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.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Basil's Revisited (In the Light of Day)

A little background: last time AF visited Basil's, it was "after hours," and we weren't looking for food. On a random Friday evening, we rolled up to the joint around midnight. We poked our heads through the screen door and asked if we could have a drink or two at the bar while the staff finished cleaning up. Not only did the owner invite us in, he shared a few bottles of vino with us and even gave us a bottle to go!

After experiencing such an amazing bout of hospitality, we chose Basil's as the location of a recent girls-only brunch. Basil's has long been one of our favorite restaurants in Buckhead, and we wanted our friend Cathy, who was in town from San Fran that weekend, to sample their Mediterranean fare.

Located on Grandview Ave., a small side street off of Pharr Road in the heart of Buckhead, it would be easy to drive past Basil's if you weren't looking for it. The restaurant is almost hidden by the beautiful flowers and potted plants that surround its outdoor patio area, which is covered and heated in the winter. Our group requested seating on the patio when we arrived around 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday, so we could enjoy the Spring weather.

On average, you'll spend about $10 - $13 for brunch at Basil's if you forego alcoholic bevs. The menu offers traditional breakfast items like omelettes, french toast and several different takes on eggs benedict as well as sandwiches and Greek specialties like kafta, tabbouleh and hummus. Our whole group ordered something different.

First, we started off with homemade blueberry muffins in lieu of a bread basket.

Anne ordered the Chicken Balsalmic Salad, which included grilled chicken, walnuts, gorgonzola cheese, cherry tomatoes, sliced pears and orange segments served over a bed of fresh mixed greens. The homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing is to die for!

We weren't letting Cathy leave town without tasting the lamb burger. At $12, this sandwich delivers a bigtime bang for your buck. Along with the super-flavorful burger (thanks to the lamb meat and spices), you get roasted potato wedges and fresh fruit.

Another of our favorites is the mesa platter, which comes with a refreshing rendition of tabbouleh, creamy hummus, super tasty baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves and grilled pita bread, all for $10.

If we had to describe Basil's (and the owner) in one word, it's this: charming. It remains one of our favorite casual dining haunts in Buckhead for brunch, lunch, dinner or even a night cap. If the owner will oblige us again, you'll find us sipping wine at the bar after hours on any given night!

Basil's Restaurant and Bar
2985 Grandview Avenue in Buckhead
Atlanta, GA
NOTE: The brunch menu that's posted online seems to be out-dated.

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's National Doughnut Day! Get Your Free Doughnuts!

The first version of this delicious fried dough was brought to us by Dutch immigrants, originally called ‘oily cakes.’ The love affair grew from there and at Chicago World’s fair in 1934 (I’ve always been intrigued by these . . ) the doughnut was declared “the food hit of the Century of Progress.” My, how we have grown!

That brings us to Doughnut Day, which was created by a group of thoughtful women from the Salvation Army. During WW1, as a fundraising effort to bring some Americana to our boys in France, the ladies sent free coffee and doughnuts for all the troops. Hence Doughnut Day was born.

Now that you've had your history lesson for the day, go forth and consume the fried goodness. Below are locations where you can get free doughnuts. Only two apply to our area (Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts) but I thought I would give the other delicious spots a shout out!

Krispy Kreme: All customers receive a free doughnut. No purchase necessary.
Dunkin' Donuts: Free doughnut with the purchase of a beverage.
LaMar's: All customers receive a free Ray's Original Glazed doughnut. No purchase necessary.
Shipley Do-Nuts: Free glazed doughnut with purchase until noon.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Secret's in the Cheese

I lived in Washington, D.C. for about a year, and during that time, it was nearly impossible to find a Mexican restaurant in the city that served white cheese dip. Sure, restaurants had cheese dip on the menu, and I made the mistake of ordering it a couple times. When a bowl of bright orange glop (sometimes with diced, canned tomatoes or ground sausage mixed in) was brought to my table, I would think, "Who ordered this? I asked for cheese dip!" Call me picky or snobby or whatever you want, but the only cheese dip I'll eat is queso blanco, a.k.a. Mexican white cheese dip.

Now, I live in the Dirty South again, where white cheese dip is the norm - whew, thank goodness! Also, select restaurants in D.C., like Los Cuates in Georgetown, have caught on to the white cheese dip phenomenon. But back in the day, I used to quell my frequent cravings by making my own at home in my teeny, tiny apartment in The District. Turns out, it's a super simple process that takes 15 minutes to put together and costs $10 max. For those of you who have always wondered how those Mexican restaurants do it, the secret is in the cheese, my friends. I use white American cheese from the deli counter (Land O'Lakes brand), but you also can use Asadero or Manchego.

I made a batch of queso last night for "Glee Club" at Molly's house, and she made Mr. C's Enchiladas with pulled, roasted chicken instead of beef.

Try out the following Queso Blanco recipe the next time you have a fiesta!

Note: Obviously, cheese dip is best served warm. Consider cooking and serving it in a crock pot if you have one, especially if you're making a large batch for a big group of friends - it's easier than making multiple trips back and forth to the mircowave!

Homemade Queso Blanco with Fresh Jalapenos (Serves 8)


1 lb. white american cheese, cubed
1/2 cup milk
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped


Place first two ingredients in a small pan or crock pot. Cook over low heat until melted and well blended, stirring occasionally. Once the cheese is fully melted, check the consistency. If the mixture is too thick for your taste, add more milk and continue cooking for a few more minutes.

Transfer to a bowl or serve the dip right out of the crock pot. Garnish with fresh jalapeno and serve with tortilla chips and salsa.