Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

LA and I weren't exactly anticipating spending Christmas in the hospital, but that's exactly where we were.  We decided to make the best of it and share Christmas dinner.  By coincidence, today's lunch menu included roast turkey with gravy.  Happy Day!

We have two women who work for Nutrition and bring our meals each day, Wanda and Tanisha.  They are two of the nicest women, and I look forward to their arrival each day.  And not just because they bring the food.  Wanda was lucky enough to have the day off today, so Tanisha was bringing our meals.  As she was picking up the breakfast trays, I asked if we could possibly have a tray of turkey if she had any spares at lunch.  She said that she definitely would, so LA and I would both be able to have turkey dinner.

I am on the low-sodium, low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, and the meal LA received had no restrictions.  My Christmas dinner consisted of three slices of roast turkey breast with gravy, mashed potatoes, and green beans.  LA had the same turkey and green beans, but he had cornbread stuffing instead of the potatoes.  He was also kind enough to give me a little of the stuffing.  While it was salted, I only had a few bites and it really completed the meal.  Last year, LA and I had gone to Emma's in Concord for Thanksgiving.  We both agreed that today's meal was equally as good as that we had at Emma's.  And it was hospital food!  I am getting used to the blandness of my food, but I did put some "butter" on the potatoes for a little extra oomph.  Close inspection also revealed that the gravy is simply broth mixed with cornstarch.  It was still gravy-like enough to make a decent meal.  LA's cornbread stuffing was actually very good.  I wished they had accidentally given it to me!  Cranberry sauce was included on the side, but neither of us tried it.  I did look at it, and it didn't look canned. 

For dessert, we had red jello with mandarin oranges and whipped cream.  I ate a couple of the oranges, but the jello wasn't made right and was quite stiff.  LA doesn't eat jello at all.  Being Christmas, we also got a special treat.  I had pumpkin mousse with whipped cream, and LA had a mini pumpkin pie.  Apparently the pie crust wasn't low-fat, so I didn't get it.  The mousse was very good, but I was getting full by that point and was unable to finish it. 

While we had hardly anticipated spending Christmas in the hospital, we were at least able to spend it together.  The food was respectable, and we were surrounded by friendly and caring people.  This definitely qualifies as a good Christmas, and we even get a funny story out of it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Where's Lula?

I know it's been ages since I last posted.  As I said before, sometimes life just gets in the way.  In my case, it happened in a big way.  Spending the month of November with an unspecified illness, I, and my intrepid sidekick, was unable to visit any restaurants, markets, or points of interest.  Early in December, I visited the doctor and learned that my unspecified illness was actually congestive heart failure, and I've been in the hospital ever since.  I suppose I could write reviews on the food that I've been eating for the past two weeks, but that may be a little boring and redundant: Today's meal was ok, but a little bland. 

Once I am released from the hospital, I will be on my own to follow my new low-fat, low-salt, low-iron diet.  I will be taking you on those adventures, including things I make and how restaurants respond to my dietary restrictions.  It will be a much different direction for me, but I'm sure it will still be interesting.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Lemon Lameness

I apologize for the long hiatus.  Sometimes life just gets in the way.  With the new puppies and finding out that my house (that I'm renting) is being foreclosed, I've had a few other things on my plate.  With the impending foreclosure and sale of my house, I know that a move will soon be in the works.  I hate moving.  I really don't think anyone out there doesn't hate moving.  When I think about moving, I start thinking about all the stuff I have that I'll have to pack.  At that point, I have to stop thinking about it before it makes me dizzy. 

I have a 3-bedroom house, and it's really just storage for all of the things I've collected over the years.  We all do it.  I'm tired of having to get a bigger house each time I move, just to accommodate all of my stuff.  And I'm not alone.  LA has moved 4 times in the last two years, and two of those were moving in with me.  He also had a house full of stuff, but lost much of it when the house he was renting was foreclosed.  Sounds like an epidemic!  Each time he moved in with me, he brought enough with him to fill my shed.  He didn't even bother furnishing his last place, so the same stuff has been in my shed twice.

