Green Goddess Dressing (and revisions)

Ina Garten’s green goddess dressing is by far my favorite salad dressing, and I like to use it on everything. However, the first time I tried making it, I followed the directions online exactly, and it was too salty and overall just bad. So here’s the recipe along with a few tips for making it yourself.

  • 1 cup good quality mayonnaise
  • 1 cup chopped scallions (equal parts green and white)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tsp chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp anchovy paste
  • 2 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 cup sour cream
Put all the ingredients except the sour cream into the blender and blend until smooth. Add the sour cream last and blend again. Refrigerate until you use it.
My first problem was the salt. I actually added a bit less than suggested and all I could taste was salt, even with the sour cream in it. Instead, blend the ingredients without the salt, sprinkling it in a bit at a time. Blend, taste, add and repeat until it tastes right. Remember that the anchovy paste can add both saltiness and flavor.
Another problem was that I couldn’t taste the scallions at first, so I recommend starting with the 1:1 basil/scallion ratio, but be prepared to add some more scallions for a bit of extra flavor.
The lemon juice flavor can also be a bit overpowering so it’s another ingredient that I start with about half the recommended amount, then add more to taste once all the ingredients (minus the sour cream) have been added. I personally go with about the juice of half of one large lemon.
Although some of the advice has to do with personal taste, I definitely recommend going light on the salt for anyone. Two 2 tsp is just way too much.
The original recipe also calls to pair the dressing with a simple bibb lettuce and tomato salad, which I’m sure tastes delicious, but this dressing pairs really well with salads that have some sort of fruit. My favorite is pairing apricots and blueberries together, but strawberries, raspberries and blackberries all taste great, too. A bit of goat cheese and crushed up nuts of any kind give the salad a unique texture. And a sprinkle of green onions/scallions brings out the flavor in the dressing, too.
Anyway, I hope you enjoy and I hope you find the perfect ingredients for you.
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Fantastic Entertainment Compensates for Uninspired Food at Jerusalem Garden – Asheville, NC

I really wanted to like Jerusalem Garden in downtown Asheville.

Really. I did.

Mediterranean and Moroccan-inspired dishes, a few doors down from the delightful Kathmandu, belly dancers, live music and seat cushions instead of chairs. What is not to love?!

Well, the food.

I guess I should add a disclaimer that my first visit to Jerusalem Garden was two nights after they offered a Groupon (which I bought) that offered $44 to spend on an appetizer and 2 entrees for $20. They were pretty busy, with a 40 minute wait and lots of reservations, but frankly, there wasn’t once when the tables were full. So I’m not sure where all these people were who reserved the tables. But in their defense, perhaps the food was lacking because they were busy with the Groupon.

That said, I will probably never return to find out. No matter how entertaining the music and belly dancer were, there was too much wrong with this place to make me come back. I ordered a Turkish blush wine, and when the waitress was bringing it to me, she actually stopped at two other tables to ask if they had ordered it. She only had 4 tables, and we were the 3rd one she asked.

We ordered our appetizer and entrees together to hurry up and get our order in. Of course, maybe we shouldn’t have rushed since literally five minutes later, our food came out. Both the entrees and the appetizer. The hummus was served with no pita, but I assumed the pita on our entree plates was for the hummus, so I dug in. It was fine. It was hummus. And that’s about all there is really to say about it. I ate more because I wanted hummus, and after all, it wasn’t bad, just nothing great.

I should mention that my boyfriend got the special: the lamb shank. He was served a huge leg of lamb with a few extra slices of lamb. He said it tasted like roast beef which he was delighted about, so perhaps the lamb shank is delicious.

My entree, the house-made (??? really?! It tastes like the boxed kind I buy at the grocery store) couscous in a tomato-herb sauce served with vegetables and the shrimp I requested, was OK at best. I was excited that they gave me an ample amount of medium sized shrimp – much more than restaurants in this price range typically serve. However, when I tasted it, I was really disappointed. The tomato sauce had little flavor, and the sauteed vegetables were no different than the fresh squash and zucchini I make at home (for about $1). And as you can infer from my commentary on the couscous, it was nothing special.

