Monday, December 29, 2008

new year's eve


i submit it cannot, no matter how much punctuation i use.


Sunday, December 28, 2008

dairy queen

i made my yearly visit to dairy queen on sunday. every year around christmas i make the trek up north (east) to visit my grandfather. he's 95-ish and loves going to dairy queen. dairy queen normally is one of the last places i want to eat food. i guess i never really consider it a fast food place option. well today was no different. i hadn't really considered what i was going to get until i get there. grandpa always orders a sloppy joe and a strawberry milkshake. the sloppy joe actually looked pretty good and i assume it has to be as he orders it every time. i went with the simple cheeseburger. they asked me what toppings i wanted (tomato, lettuce and onion for me) and had it out fairly quickly. the burger was a patty much like you would get on a mcdonald's cheeseburger. the toppings were much fresher. the bun quite a bit thicker (sesame) than mcdonald's but not in a bad way. the fries were not that good. i love me some french fries (anywhere) and i was a little disappointed, but also didn't have my expectations too high either. they tasted as if they had been deep fried with some fish. as someone who doesn't like fish, that isn't very appetizing. after finishing my meal i was watching grandpa finish his shake and with some deliberation i also ordered a M&M flurry. my favorite. despite being december completely hit the spot. all in all it was a satisfying lunch. i can say i will return again, probably around this time next year.

food in film

besides food, movies are another one of my favorite pastimes. i am one of those wonderful people out there in the dark, living vicariously through the characters on the screen, chomping popcorn and milk duds. i started thinking this week about the role food plays in film. not just the obvious heroes in chocolat or woman on top, but the subtleties revealed about characters by what they eat and where they eat. this seems overly dramatic i suppose, but something i want to further explore. so i am going to post periodically on food in film. and warning - there may be an occasional spoiler.

this year for the first time i watched holiday affair, a 1949 film starring janet leigh and robert mitchum in a rare romantic role. janet leigh plays a comparison shopper (connie) for a major department store who gets robert mitchum's train salesman (steve) fired at christmastime. connie is a war widow with an adorable 6-yr old son, timmy. as you can imagine, love blossoms and everyone gets what they want for christmas, except carl, connie's longtime boyfriend who gets ditched for manly, out-of-work steve.

this film drips charm. early in the budding relationship between steve and connie, he invites her out to lunch with the agreement that he orders everything. where do they go? the central park zoo. they share hot dogs, steaming coffee (hot chocolate?) and nuts for dessert. janet leigh is in a fur coat shelling nuts and watching a barking seal. brilliant. simple pleasures - casual, unpretentious. as they eat, steve shares the story of his life. he describes his past life, "every monday i'd buy a chunk of meat to last all week. i'd cook it 6 different ways. by saturday night it ended up goulash". one monday, he asked for porterhouse steak because he couldn't bear the thought of that same mundane meat all week. that steak changed his whole life. too big to eat alone, he invited friend over, who provided him with an opportunity and a dream.

i love that metaphor, and the thought that breaking free of our conventions can prove serendipitous.

Friday, December 26, 2008

favorite cookies

i am powered through the holiday season with a constant sugar-high. i eat cookies for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the occasional snack. my top 5 favorites are candy cane cookies, russian teacakes, snickerdoodles, orange and white chocolate chip, and gingerbread. oh, i also love french lace and meringue (called styrofoam cookies at our house). and thumbprints. and the hershey kiss ones. ok, i guess i can't limit it to five. while i (obviously) love most cookies, one absolute standout is the candy cane cookies from betty crocker's 1963 cooky book.

candy cane cookies

1 cup shortening (use 1/2 butter and 1/2 crisco)
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp red food coloring
1/2 cup crushed peppermint candy (i don't do this step. i hate mint flavored anything)
1/2 cup granulated sugar

heat oven to 375. mix shortening, sugar, egg and flavorings thoroughly. mix flour and salt; stir into shortening mixture. divide dough in half. blend food coloring into one half.
roll a 4" strip from each color. place strips side by side, press lightly together and twist like a rope. place on ungreased baking sheet. curve the top down to form handle of cane.
(as you may well imagine based on the amount of shortening in the dough, this is a fairly greasy enterprise. i was home by myself and therefore have no photos of the actual cane-forming. i included this helpful illustration from the cooky book for reference.)

bake about 9 minutes until lightly browned. while still warm, remove from baking sheet with spatula and sprinkle with sugar (and peppermint candy, if desired).
eat them all and don't share any, even when your sister calls from colorado and asks you to send her some. she can make her own damn cookies.

what are your favorite holiday cookies?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

breakfast of champions

yes, i am drinking guinness at 10:10m am. why, you may ask, other than a kick start to a family-filled holiday? those tricky irish fill their cans with 14.9 ounces, just shy of the 2 cups i need for guinness chocolate cake. can't let the extra go to waste.
this is on top of the innumerable broken sugar cookies. i may not feel so well later today.