But enough is enough!  Neither one of us were eagerly anticipating having to rent a semi just to move everything into a new place.  And neither of us wanted 3 bedrooms to have to furnish.  What's a person to do?  That's right--start getting rid of everything.  I'm not kidding when I say we're getting rid of everything.  We had one yard sale, but didn't get rid of too much.  We'll just keep having them until we get rid of it all.

With that being said, I am getting rid of a lot of cookbooks and kitchen items.  I've got an ice cream maker that I've only used a few times.  Small tools and gadgets that people have given me and that I will never use.  I've even got the dining table priced to sell.  If anyone is interested in one of our yard sales, leave a comment with your email address and I'll email you our home address.  If you have any interest in food, I'm sure there will be something at the sale to interest you.  We even have food-related art, painted by LA.  There's something for everyone!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Orson's Opinions

Note: Due to my hectic schedule filled with puppy-wrangling and trips to Walmart, today’s post will be written by a guest writer.

My name is Orson Bouvier, and I, along with my sister, Cupcake Bouvier Ramirez Jones, live with Lula Lemon and LA. Lula has asked me to provide some insight and observations on food items that I’ve had since moving in with her and LA. I’m not as eloquent as Lula, so please forgive my writing.

When we met Lula and LA, they presented us with cheddar cheese. Heaven! Neither I nor Cupcake had ever had cheese before. We would do whatever Lula and LA asked just to get more cheese, including sleeping in two cramped, over-the-top pink crates. Since then, we’ve also had American cheese. Lula uses it sometimes to get me to go for a walk or sit down and shake hands. It works.

Bananas were the next treat given. Not as good as cheese, but we still like it. Now that we’ve grown a bit, we get Alpo dog treats when we learn tricks. They’re hard, but tasty. When I’ve walked really well on my leash, I get Ol’ Roy’s Tiny T’s treats, which are like smoky little T-bones. I eat mine really fast and then steal Cupcake’s, because she always drops hers.

The author
 Before we moved in, Lula baked treats for us. The bone-shaped chicken ones are really good. The people-shaped peanut butter ones are too, but they give me diarrhea. Lula wasn’t too happy with that.

Some of my favorite things to eat don’t come from Lula’s kitchen. I discovered grass and leaves since moving to Lula’s house. They’re so good, but they don’t really agree with my tummy. They agree with Cupcake’s even less. LA wasn’t very happy with Cupcake the night she ate all the grass and leaves. Or maybe it was the berries that were on the ground next to the “croutons”. LA calls them croutons, but Lula calls them rabbit droppings. Either way, they’re crunchy and I like that. Dead bugs are good too, but I don’t find those too often. Kleenex, wax paper, and cigarette filters are pretty high on my list, but Lula always takes those out of my mouth before I can really enjoy them. One of the best treats was when LA dropped a Bit O’ Honey on the floor. I ate the candy, wrapper and all. Cupcake tried to take it away from me, but I won. Until Lula took it away from me and yelled at LA for leaving it on the floor.

I also like to eat shoes, but LA hit me in the face with one today, so I don’t do that anymore. He said it was an accident, but I don’t think so. That’s okay. I’ll just poop in his room later. Or goad Cupcake into eating some more of those berries!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Shepherd or Cottage

I’ve had some ground beef sitting in my freezer for some time now, just waiting for divine inspiration to strike me in the forehead. And strike me it did! LA and I had been discussing the relative merits of shepherd’s pie and both realized that we haven’t had any in quite some time. Time for shepherd’s pie!

Now, technically, shepherd’s pie is made with ground lamb. If the pie is made with ground beef, it becomes cottage pie. I’ve seen some very nasty comments on assorted websites from incensed Brits upset with our use of “shepherd’s pie” when we should be referring to it as “cottage pie”. Well, Limey, this is America and we can call it whatever we want. The French have resolved the problem completely by calling it hachis Parmentier, which loosely translates as “chopped meat with potatoes on top”.

