Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Get in Ma Mouth: Risotto Edition

Posted By on Wed, Feb 17, 2016 at 10:01 AM

One of BoccaLupo's risotto specials - VICTORIA LEE
  • Victoria Lee
  • One of BoccaLupo's risotto specials

At BoccaLupo, before you get to the lauded black spaghetti (with hot calabrese sausage, red shrimp, and scallions), or the 20 yolk tagliatelle (with wild mushrooms, tuscan kale kimchi, and butter), there's usually a line on the menu that simply reads, "Risotto, daily MP." I urge you, in fact I beg you, to inquire. And when you do, you're likely to hear a description of a dish that defies typical expectations of risotto. One week, it might be a seafood étouffée / risotto mashup. The next, a rice and green farro combination with artichoke barigoule and black sea bass. What stays the same is the kitchen's deft touch with flavors and textures, and the distinct impression that BoccaLupo's risotto is like no other risotto you've ever had.

On a recent Saturday night, I shared that seafood étouffée risotto with a table of six, passing the plate around and watching everyone's eyes light up in pleasure as they took a bite (and then prayed that the plate would make its way back around). In a meal full of chef Bruce Logue's fabulous pastas, the risotto stood out as even more fabulous than the rest. I felt compelled to pen Logue a note afterwards in hopes of finding out a few of his secrets. While he understandably declined to share a specific recipe, he did offer plenty of insight into what makes BoccaLupo's daily risotto special so... special, as well as a few tips for home cooks interested in trying to make something like BoccaLupo's risotto at home. 

First, tell us about what you try to do with the daily risotto specials - how do they change over time?

The risotto on our menu usually changes twice a week. Maybe only once if we have a really cool one and an ingredient that we are enjoying working with. Beyond that, we are always looking for ways to expand what we consider “Italian American” cooking. Etouffée is a dish that's pretty much native to our country, and is usually served with rice, so I figure that is something we can work with. The whole local, seasonal thing is built in (to what we do), so that just plays out on its own through the year.

Your risotto tends to be a bit creamier and slightly thinner than what people might think of as traditional risotto, with a finer texture...

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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Barbecue tips from world champ Melissa Cookston

Posted By on Tue, Oct 27, 2015 at 12:01 PM

  • Eric Cash
The morning I went to interview Melissa Cookston, her day had begun discovering a potential catastrophe. Despite the fact that it was still several months away, Cookston was sweating her daughter’s high school graduation. She wasn’t worried about whether her daughter would graduate. What had her nervous was the planned date of the ceremony, and whether it would fall on the same weekend as Memphis in May, the most prestigious barbecue contest on the planet. Not the kind of scheduling snafu that would panic most mothers, but most mothers aren’t nicknamed "the Winningest Woman in Barbecue." The thought of having to choose between the biggest competition on the circuit and her little girl’s commencement was weighing heavily, even though she already knew what her decision would be. “How bad a mom would I be?" she said. "I mean, c’mon. You know which one I’d have to miss...”

Cookston is a three-time world champion in the realm of competitive barbecue. Also known as “the Whole Hog Queen,” she’s the only woman ever to be crowned Grand Champion at Memphis in May. And she’s done it twice. Cookston has parlayed that success into multiple TV appearances, a cookbook called Smokin’ in the Boys’ Room, and Memphis Barbecue Co. (4764 Ashford Dunwoody Road, 770-394-7427., her own chain of three restaurants, the newest of which opened in Dunwoody last year. “We flew under the radar for that first year,” she recalls. “No PR. No grand opening, even. I wanted to fine-tune the food and the front-of-house first. They’re equally important to me. I’m from Mississippi; we do hospitality right. ‘Yes ma’am, yes sir.’ We’re nice, dammit.”

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Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Grandma knows best

Posted By on Wed, Sep 9, 2015 at 12:01 PM

Kevin Gillespie and his grandmother, Geneva Gillespie, at Revival
  • Kevin Gillespie and his grandmother, Geneva Gillespie, at Revival
Granny, Meemaw, Nana, Grandma, Mimi... no matter what you call her, if someone asks you what you think of when you think of grandma, her cooking likely comes to mind. If you're lucky enough to still have a grandma who cooks for the family, there are surely some standards that grace her table that you just can't get anywhere else. And if grandma's cooking is a thing of the past, you probably pine for it on random rainy Sundays. Your memories perk up when you see dishes similar to those that she made - and you think, well that's not quite how grandma did it. 

