Sunday, March 1, 2009

Abol Bunna - The New "Ethiopian" Restaurant in Town (02/19/2009)

I meant to post this blog a week ago - was under the weather and am finally all caught up with things!
On Thursday night 2/19/09, Erica's "In the Kitchen" group went to Abol Bunna, a new Ethiopian restaurant that opened up near the Westshore district of Tampa. I had read a review of the restaurant in The St. Petersburg Times, and it sounded like the type of restaurant that Cary and I love to try out - funky, reasonably priced, and ethic foods that we have never experienced before.
We got to the place, and I fell in love with the decor - yellow walls with brown trim, "industrial" (open) ceilings, and a seating area off to the side where you could experience eating like an Ethiopian:

While we were trying to figure out what to order, the owner of the restaurant, Azeb Bezabeh, came over and explained the nuances of Ethiopian food. We were then treated to a surprise - my husband had actually worked with Azeb years ago when the two of them did catering events over at the Marriott Tampa Airport!

A couple of us decided to be adventurous with appetizers, so we ordered the following:

Abol Tuna Seleta and Lentil Sambusa

I really liked the spice jars that were on the table, so I decided to photo them as well.

I am not sure which appetizer I liked better - the Abol Tuna Seleta had a really interesting texture to it, and the Lentil Sambusa was like eating Lentils inside Phyllo pillows!

For dinner, there were a variety of items ordered. A couple of entrees were repeated, which I really thought was cool. As for me - I could not decide between three of the entrees, so I did what I usually do - I ordered the Combination platter so that I could taste everything and see what I liked (all of it!) and did not like. Cary ordered the Awaze Tibs, and I really thought that it was outstanding as well.

Vege Variety Combo Platter, Alichia Dooro Wet, Duba Wet, Awaze Tibs,
Gored Gored, Abol Combination, Special Kitfo - Raw

A few of us were in the mood for something hot, so an Ethiopian Coffee Service was ordered:

As for me, since I was under the weather, I ordered tea. I expected to be served a Lipton's tea bag - I was not expecting to be served a variety of spices that were ground together then seeped through a piece of cheesecloth and then added to the Lipton's tea bag. I decided to forgo the tea bag and just enjoy the spiced infusion, which is now my favorite way to unwind after a long day!

All in all, this was one of the most enjoyable evenings out that we have experienced in a long time, and will definitely be recommending this restaurant to anyone who wants to experience Ethiopian food in a wonderful and unique setting!

Enjoy and Bon appetit!
Chef Susan aka Chef Jersey Girl

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Day of Mexican Food (El Taconazo aka "The Taco Bus" and Diana Kennedy) - 02/14/2009

Cary and I have been craving "real" Mexican food (not Tex-Mex or Cali-Mex) for a while, and this past Wednesday, we noticed that there was a full-page article in the St. Pete Times on El Taconazo, or as us locals call the establishment, "The Taco Bus".

When you first see El Taconazo, it does not look like anything spectacular. But once inside, the tastes and smells will take you back to a Mexican cantina by the sea. There are three seating areas - one when you first walk in, then two as you make your way towards the back.

The menu is very simple - chicken, beef, pork, seafood, and vegetarian delights that can be served as Tacos, Burittos, Burittos Prenado, Quesadillas, Tortas, Tostadas, Papos Platos, and El Taconazo. They also have daily specials, and are known for their Tres Leche (three milks) cake, which is totally heavenly.

Both Cary and I had their Conchinita Pibil Meal special, which was Pork marinated in achiote and bitter orange, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in a smoker (based on a 5,000 year old Mayan recipe) inside two soft flour tacos plus red beans and rice:

For dessert, we shared a piece of their Tres Leche cake, which I have made at home before, but can never get to taste like their version:

The owner of the restaurant, Rene Valenzuela, shared with us that his mentor, Diana Kennedy, was going to be appearing at Inkwood Books, an independent bookstore in South Tampa. We totally forgot about that, and finished our dessert so that we could meet the woman that many are calling "The Julia Child of Mexican Cooking".

I had read reviews of her books, and was looking forward to picking up a copy of "From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients by Diana Kennedy and Michale Calderwood". This particular book appealed to me, as I wanted to take "baby steps" with cooking traditional Mexican style foods such as Tamales, Chiles, and the like.

