Sunday, December 12, 2010

Neomonde

Neomonde is literally the best Mediterranean food in town (voted by Independent Weekly in 2006). One visit and I was hooked (which then forced me to go twice in one week)! They have two fabulous locations, one in downtown Raleigh, and one in Morrisville. 

All of their dishes are homemade, even their pita breads (the sesame one is my favorite!). They have daily hot specials and cold salads, and of course, the usual dishes you would think of when you think of Mediterranean cuisine (the best hummus in town, amazing baba ghanouj, fresh tabouli, etc.).

My favorite is their Zaatar Pie. They take their specialty pita dough and treat it almost like a pizza. They then add their special Zaatar blend of thyme, sumac, sesame seeds, and other spices in olive oil. Then, you have the option of making your pie "delight" by adding hummus or baba ganouj (I've tried it both ways and they are both delicious), lettuce, tomato, olives, pickles,  and banana peppers, topped with their special lemon-tahini dressing. It's an absolutely amazing combination of flavors, all wrapped up in one dish!
Zaatar Pie is at the top, one of their platters is at the bottom.
Another nice thing is that you can make your own platter, choosing four sides. It's a great opportunity to try many different things. Their hummus is the most authentic I've had outside of the Middle East. It has the perfect touch of garlic and tahini, and is lemony with fresh parsley, to give it that extra touch. Seriously, you can't go wrong with whatever you choose. After a fabulous meal, make sure to take some containers home to put together your own delicious lunches over the next few days. 


Don't forget to pick up one of their many baklavas and other Mediterranean desserts for the road. 


I also love that Neomonde doubles as a market where you can pick up any Mediterranean ingredient that you could imagine, which really makes it a one-stop-shop for all your Mediterranean needs. 


You really can't go wrong with Neomonde.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fresh Vietnamese Spring Rolls


You know those fancy Vietnamese spring rolls you get at restaurants that are so delicious? Well, believe it or not, they aren't as difficult to make as they may seem! I first had these at a friend's house. We served them family style and everyone made their own rolls. It was so much fun and so delicious, I had to make the whole meal again myself. I made it with Salmon, but you can make it with shrimp, or really any protein or veggie ingredients that you would like. And while typically you'll find spring rolls served as an appetizer in restaurants, these are delicious as the main course. They only take 20 minutes or so to make (or however long it takes the fish to cook, as that takes the longest)! Healthy, filling, and fun to make...you'll really enjoy these! So here we go...


First, I baked the salmon. Just crack a little salt and pepper over the fish, a spritz of lemon and pop it in the oven to bake (typically at 425degrees for 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and thickness of the fish). You can also oven-poach the fish or cook in any other way you like...a miso marinade would also be delicious!


While the fish was cooking, I made the dipping sauce so the flavors could marinade together while I was preparing the rest of the meal. I created the sauce by taste, so here are my approximate ingredients:


1/2 Cup Peanut Butter
1 Garlic Clove chopped and mashed into a paste
3 Tbsp Okonomi or Hoisin Sauce
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce
1 Tsp Sriracha (or other chili-garlic paste)
1 Tbsp Sesame Oil
Spritz of lime or lemon juice
About 1/4-1/2 Cup of water to thin out the sauce to desired thickness


Combine all ingredients until smooth and serve at room temperature (you can make the day before and refrigerate, just be sure to pull it out plenty of time before serving).


Then, I boiled water for the rice vermicelli noodles. I'd suggest about a handful of uncooked noodles per two people. It only takes two-three minutes for the noodles to cook.


Finally, I prepared the lettuce leaves and cut a cucumber into thin sticks. If you'd like, I bet these would also be good with herbs like mint and cilantro or scallions...get creative!

When the fish was cooked and all the ingredients were prepped, it was time for the fun part...putting it all together!