In this week's First Look at Kevin Gillespie's new restaurant, Revival, we learn that the primary inspiration for many of the dishes was the cooking of Gillespie's own grandmothers. "Most are dishes that one of my two grandmothers prepared for me," Gillespie confirmed, "the sides are almost all from my Granny." It makes sense - our grandmothers grew up cooking before the days of microwaves, when the only kind of cooking was cooking from scratch.

Dinners at grandma's house were etched into our minds at an early age. I guess you could call it culinary imprinting - those tastes off the mixing spoon that will forever stay sharp in our memories. And - no offense, Mom - those culinary imprints are practically impossible to replicate. No one other than grandma can get the spices in the fried chicken quite right, the squiggles in the cheese straws just-so, the glaze on the fudge squares so thick and smooth. No, no one could do it quite like grandma. Even if "her" recipes might have started off as something from the Betty Crocker cookbook. But that doesn't stop us from trying and trying to revive those memories. And thinking of grandma's cooking all the while. 

My wife and her cousins revisit their Nana's recipes frequently. Each time the recipe card comes out is like looking back at an old photo album, smiling at the thought of all those bites shared at Nana's house. Our friends know our attempts at recreating the recipes by their proper name - those are Nana's fudge squares. And they will forever be Nana's fudge squares. In fact, the extended circle of family and friends who know them as Nana's fudge squares is vast, scattered over the country from California to New York, since we've been known to carry them on the flight when visiting family far and wide. And we'll keep making Nana's fudge squares again and again in an ever valiant attempt to fully, wholly, recreate a moment in time that, of course, can't fully be recreated. 

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Navigating farmers markets with Steven Satterfield's 'Root to Leaf'

Posted By on Thu, Apr 16, 2015 at 1:06 PM

Root to Leaf Radish Sandwich

I'm one of those fanatics who counts down the days to spring's first farmers markets, eagerly awaiting the ramps and the radishes and the weekly chance to check in on farmers and cheesemakers and foragers alike. This year, I had April 11 circled on my virtual calendar - the first day for the Peachtree Road Farmers Market. When I heard about the new book from Miller Union chef, Steven Satterfield, I knew I had to grab a copy before opening day. I had a feeling the book, Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons, would make a perfect companion for that trip. What I didn't know was how much of a kindred spirit Satterfield would prove to be. In the very first paragraph he writes:

One hour. 23 minutes. 12 seconds. I glanced at the countdown clock on the East Atlanta Village Farmers Market website. It was ticking down to the late-afternoon season opening and I made a point to arrive right on time, knowing it would be swarmed. It was the first warm day of spring and the market was teeming with energy.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Get in Ma Mouth: Muffuletta Edition

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2015 at 12:01 PM

Pssst. I got a secret. You don't need to go to New Orleans to get a good muffuletta. Sure, standing in line at Central Grocery in the French Quarter has its charms, as does diverting your airport taxi to make a pit stop at Nor-Joe Import Company, but you can actually make an astoundingly good rendition of this New Orleans classic at home with ease. You'll just need to visit a few places around town for the right ingredients, assemble the sandwich, and then... let it sit so the flavors have time to come together. Your mind may tell you to eat it immediately, but your mouth will thank you for waiting.

We recently hosted a New Orleans-themed party, so whipped up a batch of muffulettas to feed thirty or so people. We cut each large sandwich - about a foot in diameter - into eight slices, so just four of them easily fed the crowd (in addition to the jambalaya, and red beans and rice, and shrimp remoulade, and bourbon bread pudding...).

The ingredients are simple. First, you have to start with a muffuletta loaf - a flattish, round loaf of not-quite-crusty bread, usually topped with hundreds and hundreds of sesame seeds. H&F Bread Co. makes a very nice version, and you can also find them at Star Provisions - just call ahead to make sure they're available when you want them. Accept no substitutes (foccacia? no. just no.).

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Smoked chicken wing enlightenment, in three simple steps

Posted By on Wed, Nov 26, 2014 at 1:14 AM

Chicken wing enlightenment (served with a side of Semillon)
  • Brad Kaplan
  • Chicken wing enlightenment (served with a side of Semillon)
I'm a relatively recent convert to Big Green Egg-ism. Or is it Egg-ianity? Or just Egg-sanity? In any case, I've only been at it half a year or so now. I've practiced. And practiced. And practiced. I've hit some highs (those sublime whole roasted eggplants!), and hit some lows (with difficulty, as in the time I couldn't get the heat down below 400 degrees to do a pork shoulder low and slow). But I have finally achieved Egghead Enlightenment with a recent batch of smoked wings. Praise BGE-sus, hallelujah.

