Saturday, February 28, 2004

So, after all my worries, the Knife Skills class this Friday went amazingly well.

We learned the basic knife techniques as well as quite a deal about knives themselves. Probably the "worst" thing that came out of the class is that now I know what I'm missing out on w/ these 10 and 12" chef knives. Now, I love the knives I have now, but they had a selection of high level knives available for students to try out during our training.( I was a bit shocked that most of the people in the class did not take advantage of this, pretty much the guy next to me and myself were the only ones to try them out.). We were all over it though, trying out a new knife for almost every item to be chopped, swapping with each other. I wouldn't have thought that just a few extra inches on a knife would be such a big deal. But, really, I was surprised at how much more fluid the whole process was with that extra leeway. I'm thinking I might need to start saving up..

It would be hard to judge the best thing I learned. I was just soaking up the information like a sponge, taking in as much as I could. The class was three hours, but it completely slid on by. Maybe it’s weird to walk out of a class jazz’ed about proper knife technique.
But, well, I’ll be the first to admit I’m kind of weird.

Anyways, it was also a taught how to use a steel, which I was very much looking forward to (as our knives have become a bit dull). After learning that, as a present for my first class, Genevieve bought me one today! :) I immediately got home and sharpened up our knives. I know it sounds really silly but it really made a world of difference. After all, without that sharp edge, I doubt I would have so easily sliced into my thumb this evening ;) My own damn fault though, I need to practice a bit more of those new techniques I guess.

So, yes, much much much skills learned. Now I just need to keep them in practice.
I've already signed up for my next WRSOC class, Basic French Bread. I know it seems like kind of a niche thing to take a class on, but I'm hoping what I learn there can be used for a variety of bread making tasks.

Completely unrelated:
Subliminal Self (my band) is coming out of winter hibernation. Expect a show @ the Hi-Fi on April 9th w/ The House of Sections & Cyanotic. More information to come soon…

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Friday, February 27, 2004

So, tonight is my *first cooking class*.
Knife Skills/Vegetables at the Western Reserve School of Cooking.
In typical "me" fashion, I'm pretty nervous about the whole thing. That's not to say I'm not also immensely excited about it. But, there's always the fear that I'll walk in there and my, what I believe to be, moderate skills with be revealed to be pretty poor. Then again, that's why I'm taking this class. I suppose I have nothing to worry about.

As always, I'll be sure to report how it goes. This will, hopefully, be the first of many classes I'll be taking, at WRSOC and otherwise. Another step towards my goal of food domination ;)

Seriously, other than a select few, I don't know if I've ever shared my food goals. Why I spend so much time thinking about this stuff. (Well, other than I simply love food.) I have put a great deal of thought into this. You know, deciding if this is going to be just-for-fun and the occasional dinner party, or if I'm going to go farther with it. Right now, I can say I would like to make it a career, but that's really another reason I'm taking these classes, to help discover where I want to go with this knowledge. As an at-home-chef, I'll be the first to admit I have *no* idea about the inner workings of a real restaurant. None. At the same time, I don't know if that's even the direction that would be best for me. I'm very much a morning person, so being up to 2am cooking is not exactly appealing. Then again, there's lots of other options in the culinary field beyond that: working at a breakfast-lunch-early dinner cafe, catering, personal chef (though I have doubts if my personality would really fit that one) and on... Genevieve jokes that I should be a baker, as their -damn-early- schedules would work perfectly for me ;) I really don't have very loft goals though. My "dream job" would be to work at a little hole-in-the-wall cafe, serving up well-prepared, good, simple food. As for gourmet feasts, it's been my stance that, though I love that sort of food and I'd like to have the *ability* to cook it, that's not what I'd like to do.

What I do know is that this office-type work is not for me. When I got out of school, it really seemed like what I wanted to do. After all, a job where you sit on your ass all day and does not involve manual labor, well, that sounded pretty good. And I can't say it's been all bad. But, working in a cube all day, well I can say for certain that's not where I see myself years from now.

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Thursday, February 26, 2004

What you once were, you will become again..

Sorry I've not been blogging much this past week. Been too busy commenting on other people's blog's ;)
Anyways, it's odd how what you grew up listening to, through your parents or peers can influence what you listen to now. Even if it's unrelated to just about everything else you enjoy. Like how Genevieve, who grew up listening to a lot of funk & jazz, finds herself on the "classic jazz" station on Live365 the other day. Probably on a more drastic note, I had to finally admit to myself yesterday that, yes; I like Lacuna Coil - a hard rock/metal band.

Growing up in a small town, most of the miscreants I hung out with listened to one type of music (metal), on three speeds (fast, faster and wall of noise and screams). In fact, the only local bands, that I knew of at least, were metal bands. They'd play at this club in a "sketchy" - and I use that term very loosely, more accurate would be "trashy" part of town. At the very least, I'm not talking hair metal or cock rock. These were people with posters for Cannibal Corpse, Carcass and such on their walls.

But, I grew out of that. Metal was never my thing, too aggro for my tastes. Too much posturing (which is kind of funny, since I moved into listening to goth, which has equally as much posturing going on ;) So, years later, to have to admit that, well, here's this band..and they're metal..but I like it..it's just a bit weird. Like, though I think I've "grown out" of something, I'm still not quite there.

