386 – Palm Coast, FL

Nestled along the A1A on Florida’s northeast coast is a little hidden restaurant gem, at least to those that aren’t local, called 386.  Self-billed as “a fusion of fine dining”, you would never suspect the inventive and delicious menu that’s served inside the charming ramshackle building.  Having a reservation proved to be a wise move as it was packed on Friday night!  We walked through the gravel parking lot into the small rundown building unaware of the fantastic experience we were about to have.

Inside the door you are greeted by a lively crowded bar and then moved to a comfy dining room to the left.  Seating isn’t cramped, but they definitely pack in the people into their little spot.  We ordered wine and craft beer from an ample list and listened to a long selection of chef’s specials for the night.  How could we pass up the warm brie with brown sugar and balsamic served with parmesan crisps??  It was warm rich and creamy, without being overly sweet.  While the crisps were good, I thought the brie was much better on the warm bread they served as well.  We had a selection of salads next – the garden, the wedge and also the roasted beet special.  Red and golden beets with walnuts, goat cheese and vinaigrette tuned out to be a perfect choice!  Although my pet peeve is that it was served on a black plate – why mask those beautiful colors?!  I can tell you that I haven’t had better elsewhere though.

The menu has a ton of options from small plates to entrees and everything we saw coming out of the kitchen looked scrumptious.  Our table had a good sampling of entrees – Kansas City pork chop, herbed lamb chops, grilled ribeye and parmesan-crusted trout.  The meats were all healthy portions, cooked perfectly and served with simple, but tasty sides (think mom’s starch and veggie).  I ordered the trout, a huge portion crusted with parmesan bread crumbs and sage.  While the sage was a bit heavy, the fish was crisp and perfectly done.  Served with a simple risotto and green beans, it was all topped with a white wine butter sauce.

Dressed up or dressed down, a large group or an intimate dinner, you will love the inventive and well-cooked food at 386.  It’s clear that locals love this place as it was busy throughout the night!  Great service, comfortable surroundings and some of the best food in the area make this a must-visit if you’re in the area on vacation or if you live close by.  Find out more and check out the menu at threeeightsix.com.  Dig in!!

Rosie’s Fish Fry Coating

For many years my wife’s grandparents lived on Lake Okeechobee in Florida and would bring us the best lake perch caught and cleaned by papaw himself.  In fact, there was always money waiting if you could find a bone – he never had to pay out on that one!  Rosie would fry that fish in a light crispy cornmeal coating that always seemed impossible to make myself.  Eventually, she passed down the recipe and I have been using it, and the very specific ingredients, ever since.

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ROSIE’S FISH FRY COATING

Ingredients

Instructions

  • Mix all ingredients together in a 13×9 dish.  It will be easier to coat fish this way.
  • Dip fish or chicken fillets in whole milk and then into your fish fry coating.
  • Allow to rest on a wire rack for 15 minutes.
  • Fry in 350 degree oil until golden brown and cooked through.
  • Remove and drain on paper towels or wire racks and then serve immediately.

You’ll love the crispiness of this mix in all it’s fried golden deliciousness.  It’s perfectly seasoned, slightly herby, a little salty and great on both fish and chicken.  For chicken, I dip them a second time in milk and dry mix again before letting them rest another 15 minutes – it makes an extra-crispy crust!  Give it a try and stay true to the ingredients listed, Rosie would insist.  Dig in!

Crispy Hush Puppies

Fall vacations on Myrtle Beach every year make me think of one of our favorite places and their incredible hush puppies!  Since we decided to have a fish fry on a 70-degree day in February I wanted to make hush puppies for the gang to snack on.  Finding the right combination of soft, crunchy, sweet and savory can be a challenge, but I love how these turned out.  Give them a try and use them as a base recipe for other variations as well.

