2011 Arkansas Times Reader’s Choice Poll

Best of Arkansas 2011When I got up this morning and saw that we were getting hits from the Arkansas Times website, I was pretty excited.  Jess and I had joked that it would be fun if Arkansas Foodies made it onto the Reader’s Choice poll list this year for the blog – and thanks to all of you that voted, we managed to score a Runner-up spot for “Best Blog!”  I can’t tell you all how much that means to us – I’ve been reading and voting in that poll for years now, and I never expected that something I was a part of might make the list.  The ultimate winner was the Times’ own Arkansas Blog – and it’s a much-deserved win for the quality reporting that Max Brantley and gang do over there (I’m an avid reader).  We also placed next to one of Arkansas’ best known food and travel writers, Kat Robinson, who has done a lot for us over the past year with her shout-outs on Eat Arkansas.

We started the blog because we thought it would be a fun place to post our pictures and talk about the things we’re passionate about: cooking, eating good food, and the state of Arkansas.  We figured a few close friends and our families would read it and that would be the extent of it.  It’s been a pleasant surprise that so many other people who love good food have taken some time to read what we’ve written and taken a look at the pictures – we’re pretty proud of Arkansas and we hope we’ve done the place justice.  We’ve talked about everything from collard greens to ox-tails to some of the best food that Arkansas has to offer.  Along the way we’ve eaten a lot of cheese dip, chopped liver, chili, and chocolate at some of Arkansas’ many excellent food festivals, and we’ve met a lot of other people that are as passionate about good food as we are.  So thanks again for reading, everyone, and thanks to all of you that voted for us.  We hope that we’ll become a fixture on that list – and we hope you all cook well, eat well, and live well.  Thanks!

Broiled Sockeye Salmon with Citrus Glaze

Here in Arkansas, there are two types of salmon that we see most in our markets: farm-raised Atlantic salmon and wild-caught sockeye salmon from the Pacific northwest.  The flesh of the farm-raised is pale orange and rather mushy, and the flavor leaves a lot to be desired, being mostly a strong fishy taste with very little redeeming qualities.  The darker flesh of the sockeye salmon is very tasty, though, and it’s worth the dollar or three more a pound that you’ll pay for it.  The texture is firm but tender, and the flavor is subtle and has no hint of the overwhelming fishiness that put a lot of people in these parts off salmon altogether.  This recipe is from Alton Brown, and while I generally find Alton’s recipes to be functionally sound but lacking in a lot of spice or flavor, this glazed salmon recipe was a happy exception to that rule.  While brown sugar might not be the first flavor you think of when it comes to fish, it really compliments the rich salmon and blends well with the lemon flavor.

Broiled Sockeye Salmon with Citrus Glaze
(from Alton Brown)

  • 1 side, skin-on sockeye salmon, pin bones removed.  The best thing to use to get those little bones out is a pair of needle-nose pliers – but you keep pliers in the kitchen anyway, right?
  • 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Position a rack in the oven 3 inches from the broiler. Line a half sheet pan with aluminum foil and place the salmon on the pan.

Place the sugar, zest, salt, and pepper into the bowl of a small food processor and process for 1 minute or until well combined. Evenly spread the mixture onto the salmon and allow to sit for 45 minutes, at room temperature.

Turn the oven on to the high broiler setting for 2 minutes. After 2 minutes, place the salmon into the oven and broil for 6 to 8 minutes or until the thickest part of the fish reaches an internal temperature of 131 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove the salmon from the oven and allow to rest, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately.  We paired ours with some haricots verts and Yukon Gold mashed potatoes – but almost any vegetable you can think of goes well with this fish.  Enjoy!

Rosemary Cashews

Sometimes, a tasty snack is the only thing that will hit the spot, and snack food doesn’t get much better than cashews – they’re one of our favorite types of nut around.  We found this recipe for cashews flavored with fresh rosemary, brown sugar, and just a hint of hot pepper in Ina Garten’s book Barefoot in Paris, and we just had to try out these nuts she says were inspired by the bar nuts served at Union Square Cafe in New York City.  They were very tasty, and extremely quick to prepare.

Rosemary Cashews
(from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten)

  • 1 pound roasted unsalted cashews
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spread the cashews out on a sheet pan and toast in the oven until warm (about 5 minutes).  In a large bowl, combine the rosemary, cayenne, sugar, salt, and butter.  Thoroughly toss the warm cashews with the spiced butter and serve warm (although they are pretty good when they cool off, too).

These are perfect for a snack tray, and the clean, woodsy flavor of the rosemary is a nice addition to the traditional mix of sweet and hot spiced nuts.  Total prep time is about 15 minutes, and you can make the rosemary mixture up ahead of time.  Enjoy!