For those of you not familiar with this cult of the Big Green Egg, its membership seems to be 95% male, and its home base is here in Atlanta, Georgia (well, Tucker), where the Big Green Egg company is based. The Big Green Egg was created here in Atlanta in 1974 by one Ed Fisher - may his name be forever revered (here's a nice profile from the AJC from five years ago). Fanaticism runs high in the cult due to the remarkable things one can do with a Big Green Egg, not to mention the fact that fire is involved - we all know that man, at his most instinctual level, loves playing with fire and trying to harness its power. So what can you do with fire and a Big Green Egg? How can you join this cult? Let me show you the way.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Nobody effs with the Jesus (brand of canned piquillo peppers)

Posted By on Tue, Nov 18, 2014 at 1:01 PM

Mª Jesús piquillo peppers stuffed with Manchego
  • Brad Kaplan
  • Mª Jesús piquillo peppers, stuffed with Manchego

Shopping at Buford Highway Farmers Market is a never-ending adventure. On a recent trip, in addition to some jars of French duck fat and canned sake with some excellent label art, I came across cans of piquillo peppers from a Spanish producer called Conservas Artesanas María Jesús.

In the US, canned goods tend to have a lowbrow image, so the idea that the very best of an item comes in a can is somewhat foreign. But canning has been around approximately 200 years. In Spain, the best white asparagus? Canned. The best tuna? Canned. The best razor clams or mussels? Canned. Anthony Bourdain did an episode of "No Reservations" in Spain that featured canned seafood, and let's just say it will change your mind on the merits of canned seafood forever.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Get in Ma Mouth: Beet Edition

Posted By on Mon, Feb 25, 2013 at 10:25 AM

Beets with yogurt and zaatar

I don't think I ever actually cooked a beet until I was about 30 years old. My childhood was one of those that included the repulsion that only canned beets can produce. Their staining red syntheticness scarred me, scared me off beets for years to come. Until I moved to California. Maybe it wasn't the fact that it was California, but rather that I started shopping at local farmers markets. There were the easy temptations - the heirloom tomatoes and the ripe, fragrant stone fruits and the supremely bitter arugula. Then there were those things that I simply hadn't cooked before. I started cooking Brussels sprouts after buying them still on the stalk, and have loved them ever since. And I finally found a way to overcome my aversion to beets, having read about the wonders of roasting them in the oven and the reassurances that doing so would erase all (OK, most) memories of canned beets from the brain.

Which brings us to Jerusalem. Or at least the cookbook called Jerusalem.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

How come you don't have a sous vide circulating bath system?

Posted By on Fri, Jan 18, 2013 at 9:30 AM

Sous vide circulating bath system
  • Sous vide circulating bath system

I ran into a friend who is an interior designer last week and the conversation turned to kitchens. He said that he was working with a client who wants a super-modern one with every new gadget built-in and so sleek "you'd hardly know it was a kitchen."

My friend said he prefers designs with free-standing appliances - "kitchens that look like kitchens."

I don't really have a preference. If you spent two years editing a large design magazine, as I did, you might not care, either. When friends spend $100,000 on a kitchen redo, I always blurt, "Why? Wouldn't you rather take a cruise around the world?"

The subject of kitchens came up recently in an interesting debate between Ryan Avent of The Economist and Matthew Iglesias of Slate. Both essays are followed by spirited commentary by readers.

Avent's essay is about the slowdown of American technology. He spends a paragraph illustrating his argument with kitchen development:

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Monday, December 31, 2012

Cookbook of the Year: Jerusalem

Posted By on Mon, Dec 31, 2012 at 1:04 PM

The world may not need more good recipes, but good stories are always in demand. And a good cookbook not only tells a story, but also helps its readers create their own stories through meals with family and friends. Jerusalem is such a book.

I have to admit, I'm in no place to actually pick a "cookbook of the year." Of the hundreds (thousands?) of new cookbooks this year, I've only actually read and cooked from a few. There were some with strong Atlanta ties worth pointing out - Kevin Gillespie's Fire in My Belly was well received, and Adam Roberts' Secrets of the Best Chefs leaned heavily on Atlanta chefs for inspiration. But Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, is as worthy of singling out as its namesake city.

I'm not alone in praising Jerusalem. compiled a mega-list of the various "best of 2012" lists out there, and Jerusalem came out on top. It's a book that, yes, has intriguing recipes. And mouth watering photos. But, most of all, it has a great story to tell.

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