Khachapuri, Georgian Cheese, Bread and Egg Awesomeness


I could be Georgian. According to a 2009 survey, 88% of Georgians prefer khachapuri to pizza. If being Georgian meant that I would always get to consume a dish filled with runny rich eggs, doughy baked bread, and gooey cheesy deliciousness, then dammit, call me Georgian. By Georgian I don’t mean that state north of Florida either, I mean the Republic of Georgia located right in the middle of Europe and Asia. Such simple yet fabulous cuisine.

I ran across a recipe from my favorite blogger, Lady and Pups, specific to this dish. It took me a while to get around to making it with baby Arya monopolizing so much of my time these days. It is a pretty tall order to add new recipes to my repertoire being a new dad and all. Really the dish is as easy as could be, if you’ve made pizza before you can make khachapuri. You prepare a dough, make a thick bechamel laced with tons of cheese, form the dough, spread some salty oily tapenade on the dough, fill with cheese mixture, bake and top with a raw egg yolk, at least that’s the version I made. Depending on the region, the make up of the dish will vary, just like pizza. Heh.

You can adapt this any way you please and it will be phenomenal. I added some pink peppercorn on top along with the grated nutmeg.

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-note to self, I NEED TO MAKE THIS AGAIN SOON!

Here are the steps I used from Lady and Pups (note I separated this into 3 portions and baked them on my Baking Steel):

THE DOUGH:
    • 1 cup + 2 tbsp (270 grams) whole milk
    • 2 tsp instant dried yeast
    • 2 tbsp (27 grams) olive oil
    • 3 cups (400 grams) bread flour
    • 1 tsp sugar
    • 1/2 tsp salt
THE CHEESE FILLING:
    • 2 tbsp (28 grams) unsalted butter
    • 2 tbsp (16 grams) all-purpose flour
    • 3/4 cup (183 grams) whole milk, cold
    • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg, plus more to top
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
    • 4 cups (320 grams) of equal parts of shredded gruyere, gouda and dried mozzarella cheese
    • 4~6 tbsp store-bought or homemade tapenade/black olive pesto
TO FINISH:
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • Chili flakes to sprinkle

Instructions

  1. TO MAKE THE DOUGH: Warm whole milk in the microwave for 40~50 seconds until it’s warm to the touch (but doesn’t burn, around 110F/45C). Stir in the instant dried yeast and let sit for 10 min until dissolved, then add the olive oil to the milk. In a large bowl, or stand-mixer bowl with dough-hook, combine bread flour, sugar and salt. Add the warm milk-mixture then knead for 3 min until the dough is soft and elastic. Cover the bowl with plastic-wrap and let proof for 2 hours at a warm place until doubled.
  2. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and divide in half. Fold the dough over itself a couple times, then shape them into 2 balls. Cover with plastic-wrap or a large bowl, and let proof again for 30~40 min. The dough should expand again but not doubled.
  3. TO MAKE THE CHEESE FILLING: While the dough is proofing, cook/stir unsalted butter and all-purpose flour in a pot over medium heat for 1 min. Add the cold milk and whisk the mixture continuously until it starts to simmer and thicken. The consistency should be like mayonnaise. Add the grated nutmeg then season with a bit of salt and black pepper. Let the sauce COOL COMPLETELY, then evenly mix in the shredded cheese (the cheese should not melt). Set aside.
  4. If you’re making your own tapenade: In a food-processor, combine 1 1/4 cup (155 grams) pitted black or green olives, 6 tbsp (80 grams) extra virgin olive oil, 1 tbsp (15 grams) raisins, 3 cloves of garlic, 4 fillets of anchovy, 3/4 tsp white wine vinegar and 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Puree the mixture as smoothly/finely as you can. Taste and season with salt if needed. Set aside.
  5. TO MAKE BAKE THE BREAD: Preheat the oven on 500F/250C, with a pizza-stone or large inverted cast-iron skillet in the middle.
  6. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a large oval with pointy tips, then transfer to a piece of parchment paper. Rub 2~3 tbsp of tapenade over the dough, then pile 1/2 of the cheese-mixture across the middle. Fold the dough over to partially cover the cheese, then bring the 2 ends together and tuck the tips underneath itself, then pinch at the bottom so it sticks. Repeat with the second one.
  7. Slide the parchment with the bread on top, onto the pizza-stone or inverted cast-iron skillet. Bake for 10 min until golden browned on all sides. Place a large egg yolk, and 2 tbsp of unsalted butter in the center of each bread, then grate a bit of nutmeg and sprinkle some chili flakes over the top (plus some flake-y sea salt if needed).
  8. To serve, stir the yolk into the cheese and dig in.

