killing time between meals

where talking about what's for dinner while you're at lunch is totally acceptable


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Dear Italy: A Photographic Love Letter to Seafood and Carbs

Just one week ago I was far, far away in a fairy-tale land. A place where eating pasta twice a day is not only accepted but expected. A land of corner cafes and breakfast pastries and gelato galore. A country that romanced me through fluffy carbs and fresh seafood, wooing me to never leave. Here’s the full story.

The Journey: Rome to Florence to Naples to Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi to Capri to Rome

The Journey: Rome to Florence to Naples to Sorrento to Positano to Amalfi to Capri to Rome. Whew.

In Florence taking in the views from a rooftop cafe

The Partner in Crime: Caroline and I in Florence taking in the views from a rooftop cafe.

My first lunch upon arriving in Rome: mixed seafood salad

My lunch upon arriving in Rome: the first of many mixed seafood salads. I gazed at some ancient fountain while I ate this. But you don’t care about seeing that, do you?

locals

Dinner that night was on my own. The hotel recommended a little trattoria around the corner called Antica Boheme. I was seated next to a table of six locals, only one of whom barely spoke English.

 But this man insisted that we communicate. He also insisted that I order the carbonara, so I did. And by the end of the night we were such good friends that they paid for my dinner. I love Italians.

It wasn’t this man, but he insisted that we communicate. He also insisted that I order the carbonara. So I did. By the end of the night we were such good friends that we were all sitting at the same table and they paid for my dinner. I love Italians.

First pasta in Italy: carbonara. The Italian version of bacon is much more like country ham, FYI.

After meeting up with Caroline in Florence, we had an epic dinner. Epic because I ate this entire pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella.

After meeting up with Caroline in Florence, we had an epic dinner. Epic because I ate this entire pizza topped with prosciutto, arugula, and fresh mozzarella.

And then I ate this entire tiramisù. I have no shame.

After a late night, we started the next day with coffees at Il Porcospino. One of the waiters has friends in Arkansas and even called the hogs for us. Small world.

Then he told me I would have the fried squash blossoms. So I did.

That night we had a traditional Tuscan meal at Trattoria Cibreo. AKA there was no pasta on the menu. But this sweet server steered us in the right direction. He also told us that he was once in love with a girl from Tennessee. How precious.

We started with the most amazing polenta I have ever eaten.

We started with the most incredible polenta I have ever eaten. It was creamy and oily and salty and cheesy. Just look at all that parmesan.

Then I had this pork chop that was stuffed with a  rosemary concoction. And those creamy potatoes were divine. DIVINE I tell you.

Then I had this pork chop that was stuffed with a rosemary concoction. And those creamy potatoes were divine. DIVINE I tell you. If you are ever in Florence, I highly recommend this little eatery.

The next day we were on to the Amalfi Coast. No place is more beautiful. This was taken in Positano, just a bus ride away from our hotel in Sorrento.

This day also happened to be Caroline's birthday, so we decided to celebrate with—what else—dinner. Ristorante Bagni Delfino started us off with the best bruschetta I've ever had. Seriously.

This day also happened to be Caroline’s birthday, so we decided to celebrate with—what else—dinner. Ristorante Bagni Delfino in Sorrento started us off with the best bruschetta I’ve ever had. Seriously.

My main course was a seafood risotto that was looking back at me, but I didn't mind.

My main course was a seafood risotto that was looking back at me, but I didn’t mind. I ate every bite.

We finished our meal as we watched the sunset into the sea.

We finished our meal watching the sunset into the Tyrrhenian Sea.

The next day we stopped for lunch in Positano at Buca di Bacco. As we looked out onto the water, I enjoyed this homemade tube pasta with baby shrimps, walnuts, capers, and parmesan.

After lunch and shopping, we got on the bus to Amalfi. After much Trip Advisor searching, we decided to go to Gerry's Pub for dinner. It was a long bus ride to the top, but the views and Gerry were worth it.

After lunch and shopping, we got on the bus to Amalfi. Through much Trip Advisor research, we decided to go to Gerry’s Pub for dinner. It was a long bus ride to the top (and we almost got lost since the sweet little man we asked thought we said “cherries” and tried to take us to a fruit stand), but the views and Gerry himself were worth it.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

I had homemade seafood pasta.

I had homemade seafood pasta.

And then a seafood salad because I was still hungry.

And then a seafood salad because I was still hungry.

Gerry really liked us. He played Kenny Rogers and sang "Ruby" to me.

Gerry really liked us. He played Kenny Rogers and sang “Ruby” when we told him we were from the south. Apparently we didn’t want to leave because we missed our bus. Luckily we caught the last one and headed back to Sorrento.

