Truffled Hamburgers

Truffle butter is a fun ingredient to work with, because it lets a home cook get the rich, earthy flavor of truffles into a dish without breaking the bank on buying truffles whole.  We’ve been shopping quite a bit at the Fresh Market over on Cantrell, and when I saw that they had both black and white truffle butter, I picked up a container to play around with in the kitchen.  I’ve stirred it into sauces with great success, but I’ve been more interested in trying it as a flavor enhancer in other dishes.  With stuffed hamburgers being so popular now, I figured why not stuff a generous dollop of the butter into a patty?  We were so happy with the result we decided to share the idea with all of you.

Truffled Hamburgers

  • 1 pound lean ground beef. We used 93% lean here since we’re adding fat to the meat, but this would work just fine with a fattier cut, especially if you’re going to put these on the grill.
  • 2-3 tablespoons truffle butter.  You can find the stuff at most gourmet stores – I’ve seen various brands not only at The Fresh Market but also at Terry’s Finer Foods on Kavanaugh and Diane’s Gourmet Foods on Rodney Parham.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

Separate your hamburger into four equal pieces and flatten them to the desired thickness. Place 1-1.5 tablespoons of the truffle butter onto two of the flattened patties.  Use the other two patties as a cap, and seal the edges of the two patties together.  Cook as you would any hamburger – we pan-fried these, but broiling or grilling would be just as good.  Serve on a toasted bun with your choice of topping (I recommend lettuce, tomato, and aioli).  The burgers are juicy and full of the fragrant taste of the truffle butter, and I’m definitely not done playing around with different things to add to the stuffing (gruyère or fontina cheese come to mind).  The butter is an interesting and tasty ingredient to experiment with, so if you all have any suggestions for how you use it, let us know in the comments! Enjoy!

Garlic-Parmesan Salad Dressing

On our recent trip to Eureka Springs, Jess and I fell in love with the salad dressing at Local Flavor Cafe, a cool, rich blend of garlic and Parmesan cheese.  When we got home, I decided to try and make my own.  The recipe here doesn’t taste exactly like Local Flavor’s dressing, but it comes pretty close and we think it’s delicious.  It’s a good topping for green salad, of course, but it also makes a great pasta salad or vegetable dip, too.  The method of making it is very simple if you’ve got a blender, and it keeps for a week or so in the refrigerator.  Here’s what you’ll need:

Garlic-Parmesan Dressing

  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns, coarsely ground
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 medium clove of garlic, minced (or 1/2 teaspoon pre-minced)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Combine the salt, pepper, vinegar, cheese, honey, mustard, and garlic in a blender until well mixed.  Remove the small cap in the center of the blender lid, and while running the blender on low, add your oil in a slow, steady stream.  It’s important to add the oil slowly because we’re going for an emulsion here – in addition to adding flavor, the honey and mustard serve to help this process along.  When all the oil has been incorporated, pour your emulsion into a bowl and whisk in the buttermilk and sour cream. Adjust your salt as needed.  Chill for an hour or so before serving.  For a thinner dressing, reduce the amount of sour cream used (or eliminate altogether), and add a bit more if you’d like a thicker result. Enjoy!

Review: Brave New Restaurant

When Jess and I first started Arkansas Foodies, Brave New Restaurant was tops on our list of places to visit.  I’ve been reading about the quality food that Chef Peter Brave has been making in Little Rock for years, but I’d never had the opportunity to sample it.  Jess’ reason was a little more personal: a year or so ago, she was in a class on European History at UALR with Chef Brave’s dad, Bob, and the two of them hit it off and talked about various things over coffee before class – including the food at BNR.  The restaurant routinely gets good reviews from area publications, local blogs, and all the major review sites, and Chef Brave has the reputation of serving up delicious bistro fare that straddles the line between upscale casual dining and true haute cuisine (but not of the small portion on a big plate kind).  We finally made our way up to Brave recently, and I’m pleased to say that it easily lived up to the hype.

The first thing to say about the restaurant (after how good the food is) probably would be that it isn’t the easiest place to find.  The second floor of a rather anonymous-looking office building isn’t exactly the first place you might go looking for a fine dining experience in Little Rock, but when the elevator doors opened, we could hear the low hum of dinner conversation and smell the wonderful food.  We started our meal with Scallops Rockefeller, four sweet sea scallops baked on the half shell with spinach, shallots, Parmesan cheese, and just a hint of Pernod.  A small squeeze of lemon juice really set the flavors off, and we found ourselves scraping the shells clean.  Scallops can easily be overcooked to a flavorless, leathery texture but these were soft and meltingly tender.