Friday, December 19, 2008

kroger sushi

a bit of an oxymoron, yes. disgusting, no.

i was actually quite pleased when brian and i popped into the new fresh fare kroger in kenwood (its proximity to crate and barrel made it an easy stop) and saw they had decent looking sushi, 12 rolls for about $6. they offer white rice, 15 grain, and brown rice. we got the brown rice california rolls and spicy variety pack, which included tuna, salmon, and shrimp(?). a quick trip to the 'international' aisle and we picked up ginger and wasabi. they do come in the plastic container of sushi, but looked a little anemic.
it definitely wasn't the best sushi i've had. the rice was slightly mushy and some of the rolls kind of fell apart while being dipped in tamari. however, the flavor was acceptable and it was an easy dinner at a hectic time of year.

my cat, hemlock, wanted to join us.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

the happiest place on earth at the most wonderful time of year

don't be jealous. last week i went to orlando for a meeting. such is the ultra-glamorous life of a pharmd candidate. i hobbed. i nobbed. i networked like mad. i also spent a day at disneyworld.

disneyworld reduces me from my normal 14 year old mentality down to about an 8 year old. i love princesses and princes and singing crickets and happily ever after. you know what i don't like? paying a crapload of money for mediocre food.

i swear that in one of the upper towers of cinderella's castle there is a think tank of disney imagineers locked away whose sole purpose is to innovate new products to mold into mouse ears. example:i bought these because at the end of our whirlwind tour of magic kingdom, epcot, and hollywood studios, i was quite hungry, and even mouse-shaped coconut sounded good.

but i am not basing my statement about mediocre food on some sugar-charged coconut candy. for breakfast before hitting the parks, we went to spoodles, which promised "a trip around the mediterranean sea with an eclectic menu featuring coastal cuisine favorites from such locales as greece, italy, spain and north africa". sounds pretty amazing, right? the warm atmosphere was promising, with a shining, inviting open-kitchen.

my smoked ham and cheddar frittata was bland and dry, but ok (cheese obscures all manners of sin). i asked for extra crispy bacon, but it was floppy and fatty (and $3.29). my bellini was routine. the service was terrible. our server was nice enough, but the food took FOREVER. i don't mind waiting if i'm presented with something worth my wait. unfortunately i was not. and, as expected, it was expensive for what it was.

the other girls sampled the breakfast flatbread and the belgian waffle (is that mediterranean?)i guess i just expected higher caliber food and service from someplace that promises a magical day.
Spoodles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, December 14, 2008

what is a nog?

every year (well, almost every year. more on that later) when we decorate the christmas tree my family drinks homemade eggnog. it must be from the candy cane cups. it is the only day of the year we make eggnog and the only day we use the candy cane cups.what exactly is a nog anyway? the origin is unclear. some believe “nog” refers to a noggin, which was a wooden mug that was used to serve drinks in taverns. others think eggnog is related to various milk and wine punches from england (called "posset"), but in america rum was used in the place of wine. rum came to america via the triangular trade from the caribbean; thus it was more affordable than the heavily taxed brandy or other European spirits. in colonial america, rum was commonly called "grog", so the name eggnog could be derived from the term for this drink, "egg-and-grog", which corrupted to egg'n'grog and soon to eggnog.

either way, it is a family favorite. here is our recipe, taken from mccall's cook book, 1963. my parents started my sister and i on this as kids, so there is no rum in our version.

spicy eggnog

1/2 cup sugar

dash allspice

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon nutmeg

3 eggs, separated

2 cups milk, chilled

1 cup light cream, chilled

nutmeg for sprinkling

1. combine sugar, allspice, cinnamon, and nutmeg in bowl, set aside.

2. in large bowl of electric mixer, at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.

3. gradually beat in half of sugar mixture until stiff peaks form.