I called it shepherd’s pie, and I also called it delicious. I’d love to give you the recipe I followed, but, as usual, I just threw stuff in a pan until it tasted right. Basically I softened an onion in butter and olive oil, then browned the ground beef in the same pan. When that was browned, I tossed in some minced garlic and fresh thyme. I then added beef broth, a few squirts of tomato paste (from my tomato paste toothpaste tube), some mustard powder, and salt and pepper. Since it was still a bit flat, I finished it with a bit of sherry. Just for flavor. I mashed some potatoes with a lot of butter and milk, then elegantly piped the potatoes onto the top of the meat mixture. A sprinkle of shredded Parmesan cheese and the pie was ready for the oven. Once the top was browned and golden, we were ready to eat.

In true British fashion, I served the shepherd’s pie with peas. At least, that’s how I had it in London. I thought it was very good, but not exactly how I wanted it. LA loved it, hot or cold. I actually thought it improved with a rest in the fridge overnight and enjoyed it reheated in the oven the next day. Now that I’m reminded of how good shepherd’s pie can be, I may have to make it more often than once every 3 years.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Logan's with Lula

While shopping at our nearby Walmart, LA and I decided we were a bit hungry.  I wanted spinach artichoke dip, and he wanted a burger.  Where to go?  We ended up at Logan's Roadhouse, a chain with a store in the Walmart shopping center.

We had been craving the Bloomin' Onion from Outback for some time now and thought that a steakhouse might actually have it.  We were correct.  Logan's offers Onion Petals.  We were very tempted but went with the spinach artichoke dip.  You may have read my previous post about the lackluster spinach artichoke dip that we had at Zada Jane's.  Logan's dip was the opposite.  It reminded me a bit of creamed spinach with artichokes in it.  I was highly impressed and ate most of it myself.  Possibly some of the best I've ever had.  I'll be going back for that.

I ordered the Logan's Deluxe Burger and LA ordered the Logan's Deluxe Chicken Sandwich, both from the Express Lunch menu.  Lunch in 15 minutes, it said.  Deluxe at Logan's means shredded cheese, bacon, beer-braised onions, sauteed mushrooms, and barbecue sauce.  We ordered both with no mushrooms or sauce.  Then we waited.  And waited.  And waited.

After 30 minutes, the waitress brought our food.  As soon as she set down the plates, I saw the barbecue sauce on them.  I pointed this out, and she briskly took the plates back to the kitchen.  After about 10 minutes, our food reappeared.  I got a whole new burger and LA got the same piece of chicken but with the sauce scraped off.  He found plenty of sauce on the underside of the chicken, and they'd even put it on the same saucy bun.  LA took a bite and made a terrible face.  Yes, he could still taste the barbecue sauce.  I told him I could get it for free since he wasn't going to it, but he refused.  He'd pay for it since someone had cooked it, even though they'd cooked it incorrectly.

I continued eating my burger, while LA continued making faces.  These faces must've caught the attention of the manager, since he came over and asked how everything was.  LA and I looked at each other, then I explained what had happened with our order.  He offered to get a new sandwich for LA, but LA refused, rationalizing the refusal by believing that the kitchen would spit in the new order.  I've worked in a fair number of kitchens, and I haven't seen anyone spit in the food.  But maybe I've only worked with people with integrity.  The manager then offered to remove the item from the bill.  Again LA refused.  So I had to sit there and watch a back-and-forth between the two until LA finally relented.  The manager even took the drinks off the tab.  Lest you think that we're horrible people, we did leave the server a 30% tip.  We knew it wasn't her fault.