Like, as Genevieve enjoyed pointing out, I say "gosh" instead of "god", even though, as an atheist, there's really nothing I have that would morally prevent me from "using the lord's name in vain". She also enjoyed this as she thinks it's very much a Midwestern thing..
But then again, I am a real Midwestern farm boy.

Back to food tomorrow, I promise.

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Monday, February 23, 2004

This is going to be a (relatively) short blog. Work is actually busy today.

If I were to list the things I learned during this past Saturday's wine tasting, it would be something like this:

* A little bit of garnish can go a long way to enchancing the look of the dish.
(Related: cilantro can go on just about anything, except Bananas Foster ;))

* Alternative "containers", such as envide leaves and red pepper rings, can also do great things for a presentation as well.

* Heat is a master and you are it's slave.

* My birthday (1977) also happens to be a good year for Port.

* There are way more things going on with new wines that I can possibly hope to catch up on.
(Related: apparently, some people who attend these tastings are not interested in these new things. A fact that baffles even a complete wine-novice like me)

So, the tasting went pretty well (though the final wine sales were a bit lackluster. Personally, out of the 3 wines I tried, I found them to be quite good). I arrived at Mike and Liz's at about 5:30. Most everything was already packed in the Tofu-mobile, so I just changed into a chef's jacket Mike lent me and followed him up to the Tasting House. We loaded everything into the cramped kitchen and Mike started getting things to where they needed to be. One of the things I've learned is that, in serving a small party like these, it's feast or famine (no pun intended). One minute, you have all the time in the world, but the next, you're booking it to get 26 plates prepared in time to be served (relatively) at once. Really, all the serious work was done the last few days by Mike and Liz, I was just there to soak up the info (and wine ;) and plate up some food.

For those interested, the menu was as follows (I, unfortunately, do not have the list of accompanying wines):

Cajun Black Bean Salad served in an Endive Leaf
Spicy White Bean Gumbo Soup w/ Cornbread
Pasta with Cajun Green Beans, Potatoes and a Creamy Pesto*
Mirliton Ratatouille served in Red Pepper Rings
Jambalaya, served in a Portabella Mushroom bowl
Bananas Foster in Phyllo w/ Caramel/Rum Sauce

The tasting ended with Bob introducing the evening's Chef and let Mike field some questions from the attendees (who were all quite suprised to discover that most of the food for the evening was vegan).

The next tasting will be on April 24th.

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Friday, February 20, 2004

Now much new to blog on today.
This Saturday, though, I'm going to be helping Mike cater a wine tasting for Riverside Wine & Imports. I'm simply going to be assisting in plating the food, nothing big. But, I am looking forward for the chance to catch a bit of an education along the way. The last, and only other, time I helped him, I came away with a good deal more knowledge on catering, wine and wine tastings than I went in with. Plus, it was a great deal of fun as well. I'll be sure to report how it goes.

Bonus! Riverside Wine, which is spitting distance from the tasting, is having a sale on O'Hanlon's Ruby Stout. (Yes, it's what you'd imagine, Stout with a splash of Ruby Port. Having now *had* a Ruby Port, I'm interested to see what flavors I pick up on more). Only $1.59 for a 500ml bottle (normally it's around $3-4), so I'm going to be sure to sneak over there and grab a few bottles to bring home.

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Thursday, February 19, 2004

You know, I've recently devoted a lot of time and space to "bad" foods. Big big chains, cheap Chinese, Tuna Rice Pie ;), etc.

Well, today we'll change that. Enough of my gripin'. Top 10 *best* foods I've ever had! (In no particular order)

Mojo's Sweet & Spicy Calamari - I've tried many different calamari's. None have ever stood up to the now-defunct Mojo Restaurant's. Just the right mix of crunchy and soft, not rubbery, covered in a delicious spicy sauce and sprinkled with julienne veggies. This dish was so good, even Genevieve had to have a couple bites when I ordered it.

Danny Boy's Pizza - Though I certainly love good olde Mama Santa's Sicilian-style pies on the east side, I have to admit a fondness for those deep dish goodies served up at Danny Boy's in Rocky River. Thick and hearty and about as anti-Atkins as you can get, their pizza's are a Chicago-style pizza lover's dream. Fans of the Rat Pack should also take note of their Sinatra theme in decorations.

El Tango Taqueria's Tamale Pie - A thick slab of cornmeal, meat, cheese and sauce, El Tango's tamale pie might not be for those counting calories, but I would have trouble finding a better way to spend 'em in Lakewood. Really, despite some occasional tendencies to over-use certain spices, El Tango's whole menu, particularly their specials, are all "Good Eats."

Ni's Express' General Tso's Chicken - Seeing as how I get it almost every-single-week, it'd be silly not to put it on here, even if it's not exactly haute cuisine. It's smothered in sauce (medium spicy) and possesses an addictive quality that's almost scary. I've not known one person on my team at work who, once ordering the General Tso's, has ever gone back to anything else.

Johnny Mango's Caribbean Fries - As I've learned to replicate many of their dishes, we don't go to the Mango as much as we used to. But the Caribbean Fries are a treat I've yet to master. Deep fried plantains, served with pico de gallo. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and sweet all over. The salsa gives it a kick into culinary heaven.