The Isle of Capri! And I ain't talking about a casino.

The next day we were off to the Isle of Capri! And I ain’t talking about some silly casino.

23capri

After a boat ride around the island, we had a caprese salad and this was our view.

Dinner was back on the mainland at La Fenice which Caroline had read made amazing gluten free pizza. So we went. And it was delicious. I started with the mussels.

Dinner was back on the mainland at La Fenice which Caroline had read made amazing gluten free pizza. So we went. And it was delicious. I started with mussels with garlic and parsley …

And ended with the gnocchi. Those fluffly pasta pillows were delightful.

… and ended with the gnocchi in a mozzarella and tomato sauce. Those fluffly pasta pillows were a delightful last bite of Sorrento.

Back in Rome we found our favorite restaurant, Flavio Al Velavevodetto. These servers, Simone and Sergio, made it great.

Back in Rome we found our favorite restaurant, Flavio Al Velavevodetto. These servers, Simone and Sergio, made our dinner an authentic Italian experience.

We started with zucchine scapece (marinated zucchine) which I am totally going to try to make. It was lightly fried and heavily flavored.

We started with zucchine scapece (marinated zucchini) which I am totally going to try to make. It was lightly fried and heavily flavored. I am always amazed at the way something so simple can be so good.

Then the pièce de résistance for me—handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a cherry tomato sauce. People, pasta in Italy does not get any better than this.

Then the pièce de résistance for me—handmade ravioli stuffed with ricotta in a cherry tomato sauce. People, pasta in Italy does not get any better than this.

I finished dinner with a creamy tiramisù.

I finished dinner with a creamy tiramisù.

Our last day in Rome included many sites and two unforgettable meals.

Our last day in Rome included many sites and two unforgettable meals.

After wandering around the Trastevere neighborhood, we stumbled on a quaint lunch spot. I started with yet another seafood salad.

After wandering around the Trastevere neighborhood, we stumbled on a quaint lunch spot. I started with yet another seafood salad. It was my last, but perhaps the best.

Next I polished off this plate of spagghetti cacio e pepe, which is essentially pasta with cheese, oil, and pepper. You could add something, but why would you want to?

Next I polished off this plate of spagghetti cacio e pepe, which is essentially pasta with pecorino, oil, and pepper. You could add something, but why would you want to?

A few hours later, we had seen some sights and were ready to eat again. But even with three maps on the table we couldn't figure out where to go for our last dinner in Rome.

A few hours later, we had seen some sights and were ready to eat again. But even with three maps on the table we couldn’t figure out where to go for our last dinner in Rome.

So we went back.

So we went back.

Since the menu changes daily, we had a completely different experience. But a wonderful one nonetheless. I enjoyed a hearty plate of seafood risotto.

Since the menu changes daily, we had a completely different experience. But a fantastic one nonetheless. I enjoyed a hearty plate of seafood risotto.

Followed by this chocolate torte.

Followed by this chocolate torte.

By the end of the night we had made friends with the table next to us and the entire staff. What a wonderful last supper.

By the end of the night we had made friends with the table next to us and the entire staff. What a wonderful last supper.

Ciao, Italy. Until we meet again!

Ciao, Italia. Until we meet again!

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Thai One On

How delicious is Thai food? Warm, spicy noodles, loads of fresh veggies, and peanut sauce. Oh, glorious peanut sauce.

The Smiling Elephant has become my favorite Nashville Thai spot. Located only a few blocks from my house, this authentic Thai restaurant is cozy and addictive. The cute owner (who built the place himself) generally takes to-go orders and acts as the cashier, all while wearing this adorable T-shirt.

I decided to try my own hand at a little Thai cooking when I came across a super simple recipe for Thai beef cups. So easy. So yummy. So making this again.

Thai Beef Lettuce Wraps
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 3-4

3 teaspoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon sugar
3 limes
1 ½ tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon water
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
½ red onion, sliced vertically
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
Green leaf lettuce, rinsed & dried (or cabbage if you prefer)
Dry-roasted peanuts, finely chopped if you like

  • Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add 2 teaspoons oil to pan. Cook ginger and garlic for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add beef and brown.
  • Whisk together remaining oil, sugar, the juice of two limes, fish sauce, water, and red pepper in a large bowl. Add the beef mixture, onion, and cilantro. Toss well.
  • Fill lettuce leaves with beef. Top with peanuts and serve with lime wedges.


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Salt Lake City Eats

A couple weekends ago, I had the opportunity to explore Salt Lake City, UT. I could not get over how lovely the city was—the mountains, the architecture, the cleanliness, and (of course) the food.

