March 2009


My wife was the one who asked me to check this place out, and in all honesty I was resistant to the notion. But it was an unusual day, I was heading home down highway 29, and it was there, at the southwest corner of Lawrenceville Highway and Indian Trail, just opposite the Tacqueria Los Hermanos. So I stopped.

Before I took a look there I checked in at a restaurant named RJ’s, which is French creole, a fusion of Caribbean and French cuisine. I had no time to eat but it looks too interesting to ignore forever.  I picked up a take out menu and headed into the market instead.

Lilburn International Farmer’s Market isn’t a farmer’s market in the traditional sense. It’s more an oversized grocery, a ethnic market on steroids. In this respect it’s no different from the Gwinnett International Farmer’s Market or DeKalb or Super H Mart, for that matter. It’s maybe a quarter of the size of Buford Highway Farmer’s Market or Super H Mart, but it has a decent collection of vegetables.  There is a competent and useful collection of peppers.  About the only complaint I could have was the cilantro that day didn’t have leaves all in a tight bunch, but was a little leggy. They had habanero, jalapeno, red jalapeno, long hot peppers, poblanos, etc.

But it was the meat collection that most impressed. You could see the butchers behind glass working and I didn’t have any doubts I could get one of them if I needed to. Meats were good looking, sealed in plastic, and at the price you expect when international markets price meat – meaning low low low. Ribeyes were 4.99 a pound. New York Strip was 1.99 to 3.99 a pound – hard to believe that was New York Strip. I bought a nice looking Sirloin for 1.99 a pound. Prices were so low I was pinching myself and asking, “Is that really the right cut of meat?” The sirloin, which I bought to try, certainly looked the part.

I checked some of the other aisles. The beans aisle was merely half an aisle as opposed to a whole aisle, but had most of the essentials. There was one rare find and that one was worth noting: they sell quinoa, and the quinoa is between 2.09 and 2.40 for a package that is slightly less than a pound. That makes it the least expensive source of this pseudocereal so far.

Inexpensive quinoa can be found at the Lilburn market.

Inexpensive quinoa can be found at the Lilburn market.

When I was checking out, the grocery carts I saw were full of meats and greens. The amounts were so large that people must have been doing a week’s or a month’s worth of shopping. This is a trend my coworker, Veronica, identified for me some time ago, this shift to international markets for low priced meats and ethnic butchers taking over for families looking to cut their meat prices.

Verdict? The price of meats alone makes this place worth a drive from Snellville. It’s easy to get to. You can head west down Ronald Reagan and then south down Highway 29 (will end up on your right, as you pass the 29-Indian Trail intersection), or you can head down Five Forks and turn right at Killian Hills, and continue just past the Highway 29  intersection and turn left.

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One of the simplest “spreads” that you can do is to make some ground beef, refried beans, add some cut fresh vegetables, sliced jalapenos, and some salsa for people to eat. Your young ones will pile on what they want, ignore the rest. The cooking is simple and fast. Salsas don’t require any cooking at all, and no preparation if you buy a canned salsa.

Black Bean and corn salsa:

We made this using:

1 can (15 oz) black beans
1 can (15 oz) corn
1 roma tomato, diced.
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1/2 green onion, diced.
2 hot peppers, diced finely.
juice of 1 lime.

We should have added minced cilantro but didn’t. It didn’t affect the outcome. We mixed well and put it in a bowl to marinate.

Pico de gallo:

See the blog article here.

Taco meat:

Brown ground beef or ground turkey in a skillet. Season as desired.

Soft flour tortillas

Place between moistened paper towels and microwave for a few seconds, till steamy and warm.

hard taco shells

Heat in the oven, per package recommendations.

additional

We usually take a round tray with segments and fill the segments with things like:

lettuce
diced tomatoes
commercial red picante
commercial salsa verde
sliced cheese
sour cream

and provide spoons for those who want them.

I have a coworker whose wife is Vietnamese, and on his recommendation we went to “What the Pho?”, which has, in his estimation, the best crispy noodles in town. He later mentioned that his wife likes Pho Mimi. I asked him what she saw in Pho Mimi.

He replied,  “Because she can get what she likes there.”

Pho Mimi has been reviewed by Chow Down Atlanta, who distinctly preferred What the Pho?. In the discussions I’ve read however, some of the people arguing for Pho Mimi mentioned that it was more than just a pho restaurant, that it served other dishes too and it served them well. And as my wife was very interested in having me take a peek at Super H Mart, we decided to make a run down Pleasant Hill to Pho Mimi and Super H Mart.