If you dined out with me, you know that I do not tolerate poor service or incorrect food orders.  I've gotten free drinks for having plastic floating in my martini, free desserts for a table for 4 because of terrible service, and a free chicken sandwich because the kitchen was cutting corners and thought we wouldn't notice.  By the same token, I've given generous tips for good service, as well as notifying the managers of an exemplary dining experience.  I've waited tables and I've cooked.  I've seen it from both sides.  I also know that I am paying for food and service, and I expect to get my money's worth.  Even with the crazy experience at Logan's, LA and I both agreed that we would go back.  Especially for the spinach artichoke dip.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Cold Drink and a Long Wait

Now that we’re proud dog owners, LA and I are on the lookout for things to do with the puppies. The Yiasou Greek Festival took place over the weekend, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to experience a different culture and get the puppies out of the house.

Once we arrived at the Greek festival, we were informed that we couldn’t enter with our dogs, even though they were safely nestled inside tote bags. “It’s because of the Health Department.” I wanted to say, “You let all of these children in here, and they’re messier than my dog-in-a-tote-bag,” but I accepted their apologies without making a scene. The woman did offer to get us something from inside the festival, if we wanted.

The Greek festival may not be pet-friendly, but NoDa is. We thought we’d head over, check out some of the shops and galleries and maybe even see our friend, John, who owns Dogmatic Training. Faithful readers know that LA and I never end up where we plan to go. We missed NoDa and ended up in Plaza-Midwood. To be fair, LA thinks Plaza-Midwood is NoDa, so it was all good. Most of the stores were closed, so we opted to get a drink and some rest at Zada Jane’s. Their patio is pet-friendly and we were all hot and in need of refreshment.

We were told to seat ourselves on the patio, which we did. And then we waited. After what seemed like 10 minutes, we were brought menus and our drink orders were taken. A few more people and dogs arrived, including a giant Rottweiler named Tyson. He was quite interested in Cupcake, LA’s pooch, who looked remarkably like a tiny version of Tyson. The puppies were as impressed by the service as we were and promptly fell asleep in our laps.
LA and Cupcake

Cupcake in 2 years?
We settled on spinach artichoke dip to share, although The Trio did sound tempting. The trio was a scoop each of tomato hummus, black bean dip, and pimento cheese, served with whole wheat pita. Tyson’s owner did order that and I was very jealous when I saw it. I actually thought they’d lost our order, since the dip took so long to arrive. In all fairness, Tyson’s owner’s Trio did as well, and the kitchen had only to scoop the items on the platter. Considering that Zada Jane’s wasn’t busy, we were surprised that the food took so long. When the spinach artichoke dip arrived, it did not make up for the long wait. The overall taste was fine, but the consistency was far too runny. Both of us agreed that the same dip at Chili’s is a much better option. We didn’t have the money to order anything else from Zada Jane’s. The dinner entrees ranged from $15 for mushroom ravioli (which I don’t eat) to $27 for filet mignon. The salads were a less expensive option. Tyson’s owner ordered one and it looked quite tasty.

While the overall service was lacking, one server did bring around bowls and a water pitcher to all of the dogs on the patio. The bowls were bigger than our puppies, so we passed, but I did appreciate it. While I would return to Zada Jane’s for some sweet tea while I’m out with my dog on a hot day, I wouldn’t go back on my own. I’ve found plenty of other establishments that offer a similarly priced menu but with much better service.

Zada Jane’s is located at 1601 Central Ave. in Charlotte.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

In anticipation of the addition of two new family members, I thought I should do a little baking. Give the new girls a Welcome Home treat. So I cracked open the cookbook and baked something I’ve never baked before. Dog treats.

I’d run across a recipe for dog treats a couple years back in a dessert cookbook I’d picked up, but I never had a reason to try it out. From reading it, I knew that dog treats involved ingredients that I have in my pantry and that they didn’t appear to be too difficult to make. When LA first got a dog, we got some treats from Deborah’s Kitchen Kreations. Minimal ingredients and no preservatives. Plus, Mr. Piddlesworth seemed to enjoy them.

