Category Archives: Favorites

My Favorite Dishes of 2016

As 2016 began, it was planned that Nick, me and the kids — Holly, the 11-year-old pitbull and our 7-year-old Frenchie, JJ — were moving to Denver from Phoenix. Our intention after twelve months in the Sonoran Desert was to relocate to the Mile High City for his work. Our last stop was the Rocky Mountains. However, after all that, we have found ourselves back in Southern California, where we had originally started. Not in Los Angeles – coming full circle — but in Newport Beach, behind the Orange Curtain. Still for Nick’s work, but with a fluffier job description.

It’s a good location for us. Far from the histrionics of the world’s entertainment capital. Yet, we discuss missing Camelback Mountain rising out of the valley, the vast blue skies and, of course, the food. Phoenix taught me that good eating can be found anywhere if you are looking for it. It doesn’t have to be in one of the anointed culinary islands such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco or Los Angeles.

While living in Phoenix, I discovered deep blended roots of Mexican and Native American food. Indeed, it’s common for local hunters born of Mexican descent to shoot game such as moose or elk during the holiday season. The braised meat is then turned into Christmas tamales and frozen to eat throughout the year. It’s a practice that goes well beyond the area’s 114 years as a state. Originally, Mexican settlers joined with the natives crafting unique food and then in turn, became Americans when the 48th state entered the Union.

I bring this up because I read a well-known restaurant writer’s suggestions of “best food trends”. In her lengthy piece, she proffered gastronomic extravagances in Copenhagen, Paris, and of course, the Big Apple which is where she is based. I can always choose what is great elsewhere, from Singapore to Argentina, France to Greece. However, I think it’s our duty to describe what is “great” in America. Our culinary prowess is the myriad of cultures creating our nation – borrowing from here and there, making our own indigenous taste profiles such as fried chicken, pot roast or apple pie. Derived from other places, but made here crafting American comfort. We need to recognize that we are great, looking only to our dinner tables.

Unlike the writer, who travels often, I didn’t get on a plane this year except a roundtrip to Vegas and Phoenix. After almost two dozen countries and nearly 250 cities, I’m not big about getting on planes anymore; plus, I love the dining scene in smaller cities such as Phoenix, Portland and even in Orange County, California. They aren’t massive but what’s cooking is robust and lively.

As go into the new year, as a nation, we have dreamed up all types of unique food – Mexican-Korean tacos, Japanese sushi with Brazilian flavors, Thai with Texas BBQ– turning it into one melting pot of goodness. The ingredients simmering on the American stove is where we have always been welcoming, tasting little bits of this and adding some of that. Authentic American flavor is made from our fusion of cultures right here at home and it’s always been great.

Hoja Sante stuffed with Mennonite Cheese, Gran Reserva Barrio Café : Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza (Phoenix, Arizona).

Chef Silvana Salcido Esparza should be a nationally recognized chef and it’s a shame she’s not. She is a proud Mexican American born in the United States and is un-WASP-like most Food Network stars such as Giada, Rachel or even Paula Deen.  At her five restaurant mini-empire based in Phoenix, her cooking is Mexican but with European techniques. At Gran Reserva Barrio Café, her new restaurant which opened in spring 2016, Esparza’s creativity is evidenced in the simplicity of a melty hunk Mexican Mennonite cheese, wrapped burrito-like in a large hoya sante leaf and served with two smoky chili pastes. Simple. Traditional and yet still other worldly.

Image result for Hoja Santa Gran Reserva Arizona Latinos

The indigenous plant is not commonly found north of the border, and when it is, it’s usually used in stews and braises. Esparza uses it whole, instead of strips, allowing the anise flavor to compliment the queso’s milky texture. The venomous bite of the peppers is nulled by the dairy and leaving only smokiness. Texturally, the crunch of the leaf, emission of creaminess and a nullified heat is eye-opening. As I sat eating the dish, along with interviewing the Phoenix-based chef for Arizona Latinos, she imparted the history of the Mexican Mennonites and how they are still important to the agriculture of the country.

This gooey delicious dish is modest, and that’s what makes it brilliant.

Chicken Liver Pasta, Sotto:  Chef Steve Samson (Los Angeles, CA)

On a media tasting invite, I went through a selection of items chosen by Chef Steve Samson at his almost six-year-old restaurant Sotto. The cozy space is inviting with blue walls, wooden tables and chairs as is Mr. Samson, who is one of the kinder cooks in the culinary world.