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#GiveAndGrub, Sticking it to Hunger One Meal at a Time


Hunger facts:

  • From 2008 to 2012, the average number of families in Hillsborough County living below the poverty level was 16.5%—higher than the state average, which was 15.6%, according to Feeding America Tampa Bay.
  • An estimated 700,000 people in the region are struggling with hunger—250,000 of those people are children, according to Feeding America Tampa Bay.
  • 37% of the members of West Central Florida households that Feeding America Tampa Bay serves are children under 18 years of age.

Give and Grub is such a fantastic concept and it would be amazing if more businesses had the foresight to use their influence. I was invited to check out this particular food truck, which is usually parked outside Amalie Arena (home of the Tampa Bay Lightning) with a group of fellow bloggers and I was amazed with the quality food as well as the quality staff heading up this operation. For each gourmet menu item sold or “#GiveAndGrub” used on Twitter, Laser Spine Institute will donate one meal to a hungry child or family in need.

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All of the dishes are named after Tampa Bay Lightning players which is a nice local twist. My favorite dish of the evening was their Hedman’s Steak Tacos. These are slow marinated skirt steak, house roasted corn Pico de Gallo and Tijuana rice and topped with a spicy chipotle ranch. I loved the fact that they double up on the taco shells. So many places fail at this and you end up with a soupy mess of ingredients with a disintegrated shell.

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Give and Grub unveiled a new dish as well. The Thunder Steak Sandwich accompanied with Cross-Check Sweet Potato Fries. The cheese steak sandwich consists of grilled steak, smoked gouda, sautéed onions and mushrooms on a freshly baked roll. The sweet potato fries are topped with sea salt, marshmallow and butterscotch drizzle. I couldn’t stop eating those damn sweet potato fries.

Give and Grub is a leader in social media, here are their links:

Website: http://www.giveandgrub.com/

Twitter: @GiveandGrub

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/giveandgrub

Instagram: http://instagram.com/giveandgrub/

Locate: http://www.giveandgrub.com/where-is-give-and-grub/

I’ll leave you with some great photos from the event. Just writing this post has made me crave some of this fabulous food.

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Broccoli Rabe and Salami Pizza


I made an awesome pizza last night for the wife and myself using my favorite method of pizza making. The broiler+Baking Steel method. The dough had had 4 days to cold ferment in the fridge. Ridiculous flavor!

After a layer of fresh garlicky tomato sauce ladened with sticky estra virgin olive oil I hit the pizza with some grated Pecorino Romano. For the heft portion of the pizza I added blanched and chopped broccoli rabe as well as sliced dried Italian salami and sliced Margherita brand pepperoni. I just love how the pork products get those crispy edges and create glorious pockets for that cheese to settle in. Low-moisture mozzarella works for me most of the time and that’s what I used here. You can sub in cubes of fresh mozzarella if you wish.

You can find my previous post about how I create my pizzas HERE. Nothing goes better with a great pizza than a great beer. So indulge and enjoy. Cheers!

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Leftovers For Daddy


Yes the lighting is dim for a reason in my photos. I had to cook by way of microwave light.

My time has been sliced dramatically since my baby girl Arya has been born. I get torn in every which way. My primary job right now is not that of an elementary art educator, or that of a food blogger, or even that of person who is able to drop everything and go have a blast throwing a few beers back with his friends. No, my primary job is that of a good husband and an even better father. So, you can see how it would be hard to juggle so many things and actually stay sane. Still, one needs to find release in life or sanity will fly out the window and for me that release comes in the form of a good blog post. I can set aside a few good minutes and get lost in words and photos.

This sets the stage for yesterday evening. I was at an outstanding Tampa Bay Bloggers meetup learning how to bring in some extra assets to help out the household. I had to come home later than normal on this Monday evening and I felt bad that I missed baby Arya’s swim lessons with mommy, but I NEEDED to do this.

I had some light meal options that accompanied our blogger meetup at Dough. While they were definitely delicious, they were indeed light snacks, but I was considerate of my better half and snuck home a bouquet of Ramen Encrusted Chicken Bites that were left by their lonesome on my way out of the bakery.