Once I knew I would be getting my own dog, I started looking at the dog treats on the market. The inexpensive ones had an ingredient list as long as my arm. The treats with a short, and reasonably healthy, ingredient list were prohibitively expensive. That’s when I decided to make my own.

Dog treat canisters made by LA
I ran across a dog treat cookbook that received rave reviews on Amazon. It even came with its own bone-shaped cutter! I bought the book and got to work. The cutter that came with the book was as big as my puppy would be, so I picked up some smaller cutters elsewhere. I also thought it might be a good opportunity to make treats in different shapes and sizes. To keep things interesting for the puppies.

The first batch I made was made with flour, margarine, chicken broth, and cornmeal. I went with a bone shape for those. They smelled delicious in the oven and tasted like a salt-free chicken cracker. The next batch had peanut butter, oats, whole wheat flour, water, and vegetable oil and were in the shape of gingerbread men. The dough smelled like cookies. We couldn’t wait to try them. Halfway through cooking, they began to smell like burnt peanut butter, which really is not all that appetizing. I bit into one once they were done. I couldn’t taste the peanut butter. They just tasted like dry. LA didn’t understand that description until he tried one, too.

Once we picked up the puppies, we wanted to try out the freshly-baked treats. The chicken treats were far too big, so I gave my puppy, Orson, a peanut butter man. She licked it. Then she ignored it. She had the same reaction to Deb’s chicken kitty treats and some puppy brownies (made with cream cheese and carob) that I got from another vendor at the farmers’ market. Her favorite treats are cheddar cheese and bananas. My dog treat baking days were over. And they only lasted for one day.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Burning Down the Flea Market

Today the Webb Road Flea Market in Salisbury burned down.  I don't have any details, but it makes me very sad.  Since moving to Kannapolis, I've been to the flea market several times.  On my most recent trip, I very nearly bought a puppy (although I decided that paying my power bill might be a better idea).  The Webb Road Flea Market was also where I had my first deep-fried Twinkie.  I couldn't finish it, but it was better than I had imagined.  The cream filling gets oozy and the cake becomes one with the batter on the outside, making it softer and creamy.  Almost like pudding.  LA had a deep-fried Snickers.  He bit into it too soon after the deep-frying and burned his tongue on it.  The woman had warned him it would be hot. 

But those days are over.  So are the days of buying a goat, some bananas, a butter churn, and underpants all in the same location.  RIP, Webb Road Flea Market.

Monday, August 30, 2010

On the Road Again

Chez Lula was closed on Wednesday. I had places to go. And go I did. The day was definitely not food-oriented, but some of the high points will still make for fine reading. I’ll include what we ate, just so I don’t lose you.

LA and I started the day with the saltiest breakfast burritos either of us have ever eaten. Thank you, Sonic! But we were off, headed towards the NC Zoological Park in Asheboro. Neither of us had ever been, and we’d both heard fantastic things about the zoo. I can sum up the zoo in three words: plants and butts. In the North America section, we saw pretty much nothing but animal butts. We did get to see otters being fed whole fish and hard-boiled eggs. Otters look like they have thumbs, but the zoo worker and LA both advised me that they do not. I still think they do. The Africa section involved many more animal fronts, as well as a carousel and some ostrich eggs. I guess it was ostrich day—I rode one on the carousel, took a photo of a real one, then I even hatched out of an egg.

Grumpy, tired, and with sore feet, we finally left the zoo. Interesting side note, you cannot get a straw at the zoo, because they are “dangerous to the animals”, but you can get a spoon. Go figure.