Going through his menu, which is all yummy the standout, became the housemade Rigatoni tossed with Chicken Livers, Parmigiana Reggiano and Porcini. It’s a daring dish for Angelenos to embrace. First, there are the carbohydrates but second the livers aren’t normally found on regular menus much less Italian. Having traveled often to Italy, I didn’t recall pasta and innards used in this way and asked Samson where it was based. It was his unique twist on the typical Bolognese ragu. Instead of throwing away something tasty, he invented this earthy and rustic dish. I’m not fond of chicken livers – and I don’t know many people who are – but this I would eat every day for the rest of my life.


Jardineros (Garden) Tacos, Taco Maria: Chef Carlos Salgado (Costa Mesa, CA)

Taco Maria is a high-end eating experience much like the Rick Bayless’ chain Red O or even Phoenix’s independent Barrio Café (see above). White tablecloths, waiters with crumbers and sparkling water served in wine glasses, my type of my place, where a diner feels special. Located inside a mall within a mall, it is an indoor-outdoor space which is a good showcase for the unique tastes presented by Chef Carlos Salgado.

Much has been written about Salgado and for good reason, his fusion of California agricultural and Mexican cooking produce, arguably the country’s best tacos. Ordering a la carte during lunch, there are a five varieties of the national south of the border food: chicken, beef, pork,  fish and vegetarian. Exceptional eats every single one, wrapped with the housemade delectable blue corn tortillas found only at Taco Maria. (B.S. Taqueria gets their masa from here too.) The standout is clearly the vegetarian (jardineros) made with shitake mushroom chorizo, a crispy potato and queso fundido. Separately, each one would make a great filling but together, they create something truly different. The minced fungi spiced with traditional south of the border flavorings texturally give the chorizo a meat-like consistency. However, it’s the flavor which is a standout.

Pasta dishes, Tratto: Chef Chris Bianco (Phoenix, AZ)

Legendary chef Chris Bianco is  renowned for Pizza Bianco. Matter of fact, his pizzas have been called the best in the world by former “Vogue” food writer Jeffrey Steingarten. Therefore, when someone invites you to Tratto, his new restaurant which opened in early summer 2016 in the same mall as his world-renowned pizzeria, you go – but not for his pizzas. At his new space, he has opened his creativity to showcase other goodness derived from Arizona farmers; mostly notably, the wheat growers.

Bianco does everything else but pizzas. Old-fashioned, Italian food but a real display of southwestern growers. I don’t mean peppers, tomatoes and cheese but bold pairings such as beets and gorgonzola roasted in a fig leaf. All ingredients are sourced from the 48th state, crafting Italian food. Don’t question it but eat his handmade pastas which are carefully crafted by Bianco. Get off the carb diet and have a bit of heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Mole Negro, Talavera at Four Seasons Scottsdale: Chef Mel Mecinas (Phoenix, Arizona)

To reiterate, I’ve listed the dishes I’ve eaten over the course of the year which I remember fondly. Eating them, at the restaurant, the conversations around them and how good they are. Nothing comes as close to Chef Mel Mecinas and his mole negro and beef tenderloin.

Mole is probably one of the world’s most difficult sauces to make. Consisting of more than two dozen ingredients ground and simmered into a liquid, resulting in something edible which is complex, luscious and fortifying. Fish is too delicate for the earthiness but lean cuts of meat provide a great experience to taste the Mexico pottage which is what diners get at Talavera under the capable hands of Chef Mecinas.

Unfortunately, he no longer works at the restaurant where he was the Executive Chef for more than a decade. Greener pastures beckoned. However, one day I hope the world gets to eat his extraordinary mole.


i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast’s Michael Zee and Idli Recipe

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeWhen I asked Michael Zee, author of the incredibly beautiful cookbook and popular Instagram, SymmetryBreakfast, what inspired him each morning, to create such lovely meals? Well, I bet you won’t be surprised by his answer: “I love to cook a lovely meal for Mark to make breakfast a special moment for both of us.”

SymmetryBreakfast incorporates world cuisines, contemporary design and a story of love over the meal of breakfast. Featured in the Guardian, Washington Post, Telegraph, Bravo, and endorsed by Jamie Oliver, it is also a favourite account of Kevin Systrom, Instagram CEO and co-founder.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Dutch Puff

Michael studied photography at the Arts Institute at Bournemouth in 2003 and later went on to teach Art and Design in secondary schools in London’s East End. He then completed his masters in Museums and Galleries in Education and went to work in public programming at the Victoria & Albert Museum, London.

