but well-deserved, in my opinion. the staff is incredibly friendly, the menu is tops, great coffee (in your face, Starbucks) and devilishly good pies. I'll be back really, really soon just to order "Breakfast with Elvis," one of the most appetizing items I've ever seen on a menu. Griddlecakes, peanut butter, bananas - I'm drooling just thinking about it.

The Heights Cafe is currently working on a website and blog, and I've just requested that Urban Spoon add them as a HH restaurant so I can post the snapshots I got of their menu.
In the meantime, just go there and eat! They're at 6178 Chambersburg Rd in Huber Heights, Ohio and if I recall correctly, they're open Monday through Saturday from 9am until 3pm.
they serve fantastic food and make an effort to buy local, so this is a great business to support.

The Heights Cafe on Urbanspoon

Peanut Chicken Eggrolls

I really have no idea what made me decide to try my hand at eggrolls, but here we are. Surely, I thought, they'll be a hot mess. Turns out, I make some of the best damn eggrolls this side of the Great Miami. Take that, PF Chang's!

You'll need:
1 lb chicken breast, trimmed and cut into about 1/2" pieces
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground ginger
1 bag cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots)
1/2 red onion, finely diced
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
about 10 egg roll wrappers
black pepper
oil (preferably canola, veggie or peanut)
soy sauce

It's easiest to dice your chicken up when it's still just the slightest bit frozen - the knife will go right through it. Heat about 1/4 C oil over medium heat, season your diced chicken with fresh ground black pepper, and toss it into the hot pan (Wok works best), then add 1 clove of the minced garlic. Give it a good stir, toss the chicken around occasionally, and cook for about 5-7 minutes or until done. Careful not to let it start browning - chicken diced this small will cook up fast. Use a slotted spoon to transfer it to a bowl and stick it in the microwave so it doesn't lose heat.

In the same pan, with the small amount of fat & leftover oil from the chicken, toss in your cabbage & carrot mix, the other clove of garlic, red onion, pepper flakes and ginger. I added a little extra oil (sesame and canola) to help it wilt, and about a tbsp of soy sauce here, too. Cook until it's wilted, but not soggy. Get your chicken back out, add that, and give it another good stir.
Now, start preheating more oil about 1" deep in a Dutch oven. You can use a deep fryer, too, but we don't have those kinds of fancy appliances here at Chez FvF.

Now comes the tricky part - working with the egg roll wrappers. It's nowhere near as tedious as working with phyllo dough, but it takes some getting used to. Any part of it that gets wet will become pliable and tear easily, but this pliability also comes in handy later. Observe!

Lay a wrapper out, one corner pointing towards you. Spread about 1 tbsp of peanut sauce (Trader Joe's Peanut Satay sauce works well for this) 2 inches above the bottom corner, then put 3 heaping tbsp of your cabbage & chicken over top of that.

Next, fold the bottom corner over once,
turn the roll over a second time,
then fold the sides in.
It should look just like an envelope.

Finally, roll it up the rest of the way. Dip your fingertips in water and gently slide them along the seams. They'll become gummy and start to seal together.

Your oil should be hot by the time you finish, but you can test it by flicking a drop of hot water into it and see if it pops. Place about 4-5 eggrolls in at a time and cook just under two minutes per side, or until golden brown. they'll be pretty greasy, so drain them on paper towels or newspaper before serving.

I don't feel the slightest bit bawdy about saying that these are probably the best eggrolls I've ever had. The peanut sauce definitely gives it some sass, but it's not overly noticeable. Best of all, they weren't too difficult or time consuming (about 45 minutes, start to finish) and it costs around $7 to make 10 of them.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Food vs. Face is now on Facebook!