Cafe Kilimanjaro's sweet potatoes & groundnut stew - Okay, so it's two dishes, but one restaurant. They're both so good, I just couldn't decide. Served in a sweet brown sugar sauce, Kilimanjaro's sweet potatoes are a warm blanket for the taste buds. Perfectly soft and sweet, they could act as a dessert just as well as a side. Their groundnut soup is equally appealing. Earthy, with just enough spices, it's a fragrant nut (as you could guess)-based soup which left me scraping out the last drops. I've tried making it myself once, but my results didn't even come close to the gritty goodness at Kilimanjaro's. Note to Clevelander's: unlike most of the dishes I list here, you'll have to travel pretty far to taste these. The Cafe is located in Louisville, Kentucky.

Miracle's Carrot Cake Waffles - If you think Kilimanjaro's cuisine will be hard to get, this is even harder. The restaurant that served it is now defunct. Miracle's was the first restaurant we went to in what would eventually become our neighborhood, Tremont. The carrot cake waffles were part of their Sunday brunch menu. Served with a side of either frozen custard or cream cheese, they were a decadent delight. Enjoyed with a cup of good orange juice, it was the perfect way to spend a Sunday morning. The restaurant has since changed hands many times and is now known as Sage.

Non-Restaurant Entry: Mike & Liz's Household - Espresso Cheesecake - Anyone who has asked "what does a vegan eat anyways?", has never been to Mike and Liz's, or visited Mike's Blog (of the same name). Gourmet food made completely without the use of animal products. Always delicious. Topping that list is Liz's (the queen of vegan desserts) Espresso Cheesecake. It's not just good for a vegan "cheese"cake, but for a cheesecake, period. I strongly encourage everyone to check out the blog and see what great dishes are being cooked up. Drool....

Aladdin's Farah's Favorite Pitza - Now, back to something that you can actually get. I don't know what is it about this pitza, topped with a perfectly hot & spicy tomato sauce, caramelized onions and grilled chicken, that keeps me lusting after it every time I've gone to Aladdin's for the past 9 years, but it's an addiction which doesn't look to be letting up anytime soon. Recommended for those who like things spicy.

I'll devote my last entry to desserts. I just couldn't decide on one, so here's a brief list:
Max's Deli - Chocolate & Raspberry Cheesecake
Mustard Seed's - CocoaMoo Float
Axcess's - Banana dessert - wrapped in filo (forget the name)
Lelolai' s- Quesitos (warm cream cheese wrapped in a flaky pastry crust..mmmm..)

Note: I am *sure* there are dishes that have been neglected or forgotten. This list is by no means set-in-stone.

So, enough of me, what are *your* favorite dishes?

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Since I mentioned the national chain restaurants in my last post, I figured I'd take this opportunity to outline my continued dislike for them. Apologies go out to all family members and friends, who enjoy restaurants like these, who might be reading this.

Why I never want to set foot in a T.G.I. Apple Chili-bee's:

* They're too "safe." Unless avocado and pepper jack on a burger is your definition of Mexican, there's minimal chance you can get anything resembling "ethnic" at one of these places. This also means you'll never have a chance to expand your culinary horizons or try something truly new.

* They're *too-freggin'-big*. You could fit 3 or 4 normal and diverse restaurants in the space sucked up by one T.G.I. Apple Chili's.

* They're too corporate for me. Unless she is about to break into a Madonna performance, I do not need, or want, my hostess to wear a headset like she is hooked into the Borg command center. I also do not want them to wear uniforms, suspenders, buttons or other pieces of "flare." Going to a local restaurant (i.e. not a big box national chain) not only helps support entrepreneurs, but directly helps your community. The Tremont neighborhood, in Cleveland, was practically made by the individual restaurants within it. These restaurants are actively involved in the community. I doubt the same could be said if they'd just popped a T.G.I Friday's in there.

* They are faceless, homogenized and simply bland. Maybe some people find comfort in being able to go anywhere in the country and get the same food, but if I'm going to travel, I don't want the place I go to be just like the place I left, with the same stores and the same restaurants If you're not going to at least try experiencing new things, which, to me, food is a major part of, why even bother leaving the comfort of your own house?

* Simply, the food is crap. It's heavy, flavored mainly by salt and cheese and leaves me feeling greasy and weighed down. I've never eaten there and walked about feeling good about the meal I just ate.

* I hate their false "atmosphere." I've stated it before, but if I want to eat at a place where the walls are covered in crap from years ago, I'll go to my grandma's basement. At least there, the memorabilia on the walls is real.

* They expand like a virus. Where one day you'll see just one, the next week, there's 3 or 4 surrounding it, all owned by the same company. All taking up valuable land and giving nothing back to either the community they're within or offering anything new culturally. Well, nothing good at least.

Really, the whole experience, from parking in their 100 car lot, to their laminated dessert menus hanging next to the fru-fru drink pictures, takes me deeper into the homogenized corporate world than I wish to go during a meal.

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Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

First, for those beautiful few who read my blog, but are not either my co-workers or wife, check out yesterday's (Tuesday, Feb. 17th) debate on vegetarianism over here.