Pho Mimi is in the Park Village complex on Pleasant Hill Road, a two story C shaped collection of stores and offices in which Super H Mart is also found. It’s on the right hand side as you enter the complex from Pleasant Hill, almost at the right corner of the C. And of course the day I went with my family it was packed. The one bit of seating we had was in the corner, next to a chair containing a jacket and shoes.

It was quite opposite the experience at other pho places, which by comparison had a comfortably large collection of waiters. You could tell in the eyes of the waiter that seated us that they had all they could handle that day and more. There were perhaps two or three waiters for the whole restaurant, and they had one table with close to 20 people, and multiple tables seating more than 4. Other than myself, there was one other person in the restaurant that didn’t appear to be partly Asian.

Pho Mimi, it has to be said, is open and roomy. You don’t feel as if you’re sharing your table with your neighbor. The menu is extensive and they have pictures of the food choices, which helps. They had some egg noodle dishes and some rice noodle dishes I hadn’t seen in a while, since the pho place just to the east of I-85 and Indian Trail closed. Certainly that made me happy. My wife tried the pho with chicken and my daughter found a pho with some seafood, I think. We ordered spring rolls as well, ones with tofu and veggies. Our waiter was young, sharp, and offered good advice as we sort of rummaged around the menu.

It took a while to get our food and it came out in a funny order, probably as a result of feeding the crowd they had. The rolls were good. They had mint, which my wife doesn’t like, but my wife ate them anyway. I liked my dish, a rice noodle dish with seafood and quail eggs and what looked like most of an ox tail in the bowl. My wife wasn’t too fond of the chicken pho, because the flavor of the chicken was not what she expected. When my daughter and I tried it, it had a dark meat flavor to it, almost like duck. That’s not a taste my wife enjoys. She’s more of a white meat person.

My daughter emptied her bowl.

We asked the waiter if my wife could have been served duck and he just laughed and said, “We don’t have duck here.”

In general I thought the service was very good, considering the issues they had.

In conclusion? I wouldn’t recommend Pho Mimi as a beginner’s first pho restaurant. It is, however, a great place to explore food. For that reason I do recommend this place, for those with a willingness to try and experience something a bit different.

Pho Mimi on Urbanspoon

I was asked to make something fast for my daughter and myself, and I had a hankering for something a little different. I can pan sear steak with the best of them but I wanted something fast and simple. My daughter suggested tacos, but I was thinking what I would see in a plate of fajitas, and it is essentially marinated steak, bell pepper strips and onions. So, I went to the local carniceria and found a beautiful red pepper and some nice thinly sliced steak (0.7 lb), so I also bought the chicken my wife wanted and some flour tortillas and headed home.

We prepared a fajita style marinade as so:

Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced.
salt to taste
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
add water till the steak was covered.

The steak and marinade were placed in a bowl, wrapped in plastic and allowed to sit in the refrigerator.

In the meantime we cut up 1 green and 1 red pepper and 1/2 yellow onion and 1/2 red onion. We placed the veggies in a bowl for the time being.

The longer you marinate, the more flavor you’ll get. Some people add cumin to the marinade, others add cilantro, and still others add jalapeno pepper. Some even add tequila! Still others marinate the peppers with the steak.  In Keith Law’s blog, he uses a dry rub for his fajitas. This is a place where some inventiveness will help you. Look at some other recipes for fajita marinades to get ideas.

After the steak was marinated enough (the longer the better for sure, and overnight is probably best. We did it an hour. We were hungry), we took it out of the fridge and cut it into thin strips. This aids in the cooking. For that matter, if you cut the steak before marinating, it will marinate faster (increased surface area).

If you want the steak to have a more grilled appearance, you’ll need to use a pan at a high heat and probably start cooking the steak first. As this can leave a kitchen absolutely full of smoke, I chickened out and just added a tbsp of oil at medium-high heat, let the pan warm up and tossed in everything – steak, onions, peppers – at once. I cooked until the steak was done, no hint of red and with the vegetables soft and moist. I had my daughter try the meat and when we were satisfied, we removed the food from the skillet, drained the juices, poured it all into a bowl. We provided a spoon and flour tortillas and allowed anyone to have at it.

