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FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Lovely High Tea at Sweet Pete’s

13 May

 On Mother’s Day Weekend, my daughter Hayden and I attended a delightful High Tea at Sweet Pete’s in the heart of Jacksonville’s historic Springfield section.

Set in a whimsically restored old home on Pearl and 9th Streets, Sweet Pete’s is an organic candy shop and party venue owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Peter and Allison Behringer.  Peter is part of the beloved Peterbrooke Chocolatier bloodline  and last year he branched out on his own with this jewel in Springfield.

Owners Peter & Allison Behringer

High Tea was in the upstairs party room that was a decorated just as gaily as the rest of the shop, not to mention the view going up.

     

Lois Travis and Deborah Reid

Once upstairs, there were three dining tables  elegantly adorned with finger sandwiches, deserts , chocolate covered strawberries and a variety of adorable teapots and teacups.  

Two of the tables had families with children so well-behaved  that they are certainly welcome at any future high teas of mine.  Ours was shared with Lois Travis, a Ponte Vedra resident, and her daughter lawyer/artist Deborah Reid who wore hats in honor of the Kentucky Derby party they were attending afterward.

We started with lemonade, salad and finger sandwiches.  Sweet Pete’s does as well with sandwiches as candies; we were served curried egg salad, cucumber, ham and cheese turnovers, chicken salad and more. The believe that table favorite  was the round banana sandwiches drizzled with chocolate.

We had our tea with dessert; ours a traditional tea while the other ladies had lavender tea, and pretty green sugar crystals. We each had individual adorable teapots with matching teacups. Chocolate chip scones and biscuits were aplenty, as well as devine cupcakes with strawberry icing wrapped with a citrus cotton candy and lemon cakes. I’ve never been much of a cotton candy fan, however, this flavored  variety made at Sweet Pete’s was quite wonderful.

High Tea

Cotton candy is made to order downstairs with thirty flavors from which to choose.  ($3)  Some of the favorites are citrus punch, bubble gum, strawberry, watermelon, kiwi, grape, cider, rose, almond, chai, cheesecake, blueberry, eggnog,  pear, chocolate, raspberry, cashew, cinnamon and mango. I don’t know what it is about Sweet Pete’s cotton candy, after all it’s  

Cameron Speights Loves Apple Cinnamon

just sugar, but it tastes so much better than that stuff you get at the fair.  I’m also thinking I regret not trying the almond flavored cotton candy.

 Next to the cotton candy machine is the ice cream freezer case that offers a rotating assortment of flavors such as strawberry chocolate chunk, bananas foster, vanilla bean, java jive, deep dark chocolate and toasted coconut, as well as soy vanilla and chocolate. There’s homemade hot fudge sauce, caramel sauce and homemade whipped cream along with vegan caramel and chocolate sauces and rice milk whipped cream.
 
The one thing they can’t promise is the several adorable and grinning little boys who were there when we visited and whose great big eyes loved all the confections.
  
 

Deep Dark Chocolate Ice Cream for Roshad Reid

 
Almost all the candy at Sweet Pete’s is made on premises except for a few items such as the taffy that is made elsewhere on nut-free machinery.  Chocolate is their specialty, and it’s all natural.  Treats on the shelf rotate, but on our visit there were chocolate pizzas, chocolate covered strawberries, chocolate covered Oreos and chocolate covered potato chips, along with assorted small candies for sale individually.
 
 
 
 
 
Sweet Pete’s is one of Jacksonville’s fun go-to businesses for throwing a party. Whether it’s  in their upstairs party room or at a venue of your choosing, some of their themed specialties are the chocolate fondue party, chocolate lover’s party, old-fashioned taffy pull, chocolate wine pairing party, cotton candy party and the winter candy cane pull party. You can even bring in your own adult beverages for events.
 
Each month brings a new event theme, such as the Mother’s Day Weekend High Tea.   There are usually separate events geared for children and adults.
 
In July,  look for a magnificent celebration as Sweet Pete’s will mark its first anniversary while the house in which it resides turns 100 years old. Plans are still in the works, but they promise plenty of Sweet Pete’s cotton candy martinis and chocolate martinis to help celebrate.
 
 
I highly recommend you check out the Sweet Pete’s Blog !
 
 
 
Open Daily 10:30 – 7:00
Sunday noon – 5:00
Closed Monday
 
1922 Pearl Street
Jacksonville, FL
866.816.8024
sweetpete.net
 
 
 

Sweet Pete's on Urbanspoon

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It’s the Great Burger Quest!

10 May

         The Great Burger Quest wants to find the best burger in Jacksonville!

         So who makes your favorite burger?

         I’ll be selecting candidates from your suggestions.

 

 

Tell me who makes your favorite burger and why it’s your favorite. Leave a comment here, Tweet me, Facebook me, email me. Anyway you want.