When we got to Inkwood Books, the book signing was starting to wind up, and we were actually lucky to get the final copy of the book I wanted. We saw Rene, and not only thanked him again for a wonderful meal at his restaurant, but also sampled some of the foods that he was serving at the event. After nibbling on the delicious bites of food, we had the pleasure of speaking with Diana Kennedy, whom I found to be a very charming and interesting woman who basically uprooted herself from Essex, England, and immersed herself in the culinary delights that Mexico has to offer. I shared with her that both my husband and I enjoy eating true Mexican food, and wished that we had remembered her classes over at The Rolling Pin and El Taconazo. So, instead, we will be using her books as a way to learn Mexican cooking, and if there are any DVDs out there that she has done, we will be buying them as well.

All in all, it was an amazing day once more filled with awesome food that you just cannot find anywhere - you have to look very carefully for it!

Address for El Taconazo is 913 E. Hillsborough Avenue (cross street Nebraska Avenue), Tampa FL 33604. Phone number is 813-232-5889, fax is 813-232-5808. Easiest way to get to the place is to take I-275 and get off at the Hillsborough Avenue exit, and head east. You cannot miss the restaurant - just look for the big "Taco, Burrito y Cerveche" sign:

Enjoy and Bon Appetit!

Chef Susan aka Chef Jersey Girl

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Day Dinner 2009

Valentine's Day for Cary and I is just like any other day. We really do not buy into the hype too much - we did not get engaged or married on that day, nor did we take our honeymoon during that time. Like other couples, we do exchange cards, and sometimes get each other silly presents. The big gift, though, is going to be coming a little bit late - We're going to be attending the Metropolitan Cooking Show in West Palm Beach on 3/29, and Cary bought us tickets to a VIP Dinner and Book Signing with one of my favorite Food Network celebrities, Paula Deen - I absolutely LOVE the woman and regard her as one of my role models who took an idea and grew it into something gignormous!

A while back, my friend, Carrie Oliver (who has an Artistan Beef Company, The Oliver Ranch) sent us a sample pack of some of her best-selling Steaks. We decided to pair two of the Wet-Aged Wagyu-Angus Cross Steaks with two Wild Lobster Tails from Costco, and roast up some Baby Bliss Potatoes and Asparagus Spears with Olive Oil, Rosemary, and Garlic.

The entire house smelled wonderful as we cooked everything, and a couple of our neighbors came over and asked us where we got our steaks from - they had never smelled anything like them ever! I gave them Carrie's website, and told them to order the steaks - they were heavenly!

We bought a 2007 Foire a Deux Menage a Trois Red Blended Wine (Zinfadel, Merlot, Cab Sav), and paired it with the dinner.

For dessert, we picked up mini-cakes from Publix Greenwise:

Triple Chocolate Mousse

Strawberry Tart

All in all, this had to be the BEST Valentine's Day dinner that we ever had - all it took was a little bit of advance planning and teamwork, and we were able to pull it off.

Chef Susan

The Pink Flamingo, Davis Island (02/08/2009)

The Pink Flamingo Cafe is one of our favorite places to take out-of-town visitors. The restaurant is situated on Davis Island, home to many funky restaurants and bars along East Davis Island Boulevard, as well as home to many restord bungalows and mansions that are on the water.
Cary and I decided to take my younger brother and his girlfriend there, as we knew that they would appreciate the decor, and that they would be able to get either breakfast foods (eggs, french toast), or lunch foods (salads, sandwiches, etc.).
We got to the restaurant, and saw that there was a wait for a table, which is normal; The Pink Flamingo is a"seat yourself" establishment, and the place does not take reservations.

After about 10 minutes, the waiter came by and took our order. He was extremely apologetic, as apparently the cooks had a little bit too much fun the night before (Gasparilla), and were moving a wee bit slow.

The four of us gabbed and read the newspaper - Cary and my brother discussed some of the sports headlines, and my brother's girlfriend and I discussed some of the foods that were on the menu. She asked me all sorts of questions about what I am now doing, specifically if it was possible to take some of her favorite recipes and make them more nutritionally sound. I suggested to her that she send them to me, and that I would take a look at them.

Finally, after a very long wait (around 45 minutes), our food came out:

Greek Omelet with Spinach, Feta Cheese, and Onions

Skillet Breakfast with Chicken, Shredded Cheese, Onions, Peppers, and other stuff

French Toast with Powdered Sugar, Maple Syrup, and Sausage Patties

Eggs Benedict

My brother joked with me to take the picture at that moment, as he was absolutely starving and was going to eat the Eggs Benedict in two bites...

