A Spark of Gastronomical Proportions

The last few days, I’ve been in a fog created by too much thinking and an overload of ideas. While that may sound very productive and possibly exciting to some, my general interpretation of this reoccurring event is like being strapped to a power grid for days with electricity coming out your ears and then having to sift through the lingering smoke to identify any remains of a usable thought. I get on these “I need knowledge” kicks and dive deep into culinary literature, documentaries, kitchen experiments and new restaurant discoveries. Most of the time, I end up with a new trick or two, a week’s worth of dirty dishes to clean and sometimes even something worthy to write. I start to think about everything I’ve ever dreamed of doing and then work backwards from there to illuminate my next steps from where I stand. And, for the first time in a while, yesterday the universe not only illuminated my steps but put a hand out to escort me over.

Just last week, my husband Bear and I decided to get Netflix. I know, VERY late to the party. We do Amazon Prime and never felt the need to add another subscription to our list. Anyway, the day before yesterday, I watched Chef, one of my favorite “feel-good and makes you want to make a grilled cheese sandwich afterwards” movies. P.S., my post-movie sandwich was crunchy, buttery, and amazing.

After the movie ended, Netflix auto-suggested a documentary series called Chef’s Table, the one everyone’s been buzzing about but I hadn’t seen since I didn’t have Netflix. What began as a curiosity quickly transformed into a profoundly intrinsic experience that left me desperate to latch back onto the power grid.

Essentially, for those who have yet to acquire Netflix (no judgement here), it’s a series focusing on chefs and their restaurants making a substantial impact on the culinary world in one way or another. They seek out the top restaurants in the world and bring light to the creation of their being. Season one highlights the journey of six iconic chefs, their gastronomic philosophies, creative insights, purpose, missteps and the reason behind their passion.

For anyone who just enjoys food and likes watching cooking shows, you might find this series fairly interesting. For those of you who live, breathe, work, and dream food, someone like me, this series will change your life. I watched all six episodes back to back. The first episode with Chef Massimo Bottura completely blew my mind and make me feel like a complete creative failure in life, all at the same time (in a good way), and somewhere around 3am, I got to the episode with Chef Francis Mallmann who, again, blew my mind then made me question some of my life decisions (in a good way) and flung me into the conclusion that true freedom is releasing those safe and invisible shackles which only you have the key to, so that you may fly as high as you’ve ever dreamed of flying.

“To grow and improve, you have to be there at the edge of uncertainty.” – Chef Mallmann.

Massimo Bottura TweetAfter getting about two hours of food-filled dreams, I reached out to Chef Massimo Bottura and his wife Lara Gilmore via social media to which he generously and graciously replied with a retweet (in my excitement, I forgot to include the word “the” in my tweet, but he responded so quickly, I didn’t have a chance to delete and resend – yes, I’m justifying an error).

And shortly thereafter, I noticed another tweet in my feed, but this time, from Chef Francis Mallmann, the Argentinian culinary icon who had, just hours before, inspired me to stop holding myself back from any part of my food-inspired dreams.

Francis Mallmann TweetLo and behold, there was the hand of destiny, calling me to come over and experience what I would consider a chance of a lifetime, a moment to a) personally thank Chef Mallmann for sharing his inspirational journey with the world and b) capture that moment plus any words of wisdom from this legendary figure.

 

I was less than an hour away from the Central Market location and was determined to not let this opportunity pass me by for any reason. So, I called the location to inquire further about his arrival. After speaking with the operator, calling again to speak with a floor manager who then said I needed to speak with the culinary school manager, all I ended up with was the ability to leave a message. I called three more times only to find out finally from the operator that Chef Mallmann was actually there for a private event which is why I couldn’t find anything on their website about his arrival.

He had inadvertently posted his visit… or had he?????

At this point, I knew that only I could unshackle myself from the confines of “private event” and risk that uncomfortable and awkward status of “stalker.” How could I allow this moment, this right-in-my-backyard moment, to slip away!?!