There are only three rules:

1)   Must be a public restaurant

2)   Must be in Jacksonville or the Beaches

3)  Must be a ground meat patty between bread

 

The ultimate decision will be made by me and a cadre of guest diners!

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Southern Cuisine Shines at Copper Top

5 May

Copper Top Restaurant has come back from the dead; the long-time Jacksonville Beach landmark, known for more than 60 years as The Homestead, has been resurrected – ghosts and all.  Now named after its famed copper top bar, it’s kicking it into high gear.

Locals so want this iconic restaurant to make it. It has changed hands (and quality) a number of times in recent years. Now that the economy is on the upswing, and what seemed like never-ending road work in front of the building is complete, owner Mike Pessagno is determined to bring it back to the quality of days gone by. The landmark had been “broken,” he says and wants to get back to basics to return it to what its dedicated customers loved about it in The Homestead days – but with fresh and interesting twists to the menu.

Set among oak trees, the historic log cabin restaurant is structurally the same except for some deep cleaning,  wall paint and a few touches to kick it up a few notches.

The menu contains favorites such as hand-battered fried chicken. It can no longer be made in a skillet because of increased health code requirements, but the down-home yumminess factor is still there.  Fried Chicken Dinners for one, four, six and eight are also still served.  There are also the requisite biscuits and cornbread with dinner, as well as family-style vegetables for the table.

Alpha Paytner Martini

My companion and I started with an Alpha Paytner Martini. $7  (As many know, Paytner was the original owner about 80 years ago and still haunts the place. But more on that later.) It’s made from citrus vodka, Island Blue Pucker Sweet and Sour Schnapps Liqueur and a splash of sprite. My first impression of it was “Wow, that fresh.” My companion remarked, “What the heck does ‘fresh’ mean?”  Then she tasted it and said, “Why yes, fresh is exactly what is. It went down easily.

Appetizers were Georgia Banks Braised Shrimp $7.95  and Shrimp and Grits Fritters $6.95

Georgia Banks Braised Shrimp

On our last visit to Copper Top my companion ordered the Georgia Banks Braised Shrimp and made such a fuss over how good it was that I had to try it. And it was my most favorite item of the evening. The shrimp were succulent and served along-side a combination of smoked bacon, sweet onions, Hoppin’ John and collard greens. For those wanting a small dinner, this and a salad would be plenty. The collard greens were superb. Pessagno says that a 90-year-old long-time customer of the site’s restaurants recently dined in and exclaimed that the Copper Top’s collard greens were the best she had eaten in her life. Now that’s a testimony.

Shrimp & Grits Fritters

 

The Shrimp & Grits Fritters are served with chipolte aioli and are chewy and flavorful.  I was thinking they would taste more like hush puppies, but  they had a moister consistency.

A basket of biscuits and cornbread is served with every meal.

Biscuits and Cornbread

 The size of the biscuits honor tradition, as well as the honey on the table for those who like it. The cornbread was also more moist than most of the dry cornbread that many restaurants serve. You can see bits of corn in it as well. I didn’t try the cornbread that night, but heated it up in the microwave the next morning for breakfast and it was the most flavorful cornbread I’ve ever had. This southern girl plans on getting some more of that.

The Iceberg Wedge Salad $4.50 was something else I had been seriously wanting to try, and it surely did not disappoint. So much more than its simple name, it is topped with a homemade zesty blue cheese dressing,  fried onions, gorgonzola cheese crumbs, tomatoes, chopped bacon bits with  crustini on the side, all with a balsamic drizzle.  Such a simple name for a salad with bold taste. I adored it.

Iceberg Wedge Salad

 

Our first entrée was the Slow Braised Short Ribs  $15.95.

Slow Braised Short Ribs

The short ribs come flavored with a wonderful Jack Daniels au jus reduction. (The menu lists them under the pork dishes, but they will be sure to tell you they are actually beef.) Tender and flavorful, they come as all entrees do with a choice of two sides from their ample list. My companion chose the mashed sweet potatoes and fried okra. A fried okra connoisseur, she was sure to inform the owner that one can tell a lot from a restaurant by the quality of its fried okra. She awarded it a gold star.

We also chose the Fresh Catch of the day $17.95. With a choice of snapper or grouper, we selected the snapper, grilled,  with a light lemon butter sauce.

The Fresh Catch - Grilled Snapper

The snapper was excellent with just the right amount of lemon butter sauce. The onion rings were as good as they get and even better with the chipolte sauce on the side.  Good to know info is that Copper Top purchases its seafood fresh daily, six days a week in Mayport.

Another entrée I didn’t get to taste but is high on my list for the next visit is the Paytner Pattie Melt $8.95. It’s a half pound of ground beef with boursin cheese in the middle served on Texas toast with sautéed onions and mushrooms.  Oh my.

