Cafe Monte in Charlotte

Café Monte

My girlfriend and I decided to give this place a try because we found a Living Social deal that was too good to pass up.  So glad we did!  The interior is fun yet elegant.  When we were there, they had live music playing in a corner and a pastry case on the opposite side.  It made the wait for our table a bit more bearable!

We were seated in the busy restaurant at a small patio (looking) table and were immediately served our drinks.  Our server was attentive and friendly.

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We started with some pretty standard appetizers.  My friend ordered a salad, and it was dressed sparsely and was pretty basic.  I tried the French Onion Soup.  The cheese was delicious, but the broth itself was lacking in body and flavor.  We both agreed we’d try something a little more adventurous next time.

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We sampled the Chicken and Mushroom Crepes for our entrée.  This was really my friend’s dish, but she let me have a taste.  They were rich and creamy and I kicked myself all night for not getting them.   I know it looks a mess, and the picture isn’t that clear, but it was the best thing we had all night.

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For my dish, I chose the special for Friday night:  Broiled Lobster with fries and asparagus.  It was fine, but the waiter really hyped it up and you know…you’ve had Lobster once, you’ve had it a million times.  It was delicious, but nothing special.  Plus, kinda messy and hard to handle with grace.  Next time, crepes for me.

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After staring at the pastry case while waiting on our reservation, we decided we had to have dessert.  My friend chose the chocolate éclair.  The photo is blurry, but I’m sure you can see the cracks in the chocolate on top.  That was an indicator we should have heeded.  It was dry and uneventful.  Very disappointing for a French bakery.

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This was the winner between the two desserts.  This Vanilla fruit tart was good, but it still had that “made ahead and sat around” flavor to me.  I was not impressed, but maybe my expectations were too high for a French restaurant.

The next time we go, we will skip dessert altogether, but definitely have the crepes.

 

Cafe Monte French Bistro & Bakery on Urbanspoon

Linguine With Mushrooms and Garlic Cream Sauce

Pasta, mushrooms and cream.  Really, that’s all I need to write, right?

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Linguine With Mushrooms and Garlic Cream Sauce

INGREDIENTS

  • Parmesan, for sprinkling
  • fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 ounces mozzarella cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 4 ounces linguine
  • salt
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
  • 3 tablespoons butter

DIRECTIONS

Melt butter in heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add mushrooms, garlic, rosemary and generous amount of pepper. Cook until mushrooms exude their juices, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add cream and simmer until sauce thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Season with salt.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water. Drain well. Add pasta and cheese to sauce and stir until cheese melts.

Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Coney Island Burgers–Copycat

Ask and ye shall receive!  This fun project started with a Facebook posts to my friends back in Crestview, Florida.  I begged them to give me some ideas about what might be in the sauce from those irresistible burgers we love from our hometown dive:  Coney Island!  The replies were varied and numerous, so I wrote them all down on a piece of paper and headed to the kitchen to experiment.  After a bit, I had what I think is a pretty decent copycat for folks like me who crave that greasy goodness but live too far away to do anything about it on the regular.

Be warned, I’m going to give you every step I did.  You decide if you need to do every.single.one.  At first I thought if I had the sauce down, I’d be fine, but turns out each family member had their own version of what was important to them about that burger.  So, I’ve replicated it in its entirety as best as I could.

First, I suggest getting your mise en place.  That means get all of your ingredients and cooking utensils ready.  Learned that on Top Chef.

 

The Sauce

Disclaimer:  This is not exact.  I did a lot of adding and off the cuffing to get the consistency I wanted.  I will perfect and repost.  I can tell you next time I will make the sauce a day or few hours ahead of time to give the spices time to marry.  Learned that on Top Chef, too.

Mix this well and set aside:

  • 6 oz. can of tomato paste
  • 1 1/2 cups water (add more if needed)
  • 3 Tbsp. mustard
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp. pepper (more if needed)
  • 1 tsp. chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp. onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • 4 shakes Louisiana hot sauce

 

The Meat

I found that having a thin patty is important.  So, I used a patty maker to really get it thin and even.  You may want to spray it with Pam, mine did stick after a while and it took a minute to peel it off.  I could also see plastic wrap working.  You can get one here:  Hamburger Press from Harbor Freight

Here’s a picture of mine:

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The Onions

Teeny Tiny dices.  Dice it finely and then run your knife through it again.  (Boy, that spoon has seen better days.)