4. in small bowl, beat egg yolks until lemon colored. gradually beat in remaining sugar mixture until thick and smooth.

5. thoroughly fold into whites. stir in milk and cream; mix well.

6. serve well chilled, each serving sprinkled with nutmeg.

frothy and delicious! although i do have to admit, this year i cheated and served hood's sugar cookie eggnog sprinkled with nutmeg. it was ok. this was pretty much a sin, but when we got around to the tree decorating at 9pm, a carton and a sprinkle was all the eggnog i could muster.

ps. the christmas tree lights blew a fuse.

get stone-d

never go to the grocery store hungry. a piece of wisdom learned from my mother. hunger pulls things into your cart while you're not looking, much like a wayward child. things like zebra cakes and entenmann's and logs of pepperoni. to ward off this evil, brian and i stopped at stone's restaurant in cheviot on our way to the store.
stone's is one of those places i frequented as a child with my grandparents. i hadn't been there in probably 15+ years, but it was still just as i remembered it. pink wall paper. wood paneling. ruffled kitchen curtain. warm, grandparent-y feel. decorated for christmas with purple tinsel garland.
the menu is basic 'home-cooking' diner fare, with everything you'd expect, including pickled beets. the most expensive dinner is $10.75 (pork chops), but most range from $6-7. breakfast is served anytime. cash only.
our waitress (somehow calling her a waitress is so much more...right...than calling her a server), the sassy aunt i never had, took our orders for the hot turkey and swiss (me) and the double cheeseburger (brian). the hot turkey and swiss with tomatoes was pretty good, not sloppy, with crisp toasted bread. i ordered a side of mashed potatoes with the (foolish) hope they would be real. alas, as i suspected would be the case, an ice cream scoop of potato flakes adorned my plate.
brian has been endeavoring to improve his food descriptions for me, rather than just saying 'it's good'. here is the conversation that transpired:
me: how is your burger?
him: it's good.
i look at him with disapproval and reproach.
him (sighs): it has a plain taste, but a lot of cheese, so that's good.
me (jotting in pocket notebook): the fries?
him: good texture and weight. need more seasoning.
me: potato salad?
him (one of my favorite things he has ever said, ever): it's not very good. i think it could use some paprika.
the light of heaven illuminated our table.

we skipped dessert, a selection of pies and cakes. our bill was under $20, which was good because it gave me the hope that my grandparents have not been ridiculously under-tipping for years, as they believe every restaurant check warrants a standard $2 tip.
Stone's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"i think this would be a good time for a beer."

anyone who ever reads this blog knows that mecklenburg gardens is one of my favorite places in the universe. so what better location to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the 21st amendment and the end of prohibition?it definitely wasn't as happening as grammer's (check it out at 5chw4r7z), with just us, one other table, and a guy with an accordion. but we still had fun and enjoyed some $2 pints of franziskaner hefeweizen, along with mecklenburg's superior pretzel with bier cheese and slightly-out-of-focus sauerkraut balls (half price for happy hour, of course).

Friday, December 5, 2008

walt's: the short story

to bribe brian to go with me to northgate mall i suggested we eat at walt's barbeque. it was kind of an off time, around 4pm, so the only people in the restaurant were us (my mom, too) and some old lady with a bib and huge tin plate.
i ordered the brisket with a side of mac and cheese, and brian the pulled pork and fries. both were very tender and had decent flavor. i thought the brisket had a better taste than the pork. the sauces were ok, each sampled on a piece of brisket. but really i prefer meat plain. i think it's a better testament to the smoking if the meat can stand alone. (really, i'm just making this up as i go. feel free to call bullshit. i just started eating barbeque this summer.) while i appreciated walt's, it paled in comparison to double d's and the other meats we tried at jim dandy's barbeque competition. and i don't think i'd get a sandwich again. too much starchy bread.
speaking of starchy, the fries fell into that category as well, and they were kind of cold.
actually, all the sides were disappointing. the mac and cheese was thick and sticky, with cheese the consistency of velveeta. my mom deemed the cole slaw mediocre (although she wanted me to note she has a cold and her taste might be off).
the highlights of the meal were the friendly service and the sweet tea, something i rarely order but was quite delicious. i also enjoyed my banana pudding with vanilla wafers, a underrated dessert i feel should put in an appearance on more menus.
Walt's Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

just wow.

we finally made the trek down columbia parkway to terry's turf club to see what all the buzz is about. wow. i get the buzz.