Using rice paper spring roll wrappers (which you can find at any Asian Grocery or probably even your local store), roll the stiff wrapper in warm water until it is completely wet (but not soaked). As the wrapper sits on your plate, it will get softer so just start loading! I first put a lettuce leaf on the wrapper and took a helping of the noodles to spread down a line. I'd suggest lining everything up slightly off center so you can get a good roll going. I added some cucumbers and grabbed a few pieces of fish to put inside as well. 


Once I was satisfied with the contents of my spring roll (be careful not to over-stuff it!), I started rolling, just like rolling a burrito! The rice paper will be softened by then and you won't have any trouble. Make sure you wrap it tight, but be careful to to rip it! The rice paper sticks to itself but if you are having trouble getting the paper to seal, stick a finger in the warm water and rub it on the end to make it close. I typically fold up one side before rolling the entire roll so everything doesn't fall out, but whatever works for you!


Then, dip it in the peanut sauce! If you're up for some extra spice, add extra sriracha and enjoy! 


It's a lot of fun to make, and perfect for an interesting, hands-on dinner party!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Brasa- Brazilian Barbecue

I love Brazilian Barbecue. My dad introduced us to the wonderful world of Brazilian Barbecue when he was traveling back and fourth to Brazil practically every other week (we almost moved there once). You have to be a major carnivore to like it. Real Brazilian Barbecue consists of every part of every animal cooked in multiple ways. One of my favorite Brazilian BBQ restaurants of all time was called Barbecoa and was located in Omotesando, Tokyo, Japan. I loved it! So when I find a new Brazilian Barbecue restaurant, I have to try it. 

Which brings me to Brasa. It's a Brazilian Steakhouse in Brier Creek. It has a great ambiance that's perfect for a date, and big enough for a carnivorous group party. But it's not all meat. There is an option for their salad bars filled with salad fixings, pasta salads, grilled veggies, even sushi! It's all you can eat and is accompanied by a hot bar with cheesy mashed potatoes, black beans, fried bananas, and more. 

Cold Salad Bar
With your meal, you also get the staple Brazilian cheese bread at your table. It's my favorite! Gooey Manchego cheese baked right into these little bread rolls makes for a soft and chewy, cheesy bite. It's the best. 

Cheese Bread
Then, of course, there's the meat. When you're ready, you flip over your little marker to green. In Brasa's case, it's a rock painted red and green. Green means bring on the meat! And red means you're stuffed. Then your servers will bring around skewers of different meat cuts cooked in a variety of ways. Brasa has over 12 cuts of fire-roasted meat. Everything from ribs to garlic sirloin to sausages and chicken hearts. My favorite (and the specialty of Brazilian steakhouses) is the Picanha.
Picanha

They ask you how you like it and will bring each meat cooked to your taste. Once you've tried them all, you can request your favorites. And don't forget to save room for the cinnamon grilled pineapple. It's sweet and delicious.

If you love meat, you have to try a Brazilian Steakhouse. And if you're in Brier Creek, check out Brasa. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Two Cotton Puffs at Ganyard Hill Farm

When my family and I wanted to go pumpkin picking, we picked Ganyard Hill Farm and it was a great choice (even though we were there with every elementary school class this side of the Mississippi)! The farm was very pretty and it was a great place to learn and experience some farm life...perfect for children and still fun for adults. There were a lot of different things to do.


Meet Cotton:
Cotton
Cotton is the resident greeting rabbit and an adorable little puff of fur. You're allowed to pick it up and play with it. Cotton was just precious (and properly named)! 

In addition to Cotton, there was a fenced off area with animals you could pet and feed (you can shuck your own corn with these awesome antique hand cranks to feed the animals!). My favorite four-legged friend was one of the resident pot-bellied pigs! They just crack me up.


 The second cotton puff referred to in this post's title was a literal cotton puff. Ganyard has a cotton crop and they allow people to pick their own cotton. 

We met one little girl with a whole bag of cotton. When we asked her what she was going to do with it all, she said she was going to "make a teddy bear!...or maybe a kitty..."