We moved on to dessert, all at $4.95. Although I’m personally all  about Brownies a la Mode,  the Fried Oreos and Fried Brownie Bites, covered in a waffle batter and deep-fried, are what piqued my interest. We received a combination platter. The brownies by themselves would have been awesome as they were very moist. The fried version of both are evidently quite popular with children, and one can see why.

Fried Oreos and Brownie Bites
 
Copper Top also offers another kid favorite, to be sure –  a Fried Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich that is also dipped in waffle batter and deep- fried. 
 

Our other dessert was the Georgia Sweet Peach Cobbler that we got à la mode. It was an interesting turn on a cobbler as the crust was more cake-like than pie crust.  We enjoyed every single bit of it.

Georgia Sweet Peach Cobbler

 
The Copper Top opened in February of this year complete with live music, seasonal patio dining and all sorts of great specials throughout the week such as $4 martinis on Monday and 50 cent oysters on Tuesdays.
 
One of the most talked about offerings is the Sunday Brunch Buffet $18.95 and includes bottomless mimosas. From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., the buffet is  in the main dining room with two carving stations,  fried chicken, two fresh catches, waffles, pancakes, omelets, the self-proclaimed best ever eggs Benedict, desserts and more.
 
Management had heard all the stories about the ghost of Anna Paynter being sited numerous times in the building through the years.  Mike Pessagno hasn’t seen her yet but did get the shock of his life, however, when he was in his second-floor office and hollerd out, “If there’s a spirit here, then give me a sign.”  He said that a shower than had not worked in forever suddenly came on and stopped as suddenly. 

Maybe that was just a sign from Anna Paytner that she indeed approves of the restaurant’s new incarnation.

Copper Top Southern American Cuisine on Urbanspoon

 
  
Open at 10 a.m. daily
 
1712 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 249-4684
 
 
 
 

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Firehouse Subs

21 Apr
For someone who doesn’t eat all that much meat these days, and  doesn’t  usually even like submarine sandwhiches , my recent feast at Firehouse Subs was nothing short of a full ‘come to Jesus’ conversion.  These were submarine sandwhiches like I’ve never had before. 
 

I met Robin Sorensen, co-founder of Firehouse Subs and one half of the Sorensen brothers team (brother Chris is the other co-founder) at their Beach Boulevard at Penman Road restaurant in Jacksonville Beach  for a personal walk through their menu. I took along my 14-year-old son, Stuart, a dedicated carnivore, to help me out.

Robin selected several subs for me to try, and I chose another myself that looked tempting. While waiting, one can’t help but notice the line-up of hot sauce bottles on the counter. Each bottle has a large red numbered sticker signifying how hot it is; the higher the number the hotter the sauce, with nine being the hottest.  

A few customer favorites are Back Draft (6) , Liquid Stoopid (8)  Pain 95% (9) and  Captain Sorensen’s Datil Pepper Hot Sauce (5). $5.99 (Disclaimer: These are not rated to any industry standard other than Firehouse’s.)

One thing is obvious when listening to Robin Sorensen talk about his restaurants: he has as much passion today for the quality of his food as he’s ever had. He’s a hands on kind of guy who has been involved in every step of recipe and menu development over the seventeen years Firehouse Subs has been in operation.

Customer Favorite: Hook & Ladder

The No. 1  selling sub at Firehouse is the Hook & Ladder. $5.29  It also won out in a nation-wide contest on the company’s Facebook page. It’s made with smoked turkey breast, Smithfield Ham and melted Monterey Jack cheese. It comes “fully involved,” a firefighting term, meaning all the way with lettuce, tomato, onion, mustard and mayo.  The Hook & Ladder was also my son’s favorite of all the subs we tasted. He’s a big red meat fan and doesn’t like mustard and mayo, so I was quite surprised that he fell in love with the Hook & Ladder.

Hook & Ladder

All sandwhiches also come with Firehouse’s special dill pickle, the very same ones served at the famous Carnegie Deli in New York City. Packed in the Bronx and shipped to Firehouse, the pickles have that great crispness and indeed evoked memories of New York pickles for me.

Robin’s Favorite: New York Steamer

Corned beef brisket, pastrami, melted provolone cheese, mustard, mayo and Italian dressing.  It’s an understatement to say Robin is crazy in love with the New York Steamer. $5.29 It was indeed awesome. Between bites, he stumped me by asking if I knew what animal pastrami comes from. “No one knows!” he says. It’s beef, and definitely worthy of his love.

New York Steamer

 

My Favorite:  Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket

If I were a 25-year-old male I would pound these back for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They were that good. Beef brisket smoked for ten hours, melted cheddar and special sauces, including Sweet Baby Ray’s barbecue sauce. $5.49 

Firehouse Subs resolved one of the primary reasons I’ve never been wild about submarine sandwhiches – too much boring bread and not enough sandwhich. Ah, but at Firehouse the bread is oh so soft and becomes one with the sandwhich. Just perfect.

