1. The $10 Challenge: Manny and Merle

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    January 24, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    When I say "Brisket," you say, "Taco."

    I knew it was time to write about Manny & Merle’s when I panicked over what I thought was the restaurant’s closing. Rob and I happened to be downtown on a Monday evening and we decided to stop by this modern honky-tonk on Main Street. Instead of tacos and country music, we were greeted with a locked door. Dark had settled over the long, narrow restaurant. The tall seats I had climbed onto during some good happy hours were clipped upside down on the table. Was my favorite downtown spot was closed? I took to Twitter for answers to ease what I hoped was just an overreaction. Fortunately, the fine folks behind the Manny & Merle Twitter account let me know they’re closed on Sundays and Mondays, so I just needed to chill the eff out (my words, not theirs). But in that moment of panic, I realized that I had grown to love Manny & Merle.

  2. Sweet potatoes: an appreciation and recipe

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    January 20, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    That's me, desperately taking a picture with one hand and praying that I don't drop my phone in the water.

    A dish of sweet potatoes was special-occasion food in my family.

    They made regular annual appearances at Thanksgiving. My mother was a working, single mom, so Thanksgiving was an endeavor best tackled in stages. Mommy would buy a big bag of sweet potatoes a week before the holiday to get ahead of the crowd. A few days later, she or my Uncle Bobby would scrub the spuds, pile them precariously into the biggest pot we had, covered them with water, and let them boil for hours on the electric stovetop. The pot of potatoes bubbled away beneath the TV and the phone ringing and my family’s normal volume that was always set to “Yell.” As the house settled into the evening, the phone calls more distant and the talk a little quieter, Mommy or Uncle Bobby drained the sweet potatoes, peeled off the skin with a butter knife, sliced them length wise, and arranged them like shingles in a baking dish. That night, or the next day depending on how her full schedule was looking in those scant days before Thanksgiving, Mommy would cloak the naked potato slices in a layer of brown sugar, cinnamon and nutmeg dotted with pats of butter. The dish baked until it bubbled and the brown sugar formed a crust on the once exposed sweet potato slices. The smell alone was justification for 365 days of waiting.

  3. Strati Wild Italian unites the Pasta Partners

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    January 8, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    A small pasta bowl at Strati Wild Italian. And yes, it pairs well with a little bottle of wine.

    When I was a student at Western Kentucky University, my friend Beth and I dubbed ourselves Pasta Partners. The name came from our affinity for the pasta station in the dining hall in Garrett Conference Center. The student newspaper office was located in this building, which meant I spent more time here than any location during my undergraduate education.

    The dining room was in the basement of Garrett. The pasta station was located right between the door and the cash register at the end of a half-circle of meal stations. The Pasta Ladies were suited up in stained white chef’s jackets and hats to match, but their demeanor was more lunchroom lady than Top Chef.

    Beth and I loved the pasta ladies who made each dish to order. They squirted oil into a skillet and plopped in a small spoonful of garlic to begin each order. The scooped the meat and veggies we wanted for our pasta from black plastic containers nestled in ice. Penne noodles went in next, followed by a ladle of marinara or alfredo sauce or one of each for the adventurous among us. Once the Ladies tossed everything together over their individual burners, they slid the pasta onto black plastic plates and sprinkled a handful of cheese on top of it all. A hearty helping of carbs got Beth and I through many long afternoons and evenings in the newspaper office.

  4. The $10 Challenge: Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ

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    January 2, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    A pulled pork sandwich, coleslaw and french fries from Momma's Mustard, Pickles & BBQ.

    Now, I have a college degree under my belt and I’m working on one more. I’m smart enough to know that there is indeed rhyme and reason that explains how the folks at Momma’s Mustard, Pickles & BBQ get the skin of the restaurant’s wings crisp and flavorful while leaving the chicken meat moist and juicy. There’s probably some science to how long to cook their pork before a set of magical hands pulls the tender meat off the bone and onto a Klosterman bun. But I’ve come to believe in a little bit of magic after several visits to Momma’s. It’s the only way to explain how this restaurant produces consistently fantastic food that charms newcomers, pleases regulars and inspires the staff to deliver warm, down-home service that matches the meals they serve.

  5. Cue the confetti, the $10 Challenge returns today

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    January 2, 2015 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    Holy crap, it’s been a long time since I’ve done a $10 Challenge.

    It began as procrastination. Then, working on the book kept me from doing much in my free time, let alone write something that wasn’t related to the manuscript. Then, when I finally did have time, I was intimidated to get back into writing the $10 Challenge because I had been gone for so long. My blogging had become sporadic in the back half of 2014, and I was scared that 1) I had lost my $10 Challenge groove, and b) no one would want to hear what I thought about restaurants in the city anymore. A few weeks away from a blog is like an eternity in internet time. How could I make up for lost time?

  6. Take life’s lemons and make shortbread cookies, fancy ice cubes and more

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    December 30, 2014 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    Perfect for a bourbon on the rocks. (Photo by bestlexever/Flickr Creative Commons)

    The year has turned sour. Unfortunate events have bombarded me, my family and friends as we crawl toward the end of 2014. The challenges have been as small as an overweight pug stealing a cookie from my two-year-old niece (I’m watching you, Sampson) to a good friend’s cancer diagnosis right before the holidays. It’s enough to make even the most steady person shake their fist at whatever god in which they believe.