Then, the phone rang. It was Michelle, the culinary school manager from Central Market returning my original message.

Could it be that the food gods were moving pieces in my favor???

“So, that’s why I have received so many messages,” she said. “I’m sorry; it is a private event.”

I begged for a window and asked about possibly catching him once the event was over or perhaps when he might have a scheduled break. And, there it was, “He might have a moment between 3pm and 4pm, but that’s no guarantee you’ll get to see him.”

That’s all the encouragement I needed.

It was just before 3pm, and I needed to hurry to beat traffic. Yoga pants, t-shirt and ponytail uniform ready, I called my friend Bianca to join, warning her there might be a slight chance of being removed from the premises. She’s a rule-follower, but in true friend fashion, she reluctantly agreed and got into my vehicle since I was already parked right outside to get her.

For whatever reason I decided to take a different route to Central Market and allow Bianca to navigate the heavily trafficked waters of the tollway – something I never do. I used to work for Central Market many moons ago; I know exactly where I’m going and yet, we found ourselves barely arriving at nearly 5pm.

I’d missed it. I had missed my chance at being in the presence of an authentic culinary guru.

I didn’t care. I got out of the vehicle, quickly made my way in, and wrapped around the hidden stairs at the entrance. Straight up to the culinary school, determined to keep after the goal, I went – all while Bianca aggressively whispering, “We can’t go up there! It’s a private event!”

There he was. Standing at the top of the stairs, with a glass of wine in the middle of a group of people was the chef who had lifted my hesitation and breathed a draft of wind into the embers of my partially fulfilled culinary dreams, like a wooden bellow tending to its fire.

“I’m not coming up there,” whisper-shouted Bianca, as she poked her head around the corner of the stairs. I retreated back down and told her that she HAD to come up! I wasn’t going to let this moment pass, and someone had to take a photo!

Just as I got right back up to the top step, he had broken away from the crowd and was standing no less than two feet away from me and heading towards the hallway. So, I called out to him, “Chef Mallmann!”

With a beautiful grin and what appeared to be a sincere interest, he spoke with me for a few moments and allowed for a photo. I honestly can’t even remember if I told him my name, but what I do remember is that I did thank him for his inspiration, told him that I’d seen his tweet and that I knew I had to come meet him.

 

OMGSDFWFOOD - Chef Francis Mallman

While we should all understand that our strengths and abilities to achieve our dreams stem from our own ability to believe in ourselves, I am exceptionally grateful for the hand that destiny lent yesterday. Everyone needs a little inspirational reminder now and then to usher us along our path of destiny. Perhaps, the power grid session sparked more than I expected. I could not have imagined a better 24 hours of encouragement.

Ida Claire This a Winner

omgsdfwfood Ida Claire Dining Room

Holy mackerel, is this place good.

Look, I will be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for anything fried, chocolatey, or bacony; so, Ida Claire already had a leg up on the “OMG! Love!” list with me, but I’m no sell-out. Just because you say you’re deep fried and delicious doesn’t mean I’m taking the bait.

Okay, so technically I had to take the bait because I needed to try it, but that didn’t mean I was gonna like it! Continue reading “Ida Claire This a Winner”

Get Mash’d, Hold the Spuds

I’m alive! It’s been too long; I know. So, here’s what gives: I have zero excuses, and I simply ate/cooked a great deal, took pictures, took videos, posted to social media and totally ignored you. I’m an honest engine – what can I say? It’s the truth. I’m also good at dusting off, moving forward and trusting you can do the same; so, let’s virtually shake hands, make up and get Mash’d!

Mash'd - DFW - Food - Moonshine - Life

Four words: Fried Chicken and Ribs.

I’ve known about this place for a while and thought it was about time I went in to see what all the hub-bub was about.