The No. 1 selling chip at Firehouse is Miss Vickie’s Jalepeno potato chips. $1.09  Despite my notoriously wimpy mouth, I bravely tried a few and was pleasantly surprised at the subtleness of the heat. Be forewarned, however, that the heat grows with the more you eat.

Everyone’s Fav:  Firehouse Meatball

Who doesn’t love a meatball sub? $5.29  And this one is goooood. First off, the bread is cut somewhat like a hotdog bun to hold the marinara sauce. And the meatballs have loads of imported Pecorino and Romano cheese in them that makes them soft to melt in your mouth.

Firehouse Meatball

Topped with provolone and Italian seasonings, and baked in the oven rather than heated in a microwave, this baby is addictive.

Firehouse Subs is also the only restaurant in the entire nation to have its very own custom Coca-Cola company blended private label soft drink – it’s Cherry Lime-Aid$2.14  And, it even has its very own logo.  

                                                 

The drink was personally taste-tested repeatedly by Robin Sorenson at the Coca-Cola headquarters until it tasted exactly like the cherry lime-aid his mom made when he was growing up. It’s an old local favorite whose recipe was easier to get right in the gallon quantity than in the massive quantities they make in Atlanta for the 420 Firehouse Subs restaurants. It is one of the multitude of flavors in the Coke Freestyle fountain that offers more than 100 Coke brand drink mixtures including soft drinks, flavored waters, sports drinks and lemonades. The key to getting the Cherry Lime-Aid just right is to squeeze  into your drink the fresh lime wedges supplied beside the machines. I squeezed four in my small-sized drink.

Robin Sorensen and the Coke Freestyle Fountain

All digital, the Coke Freestyle carries three different Coke Zero brands  – regular Coke Zero, Cherry Coke Zero and Vanilla Coke Zero. Dedicated Coke Zero fans like me are thrilled when a restaurant carries the basic version. I tried the recommended combination of Vanilla Coke Zero and Fanta Orange Zero for the “creamsicle” and found it quite tasty.

A few days later I was craving another Smokehouse Beef & Cheddar Brisket with a Cherry Lime-Aid so I stopped by the Firehouse at Marsh Landing pronto and savored the experience all over again.
 
Today it hit again , so I combined a trip to the wine store with a Cherry Lime-Aid run.  My neighborhood Firehouse is smack dab beside my wine store. How great is that? Even better, the incredibly friendly woman behind the Firehouse counter gave me my Cherry Lime-Aid totally free, and she surely didn’t know who I was.
 

Can it bet any better? Only one way – if there were a Zero version of this awesome cherry stuff.  Just say’n.

Firehouse Subs on Urbanspoon

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Bonefish Grill on $100

7 Jan

So I received a $100 gift card from my ex-mother-in-law for Christmas that would take me to Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill or Bonefish Grill. Bonefish in Jacksonville Beach won the draw, and my friend Sara Sewell and I took off to see what gastronomical wonders we could experience for $100.

It always starts with wine.
Sara Sewell and Cam Brown

We didn’t do anything fancy wine-wise. I stuck with my buttery favorite Kendall Jackson Chardonnay at $8.50 a glass. Sara had the Canyon Road house Cabernet Sauvignon at $5 a glass. The first one went quickly.

We perched ourselves at the long highboy table-tops in the bar that seat about six and where people come and go. It’s a nice way to meet folks and have friendly conversations. We had a variety of companions throughout the evening , including an old family friend. Surprisingly, the service there was top-notch. Often these kinds of spots get lost in the shuffle, but our waitress was very attentive and we were never left unattended. That in itself made dining at Bonefish a nice experience.

We ordered off the appetizer menu and started with Coconut Crusted Shrimp $8.30. The Coconut Crusted Shrimp were honestly the best I have ever had in a town that seems to have claimed them as its specialty. They come six to an order, but we were so anxious that we forgot to photograph them before we dug in.

Coconut shrimp

Sara’s favorite of the evening were the Bacon-Wrapped Atlantic Sea Scallops.  $9.90  Four to an order, they came with chutney and mango salsa. Exquisite.

 

Bacon wrapped atlantic sea scallops

After a breather, we ordered the Wagyu Beef & Ginger Dumplings. These came as a generous portion of six for $7.90.  Handmade of American style Kobe, they are pan-seared with crispy shallots, Thai peppers and soy sauce. The shaved ginger set off the dumplings perfectly. These were my favorites of the evening. (Even tasted great when eaten for breakfast the next morning.)

And the last appetizer portion we tried was a very interesting Mediterranean dish called Saucy Shrimp. $8.30  We received a very generous amount of shrimp tossed with lime, tomatoes, Kalamata olives, red peppers, garlic sauce and feta cheese.  It was nice to enjoy such a rich dish without a mound of pasta underneath. We truly enjoyed this, too.