We headed back to Asheboro to hit up Biscuitville for LA. Sadly, they were closed by the time we arrived. We got some sweet tea and bad directions, then were off to High Point for the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers. We stopped at Kosta’s Family Restaurant in Archdale, which may not have been the best idea. I did like their macaroni salad, since it wasn’t as sweet as most varieties I’ve eaten. LA still thought it was too sweet. The braised chicken was bland, the barbecue was fine, and the gravy both gave us what Morgan Spurluck delightfully referred to as “the McGurgles”. The waitress seemed afraid of both of us, but we did overhear the best conversation of all time. The woman behind me informed her friends that “I’ve just had my third eye transplant. Well, really just my cornea.” She proceeded to tell them all about her corneas and the long list of ailments from which her husband suffered. As we left, LA asked the waitress how far we were from the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers. She was not familiar with it, but told him she did know about the World’s Largest Chair in Thomasville. Not helpful. (Besides, it’s the World’s Largest Duncan Phyfe Chair. I suppose that makes a difference.)

We did ultimately find and photograph the World’s Largest Chest of Drawers, although the directions we had were wrong and I nearly wrecked the car trying to turn around to get to it. Completely worth it. We continued north to Winston-Salem to our next destination—the Shell station shaped like a shell. After much map consultation, we found the Shell station. Completely worth driving around lost through a not so great neighborhood for five minutes’ worth of photos.

We spent another 45 minutes driving around in all directions before accidentally ending up in Old Salem. We had hoped we would, but we don’t have a stellar record of actually finding our true destinations. Old Salem and Salem College are both interesting and beautiful. I took way too many photos to post here, so I recommend going there post haste to check it out for yourself. If you’re reading this from somewhere other than NC, I’m sure there is an interesting historic site in your area.

By the end of all our shenanigans on the highways and biways of NC, we were…

Saturday, August 28, 2010

That's Just Poppycock!

Every once in awhile, I’ll come across a recipe that looks so delicious, I can’t wait to try it. In this case, I wanted to try it immediately, but dragged my feet a little because I knew it would be a little bit of a pain in the butt. I was right, but it was so worth it!

The September issue of Bon Appetit magazine contains a recipe from Colt & Gray restaurant in Denver. Why couldn’t Colt & Gray have opened when I still lived there? I would’ve been there every night for their bacon and cashew caramel corn. Alas, they were not, and I was left to make it myself.

Bacon and cashew caramel corn? I saw the recipe title and my heart skipped a beat. I read it to LA, and I think his may have skipped a beat, too. Everyone loves caramel corn and everyone loves bacon (except you silly vegetarians who are missing out on the “meat candy”), so how could we not love bacon caramel corn? As far as I’m concerned, the cashews are just filler. The bacon and caramel are the real stars.

I bought all of the necessary ingredients, a bit horrified at the thought of actually having to cook popcorn in a pan. I grew up in the era of microwave popcorn. Now that I don’t have a microwave, I have to go old school. I was justly pleased with myself when the popcorn came out unburned and fully popped. The patron saint of popcorn popping must have been watching over me.

I’ve made caramel enough that it doesn’t even phase me, but there’s still a small voice at the back of my head that says “It’s going to crystallize and you’re going to have a bit pot of rock candy.” Take that, little voice in my head—my caramel was perfect!

The hardest part was waiting for the popcorn to cool enough so it wouldn’t burn off my fingerprints. Once it cooled, I couldn’t tear myself away from it. It’s sweet, it’s salty, it’s spicy, it’s the best caramel corn ever. I would describe it as Cracker Jack for adults, but that would be selling the bacon caramel corn short. Even though it will take 3-4 pans, the task of making caramel, and having on the oven in the middle of summer, I still recommend making this popcorn. You’ll never eat Fiddle Faddle again.

For the recipe, click here.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Lunch in Paris

Cooking for someone else is always more fun than cooking for just myself. Besides, when it’s just me, I always end up with a fridge full of leftovers that I don’t eat in time and forget to freeze. The worst part is having to clean out the fridge when I remember the leftovers. I’m still working on a budget, so many of our meals involve some element of leftovers in disguise. Such was the case of the leftover bechamel.