He now works on SymmetryBreakfast full time.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Tapioca Pancakes

Michael’s passion for cooking comes from his parents. His mixed English, Scottish and Chinese heritage. Weekends and school holidays would be spent working in his father’s Chinese and English chippies in Liverpool and teaching himself to bake for his mother’s sweet tooth.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Churros y jamon con cajeta–hurros with ham and caramel dipping sauce © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Michael created SymmetryBreakfast for his partner Mark in their Hackney flat in 2013. Mark’s hectic job as a menswear fashion designer means late nights and weekends in the office. Early on in their relationship, breakfast became a sacred moment in the day and Michael started on his mission to make each meal as celebratory as possible. Over 1,000 breakfasts later, Michael still wakes up early to make breakfast for Mark, looking carefully around the world and at home for inspiration, taking a simple idea and making it beautiful.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli RecipeHis new cookbook, SymmetryBreakfast, contains over 100 recipes from around the world. The book takes an anthropological view of how food shapes culture and vice versa and how in the many different ways we break the fast.

The book has been published by Transworld (part of Penguin Random House) in the UK and Commonwealth, by PowerHouse in North America and by Shanghai Insight in mainland China.

Food People Questionnaire (with a nod to Proust):

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Kaiserschmarrn with redcurrants © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

How long have you been cooking?
Since I was about 5 years old in our family restaurant in Liverpool. It was a Chinese food and English fish and chip takeaway (very popular in Liverpool and probably nowhere else!)

What is your favorite food to cook?
Fresh pasta. It becomes such an event and is so much fun to do with friends, whilst having a glass or bottle of wine, one person turns the handle and the other feeds it through. You get in a huff when it goes wrong, but it’s pure joy when it comes out perfect.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Pastel de nata-Egg custard tarts © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

What do you always have in your fridge at home?
Butter. If there isn’t any then something is wrong

What do you cook at home?
Absolutely everything from every country and cuisine possible.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex?
Being British, I only have one Pyrex thing in my kitchen and it’s a measuring jug.

Beer, wine, or cocktail?
All three in that order.

Your favorite cookbook author?
Ernest Matthew Mickler of White Trash Cooking . One of my favourite books ever, too, food with soul and humour.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Magic grits © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Your favorite kitchen tool?
My santoku chef knife from Blenheim Forge

Your favorite ingredient?
Tea – its not just a drink! An Earl Grey infused gin or a tea smoked salmon are delicious and add excitement in so many ways. I have over 50 teas from The Rare Tea Company and I love that they can be paired in so many ways

Your least favorite ingredient?
Olives, can’t stand them.

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Indian Slapjacks

Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen?
Doing the dishes. It’s a luxury to have a dishwasher in London. I’m very happy Mark loves doing the washing up.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook?
I love cooking Middle Eastern food. There are some fantastic shops and markets in East London that you can get fresh pistachios or pomegranate molasses easier than getting white sliced bread.

I also have a soft spot for French country cooking, things like Soupe à L’oignon or Pot-au-feu. I also have a deep love for Comte cheese and particularly love a Tartine au jambon et Comte

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
A Japanese Breakfast Gohan Shoku Salmon With Green Beans And Tofu

Beef, chicken, pork, or tofu?
I’d prefer to say a pig rather than pork. I love crispy belly pork or char sui pork, but lets not forget jamon and a glass of wine.

Favorite vegetable?
Aubergine, or as you might call it, eggplant. Roasted whole on a fire and mashed with some olive oil.

Chef you most admire?
Jamie Oliver – he’s changed the way the majority of people eat in the UK for the better.

Food you like the most to eat?
Cheese, in every form

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Cassava Porridge

Food you dislike the most?
Dark chocolate, I also hate it when people pretend to like it because it’s somehow cool. Give me the cheapest milkiest chocolate any day.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food?

Recipe: Idli – South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea

i8tonite with SymmetryBreakfast's Michael Zee and Idli Recipe
Idli-South Indian fermented rice pancakes with masala chai spiced tea © Michael Zee / SymmetryBreakfast

Makes about 20 idli

3 cups rice (long–grain is fine)
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1⁄2 cup water
1 cup black gram lentils (urad dal)
3 tsp salt
Oil for greasing the pans

Start in the morning of the day before you’d like to eat – as I said, some forward planning is required. In a bowl, mix the rice with the fenugreek seeds and cover with the water. In another bowl, put the urad dal and cover with water. Leave both bowls for a minimum of 5 hours.

The evening of the day before eating, drain the water from the rice but don’t discard it. Put the wet rice in a blender and add 1⁄2 cup of the water. Blend until you have a smooth batter, adding extra water, a little at a time, until it flows easily. Decant this into a large bowl and repeat with the dal (start with 1⁄4 cup of water this second time, as you should have some residual liquid in the blender).

Add the liquid dal to the rice with the salt and mix together using your hands. The bacteria on your skin will help kickstart the fermentation. Leave this covered overnight to ferment in a warm oven; I leave the oven light on. Depending on the time of year, this process will give different results, but you should have a huge, bubbling white mass.

The day of eating, give the batter a good stir. The consistency should be that of thick cream.