Something we didn’t try because of my wimpy mouth was the Bang Bang Shrimp. It was a very popular item as many in the bar were ordering it.  A friend that joined us shared that the level of spiciness is unpredictable. Sometimes it has a real kick and other times it’s quite mild. I regret not trying it  because it looked delicious.

We shouldn’t have ordered that last glass of wine, because when dessert showed up, it took over and there was no looking back.  The Macadamia Nut Brownie is a yummy, gooey flourless brownie with raspberry sauce and two scoops of Blue Bell vanilla ice cream. $5.50 (That Blue Bell vanilla is as good as any of the fancy brands.)  It was so rich and we were so full, we shared it with friends at the table. It’s a good size portion that easily feeds two at the end of a meal.

 

With three glasses of wine each, four appetizers, one big dessert and our bill came to $86.  The rest of the $100 gift card went to the waitress.  So we gauged it just right.

Bonefish isn’t for the budget conscious, unless of course your ex-mother-in-law is  buying.

Bonefish Grill on Urbanspoon

2400 South 3rd Street
Jacksonville Beach, FL 32250
(904) 247-4234

Hours
Monday-Thursday 4 pm-10:30 pm
Friday -Saturday 4 pm-11:30 pm
Sunday 4 pm-10pm

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: New Year’s Eve Tweet Up

31 Dec

Jacksonville has a truly awesome Twitter community. If you haven’t tried Twitter –  you should. It’s a remarkable way in which to meet people in your field, town or special interest that you might  have never had an opportunity to meet. Today, a group of us from Jacksonville got  together for an official “Tweet Up”  at The Galley Restaurant at the Beach for mimosas, red velvet pancakes, thick bacon and myriad yummy breakfast treats. As remarkable as the food was, it was amazing that I only knew one person in the group before Twitter. All the others I never would have known otherwise.

Everyone in the group was professionally linked t0 public relations, special events, or media jobs. (All except our token lawyer, Brenda Ezell known as @jaxlawyer on Twitter.) Those in media and entertainment are often early adapters to social media such as Twitter.

We’re also all Four Square addicts. This week Folio Weekly featured @BonnieUpright as a Four Square queen and addict. Everyone was sure to check in on Four Square when they arrived and found that they received a 15% discount off their bill at The Galley Restaurant for checking into Four Square.

Clockwise, starting at the lower left-hand corner, by their Twitter names are:

@mariacoppola
@jaxlawyer
@musesfled 
@nishland
@carriemclaren
@newzgrrl
@cambrownjax
@eloisethepug
@bonnieupright
@MASDJax
And our ever faithful token man, @JonCummins is taking the photo.

And here we are from the other direction…


Yes, oh so flattering of all of us.

The fun was that we talked about everything but business. Children, new husbands, ex-husbands, house renovations, how some of us met one another in person before the Tweet Up, and of course the food.  I noticed later online that most everyone there was tweeting about anticipating the tweet up, they were on the way to the tweet up, that they were at the tweet up, what they were eating…..it was just an all out tweetfest even hours after we left.

Our gracious hostess with the mostess was @927events, better known as Chriss Brown, a partner in @thegalleyjax. She had mimosas and coffee ready for us as we arrived and somehow managed to seamlessly free up nearly half the restaurant for our group.  Here she is on the left with Monique Neeley, also known as @inspiredmomma.

She started us off with bowls of fresh fruit and these delicious cinnamon and brown sugar crumble scones that she was experimenting with to add to the brunch menu. We say it’s a go.

I had been jonesing for the Red Velvet Pancakes for weeks, but wanted to make sure I had room for the wonderful thick bacon and Hash Brown Casserole that I had there a few weeks back. So I split my order with @nishland and we forgot to photograph it before we cut the pancakes. What you can’t see is that there is also cream cheese icing spread between the pancakes as well as on top. @Nishland also opted for the Shrimp and Grits which are another one of my favorites.

A new item on @thegalleyjax menu is The Jersey Shore which is a very popular specialty in the Northeast. It’s a sliced pork roll, topped with a fried egg and cheese on a Kaiser roll. Our latecomer @inspiredmomma ordered that hefty sandwhich.

I also noticed several of the members of the group, such as @inspiredmomma and @nishland, were talking to each other from opposite ends of the table by posting on Twitter.

And here’s the great omelet @musesfled ordered.

This visit to @thegalleyjax was more for friendship and fellowship than food review, but since we were there…..

And here I am with my bud Sara Sewell who also goes by @eloisethepug.

Here’s a belated addition to the photo gallery. Clockwise: Aliera Peterson, Tonisha Landry-Gaines, Carrie McLaren, Beth Slater and me.

Oh, and if you want the Red Velvet Pancakes, you better stop in on New Year’s Day because they roll off the specialty menu after that.

Please follow any of us on twitter and you’ll hear about out next tweet up in February. 

You can read my previous “Food Porn Friday” review of The Galley Restaurant here.

