Archive for April 2011


Local Gems

April 27th, 2011 — 8:00am

Entrance to Queen Creek Olive Mill

Every once in awhile you run across a local gem. A place where local resources are combined to make a very special food or entertainment experience that you are not going to be able to see anywhere else, More often than not they are in places that you would never find on your own or really care to venture to because they are on the wrong side of town or the wrong side of the tracks. A case in point is the Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, Arizona just outside of Phoenix.

My friend Jon had been telling me about the place for years admiring both the harvest from the farm and the skill with which the marketing for the mill had been executed. At first I was not so sure about the marketing part as the retail portion of the mill is located in a rather nondescript warehouse building on a narrow road more commonly used by farm trailers than by local people.

The Olive Oil Selection

Once inside however you realize that what is at heart an olive grower has morphed into a multifaceted producer of all things olive and a great place to grab a bite to eat and enjoy a glass of wine. The principal product is olive oil which comes in a few special blended varieties (none of which really sparked my interest) a very good extra virgin variety which has some grassy and peppery notes that I really like. And a variety of oils pressed with lime, orange, and lemon rinds during the pressing process to yield some delicious oils for topping off a salad or perhaps drizzling over a nice piece of meat or fish before serving.

Menu Board

The food menu is extensive and tends toward the sandwich realm. My breakfast frittata was also a sandwich with scrambled eggs, asiago cheese, and a locally prepared italian sausage. It was a very heart start to the day and a delicious combination of ingredients. Everything else looked very fresh with the promise that local ingredients are procured whenever possible.

Mission Olive Tree in Bloom

You can also take a tour, which is more of a classroom instruction on making the olive oil. Apparently insurance keeps the public away from the groves. But we were able to see an olive tree in bloom realizing that in a mere six months or so it would yield about 250 pounds of fresh olives. A remarkable thing when you consider the size of the blooms. If you are in the Phoenix area I highly recommend a visit. You can order their extra virgin olive oil on line as well.

Queen Creek Olive Mill
25062 S. Meridian Road
Queen Creek, Arizona 85242
(480) 888-9290
www.queencreekolivemill.com

Comment » | Musings, Resources, Travel

Quick Trip to Phoenix

April 26th, 2011 — 8:00am

Dinner in Phoenix

Not being satisfied with a quiet Sunday in Tucson, probably lounging about doing mostly nothing, I took a quick ride up to the San Tan Valley area of Phoenix to see my friends Jon and Rachel. I decided to take the back roads which were recommended by David and Mark as a more picturesque view of Arizona and possibly the faster way to get to the southwest side of Phoenix. The scenery between Florence and the San Tan Valley was really quite remarkable. Much of the local plant life was in bloom including many varieties of cactus. And if you are into movie history you can even stop at the Tom Mix memorial on highway 79 which marks the spot where the silent film star was killed in a car accident, the cause of death being a suitcase full of cash hitting him on the head. (I made sure to leave my suitcase full of cash in Tucson before I left.)

Jon and Rachel were kind enough to feed me lunch and dinner as the trip took quite a bit less time than I had planned. Jon was gracious enough show me and allow the both us to consume a large portion of his wine collection. He also pulled together a very nice dinner of pumpkin soup, mushroom risotto, and a very delicious mixed green salad. I was honored he had chosen the mushroom risotto from the web site and made it as good if not better than I have in the past. We finished the evening with more wine and a movie, while I drifted off to sleep before finishing either.

The next morning he took me to the Queen Creek Olive Mill for breakfast, a tour of the facility and a bit of shopping. All of which will be the subject of tomorrow’s post. I beat a hasty retreat back to Tucson for one more night in my favorite guest room and hopefully another al fresco dinner. I mean how many al fresco dinners is too many? Then sadly I hit the road again to wind my way back to Dallas and the reality that awaits me.

Comment » | Musings, Recipes, Travel

Rest and Repasts

April 25th, 2011 — 8:00am

Apple Crostata

Yesterday was one of those days that remind me that with a little effort you can be happy anywhere, but with a lot less effort you can be totally ecstatic just laying in bed in Tucson. I have a guest room that opens on to a garden full of bougainvillea, fruit trees and assorted succulents that are generally covered by groups of singing birds and no other noise to break the spell. And the fact that cell phone service is nonexistent up here in the hills of Tucson the only other noise is from someone asking you if you prefer your coffee in bed or on the patio. In bed would have been nice but I did not want to push my luck.