After lunch, we drove my brother and his girlfriend around Davis Island, and showed them the mansions on Harbor Island, which was literally right across the small channel. Cary was able to point out who owned some of the homes that we saw, namely Joel Glazer (the mansion at the end of Harbor Island), Chris Simms, and a number of Tampa Bay Lightning players.

If you do go to this restaruant, your best bet is to either go during the week (very small wait for service and food), or go on the weekend and know that you will probably have some sort of a wait.
Chef Susan

Client Cook Days - The "T"'s of Panther Trace, 02/09/2009

Monday morning, I cooked for a client that found me thru, a website that connects Personal Chefs and clients in the United States. I was very excited to cook for this family, as I had a feeling that it would lead to more bookings with not only the family, but also their friends and colleagues.

Their cookday was going to be easy - three chicken dishes, one beef dish, and one fish dish that they were going to cook within 48 hours.

Recipes prepared were as follows:
Mediterranean Fresh Fish
- Baked fresh Fish covered with a topping of Black olives, Artichoke Hearts, Feta, and Tomato flavored with a hint of Garlic, Lemon and Clove
Side Dish: Brown Rice
Ginger Beef Stir-Fry
- Marinated Stir-fried Strips of Beef in a Ginger-Soy Sauce
Side Dishes: Ginger-Glazed Carrots with Macadamia Nuts (Carrots in a Ginger and Brown Sugar Glaze) and Brown Rice

Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives, and Mushrooms - Greek seasoned Chicken baked with Italian Tomatoes, Black Olives, and Sauteed Mushrooms

Side Dish: Vegetable Couscous Salad (Couscous with Tomatoes, Green Onions, Garbanzo Beans, Red Bell Peppers, Currants and Zucchini combined with a spicy Lemon Curry Dressing)

Chicken and Black Bean Enchiladas
- Chicken Strips, Black Beans, Jack cheese, and Red Bell Peppers in a Mexican salsa rolled in Flour Tortillas and topped with cheese and Picante sauce
Side Dish: Brown Rice

Artichoke and Feta Cheese Stuffed Chicken
- Tender chicken breasts filled with a lightly herbed goat cheese and artichoke stuffing.
Side Dishes: Orange-Glazed Carrots (Carrot slices in a Sherry Orange Ginger Glaze) and Brown Rice

I apologize for not having any other photos to share from this cook date - I am certain that these dishes will be repeated (especially the Chicken and Black Bean Enchaladas), so you can bet that I will be photoing them at that point!

Chef Susan

Saturday, February 7, 2009

St. Stefano Greek Orthodox Church's Super Greek Fest 2009

A couple of days ago, Cary and I noticed that St. Stefano's Greek Orthodox Church in St. Petersburg (Pinellas Park) was going to be holding their annual Super Greek Festival this coming weekend. We missed the one at St. John's Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa back in November (we were away that weekend), so we decided to head on over for dinner.

I am a huge fan of these Greek Festivals, as they allow my husband to reconnect with his Greek roots (his father was from Athens, and his aunt still lives there). And you guys know me - as long as there is good food, conversations, and entertainment - I'm there in a heartbeat!

When we got to the Festival, we noticed that the guys who sell and market It's Greek To Me Soup, an absolutely delicious version of Greek Chicken and Lemon Soup (Avgo-Lemono Soupa) that we had just run out of a couple of weeks prior. After saying hi to Mark Houllis, the gentleman who owns the company, he let me know that the soup he was selling at the Festival was the second version, which included more orzo. I told him I was happy to hear that, as I had to add more orzo to the soup every time we made it. I also said to him that we would take a case on our way out so that we could replenish our supply.

We paid for the 50/50 (still not sure if we won or not!), and upon entering their multi-purpose room, all the scents and sounds of Greece hit us once again. I have never been there, but from what Cary has told me, as well as his late father, it is one area that I am going to really enjoy exploring!

We walked over to the food area, and selected our dinners - Cary went with the Souvlaki Dinner Platter, which consisted of marinated meat on a skewer and served with Rice Pilaf, Greek Green Beans, Greek Dinner Salad, and a pita bread; I went with the Pastichio Dinner Platter, which consisted of ground beef and macaroni baked in a creme sauce (most likely bechamel) and served with Greek Green Beans, Greek Dinner Salad, and a pita bread. We decided to also get an order of Dolmades (stuffed grape leaves) and an order of Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese triangles made with filo dough). For drinks, we had to do a shot of Ouzo, which went down way too smoothly. I took a glass of Retsini Greek Table Wine and a bottle of water, and Cary had a Diet Coke.