For her entrée, Jess chose the Beef Tenderloin, a generous 8 oz. of beef covered in a rich peppercorn demi-glace and served with grilled asparagus, roasted potatoes, and a tomato half covered in Stilton cheese.  The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare, and the demi-glace added a nice touch of flavor to the beef.  The Stilton tomato half was a unique addition to the plate, and the mixture of tangy cheese and hearty tomato complimented the steak well.  The potatoes were mealy and soft with a firm outer skin, and while Jess thought the asparagus was flavored a bit too strongly of the grill, she said that it was more a matter of preference than an actual shortcoming.

I had always heard that Chef Brave wasn’t shy about his portions, and this point was hammered home to me with my selection, the Mixed Grill:  a huge medallion of grilled steak, several slices of pork tenderloin, a spicy bison sausage, and a roasted quail filled with boar sausage stuffing.  Served with a stuffed zucchini half, roasted potatoes, and a piquant pickled cabbage, this was a plate that made me very happy that I had eaten lightly all day in anticipation of the meal.  Even though the plate was covered with an herbed demi-glace, each meat’s own unique flavor came through with every bite.  The stuffed quail was easily the brightest star on the plate, though, the rich, juicy flesh of the bird complimented by the sweet and savory stuffing.

Brave New Restaurant serves a full lunch menu as well, and we planned our second visit for a Friday afternoon.  Jess chose the Herb-Crusted Spicy Salmon, a butter-brushed salmon filet topped with herbs and spices and served with cabbage and orzo.  The salmon had a nice balance of salty, spicy, and sweet and went well with the dipping sauce, a yogurty concoction that tasted of berries.  The orzo was well-cooked and tender and made a nice, light companion to the fish.

For my lunch, I picked the Combination Plate: half a sandwich, salad, and a cup of soup.  I chose the Non-Traditional Grilled Cheese for my sandwich, a tasty combination of fontina and Swiss cheeses, shrimp, tomato, and bacon on buttery toasted bread. For my soup, I had the Cream of Brie, a thick, hearty soup topped with chopped walnuts and diced apple – and while the sandwich was good, the soup was amazing. I could have eaten just a bowl of this soup and been content for the rest of the afternoon.  A sugar-topped muffin, house salad, and some nice mixed fruit rounded out the plate, and it was one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve ever had.

Of course, no visit to Brave is complete without a decadent cup of their Chocolate Creme Brulee.  This stuff is seriously good.  A thick, creamy chocolate custard is covered by a crunchy, carmelized sugar shell and topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream.  Jess and I were barely able to finish it between us because the dessert is so rich.  It’s hard to save room for dessert at Brave New Restaurant, but with something this good on the menu, you’ve got to try.  During both our visits, we were impressed with the professional, polite, and efficient nature of the staff. These are the sort of servers that seem to know just when to step in and just when to let things be.

Brave New Restaurant is located at 2300 Cottondale Lane, Suite 105.  Just take the elevator up and turn left.  They’re open for lunch Monday-Friday 11-2 and for dinner Monday-Saturday 5-10.  Reservations are pretty much a necessity on the weekend, and they take them online.  This is one of the best places in Arkansas to eat, so don’t miss it!

Brave New Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review: Henri’s Just One More

I like bars that can be different things. A bar that is always rowdy and crowded isn’t fun, while a bar is only quaint and quiet can be a bore. A good bar should be a living thing, changing and evolving throughout the day, ebbing and flowing, shifting and moving. I want a bar that is good for a quiet drink at noon and a roomful of crazed drag queens at midnight. Henri’s Just One More is all of those things, and they have the added benefit of mixing some of the best martinis I’ve ever tasted. Located down a steep alleyway in Eureka Springs, it might be easy to overlook Henri’s, but by it’s well worth keeping an eye out for. Jess and I stopped in for a couple of drinks during our recent visit to Eureka Springs, and we were much pleased with the friendliness of service and quality of drinks we were served.  There’s nothing quite like a well-mixed martini, and Henri’s list of martini drinks is both creative and extensive.