Mash’d features American fare with a twist, infusing a library of house-made moonshines into a variety of unique offerings across the menu. Their bar and beverage menu is killer. Every drink we ordered stealthily delivered a mighty wallop with every smooth and graceful tasty sip. They incorporate infused moonshine into just about everything, and it works. Watermelon-infused moonshine, blueberry-infused moonshine, vanilla bean house-infused moonshine – good Lord, these people have caramel moonshine for those special occasions where you need a little more sugar with your alcohol! It’s brilliant!Guacamole - DFW - Food - Mash'd

Their moonshine magic also works its way into their mussels and bbq sauce. Mmmmm, bbq sauce. Their Bootleg Ribs are no less than spectacular. I’ve eaten a lot of ribs. These moonshining masters know what they’re doing with these babies. They’re fall-off, lip-smacking, finger-kissing, hum-while-you’re-chewing spectacular. And, it’s not like bbq-place ribs. Totally different animal. (well, not different animal but you know what I mean) These are more like “slow-roasted, basted in moonshine bbq and finished on the grill individually” sort of amazing. The flavors are sweet and spicy, tangy and salty, smoky and rich but not smokehouse sort of ribs. And, they’re served with a fresh and crisp coleslaw and “MASH’D tators” that need a little MASH’D makeover.

Those potatoes were the ONLY thing on the menu we tasted that were sub-par in comparison to the bar the other dishes had set. The appeal was that they were named as if they were some sort of special treat, and when they reached the table, they were just plain ol’ slightly garlic and cheese enhanced potatoes plopped on by a scoop that someone at Luby’s may have lost. They were just out of place, man. Totally out of place with everything else they had going on. So, if you get any dishes with the spuds, sans the Shepherd’s Pie, sub them out with coleslaw. Believe me, you’ll be happier for it and not feel like you just saw your childhood hero pick up a $20 bill someone else dropped and put it in his own pocket. Those tators were just wrong for the brand this place has clearly workedShepherd's Pie - Mash'd - DFW hard to build. All it would take is a little lemon zest – just sayin’.

But, let’s move on because that little side dish incident shouldn’t deter you from enjoying every other damn thing on the menu. And, let me say that the use of the potatoes on the Shepherd’s Pie is fabulous. They slather spiced meat and veggies on a pastry crust and top it all off with Parmesan-loaded mashed potatoes, a huge punch of flavor in a creamy bite.

Another killer dish was The Chicken. They serve up hot, crispy, juicy marinated fried chicken atop a soft bun with fresh, cold coleslaw and pickles. Chick-Fa-Who? Chick-Fa-What? This sandwich is just what the doctor ordered – she may not be AMA certified, but trust me – she wants you to eat this.

Overall, a killer vibe, outstanding service and badass food that will require some serious naptime after consumption.

 

Tips from OMG’s Culinary Circle

Knives

My friends and family rock – mostly because they tolerate me and encourage (sometimes enable) my addiction to bacon. But, they also rock because they all love food and are pretty much geniuses in the kitchen. And, those who opt not to cook or bake, happily serve as taste testers and provide honest and thoughtful opinions. So, all around, these folks are pretty much the best group to provide some killer (as in good, not lethal) cooking and baking tips.

I sent a shout out to my peeps and asked them to offer up their best cooking or baking advice, and boy, did they deliver! And, they covered the gamut. From basics like knives and equipment, to things I didn’t even have on my radar (see #3), this top six list is a culinary quick-stop resource for anyone who ventures into the kitchen.

Along with my own advice, I’ve combined some of the feedback into topics since some of us hit on the same subject – great minds think alike and all. So, here is my inner culinary circle’s gift to you…

Continue reading “Tips from OMG’s Culinary Circle”

REPOST: Adventurous Appetites in Madrid

If I knew how to upload flamenco music, you’d hear the sounds of passion-filled rhythmic boots lashing out against a hardwood stage, perfectly in sync with the intoxicating Phrygian melodies dancing between two acoustic guitars. But… I don’t know how to do that; so, just imagine hearing that for now. (Hopefully, this picture from the Torres Bermejas flamenco show will help fuel some imagination… it was incredible, by the way.)