As you know, I'm a certified omnivore, surprisingly, one of the few of my friends who are. My wife is vegetarian, two of my co-workers are vegetarian and two of the couples we are friends with are as well..okay, one of those couples is vegan, but that's not the point.

The point is this: none of the above people give me a hard time about my choice to eat meat. This is in stark contrast with the vegetarians I knew when I was a teenager. Maybe there's something about that mixture. Teenage self-righteousness and vegetarianism. But, it's simply no good. When we'd go out to eat, I'd constantly hear: "Oh, you like that dead meat carcass?". And I'm not talking once or twice, but every-single-time I ordered meat I had to hear about how I was eating some piece of cooked flesh. I don't know if they were trying to "convert" me, but it did not succeed in getting me to give up meat. Instead, I just stopped inviting them out to any restaurants.
(Side note: two of you reading this blog know one of these people are - initials: W.L.)

Now, well, I'm vegetarian about 80% of the time. I never cook meat at home and, often, do not even get it when we go out to eat. Do I think it's hampered my life? Certainly not. In fact, I feel that I'm more sympathetic to vegetarians than I used to be. I look with a more critical eye at restaurants, particularly chain ones which offer very limited vegetarian options, a fact which, with the growing % of people choosing to either cut out or limit their meat intake, does not fail to disgust me. Of course, those chain restaurants as a whole are just above McDonald's on my foodie totem pole. But that's a post for another day.

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Monday, February 16, 2004

We interrupt your regularly scheduled food rants for a special message:

As some of you know, our apartment was broken into a few months ago. Many items were stolen, some of which we’ve been unable to afford to replace to this day. Around that time, items were stolen from our neighbors (behind us) porch as well as our friend, Greyson had his car broken into just around the corner. The police department (2nd district, for those counting) was inept to say the best. They made it seem like they were doing us a favor by coming out, as opposed to doing, well, their jobs.

Well, today, another neighbor’s apartment was broken into. This time it was the guy who lives *above* us! Yes, that’s right. I guess when you live on the second floor; you take it for granted that you don’t have to leave your windows locked. That is, until, someone climbs to the second floor roof and gains access to your apartment via the unlocked window. That’s exactly what happened. A Mac Laptop, portable DVD player, as well as many credit cards, gift certificates and misc. items were stolen. The cops were called, but this is the 2nd district police department we’re talking about. These are the cops who spend more time at Civilization (local coffeshop) than they do solving crimes. Back when Greyson’s car was broken into, we sat by his car after we called, waiting for the cops to show up. Over four cop cars passed and none of them stopped. When the night was done, no one came; we ended up having to go down to the police station to file our complaint.
Our hopes are very low that our neighbor will retrieve his belongings. It was at this time we noticed that our window seal was removed. You know those plastic sheets you tape to the outside of windows to prevent draft? Well, we are now missing one. Looking closer, it did not just fall off. There are footsteps leading up to the window and the plastic was all carefully removed. I assume whoever broke into our neighbor’s apartment was checking out ours. Luckily all of our windows are locked as well as the front two have window blocks screwed in, making it impossible to open the window more than 6 inches. So tonight we get to spend some time screwing in blocks on *all* of our windows. As of today, 3 out of the four apartments in this set of 2 houses have been broken into. Every one of them on a Monday or Tuesday. And we’re not talking cat burglars here. We’re talking people who are getting braver because they are simply not getting caught. Not even close.

I love our neighborhood. I love the sense of community and the bustling scene that is going on here. But, at this point, we are seriously considering moving out when our lease is up. For one reason: the 2nd district cops. We’re not alone in this either. My cousin lived in Tremont for many years and ended up moving out to Lakewood for the very same reason. The cops suck. They do not provide a sense of safety and, when a crime does occurs; you automatically assume there is no chance of it being solved. I’m not trying to be a whiny snot, but when a cop that is investigating a crime in your apartment tells you “I don’t care about anything north of Clark”, is that the police force you want to have watching over your place?

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It was a foodie weekend, so sit back, relax, grab a glass of scotch on the rocks, and read on..

On Saturday, to celebrate Valentine's Day and Genevieve's recent promotion, we headed out to our favorite local restaurant, Fahrenheit, with our friends Kerry and Jay.
I started my meal out with a portabella mushroom and spinach salad, topped with bleu cheese. It was good, but not "spectacular". I got the feeling it was something I could make on my own, and you go out to restaurants to have something you couldn't make at home. So, though it was very tasty, I wasn't "wowed" by it.

Next up, we got a bottle of Cain Musque for the table. It was the first time we've ordered wine by the bottle, instead of the glass, when going out. But, between the four of us, it was polished off by dinner's end, so volume was not a problem ;) The Musque was a Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley. New to wines, I'm not sure really how to describe it. I definitely agree with its description of being "fruity" and, on a personal level, I found it not to be too dry. I tend to not like the really dry whites and the Musque was very nicely balanced in this respect. I enjoyed it enough that I grabbed the cork on the way out, so I hopefully I can pick up a bottle later on. Their site only gives information for joining their mailing list, where you will then receive information about purchasing wines in their newsletter. The waiter had told us though that the vineyard had a rep out there a few weeks' prior, so I'm hoping that means it's currently stocked at the local wine store.