It looked great, and would have been great over a bed of rice, too.

Just what is a holiday lizzie?

In a recipe found in the Our Fair Lady cookbook, my grandmother makes a cookie that she calls a Holiday Lizzie:

Recipe for Holiday Lizzies

Recipe for Holiday Lizzies

I’ve never made these. The cost of this kind of cookie was always so prohibitive that I shied from making it. But it does beg the question: what is a holiday lizzie and why are they called that?

It’s clearly a kind of fruit cake cookie.  And while information on the fruit cake cookie is scarce, finding good sites that talk about the fruit cake are relatively easy to uncover. The Wikipedia has a good article, the site What’s Cooking America has a nice article, but the nicest and most exhaustive I’ve seen so far is on the site Food Timeline. Their article on fruit cake is a pleasure to read. The site covers all kinds of topics, from the beginnings (covering things like emmer and einkorn wheat) to quirky fads such as Space Food Sticks. Lynne Olver, a librarian in New Jersey, is the little engine that keeps this site going and I have to say, boy am I glad I found it.

I suspect I’ll have to ask her what is the origin of the phrase “lizzie” because I really can’t see or find it. Dictionaries have preserved the phrase “tin lizzie” (a reference to a model T, circa 1915) but “holiday lizzie” seems to have escaped them. I can’t help but think “lizzie” is early 20th century slang, from which both “tin lizzie” and “holiday lizzie” are derived, but tracing it will be tough. The Urban Dictionary offers some clues, but I’m wondering if the context is entirely lost.

To scan the blogs for fruit cake cookie recipes, the Blog Magnolia Blossom offers a nice one: Great Aunt Audrey’s fruit cake cookies. Another interesting recipe comes from the Gardening Granny, who uses a pumpkin bread base for her fruitcake cookies.  The blog Christmas Recipes features fruit cake cookies that include raisins in the mix (my grandmother’s recipe didn’t use raisins that I can see). The blog Life’s Just Beachy has a Lizzies recipe, but the site is down. This cache, for now, recovers the recipe.

Pico, pico, pico

I went shopping at Buford again, and picked up a pretty yellow tomato, a red onion, and some long hot peppers. I wanted to make a pico de gallo, and wanted one with a bit more color.  I tried Jo’s lick test on the long hot pepper and it was plenty spicy when licked.  I thought they were about as hot as a jalapeno, buut.. I have pictures of long hot peppers here:

I suspect these "long hot peppers" are in the cayenne family.

I suspect these "long hot peppers" are in the cayenne family.

And if you take a look at those, and take a look at cayenne peppers on Miss Vicki’s site, wouldn’t you say they are similar? That’s my impression. In any event, I’ve wanted a bit spicier pico and I’m hoping these will provide the extra heat. I used red onion and a yellow and vine ripened tomato. The recipe, such as it was, was something like this:

3 tomatoes, 1 yellow, 1 roma, 1 vine ripened, diced
1/2 red onion, diced
1 bunch green onions, minced.
2 long hot peppers (one turning red), diced.
1 bunch cilantro, minced.
juice of 1 lemon and 1 lime, extracted with a spoon.
mix well, cover with a plastic bag and marinate in the refrigerator.

The result looked like this:

pico looks brighter with a little yellow tomato.

pico looks brighter with a little yellow tomato.

We usually marinate overnight to yield flavor, and it’s better when marinated two days.

kumquats

I had never had kumquats before, so I bought some at Trader Joes.  I took a picture just before we finished the last of them.

kumquats next to a garlic clove.

kumquats next to a garlic clove.

They’re small, about grape sized. I’m not sure if I’ll get them again, as for the same price I can pay for half of a box of clementina oranges. But for those looking for a new recipe kick: Picky Cook’s grapefruit, avocado and kumquat salad.

Boonie pepper seeds.

We have discussed boonie pepper seeds in the past. The first of mine have arrived, from rightbbq. It turns out the email seller rightbbq is the eBay incarnation of The Pepper Pilot. The Pepper Pilot site seems incomplete to me, so I’d buy seeds through eBay till the site is completed.

Found on the blogs:

The blogger Vegeyum has scored again with a very nice summary post. To point out two excellent links from her summary, there is Culinate.com’s glossary of grains, and Red Ramekin’s quinoa salad.