You've been waiting all this time, now you can *officially* become a fan of Food vs. Face on Facebook!
Okay, technically that's sort of a lie. You can't "be a fan" of things any more on FB, you can just "like" them - the same way you can "like" someone self-destructing via status updates. Really, wouldn't it be better if, when you see a post from someone bell-jarring it up about how hollow their life is, you could "become a fan" of that? That's a lot better than just liking it.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Night of Decadence at EJ's

After our big fail-fest of a dinner last night, we headed to the home our BFF and neighbor, Evil Josh. We uncorked some wine and cracked open some beers and he showed me the new game he'd picked up at the book store called Foodie Fight. I won't front like I know *everything* about food, so I'll definitely lose - but so will everyone but our friend Billiam. Every once in a while, I can tolerate losing, as long as I have fun doing it.

After several porch drinks, we decided we needed something in our belly's. EJ first busted out some Triscuits and sharp white cheddar, but then decided to grill up the Gyulai that he'd picked up from Jungle Jim's International Market. Gyulai (pronounced you-lie) is a traditional spicy, smoked Hungarian sausage that's on the drier end of cased sausages and has a perfectly crispy skin when grilled. They were, needless to say, nomtastic. I'm quite a sissy with heat, so I think if I were buying them myself, I'd get the milder version.

Not to be outdone, EJ came up with a grand finale that was the perfect end in a tour of "How to obtain diabetes" - fried peeps. But, peeps fried in butter would be elementary. So, use that fried peep as a garnish on some rocky road ice cream. Now we're talkin'!

This was a first attempt, so they weren't perfect, but if you got a bite that had been perfectly caramelized, it was like striking gold. Next time, we'll try it with all the same elements, except either with a scolding hot pan, or even a flambe torch.

Table Scraps 5/7/10

  • After a several weeks of amazing dishes, we a had a dinner fail. Turns out beef stroganoff is actually better with sausage. I should have gone to
  • District Dine-Arounds are back! Per the MVRA's newsletter:
    Starting 6/23/10, Guests will visit the Oregon District's art galleries, dine at the restaurants, and even tour an Oregon District mansion. The evening will kick off at an art gallery for appetizers and wine(prepared by an Oregon District eatery), and then we will head off to tour the Oregon District mansion. Then we will dine at one the restaurants for dinner, tour another gallery, and end up the evening with desserts. The evening will begin at 530pm. Restaurants include: Boulevard Haus, Coco's Bistro, Jay's, The Side Bar, and Thai 9. Menus and restaurant line up TBA. Cost is $ 40.00 per person which includes tax and gratuity. Tickets on sale now and can be purchased by clicking here.
  • Speaking of The Side Bar, they're fully open for business now in the former Pacchia space in the Oregon District. They'll be serving all kinds of magically delicious dishes in addition to their already killer list of "vintage" cocktails, put together with help from the staff at The Violet Hour in Chicago.
  • Submarine House has closed its Wilmington Pike location, but hopes to open another Kettering location in the bar & grill style that's going up in Fairborn.
  • Homemade's new Fried Ice Cream flavor is pretty great, but not everything I want it to be. The cinnamon ice cream and honey-caramel swirl are amazing, but the cinnamon-dusted tortilla pieces have some texture issues after hanging out in all that dairy.
  • The Man B Que Dayton chapter is finally getting off the ground. For more info on the wonderment of Man B Que, check out their website and the rules of being part of the club. I should reiterate there are no fees involved, and it's totally kick ass. If you're interested in being part of the Dayton chapter, contact Food vs. Face or leave a comment with your contact info. There will be a practice MBQ in late May, then the official kick off with the Godfather sometime in June.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken

Whenever I find myself in a recipe rut, I just look for new things I can cram into a chicken. Looks fancy,but it's pretty easy. Tonight's recipe is brought to you by my love for pine nuts and hatred of paying $4 for a tiny jar of them.

Mediterranean Stuffed Chicken
(serves 2, double as needed)
2 boneless chicken breast halves, trimmed and flattened
1/2 C fresh spinach
2 tbsp pine nuts
1/2 C feta (I used basil & tomato feta)
house seasoning
olive oil

There's always more than one way to skin a cat. Sure, you could spend time whacking away at the chicken breast with a mallet until it's flattened, but here's an easier way. Cut the breast in half first, lengthwise. If it's a bit uneven, then you can pound it out covered in plastic wrap until the thickness is uniform.