View while driving

After touring the impressive (albeit a little eerie) Temple Square, Les Madeleines was the first stop on my culinary list. Every city guide I read mentioned this French patisserie café and their famous Kouing Aman (pronounced “Queen Aman”). Described to me as “a croissant’s hot, older sister,” the buttery, crunchy, flaky pastry did not disappoint. I was just in time, too—the shop ran out of them while I was munching on mine, and it wasn’t even 10:30 am. Several patrons left empty-handed and some call-in orders did not get filled. I, however, walked away in a dreamy sugar coma with cookies in my purse.

Kouing Aman

Lunch was much-needed after trekking about 5 million miles (you know, if I did the math right) to the 9th and 9th area—a cozy corner of neighborhood shops and restaurants. Mazza Middle Eastern Cuisine was the cool oasis I needed.

Personally, I’m not that familiar with this type of fare outside of falafel, tabbouleh, and hummus. But the menu included detailed descriptions and my server was super helpful in making selections. I opted for the sampler plate, which was an excellent way to try three dishes for only $10, and I chose well! Rich and creamy hummus, warm ful mudammas (a thick mash of fava and garbanzo beans), and muhamara, which was like a zesty, orange, Middle Eastern pesto paste made from ground up walnuts and lots of spices. Everything was served with warm pita bread and cool, crisp lettuce for dipping. This meal put me in a very happy place.

Clockwise from left: Muhamara, Hummus, Ful Mudammas

My final stop was Red Iguana, which turned out to be some of the best Mexican food I’ve ever eaten. And you know that’s saying something. Along with perfectly thin chips, smoky salsa, and chile con queso that looked like Rotel dip (not that there’s a thing wrong with that) but tasted even better, I got to test a mole sampler of seven unique flavors. One made with pumpkin seeds tasted like fall, another was thick and chocolaty, some were spicy, some were mild. The sampler was all over the place in a really good way, but I ended up opting for the Cochinita Pibil based on the server’s recommendation.

This Red Iguana signature dish was a huge hit with me. The tangy, tender, slow roasted pork had the texture of thick pot roast and was delightful wrapped in toasty flour tortillas.

All in all, Salt Lake City was beyond what I imagined. Not only was the setting exceptionally beautiful, but the food was so well-rounded. French, Middle Eastern, Mexican—who would’ve thought I’d experience such a cultural variety of cuisines in a place known for their conservative white people?


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First Visit to the Restaurant Supply Store

Charlotte Avenue is peppered with many lovely Nashville dining establishments. French treasure Miel sits just behind the beloved Bobbie’s Dairy Dip. And a few streets away there’s Coco’s Italian Market which I know has fabulous pizza and I hear has a delicious dining-in experience. These restaurants, along with several other ethnic eateries, might be the best motivation to venture west, but I have just discovered another reason—the L&L Restaurant Equipment store.

A plethora of commercial pots & pans, dinnerware, and heavy machinery sit inside. If you were opening a diner, it’s the place you’d go to buy things like plastic baskets, Parmesan cheese shakers, and napkin dispensers. The good news: This business is open to the public, and you can get restaurant-quality cookware at dirt cheap prices. The bad news: There is no AC up in this place! Just one fan pointing directly at the checkout girl. Even while you’re paying you get no breezy relief. So, I managed to escape before having heat stroke with four items which cost me $20 total.

I purchased a glass liter carafe for chilling iced coffee ($5), a ladle for dishing up soup ($3), a stainless steel turner to use with my cast iron ($3), and a heavy-duty baking sheet to replace the ones I currently have that scare the crap out of me every time they get hot and buckle in the oven ($8). Not too shabby, eh? I probably could’ve made out with more goods, but I could not take the heat so I had to get out of the kitchen supply store. I have a feeling I’ll be back. Probably just not until October or so.


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Sushi of the South

Living in a landlocked state doesn’t always make for fresh seafood. But I love, love, love snacking on crustaceans, mollusks, and other aquatic fare. So between coastal visits, a girl’s gotta get by, and the Red Lobster isn’t gonna cut it. Luckily for me, there are a few choices around the Nashville area. And when it comes to sushi, I’d say Samurai Sushi is one of my best options.

Of course I start with a house ginger salad, because it’s what you do. But this ginger dressing is so good. It’s thicker and creamier than most, and I find it downright drinkable.

But the real reason I show up is for the Volcano Roll, introduced to me by MKR.

This roll combines avocado, tuna, asparagus, and just the right amount of cream cheese. Sitting on top is their Dynamite Roll filling, which is a basically a mountain of spicy crabmeat. Let’s take a closer look.

Mmm … crab … I will be going back for this soon! I can’t seem to stay away due to all the cravings.

Side note: Who do you think was the first person who looked at a crab and thought to himself, I’m gonna figure out a way eat that thing? A brave soul, I tell you. But I sure am glad he did.