    A few years in adulthood have given me enough wisdom to know that life is a series of obstacles that sprout at the most inopportune moments, a depressing thought if there ever was one. But these years have also planted enough optimism in me that I am determined to demolish life’s challenges with the tenacity of an American Gladiator contestant.

    With the spirit of perseverance in mind, let’s turn life’s lemons into some awesome stuff. Here are some suggestions for what to do with the literal lemons in your life. And regarding to those figurative lemons, we’re all going to be OK.

  7. Bits and Pieces: Barbecue, beer and other Louisville food news, 12.12.14

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    December 12, 2014 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    Events

    BBC Taproom at 636 E. Main St. will offer $1 pints in exchange for a new, unwrapped toy for the charity Toys for Tots. I can dig it. (Insider Louisville)

    News

    In the corporate world, this would be called “synergy.” In my world, it’s a plain good idea. Great Flood Brewing Company on Bardstown Road has teamed with Grind Burger Kitchen on the brewery’s 100th batch. The beer, called G&G Blowin’ Smoke, will compliment the food truck/restaurant’s B&B, a heavenly burger of brie, bacon and habenero jam. I’m old enough to be secure in my dislike of most beers. However, I’m willing to give this one a try with my next B&B. (Insider Louisville)
    There might be a plant coming to the West End that will convert food waste to methane gas. This plant will be a part of the West Louisville Food Hub, “a 25-acre food distribution center being developed at 30th and Market streets.” (Business First of Louisville)

    Openings

    Feast BBQ, a restaurant located in New Albany, will open a Louisville location on East Market Street next Thursday, Dec. 18. This doesn’t help in my quest for reasons to visit southern Indiana. I’m a little weary of this communal dining concept, though (check out this slideshow). Everyone doesn’t need to see exactly how messy I am when I eat, especially barbecue. (Business First of Louisville)

  8. Don’t sleep on Aldi for your holiday baking needs

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    December 10, 2014 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    Pineapple thumbprints were the first cookies of this holiday season in the Thompson house.

    Three years ago, I started a Christmas tradition by accident.

    It was a bittersweet holiday season. I had just started a new day job, but the first paycheck hadn’t come in yet. I was also freshly married, so my family tripled in size. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I wanted to do something nice for my relatives.

    That November and December, I baked and baked and baked. Batches upon batches of sugar cookies, oatmeal raisin cookies, chocolate chip cookies and double-chocolate cookies filled my freezer. Cookie sheets and parchment paper were my faithful companions, along with a dog eager to catch batter that flew out of the mixing bowl. And bless my poor oven’s heart — that thing really earned its keep that winter.

    Fortunately, the cookies were a hit. And to keep up with my annual holiday baking, I’ve turned to one of my favorite retailers — Aldi.

  9. Bobby who? Here are the celeb chefs I want to see open a restaurant in Louisville

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    December 2, 2014 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    It’s a good thing I’ve settled my imaginary beef with Bobby Flay. It looks like this celebrity chef is making serious googly eyes at Louisville.

    The Courier-Journal reported back in September that Flay was scouting possible locations to open a restaurant in Louisville. And Insider Louisville is hearing some buzz that Flay’s going to set up in the former Burger’s Market on Grinstead Drive.

    I used to have an unreasonable dislike for Flay. I didn’t like how he rolled into town with his Food Network show, Throwdown with Bobby Flay, like he owned the joint and challenged chefs. Quit showing off, Flay. Then I met him in person when I was a reporter on the red carpet at the Barnstable Brown party. He was actually pretty nice, which completely squashed the rivalry I had built in my head.

    So, I’m cool with Flay coming to Louisville. It’s just that there are a few other celebrity chefs and TV personalities that I would like to see make a restaurant home in Louisville. Come along with me as I play pretend with folks I’d like to see in our city.

  10. Event: Dare to Care’s Bobby Ellis Thanksgiving Eve Vigil, Nov. 26

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    November 26, 2014 by Ashlee Clark Thompson

    Take a moment tonight to think about the folks who do without on Thanksgiving and every other day of the year. (Courtesy Satya Murthy, Flickr Creative Commons)

    I’m thankful that I’ve never gone hungry.

    Sure, I’ve chomped at the bit waiting for my next meal. I’ve even been hangry a time or three. Fortunately, there has always been food in my fridge and cabinets.

    That’s not the case for many families in our community. In Jefferson County, 17.2% of people are food insecure, according to the non-profit Feeding America. That means that 127,320 people have at some point had inadequate or uncertain access to nutritious food.

    Dare to Care, a food bank that serves the Kentuckiana region, has done a lot to address hunger in our community. Tonight, the organization will host a candlelight vigil to honor Bobby Ellis, the nine-year-old boy whose death from malnutrition on Thanksgiving Eve 1969 sparked the Dare to Care movement.

    Before you dive headfirst into the Thanksgiving spread tomorrow, take some time to remember a little boy who went hungry in our own city and consider what you can do to stop hunger.

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My first successful batch of biscuits. I dedicate this to my pastry blender. Roasted potatoes with bacon and Brussels sprouts. Dinner is served.
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