Prepare your idli pan by lightly oiling each of the sections with either a brush or a paper towel. Fill the bottom of the pan with water, making sure it doesn’t touch the idli holder. Ladle in enough batter to reach just beneath the edge; you’ll get some rise but not lots.

Steam the idli for 20 minutes with the lid firmly clamped on.

Remove the idli with a wet spoon, running it round the edge of each pancake. Repeat with the remaining batter. Serve with sambar and coconut chutney.

Leftovers can be transformed into idli fry, a delicious snack of deep fried idli served with a dip, chutney, or sauce of your choosing and a cup of tea.

– The End. Go Eat  –

All photos courtesy and copyright Michael Zee/SymmetryBreakfast

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo

You may have heard of Kalamazoo from one of the many popular songs about the city – from Glenn Miller to Ben Folds Five to my favorite, Walt Kelly’s Deck Us All with Boston Charlie – or poems, including one by Carl Sandberg. Kalamazoo has many nicknames, including Windmill City, Celery City, Mall City, and Paper City; it is the home of the Kalamazoo Promise, which offers college tuition to Kalamazoo Public School students. It is a city of entrepreneurship and hard work, including Upjohn Pharmaceuticals, The Peppermint King, Checker Cabs, Gibson Guitars (this is a very musical city), paper mills, and medical innovations, like those of orthopedic surgeon Dr. Stryker, who invented the cast-cutting saw and a turning bed frame.

History of Kalamazoo at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
History of Kalamazoo at the Kalamazoo Valley Museum

The name Kalamazoo is a Potawatomi Indian expression, meaning boils like a pot (one look at the surface of the Kalamazoo River and you will nod your head in agreement). This is a vibrant small town with more diversity than you’d expect, thanks to the large corporations in town, as well as Western Michigan University and Kalamazoo College. That means good food! There’s a fantastic farmer’s market, and plenty of great food trucks (both at the farmer’s market, and downtown at Bronson Park during lunch and events).

Kalamazoo Public Library. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Inside the Kalamazoo Public Library

Speaking of Bronson Park, so much surrounds this public space – my favorite library, the Institute of Arts, the Civic Theatre – and it was the center of a deadly tornado, in 1980. Town founder Titus Bronson slept here in 1831, on his first night before settling in and founding the town; President Lincoln spoke here, as did Stephen A. Douglas, William Jennings Bryan, Theodore Roosevelt, and both John and Robert Kennedy. Today, you’ll hear bands in the bandshell and see kids splashing in the fountains in summer, and in winter, you can walk among the holiday lights.

Be alert when driving around town – you might catch a glimpse of the famous Banana Car! Kalamazoo is about 140 miles from Detroit and Chicago, and less than 35 miles from South Haven, if you’d like to see Lake Michigan on Michigan’s Sunset Coast.

It was extremely difficult to narrow these categories down. Kalamazoo is a food town, I’m lucky to say. I’m sure this won’t be the last you’ll hear this from me.

Breakfast at Nina's cafe. i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Breakfast at Nina’s cafe.

Breakfast: Nina’s Café
Since 1998, locals have been flocking to Nina’s café for their excellent, home-cooked breakfasts and friendly atmosphere. You’ll find people of all kinds here, but there’s one thing they have in common: they love a good breakfast. It’s a small diner-type restaurant, with under a dozen tables and some stools at the counter. Most of the bread is homemade, so ask when you order. They also serve lunch, but I’ve never tried that – WHO CAN RESIST a breakfast menu?

My Suggestion: Anything with hash browns. They are crispy, crunchy, and oh, so delicious. Eggs of any form are delicious, and be sure to try the biscuits and sausage gravy if you love them (ahem, me). Or the corned beef hash (ahem, me). And the homemade toast? Yes…

Price $5- $10
Hours 6:30am- 2:30pm every day except Sunday, 8am-2:30pm
Address 1710 W Main St
Phone (269) 373-6462

Second Breakfast (Bakery)
There’s only one place to send you, and I hope that you’ve worked off breakfast, because Sarkozy’s Bakery is extraordinary. I’ve eaten their oatmeal bread my entire life, and their pastries are the epitome of deliciousness. On weekends, you’ll find live music from local musicians, and definitely pop in during Art Hop. If you’re coming to the area, sign up for Judy Sarkozy’s email list – it’s not only interesting, and a behind-the-scenes look at running a bakery, but you’ll also learn about local ingredients and and special offerings (paw paws this fall, paczkis for Fat Tuesday). You can get meals, too – quiche, soups, etc. – but save room for lunch!