The Method

At Coney Island, they credit their decades-old grill with being the secret to their addictive burgers.  So much so that when it broke, they lamented over the new one they had to buy, that was not seasoned as the old grill.  Baker School’s Welding Department fixed it right up for them, free of charge!  If you don’t have a decades old grill, just use a cast iron skillet.

I preheated my skillet to medium high and when it was hot, I drizzled just a bit of vegetable oil on for that first set of burgers.  While the skillet heats, nuke your buns for about 30 seconds to soften.    I make 2 at a time.  I place the patties on the grill, season them with season salt and then with my metal spatula, turned on its side, I start lightly chopping the burgers, to get them as flat as possible without breaking them up. Flip and cook another minute.

On top of burger sprinkle chopped onions, 1/4 cup of sauce (eyeball it, cover your meat) and then lay a piece of American cheese over that.  When you see the cheese getting melty (that’s a word.), place bottom bun on top of meat and top bun on top of bottom bun.  When done (for me it was a minute), take that top bun and scrape it along the skillet to sop up that juice and make your burger.  Easy!  But they go quick, so don’t overwhelm yourself trying to do too many at a time.

I had sauce left, so the next night we made hotdogs with it.  I boiled the wienies to make them like Coney.  Amazing!

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Midwood Smokehouse in Charlotte

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My husband and I visited the Midwood Smokehouse today and we were so so so happy.  So happy.  This is huge.  Because I’m not crazy about barbecue.  I was trying to be nice when I agreed to go.  But lord-have-mercy…it was good.

Inside is pretty hip.  Lots of metal pig memorabilia, waitresses wearing “Bacon” socks and general “characters” waiting tables and eating here.  I loved just sitting in the booth and looking around.  All while smelling that delicious smoky smell.

We started off our meal with a watermelon margarita and a beer.  Normally I skip cocktails, but the waiter changed my mind by telling me this one was made with real watermelon (not some mix!).  Sure enough, it tasted very refreshing, and not to sweet at all despite the sugar on the rim of the glass.

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The Cuban sandwich was the menu item that immediately drew my attention.  In fact, once I saw it, I stopped looking.  The pressed sandwich is chock full of sliced ham, barbecued pork, Swiss cheese and topped with mustard, lettuce and tomato.  I had never had a Cuban with the lettuce and tomato, and next time I’ll leave those off.  The bread got so flat and crispy in the pressing, and the barbecue pork taking the place of a sliced pork cutlet lent a smokiness to the sandwich.  I chose macaroni and cheese as my side and it was creamy  and cheesy topped with a crusty coating of baked cheese.  It was the best macaroni and cheese I’d ever had at a restaurant.  How about that?

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The hubs got the beef brisket plate, mixed.  That means it was half lean meat and half fatty meat.  I can appreciate that fat is needed to make meat tender, juicy and flavorful, but I’m no fan of fatty meat.  That said, he left me have a bite of his lean brisket and it was so tender, so juicy and flavorful…I was thankful for the fatty pieces lying around it.  The barbecue sauce is tangy and tomato-y.  I also detected a bit of beer in it?  He chose the baked beans as his side and they were baked with the same barbecue sauce that came on the plate for dipping.  A few candied bits of meat  had made their way into the beans, too.  Seriously, perfection.

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Really love this place.  And did you notice the china this meal is served on?  Funky, punky décor, cool waiters and staff, and then grandma’s china.  I’m in love.  Go.

 

 

Midwood Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

Cool Treats for Summer

I am so punished behind how hot it is outside.  We have been having temps in the high 80’s lately and it’s just a little too much for this former Florida girl to handle.  I choose to cool off with some refreshing treats, of course.

I whipped up a batch of Cherry Limeade I found from Pioneer Woman.  It was good, but add more cherry juice and don’t let your limes just sit in the pitcher of limeade.  It makes it very bitter.  Can you guess how I discovered this?  *pucker*

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Bottoms up Cherry Limeade

From Ree Drummond, Pioneer Woman

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 liters lime-flavored soda water, chilled
  • 1/2 cup maraschino cherry juice
  • 8 maraschino cherries, with stems
  • 8 lime slices

DIRECTIONS

In a bowl, combine lime juice and sugar. Cover and refrigerate. Just before serving, stir carbonated water into lime juice mixture. For each serving, place 1 tablespoon cherry juice in a glass. Add crushed ice and about 1 cup of lime juice mixture. Garnish with a maraschino cherry and a lime slice.