Mom checking out the cotton
What I thought was really great about Ganyard was that everywhere you went, it was a learning experience. Near the cotton fields, there was a large sign showing the different stages of cotton growth that you could then see first hand as you walk the cotton field. I thought that was a great addition to the general farming experience.


They also had the growth cycle of a pumpkin taking it from Spring planting to carving your Jack-o-Lantern.

After learning about how your pumpkin "grew up", you can walk through the large pumpkin fields to pick out your perfect soon-to-be jack-o-lantern!
 Ganyard's Farm also has multiple mazes at this time of year. A maize maze in addition to a Sorghum and Soy Bean maze for the tiny tykes (so the parents and teachers can still keep an eye on them). 


And what kind of pumpkin farm would Ganyard's be if there weren't a hay ride? So of course, we had to try it out...
My mom and brother on the hay ride
And don't forget to stop in the shop on your way out and pick up some homemade jams, pickles, pickled okra, and fresh honey! It's all fantastic!


Ganyard Hill Farm is a great fall family destination (with a lot of great photo opportunities). I'd highly recommend you take the kids on over there for a fun-filled learning experience.





Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Fare at the Fair

Me and The Fam at the fair!
When you think of the fair, what comes to mind? For me it's the animals and, of course, the food. So while my family was in town this past weekend, we decided to see what was going on this year at the NC State Fair. And, of course, get our fill of the fabulous fair food...and by fabulous, I mean the kind of food you can only get at the fair and are very thankful that it only happens once a year because it's a heart attack in a day's worth of eating! 
 
But first, the non-edible attractions (although that's probably arguable for some of them, but you get what I mean). We entered the fairgrounds near the botany displays and competition results. I was pleasantly surprised at the use of QR codes, being the ad/tech junkie that I am. It was a great way to find out more information and integrate technology in an agricultural (and otherwise seemingly contradictory) setting.  

I also loved some of the local attempts at advertising. A fertilizer that is just bagged manure (in cow-printed packaging) and a knock-off of Chick-fil-A's ads...let's just hope there isn't a huge rights infringement case going on here (sorry, my account management just came through a little bit there)...but you have to give them credit for the humor-factor.

But as boring as it may be to some to see the jumbo veggies, twisted gourds and blooming flowers, I think it's really fun to look at all the beautiful colors and interesting shapes and sizes of everything! 

Then, there are all the farm animals. They're just precious. I just love seeing the cows, baby chicks, and adorable little piglets.

And then, of course, there's the food. The second you open your car door, you can't help but smell the smokers and fryers working away. Seriously, I start craving some key fair fare when it starts getting cooler but I really am thankful this food isn't available to me all year round! And there are so many different things, I couldn't even attempt to try them all!

My favorite is the smoked turkey legs. Yum! They are so good, although the medieval, feasting-king look is very unflattering.
Smoked Turkey Leg
My second favorite thing and a must-have is the roasted corn. But not just any roasted corn, the roasted sweet corn! Add a little seasoning salt or Old Bay and it's fantastic!
My brother is making fun of me for how much I'm enjoying this...
For dessert, some sort of fried something will do. I'm not one for any of the fried candy bars (because as much as I have a sweet tooth, I do have a sweetness threshold and those things would surpass it!), but mom had to get an elephant ear. One trend I noticed this year that I hadn't really seen before was adding a topping to your elephant ear. Everything from fruit toppings, fudge, and Bavarian Cream. My mom couldn't pass up the last one.
Mom eating an Elephant Ear with Bavarian Cream
The Krispy Kreme Burger!
But the big food attraction at the fair that I just couldn't bring myself to stomach (especially after getting all the usual foods that I crave) was the Krispy Kreme Burger...yes, you read that correctly. A hamburger sandwiched between two Krispy Kreme donuts. A nice man, and my newest friend, lovingly let me take a picture of his Krispy Kreme Burger. Taking a picture of it was as much of a taste as I wanted.


Another item that would make most people cringe was the Kool-Aid Pickles. Yes, sour pickles soaked in red Kool-Aid (the actual flavor of Kool-Aid - strawberry or cherry-  is still TBD). My brother just had to try it...yuck!