We first came across mention of Henri’s in a post on the Arkansas Times’ Eat Arkansas blog. Blogger Kat Robinson described the bar as a “neat little place,” and that’s as good a description as I can think of – this is a place that can truthfully be described as a hole in the wall, located halfway down some steep steps that connect Spring St. with Main St.  Jess wanted to try one of their specialty martinis and went with the Speedy Martini, a sugary blend of orange flavored vodka and Red Bull, garnished with a slice of orange and a cherry.  I took a sip of it and while I thought it was far too sweet, Jess liked it a lot. I’ve never been a fan of liquor and Red Bull mixed, but for those of you who might be into that sort of thing, this is a much tastier way to do it than some I’ve come across.  We took our drinks into a sunny side room, away from the music playing and I found myself thinking of Hemingway as we soaked in the sunshine in our own clean, well-lighted place.

I’m more of a purist when it comes to martinis – to me, the only thing that should be called by that name consists of some good gin, a splash of dry vermouth, and a couple of olives.  Don’t be let down by all the “apple-tinis” and “choco-tinis” on the menu – Henri’s knows what a classic martini is supposed to taste like.  I ordered my dirty martini with Bombay Sapphire gin and was pleased to watch the bartender fill my martini glass with cracked ice to chill, gently shake my drink, then pour into the chilled glass with exactly two olives.  The flavor was perfect, not so cold that it muted the aromatics in the gin, but not warm and sour either.  Bombay Sapphire is a smooth, imminently drinkable gin, but the mixing of flavors that comes with a good martini is completely due to the care that goes into making one.  I’ve never had a martini in a bar that I thought was a good as the ones I make for myself, and I still haven’t: Henri’s was better.

Henri’s Just One More is located at 19 1/2 Spring St. in Eureka Springs. They’re open from noon until 2am Wednesday-Monday and closed Tuesdays.  They have a full menu, so it’s a great place to stop in for the classic three martini lunch, and although we weren’t there late, everyone said that the bar is a lot of fun late night. Enjoy!

Henri's on Urbanspoon

Review: Local Flavor Cafe

We’d heard good things about the Local Flavor Cafe in Eureka Springs, and we were excited to see that the restaurant had just reopened after a winter break. Eureka is, of course, a very seasonal town – and the recent foul weather certainly hadn’t helped – so some favorites like the Mud Street Cafe weren’t open for business. Local Flavor was busy when we stopped in for lunch, but the courteous wait staff seated us right away.  The lunch menu seems pretty typical at first glance: burgers and sandwiches along with a variety of salads and soups, but we certainly don’t mind simple if it’s done well.  Jess ordered the house cabernet sauvignon, and I had a Boulevard Unfiltered Wheat beer, served with a small jelly jar to pour it in – a quaint touch.

If there’s one thing that Jess loves, it’s a turkey sandwich, so she ordered the Turkey, Avocado, and Pepper Jack sandwich. The sandwich came out warm on a toasted sourdough bun, the pepper jack melted over the turkey and topped with a thinly sliced avocado.  Jess and I are both unrepentant sourdough fiends, and the bread here was chewy and light with a good tang to it.  The turkey and cheese were both flavorful and good, and the cool, creamy avocado needed just a sprinkle of salt to be perfect. Served with a sliced, ripe tomato and a cup of cole slaw, this sandwich was one of the best things we tried all weekend.

I ordered the Cobb salad, a heaping pile of mixed lettuce, bacon, black olives, tomatoes, onions, and Gorgonzola cheese. Given my choice of dressings (all homemade), I chose the Parmesan-garlic, a cool, creamy dressing with the sharp zest of buttermilk and the good flavor of both garlic and cheese.  Jess liked the dressing so much that she put a bit of it on her sandwich – it was a really well made salad dressing.  The salad itself was almost overwhelming: a full half of sliced avocado, fresh crumbled bacon, and a rich Gorgonzola that was sharp without being overwhelming.  I missed the chopped egg that is a usual part of a Cobb salad – but don’t get me wrong, this was still a delicious lunch.

The cafe serves a full dinner menu, as well as Sunday brunch, which is two more reasons for us to make it back to Eureka Springs sooner rather than later.  Local Flavor Cafe is located at 71 S. Main St. in Eureka Springs. They’re open Monday-Thursday 11am-8pm, Friday-Saturday 11am-9pm, and Sunday from 9am-2pm.  Enjoy!