Sarkozy Bakery's apple pies. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Sarkozy Bakery’s apple pies

My Suggestion:  I can’t decide. So I will give you several. The Chocolate Croissant is luscious. The Almond pastry – divine. The Cookies. The Apple pies, crisp flaky, with a tender Michigan apple filling with just the right amount of cinnamon and crunchy turbinado sugar. Hold on, I’ll be right back…

Price pastries are $2-4.
Hours Monday-Friday7:30am –5pm, Saturday7:30am–4pm, Sunday 8am–2 pm
Address 350 E Michigan Ave
Phone (269) 342-1952
Website under construction, try

Lunch: Saffron
Let’s just pause a minute for the joy that is freshly baked naan. Now, pause another minute for this gorgeous salad with pomegranates. Do you want to eat anything else? The answer, at Saffron, is a resounding yes.

Composed salad at Saffron's lunch buffet. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Composed salad at Saffron’s lunch buffet – look at those pomegranates!

My Suggestion: When you walk into Saffron and view the wonder that is the lunch buffet, you know you won’t need a menu. EVERYTHING on the buffet is delicious. Highlights for me are the composed salad that we definitely need a recipe for, tandoori chicken, chicken curry, and many other delicious dishes, but best of all, finishing up with a creamy rice pudding studded with my favorite spice, cardamom.

Price buffet $11, entrees around $15 at lunch
Hours M-Th, 11:30am-2pm, 5-9:15pm; F 11:30am-2pm, 5-10pm; Sat 12-2:30pm, 5-10pm. Closed Sundays
Address 1710 W Main St (yes, just a few doors down from Nina’s)
Phone (269) 381-9898

Coffeeshop: Something’s Brewing
There are several contenders for this spot (Black Owl,  my favorite coffee in town, but closes at 3pm ; Water Street, crowded at times but open late; Chocolatea, but far down in Portage). The one that rose to the top like foam atop steamed milk is Something’s Brewing. Located just across the street from the main library, this is a small coffeeshop with a big heart. Kalamazoo’s original coffeeshop (opening in 1994), the shop has new owners in the last few years, and they know how to bake. I tell EVERY SINGLE PERSON about their homemade cinnamon pop-tarts. They have luscious chai latte ice cream smoothies in summer (!), and delicious drinks year round. The barista is so friendly that you feel welcome every time. Plus, she can turn a great espresso.

Something's Brewing, Kalamazoo. Fromi8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Something’s Brewing menu board. I know, so hard to choose…

My Suggestion: Frankly? Anything on the menu; I especially love the mochas. Our daughter gets the peanut butter peppermint mocha and swoons. I like their atmosphere (it’s small!) and the comfy chairs at the back, or the outside seating in the summer. If you like iced coffee, they use coffee ice cubes – a genius trick for not watered down iced coffee. Check their facebook page (their only web presence) for the baked goodies of the day. If you see the cinnamon pop-tarts, RUN. They sell out fast.

Price under $5
Hours M-F, 6am-5pm, Saturday 8am-1pm, closed Sundays
Address 120 W South St
Phone (269) 349-1295

Happy Hour
Kalamazoo is the center of Michigan’s craft brewing scene, so if you love beer, you can’t go wrong in this town, annually named as a top beer town in the US (here’s a beer map to all 14 breweries). Perhaps the most recognized craft brewery is Bell’s (try their Oberon Ale, in the summer). But with a slew of breweries, where to go?

Arcadia Ales. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Arcadia Ales

My Suggestion: Head to Arcadia Ales. Located a few blocks east of downtown, and on the Kalamazoo River, Arcadia Ales offers more than a few beers. I took a Yelp Elite tour of the brewery, and came away amazed. Started in 1996, Arcadia Brewing offers year-round, seasonal, specialty, and draft only beers. Here’s the thing that will make you happy (besides the outdoor patio) – the smokehouse. HOLY SMOKES, this is good stuff (ha! see what I did there?). While I love the brisket the most, I also enjoy the house made sausage, dry-rubbed spare ribs, and mac and cheese. All meat is locally-sourced. The smokehouse offerings make the beer even easier to drink – it’s a complete package. Try a flight of beers if you can’t decide!

Price Beer flights $10-15
Hours Tues-Saturday, 11am-11pm, Sunday 11am-9pm, Closed Mondays.
Address 701 E Michigan Ave
Phone (269) 276-0458

Dinner: Food Dance
I recommend Food Dance for more than their delicious food. They embody a farm to table ethos that goes a bit further: “We support artisans who practice craft food processes that have been around for generations—growing, raising, preserving, curing, aging, pickling, butchering and more.” Not only can you get that at the restaurant, but also at the small shop outside of the restaurant, where you can purchase artisanal meat/bread/etc. The restaurant annually wins awards, and it’s easy to see why – elegant atmosphere, attentive waitstaff, and extraordinary food.