For an entree, I ordered pork tenderloin encrusted with java and mustard, on a bed of baby greens and sweet potatoes, covered in a macadamia and balsamic glaze. Ooooh, talk about heaven. The pork was medium rare and completely tender and succulent. Really, the whole dish was immensely rich and decadent, the latter of which I always look for when going out to eat at an expensive restaurant. Perhaps the sweet potatoes could have been a tad tenderer, but I generally like mine pretty creamy, so I won't fault them for that.

For dessert, everyone got their own dish as well as a banana and caramel springroll plate to share. I order a macaroon, which was served with a raspberry sauce and cream. As some of you might know, I'm a huge fan of macaroons and this was no exception. Rich as a cheesecake and possessing the right sweetness level (one thing I've found with some is that they can become overpoweringly sweet). The springrolls were good as well, and definitely a cooking idea for the future home experiment, but after the hefty meal and desserts, I just didn't have enough room for much of it.

After dinner, we walked back to our house. Jay had brought over a bottle of Noval Ruby Port. I'd never had port before, so it was a completely new experience for me. Being a big fan of sweeter wines though, I was really looking forward to trying some. After tasting it, I don't know how the Noval would stack up against other ports, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were some definite undertones of chili in there, other than that; I'm not sure how to describe it. How about "good"? ;)

Sunday was, as is becoming commonplace, "cooking day" (with a brief respite to go to the Cedar Lee to see "The Triplets of Belleville" - excellent film, btw).
I started out with simmering down some excess apples we had around the house and then dividing that up. Half I spiced right then for an applesauce and the other half went into a batch of apple butter, which I enhanced a bit with some chocolate shavings, in addition to it's normal spices. The sum of which simmered in the crock-pot for the rest of the day, until it reached a rich caramel brown. The end result was a bit sweeter than my previous batch, perhaps due to its lack of lemon rind, but was excellent nonetheless. Ah, remember how I claimed mole poblano as one of my top cooking smells? Put cooking apples in there are well. I think that has something to do with my childhood though. As most of you know, I grew up on a Cider Mill. Literally. it was owned by the family and on the same slab of land as my childhood house. Working at the Mill was my first job. I started out helping push apples up the conveyer belt (busy kid work ;) and later on worked on the actual apple press. The press wasn't some high tech gadget either. The whole process was basically that the apples got mashed up, sprayed down onto the press, then, once enough apple stuffins had accumulated, we put another a cloth other it, put another slab of wood on, and started again. Gravity and pressure did the rest. At the end, cider spilled out from this tube at the bottom into a barrel. The barrel was then emptied into cooling containers. No fancy stuff. Just pure apple cider, the *best* apple cider. So, even now, the smell of apples is just heaven to me. Apple cider, apple butter, apple pie. Needless to say, between that and my love of squash, I am big fan of fall.

Then I started a veggie stock, which we were running out of, and some black bean soup (yes, again ;). Nothing really exciting. Good veggie stock always makes me happy to have around the house though :)

For dinner, we had a creamy winter squash gratin, which could have been better. It was nice and all, but it didn't seem "all there". Being a lo-fat recipe, I think it tried to take up a lot of the normal gratin creaminess with a white sauce, which, though creamy, is not exactly that flavorful.

The day ended up me helping Genevieve make some homemade chocolate fudge (thank *you* Mr. Alton Brown) Let me just say this:
Contrary to his show, our fudge did *not* reduce from 234 degrees to 110 in anything resembling 10 minutes. Other than some serious temp watching though, it was pretty easy to make.
I don't know if this is a good thing or a bad thing with a certain chocolate monster running around the house ;)

Today, lunch is the fruits of all these labors, which, over my normal peanut butter and jelly, makes it all worth it :)

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Friday, February 13, 2004

"Lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did.."

For those who have not checked it out, there is an excellent and amusing DVD out there called "Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey". I got this from my mother-in-law for Christmas. (Cool, huh?) It chronicles, in part, the life of Leon Theremin, the inventor of the electronic instrument of the same name. Though good, the film is not without it's faults. It skims over things such as his family history, his work with the Russian Government and a lot of other very interesting topics about Leon's life. If you'd like a more in-depth view of his life, I'd suggest reading "Theremin: Ether Music and Espionage" by Albert Glinsky. But it's also chuck full of old footage, including some wonderful performances by the Theremin virtuoso, Clara Rockmore. Those performances make it worth the price of admission right there. That said, I could have perhaps done without the reunion of Leon and Clara at the end, especially since, at his current age, Mr. Theremin seems to be getting a little confused and disoriented.

One of the greatest parts of the movie is the interview with Brian Wilson (who used the theremin in their hit song "Good Vibrations"). It's not really good because of the in-depth information he imparts, but quite the opposite. Imagine putting a camera in front of Brian Wilson, asking about the theremin he used, and just letting him go for 10 minutes with little editing or direction whatsoever. The end result is an almost uncomfortable bit of footage. With no one to stop him, he rambles on about, yes, theremins, but really, just about everything, repeating himself over and over again until finally the camera shuts off and we are given relief. There's always been this fascination with Brian Wilson. On one hand, he's a musical genius, on the other, he's crazy as hell. And I think some part of us likes that. A "normal" musician, well that's like Kenny G. He would never go nuts on a plane or hang out with Manson. Kenny G. will also never have a VH1 "Behind the Music" episode either ;)

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Thursday, February 12, 2004

My weakness is cheap Chinese food. Superman has Kryptonite. I have General Tso's chicken.