As I’m picking off the tails of my shrimp, I notice the waitress stopping at every table asking if they had ordered a side of pita, at which time I realized that was our side of pita, intended for the hummus we were served ten minutes prior alongside our entrees. She was flaky to say the least. Extremely nice, but it was really disappointing to get our food all out of order.

The entertainment was fun, and it wasn’t so loud that you couldn’t hear others talk. However, I’ve been to a few restaurants with belly dancers, and I found it a bit tacky the way they had the dancer openly dance with a basket for tips. I feel like the tips should be split with her anyway, kind of like the chefs who “perform” at Japanese hibachi restaurants.

Anyway, it’s a fun experience if you’re looking for somewhere to go and have fun. If you love this type of food, I suggest you pass because this place is quite a disappointment for anyone who regularly eats Moroccan and/or Mediterranean food.

 

Recommended: No, unless you’re just going for the belly dancing

Overall Rating: 5/10 (And that’s mostly for the entertainment)

Pricing: It’s expensive, especially considering the mediocre quality. Appetizers are around $6-$8, and salads are even more. The average entree is about $15, with vegetarian dishes being less and lamb dishes being more. The portion sizes aren’t that great, either.

Simple, Tasty Meals at Blue Sky Cafe in Fletcher, NC

I wasn’t really feeling like any sort of food tonight (no Italian, Indian, Thai, etc,) so we went looking on TripAdvisor for something nearby and non-international. What we found was a homestyle restaurant up in Fletcher called Blue Sky Cafe. They promise Creative family dining where there is something for everyone. Promise fulfilled.

What really convinced me was the $9 salmon and extensive vegetarian menu. In fact, on the website, they had a whole section dedicated to their vegetarian and vegan options. I saw the pictures on the website, and it looked like a simple family diner. And that’s pretty much what it is when we got there. The location and decor aren’t anything special, but they offer indoor and outdoor dining. Nothing fancy on the walls or tables – you even get your own menu and seat yourself. The focus is on good service and good food, so don’t expect anything fancy if you decide to visit.

The menu is extensive to say the least. A variety of foods seemed to be influenced by international dishes (a bean bowl with chips, or a hummus appetizer,) but the food is, for the most part, distinctly American.

We started off with a fried ravioli appetizer that comes with 6 small fried cheese raviolis served with a pesto dip and a marinara dip. Both sauces were tasty, but the pesto was pretty perfect. I even kept it to put on the rest of my food! The ravioli was also cheesy and flavorful with just the right amount of crunch.

For my meal I got the salmon plate which appeared to be a pan-seared filet of salmon served with 2 sides of my choice. I got a side caesar and some onion rings. The onion rings were fantastic – perfectly crisp, sweet onion inside, and tasty breading. The salad had a lot of tomatoes, but it was small, the lettuce wasn’t shredded up much (I’m talking whole leaves of lettuce in the salad – very inconvenient) and the  dressing tasted like it came from a bottle. The salmon was tasty. A bit crisp on the outside and moist on the inside, served with a light tzatziki sauce. I actually preferred using the pesto, but the tzatziki was good nonetheless.

My boyfriend got chili, a burger and fries. He says it was good, but the chili wasn’t spicy or anything special. The fries were pretty tasty, though, but I’m a sucker for fries.

I really liked the restaurant. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t fancy, but they served good food and the prices were extremely reasonable. The fried ravioli is fantastic and so are the onion rings. I liked the salmon a lot, but I’ll probably sample their many vegetarian options next time. This is a great place to stop for casual dining and delicious food.

 

Recommended: Definitely

Overall Rating: 7/10 (I’ll bump it up if the rest of the food is as good as the ravioli!)

Pricing: Entrees are all under $10, although there’s some up-charges for premium sides. The sides are between $1-$3 on their own.

 

A Toast to Honey Wheat French Toast

I love breakfast food. Especially French toast. But I usually feel like there’s something missing, regardless of how many spices I add to my batter. (Vanilla, nutmeg almond extract and cinnamon, please!) But after making some French toast of my own with whatever bread I had lying around, I realized what it is was that bothered me.

The bread.

Most restaurants use white bread, sourdough toast or, if they’re trying to make a healthy option, a simple whole wheat bread. I just happened to have some honey wheat bread in the house – the type with a bit of grains and stuff – and I think it had just the right texture for satisfying, filling French toast.

And here’s the real surprise.

