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Archive for April, 2012

My spring break: Cooking with dietary restrictions

I write this knowing I will be waking up at an ungodly hour in the morning, packing my car full of as many teenage girls as I have seat belts and joining a small caravan to the Florida Panhandle.

My wife and I made the foolhardy decision to chaperone a group of 16 11th-graders during spring break. Other parents will be staying nearby, but we’ll be the ones sharing the beach house with this brood and cooking for them every night.

This must be doable. I remember my parents’ generation going through massive Old El Paso taco kits whenever more than 10 children needed food. But I’m afraid that ship has sailed.

Of the 16, we have one garden-variety vegetarian, one strict vegan and one who eats fish but nothing higher on the phylogenetic tree.

We have a couple of kids who do not let fish cross their lips but love all kinds of meat.

And we have three kids who do not tolerate gluten because of celiac disease or other diagnoses.

I am assuming this beach house will be equipped with …

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Homebrew chronicles, part 4: The sweet taste of success!

homebrewFor those just joining my first foray into homebrewing, check out Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 for the rest of the process. Or, if you just want to read about me drinking beer, please continue…

Since I bottled my beer, I’ve been like a kid on Christmas Eve. If Christmas Eve were two weeks long.

For the last few weeks, my stash of bottles has been tucked away in the corner of our guest bedroom undisturbed, if you don’t count my daily check-in to make sure none of them exploded. By far, the worst part of homebrewing is the waiting and the anticipation.

My recipe recommended that I wait about two weeks after bottling before tasting my beer, but what are the odds that I would hold out that long?

Curiosity got the better of me somewhere around day 8. I snuck into my guest bedroom like anyone else cared or was looking, snagged a bottle, and chilled it. It was the moment of truth. As I wrenched off the cap I heard the familiar pop that told me I had carbonation. So far so …

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Richard Blais to star in new Bravo series ‘Life After Top Chef’

blais

Credit: Concentrics Restaurants

Bravo TV announced a slew of new green- lit shows that will hit the airwaves in the near future, and one of Atlanta’s own will be back on the airwaves. (Ok, two of Atlanta’s own if you count the Real Housewives of Atlanta spinoff, The Khandi Factory, but I have no time for that drivel.)

Life After Top Chef will profile four Top Chef alums and how their lives have changed after their stints on the flagship competition cooking show. Included in the series are Jen Carroll from Philadelphia, Fabio Viviani from Los Angeles, Spike Mendelsohn from DC, and Atlanta’s favorite Top Cheftestant, Richard Blais.

The announcement comes as no surprise, as the chefs have all been spotted with not-so-inconspicuous camera crews following them around as of late. It comes as no surprise that Blais made the cut, as he was immediately a fan favorite on both of his TC seasons. While the details of his portion of the show have not been released, I assume that we …

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Restaurant inspections, WW the Boss’ Bar B Que

WW the Boss’ Bar B Que in Decatur scored in the 70s range on two recent food safety inspections, falling below the restaurant’s previous A-B range.

The restaurant located at 2504 Candler Road faced citations for storing raw meats above pre-cooked chicken in the cooler. Other infractions were related to improperly installed floors, plumbing issues and uncleanliness, according to the report.

The restaurant was also advised on a repair that falls under the pest and animal control category.

“Rear door at the top has large area of visible daylight. PIC [person in charge] advised that no daylight should be visible and this is an entry point of pests,” the inspector wrote.

For comment on corrective actions, no one answered repeated telephone calls to the number listed for the restaurant.

Here are more recent restaurant inspections scores from across the metro area.

Clayton County

  • Golden Gate Chinese Restaurant, 4353 Jonesboro Road, Forest Park. 81/B
  • Heritage Cadillac Cafe, …

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STK Restaurant Review, Midtown

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If only I were an animagus from the world of Harry Potter. I’d transform into a mouse and crawl into a sparkly clutch bag that some young woman places on the bar at STK. From this vantage point, I’d watch as her girlfriends arrived, all wearing flowing crepe mini-dresses and high-wedge sandals. They would gather for a round of libations called “Not Your Daddy’s Manhattan” ($14), the mix of bourbon and vermouth turned Cosmo-sweet with the addition of fruity Licor 43.

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

John Kessler is the chief dining critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

From my hiding place, I’d follow them as they trailed behind a tall manager wearing a fitted suit and a Secret Service-style listening device coiling to his ear. He’d usher us past a wall mural composed of scores of plaster steer horns to a scalloped white leatherette booth in the dining room. All eyes would turn.

The ladies would order a second round of cocktails and shrimp rice krispies ($14) — a clever …

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Grace 17.20 Restaurant Review, Norcross

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Myth: Chain restaurants offer a better value.