My Suggestion: While the entirety of the menu is delicious (or so my

Ultimate Mac & Cheese, Food Dance. From i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Ultimate Mac & Cheese, Food Dance. Photo: MLive

family says), I would drive 24 hours straight to get their ultimate macaroni and cheese. This, too, wins awards for best Macaroni and Cheese in Michigan – take a look at the ingredients: rustichella d’abruzzo rigatoni, grafton aged cheddar, cream, caramelized onions, house made bacon, fresh spinach, toasted bread crumbs, field greens salad. You’ll thank me. I get it EVERY SINGLE TIME. Note: try the ginger mint lemonade – it’s scrumptious.

Price Ultimate Mac & Cheese, $19. Entrees range from $20-30
Hours Monday-Thursday 7am-10pm, Friday and Saturday 7am-11pm, Sunday 8am-3pm
Address 401 E Michigan Ave #100
Phone (269) 382-1888

Pin for later:

i8tonite: A Cheat Sheet to Eating in Kalamazoo
Downtown, in Kalamazoo’s Bronson Park





The End. Go Eat.



All photos courtesy and copyright Jessie Voigts, except where noted.

I8tonite: Turkey & Sweet Potato Hash and Becoming an Arizonian

Coconino National Forest: Credit National Park Service
Coconino National Forest: Credit National Park Service

I’m an official resident of Arizona today. Changed over my California driver’s license, an anxiety producing event. I find anything automobile-related makes my heart feel as if it’s at an Indy 500 speed. While driving in circles trying to listen to Ms. GPS exact DMV’s location – in Arizona, it’s called MVD — it dawned on me, I learned how to drive in Texas from an ex-boyfriend’s father, Cecil, a big-hearted man with a mustache to match. Two years later, I finally passed the test in Santa Fe – because I didn’t in Big Horn — and drove to Los Angeles in my first car at the age of 27. I was just a punk, urban kid who only knew trees in city parks and my idea of wildlife were sewer rats and feral felines.

Coconino National Park Service:
Coconino National Park Service:

Clearly, this area of the world has been good for me. With blue skies, mild weather and stunning other-worldly, seemingly vast landscapes that are located only in the American Southwest, it’s an ideal place for rejuvenation. This time, I’ve come looking for a respite. The first was a six-month sojourn from New York City to Santa Fe. Then it was game on in Los Angeles, where it was roller coaster life– all of my making — which didn’t stop for the next 20 years.  It’s what I thought life was supposed to be about, lots of dramas. As I get older, I find I want things to change. I know I’m not the same person I was five years ago. Or ten or twenty. Nor do I wish to be.

It was hard to let go of that license. It’s hard to alter what you think you already know. For me that’s the key, I think I know something or someone, I find out I don’t – especially me. I think it’s why so many people don’t do it. We want to sit and complain about our misery but aren’t willing to work our ways out of it. No matter what happens, I’m glad I moved to Arizona.

Turkey and Sweet Potato Country Hash:

Leftover Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash
Leftover Turkey and Sweet Potato Hash

Hash is re-using leftovers as in turkey hash after Thanksgiving. Or roast beef, duck, or chicken. It’s such a simple thing to make, but I needed to find the right recipe.  Finally, I found one I adapted from Fine Cooking Magazine, which meant par-boiling the potatoes, either sweet or white. I liked this because it meant there wasn’t the extra step of roasting the tubers and then sautéing. I could do everything in one skillet, preferably a cast-iron one. By using a cast iron skillet, I get an excellent browning and crust that I want on the finish.

We are going to need:

  • Your leftover meats: chicken, duck (yum!), roast beef, turkey, or sausage. Venison would be excellent as well. Picked clean, no bones and cut into bite-size pieces.
  • One large sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes of about 1 inch or so.
  • One red onion
  • One green, red or yellow pepper.
  • Two cloves of minced garlic.
  • Fresh herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage, and parsley.
  • Butter, wine or stock. If you don’t have these, water is great too. It just adds a little more flavor, but never mind – this is a homey dish that can be cheffed-up, hence the wine or stock

Cubed up all the potatoes as uniformly as possible about an inch — if you’re using a large sweet potato, peel it – and remember to make sure to keep the skins on for the white. Throw the potatoes in a large skillet, preferably cast iron. (It makes it feel Western. HA!) Fill the pan halfway with wine, stock or water, perhaps a mixture of both. Cover. Cook until al dente. You don’t want the spuds cooked all the way through.