I love bechamel sauce, but I can never get it to come out right. Since it did so for the lasagna, I wanted to make sure I used every last drop of it. My favorite use for new or leftover bechamel? Croque monsieurs. A croque monsieur is basically a grilled ham and cheese sandwich, then topped with bechamel and cheese and broiled, so the top is bubbly and brown. My mouth waters just thinking about it.

I marched myself up to the supermarket to get ham and bread. Can’t really have a ham sandwich without those. Swiss cheese was on sale. Today would be my day! Sandwich fixings obtained, I headed home.

I woke my slumbering roommate by informing him that Chez Lula’s kitchen was open, but only has one seating per meal. If he wanted lunch, he’d better drag his rear out of bed. According to the whiteboard, lunch would be croque monsieurs and a green salad, but I had more leftover magic up my sleeve. I chopped up the leftover “driest potato ever” and fried it with salt and garlic.

Blearied-eyed and on the phone with the NC Employment Security Commission, LA came to the table. He was greeted by a bubbling sandwich, some crispy garlic potatoes, and a green salad. Due to his conversation with “Tomas”, all he could manage for the sandwich was a thumb’s up. But he scarfed it down when the call ended. Creamy, cheesy, hammy, delicious were his descriptors. I overcooked the sandwiches a little, but the dark brown crust was hidden by the bechamel. Lunch was a hit.

Croque monsieur is probably one of my favorite things to eat. You can find it in Paris either with or without the bechamel, but I definitely prefer it with. Otherwise, it’s just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich. To make a good croque monsieur, I use Swiss cheese and Virginia-brand ham (honey ham and that boiled crap both make it taste funny). Also put a little smear of Dijon mustard on the inside of one slice of the bread. One of my former significant others said it wasn’t a real croque monsieur unless it was on a croissant. I think 40 million Frenchmen may disagree. Every recipe I’ve ever seen calls for white bread. But don’t even think of making it on wheat bread. Trying to make this a healthy recipe is really missing the mark.

LA loves to try pretending that he doesn’t like whatever it is that I’ve cooked. He didn’t even bother with this one. He was open in his love for this sandwich. I should probably stop all this cooking…he’ll never move out.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Dinner for Two

While the Pigs and Potatoes endeavor doesn’t constitute a total failure, I was shooting for a slightly more impressive dinner using the three leftover spinach and garlic chicken sausages. I still had three containers of figs just waiting in the fridge to go bad, but I wasn’t entirely taken with the idea of a fig and chicken sausage casserole, although a variant of that was mentioned in my beloved Meats cookbook (chicken and peach casserole). The answer was lasagna.

Ok, I’ll admit I didn’t make the entire lasagna from scratch. I had half a box of lasagna noodles, plus a jar of spaghetti sauce that was just taking up precious space in my pantry. I’m sure I could’ve made both, but I did need to get rid of some surplus. Since only LA and I would be eating the lasagna, and neither of us are very good at leftovers, I made it in an 8”X8” pan, rather than the typical 9”X13”. We’d still have more than enough lasagna. My concern wasn’t the quantity, so much as the quality.

The chicken sausages were Target’s Archer Farms brand. LA felt they were the only bright spot of Pigs and Potatoes, so I assumed they would be good in the lasagna. I also like a bit of creaminess in my lasagna. This called for a bechamel (white) sauce. Luckily my milk still had a few days of life left in it, which saved me a trip to the supermarket in the rain. Bulking up the lasagna was the job of some wilting spinach I also had sitting in the fridge. I could saute that and add it as a layer. At least it would go with the sausages.

Finally came assembly. I chopped up the chicken sausage (I didn’t really want big pieces of it), added it with the standard ricotta/egg mixture, plus my jarred sauce. The spinach was the next layer. The final layer was bechamel and a heavy covering of mozzarella. I would like to take a moment to toot my own horn as well. I never measure when I make a bechamel. I just dump everything in and hope for the best, which I never get. My bechamel is always too thick and often tasteless. Today it came out perfectly. I was quite proud of myself.

