Poke Wars in the QC

I’m a devout sushi lover. If I’m being honest, I’m actually borderline obsessed. My sweet husband no longer asks me where I want to grab a spur of the moment meal because he knows the answer is ALWAYS sushi. It’s not just rolls either, I actually prefer sashimi style and usually am pretty adventurous when it comes to trying all the raw fish options.

My mild obsession with sushi began in college when I was a wee bright-eyed, extremely naive southern gal. I had recently befriended one of the most incredibly creative people I have ever met, Shigeharu Kobayashi…or affectionately known as Shige. His family owns one of the oldest and BEST sushi restaurants in Columbia, SC, and Shige was quite dismayed when he learned that I had NEVER tried sushi before. He sat me at the sushi bar, made me try everything and THEN told me what they were. ūüôā

It was the best introduction to sushi because I was able to tell what I liked by the flavor, the taste, the texture without being turned off by any preconceived biases I might have had toward certain seafood just by the name. Fast forward through the past 16 years of a blossoming love of all things sushi. I’m forever in debt to Shige for introducing me.

But this post isn’t about sushi. That was a long a## introduction to bring me to the point of this post which is all about POKE. Insert another raw fish obsession (and one I would not have ever tried if it weren’t for Shige.)

POKE

Poke is a raw fish salad in Hawaiian cuisine, and served as an appetizer or sometimes (all the time in my opinion) as a main course. Pronounced POH-KEH, not poke (just in case you were still confused.)

You had me at raw fish salad. Poke really started to pick up some restaurant real estate in Charlotte starting back in 2017. While there are some asian restaurants that also serve poke bowls (or added to their menus when the trend started to get legs), the QC now has quite a growing list of Poke-dedicated establishments.

Last I saw, there were already 15+ places you could get a poke bowl. I’ve been to a few, but here are my current rankings for the growing Poke-dedicated establishments in Charlotte:

Poke Wars

  1. Best All Around: Hi Tide Poke & Raw Bar
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    It was my first, so maybe that’s why I hold it near and dear as the best so far, but I also think it’s because if you stripped it all down to the core of the cuisine…JUST the meat, their fish is the BEST. Fresh & sustainably caught. Without all the spicy mayo, toppings and other hoopla you add on there, the meat needs to be able to stand out on it’s own, right?!My favorite dishes from Hi Tide include the Poke Nachos (crispy wonton chips topped with ahi tuna & avocado deliciousness) and the Poke Rainbow (seasoned milky queen rice topped with fresh cuts of salmon, hamachi, ahi tuna and all the toppings…come on.) So good.
  2. Best Toppings (& Best Combinations): Seoul Poke Bowl
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    This would be my second favorite so far. It’s definitely pricier, but the variety of toppings is really nice, and I like the Korean spin on the menu options as well. My go-to is the Seoul Poke Special ($15.95!), but recently they launched their $3 Poke Tacos on Tuesdays. Yes, they are as good as they sound…and yes, they might be stealing my heart away from Hi Tide…one taco at a time:).
  3. The New Kid on the Block: Poke Bar
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    Definitely a chain and you get that feel when you walk in, but for the newbie in town, I thought the bowls were pretty good. For less than $10, you can get 2 proteins, a wide variety of toppings, sauce combinations and more. The portion size was pretty large I thought, especially for the price.

Still on the list for me to try, Umami Pokerito in Pineville. I’ve heard really great things, but to be honest, it might take me awhile to get here because I’m TOTALLY spoiled being within a 10-minute radius from all the others. If it takes me more than 10-15 minutes in the car, I usually punk out. We will see:)

Looking forward to….Pokeatery…this will be the first East Coast location of the rapidly-growing Bay Area restaurant from husband and wife duo¬†Derek and Joann Chung. They are currently scouting areas to open in Charlotte and I, for one, vote for MY amazing neighborhood…Oakhurst. We desperately NEED more restaurants and FAST. Our incredible Common Market can’t be all by it’s lonesome anymore and don’t even get me started on McBonie’s. No.