So, we’ve just returned from an amazing adventure in Madrid, Spain, and before I start sharing stories about our adventures in different posts, I have to reveal a little insight regarding our experience with Adventurous Appetites, a tapas/food tour guide company in Madrid.

Continue reading “REPOST: Adventurous Appetites in Madrid”

Sublime Chocolate is… well… Sublime

Sublime Chocolate

A couple of months ago, I decided to do a little chocolate research when preparing an important birthday gift for my BFF. As all good food researchers know, taste testing is a critical part of the process (or at least that’s what I tell myself). The goal was to find a variety of the most uniquely special, hand-crafted, world-class chocolates that would be worthy of a gift for someone so uniquely special to me. Continue reading “Sublime Chocolate is… well… Sublime”

Cacciucco – Inspired by Chef Anne But All OMG

Have you ever been watching a cooking show and thought to yourself, “I could totally rock that out”???

A few weeks ago, I was watching an episode of Secrets of a Restaurant Chef with Anne Burrell on the Food Network, and she made this amazing fish stew called… (now, I’m going to provide the link to her recipe, but you have to promise you’ll check out what I did FIRST before you hop over there… mine is a little different… promise???!??) Okay… she made this amazing fish stew called Pacific Cod and Clam Cacciucco.  (I’ll know if you clicked over there before reading all of this – just sayin’.)

Of all the chefs on FN, I think I have been inspired the most by dishes Chef Anne creates on her show.  Now, although I did not follow her recipe and didn’t even look it up before making my own, to be honest, I was truly inspired and decided to create my own version of a Cacciucco (a Tuscan Fish Stew).

Mise En Place
Mise En Place

There are three main components to this dish: the fish stock, the searing of the seafood, the building of the stew.  It’s best to do all your prep, per the norm.  If you’re a “do as you go” cook, this stew will take you forever. So, mise en place, people!  Mise En Place!

I started with the fish stock.

When I went to the fishmonger to pick up my Halibut, Littleneck Clams, Scallops and Gulf Shrimp, I also asked for fish bones to build a stock.  He said he didn’t have any on hand but pointed me in the direction of Bar Harbor fish stock in the stock aisle, saying it was the best out there.  It’s a canned stock (don’t judge – I tweaked it, foodies – put the shrimp forks down).  I knew I would have to build a ton of flavor in order for my Cacciucco to remotely taste as good as what I imagined Chef Anne’s version tasted like; so, I made sure to add tons of herbs to create a bouquet, as well as used some bay leaves, carrots and onions for the fish stock base.

Fish Stock Base
Fish Stock Base

Fish Stock
1 TB Olive Oil
4 Smashed Garlic Cloves, skins removed
½ Huge Carrot, roughly chopped (nobody cares, it’s stock base)
½ Onion, roughly chopped (again, save the knife skills for the stew itself)
3 Bay Leaves
1 Bouquet, including fresh oregano, marjoram, thyme, tarragon
Shrimp Shells from prepping the shrimp
1 Can Bar Harbor Fish Stock
Juice from ½ a Lemon
Salt / Pepper for Seasoning

Fish Stock
Fish Stock

On medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic, carrot and onion and sauté until the onion starts to create that heavenly smell in combination with the garlic and barely starts to turn translucent.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the bay leaves, bouquet and shrimp shells and continue to sauté until you can see that the shrimp are turning pink, approximately 4 minutes or so.  Add in the can of fish stock and allow to simmer on medium-high heat for at least 10 minutes and then add the lemon juice and additional salt and pepper to taste.  Leave on a low, rolling simmer while you cook the rest of the dish, as you will want to fortify the flavors prior to adding it to your Cacciucco base.