Lay down a few fresh spinach leaves, then your cheese, then the pine nuts on the fatter end.
Have your toothpicks handy (about 3 per piece) and start rolling them up, fat end first.
Secure with toothpicks on each end, and one in the middle to keep all the goodness from oozing out when they cook.

Once you have tight little rolls, dust them up with house seasoning (salt, pepper, garlic powder) and brown them in a pan over medium heat in a little olive oil until a nice, light brown crust is formed.

Pop them into the oven at 350 for about 30 minutes to finish the cooking process. Make sure the temp read at last 165 to make sure they're cooked thoroughly.

Salsa's - Dayton, Ohio

It turns out my secret Mexican/Latin restaurant is becoming a lot less secret, and that's perfectly alright by me. Mr. FvF, my buddy Def Leper and I headed to Salsa's in the Airway shopping center last night, as part of what's become tradition to enjoy a little Mexican food on Cinco de Mayo without the crazies at Elsa's or the crowds at other Mexican joints. I went there last year on the same day and I don't think they'd been open long at the time, because it was less than half full during dinner rush. I figured worst case scenario, I'd get some decent food, a margarita, and it wouldn't be packed. I was so impressed by the menu (Tostones and chorizo? Count me in!), the food, the prices and the staff that it's probably the only Mexican restaurant I've set foot in since. I was hoping this 5/5 it wouldn't be too packed for us to get a table, but I wanted to see the place fill out a bit more, and they certainly did. We got there right at 6pm, and there were only two indoor tables and one patio table available.

I was more than happy to see they're Cinco drink specials of - are you sitting down? - 95 cent Margaritas! Considering it's cheaper than ordering a soda, we all ordered one, but weren't expecting much. Granted, they were made from your standard mix, but the tequila definitely wasn't lacking. By the time we'd had our fill of chips & salsa, our food came out. They've incorporated a clever method for a mid-range restaurant of wheeling the bigger orders out on carts so that it doesn't require 2-3 servers to bring food out for one table. The food, as always, was perfect.

My flautas dinner - one beef, one chicken

Def Leper's Mexican Flag plate, mysteriously devoid of salsa verde.

I tried to snap a pic of the Mister's Enchiladas Rojas, but the margaritas must have gotten to me, because it didn't quite turn out. They've recently taken to putting more fresh herbs and greens on the plate with the standard beans and rice, which I think is tops. Eventually I'll have to stray from my beloved flautas to try some of their Latin menu. Basically, aside from the seafood, there's not much on there that doesn't look fantastic.

I'm pretty sure no one's entree was over $10. In fact, Mr. FvF and I got out of there paying $20 for two entrees and five margaritas. Between the food and the service, I say Salsa's is the best Mexican restaurant in Dayton. I know everyone will react immediately saying I'm wrong, because it's Taqueria Mixteca - but I don't consider the two places to be in the same class of eatery.

5 out of 5 sporks!

Salsa's on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Stuffed Shells

In another episode of FLIP MODE, I bring you stuffed shells. What's flip mode about stuffed shells, you might ask? Well, most people mix the meat into the sauce and serve it atop or with the shells. I decided to cut down in the ricotta in the filling and replace it with Italian sausage. Here's what you'll need.

1 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup mozzarella
3 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 lb Italian sausage, cooked and crumbled
16-20 jumbo shells (about 1/2 pkg), boiled and drained
2 cups marinara sauce, purchased or homemade

Cook and crumble your sausage while the shells are boiling. Add plenty of olive oil to the water the shells are in, so they don't stick and tear open. Mix the first six ingredients together well, then add your cooked sausage and give it another good mix. Preheat your oven to 350 and line the bottom of a 9x13" pan with a little bit of the marinara so the shells don't stick. Fill each shell with just shy if 1/4 cup of the sausage-cheese mixture and place into the pan. Once they're all filled, cover with the remaining marinara sauce and sprinkle with about another 1/4 cup of mozzarella. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the internal temp reads at least 140ish.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Trader Joe's: Fails and Wins

A week or so ago, the Mister and I headed to Trader Joe's, specifically for their wheat pizza dough. We ended up grabbing a few other things, too, and I know you're dying to know what I thought of them.