The 'Big Boy" from Pasco in Tucson

We spent the day in search of interesting food things at the local Asian/Indian/Mexican/Filipino/Everything Else market. We moved on in search of some elusive exotic lime tree, which is apparently about as easy to find as the fountain of youth. Finally we ended up in Geronimo Square on the campus of the University of Arizona in search of food and pretty people to watch. We found both in spades. We dined at a cute hard-to-describe cafe called Pasco which featured college student prices with college student serving sizes, not to mention a wine list that would work well at some fine dining establishments. Wanting to relive my college days I opted for the “Big Boy” a decadent burger featuring Arizona grass-fed beef, braised pork belly and a poached egg all topped with hollandaise sauce. As outrageous as it all seems I have never tasted anything quite like it in a long while. And fortified with two glasses of a nice malbec and a little bit of people watching I have to admit I ate the whole thing. Delicious.

Homemade Fettucine in a Simple Red Sauce

In need of a nap I returned to my guest room to sleep for well over an hour. Upon rising I was able to watch David make homemade fettucine (he makes it look easy). And while he cooked away at a simple red sauce I sipped on a cocktail and generally just tried to stay out of his way while photographing the whole process. We once again dined al fresco on a bowl of fresh pasta, a nice cabernet and the usual banter about mostly absolutely nothing. In Tucson you never try to solve the world’s problems. That is for the people in Phoenix.

The evening ended with watching “Bollywood/Hollywood” a Canadian spoof on Indian people in Canada behaving like their Bollywood brethren in Mumbai. Full of laughs, a large slice of apple crostata (which David made in the morning during his spare time) and the last dribble of wine I tucked myself into my quiet guest room waiting for the birds to wake me up in the morning.

PS All recipes to follow when I return home.

Comment » | Musings, Travel

Al Fresco Dining in Tucson

April 24th, 2011 — 8:00am

Dining in the Garden in Tucson

I often write about how sometimes the food ends up being the most important part of an evening and then other times it seems like the people you are with and the ambiance of the event take over. When I visit my friends David and Mark in Tucson it is hard to choose exactly which variable makes the evening so special. The food is always very good and thoughtfully prepared and no less effort is put into making the table and the dinner setting memorable. Last night we dined al fresco in the midst of their garden. It turned into a most memorable evening.

I always like to watch David cook largely because I can learn a few new techniques from him (like leaving the pork tenderloin in the plastic wrap making it easier to slice) and we can carry on a conversation about world events, what is going on in the garden, which of our friends we have heard from recently and the requisite commentary about how good we both look given how old we are both getting. The latter usually elicits a few laughs which are followed by a big swig of wine. It is also a bonding routine we have been practicing from as far back as I can remember making the breaks in our time together seem invisible.

I also enjoy the banter between Mark and David about where we will dine, what the table should look like and who folded the napkins incorrectly. This is an old “marriage” of which takes on the usual conversation, most of which the other party largely ignores depending on the goings on in the kitchen. The end result of all of this is a great meal in a great setting including great conversations most of which we are careful not to repeat from the last time we all saw each other.

Sweet and Sour Pork Medallions

The evenings I most remember range from quiet subtle affairs to evenings that would make Bacchus blush. Somewhere in that range there are those very few evenings that one would consider perfect. Last night our meal of sweet and sour pork medallions, served on a bed of white polenta, mâche salad, and for dessert pots de crème au chocolat with raspberries was about as perfect as it gets. And did I mention the two bottles of wine? Well my morning was just not quite as perfect as last night. Before I leave here I will make sure David hands over the recipes so I can post them on the site. Then maybe you too can have a perfect evening in your garden.

Daytime in the Garden

2 comments » | Musings, Recipes

Unemployed and on the Road

April 23rd, 2011 — 8:00am

Desert East of El Paso

After complaining for months about being overworked and struggling to keep up with the blog I have decided you better be careful for what you wish. My contract for one job ended as planned on April 18 and my long-term employer explained that my other job would end on the same day. So no more complaining about being overworked and a bit more freedom to start blogging again.

