Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Varanese Part Deux

So quite obviously I stink at keeping up with my blog. Food blog wonders such as My Baking Addiction, Teenie Cakes, and Chocolate & Zucchini put me to shame (not to mention all their GORGEOUS photos!) However, I still like to talk endlessly about food, so I will continue on, no matter how intermittently.

Varanese Caprese Salad
July is the month of my birthday, and I got to have some wonderful eating adventures in celebration of said birthday. The best perhaps being my birthday night meal with the hubby at Varanese. Yes, I already wrote about them, but it was so good, I snatched the LivingSocial deal that came up after Supper Club’s outing and dragged him to it.

We have a convert people!

Beef Tips and Tortellini
I started with their special salad, a twist on a caprese. Mixed greens, thinly sliced tomatoes, and a cheese that was smoky, sweet, and unbelievably dense, all drizzled with a balsamic glaze. Absolutely delish! For our entrees, I ordered the Beef Tips & Tortellini (tossed in a gorgonzola cream sauce, with baby spinach, grape tomatoes, and toasted pine nuts, topped with crispy prosciutto) and he ordered the “V” Burger (char-grilled grass-fed beef topped with smoked mozzarella, crispy prosciutto, and Chef John’s V-12 sauce). We both loved them! Mine was the perfect balance of the gorgonzola with the steak and pasta, and the pine nuts added a great crunch. He absolutely raved about his burger, quickly devouring it and sopping up the rest of the V-12 sauce with his fries.

Small Bites Dessert
Soon after, the jazz duo played “Happy Birthday” for me, and our server brought out their Small Bites dessert, which had (clockwise from left) a chocolate bar with the Varanese logo, a small cup of what we were told was blueberry waffle ice cream (kinda tasted like a mild cookie dough), and a dense peanut butter caramel brownie. While they were all good, they didn’t knock my socks off. One of their dessert specials that night was a grilled peach with vanilla bean ice cream and blueberries…so we ordered that! When it came out, we saw two peach halves with a gooey scoop of rich ice cream, all swimming in a caramel sauce. It was out of this world! We ate every bite and loved it.
Grilled Peaches with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Afterwards, a stroll on the waterfront to watch the sun set was in order to burn just a few of the calories we had consumed, and then home to drop into a deep food coma. Absolutely perfect evening.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The Mint Julep

I realize the fastest 2 minutes in sports came and went a month and a half ago, but given my last post, I felt I was duty-bound to type up a tutorial on how to fix a proper mint julep at home.  Few cocktails are as loved and hated as the mint julep.  I personally love them...when they are done right!  If you have only had a mint julep at a certain racetrack and gagged on the contents, I don't blame you a bit.  Watered down, weak bourbon, and little mint ensures a lousy julep.  But you can make one at home that is tasty and will get you pretty toasty in minutes, and it is an excellent way to use up the mint taking over your garden!

The most labor-intensive part of a julep is the "simple syrup."  Although it really is simple, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water brought to a boil on the stove, then let it thicken a bit.  That's it.  But this is where I differ from most julep recipes you will find.  When I take the syrup off the heat, I drop in a small bunch of mint leaves and let it steep.  This will give the syrup a slight greenish tint, and the aroma of mint will be amazing.  (I might add, not a bad start to a mojito either!)  I prefer to get the mint flavor this way, rather than the muddling technique usually mentioned because the mint becomes more prominent in the finished product.  After it's steeped for a bit, remove and discard the mint, and keep any syrup not being used immediately in a covered container in the fridge.  It should keep up to a week.  When you're ready to have a julep, fill a glass with crushed ice (a plastic zip bag and the flat side of a meat tenderizer works well), pour a tablespoon or so of syrup over the ice, add bourbon to taste (I make mine VERY strong, but some people don't like much bourbon...I hear there are associations that can help with mental imbalances like that), and top with water if you want (I don't).  Give it a stir, and garnish with a sprig of mint and a short straw. 

What's that?  You don't want to make a whole cup of simple syrup?  You think that despite my expert tutelage you still won't like juleps? Well, okay, then take 1 tablespoon of sugar, and about a half tablespoon of water and put it into a microwave-safe glass.  Zap it for about 20 seconds and give it a stir until all the sugar is melted.  Drop in a couple mint leaves and leave it until it cools.  If you want to strengthen the mint flavor, you could muddle the leaves with the back of the spoon.  After the glass has cooled COMPLETELY, fill with the crushed ice and proceed with the bourbon (Maker's Mark is an excellent choice), water (optional, i.e., unnecessary), and sprig of mint.  Give it a good stir to get the syrup up from the bottom of the glass.  (I know some people would say use powdered sugar, but I just don't care for it.  I can't put my finger on what it is, but it tastes off to me.  It's granulated or nothing.) You can play with the proportions and make it how you like, but for me, this is always a fool-proof julep, and makes a very pretty one, as you can see.

How about you?  Love juleps or hate them? 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


A little belated in posting this, but c'est la vie.  It is still the month of May, and May was "V" for Supper Club...Varanese it is.  I was excited to try another new place, and had heard great things, so I figured I was in for a treat.