Our Christmas Curry Apple Nut Chili

25 Dec

I first tasted this chili at a church chili cookoff at All Saints Episcopal Church in Jacksonville and immediately had to have the recipe. (I also went around and made everyone taste it and I think it came in second place.) It’s considered Southwestern, and it’s oh so good. Especially for folks who like a twist on traditional dishes.

 

1 1/2 lbs lean ground beef
2 cups chopped onions
3 garlic cloves, minced
2  (16 oz) cans chopped tomatoes
1  (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 (14 1/2 oz) can chicken broth
3 bell peppers, chopped
1 (4 oz) cans diced green chiles (I use mild)
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored, chopped
2 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbls unsweetened cocoa powder
1 Tbls curry powder
1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, drained
2/3 cup each of slivered almonds, raisins, shredded cheddar cheese and sour cream or yogurt

  • In large Dutch oven or heavy pot, cook beef, onions and garlic until meat is brown. Drain off fat.
  • Stir in: tomatoes with liquid, tomato sauce, chicken broth, bell peppers, green chiles, apples, chili powder, cocoa, curry and cinnamon.
  • Bring to a boil and reduce heat. Cover and simmer 1 hour.
  • Add kidney beans and almonds. Heat through.
  • Serve topped with raisins, cheddar cheese and sour cream or yogurt.

Sometimes, like today, I simply cook up the meat, onions and garlic in a frying pan, them dump everything into a crock pot, turn on high for a while, and then simmer.

Makes 8 servings.

More Food Porn Friday: Scottish Shortbread from the CRACKER JAX Kitchen

24 Dec

Scottish Shortbread has always been one of my guilty pleasures. So I decided to make some tonight for the very first time!

Never mind that the recipe I’m using was written by hand on one of  those index cards more than twenty years ago. I saved it and put it to good use tonight. Scottish Shortbread is so very rich, but so very simple at the same time.  These cookies would also surely pass muster with Paula Deen for all the butter they contain.

Anyone who owns a pastry cutter has might have made these before. It’s not required, but does help if you have a chance to pick one up. This is what they look like. For shortbread, it’s used to “cut in” the butter. I used a large meat serving fork from my drawer that took just a bit longer.

First, preheat the oven t0 300 degrees.

Gathering your ingredients is easy. There are just three ingredients. 

1  1/4 cups      all-purpose flour

3 Tbls               sugar

1/2 cup             butter (one stick) 

Leave the butter out a little while. You don’t want it soft, but you also don’t want it hard as a rock. I also cut my butter up into small pieces to make it easier to cut in.

Mix all incredients in a large bowl and cut in the butter to the mix. This means simply cutting and mashing it with the other ingredients. When finished the mix sure look like small crumbs.

Form a ball with the mixture and knead until it is smooth.

I like to put my dough in the refrigerator for about ten minutes to chill because it makes it a lot easier to work with afterward.

Then, on a lightly-floured surface, pat dough flat to about 1/2 inch thick.  You can cut strips, use cookie cutters or do as I did and used the old standby, a very small-mouthed glass. If you cut strips, cut about 2″ X 1″. Should make about 24 cookies.

Place on an the cookies on an ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Cookies should be a very light color with bottoms slightly browned.

To Frost or Not to Frost

I thought I’d add some chocolate to the tops of my cookies to make them even better. Everything is better with chocolate on it, right? Not necessarily. After frosting a number of cookies, I tried one and realized that they are actually better without the chocolate.

If you still want to add it, here’s an easy process.

Empty a small bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for one minute. The chips will still look whole, but take a spatula and mix them up quickly immediately. Do not put them back in the microwave because it will dry out the chocolate and there is no saving it. Just mix fast, fast, fast until it’s all melted.

I made three batches of shortbread, so minus all the cookies I ate while baking, here’s what’s left for my family.

 

 

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: Koja Sushi

24 Dec

Koja Sushi at the Jacksonville Landing excels at presentation of its Korean and Japanese fare, as well as taste.  My favorite is this wooden boat laden with sushi, sashimi and various rolls.

Owner John Lee says the restaurant has five sizes of boats and the one above is considered a medium size that holds enough sushi for about two to three people.  He said his most loyal customers often have him create an extra-large sushi boat for Jaguars tailgating that he wraps in plastic wrap.

I had specifically requested no squid on my boat, but forgot to mention the eel. Good thing because my companion loved it and gobbled down most of it.  My favorite was the Dynamite Roll which  is tuna and salmon deep-fried with spicy shrimp sauce and hot sauce on top at $8.95. The sauce is indeed dynamite hot.  (With red stripe shown at right.) The wasabi for the meal was made into a dragon head, also shown at right.

Before the sushi boat, however, we received a few appetizers. First up was a special sample just for us of Shrimp Tempura , six for $8.95, and Beef Yaki Mandoo (deep-fried dumplings) with mandoo sauce, six for $7.95. The shrimp tempura was especially light and delicious.