I thought it would be a good time to take a bit of a break. For me this usually means some sort of road trip to clear the mind. I am heading from Dallas, to El Paso for a bit of work on a new project and then on to Tucson for a bit of relaxation and cooking, eating and drinking with some friends. I have taken my video camera out of the box I received at Christmas and I am keeping a video log of some of the things that happen along the way. Of course you have to know how to embed video in the blog first. I will get my tech guru Justin on that right away.

I am finishing up the El Paso portion of the trip. There has not been much to report on the food front from here. The ride over from Dallas was not as bad as I had thought it might be. There is almost nothing to see after Fort Worth, and until you get to Midland and Odessa, there is not much to smell either. However driving through the oilfields of West Texas is a bit nauseating. I am not sure how those people get used to it. About two hours east of El Paso the desert starts to open up with some very interesting topography. At least that part of the trip was a pleasant surprise.

I am off to Tucson today and looking forward to driving through southern New Mexico. A journey I have long pondered but never seemed to accomplish. So more about food in the coming days. Until then I will take some nice videos and see if there is any way I can actually post them to the blog.

Comment » | Musings

Nonna Dallas

April 22nd, 2011 — 7:31am

Nonna

With all the good press and generally great comments from anyone who has ever eaten there I have tried to get to Nonna Dallas for a couple of years. For four months I drove by it on the way to work thinking that “this week I am definitely going to go.” Well a few weeks ago I actually made it.

I have read many interviews with Chef Julian Barsotti about how Nonna was about being a neighborhood restaurant. Being on the border between Highland Park and the City of Dallas also would require a bit of sophistication. The food and ambiance capture both the neighborhood and the sophistication very well. On our visit we opted not to fill up on the extensive menu. I opted for the pappardelle bolognese and Will opted for the grilled lamb chops. Not being overly hungry we split the grilled hearts of romaine salad with pancetta, avocado and parmigiano.

It was clear that this was going to be a meal of Italian treats influenced by some Texas flair. The romaine with the avocado and parmigiano was a great start. Perfectly grilled, the romaine was still quite crisp and the combination of ingredients made it into an interesting first course. The pappardelle bolognese was made of perfectly cooked fresh noodles in a bolognese dominated by beef brisket. The sauce was in perfect proportion to the pasta and the brisket twist once again added a bit of Texas to a lot of Italy. The lamb chops were once again perfectly cooked, medium rare, with a delicious sear on the outside while remaining cool and pink on the inside.

The ambiance is distinctly neighborhood. The rooms are understated and while we were there used some of the natural light available from the longer spring evenings. The place seemed to be populated with mostly Highland Park regulars enjoying a weekday evening out. It would work for a special occasion as well. It is just that the restaurant has clearly caught on strongly with the neighborhood.

I would definitely add my highest recommendation to Nonna. Not that it really needs it will

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all the great press and all the locals who find it a great place to dine even on a not so special occasion.

Nonna
4115 Lomo Alta Drive (Across from Whole Foods)
Dallas, TX 75219
521-1800
www.nonnadallas.com

Comment » | Restaurants

Ultrafast Stir Fries

April 8th, 2011 — 8:33am

Hot Italian Sausage and Chicken Stir Fry

In the craziness that has been the first four months of this year I have had to do a lot of improvising to try to get something interesting on the table. This means you have to do a bit of cooking ahead and using leftovers whenever possible. I have become especially fond of using precooked spicy sausages (andouille or hot italian) and combining them with another meat or shellfish and creating a quick stir fry. I posted a picture of an andouille and shrimp combination earlier. This week we had a hot italian sausage and chicken stir fry.

Shrimp and Andouille Sausage Stir Fry

What is nice about these is that the hardest part of the process is slicing the vegetables. In this case I was usually too tired to slice them into small components. So the pieces were rather chunky. I like this format better for stir fries anyway. It also helps to have some greens on hand as well. Spinach or kale or bok choy, just about anything that will wilt a bit when cooked, adds another dimension to the taste.

The other nice part of the process is you can serve these dishes up in 10 to 15 minutes. You can choose noodles or rice for the starch component. The only limits here are you imagination and the ingredients in your pantry. It does presuppose that you have some precooked ingredients in the refrigerator. In our house that is never a problem. So if you are a bit pressed for time you may want to try one of these stir fries.

Comment » | Recipes

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