I was right!

It was a very warm and humid May night.  When I arrived, some of the ladies already had cherry blossom mint juleps, a house specialty, and fresh bruschetta was on the table (not sure if it was complementary or if someone ordered it).  I decided to give the juleps a try, being a huge mint julep fan.  (Some of you are cringing right now, but if you've only had them at the track, don't judge, those are premixed and terrible!  But that's a whole different blog post.)  I can't imagine anyone not liking Varanese's take on the classic Kentucky cocktail.  Fresh, light, just a bit fruity and sweet, with a nice base of bourbon.

We all laughed and chatted for a while, enjoying the elegant yet casual ambiance of their outdoor patio.  I was facing their slate wall with softly lit water cascading down and enjoying the live jazz duo who were unobtrusively playing in the background.  I basked in this mellowness long enough that I needed another cocktail, and this time I went with their mojito.  By FAR the best mojito I have ever had.  Not overly thick or sweet, just balanced between all the flavors.  A perfect accompaniment to a summer weather meal.

Complimentary breadsticks were brought to the table and enjoyed by all.  A decadent mix of garlic butter and parmesan was baked into each piece, making any type of dipping sauce or spread superfluous. 

Looking over their menu, I was hard-pressed to choose just one entrée, they all sounded amazing.  I finally settled on one of the nightly specials, lightly seared Ahi tuna served on a bed of risotto, greens with roasted artichoke hearts, and heirloom tomatoes.  It was a pricey meal, but when it came out, I was amazed at the portion.  Had I gotten a salad, it easily could have fed me and another person.  The tuna was perfectly done, the risotto creamy perfection.  My only slight disappointment was the tomatoes, which essentially tasted like any hothouse tomato, not heirloom or home grown at all.  But the greens were a nice mix and very lightly dressed (I discovered I REALLY don't like fennel!)

Afterwards, all of us decided to order a couple desserts and share.  I chose the mocha crème brûlée and one of my friends selected the fried banana with oatmeal cookie dough ice cream.  Both were absolute sinful heaven!  The crème brûlée was huge, served in a latte mug, and the fried banana was a good-size portion as well.  Everyone got to sample a little of each and we all loved it.

I highly recommend Varanese for a romantic dinner or just to hang out with some good friends.  I'll have to convince the hubby to go soon!

Friday, April 15, 2011

You ate WHAT?

I joined all the ladies for supper club last night, and this month we're on "U."  The selection was Uptown Cafe and, of course, being me, as soon as I learned where we were going, I just HAD to look up the menu.  Even before getting there, I was drooling.  They have an amazingly eclectic menu, for everything from appetizers and salads to entrées.

I got there at 6:30, and was just slightly put off that it's very unclear of who to approach to either get a table or to find out where your reserved table is, because there is no greeter's stand.  But the gentleman I found was very nice, so it was well-recovered.  After sitting down and visiting with everyone for a bit, we decided to try a few appetizers.  The Black Bean Cakes with tart cherries, almonds and a chipotle mayonnaise ($4.95), the Baked Brie in Puff Pastry with red currant jalapeno jam and fruit ($8.95), and the Escargot with garlic butter, Parmesan cheese and puff pastry ($8.50) were all selected.  The escargot was my selection...

Just the idea of snails...really...not appetizing.  But, for only $8.50 and not having to shell out over $30 for an entrée since it wasn't a fancy French restaurant was just too good to pass up, and I thought some of the other ladies would be a little adventurous with me.

When all the appetizers came out, they all looked delicious, even the snails!  They were served in a traditional ceramic escargot dish, and each one was bathed in a wonderful mixture of butter, garlic, and parsley.  Topping each was a small piece of puff pastry that had baked until it was just golden brown.  You just scoop up the bite and eat.  Wow!  Amazing flavor, not anywhere near as chewy as I was expecting.  I would describe it as the texture of a steamed oyster, and not far off from the flavor either.  Overall, I would definitely order it again.  The brie was absolute heaven.  The amount of pastry around the cheese was perfect and the fruits on the plate were crisp and fresh.  I also loved the jalepeno jam drizzled on the brie, added a nice spicy/sweet note to the salty brie.  The black bean cakes were probably my least favorite, although they were still good, they just weren't anything too exciting.  They were presented very well on what I'm guessing was fried spinach.  It was crispy and just crumbled in the mouth, but it was a very interesting and light texture against the heavy bean cake.

For my entrée, I ordered the Basa Fish Tacos with chipotle slaw and pico de gallo ($8.95).  The slaw was tasty, the fish was tender, and their pico de gallo was excellent.  However, putting it all together with the corn tortillas, it was just dry!  Another one of the girls ordered the same thing and we agreed that it just needed something else.  So we asked if they had any sauce that would be appropriate.  The server recommended their remoulade sauce.  When she brought it out, it was tangy, dilly, overall yummy and added the perfect extra layer of flavor to the tacos.  It wasn't thick like a mayo-based sauce, it was more like a tzatziki with the thinner, tangier bite of a yogurt sauce.  If you go, ask for it right off and save yourself a number of very dry bites.