The appetizer winner, however, was the Shrimp and Vegetable Tempura that comes with six shrimp and an assortment of veggies such as large onion rings,zucchini, mushroom, red pepper and broccoli for $13.95.  We especially liked the tempura red pepper, but kept thinking the onion rings needed something gooey and fattening to dip them in. This was one of those dishes that we wouldn’t let the waiter take away in case we had room left to go back to finish it. (We would have if not for the dessert.)

With our appetizers there was sake, of course.  We recommend going straight to the premium sake
Sho Chiku Bai Gingo which was well liked. Ginjo is a special reserve connoisseur class of sake with a silky-smooth, rich and fruity flavor. The house sake can be warmed, and the premium sake is better a bit chilled. It comes beautifully presented in a clear plexiglass wine cooler for the bottle.  I was also delighted to see Kendall Jackson Chardonnay as a house wine.

Another favorite was Kall Bee, grilled beef short ribs marinated in sweet sauce with red pepper, onions and mushrooms. Sizzling when brought to the table, we couldn’t get enough of these. They come with two small marinated vegetable side dishes. Kimchee is made with cabbage, carrots, yellow onions and daikon radishes and marinated in a special spicy sauce. The Cucumber Kimchee is milder and made with cucumber, yellow onion, red peppers and marinated in combination of sugar salt and fish sauce. These can be purchased in a pint or quart, although not on the menu. I could easily eat a pint of the Cucumber Kimchee in one sitting it was so addictive.  While our dish came with the Kall Bee on one plate, it is usually ordered in one of Koja’s well-loved signature Box Dinners as a Kall Bee Box. This comes with the short ribs, steamed or fried rice, fried potato, tempura shrimp, crab cake, the Kimchees, two California roll pieces, steamed vegetables and an orange slice for $16.95.

 

Below is one of Koja’s signature box dinners, this one the Chicken Box with chicken glazed in teriyaki sauce for $12.95. The chicken was quite wonderful and tender.  Lee says the restaurant makes its special teriyaki sauce by simmering whole chickens for ten hours, removing the chickens and adding choice vegetables until everything solidifies, then removing the veggies and adding sugar and soy sauce.

 By far the most interesting dish we tasted was a traditional Korean specialty called Beef Dol Soet. $10.95  It comes layered in a hot stone pot, with marinated beef and steamed vegetables over steamed rice mixed with spices and topped with a raw egg. Once at the table we mixed everything immediately with the heat from the other items cooking the egg.

Dessert was a combination of Fried Ice Cream Balls and Fried Cheesecake. I found the fried cheesecake especially good and also liked the cold inside of the cheesecake mixed with the warm exterior made of a rice flour burrito type of cone-shaped wrap. Either dessert comes individually or as a combination for $5.95.

Dishes we want to come back to try include the interesting soups such as Soon Doo Boo, with silk tofu, vegetables, shrimp and clam seasoned in fish broth with slight spices and egg.  $9.95  Also Spicy Seafood that includes shrimp, scallops, clams, mussels, vegetables and angel hair noodles. $28.95

Then there are dishes on the menue that are not on my wish list, however there are others who will be surely be thrilled to know Koja Sushi offers Squid Salad $5.50 and  Baby Octopus Salad $5.50.  (I had octopus once at a luncheon on a Greek oil tanker and that was enough.)

John Lee has owned and operated Koja Sushi at The Jacksonville Landing for eight years. Prior to that his restaurant was on University Boulevard near Memorial Hospital. He came to the United States from Korea at age seven, began working in his mother’s restaurant at age fourteen, and got serious about the restaurant business in his early twenties. He says one cannot be in a proprietary restaurant business such as his without a passion for it.

Koja Sushi offers special events, such a wedding rehearsal dinners on its waterfront balcony area. Parties can also be arranged.  The restaurant also caters to the downtown crowd after performances at the Florida Times Union Center, Florida Theatre and other events.

Koja Sushi on Urbanspoon

Serving Lunch & Dinner
Monday – Friday 11 am -9:30 pm
Saturday 5 – 10 pm
Sunday 5 – 9 pm

Open New Year’s Eve  and New Year’s Day 3 pm – 2 am

 2 Independent Drive
Jacksonville, Florida
904) 350-9911

FOOD PORN FRIDAY: The Galley Restaurant

16 Dec

The Galley Restaurant at the Palm Cove Marina is somewhat like Gourmet meets “White Trash Cooking.” Located near Jacksonville Beach at the foot of the Beach Boulevard Intracoastal Waterway Bridge (west side) in a teal roofed strip mall type center, The Galley offers  Southern favorites and ethnic specialties that make for a menu to please.