I got the bread from Target. It’s Archer Farms honey wheat bread. We actually got it because my boyfriend absolutely hates bread that has grain, nuts, etc. in it. As it turns out, there’s just the right amount of nuts and grains in the bread to make perfect French toast.

If you choose to try some nutty honey wheat bread to compliment your favorite French toast recipe, I recommend trying honey instead of maple syrup. It perfectly compliments the nuttiness and it’s a milder sweet than syrup.

Himalayan Dishes at Lower Altitudes at Kathmandu Cafe – Asheville, NC

Kathmandu is a hidden gem in plain sight. Easily passed over because of it’s outer appearance, this restaurant shouldn’t be judged on looks alone. Once inside, it looks more like a traditional Indian restaurant but wide open and welcoming. But none of this really matters when you consider the fact that it’s the only place in the area where you can feast on Nepali food.

Letters next to the dishes indicate where the dish is from (T = Tibetan, I = Indian, N = Nepali), but you’ll have to ask servers about the spiciness since it’s not marked on the menu. Our waiter was fantastic and extremely knowledgeable about the menu, making suggestions and letting us know what was mild and spicy. Unfortunately, there aren’t too many spicy options for vegetarians, but what they lack in heat, they make up for in flavor.

I ordered the Aloo Bodi Tama which is a mixture of potatoes, black-eyed peas and bamboo shoots in a fragrant Himalayan curry sauce. It was very mild, but the sweetness and spice mixture popped with the heartiness of the potatoes and black-eyed peas. We also got an order of garlic naan which was warm, freshly baked and not over-poweringly garlic flavored.

My boyfriend had one of the specials – a lamb dish baked with vegetables and served with a yogurt sauce on the side. It didn’t come with the curry or masala broth that most Indian dishes come with. Apparently it was flavorful nonetheless, and it came highly recommended by the waiter. If there’s a vegetarian version of it, I’ll definitely be trying it next time.

If you’re adventurous, this is a great place to go and try something new.

 

Recommended: Yes

Overall Score: 8/10

Price: Breads and sides are a few dollars each, most entrees are around $12 except for lamb dishes

Snapper Chowder non-Recipe

I had some really tasty salmon chowder (well, my boyfriend did . . . and I stole some) at a place called Pomodoro’s last weekend, and I got the idea to use the red snapper in my fridge to make something similar.

I called this a non-recipe because I don’t really go by recipes, I just kind of add ingredients until they taste right. There’s no measurements, just the ingredients and suggestions of the order in which to cook things. I started with this:

  • butter
  • flour
  • condensed milk
  • shredded cheddar cheese (optional – if you like cheese taste; or, switch out cheeses like swiss for a mild cheese taste, etc)
  • red snapper, cut into cubes
  • chopped yukon gold potatoes
  • diced green onions
  • diced carrots
  • diced sweet peppers
  • minced garlic
  • dried mustard
  • minced dill
  • white pepper
  • garlic powder
  • paprika
  • salt
  • vegetable broth
  • lemon pepper seasoning (for the fish)
  • lemon (about half of one)
I started out poaching the red snapper, seasoning the water with some lemon pepper just to give it some extra flavor. Once it was done, I set it aside.
Using a large pot (that I sprayed with Pam!), melt about 1/3 – 1/4 stick of butter on low heat. Slowly add flour, constantly stirring (I use a fork, it keeps everything separated better) to make the base of the broth. You can really add however much you want depending on the desired thickness.
Next, add the vegetable broth and continue stirring, being careful not to let the flour clump. Raise the temperature of the broth, gradually bringing it to a boil. I began adding the spices during this time (dried mustard, salt, white pepper, paprika, garlic powder) to get a base started for the broth.
Add the condensed milk, stirring. The soup should be pretty thin at this point. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon – and taste it to make sure it’s not overpowering (or underwhelming!)
Sprinkle in a bit of cheese (optional) in to give it some added thickness and a hint of cheese taste.
I added my potatoes at this point because they take the longest to cook. I prefer cooking them straight in the soup, but you could always cook them separately and add later. If you chop your carrots into chunkier pieces, add them now. I like small bits of carrots so I added them later.
Lower the temperature and continue to stir until the bubbles have gone away and it’s cooled down a bit. By this point, it should have thickened up a bit. If it hasn’t, you can add more cheese or more flour*, depending on your preference.
Once it’s stopped boiling, add the remaining vegetables (green onions, sweet peppers and carrots if they’re small) as well as the garlic. While it’s at this temperature, you can taste it to see what seasonings you need a bit more of. I like a lot of white pepper and a fair amount of paprika in mine.
Let it simmer for a bit before raising the temperature one last time. Add the dill (not too much since it’s such a strong flavor,) then bring it to a boil.
If you want any more cheese in your soup, add it while it’s boiling so it melts properly and mixes with the soup broth.
Lower the temperature and once it’s below a boil you can add the snapper. I let it sit for another 15-20 minutes at least to let the snapper soak up the flavor of the soup, and for all the flavors to come together.
I know it’s not an exact recipe, but if you like to experiment, this should be a great start. I just wanted to share it because it came out really delicious. Enjoy! 🙂
**Note: I’ve never actually seen a recipe that says to simply add more flour after you’ve begun cooking, but I’ve done it a thousand times and it always works. I don’t know if this is the “correct” way of doing it, but as long as you sprinkle it in a bit at a time and stir! stir! stir! it works.

