Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vietnamese Virgin

A couple nights ago, Kara and I met a fellow foodie friend who I’m sure many of you know as Atlanta’s Foodie Buddha at Pho Dai Loi on Buford Highway per his suggestion. We love dining with The Buddha because he knows great places that we most likely would not venture to without his all-knowing guidance.

Now, I had never eaten Vietnamese food before this week. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to try it, but like many people just had no clue what to order. So, with FB and Kara's vast knowledge of this particular food genre, they guided me and covered all the bases. We started with two types of steamed spring rolls: one filled with freshly shredded, spicy pork and another standard steamed basil roll with shrimp.

Both rolls and their respective dipping sauces were delicious. The pork spring roll (my personal favorite) came with a light, sweet and sour fish sauce that was delicious and even more delicious when poured over my Com (broken rice with chicken marinated in lemon grass) but we will get to that later….the shrimp spring roll was served with a tantalizing peanut sauce.

Then came the Pho. FB wanted me to try a version with tripe (stomach lining), but being a Pho virgin and all, I felt I needed to ease into it a bit. So, we agreed that I’d order the #12, a small bowl of Pho (anything but small) with flank steak and marble brisket. YUM! As Kara and FB chatted about how soup is actually good for you when it’s hot outside because of its ability to balance out your body temperature and what not, I was busy devouring my Pho with a vengeance. Word to the wise: Pho is not the best first date meal. Lucky I was amongst fellow foodie friends who don’t judge you when you’re stuffing your face.

Next came our Com, #43 marinated lemon grass chicken over broken Jasmine rice and my personal favorite, #27 vermicelli rice noodles with marinated grilled shrimp, grilled pork and crispy spring rolls.

The Com with the lemon grass was not my favorite despite covering it in the extraordinary sweet and sour fish sauce (which, for all you virgins, you are supposed to do FYI). I found the dish to be a bit dry and underwhelming. However, it was an off night for that dish according to our friend and Pho Dai Loi regular FB.

Now on to the Bun. The Bun was particularly delicious to me. It was the perfect blend of grilled pork (that almost tasted sweet), vermicelli noodles, fresh herbs, grilled shrimp and crispy fried spring roll filled with pork – again, all covered in tangy fish sauce. The perfect bite. The combination of textures in the dish really appealed to me. What I will add next time: egg (no runny yolk, please). What will I subtract: the shrimp. No need to take away from that pork.

Everything we ordered was under $10, and Pho Dai Loi doesn't serve alcohol, so it's BYOB. FYI: the kind restaurant staff is happy to supply a can opener from the kitchen if you forget your bottle opener.

Pho Dai Loi will definitely see more of me. In fact, you might walk in there and see me sitting solo at a banquet table in the back (what our waiter suggested for our party because we ordered so much food, and he was right!) eating my Bun with extra pork and egg :) Oh and don't forget the “small” Pho!

Pho Dai Loi II
4186 Buford Hwy NE # G
Atlanta, GA 30345-1067
Phone: 404-633-2111
NOTE: there's another location in Forest Park

Friday, July 16, 2010

Foodie Flash: Delicious trouble just moved in next door

The Highland Bakery is wrapping up the soft launch of its new location in Midtown today. Since our office building is located right across the street, AF stopped in for a quick afternoon snack and snagged an adorable box of four mini cookies for $1. With all the delicious eclairs, cupcakes and croissants staring at us from the glass case, it's a wonder we made it back to our desk at all.

Highland Bakery Midtown officially opens for business on Monday, offering breakfast, lunch, coffee and of course, pastries.

Highland Bakery
1180 Peachtree Street NE, Suite #C
Atlanta, GA 30309
Phone: 404-835-3130
Monday thru Friday, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. (for now - they are considering staying open for the dinner hour and on the weekends)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Summertime Staple

My family always does a big 4th. We all gather at the lake. There is a boat parade, "the games" (a twisted sort of Olympic games, heavily competitive and usually fueled with cocktails), and then there is the food. Lots and lots of good food. Highlights being beef tenderloin, potato casserole, always some type of fresh seafood fare, and delicious tomato pie. Now, I could write about all of these recipes and probably will write about them eventually (actually we featured the tenderloin recipe in a past post), but in honor of summer I am going to focus on this tomato pie.

My Aunt Alva always makes this every 4th of July. I can see it now . . . me, my mom and my Aunt Alva sitting around our kitchen table at the lake, laughing, chatting, tired from the sun - albeit a bit tipsy - and peeling tomatoes, always with a boat drink in hand.