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As I opened the garage door, my wife sneakily opened the inside door and gave me a quick shush with a swipe of her finger across her lips. I knew exactly what that meant. She had enough and baby Arya was getting some much-needed rest for herself momma. Come to find out my wife wasn’t very hungry as she had already heated up some leftovers I made from the night before. Come to find out she wasn’t that hungry. That’s alright, more for me (she did snag one after all though).

Right away I thought to myself, “How can I create something unique and tasty, rather than just nuking these crunchy bites of goodness in the microwave”? I figured I would create an easy breakfast concoction, my go to for an easy dinner option. I also knew I was on a mission not to wake the baby or there would be Hell to pay.

So all I did was cook up a couple scrambled eggs (I love Lady and Pup’s version of scarmbled eggs), chop up the chicken crispy pieces, toss them in the egg pan with some shredded up mozzarella, gave a few squirts of Sriracha, and let it all melt together for a minute. In the meantime, I toasted up some bread and heaped the egg/chicken mixture on top for an unorthodox breakfast sandwich packed with flavor. For an extra blast of umami, I hit it with some BLiS Blast, which is a barrel aged triple pepper hot sauce.

The point I wanted to make here is that you work with what you have. I didn’t have the means to create an elaborate meal, but so what? The meal was delicious nonetheless and it was a fun challenge to keep quiet enough not to wake the sleeping baby because anyone with a baby knows that will get you in deep shit.

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Dining In Style at Ulele


I absolutely love dining at local hot spots. I enjoy seeing what all the fuss is about with certain restaurants. With these things in mind I had a real treat on hand when I was afforded the opportunity to attend a blogger dinner at Ulele, sister restaurant to the Columbia Restaurant.

WIth accolades such as, “One of the Top 100 Restaurants in the U.S. – Open Table”, “One of the Best New Restaurants in Florida – Florida Trend” and “Best Overall Restaurant – Yelp Tampa Bay, and most recently rated the 7th best restaurant in the bay area by Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley, you can see why I was thrilled to give Ulele the green light on my stomach.

Upon entering the beautiful building (seriously beautiful, $6 million went into the renovation), I was hit with a restaurant loaded with hustle and bustle and glitz galore. I instantly felt like this was a destination restaurant not to be missed. As myself and fellow Tampa Bay Bloggers were whisked away to the upstairs area, I couldn’t help but take in all the aromas of steak and char-grilled goodness. The cuisine at Ulele is American inspired Indian, but really focuses on fresh local cuisine indigineous to the Florida.

Ulele blog event-3Our first sample of Ulele came in the form of samples of craft beer. Tim Shackton, head brewmaster of Ulele’s microbrewery, is known for creating delightful crisp lagers and on this evening I had the chance to sample his Honeymoon beer, a black lager, and a bourbon barrel aged red. Our waiter was gracious enough to recommend the bba red and I really loved the caramel and vanilla from the barrel that came through, yet it was still full of biting hops.

The water they use for brewing their beer (a high-tech filtration system) is actually the water they use to serve patrons at the dinner table. The water comes in glass water bottles original from the Columbia Restaurant, dating back to 1905.

We were then treated to a small buffet of luscious mac n cheese (Four-cheese, Ulele light beer sauce) with all the fixin’s you cared to add, things such as lump crab, green onion, and duck bacon crumbles…yes DUCK BACON! On the same table there was delicious chili with loads of beans and hunks of glorious meat. We weren’t allowed to share our photos of these items because they were not served in their typical plating style. Trust me it was some handsome eats.