It’s a no fuss, no frills sort of place where they learn your name and menu preferences. My companion and I were pleasantly surprised at the variety of oh so yummy dishes that came out of the small kitchen. Our fare was complimentary specifically to show off for the CRACKER JAX blog, so this is not a traditional restaurant review.

We enjoyed chatting with the proprietor and chef Becky Mead between dishes as well as our server Colleen. When Becky bought the lunch and breakfast spot in 2009, she expanded the menu tremendously, adding tempting specials mixed in with a bit of mama love for her loyal patrons. She has a men’s group of 15 daily regulars who never order – she simply prepares individual breakfasts according to their preferences and dietary limitations. She’s been known to tell one or two that  they didn’t get hash browns and grits at the same time because that’s too many white things on their plate, or they didn’t get fruit because their wife called and asked Becky to watch their sugar intake.

the galley restaurant The Galley opens at 6 a.m. every morning, so when we arrived at 9 a.m. most of the breakfast crowd had cleared out. Within the hour, however, customers flowed in at a regular pace. We started with a Bowl of Fresh Fruit. $2.95  A nice choice since most places give you only an option of tiny portions. Mostly honeydew and cantaloupe melon, sprinkled with raspberries, blueberries, pinapple, grapes and banana slices.

Next up came a rich and soulful bowl of Cheese Grits and Shrimp. $8.95  This is a dish for real grits lovers with its generous portion of grits  made with half-n-half so they were creamy to perfection. The blackened shrimp presented on the rim of the Fiestaware dish had a real kick to them. 

 

For Biscuits and Gravy lovers, this is your place.  The portion is two open-faced biscuits smothered in yummy chunky sausage gravy.  $3.95 Becky says her biscuits and gravy are always whipped up fresh, not something that sits around under a warmer waiting for takers. We nodded as we stuffed ourselves.

 For an ethnic spin, we had a Greek Omelet stuffed with fresh spinach, feta cheese, black olives and tomatoes. It comes accompanied with scalloped-sliced hash brown potatoes cooked on the grill and fresh sliced tomatoes. Their tomatoes are especially good and usually purchased at the Farmers Market in downtown Jacksonville.

For our Yankee friends, try the great Philly Cheese Steak Omelet stuffed full of steak, mushrooms, onions and peppers. $7.95 It comes with hash browns or grits and toast. The wonderful southern Hash Brown Potato Casserole that we got instead is so worth the extra $2.50 It’s made with shredded potatoes, cheese and cream of mushroom soup. We may or may not have scraped every last bit of it off the plate. This was one of our guilty pleasures of the morning.

Our favorite of the entire gastronomical adventure were the Pumpkin Pancakes. To. Die. For. These are a December special usually made with pecans, although on this day we visited ours were made with walnuts which were great, too. $4.95  Thick and rich, we wouldn’t let the waitress remove the plate hoping we would have room to go back to them after our smogasborg.  We found ourselves taking bites between other dishes because they were that good. Our dish were accompanied by three strips of very thick and hearty bacon. $2.25 The Galley’s bacon is one of their signature items, and they cook up more than 100 pounds of it a week. This is the last week to get these awesome pumpkin pancakes. On Christmas weekend they will be replaced another special: Red Velvet Pancakes with Cream Cheese Icing. Oh my. These I’ve gotta try. (They will only be available for that weekend.)

The Galley’s Cuban Sandwich is made with slow-roasted pork marinated for several days in the Spanish spice mojo. It remains true to the simple traditional recipe: pork, mustard and dill pickles between grilled flattened bread. My pacing  plans went out the window when I ate half of the sandwich, it was that good.

Now here’s a hearty sandwich! The BLT Club Sandwich is made with ham, turkey, provolone cheese, bacon and tomato. $6.95 If that’s too much sandwich for you, try the regular BLT Sandwich which is a Galley signature item that brings in a lot customers. $4.95 All sandwiches come with a choice of French Fries or cole slaw. A few menu items we did not try but that piqued our interest were the Pimento Cheese Omelet made with homemade pimento cheese.$6.95 Chef Becky makes hers with roasted red peppers rather than pimento. Or you can have it as a sandwich. $3.95 There’s a Beach Breakfast made with fried fish of the day as well as eggs, grits or potatoes. $8.95 The LocoMoca is a hamburger steak on a bed of white rice topped with brown gravy and a fried egg on top. $6.95 The  Galley also offers soups, salads, a large side order menu and daily specials.

They Galley is definitely a restaurant I want to revisit. After all, there are some red velvet pancakes with my name on them.

Open Tuesday – Sunday , 6 am – 2 pm
(The Galley will be open Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. It will be closed the Tuesdays following Christmas and New Year’s Day. )

14603 Beach Boulevard
Jacksonville, FL
(904) 992-8040

 
 

Cracker Jax Jacksonville restaurants

If you’d like your restaurant to appear in “Food Porn Friday,” please contact Cam Brown at cambrownjax@gmail.com.  I’m scheduling restaurants now for 2011.