While the Idahos are cooking, let’s chop up the onion and the peppers.  Keeping everything at about one inch wide. By this time, the potatoes should be just about done – 10, 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes. Wipe out the pan. Place back on hot burner. Throw in a couple of tablespoons of butter. Melt. Add the potatoes and veggies. Stir. Saute. Add minced garlic, the herbs of your choosing and the leftovers. Add a little more stock, water or wine. Just a splash to help steam, reheat and moisten. Press gently down with a spatula. We want a browned crust on the bottom. Cook for about 5 minutes. Stir. Press down. Cook for another five. Stir. Is it brown enough? If not, stir some more, pressing gently again. Top with fried, scrambled or poached eggs. Awesomeness!

The End. Go Eat.

i8tonite: With Chef Chris Hill of Bachelor Kitchen

Editor’s Note:  Still in the City of Angels where I’ve had extraordinary dining experiences.  I’m wrapping it up tomorrow and headed home.  Los Angeles was always a good city for me and I ate very well with friends. That’s what I will remember the most.

Atlanta born chef Chris Hill  created his name in the  Tidewater area (Norfolk, Virginia Beach and Newport News) of Virginia, which is steeped in military bases and quick casual service restaurants. He created 3 Way Cafe, a popular gourmet sandwich bistro which became a household name with its popular farm-to-table eats and regular television appearances by Hill for his brand “Bachelor Kitchen”. Chef Hill’s food is steeped in time honored Southern traditions such as hand-carved “Thanksgiving-style” turkey and and roasted pork loins with a fig glaze. Recently, Hill was honored to give a Tedx Talk where he re-defines the meaning of his success.

chris head shot

How long have you been cooking? For as long as I can remember. I am known what I’m doing for about 8 years.

What is your favorite food to cook? I love seafood. Delicate, adaptable, delicious.

What do you always have in your fridge at home? Eggs and Bacon for weekend breakfast – that’s it (and some cold beer).

Image result for eggs and bacon clip art

What do you cook at home? I’m almost always at the restaurant – but, I use my home kitchen for cooking out and weekend breakfasts.

What marked characteristic do you find unappealing in a customer? Closed-mindedness. Come on – try it, give it a chance, it’s not going to hurt you… I bet you’ll actually like it, damnit.

What marked characteristic do you love in a customer? The complete opposite – Chef, I trust you. Make me whatever’s on your heart.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, or Pyrex? Pyrex, seems a little more durable….. I’d take Cambro if that were an option!

Beer, wine or cocktail? Yes, please …. Ha, depends, but typically a good red with dinner and a whiskey cocktail to end the night.

Your favorite cookbook author? Michael Ruhlman. Love his stuff, great guy too.

Your favorite kitchen tool? A rubber spatula – comes in handy quite often.

Your favorite ingredient? Limes, the cool cousin to overrated lemons.

Your least favorite ingredient? Anything processed. Anything natural (that I can think of) is fair game.


Least favorite thing to do in a kitchen? Prep work over a short table.

Favorite types of cuisine to cook? I’m a Southern boy, so some variation of our regional cuisine – typically, with a flair.

Beef, chicken, pork or tofu? I’m not picky….. A medium rare steak sounds pretty good right now though.

Favorite vegetable? Beets. Love them, even out of the can.

Chef you most admire? Thomas Keller, been  a huge inspiration for quite a while – his approach his so humble, yet inspiring.

Food you like the most to eat? Seafood, shellfish, or a nice flaky, rich white fish.

Food you dislike the most? Processed anything, specifically, the frozen vegetarian products – I find them insulting, and I was a vegetarian for about a year myself.

How many tattoos? And if so, how many are of food? I’ve got zero, ha, I think I got into the game too late……

Tuna RecipeRECIPE: Orange Zest Tuna with Herb Citrus Orzo, Serves Dinner for 4-6


  • 1 pound orzo pasta
  • 2 pounds sushi grade tuna
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into quarter moons
  • ½ bunch chives thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp. fresh tarragon, chopped
  • 3 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 orange, juiced and zested
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • 1 tsp. each of salt and pepper or to taste
  • 1½ cups parmesan cheese, grated
  • ½ cup Greek yogurt

Preparation for Orzo Pasta

  • Combine orange and lime zest, chives, tarragon, thyme, garlic, salt and
  • pepper
  • Muddle or chop components to fully incorporate and rub with fish – set
  • aside, and separate into 2 equal piles
  • Meanwhile, bring 1 gallon of salted water up to a rolling boil and add
  • orzo pasta – cook for 6-8 minutes or until almost al dente and drain
  • **You want to time adding pasta with the next step
  • Slice zucchini in half lengthwise, and then each half in lengthwise again
  • (you should have 4 “sticks”)
  • Slice into ¼ inch thick pieces and sauté over medium heat in 2 tbsp. of
  • olive oil
  • Cook zucchini for 5-6 minutes and add first pile of herb mixture and cook
  • for 1-2 minutes
  • Add chicken stock, orange juice and reduce liquid in half
  • After draining orzo, add to pan and incorporate, finishing cooking process
  • Remove from heat and add Greek Yogurt and parmesan cheese

Preparation for Tuna

  • Rub fish with second pile of herb mixture, coating thoroughly and evenly
  • Heat 2 tbsp. olive oil in medium saucepan on medium-high heat
  • Add already crusted fish to pan and cook on each side for 2 minutes for
  • medium-rare
  • Serve over pasta.