What’s your favorite Poke in Charlotte and why??


Picture me rollin’… {a recipe}

If you know me well, you know I am a lover of 80’s & 90’s hip hop.

Talib Kweli, Nas, Wu Tang, Tupac, Biggie, Missy, Raekwon, Busta Rhymes, JayZ and more. Any given day, the “Gold School” Spotify playlist is a weekly favorite.

My love for hip hop originated with my very own dad…no kidding. My parents had me at the ripe age of 19yrs. old, so my formative years were spent growing up “with” my parents in their 20s. My dad has always been a lover of a good beat & the man has GOT some rhythm. Actually, if you know any of the Boulware’s¬†from Ridgeway/Winnsboro, SC, you know we’ve got some smooth moves on the dance floor. My dad personally requested that our “father/daughter” wedding dance be to Ciara’s “1, 2 Step” in lieu of some of your more traditional song choices. Yep, that happened.

We officially celebrated my dad’s 55th birthday this past Friday with a family dinner. Lasagna is one of his favorite meals so it HAD to be on the menu for the evening. I’ve made traditional lasagna before, but this time, I really wanted to try something different. Also, one of my biggest frustrations with traditional lasagna is that no matter how long I allow it “set,” it always becomes a gooey mess {albeit delicious, but messy} on the plate. I decided to test these rolls to see if this method would help contain the “goodness” a little better than flat sheets. And it did!

I’ve always heard that music is to cooking like coffee is to the morning. It fills the kitchen with a necessary energy and a creative spirit unlike any other. I believe these lasagna rolls turned out as good as they did due in large part to the assistance of my trusted hip hop playlist. When you try this recipe below, be sure to turn up some tunes (preferably ones that get you moving…it helps with the rolling<3)

Scroll down for recipe

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Picture Me Rollin’¬†{Lasagna}

Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 pkg.         Lasagna Noodles (w/curly edges)
24 oz.         Marinara Sauce (Your choice РI used Trader Joe’s Italian Marinara
Sauce with Barolo Wine)
20 oz.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Part Skim Ricotta Cheese (I used the Trader Joe’s version, so I had to buy 2-16oz)
1 pkg.         Shredded Parmesan Cheese
2 C.             Baby Kale (or spinach ), messy chopped
1                  Egg
1 lb.            Lean Ground Turkey
1 medium  Yellow Onion, diced
Fresh Basil, chopped
EVOO
Pinches of  Salt, pepper, garlic powder & Italian herbs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Cook lasagna noodles, according to package but pull them on the early side when they are just barely al dente. Once drained, lay them out flat on a baking sheet/cutting board/flat surface, allowing them to cool & dry off.
  3. In a mixing bowl, add ricotta cheese, 1 heaping cup (large handful) of parmesan cheese, chopped baby kale and egg. Mix together and add a pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder and any Italian herbs. Cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to spread on the noodles.
  4. In a large skillet, coat pan with EVOO, cook diced onion 2-3minutes then add in ground turkey, sautéing 4-5minutes until browned, add in 1 cup of marinara sauce. Pinch of salt, pepper & Italian herbs. Remove from heat, allow to cool.
  5. In an 8×8 glass or metal pan, pour 1 & 1/2-2 cups of marinara in an even layer.
  6. To assemble the rolls, spoon out & spread cheese mixture on noodles (enough to cover) and then top with meat sauce, evenly. Starting at one end, slowly but tightly roll the noodle like a pinwheel, pulling in any toppings that try to fall out the sides. Place the roll curly side up with the seam against the pan. Continue with the remaining noodles, placing the rolls close {snuggly} together so the seams are pressing against the other rolls.
  7. Once all the lasagna rolls are in the pan, lightly brush the remaining marinara on the sides. Top with shredded parmesan and place in the oven for 25 minutes.
  8. Remove from oven, allow dish to cool slightly. Top with chopped fresh basil and serve.