brian and i arrived first (a rarity, i assure you) and put our name in. luckily we only had to wait about a half hour for a table; let me assure you that in the years that i have been friends with them i can think of MAYBE one other time that this has occurred. its nice to not have to wait. a party of four arriving shortly after us had still not been seated by the time we finished eating. we stood outside to wait. they had heaters and peanuts, so what more could we ask for?
i don't know exactly what i was picturing. for some reason "turf club" evoked flattened green carpet, dark wood paneling seasoned with grease and smoke, and dusty plastic ferns. i don't know what i had in mind either. what we found instead was a wonderland of color and light. the first 15 minutes we were sitting down, we were all gazing around, entranced by the neon glow. beth kept saying "i can't stop looking". i can say that i spent a good part of the evening not socializing with my friends but staring at the walls.

the place is tiny. and it was PACKED. beth commented that if there was a fire, we would all die. what can i say??? its the survialist in my and i like to know where all my exits are.

the menu is deceptively simple and straightforward. meats, toppings, sauces. but as i began to consider what i was going to order, i realized the combinations were endless and all equally tantalizing. bleu cheese or goat cheese? bacon? grilled onions? crab meat? burgundy sauce?

i decided on the burger with bleu cheese, bacon, light onions, and burgundy sauce with mushrooms. all the burgers, especially when they are busy, are cooked medium. beth ordered hers on the rare side, but i'm not sure if it was any different than the rest. i honestly can't say that i saw a difference between the rest BUT that doesn't mean it wasn't cooked to perfection. again, met me say WOW.

while we waited we drank so beer. they have chimay blue on the menu. internalized happy dance ensued.

here is what arrived.oh my god. i had no idea such perfection could be served on a dixie plate. the bun, the meat, the fries, everything was amazing. things were falling out of the bun it was packed so full. i love a hamburger that is not smaller than the bread it's on. juicy but not greasy, flavorful but not heavy. i don't know how they do it. (i suspect butter, maybe heroin) the fries were also heavenly. i have kind of stopped eating fries (don't need the extra calories), but i could have eaten twice as many of these. they were kind of like penn station fries, only way better. when fries taste that wonderful you can't help but eat every single one of them. any hopes of "eating well" is thrown out the window and you can only just savor every bite. every single on my plate was wonderful.

my only complaint is that it was over too soon. i wanted to keep eating. and let me note that had they placed more food on my plate i would have eaten all of that as well.

here is brian's. he said it was fantastic and seriously considered ordering another one. he wants to go back next week and is also willing to drive the excessive distance for carry-out (not excessive to eat in, but excessive to carry-out). he is addicted.

this first burger is mine. i went for a simplier option. just bleu cheese........eric had a variation of what krissy had which is below mine. goat cheese, mushroom sauce and grilled onions. oh and bacon.all in all, i would agree with wine me, dine me and get in mah belly. terry's has one damn good burger. it is the first burger to rate a 6...yes, that's right, divine bovine. additionally, beth and i both unthinkingly wore cream and neither of us got anything on ourselves. good things happen at terry's! it truly was a night of miracles; here's a quick recap -- they were EARLY, food was WONDERFUL and no MESS!

our service was also great, considering how crowded it was. the bathroom, however...

next up on the search for the perfect burger - quatman's.

Terry's Turf Club on Urbanspoon

anyone can cook

a party conversation
me (slightly intoxicated): so you like to cook?
friend-of-a-friend (nibbling cheese): yeah, well, sort of. i use a lot of recipes.
me: do you improvise ever?
foaf: i follow every recipe exactly. i don't want to mess anything up.
me: you shouldn't be afraid. you know what flavors and ingredients you like, right?
foaf: yes, i think.
me: you're most of the way there. just start experimenting.
foaf (doubtfully): really?
me: yes. trust me. trust yourself. anyone can cook.

what i didn't tell her: there may be a learning curve.

i do read recipes, usually for inspiration or new ideas. but i never measure anything and may 'adapt' the recipe at whim. and i'm a much better cook than i was 5 years ago when i decided i needed to learn because i could not afford to eat the food i wanted at restaurants all the time.

so, in the spirit of cooks who throw caution to the wind (like jeff), here are my top 5 favorite flavors for experimenting:
- citrus: usually lemon, sometimes lime or orange
- cilantro
- oregano
- cinnamon
- ginger

what are your favorites? and what kind of cook are you?