Ahhhh tomato pie . . .there is nothing quite like it. So southern, so summer, and so delicious. Now, I'll have you know I'm not trying to brag, but it's a fact that this is THE BEST tomato pie recipe, and to this day I have never had a better one. In fact, I dare anyone to challenge it. Below is the recipe, so please enjoy. Try it once and you will make it a summer staple as my family has. Happy belated 4th. Enjoy the pie . . . I know you will :)

*And for those that have had a bad experience with a mayonnaise soaked tomato pie . . . you will not find that here.

Ingredients (makes one pie)

6 - 8 large, ripe, fresh tomatoes
1 bunch of green onions, roughly chopped
1 jar of Zatarans spicy creole mustard
1 deep dish Pillsberry pie crust
Dried basil
1 1/2 lbs of white extra sharp cheese, freshly grated
1 teaspoon of mayo (just enough to bind the cheese)
About 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese (enough to sprinkle over the top of the pie)
Kosher slat
Fresh cracked pepper
Paper towels


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Follow the directions on the pie crust package to prep the pie crust for baking. With a fork, poke pie crust dough along the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. Cook pie crust for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown. Remove and let cool.

As pie crust cooks, add 1 teaspoon of mayo to grated cheddar cheese. Mix/bind with hands and set aside. Peel skin from tomatoes and cut into 1/2 inch to 1 inch slices. Place tomato slices on paper towels to drain. Once all tomaotes are peeled and sliced, I find it easiest to run each slice under water to remove the seeds. After the seeds have been removed from each slice, place tomatoes back on paper towels to drain excess liquid and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper and dried basil - this method guarantees that you won't have a soggy pie. Flip slices and repeat.

Once tomatoes are ready and crust is cooked and cooled slightly, begin construction of the pie. Spread an even, thin layer of Zatarans spicy creole mustard on the base of the pie crust. Layer tomatoes, then green onions,then cheese mixture in the pie crust. Repeat process until you reach the top of the pie pan, ending with the cheese mixture. Cover the top with the freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Bake at 375 degrees F for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for 5 to 7 minutes.
*Tip* Remove pie from oven after 25 mintues and soak up any excess grease on the top or sides of the pie with paper towels. Repeat process every so often until the pie is finished cooking. This will prevent your pie from becoming too greasy and soupy.

Friday, July 2, 2010

I've Met Someone...and His Name is Cubano

I decided to splurge (in more ways than one) on lunch yesterday and convinced my friend, Audrey, to join me at Bocado on the Westside. It's true that I had a hankering to get out of the office and indulge with a leisurely lunch, but I had another motive. I was dying to introduce Audrey to my latest love interests: the Bocado "burger stack" and the "cubano" pressed sandwich.

Let's start with the burger: we're talking two juicy beef patties, each topped with melted American cheese and sandwiched between the softest, most buttery toasted bun you can imagine. Maybe it's the extra butter that MUST be in the patties, but something happens to me when I bite into this thing. My eyes close involuntarily, I get butterflies in my stomach and I just want to sneak away to get some alone time with my burger.

The cubano sandwich is equally crush-worthy. With its crispy warm bread, thick slices of roasted pork loin, thinly-sliced ham and house-made pickles that are slightly spicy, this sandwich is addictive and hard to get off a gal's mind. I'm absolutely amazed by the pork. Bocado leaves the fat on the meat, and as it cooks, it carmelizes and the edges crisp to salty perfection.

For good measure, Aud and I split a bowl of Bocado's crisp house cut fries with a refreshing ranch dipping sauce, spiked with plenty of refreshing dill.

Here's the thing: stalking a crush usually comes at a price. In the case of Bocado's sandwiches, you'll most likely pay more than $10 for lunch - tax, tip and fries included. The burger is $8.75 and the cuban is $9.75 during the lunch hour.

There's good news's totally worth it. So, pick a day to splurge on lunch at Bocado and balance it out by saving on dinner. Also, let me know what you think of my sandwich crushes. I definitely have Audrey's approval!

887 Howell Mill Road
Atlanta, GA 30318
Phone: 404.815.1399
Lunch Hours: Monday - Friday 11 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.
Dinner Hours: Monday - Saturday beginning at 5 p.m.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

And the CakeOff Winner Is...

Not sure if y'all have noticed but AF has been on summer vacation for the past couple of weeks. But never fear - we're back and ready to announce the winner of The Great Atlanta CakeOff!