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The first dish to arrive at our table came in the form of freshly shucked raw oysters on the half shell served with freshly grated horseradish and quartered lemon pieces. These were super fresh and I could’ve eaten a dozen easy. Here is a pro tip, I later received a bottle of datil pepper sauce to try out and I wish I had that bottle while enjoying some of these oysters. That was followed up with a platter of char-broiled oysters. There were simple and delicious. I enjoyed that there was not a gloppy mess of cheese atop the oysters and they had that great char flavor from the broiler.
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Next up, I enjoyed the alligator hushpuppies (alligator, country ham, duck bacon, fresh corn, jalapeño, honey datil pepper sauce and fresh-ground horseradish aioli). While not entirely a new idea, these were well-executed bites of crunchy goodness.
 Ulele blog event-9As the food train kept marching along, I enjoyed a crunchy bite of squash gratin. The veggies were cooked quite well, not mush, yet not raw. I adored the crunchy breadcrumb and manchego mixture atop the vegetables.
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Now on to the carnivorous portion of our segment. What I enjoyed next, and I do mean enjoy, is a hefty 10 ounce portion of perfectly seared wet-aged filet mignon. The filet was accompanied by fresh asparagus and a mound of white cheddar popcorn mashed potatoes.
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Taking a brief break from beef, I had the pleasure of noshing on some fresh pan-seared pompano topped with fried carrot ribbons all set atop a mound of wild rice and a drizzle of sundried tomato shallot cream. This could be my favorite dish from the evening. I absolutely loved the fried carrot ribbons.
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That was quick break and now back to the beef. This mammoth of a steak is the kilo porterhouse, coming in at a whopping 2.2 lbs. This too had great char on the meat and a great steak quality that I absolutely loved. The extra fat in these cuts always lends to great flavor.
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 Swoon. That’s what I did when dessert hit the table. Candied Duck Bacon Maple Fried Ice Cream (cinnamon corn flake candied duck bacon crust, Knob Creek crème anglaise, caramel, sweet potato waffle crisp). This was definitely the bees knees and if I wanted to eat whatever the hell I wanted everyday, this would end each and every night for me.

Do yourself a favor and get down to Ulele, fast. It is such a unique experience and I absolutely love that they took and area of town and made it an up and coming destination. The ball is rolling, so get a jump on things and make a visit.

For reservations at Ulele, visit Ulele online or call 813-999-4952.
Ulele
1810 N. Highland Ave.
Tampa, 33602
In Tampa Heights
In exchange for my review the food I wrote about was free.

Baked Oatmeal For Mommy


I have had a really busy last two months. My wife and I had our first baby and needless to say things are very crazy and I am pressed for time between caring for the baby and working a full-time job as an elementary art teacher. My baby is not the only person I need to take good care of though, the other person would be my hard-working wife. She has very little time to cook her own food because she is nursing our baby or doing laundry or going to a baby appointment of some sort or doing a bounty of other numerous tasks and on and on.

When we realized that we needed to kick up Elizabeth’s lactation up a gear or two I resorted to some good ol’ oatmeal. Except I can make just any normal oatmeal, it has to be baked and full of flavor! There are so many things that make this oatmeal great and many more that you can include, but the main ingredients for kicking up lactation is brewer’s yeast, flaxseed meal, and the most obvious in this recipe, OATS. This is not so much a recipe as it is a guide to steer you in the direction you want to go. Add whatever nuts, fruit, meals, extracts, etc that your little heart desires. The great thing about this idea is that you can make a big batch of it and you can add whatever the hell makes you happy.

Here’s a list of what I added:

  • oats
  • flaxseed meal
  • brewer’s yeast
  • frozen hand-picked blueberries
  • vanilla extract and Tahitian vanilla bean
  • brown sugar
  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • cinnamon
  • nuts
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • milk to cover all of the mixture by about 1/2 inch in a Pyrex dish

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Cinderella at The Straz, Your Golden Carriage Awaits


“Now go – to the ball. In the name of every girl who has ever wished to go to a ball in a beautiful dress. In the name of every girl who has ever wanted to change the world she lived in. Go! with the promise of possibility!” – Fairy God Mother in Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Book by Douglas Carter Beane

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When I asked my wife Elizabeth if she was interested in attending the musical Cinderella with me at the Straz Center, she answered with a resounding “YES!” That was really a silly question on my part because I know she loves anything musical and these nights will be far and few between once our little Arya is born this December. A chance to get out of the house one more time and spend it watching a classic like Cinderella was a no-brainer.

As I walked into the Straz Center lobby, I immediately felt like I was attending a very special evening ball. There were people of all ages in attendance, from grandparents all the way to grandchildren and everyone was enjoying themselves. I felt a bit of nostalgia myself in anticipation of this musical. For some reason I have always been a fan of this tale.

This musical of Cinderella was so well done and I was in awe of how they transformed Cinderella’s costume from dull rags to magnificent gowns and back, all in a blink of an eye, just like the magic that it is suppose to portray. The actors/actresses did a great job with the song and dance as well as nailing their lines. I was glued to the set the entire time. Definitely get out to watch this masterpiece.

There was also a great charity made possible by the Straz Center, Belle of the Ball Project, and the Company of Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella to accept donations of formal gowns, shoes, and accessories. The goods will be given to young women in need for prom outfits. This will be going on through October 26th, so get out your garb and donate for a great cause.

Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella will play Morsani Hall, Oct. 21-26. Performances are Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Regularly priced tickets are $56-$95 and may be purchased by calling 813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at http://www.strazcenter.org.

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***Disclaimer: I received complimentary tickets to see Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella from the Straz Center and the Tampa Bay Bloggers. All opinions are my own.

California Pizza Kitchen…#NewCPK


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I will admit that I have not eaten at a California Pizza Kitchen (CPK) in ages. The main reason is that it is a chain and I do my best to support local first. With that said, I realize chains play a very important role in our culture. That role is to be consistent with its food and offer up a comfortable and familiar feeling to the customer. Whether you are dining at an establishment in California, Montana, New York, or Florida, you know for the most part what you are going to get and that is gratifying for many people.

Though I don’t dine at many chain restaurants, I was really excited to be tasting some new offerings from CPK and getting to check out their new digs. This Tampa location, inside International Plaza, is one of a handful in the country to get a construction makeover and some fresh menu items that will change based upon the seasons and even the area that it resides in.

The space that CPK occupies is bright enough so that you aren’t lulled to sleep, yet certain areas of the restaurant stand out superbly to highlight its California roots. There is a series of photos on a wall, all of them black and white except for a couple in color. Those that are in b&w are photos of California in some respect and the ones in color are dedicated to the specific location that the guest is currently at, in this case Tampa. CPK also had a wall made entirely of pieces of wooden wine crates, many of them from Californian vineyards. This is the only location to currently have a wall formatted like this and these are the types of details that will lure “non-chain people” in to CPK to enjoy its comfy, yet chic, confines.

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wine crate wall

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The lovely and informative Manager at CPK Tampa, Jamarie Gomez, was so gracious in taking time out of her shift to fill me in on many of the little details that have gone into making CPK more current. One of those details is that the head pizza chef whose sole job is to do just that, to create glorious pizzas, will have a signature pizza that he or she has single-handedly crafted. So one can go to a CPK in Jacksonville and get a shrimp scampi pizza and head back to Tampa with no such luck of ordering a scampi pizza. At the same time that person has the ability to eat something totally unique to that Tampa location. I find that this really helps the chain feel not as chain-like.

Another aspect that CPK has going for itself these days are the seasonal menu items that are being offered. They are turning that corner of using some local ingredients and also tweaking some of their offerings based on the seasons. A harvest salad of theirs might include squash, cranberries, and other Fall offerings during Autumn, yet during another season be based on citrus and berries to highlight that season.

Autumn Harvest Kale Salad
Autumn Harvest Kale Salad

Overall, I was highly impressed with the new decor, the service, and most importantly the quality of the food. There wasn’t one dish that I was disappointed in. It’s kind of like kids, of course you have your favorites, but you still love them all for different reasons. I will leave you with some photos from my meal with my lovely wife Elizabeth.

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Strawberry Mango Cooler (left) and Blood Orange Sangria (right)

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Brussels Sprout and Bacon Flatbread
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Good Color Underneath
Pan-roasted chicken with seaosnal veggies of cauliflower and brussels sprouts
Pan-roasted chicken with seasonal veggies of cauliflower and brussels sprouts
nice color on the plate and prepared nicely, nice crispness on the chicken and veggies
nice color on the plate and prepared well, good crispness on the chicken and veggies
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Cedar-plank halibut with farro and squash puree, al dente asparagus. Loved the farro and sqaush puree combo.
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Seared ribeye cooked medium, blue cheese compound butter, roasted fingerling potatoes, bright citrusy arugula. Delicious and though I would have prefered med-rare it was still very tender.
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Pumpkin Cheesecake. Seasonal. Very good, but it doesn’t have anything on the next dessert in the lineup…
Butter Cake with Haagan-Dazs Ice cream. Unassuming yet so fantastic, warm and yummy. GET THE ICE CREAM PEOPLE (it's optional on the menu)
Butter Cake with Haagan-Dazs Ice cream. Unassuming, yet so fantastic, warm and yummy. The one thing I can’t get out of my head for two straight days now. GET THE ICE CREAM PEOPLE (it’s optional on the menu)
The warm delicious interior
The warm delicious interior
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My beautiful and 8 mo. pregnant wife, Elizabeth

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***I attended a tasting of California Pizza Kitchen’s new menu items on behalf of Tampa Bay Bloggers. California Pizza Kitchen gave me a complimentary meal in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.