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CRISPY HUSH PUPPIES

Ingredients

  • 3 Cups Weisenberger Mills Self-Rising Cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 Cups Flour
  • 1 Tsp. Baking Soda
  • 1 Tsp. Baking Powder
  • 1 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/2 Tsp. Black Pepper
  • 5 Tbs. Sugar
  • 2 Eggs, Beaten
  • 2 1/4 Cups Whole Milk
  • 1 Medium Onion, Finely Chopped

Instructions

  • In a large bowl, mix all dry ingredients and mix well.
  • Add onion and stir to coat with dry mixture.
  • Add milk and eggs and stir just enough to mix.  DO NOT BEAT.
  • Mixture will be stiff, but should not be dry.  You can add more milk if you need it to come together better.
  • Cover mixture and place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour.
  • Using a 1/2 or 1-inch cookie scoop or a small spoon, drop hush puppy batter into 340 degree frying oil (I use a mixture of peanut and soybean).  Do not overcrowd the oil.
  • Fry for 5-10 minutes until outside is a deep golden brown and inside is cooked through.  You will need to turn them through the cooking process and may need to cut one open to be sure it is cooked through.

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These are best served immediately, but are great for another day.  Eat them plain or with butter or honey butter (1 stick salted butter mixed with 1/4 cup clover honey).  Again, this is a great base recipe that can be elevated by adding whole fresh corn or diced jalapeño.  What else do you love to flavor hush puppies with?  As for the cornmeal, I always use Weisenberger Mills from Kentucky.  You might not be able to find it in the store, but you can definitely order it online.  I swear you’ll taste the difference!  Try these for your next get together – dig in!

Cheddar Cheese Sauce

Sometimes a fat kid just wants cheese sauce on his veggies!  There, I said it.  For all the refined meals, healthy snacks and exotic ingredients there are times when you want the comfort of steamed broccoli and cauliflower smothered in rich cheesy melty goodness.  Don’t buy the awful frozen stuff from the store.  It takes just a few minutes to make my easy recipe and you’ll be good to go when you get your next craving!

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CHEDDAR CHEESE SAUCE

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbs. Butter
  • 2 Tbs. Flour
  • 1 Cup Milk (2% or Whole)
  • 6 Ounces Grated Sharp Cheddar Cheese
  • 1/2 Tsp. Salt
  • 1/4 Tsp. White Pepper
  • 2 Dashes Worcestershire Sauce

Instructions

  • In a small saucepan, warm milk over low heat.
  • While milk is warming, melt butter is a medium saucepan.
  • Add flour and stir together.  Cook over medium heat for 3-4 minutes to cook out raw flour and make a light rue.
  • Slowly pour warm milk into rue and stir together with a whisk until smooth.  Continue to cook for a few minutes until mixture has thickened.
  • Turn heat to low and stir in cheddar until melted.  Do not use pre-shredded cheese as the mixture will get too thick and won’t be as smooth.
  • Add salt, pepper and Worcestershire and stir.
  • Immediately serve over your favorite steamed veggies.

Better than a fake-cheese mess you find in the frozen section of your grocery store, this will quickly become a standard in your house.  Get your kids to eat their vegetables and enjoy the treat yourself.  Mostly, just enjoy the comfy goodness and dig in!

Tano Bistro – Loveland, OH

A night “out on the town” doesn’t always mean heading to downtown.  Tano Bistro is one of the most popular spots in Loveland and does a great job of making each trip feel both special and like you’re coming home every time.  Tucked in a storefront on Loveland Avenue, this cozy upscale restaurant has a bar, dining room and patio for al fresco evenings.  While the decor and feel is a combination of modern and historic charm, you’ll find guests dressed in everything from casual to formal.  And none of it ever feels out of place.

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Stopping in on the Friday before Valentine’s Day, we thought we’d try for a table without reservations (recommended on weekends).  While it was booked for the next few hours, the bar and high top tables are first-come first-serve.  Lucky for us we grabbed the last table for two.  There’s a great selection of beer, wine and cocktails, but nothing out-of-the-ordinary.  It’s hard to pass up the happy hour specials with $5 wine pours and dirty vodka martinis!  We took advantage of those prices and ordered the charcuterie to start our evening.  We had a beautiful assortment of fresh meat, cheeses, veggies and spreads.  It was a delicious plate and definitely enough for 2-4 people to share.  Our server was friendly and attentive and made sure we were taken care of all night – even though we were taking our time chatting the evening away!