Uptown Cafe was definitely a winner, and I'd like to go back again and try the asparagus and roasted beet salad, as well as the duck ravioli.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Weekend Frittata

You ever have those weeks where you are just craving the same thing again and again?  It's been that way for me and eggs this week.  I have no idea why.  Tuesday I had a slice of quiche for lunch out with coworkers, Thursday on my day off I made eggs Benedict, and this morning it was a frittata.  I had to share the yumminess.

Frittatas can be made with pretty much anything you have, and I've written about my love of a margharita style, but this morning, I wanted to use some sliced baby bellas I had in the fridge.  Building off that, I chopped up an onion and sauteed them together, then added some chopped deli ham.

I whipped six eggs with a couple tablespoons of shredded colby-jack with a few dashes of salt and pepper, and poured it over everything else in the skillet.  Just let the eggs cook slowly in the pan until the edges start to get set, about 8 minutes or so, DON'T STIR!  I sprinkled about a 1/4 cup more colby-jack, then put the whole pan in a 425° oven and let it bake for 7 minutes.

When it came out, it was puffed, slightly golden and delicious!  Now I have yummy leftovers for a light lunch today, or breakfast tomorrow, as well!

Monday, February 21, 2011


All the Supper Club girls got together recently, and this month's choice was Seviche.  I was thrilled to be heading there because I've always wanted to go, but there is not one thing on the menu that I think hubby would eat.  :-(

BUT!  I went, I savored, and I SO want to go back!  As soon as we sat down, they brought out slices of Blue Dog Bakery Bread and fresh butter.  In Louisville, you can never go wrong with Blue Dog bread!  I started with the Spinach and Roasted Pear salad.  It's described as having seasonal berries, Capriole goat cheese, black walnut, and balsamic mustard dressing ($9).  It was delicious!  The goat cheese was velvety and the dressing had just the right amount of kick and bite to balance the sweet of the strawberries and pears.  I have to say I didn't really notice the walnuts, they were crushed, but that was nice because at least they stick with the salad rather than having to scoop them up separately.  One of the girls next to me had the soup special, a chipotle potato soup and gave me a taste.  I was pleasantly surprised.  I am not a fan of chipotle, but this wasn't over the top smoky.  Just enough to give some dimension to the potato, and there was a nice, slow burn of heat at the back of the throat that warmed you up nicely.

For my entree, I decided to try the 3 seviche tasting ($25) so as to get an opportunity to sample the menu.  I ordered the Oyster "Bloody Mary" Shooters (Miyagi Oysters, Tomato, Horseradish, Absolut Peppar Vodka), the Tuna Taquitos (Wasabi Lime Mustard, Yuzu, Local Microgreens, Avocado, Bluegrass Soy Sesame Powder), and the Line Caught Ahi Tuna (Sesame, Scallion, Coconut, Ginger). am in heaven!  The oysters had to be the best I've had.  Smooth, buttery, and melt in your mouth.  They were served in shot glasses and the liquid surrounding them was essentially a fresh gazpacho.  I sipped rather than shot, until the end to get the oyster out of the glass.  The taquitos were really mini tacos, but absolutely huge in taste.  They were served on a bed of seaweed which was deliciously briny and very mild.  The taquitos were the least spicy on the plate, but packed plenty of flavor.  The Ahi Tuna was very spicy, but delicate and fresh.  I only wished for a spoon to scoop up all the juice I couldn't get out of the saucer. As you can see, the presentation was wonderful and worth every penny.  I can't wait to go back!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Chicken Lettuce Wraps

Ever find that one thing at a restaurant that you absolutely LOVE, but don't want to go broke eating there all the time?  Yeah, I'm like that at nearly every restaurant.  But usually, it's just not the same making it at home.  Once in awhile though, you get lucky.

That's how it is for me and my homemade lettuce wraps.  I fell in love with the flavor of the wraps from Yang Kee Noodle at Oxmoor Mall here in Louisville, so I decided to give it a shot at home.  I haven't done a side-by-side taste test, but regardless, these are pretty darn good!

Louisville Food Geek Lettuce Wraps

1 lb. ground turkey/chicken
2 t chopped ginger
1 med. onion, chopped
1 can sliced water chestnuts, chopped
2 T lime juice
2 T stir fry sauce
1 t garlic powder
4 T Ken's lite Asian Sesame dressing, divided
1/2 t ground ginger
Iceberg lettuce

Sauté onion and chopped ginger in cooking spray until almost translucent.  Add lime juice and 2 T dressing.  Stir.  Add water chestnuts and meat and stir until cooked through.  Add stir fry sauce and remaining dressing.  Season to taste with garlic and ground ginger.  Serve with lettuce leaves.

If you can't find the dressing in the store, you can make do with 1 T Hoisin sauce, 1 t fish sauce, 1 T soy sauce, and 1 T oyster sauce and increase the chopped ginger a bit (just taste it, you can't really go wrong).  I mix up 1 T lime juice and 1 T soy sauce in a small ramekin as a dipping sauce.  This will make a large meal for 2 people, a normal meal for 4, or a perfect appetizer for 6-8.