Mediterranean Cuisine Fit for a Sultan at Aladdin’s Eatery – Boardman, OH

OK, no picture because this review is really from about a month ago, but . . .

Here’s the thing. Aladdin’s is my all-time favorite restaurant, and has been for several years. I got a chance to eat there last month when I went home to visit, and I realized that it was more than deserving of a rave review on my blog. I promise my memory is just as fresh as if I’d eaten there yesterday!

The location of Aladdin’s Eatery is unassuming and even difficult to find, but the search is well worth it. Tucked away in a shopping plaza across from the Holiday Inn, the interior might not look like much, but the food is outstanding. They used to have several plastic magic carpets (actual magic carpet size) hanging over diners as they ate, but as of late, they’ve chosen a simple flower adorning the table instead. (I kind of miss the carpets)

When you first look at the menu, you may be overwhelmed by the numerous pages, and seemingly endless dishes. It almost made me question whether they could really pull of so many different dishes successfully the first time I dined there, but now, after 50+ visits, I rest assure that they can cook just about anything. With pages of appetizers and even more dedicated to entrees (including wraps, pitas, shishkabobs and plenty of vegetarian options), it can be difficult to choose just one thing. But fear not, the prices make it affordable enough to try plenty of food.

One of the best (and cheapest) meals on the menu is a combination special called the Flavor Savor Special. It comes with Chicken Mishwi, Beef Kafta, rice, Lebanese salata topped salad, hummus, falafel and pita on the side. Not bad for under $10. It’s recommended by all the very-friendly-very-attentive servers, and I’m told the meat is as delicious as the items on the plate that I have tried.

My favorite dish is the Jasmine’s Favorite which consists of a bed of rice with cooked carrots, peas, onions and potatoes, flavorfully seasoned with the option to add chicken tawook, chicken mishwi, chargrilled tuna, Lebanese salata, lamb, or shawarma shishkabob. I always get it with the hot sauce which is fifty cents extra and recommended for almost anything you order here. The spices are flavorful and distinctly Lebanese, with a strong vinegar-like taste and plenty of spice!

Aladdin’s also offers a number of typical Mediterranean and Lebanese appetizers like hummus, baba, tabouli, falafel and stuffed grape leaves (dawali). The portion sizes are quite big, and the food is delicious. And the grape leaves contain no meat, so they’re perfect for vegetarians.

Another menu I must recommend is the Tropical Storm smoothie. They have a large selection of fantastic smoothies, teas and other drinks, but the Tropical Storm takes the cake. I believe it contains banana, pineapple, mango, milk and honey, but whatever it is, it’s delicious. If you order one, it’s sure to be gone before the food comes out!

If you’re in the area, this is a must-stop foodie find. It’s mostly frequented by locals who know where to find it, but I urge anyone to stop by for some of the best and freshest Mediterranean food anywhere!

 

Recommended: YES YES YES!

Overall Rating: 10/10 (for the food!)

Prices: Specialty drinks are between $2-5; Appetizers including soups and salads are between $5-7; Most entrees are between $8-13, with lamb being a bit more expensive