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Is there any snack that says summer more than Guacamole?  I think not.  Fresh and fast, this is an awesome one:

 

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Guacamole

Ingredients

  • 3 ripe Avocados, medium sized
  • 1 -2 jalapeno, seeded, stemmed and finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium white onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium tomato, cored, seeded and diced

directions

Cut avocado in quarters, discard pit and peel. Place in mixing bowl and mash minimally with a potato masher. Add remaining ingredients. Mix just until combined. Serve immediately, or store in fridge with pit in bowl to prevent browning.

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Another treat that I equate with summer is Cream Cheese Olive Spread.  Make ahead and pull out with crackers for a cool creamy treat while you are sitting by the lake watching then sunset with a glass of wine.

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Cream Cheese-Olive Spread

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-oz.) package cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pimiento-stuffed Spanish olives
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh chives

directions

Stir together cream cheese, Spanish olives, and 1 Tbsp. mayonnaise. Shape cream cheese mixture into 2 (6-inch) logs; wrap in plastic wrap, and chill at least 30 minutes, or store in the refrigerator in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Place pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan.  Bake pecans at 350° for 8 minutes or until lightly toasted, stirring occasionally. Let cool 30 minutes or until completely cool.

Roll cream cheese log in chopped chives and toasted pecans just before serving.

 

 

The Back Porch in Destin, FL

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The Back Porch has been become somewhat of an icon for most people visiting the beach.  Each night throngs of people stroll up from the beach to get a picture in the oversized beach chair and let their children play on the sand while they wait for a table.  And it won’t take long, not really.  It just seems long because you are hot.  And sandy.

Forget your troubles.  If you are a tourist, there’s no getting around it.  You have to go to the Back Porch.  The restaurant itself is basically outdoor seating inside.  All of the windows open up to allow the beach air to flow through.  Hope to sit by a window with a cross breeze.  On my last 2 visits, I have not and have nearly died from heat exhaustion.  A bit of an exaggeration, but my teenage son really did get sick to his stomach because he was so hot in an interior room.

We started our dinner with an order of raw oysters and an order of fried calamari.  The Oysters were fresh and plump and absolutely perfect.  My only complaint is that I wish they were served on a bed of ice, because they’d begun to warm up before we finished them.  The calamari was crispy and tender, served with a tart marinara sauce.  My kids loved them.

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The crab stuffed shrimp (pictured above, blurry) were really delicious.  Stuffed with crabmeat and topped with a lemony butter sauce, then broiled to a crispy perfection.  The stuffed potato was creamy and cheesy and needed just a touch of salt.   The Southern corn medley is studded with peppers and beans and was a flavorful accompaniment to the seafood.

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My husband ordered the blackened ahi, rare.  He reported that though the seasoning was delicious, his tuna was overcooked.

It’s never perfect, but it’s always good.  My favorite times at the Back Porch are coming in from the beach in the afternoon for a late lunch in flip flops and a cover up.  Smoked tuna dip never tasted so good.

Back Porch Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Buttermilk: Ways to use up your quart

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Are you like me and eagerly buy the ingredients for a recipe and soon have a fridge full of jars and jugs that have been opened once?  Drives me crazy!  Buttermilk is one of those things.  As a southern girl, I should be able to rattle off a dozen different ways to use up a quart of buttermilk, but the truth is, it generally gets shoved to the back until I’m too late to use it (experts say it will keep for 2 weeks in your fridge or 3 months in your freezer.)  No more.

An article in All You magazine inspired me to share some of the ideas to use up buttermilk or even make your own.  If you have some easy ways to use up buttermilk, I’d love to hear them!

Make it Yourself!

GOT MILK?  Add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to a cup measure and fill the rest with milk. Let stand 10 minutes and then whisk before using.

GOT YOGURT?  Measure 2/3 cup yogurt (or sour cream) into a small bowl.  Add 1/3 cup milk and whisk until combined.

Use it up

But perhaps my favorite way to use up some buttermilk is to make Buttermilk Syrup..and sometimes I even add raspberries.  My goodness…

Buttermilk Syrup

Buttermilk syrup with raspberry

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

directions

  1. Place first five ingredients in large saucepan.

  2. Bring to boil and cook for 7 minutes (mixture will foam), stirring to prevent scorching.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla extract.  I also stirred in some raspberries I had on hand, yum!