I can't explain it. At home, I cook almost completely from-scratch. I can appreciate fine wine and beers. I enjoy going out to gourmet restaurants (or gourmet friend's houses - hello Mike) . I never eat fast food and avoid anything resembling Mc-corporate or T.G.I. Applebee's.

So why, every week, do I find myself inexplicably attracted to the cheapest, corner shack, Chinese food?
I mean, I've had good Asian food and I do like it. But there's something about that deep-fried goodness slathered in a sweet and spicy red sauce that just makes me go nuts. I don't know if it's the msg or maybe nicotine in the rice. I can't explain it any other way. I don't think I'm alone though. Genevieve, though she likes good Hispanic food, is invariably attracted to tacky pseudo-Mexican places, painted up in bright colors with piñatas hanging from the ceiling. With waiters whose first language is probably English, calling you senor and senorita. Places with... taco salads. And we *know better*. I know the food I am getting comes in these big bags, premade and frozen, for them to throw in the fryer and dollop on a bit of sauce and veggies. I know my Chinese place too well. I go there every week on Thursday for lunch. Sure, the guy at the counter speaks very little English, but as I wait there, I've stared at the walls. On them are various photos, tacked up. They depict the opening day of the restaurant. In each one of them, there's a group of Fat-Old-White-Men (FOWM) standing around this mid-40's looking Asian guy. They look like they'd smoke cigars and grab a waitress's ass (except one guy who looks eerily like John Waters). They don't look like they speak a word of Chinese or that they hung around too much after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. I don't fool myself that the food is anything resembling authentic either. In fact, their menu is the same menu used in every-single cheap Chinese place I've been to.

I do often wonder if these places, like the Mexican place might be, are these package deals that get sold to immigrants. Spend a couple thousand dollars and own your own restaurant! Complete with menus, silverware and some sort of starter kit including a cd of bad "ethnic" music, the whole deal. You get off the boat and get a brochure. "Be a successful entrepreneur in the great United States of America!"

I hope no one minds, but I'll end again with another question. I like seeing the comments :)
What is your guilty food pleasure? Don't lie. It doesn't even have to be Fast Food or anything. Just food you know is no good, but you eat it anyways.

One last thing, to one person in particular:
Happy dork-o?

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Wednesday, February 11, 2004

I was going to devote this space to ranting about these self and peer evaluations we have to do at work. But, shoot, half of you who read this blog work at the same place I do, and I doubt you want to hear about it anymore ;)

So, how about disgusting food?
People love, myself included, talking about "gross food." Fried insects, pig's brains, eyeballs, etc. All you vegetarians have a get out free pass from this conversation. I mean, what's the worst you can eat? Durian? ;) - Though I have to admit, I find corn smut pretty vile looking - Being a meat eater, than opens up a whole slew of doors. People, if hungry enough, will eat just about everything. And it's only so long before desperate food dishes turns into "traditional dishes" and pretty soon, people who can afford better are frying up some creepy crawlies. Blood or Black Pudding, as it is sometimes called, is a good example of this. Most likely invented in some slaughterhouse where they wanted to let nothing go to waste, blood pudding is exactly what you might imagine it to be. It's pig's blood, flavored with a variety of spices. The one time I ate it, it looked kind of like sausage, which I guess makes sense. As Americans, we find this impossibly gross. But, in Ireland and especially England, you can still get it served up to you, though I have sincere doubts as to how much a part of the average diet it is in this day and age. So, the question is this: As I mentioned before, I was served blood pudding for breakfast once. Did I eat it? Yup. I've also eaten pig's brains and will, in the future, probably eat things equally, if not more, unappetizing. (Btw, no, I didn't like it. I ate the first patty, then almost spat out the second). Once I had a chance to try Durian, but did not, at the extreme urging of Genevieve. I don't know if the phrase "I will leave you here" was used, but I'm pretty sure it was thought. Here's my spin on the whole thing. There's millions of food dishes out there, and thousands of ingredients and, of course, not all of them are going to be appetizing. So, though you or I might not look at a pile of fried bugs and say "mmmm...snacks!", someone does. And, somewhere, *some*one thinks that stuff is damn good, otherwise it wouldn't be being served up, because no one would eat it and everyplace that served it would go out of business. Now, the question I get when I think about things like that is this: how do I know that person won't be me. Shoot, fried bugs might be manna from heaven for me. But I won't know till I try it. If I don't like it, no harm, no foul (unless it's duck, of course), but I would hate to think I passed up on some great dish because it offended my American palette. Or, as the phrase goes.."as long as it doesn't kill me..."

That said, no, I will not eat puppies.

So, what say you out there? What's the most disgusting thing you've eaten? (or not eaten)
Perverts need not comment ;)

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Monday, February 09, 2004

So we had my mom over for dinner tonight. I made a gruyere and carmelized onion tart and Genevieve made a fruit salad, both excellent.