Next up was the Cacciucco base, and I knew this was going to be fun.  Part of the fun was knowing what was already in my refrigerator that I could add to my own version.  Chef Anne used tomato broth she created from pureeing whole peeled tomatoes, and I used fire roasted tomatoes that had some chunk to them.  There are no mushrooms in hers, but I used oyster mushrooms as part of my Cacciucco base (not authentic, I know… but I didn’t say I followed the rules, now did I?)  And, for my version, I added more herbs like flat leaf parsley and also capers to the mix… just because.  Here’s the base:

Cacciucco Base - Saute
Cacciucco Base – Saute

Cacciucco Base
1 TB Olive Oil
5 Minced Garlic Cloves
½ Huge Carrot, medium dice (this is where your knife skills matter; cooking evenly is muy importante or molto importante in this case)
½ Onion, medium dice
1 Shallot, medium dice
1 Oyster Mushroom Bunch, medium dice (these will not look perfect – it’s okay; don’t waste time trying to make squares out of spongy irregularly shaped objects – just make
them the same general size)
1 ½ tsp Capers, drained
½ Cup White Wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc – you can use any good white wine – something you’d drink)
2 TB Flat Leaf Parsley, roughly chopped
1 TB Fresh Oregano, Marjoram, Thyme, Tarragon combined, roughly chopped
1 tsp Saffron Threads
1 Can Fire Roasted Tomatoes with Garlic
Fish Stock
Juice from ½ a Lemon
Salt / Pepper for Seasoning

Cacciucco Base - White Wine and Saffron
Cacciucco Base – White Wine and Saffron

On medium-high heat, add olive oil, garlic, carrot, onion and shallot and sauté until the onions start to turn translucent.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add in the oyster mushrooms and capers and continue to sauté until you can see that everything is starting to cook down, approximately 4 minutes or so.  Add in the white wine to deglaze the pan, making sure to scrape up any fond (yummy goodness that may stick to the pan while sautéing) and then allow to simmer on medium-high heat until the wine starts to cook down, approximately 3 minutes.

Cacciucco Base - Tomatoes and Stock
Cacciucco Base – Tomatoes and Stock

Add in the herbs and the saffron and cook for another 2 minutes or so.  The sauce may start to turn a bright yellow/orange/red color.  That’s the saffron at work!  Then add the fire roasted tomatoes and stir.  Gradually add the fish stock (ladle in the broth only) and then add lemon juice and additional salt and pepper to taste.  Turn the heat down to low-medium and get ready to start adding the seafood.

Seafood Prep
Seafood Prep

Things to Remember When Prepping Your Seafood:

  1. Nobody wants to eat shrimp poo; so, clean and devein your shrimp after you unshell them.
  2. Nobody wants to eat tough scallop muscle; so, remove that odd little tough piece that may be holding on to the scallop.
  3. Nobody wants to eat scales and bones; even though the filet of Halibut from the fishmonger shouldn’t have either of these, just run over your Halibut closely to remove any unfriendlies.
  4. Nobody wants to eat sand or grit; so, wash your tightly sealed clams to scrub off any debris.
  5. Clams should be completely closed with no “give”.  If they are already open or have “give”, throw them away.  This is a killer Cacciucco recipe, but let’s not take that literally, shall we???

Okay, so after you’ve made sure people will be happy and more importantly, not dead, after eating your seafood, the next part is to do a quick sear.  You don’t want to cook the seafood all the way through because you want it to finish off in your stew.  What you do want is beautiful color on the seafood prior to placing into the Cacciucco base.

First, however, you will add your cleaned and tightly sealed clams to the stew and then cover the pot.  Clams will take a bit longer to open and incorporate their beautiful flavors into the base.  So, add those in first, cover and move on to the searing of the seafood.  I had six of them in mine, as my recipe is just for 2-3 servings.

Seafood Sear
Seafood Sear

Seafood Sear
2 Halibut Filets, thick
4 Scallops, large
3 Gulf Shrimp, large

Cacciucco Combined
Cacciucco Combined

Take a touch of olive oil (and a bit of butter if you wish) to a frying pan and add the Halibut, Scallops and Shrimp to the pan without crowding them.  You want to add “beautiful brown food” to your base, as Chef Anne would say, not steamed seafood.  Crowding the pan won’t get anything brown.  Once everything is quickly browned but not cooked through, transfer to the Cacciucco base which should now have some clams opening up.  Allow everything to cook through, approximately 5 minutes, and then it’s time to serve up!