The menu has a lot of small plates/starters and just the right amount of choices of salads, entrees and sandwiches.  We’ve had the eggplant pasta and bone-in pork chop before, both of which were delicious.  Given our huge charcuterie plate though, we settled on the Alabama BBQ sandwich and the mussels.  The sandwich, a spicy not-too-sweet pork bbq served on the perfectly crispy toasted white Texas toast, was a great portion served with salty potato wedges.  The ample bowl of mussels was served in a light broth of butter, garlic, chorizo, tomatoes, white wine and herbs.  I couldn’t get these eaten fast enough to dip the toasted ciabatta in that broth.  I love that dish anywhere, but they hit the nail on the head particularly well.

Open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, you have no excuses to not stop by and enjoy the service, atmosphere and locally sourced menu at one of Loveland’s best restaurants.  And you’ll be interested to know they have a Tano To-Go location in Loveland as well – awesome for delicious food you can warm at home!  You can find out all the details and menu on their website foodbytano.com.  Get there and dig in!!

White Pizza Dip

Everyone loves a good hot dip for a party.  Among the buffalo dips and spinach artichoke dips of the world it’s nice to bring something different to a party.  This white pizza dip was introduced to us by our friend Mindy and we’ve been making it ever since!  It’s perfect for a mini crock, but can be doubled for a larger slow cooker and a bigger crowd.  Either way, I know this will quickly become a favorite for you and your friends.

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WHITE PIZZA DIP

Ingredients

  • 16 Ounces Sour Cream
  • 8 Ounces Ricotta Cheese
  • 1 Cup Shredded Mozzarella Cheese
  • 1 Packet Garlic & Herb Dry Soup Mix
  • 30-40 Slices Pepperoni
  • 1 Large Loaf Italian Bread

Instructions

  • In a mini slow cooker, mix sour cream, ricotta, mozzarella and soup mix until thoroughly combined.
  • Cut pepperoni slices into quarters or eighth, depending on preference, and mix into sour cream mixture.
  • Plug in cooker and allow to heat for at least two hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Cut bread into bite-size pieces and arrange in a bowl to serve.

White pizza dip is tangy and a little spicy depending on the amount of pepperoni you put in it.  Like a lot of my recipes, you can easily update it with flavors of your choice.  Go with a meatless version and add sautéed mushrooms and green peppers instead.  Try adding 8 ounces of cooked crumbled spicy Italian sausage or even ground beef and diced chopped and seeded tomatoes.  I’d like to hear what you try and what worked well.  I’m sure you’ll quickly find your favorite combination.  Dig in!!

Italian Sausage Stuffed Mini Peppers

I was given a pepper roasting rack some years back as a Christmas gift.  And over those years, I’ve perfected this recipe for grilled sweet peppers stuffed with a spicy Italian filling.  Delicious as a football-watching snack and pretty enough as an appetizer to bring to a dinner party.  Try making these for your Super Bowl party tomorrow!  And if you don’t have a special rack, you can use foil to fashion a checkerboard in the same shape to hold these upright on your grill.

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ITALIAN SAUSAGE STUFFED MINI PEPPERS

Ingredients

  • 24 Assorted Mini Sweet Peppers (most groceries sell them by the bag now)
  • 8 Ounces Sweet Italian Sausage
  • 1 Clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 Tsp. Dried Oregano
  • 1/2 Tsp. Red Pepper Flakes (optional)

Instructions

  • Wash and dry the peppers.  Cut off tops and use a paring knife to remove any seeds and white membranes from inside.  Set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, combine sausage (without casing), garlic, oregano, cheese and pepper flakes.
  • Using a small spoon or your fingers, stuff each pepper with the sausage mixture.  Only fill each pepper just to the top and don’t pack it too tight.  The filling will expand when it cooks.
  • Place peppers in your specialty rack or foil grid so that they are standing upright.
  • Grill over low heat for 25-30 minutes.  Peppers will be roasted, blistered and soft while the filling should expand and brown on top.
  • Remove from grill and serve immediately.

Grab yourself an IPA, cocktail or glass of cabernet and savor these salty sweet bites.  I guarantee that you’ll make these a staple snack for the big game or family functions.  And make the small investment in the pepper rack, it’s totally worth the purchase to make this recipe as well as grilled jalapeño poppers!  Dig in!