And speaking of crabs, watch these 150 million Christmas Island crabs migrate and have babies. Totally makes me feel better about the 13-year cicada swarm that’s gonna happen to us this month. Nature is so weird and fascinating.


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How loose is your goose? (This goose is totally loose.)

It’s been said that good things come in small packages. And when it comes to East Nashville gem Silly Goose, I’d say this is one restaurant that truly fits that clichéd bill. With only four tables, I put off a trip to the Silly Goose for a while since it can be a bit of a logistical nightmare, but this weekend Christi and I arrived at just the right time with no waiting. (We also learned that SG is expanding, so they will probably be closed for most of May, but it will be totally worth it. Still charming, but easier to navigate.) Stepping into the SG feels a bit like stepping into an illustrated fable. Christi had the roast beef. I had none. But I did have the Lyle’s Surprise, which is one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten (hot cappicola, thommé cheese, arugula pesto, basil, shaved fennel, & balsamic syrup on rosemary focaccia). It will be incredibly hard for me not to order the exact same thing on my next visit, but there is so much to try! And Christi assures me that everything is as delicious as my Lyle. I trust her.

Aside from their inventive sandwiches, drinks & ice creams, SG is known for their couscous, which you can get as a fancified entree or as a side. The best part? You can get a little couscous and a little salad as your side. How great is that? I love options where I get to try more food. These locavores use organic, sustainable ingredients, and they even press their own carrot, beet, etc. juice right in front of your eyes! Very fresh. Very impressive. Very, very good.

Christi and I cleaned our plates. And we were so full that we just had to get dessert. We ordered the Sweet Jane—cinnamon cannoli with orange and honey cream filling, shaved dark chocolate, and blackberry sauce. Light, crispy, creamy, tasty goodness. I can’t wait to try one of their snazzy house-made ice creams next time.

Don’t be silly—get yourself to the East Side and try this fantastic eatery. And if it’s busy, don’t let that deter you—order something to go.

Watch out Marché! The goose may just give you a run for your money in my favorite lunch spot hierarchy. This food makes you want to shake your caboose. (Yeah, shake your caboose.)


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The Art of Artichokes

One of my current obsessions is artichokes. And since I’ve been ordering them all over town, it seems I accidentally entered myself in a local artichoke-off.

Contender #1: J. Alexander’s Steamed Artichokes
Served with a rémoulade, these were nice and salty, but something was missing. It was too plain. (BTW—their site shows a photo of a grilled artichoke, but when I ordered it, the thing was just steamed. Promise. Also, there’s not a menu available online. What’s that about? Psh.)

Contender #2: City House‘s Steamed Artichokes with Crab Dip
I thought the crab dip would come on the side, but it was all right on top. The concoction of creamy dip & fresh artichoke topped with crunchy breadcrumbs was tasty, but it was a little awkward to eat. I wasn’t sure if I should pull the leaves off and dip them, or just eat the dip with a fork to get to the heart of the matter. It was too much.

Contender #3: Bricktop’s Grilled Artichokes
Grilled with butter and/or olive oil, these artichokes came with a salty-charred flavor, plus aioli and drawn butter for dipping. It was juuuuuust right! My bestie Amy (who has good taste in food and design, as you can see from her blog) and I have gone back many times simply because we are craving this.

Bricktop’s version was the clear winner, so I wanted to try and recreate it at home. I found this recipe that I tweaked ever so slightly. The result was divine! I cannot wait to make & eat these again. So simple. So delicious.

Garlicky Grilled Artichokes
Makes 4 servings

2 large artichokes, trimmed, halved & chokes removed
2 lemons
3/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
Salt & ground black pepper
1 tablespoon butter, cut into 4 pieces
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • Fill a large bowl with cold water, and squeeze the juice from one lemon into it. Trim the tops off the artichokes, cut them in half lengthwise, and scrape out the fuzzy choke with a spoon. Place the halves into the bowl of lemon water to keep them from turning brown.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, heat an outdoor grill to medium-high heat.
  • Add artichokes to boiling water, and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and refrigerate until you are ready to grill.
  • Squeeze the remaining lemon into a bowl. Stir in the olive oil, garlic, and salt & pepper.
  • Using a brush, coat the artichokes with the garlic dip. Grill the artichokes for 5 to 10 minutes, basting with dip and turning frequently, until the tips are slightly charred.
  • Place a small cube of butter in the center of each hot artichoke half. Sprinkle artichokes and remaining dip with parsley, and serve immediately.

Here are some photos of the process. Enjoy!

Next time, I think I will:

  • Not share these with anybody.
  • Maybe look for a stuffed version that I can broil in the oven and get the same charred goodness.