I served these with a SUPER simple Caesar salad {romaine, parmesan, croutons, thinly sliced shallots} and it was great, but you can serve with any salad of your choice.

Enjoy! <3


A first for me…

Rewind to a few weeks ago when I received a text from a dear friend who wanted to celebrate her 40th birthday by surprising HER friends with a delicious dinner. I was so lucky to be included in this group of amazing women; however, she also requested that I be the one to make said dinner.

This was incredibly humbling and awesome for multiple reasons…1. Laurie is known for her ability to be keenly aware of her friends’ gifts and talents, and for helping them find ways to cultivate those gifts. She is the ultimate connector! 2. She knows I have never made a full course meal for that many people before, but knew I would be up for the challenge…and 3. She recognizes my growing love for cooking and knew this would be a place for me to shine, and I wanted to do that for her on HER day to shine.

Needless to say, I was so honored and wanted EVERYTHING to be perfect for her special day. I reached out to my uber-talented brother-in-law who happens to be one of the BEST chefs in Atlanta (and who has graciously taught me much of what I know in the kitchen) to help me put together a menu. He sent me thoughts and ideas…enough to spark my fire and give me the confidence to forge ahead.

I’m an obsessive “To-Do List” kind of gal. I write and re-write my lists over and over until they are beautiful and without blemish. So, 10+ scratched-out lists and recipe edits later, I had everything I needed in working order. I worked through 2 different recipes for the salad and then at least 3 different ones for the main course. I liked components from each, but wanted to make this my own after testing in the kitchen.

After much deliberation, adaptations and recipe-testing with my resident taste-testers (J & A), I finalized the menu and went shopping. I felt SO accomplished when I realized I got all the ingredients for the appetizer, salad and main course for well under $200. Thank you, Costco & Trader Joe’s.

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I knew I couldn’t do all the prep by myself, so Laurie and I decided to hire a former Trinity student of mine, along with her friend, to help me prep and clean in the kitchen the day of. That proved to be a fabulous idea and we got everything prepped and started before the guests arrived.

Surprisingly, I wasn’t stressed. I felt pressure, but in a good way, and I think my adrenaline kicked in at just the right time. There were a few hiccups along the way, but we powered through them. The appetizers were being passed, drinks poured, and the dinner had officially started. I was truly in my happy place.

 

I enjoyed every part of it…every “supreme” citrus cut, every peel of a parsnip, the searing sizzle of the chicken thighs…it was GLORIOUS. Sure, there were definitely missteps. Once things started trucking along, I totally forgot to throw in some ingredients, but it didn’t have a huge impact. No one thing proved too problematic and everything came together beautifully.

For the appetizers, I made a Butternut Squash, Sage & Goat Cheese Crostini and Goat Cheese Stuffed Dates wrapped in Prosciutto. The salad course was next and I was super excited about this dish: Roasted Beets with Winter Citrus over Baby Kale & Ricotta Cheese, topped with a Pistachio Vinaigrette.

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The main course was one that I experimented with quite a bit, but was the most nervous about executing well for 20 guests. I made some adjustments with the pans I planned to used. Rather than cook everything in batches in a skillet (the original plan), I decided to slow-roast it all together in the oven. I seared the chicken first, then sautéed the onions, carrots and mushrooms, and finally layering with the riesling, coconut milk & herbs.

The final product was a delightful Coq Au Riesling, served on top of a Roasted Garlic & Parsnip Puree with sautéed Haricot Verts. The savoriness of the chicken and vegetables over the sweet, garlic parsnips proved to be SO. GOOD.

The whole evening was a lovely success and, for me personally, such a HUGE step forward to doing who-the-hell-knows with food. A few people have asked about my plans for this newfound love of cooking, and the only answer I have is, “Who knows?! I just LOVE cooking and LOVE cooking for people!” So for now, finding opportunities to do that is incredibly exciting.

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The whole experience was a first for me, and one I hope to be the first of many. Anyone want to be a taste-tester, I’ll come cook for you ANYTIME!

Happy Saturday, friends <3