The Snellville edition of Texas Roadhouse is on Dogwood Road, close to the intersection of Scenic Highway (124) and Dogwood. The restaurant is in the same large mall area as Men’s Wearhouse and O’ Charley’s, but on the Dogwood side of things. The steakhouse is actually much easier to get to down Dogwood, as that part of Scenic Highway gets a little crowded with traffic. From Ronald Reagan you could exit Web Ginn Road, head towards Brookwood High School, and then hang a left on Dogwood to get to Texas Roadhouse.

As compared to Outback Steakhouse, which we reviewed recently, the atmosphere here is more informal. Sometimes that’s a good thing. Peanuts are served in small metal buckets, all you can eat. There were times when I had a hungry impatient daughter.  Giving her some peanuts kept her hands busy, kept her from complaining until she received her meal.

Occasionally the waitstaff will dance. I’m not sure what the rhyme or reason is, but it’s entertaining when it happens. Items on the menu, for what it’s worth, go by common names here, as opposed to something made up.  You can order a choice sirloin without any feeling of guilt. Steaks are good, competitive in price in my memory and served with good sides. My wife has had good luck with chicken, or ribs, or some combination of the two. Among the appetizers I’ve tried are the buffalo wings and the rattlesnake bites (stuffed jalapenos), both good. In terms of salad dressings, my wife favors the ranch dressing and I’ve had good luck with the italian. My daughter eats all kinds of things here, though I think lately she’s been getting chicken tenders. Service, in my experience, has been good to very good here. Waitstaff will come by, refill drinks, ask how you are doing, and make food suggestions if you need them.

If I haven’t said, this is a popular place and can get crowded for dinner. It might be worthwhile to choose times carefully if you want to just stick your head in and eat.  But in summary, this is a good steakhouse, worth going to, a bit more informal than Outback. I recommend this steakhouse highly.

Texas Roadhouse
1969 Dogwood Road
Snellville, GA 30078
(770) 985-1450

Texas Roadhouse on Urbanspoon

I’ve never been much for the fake exotic theme. As exemplified by a swell of ‘Hawaiian’ bars in the 1960s, usually with a name like Kon-Tiki and an emphasis on tropical fruit flavored drinks, these things were as realistic as liquid smoke. And the succession of bad themed restaurants hung with me. It was an association that was easy to pass on. For that reason I avoided Outback for years.

Thankfully, just before reaching Atlanta I tried an Outback. I had the Outback special. I ordered a medium rare steak and I received a medium rare steak. Bread, a salad and steamed vegetables came with the meal. Prior to this time I never ate zucchini, but I devoured the squash Outback provided. The steak was square and a little thicker than I was used to, but otherwise a flawless sirloin. The tangy tomato dressing was fine, a nice riff off of catalina. The service was surprisingly good.

Over the next decade and change Outback has managed to hold onto these fundamentals and the Outback in Stone Mountain (just off highway 78, near the 78 and  East Park Place intersection, completely opposite the Best Buy found there) is no exception. My family was eating at this Outback when we were in Norcross, and we’ve continued since moving to Snellville. Be warned that this is a popular restaurant and if you head here on a mother’s day, you could be waiting 90 minutes to a couple hours.

The steakhouse genre is a crowded one and yet we still prefer Outback to most steakhouses for two reasons. The first is the price, as Outback tends to be a little cheaper for the same amount of food, and the second is generally excellent service. I say generally because this location has on occasion simply had service that was merely good. However, the odds you’ll get great service here are higher than at the other steakhouses close to Snellville.

The menu for Outback has recently changed, adding newer, less expensive items. You can go to the Outback web site and download a PDF of the menu for this store. Most of the favorites are still there. I tend to order the Outback special, my wife likes an off-the-menu item called a Drover’s platter (chicken and bbq combination), and my daughter is fond of  the Royal Port Tilapia. New are things like a new pepper mill steak, a marinated sirloin, and ribs and Alice Springs chicken — this last seems a resurrection, in a smaller serving size perhaps, of the old Drover’s platter.

Other items we’ve had and liked include the rack of lamb, the Outback grillers (shish-kebabs), the towoomba pasta, the ribeye, the prime rib, and the Kookaburra wings. We’ve done mother’s days and birthdays here, times where we wanted to be treated a little better than average and were in no particular hurry. This place is highly recommended.

handy tip:

If it’s crowded, watch the seating around the bar. That seating is first come first served. If you can wait until someone leaves, you can often get seating faster than if you let your server seat you.

Outback Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

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