This is but one of the ten myths Grace 17.20, a contemporary American restaurant located in Norcross, works tirelessly to dispel. Named after a bible verse (“… Nothing will be impossible for you”), this spot opened in 2004, one of the first upscale independent restaurants in the area. Despite opening to a fanfare of positive press, the restaurant still faces the pressure of operating in an area where chains dominate, hence the glossy brochures entitled “Top 10 Myths about Grace” enclosed with each bill.

Review by Jenny Turknett

Review by Jenny Turknett

Apparently, the “myths” list was created to entice foot traffic from stores at the Forum, the open-air shopping mall where Grace 17.20 is located. While not the lone independent eatery in the complex, the restaurant competes with chains like Ted’s Montana Grill, California Pizza Kitchen and J. Alexander’s.

Myth: Only for special occasions.

Myth: Must be really …

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Eric Wolitzky, new pastry chef at Cakes & Ale

courtesy of Cakes & Ale and Green Olive Media

courtesy of Cakes & Ale and Green Olive Media

Score one for Atlanta pastry. Eric Wolitzky, widely known for his appearance on the first season of “Top Chef Just Desserts,” recently joined the team at Cakes & Ale as its new pastry chef.

Wolitzky, a New York native, grew up in a family of bakers. His grandfather and other extended family members were at the tail end of their baking careers as he was growing up. Wolitzky learned techniques from them and worked in bakeries off and on as a teen. Then, he abandoned baking for higher education, earning his Masters in cultural studies from NYU.

Of his pastry background, Wolitzky says he “ignored it for a while.” Eventually, he realized his calling and attended the French Culinary Institute. He then worked at Baked in Brooklyn, where he focused on what he calls “comfort desserts” and presented a modern take on classic American desserts.

On “Top Chef Just Desserts,” Wolitzky earned repeated praise from judges Gail …

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Making natural Easter egg dye

Egg dyes made from blueberries, beets, tumeric, onion skins and more.

Egg dyes made from blueberries, beets, turmeric, onion skins and more.

It’s that time of year again — time to dye Easter eggs. Most years, we pack dozens of eggs in the car and head to grandma’s house, where we meet up with the cousins for a good old-fashioned egg-dyeing party.

The kids play while we hard-boil all those eggs, each adult offering their own advice for minimizing egg crackage. We’ll plop dye tablets into oval cups, making them fizzy with vinegar. We try different decoration techniques and effects each year — wax stripes, rubber bands, tie dye and the like.

This year, we took an alternate approach by making natural dyes from foods. While the eggs simmered away, we chopped and boiled the vegetables that would lend their color for our egg festivities.

When it was time to start the fun, I tried to introduce a quick lesson on each of the foods used to make the natural dyes. We discussed, examined, smelled and (some) tasted these items.

Here’s what we tried …

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Restaurant inspections, Cafe Todahmgol

Café Todahmgol in Duluth is known for its Korean cuisine. Recently, its food safety inspection scores dropped well below its normal high-level range to a 67 (U) before rebounding to a 94 (A).

During the follow-up evaluation, the restaurant owners were encouraged to block customer access to food items. The owners “must provide a lock on door to freezers and coolers in hallway across restrooms. Food must be protected from contamination,” the inspector wrote, noting it as a new violation.

The other violation the inspector cited during the re-evaluation was related to storage of items: “Bulk products removed from their original packages must be labeled with the common name of the food.” This violation was corrected while the inspector was on site, according to the report.

For a response on retraining and corrective actions implemented to avoid dipping below standards again, the manager was unavailable for comment after repeated telephone calls.

According to the report, …

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North Dakota Dreaming…

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Well, I guess I can cross North Dakota off my 50-state bucket list because here I am.

The idea for this unforeseen trip started forming last month as my editors monitored the hullabaloo surrounding a review in the Grand  Forks Herald of that town’s new Olive Garden. Penned by Marilyn Hagerty, the paper’s 85-year-old restaurant critic, this review went viral — piling up more than a million clicks in just under 10 days.

“You know, Kessler, you’ve never had a million-click review, ” one editor said to me. “Not even close.”

By day’s end a group from corporate had called a meeting to see if there were any possible way we could cash in on this phenomenon.

“What if we send Kessler to every Olive Garden in metro Atlanta?” one bigwig suggested.

“Yeah, but he’s such a foodie snotbag, ” another retorted. “He doesn’t like anything that doesn’t have kale and weird Spanish cheese on it.”

“Hey, I’m right here, ” I said.

But I was shushed as everyone …

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