Local Flavor Cafe on Urbanspoon

Seventh Annual Eureka Springs Chocolate Festival

It’s been a tough winter here in Arkansas, and last week’s statewide snowstorm had Jess and me scared that we weren’t going to be able to take our long-planned, much-anticipated (and much-needed) Valentine’s Day trip to Eureka Springs to attend the Chocolate Lover’s Festival.  After driving from Little Rock to Bryant in the middle of the storm and subsequently driving BACK to Little Rock the following morning, I didn’t think there was any way we’d be able to make it up into the Ozarks.  Thursday brought warmer temperatures and the beginnings of a nice melt-off, and with Friday coming on even warmer we decided to hit the road and head north.  The Festival was held at the Best Western Inn of the Ozarks, and I’d like to thank the staff of that hotel for a pleasant stay.

This was our first year at the festival, and while it wasn’t the biggest event we’ve ever attended there were no shortage of people visiting the booths – and the multiple chocolate fountains – sampling all the goodies. If it could be coated in, stuffed with, or made from chocolate, somebody was doing it here.  There were the expected treats like chocolate covered strawberries, turtles, and cupcakes but there were also more out-of-the-ordinary offerings at the fountains like pepper jack cheese and Fritos corn chips.  I found the pepper jack to be extremely yucky, but a chocolate-dipped Frito is actually not bad.

Some of our favorite treats were these rose-iced cupcakes, created by Sugar Leaf Treats, a group whose booth also featured a dress made completely of chocolate. I have no idea how these folks manage to shape the chocolate in the inventive ways they do!  Our favorite treats, though, were made by the nice ladies from Brown Bag Gourmet Catering, who got our vote for “Best Chocolate” with their creamy dark chocolate coated coconut bites.  We definitely put a few of those into our “to-go” boxes for later (they did not survive the night).

Considering the weather (which forced the cancellation of the Festival’s Friday activities), we were very pleased with how the event was run. You certainly couldn’t turn from one booth to the next without some smiling person holding out tray after tray of sugar-packed goodness.  I’m hoping that next year’s festival can avoid the snow – this is certainly an event we’d like to keep attending and see grow.  Eureka Springs is one of our favorite towns in Arkansas to visit, and I can’t think of a better way to spend Valentine’s weekend than with my sweetheart in the Ozarks.  Kat Robinson has a write-up on the festival (with some excellent pictures) up over at the Arkansas Times’ Eat Arkansas blog, so take a minute and click over there to see more of what you missed!  We’ll be back next year for sure, so I hope that we’ll see some of you stuffing your faces with decadent treats along with us.  We’ll have more coming up from our weekend in Eureka, so stay tuned, and Happy Valentine’s Day!

Penne alla Vodka

We’re big fans of pasta, and one of our favorite dishes is penne alla vodka – penne noodles coated in a cream-enriched tomato sauce (spiked, of course, with a little vodka).  Although adding vodka to pasta sauce might seem a little strange, this dish never fails to satisfy.  We’re using Tito’s Handmade Vodka in our sauce (and our libations) tonight, and if you’re a vodka drinker, don’t pass this one up.  Tito’s is a very smooth, clean tasting vodka from Austin, Texas made in small batches, and the flavor is far superior to many higher priced vodkas – and certainly perfect for our sauce.

Penne alla Tito’s Handmade Vodka

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes (15 oz. cans)
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (plus extra for finishing)
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
  • Salt

Melt the butter in a skillet and cook the shallots until they are soft (but not browned). Add the garlic and red pepper; cook for a minute longer.  If you’re cooking with gas (or are clumsy) you might want to remove your pan from the heat and add the vodka and your tomatoes, add salt.  Cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the cream and simmer until the sauce thickens (4-5 minutes).  Stir in the Parmesan and the basil and adjust salt if needed.  Toss with 16 ounces cooked penne and sprinkle a bit more Parmesan over the top.  Serve.

The rich flavor of the cream and Parmesan along with the tang of the tomatoes and the bite of the pepper and vodka really make this dish something different. The prep time is minimal, and feel free to add sausage, bacon, chicken, or shrimp to the mix if you need some protein – but the sauce certainly stands on its own! Enjoy!