We sat with a couple who lived down the street from the Church, and they said that there really was not too much of a crowd last night. All of us figured that most of the folks would be attending today, that is, if they are not participating in Gasparilla festivities in Tampa (another blog to be written tomorrow).

After we finished dinner, I decided to pick up some Kalamata Olive Oil (regular and extra virgin), as well as a package of Sweet Trahanas Tripolis and a package of Sour Trahanas Tripolis (Greek pasta that is made simply from semolina from durum wheat 'mavrogani', fresh pasteurized milk, eggs and salt this wonderful product can be described as sourdough pasta. The Greeks use this couscous-like pasta to thicken soups and stews or alone with extra virgin olive oil). We browsed the vendor tables, and really nothing other than the Greek foods interested me. Yes, I was a bit distracted by the shiny bling, but I did not buy any - perhaps that impulse is over with? *lol*

We decided to pick up dessert and have it outside. Cary got Galatobourekos, which is Greek custard in filo dough, and I got a miniature chocolate cake with chocolate filling and icing - if any one can identify it, please let me know!

Once outside, we decided to pick up two Gyro sandwiches (seasoned meat with onions, tomatoes, and tzatziki sauce on pita bread) to go, which will be lunch later today with the Avgo-Lemono Soupa, and also sampled the Loukoumathes, which are addicting honey puffs that are absolutely delicous!

Finally, we stopped by the "It's Greek To Me" vendor table, and had yet another sample of their soup - I cannot get enough of it! I think I have the recipe in my head, and will try to experiment with it as soon as we finish off the case of cans that we purchased.

Here are the pictures from St. Stefano's:

All in all, we had an absolutely wonderful time at St. Stefano's Greek Festival, and we plan on returning next year to it! Hopefully the weather will cooperate and it will not be as cold.

Chef Susan

Friday, February 6, 2009

Lunch Out and About - Asia Bagus, Kissimmee FL

After our workout at the gym yesterday, Cary and I were thinking of where to go for lunch before his company's "Message to the Field" at Sea World in Orlando. We knew that we did not want to go to Pei Wei Asian or Whole Foods - we have places like that here in the Tampa area.

It then dawned on me - why not take him to Asia Bagus Indonesian and Sushi Bar, the restaurant that I had discovered with Erica's Tampa Dining Out group? We were going to have enough time, as we were not meeting friends of ours at Sea World until 1:oopm the earliest.

Asia Bagus is one of those hidden gems that you would never think of going to. It is located in a strip mall at the junction of SR 535 and SR 192 in Kissimmee, not too far from the rental properties for the various theme parks in the Greater Orlando area.

The first time I went to the restaurant, I was impressed that it got "Best of Orlando 2007", and could see why they were the recipient of the award with some of the dishes that were coming out of the kitchen.

Since it was bitter cold outside, we decided to start off with their Miso Soup, which consisted of seaweed, scallions, clear broth, and tofu. That definitely warmed us up a bit!

For an appetizer, we selected the Fried Wontons with Goat Cheese off the main menu. My husband and I have this thing where we will order items that we cannot readily make at home. The wontons were served in a Sweet and Spicy Orange Ginger sauce, which complemented the savoriness of the Wontons.

For our main courses, Cary selected the Nasi Rames (Sumatra Combo Rice), which consisted of Jasmine Rice, Beef Rendang, spicy boiled egg, prawn crackers, and vegetables. I went with the Crackling Sweet & Spicy Shrimp, which was lightly battered and quicked fried with a flavorful sweet and spicy sauce, Jasmine Rice, and vegetables. I am not sure which dish I enjoyed more - Cary's or mine!

For dessert, we split an order of their Chocolate Raspberry Wontons, which is becoming a favorite of mine!

On the way out of the restaurant, the owner let us know that the restaurant was going to be in the Orlando Magazine's Best of issue, which is coming out in March.

If you live or work in the Orlando area, and have not tried this restaurant, you have to!

Address is 2923 Vineland Road, Kissimmee FL 34746; phonte 407.397.2205; website is

Here are the photos from our lunch yesterday:

Enjoy and bon appetit!

Chef Susan