As dinner progressed, we got to talking about all the dishes my mom made for my sister and I growing up. And, like always, one meal came up again-and-again: Tuna rice pie.
We all have this dish. Something mom (or dad) made over and over, till you were completely sick of it... and then you got leftovers.
Mine was Tune rice pie. Looking back, it seems like my mom made this on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Even now, over a decade since I've touched one, I can still taste it. The chewy cheese top and the mushy egg, rice and tune insides. It was one of those busy-mom dishes that probably involved lots of canned goods and one sole spice: butter (hey, it's the midwest, butter is a spice here ;). OKay, to my mom's credit, it had paprika too. But anyways...
So, here I was, in the middle of dinner, trying to guess the ingredients to this childhood dish. Eggs, milk, canned tuna, onions, rice, cheese, butter? Was there a Cream of Something can of soup in there? Nope, that was the pork chops. But, try as I might, she wasn't budging.
I even went so far as vowing that, if she ever came by for dinner when Genevieve wasn't there, *I* would figure it out and make my own tuna rice pie. Yes, at this point, I'd obviously gone insane.

Here's my question of the day: what was *your* mom (or dad's) dish? Put that memorable meal in my comments section.
Until next time..

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Sunday, February 08, 2004

So, as some of you might know, Sunday generally tends to be my "cooking day." The one day I take to make the food I might not have enough time for later on in the week, or just want to make for the hell of it, instead of just concentrating on making that night's dinner.

Today, it started with a Mole Poblano. This gave me a good chance to use many of the dried chilies I picked up this past week at the Hispanic market and, of course, engage in my recent obsession with Mexican cooking. Though intensive (thank goodness for the massive help I got from Genevieve), it was a complete joy to make. The smell of a cooking mole instantly earned its place among my top cooking smells. I can't describe it, but it was just enrapturing. We haven't even used what we made and I'm already anxious to make more, just to fill our kitchen with that scent again. Or I can just wait till Target clears off some of those damn vanilla-scented candles and gets some Mole and Roasted Garlic scented ones in ;)

Next up was a black bean soup. If you scroll back, you'll see that, per Genevieve's request, I had also made a black bean soup last week. The problem was that, though it tasted better, my black bean soup was higher in calories than Panera's. (Calories, schmarlories..) So, I was given a bit of a test: to make a black bean soup that was just as good, or better, than Panera's, but no more calories than it. I can't say the end result was better than my last attempt, but it fit the criteria and was still mighty good. I'll not bother reprinting the recipe, if you want a black bean soup, just make the other one and don't worry about it ;)

Third in line was dinner. Keeping in the spirit of the first dish, I made a Creamy corn and roasted poblano soup. There was no special trick to this. It's a solid dish that I'd made before and was quite yummy, though I can't wait for corn to get back in season. The frozen stuff just doesn't do it for me as much. Served with tortilla chips and salsa.

And lastly, dessert. If I had my way, we’d be sipping on a fruit-flavored atole (a new favorite winter comfort drink), but Genevieve thinks it, well, looks like “snot.” Soo..a chocolate espresso pudding (and yes, it's relatively low-fat). Damn the food network and their "Chocolate Week" themes, damn them!!

On a side-note, I am finally feeling much better. :) Yah!




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Friday, February 06, 2004

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate being sick?
Yup, still fighting it off and feeling pretty out-of-it.

On the upside, I had an amazing dinner last night.
During her way back from Lakewood, Genevieve stopped at this place called El Tango Taqueria. It's this little texmex joint on Madison. (14224 Madison Ave) , who have a tamale pie that I absoutely love. Well, yesterday, they had a chicken mole special and Genevieve ended up getting that for me instead. Lucky choice. The delicious mole spices and tender chicken just melted right through my muted-from-sick tastebuds. Complex and earthy as all get out, I'd *highly* high recommend it for you omnivores out there. It was served with a spiced vegetable mixture (excellent) and a salsa cole slaw (which was only o-kay).
For those who have not at all checked out this restaurant, I strongly recommend you do so. Their prices are reasonable (meals average from around 7.95 to 10.95 and portions are very hearty), service is good, and the food is just amazing (though pretty heavy, so I wouldn't exactly say you should eat there everyday or anything.) Women over 40 will probably also swoon oven the owner, who has that Robert Redford in the old West look.

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Thursday, February 05, 2004

Feeling sick and spacey today. So no real blog. (though you can now comment on that :)
Instead, check out the blog of one of my favorite TV personalities, Jamie Olilver, the Naked Chef.

here

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Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Top 4 Most-Hated Weight Loss ads:

4. Weight Loss International. That new diet company has the ad where the woman goes "Any diet where I can eat chocolate is the one for me!". I have nothing really again their diet, as I'm pretty sure it's just a Jenny Craig rip-off. I just want to punch the ad's host in the face. She can't act and it seems like she's trying to convince you to, covered in salt, come to a party with a bunch of cannibals ("They're completely off that, I promise!" ) rather than try this new diet. Her and the Ditech guy need to run off together and never darken my TV again.

3. Related: The Jenny Craig weight loss "system". I guess I don't have anything violently against Jenny Craig, I'm sure it's worked for *some*one. But, you'd have to shove that stuff down my gullet to get me to eat prepackaged food every damn day. I can't even imagine. "Sorry, hon, I'm going to have to skip on the home cooked meal tonight, I've got this salt-ass pasta to eat. Can you clean out the microwave for me?"