– The End. Go Eat. –

My Favorite Tortilla Chip (With or Without the Salsa)

My Favorite Tortilla Chip (With or Without the Salsa)

Recently, I was at LA’s Farmers Market at The Grove buying some vegetables from Farm Fresh Produce. It’s one of the vegetable stands that’s been in the market for more than 50 years. It’s my go-to veggie hook-up when I missed my normal Sunday farmers market or need something additional throughout the week. (It’s either there or Farm Boy Produce which is right across the hall.)

On this particular day, I was in that wandering state. Not knowing what I wanted as I already had everything in my bag which I needed. It’s never good in any market; before I know I will have purchased four dozen cookies for $5, a new sports jacket for $500 or something equally not important and damaging to either wallet or waistline.

Farm Fresh isn’t that a large place. The fruits, extending from citrus to rambutans (the spiny, prehistoric-looking tropical fruit), are outside still ripening in the California sunshine. The inside displays consist of seasonal vegetables, lettuces and a variety of salsas. So if you want to get into trouble spending money needlessly, it’s really hard.

At the LA Farmer's Market

But there they were, calling my name gently perched on a corner-shelf in sightline,…above the the kale that then I saw the chips. Bagged in plastic were this gorgeously crisped, heavily tanned tortilla chips that I looked amazing. I asked Armando Puente, owner of Farm Fresh, about the chips and asked for his opinion. He replied nodding his head, “Muy delicioso.” He said that they were made fresh daily with fresh oil and salt. That was it. With a big yellow logo crying “Nuños” and priced at $1.99, it went into the mesh shopping bag.  Along with Puente’s freshly made pico de gallo, made in the back of the store, it was a much cheaper purchase then Gucci shoes but perhaps not to my waistline, I thought.

My Favorite Tortilla Chip (With or Without the Salsa)

Once I got home, I opened the bag and took out a thick, honey colored triangle. It was a quarter of a homemade tortilla which meant after making their own brand of tortillas, the makers of said chip used the excess to make this snack. And one salty, crunchy bite…..I decided that this would be a blog item to espouse my new finding, calling them the “best tortilla chips” I’ve ever eaten…truly.

Because of the thickness, the chips are extra crunchy with a light, smattering of salt. Not a lot of oil. That is it. Simple. Clean and oh so good.

It used to be that I would seek out the cult of “Have a Corn Chip” which used to be sold in Trader Joe’s and larger grocery stores. The chip, made in The Laguna Beach, California, has a nationwide following which was vindicated in a local alternative paper. These chips have a distinctive flavor as they have cooked with hint of lime and soy sauce. Delicious but not traditional.

My Favorite Tortilla Chip (With or Without the Salsa)

And as I’ve written this lengthy blog item, championing these particular tortilla chips (not to be confused with corn chips such as Fritos or Doritos), I discovered that tortilla and corn chips were only recently created. Tortilla chips were made by a lone woman in the late 1940s. She wanted to lessen tortilla “waste” so she fried up the irregularly machine-produced tortillas as a snack and invented the “tortilla” chip.

I prefer the tortilla chip which differs from the corn chip in two ways: 1) the chip from a tortilla was made to make…well, tortillas. It’s leftover from the process and 2) it’s made from the thousands of year old Mexican/ Aztec process of nixtamalization which uses lime juice and a stone to grind the corn. Corn chips on the other hand come directly from the “masa” (or ground corn) where they can go directly into the oil. A corn chip was made to be a corn chip and was created by the founder of Fritos, a vegetarian, whose company Frito-Lay seemed to have gotten waylaid in the development of wholesome, vegetarian options.

I was in the process of doing best chips item but I decided not to, since I came upon a stories done by blog Serious Eats and Arizona Foothills. The taste test is really about grocery store brands.

I think the upshot to the whole thing is that a chip like anything needs to be as fresh as possible. Certainly, you can make your own which to me is labor intensive or you can buy “Nuños”, simple as that. If you don’t have them available in your area, you can use the Tostitos or Santitas brand. The Santaritas for the Superbowl would be good just not the best….sort of like playing with a deflated-ball. It works, just not as crunchy.

 My Favorite Tortilla Chip (With or Without the Salsa)