Cacciucco by OMG
Cacciucco by OMG

Grab a nice, deep bowl and add the base, ladling the seafood into the bowl but reserving the clams.  Once you’ve loaded the bowl, take the clams and top everything off, arranging the seafood to feature all of their glory.  Add just a touch more of roughly chopped parsley to the party and serve with toasted, crusty bread that’s been drizzled with olive oil or butter and topped with parmesan cheese if you wish!

I have to tell you that this is probably one of my very favorite dishes I’ve ever made.  It was definitely inspired by what Chef Anne did but completely my own, and it was awesome.  I hope you make this at home.  I know I will definitely be making this again!

Table 93 – Mexican Sugar

Mexican Sugar - Tacos de CarnitasThere are a handful of places I’ve visited where when I walked in, I “knew” the place was special.  I didn’t have to wait for the drinks or engage with our server.  I just “knew” it, and Mexican Sugar has officially fallen into that category.

Continue reading “Table 93 – Mexican Sugar”

Tre Marquees the Spot

Twenty years ago, I unexpectedly encountered the best part of my past and the greatest treasure I take with me always, the friendship of five very special individuals who attended the University of North Texas with me, and this past weekend, we had our first reunion with the meeting place being the phenomenal Marquee Grill located in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas.

After the initial laughter and hugs, we immersed ourselves in the menu and prepared for a symphony of flavors conducted at the hands of Chef Tre Wilcox, alumni of Bravo’s popular television series, Top Chef, Season 3.  As our glasses clinked in the inaugural toast, it was like the conductor’s baton rapping on the music stand, calling our senses to attention, in preparation for a myriad of texture, color, playfulness, essence, aroma and sheer flavorful pleasure.

Continue reading “Tre Marquees the Spot”

I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Blogger

I admit it.

I’ve been holding out on you.  But, the guilt has completely overwhelmed me; so, now I must share… one word… Tupy’s.

Tupy’s – Frisco, Texas

For something like a million years, Tupinamba has been a staple of Dallas Mexican cuisine, and up until about 2010, north of the loop was destitute, lacking the love that only comes from a Tupy’s Taco Patron.  Then, The Shops at Starwood in Frisco, off of Dallas North Tollway and Lebanon, brought happiness to the masses, and after hogging it to myself over these last few months, I’ve decided to come clean and share the love.I’m not afraid to say that I’ve pretty much worked my way through a majority of their menu at this point, and I have some personal favorites to share with you.  Number one on the “I’m so hankerin’ for this, I need to have it” list is Tortilla Soup.  I know… sounds wimpy.  But, in the great words of Nacho Libre, “It’s tha’ Beeeeest.”

With allergy season blasting through the area, it was both a relief and a healing potion on several occasions these last few weeks.  I have been so protective of this place and the gold within its doors that I even kept the soup top secret from my husband until he started to get the sniffles the other day.  I knew exactly what to do… Tupy’s. Continue reading “I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Blogger”

The Land of Enchanted Green Chilies – Si Señor!

Visiting my husband’s family in New Mexico has become a two fold experience.  Not only do I adore his family and sincerely love the fun we have while there, but I also get to experience the local food of Las Cruces, New Mexico and surrounding areas… translation… I get my green chile on.

Si Señor, Las Cruces, New Mexico

One of the local favorites is Si Señor, located in central Las Cruces and definitely a “must eat” while visiting.  The first time my husband took me there, I didn’t want to leave.  I insisted we stay

Delicious Traveling Sopapilla from Si Señor

and snack our way from lunchtime through dinnertime and take sopapillas (fried bread dessert) with us on the road back to Texas when we left. (Note photo of me eating said sopapilla while husband drives).  So, during this last visit, we went TWICE!  The first time I forgot to take photos.  I know, bad blogger.  However, I did manage to tear myself away from the food to take photos and introduce this place to you during the second visit. Continue reading “The Land of Enchanted Green Chilies – Si Señor!”

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