Remember our last post from like a month ago? Anywhoo, we were invited by the folks at Hands on Atlanta to attend a friendly competition among some local pastry hounds. All CakeOff contestants were asked to bake and decorate a multi-tiered cake that represented the mission of Hands on Atlanta and recognized the organization's 20 years of service to the community.

And now, a photo essay of the winners (all photography by Jack Miller of Jack Miller Photography, who did a much better job behind the camera than we did):

Aisha Cheeks and her hard-working partner from The Cake Closet beat out the competition to take first place with their creative and colorful school house/tool box cake.
Props also went to Shellane Pickett and the team from Apple Butter Bakery, who was named the Runner-Up. Check out the details! We loved the painted fingernails and the funky jewelry on the hands.

Kelli Taranto from the Ritz-Carlton won the Audience Favorite Award. We watched as one of Kelly's assistants painstakenly applied about a billion little silver sugar beads to the middle layer, invoking the twinkling lights of Atlanta's skyline.

Congratulations to the winners and happy birthday to Hands on Atlanta!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Foodie Flash: Better Bring Your Cake Face

This Saturday, pastry chefs from across the metro Atlanta area will compete in the Great Atlanta CakeOff. The competition is part of Hands On Atlanta’s 20th Birthday Bash – a first-of-its-kind fundraiser that will benefit the non-profit's year-round programming.

CakeOff participants include pastry chefs from the Ritz Carlton Buckhead, The Cake Closet, Edible Greetings and Apple Butter Bakery. Their birthday cake creations will be judged by Jovita Moore of WSB-TV; Mary Moore, founder and CEO of Cook’s Warehouse; and Elizabeth Moore, president of Green Olive Media - those lucky ducks!

The competition kicks off with a Spectator Exhibition from 2 to 5 p.m. Tickets are only $10 each (children under 12 are free) and can be purchased on the Hands on Atlanta website. AF will be there watching the action take place! Stay tuned for a recap next week.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Southern Favorite

Lately, my social calendar has been booked with engagement parties and bridal/baby showers. I've co-hosted several of these affairs, most recently a shower for my dear, very pregnant friend, Audrey. To avoid the often ridiculous price tag that comes with the luxury of hiring a caterer, we tackled the cooking ourselves. Each hostess volunteered to bring a dish for brunch, and I chose pimiento cheese sandwiches. I'd actually never made pimiento cheese before, so I turned to an expert: my friend, Samma.

Kinger and I met Samma Faye while we were all students at UGA. She hails from "East Tennesee" (as she likes to say) and can whip up Southern food like nobody's business. Samma has a fantastic blog called Spice and Sass, where she posts whatever's on her mind at any given moment - this occasionally includes her favorite recipes.

The ingredients for pimiento cheese are minimal and super cheap (less than $10 if you have mayo and your favorite hot sauce on hand), BUT Samma has a couple of hard and fast rules about making it from scratch, and I was sure to follow all of them.

1. You must grate the cheese by hand if you want the mixture to "clump" properly. Do not use pre-shredded cheese and do not use a food processor to do your dirty work.

2. Samma insists that you must use a fork to mash the pimientos after you drain them. Apparently, this step is of the upmost importance. Samma's isn't quite sure why, but the act of mashing this key ingredient affects both the flavor and consistency of your pimiento cheese.

3. Acknowledging that this rule is the hardest to follow, Samma says that you should let your pimiento cheese chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving/eating. You have to allow time for the flavors to combine and meld together.

Thanks to Samma, my pimiento cheese was a hit at the shower, and Audrey (along with many others) asked for the recipe. We love you, Samma Faye!

Samma Faye's Southern Pimiento Cheese


1 block extra sharp yellow cheddar cheese, grated by hand
1 block extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated by hand
1 can pimiento peppers, drained
Half block of cream cheese at room temperature, cut into chunks
3 tbsp. mayonnaise (like Samma, we prefer Duke's mayo)
1 fresh jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 or 3 shakes hot sauce
2 or 3 shakes cayenne pepper


Place freshly grated yellow and white cheddar cheese in a large bowl. Drain canned pimientos, mash them with a fork and chop them up a bit. Add pimientos and remaining ingredients to bowl and mix well, being careful to integrate the cream cheese. If the mixture seems dry, add more mayonnaise to taste. Chill in refrigerator for a couple of hours. Serve on sandwiches or with crackers or celery.