Peanut Satay Sauce - Meh. It's not exactly what I was looking for - too salty or too much soy sauce. But, I did use a few tablespoons to perfect the already great peanut sauce recipe I've been making.

Trader Giotto's Classic Marinara - Fantastic. Only about $2 per jar, and aperfect accompaniment for things like calzones, stromboli and bread sticks. A little Italian place in Kettering has some of the best red sauce I've ever had, and this is pretty comparable.

Chicken Mai Shu - EW. Just, ew. I fixed up half the box, by the box's microwave-only instructions. The flavor was so-so, but the texture was gnarly. I'm going to try the microwave steam again then toss them in a pan to crisp up and see if the other half turns out better that way.

Pepperoni - I don't remember the brand name, but it was the best pre-packages pepperoni I've tasted. Lean, not greasy, and great flavor.

Wheat Pizza Dough - At only 99 cents a bag, I'm going to go back and clean them out of this stuff. Some wheat dough tends to be too sweet for it's own good, but this was as close to perfect as it's going to get without making it yourself.

Cassano's Pizza - Dayton, Ohio

Saying you don't like Cassano's Pizza in Dayton is treated a lot like blasphemy. Growing up in Miamisburg, local pie-makers Cassano's and Ron's were the only pizza parlors we had to choose from. No pizza Huts, no Dominos, really - no chains at all. I never really liked Cassano's, but didn't figure out why until years later. A lot of folks say the first slice (or square, for that matter) of pizza you have and remember as a child is what you'll consider pizza forever. Doesn't exactly ring true with me. I was raised on Dayton-style pizza - thin crust, salty sauce, less than copious amounts of cheese, and greasy as the day is long - but developed much more of a taste for wood-fired Neopolitan pizzas with blistered crusts, fresh mozzarella and sweeter, lighter sauces. But, "Dayton style" pizza seems to be the same type of phenomenon as Cincinnati-style chili. People raised here that have moved away pay big bucks to have it specially shipped to where ever they're living now, while new-to-towners just don't see the appeal.

It had been years since I'd had the famed Dayton Cassano's pizza. For the kind of pie you're getting, it's on the pricey side. Starting around $10 for a small specialty and up to $18.99 for a large one-topping. Since we're always ballin' on a budget in this house, I I decided to try my hand at their weekly contest on twitter to WIN a pizza so Mr. FvF and another gal pal that's new to Dayton could say they've tried it without breaking the bank. Naturally, I won, so we decided to get pizza this Sunday when we were all reeling from the busy and cocktail-laden day we'd had before. I used my freebie for a large pepperoni, and also got a small Hog Wild pizza, with ham, bacon and sausage. Between the small specialty, delivery fee and a tip, I still spent close to $15.

Turns out I'm still not all that crazy about Cassano's. I wanted to give it another try and be impressed - I really did, but it just didn't happen. A lot of the toppings on the Hog Wild pizza tasted burnt, but it was still better than the very greasy and monstrously salty pepperoni. One of their trademarks is dusting the bottom of their thin crust with kosher salt, which is just TOO much - considering how salty the sauce already is. It wasn't far from the memory of the last time I ate it, bordering on 10+ years ago, which I recalled being a lot like soggy saltines with tomato paste and part-skim mozzarella.

If I really feel nostalgic and obligated enough to eat the Gem City's trademark style of pizza, I'll stick with Marion's. For the most part, though, I'll stick by the old adage, "When we cut our pizza into squares, the terrorists win."