And to top it all off, there are the shows. My favorite being the racing pigs, but don't forget the Country concerts and of course, the dancing competitions. We ducked into one tent with the clogging and tapping competitions and oh boy, was that an experience! People age 9 to 90 dancing to Blue Grass music. It was hilarious and frightening all at the same time. 


 
Clogging
Here's a little taste of some other contestants in the Clogging competition:
video

If you haven't been to the fair yet, you have to go. It's always a fun experience...not to mention one of the most fulfilling people-watching experiences. For everyone in NC, make sure you get to the fair before it packs up on October 24th! 








Sunday, October 10, 2010

Brixx

Margarita Pizza
Brixx is a brick-oven Pizza restaurant chain, which doesn't seem like a chain. They have a unique collection of wood-fired pizzas that branch off from the original, expected topping combinations. My personal favorite is the Pear and Gorgonzola pizza with carmelized onions and toasted walnuts. It's an unusual, but absolutely fabulous combination of flavors atop a rustic, thin-crust pizza! 
Pear & Gorgonzola Pizza

They also have delicious Italian appetizers as well as pastas, sandwiches and salads for those who aren't in the mood for pizza.

So if you're tired of the usual delivery/take-out pizza joints, give Brixx a try. 

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

PSA: Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Consider this my personal Public Service Announcement because October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, which is near and dear to my heart.

Millions of women have been diagnosed with breast cancer. There were over 207,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in 2010 alone...2010 alone! That means practically everyone knows someone who has fought this battle.  The American Cancer Society estimates that the chance of women getting breast cancer is 1 in 8...1 in 8! It is the most common cancer in women in the United States and the second leading cause of cancer death in women.

Early detection is everything. That means, if you do it no other time except for right now, please make sure you remind your mother/sisters/daughters/aunts/cousins/grandmothers/friends/co-workers/in-laws/girlfriend/wife/neighbors/etc. to schedule their annual mammograms. 

These precautionary measures save lives. It saved my mother's...

My mom and dad, the weekend they told me she had breast cancer.
Mom in her cute wig during Thanksgiving 2007
During a routine annual mammogram in 2007, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. After three major surgeries and multiple chemo treatments with the most amazing strength and an inspirational attitude, she was able to beat this dreaded disease.

So please, make your appointments and remind every woman in your life to talk with their doctor. 

Spread the word so we can stop the spread of this disease in its tracks!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dos Perros

Dos Perros is a Mexican restaurant in Durham, inspired by traditional taquerias.

As I swear is necessary in every Mexican-style restaurant, we ordered the guac. It was really great. Simple and delicious, with just the right amount of onion (which I think many places overpower the guac with...Dos Perros minces the onion so you don't get big chunks in each bite) and a slight kick. The salsa that was also served was a great surprise, although I must admit that it caught me off-guard when I took my first bite. Instead of the usual tomato salsa, this salsa had fruit pureed into it (it has not been confirmed, but it seemed like mango...or maybe peach?), which was a fantastic treat. The sweet and spicy was a perfect combination atop a salty, freshly homemade chip and smooth guacamole.

Another appetizer, that as soon as I saw it on the menu I knew I couldn't pass it up, was the sweet potato empanada with a chipotle, fig sauce. Another great spicy/sweet combination. The empanadas themselves were delicious. The outside empanada shell was infused with chipotles to bring out more of the smokey, spicy flavor of the dish. The chipotle, fig sauce was an unusual but delicious complement.

As for the main course, they keep it simple. The carnita burrito was stuffed with their twice cooked chipotle pork, rice, beans, Oaxaca cream, and their unique pico de gallo, which includes lettuce and cucumbers in a sweet vinegar to add to the traditional pico de gallo flavors. The tortilla was soft but crispy from the grill. The meat was tender. It was a great meal. 


If you're looking for an authentic, taqueria-style Mexican meal, you definitely need to try Dos Perros.