2. The "T.G.I. Friday's New *Atkins Approved* Menu" - Let me start of by saying that I don't like T.G.I. Fridays or any of those related big-box restaurants with all that pseudo-retro crap hanging all about the walls. Personally, if I wanted to eat dinner like that, I'd hang out in my grandma's basement. At least then I wouldn't have to consume the overly-heavy stuff that passes for good food there. I also really dislike this new Atkins fad. But, all of that aside, can someone explain to me how a big chunk o' steak smothered in Bleu Cheese is anything resembling diet-like? 'Cause it's low in Carbs? Well, maybe, yeah, but you know what makes that lovely steak sizzle? Fat. And what is that on top? Fat (and I'm sure we're not talking some high-grade cheese either). Can I get a side of deep-fried lard with that? Fat fat fat..but low carbs!
Those new "low-carb" beers need to go as well.

And Number One....
1. That diet pill that says "It's not your fault that you're overweight". I can't remember the name of it, but this is the worst diet ad I've ever seen. Let's break it down. Dr. whatshisname (Dr. of Marketing most likely) comes on the screen and issues a warning: "I'm sorry, if you're a casual dieter, just looking to loose 5 to 10 pounds, this pill is *way* too strong for you." There's a stunningly "subtle" use or reverse marketing there. No, don't buy our product, it's *too* strong. Though, hey, I'm sure it'll get them out of a lawsuit when someone's heart explodes from taking their product. Then they proceed to tell you that it's not your fault your overweight. "It's stress that causes you to gain weight." Oh lord, why didn't I think of it before! It's not the three quarter-pounders I shovel down everyday or the fact that getting up to find the remote is the most exercise I get in a day. It's my stress level! Wow. And all this time I thought it's cause I was a fat-lazy ass. (Now, I honestly don't think everyone who is overweight is lazy. Personally, I think if you eat right and have a few extra pounds, it's no big deal and you're waaaay healthier than those who are on the T.G.I. Friday's Atkins Diet.
But to say that, no, diet and exercise have nothing to do with it, that's it's stress and you can take this pill and make it all better? That's what gets to me.)

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Tuesday, February 03, 2004

So, after the lentil soup disaster, where I ignored my gut feeling and went straight with the recipe, I decided yesterday to give a shot at doing a dish with all gut reaction and no recipe.

Genevieve had been telling me these past weeks about perhaps making a black bean soup to take for lunches, since that's what she gets at Panera bread all the time. And I've had Panera's food, I was pretty sure I could best that.

The end result:
Creamy black bean soup with roasted corn and chipotles

And, not to be full of myself, but it turned out damn good. Sweet and smoky, with a hint of fire (although Genevieve claims it's "burn the mouth" spicy, I found it to be around medium heat) and some tex-mex flavors going on. For myself to remember, just as much as anyone who might be interested, here's the recipe:

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 Onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, pressed or diced
1 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2" Mexican cinnamon (stick)
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups of vegetable stock
3/4 cup of dried black beans
1 large ear or 1 1/2 small ears of corn
2 tbsp milk or cream
1/2 canned chipotle pepper (more to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large soup pot, heat the oil on medium-high. Add the garlic and onion and cook until soft and lightly golden brown.

Add the cumin, bay leaf, coriander, chili powder, cinnamon, salt, vegetable stock & black beans. Bring to a boil.

Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about an hour and a half, or until beans are very soft, stirring occasionally. Add water as needed to keep beans covered.

While the soup is simmering, roast the corn. I did this in the broiler of my oven, coated lightly with canola oil. But, a nice open flame or grill would work just as well, if not better. Roast until it is equally brown on all sides. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Once cooled, remove the kernels. Place half of the corn in a blender with the milk and blend until it forms a creamy consistency. Combine with the whole kernels and set aside.

When the beans are soft, remove half of them, along with their liquid, and place in a blender. Blend until smooth.
Add blended beans back to the soup pot. Add the chipotle pepper and simmer, uncovered, for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat. Remove the bay leaf & cinnamon. Add the corn mixture and stir till combined. Heat on low until warmed through.

Serve. Top with a dollop of sour cream (optional)

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Monday, February 02, 2004

Yesterday's Dinner:
Lentil soup with chipotles and fried plantain garnish

We had high hopes for this dish. It came from a book we'd had alot of success with previously, Mexican Light by Martha Rose Shulman, and the combination of a ripe plantain's mellow sweetness and the smoky flavours of the chipotle seemed like a winner.

Unfortunately, this was not the case. Though the plantains were delicious, of course, the soup itself was more than a bit bland. I did the recipe spot-on per the book's instructions, since I'd never made it before. This was despite my best judgment that told me it would be too watery and not have enough flavor, which it was. It had the basics going on (beans, onions, garlic, salt, cumin), but it's lack of any flavor -enducing technique (it was a basic, throw 'em all in with a bunch of water and simmer until soft), kind of left the whole thing..blah.

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There will be no more music reviews at fivedollarbeer. But, you can still catch my latest reviews at:
BlogCritics
Featuring them here as well just seemed a little repetitive.

The subject of this blog will now switch to culinary tales and less formal comments and stories on the local music scene. Stay tuned.

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