Banana Cupcakes with Nutella Frosting

Certain flavors just seem made for each other, and one of our favorite combinations is chocolate and banana.  And when that chocolate comes whipped up with a rich shot of hazelnut in the form of Nutella spread – well, that’s a match made in heaven.  I never knew what Nutella was when I was growing up, but I’ve made up for lost time eating it in my adulthood.  There’s just something decadent about that smooth chocolate-hazelnut goodness that makes you feel good when you eat it.  Nutella is pretty rich, though, so we needed a cake that would stand up to it – and these cupcakes made with banana puree were the perfect thing, moist and soft with a delicate crumb and just enough banana flavor to tie everything together.  First, let’s make our cupcakes:

Banana Cupcakes

  • 1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3 medium-large bananas, pureed

Preheat your oven to 350 and line your tin with cupcake liners.  Mix your dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside.  Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Add the vanilla, then add each egg one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each one.  Add the dry mixture and blend until just combined, then add the banana puree and mix until well-blended.  Bake until golden brown, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean – about 25 minutes.  Let the cupcakes cool on a wire rack and get ready for the best part:

Nutella Frosting

  • 4 ounces of unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup Nutella
  • 8 ounces powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons milk (or cream if you really want to go crazy)

Cream together the butter and Nutella until blended.  Add the powdered sugar and blend until the sugar is incorporated and everything is nice and thick.  While your mixer is running, add the milk and blend until the frosting is light and fluffy.  Spread the frosting onto the tops of your cooled cupcakes (which we did because we couldn’t find the tip we needed), or pipe it on with a pastry bag (which we would have done if we had found said tip).  Try not to eat them all in one sitting.

This was one of the best recipes we’ve tried yet, and everything came together quite easily.  The banana puree adds a nice denseness to the cupcakes while keeping them incredibly moist, and the frosting is simply wonderful.  We hope you enjoy!

Review: Bonefish Grill (Little Rock)

We don’t go in much for reviewing chain restaurants on Arkansas Foodies, because for the most part, we’d rather feature the one-of-a-kind places that are so common in Arkansas.  It’s certainly not because it’s impossible to get a good meal at a chain, but most of you out there have eaten at enough Applebee’s and Red Lobster locations to know exactly what to expect when you pull up in the parking lot.  Bonefish Grill in Little Rock is a really tasty exception to our “no chains” rule, and seeing as there are only two locations in Arkansas, Bonefish might as well be unique.  Jess first tried Bonefish out in Colorado, but it was only recently that we made our way up to the Little Rock location, and after reading several reviews that all recommended the Bang Bang Shrimp, we felt almost obligated to start off with an order.  The shrimp is lightly battered and fried, almost like a tempura batter, and served coated in a rich spicy sauce.  If you like the spicy mayo and sriracha mixture that most sushi places use for their spicy rolls, you’ll love this shrimp.  It was almost too rich for me, but I had to admit that it was a flavorful way to start the meal.

Another good appetizer, and one that suited my taste a little better than the shrimp, was the Ahi Tuna Sashimi, a lightly seared and thinly sliced portion of buttery tuna coated in sesame seeds and served with soy and wasabi.  I will admit that I’m a bit of a raw tuna junky, and I don’t really take kindly to tuna that comes out rubbery and tasteless – this was neither.  Meltingly tender and full of flavor, I really could have kept eating this to the point of embarrassing myself.  If you’ve got someone in your party who is a bit squeamish about raw fish, order this dish – it will make an excellent introduction for them.

One thing I really like about the menu at Bonefish is that they have some really good dishes that are made for sharing.  Our favorite is probably the Mussels Josephine, which I have to say is almost as good as the mussels we make for ourselves.  These mussels are large and tender, and they are swimming in a buttery white wine broth with tomatoes and onions.  Bonefish Grill has really good bread, too – and that bread coupled with this mussel dish is a good meal for two by itself.  Don’t worry about being a bit impolite and soaking up all that sauce with your bread – that’s the only way to eat this dish.

As for an entrée, Jess’ choice was the Snake River Rainbow Trout, a light and flaky fish that I was pleased to see wasn’t overcooked on the grill.  Bonefish has a choice of four topping sauces for your fish, and she picked the chimichurri, a mixture of olive oil, Italian parsley, garlic and red pepper.  She thought it was pretty good, but I felt the sauce was a bit too heavy on the garlic and lacked the real subtlety needed for a fish like trout.  They also offer a mango salsa, lemon butter, and a pan Asian sauce (finished with just a bit of wasabi cream).  On the side, she had some nicely cooked haricots verts and a fresh salad of tomatoes and feta cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar.  The tomatoes were fresh and good, and the feta was pleasingly creamy without being overbearing with its salt.  It was a pretty plate, and paired with the strawberry martini she was sipping on, brought a nice feeling of perfect cheer.

For my own entrée, I chose one of the specials of the night, a crisp-fried piece of monkfish served with rice and vegetables in a sake sauce – cleverly called The Drunken Monk.  Monkfish is something I’ve read about for years but hadn’t ever had the opportunity to try – and now I can’t wait to try it again.  I understand now why they call this fish the “poor man’s lobster,” as the flesh is creamy white and just slightly sweet to the taste.  The tempura batter was crisp and good, and the rice and vegetables (which often are just an afterthought) were well cooked and tasty.  I’d definitely try this again.

All things considered, Bonefish Grill is worth a try, even if you’re a little wary of eating out at chains.  They have an extensive mixed drink menu, and although their draft beer selection was pretty slim, they did have Diamond Bear’s Pale Ale, so that’s good enough for me.  Service is a bit odd, with multiple people showing up at random times to do things, but we never wanted for anything on either of our trips.  Bonefish Grill is located at 11525 Cantrell Road in the Pleasant Ridge Town Center, and they are open from 4:00pm-10:30pm Monday-Thursday, 4:00pm-11:30pm Friday and Saturday, and 4:00pm-10:00pm on Sunday.  Enjoy!

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