I wrote up the evening’s menu on the dry erase board stuck to my fridge: figs, prosciutto, and goat cheese in phyllo tartlet shells; chicken and spinach lasagna; and oatmeal raisin cookies. I could pretend it was a real restaurant (Chez Lula).

We paid minimal attention to the fig and prosciutto tartlets. The golden, bubbling mass in the oven was our primary interest. I doled out “manly”-sized portions to both of us, and we dug in. LA made what I thought was the “I don’t like it” face. He finally admitted that he liked it but wanted to come up with a description more involved than “It’s good”. He finally came up with “It’s so good it makes me want to eat it on both sides of my mouth, even though I know I can’t.” I’d forgotten about his broken tooth. He ate the creamy top layer first, although I was saving this for the last. I always save the best part of my meal for the last bite. Neither of us finished the gigantic portion, even though we gave it our best efforts. LA was saving room for an oatmeal raisin cookie. I was sparing my self from a sense of gluttonous shame.

Before the cookies had even cooled, LA was sneaking one. “Best oatmeal cookie I’ve ever had.” Considering the dough has been in my freezer forever and I don’t even know where I got the recipe anymore, I was very pleased. I had sprinkled them with a little Fleur de Sel before baking, to give them a salty bite to offset the sweetness. I thought the touch added something. Based on the way in which LA inhaled three, I don’t think he had a chance to notice the salt. The inhalation of the three was compliment enough.

We’ve had two dinner services at Chez Lula: a potato stuffed with a sausage and a full 3-course meal involving lasagna. The second was definitely the more popular. I’m already planning future meals. Chez Lula is back in business and hopping, even if it’s only for two people.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Misadventures of the Clueless Tourists

LA and I are the goingest people I know. We travel almost as much as Pope John Paul II, although, sadly, we don't have a Popemobile. Occasionally we have a plan, but usually the plan sort of craps out somewhere on the highway and we end up miles and hours from our destination.  Some people may call it "lost", but we like to see it as an adventure.

I informed LA to put on his fancy pants and get ready to go to lunch at the 3rd best truck stop in America (or maybe in North Carolina, I couldn't remember which the sign had said). We drove north and didn't see anything which even resembled the 15th best truck stop in America. We kept going. We passed Salisbury. We passed the exit for Winston-Salem. LA said we may as well just go to his dad's house for lunch. In Virginia. I accepted defeat and turned around at a gas station in Lexington. We bought Cheerwine cake to stave off hunger. Two asides: I love Cheerwine cake, and Bryan, the cashier at Judy's Food Mart, was great. He told us all about the new scented Silly Bandz they'd gotten in. After agreeing on the friendliness of the people of Lexington, we settled on lunch in Winston-Salem.

Back south we went, figuring we could just have lunch in Atlanta if all else failed. The exit for Winston-Salem was closed! Now where are we supposed to have lunch? I saw the sign for the Historic Spencer Shops and NC Transportation Museum, then cut across two lanes of traffic to get off the highway.

We ended up at Our Place Cafe in Historic Spencer Shops. LA wanted to sit outside. He would later regret it. The waitress was very friendly, even explaining to us the renovations to the apartments upstairs. My patty melt was delightful. LA's enjoyment of his turkey club ended when a fly journeyed in and back out of his mouth. He was the one who picked outside.

Down the block is Bucky's Produce. Not to be missed! Handwritten signs throughout inform you that Bucky's has the most expensive produce in town. They may need to take a marketing seminar. Apparently, if you can find it cheaper somewhere else, that's your problem. LA left with a knitted donut pin cushion, and I with a recipe booklet called Southern Pot Pourri. The booklet was 10 cents, but she threw it in for free because of the donut purchase. I was less interested in the recipes than in the racially stereotypical stick figures on the cover.

Includes a suggested menu called "The Germans are Coming"

We bid adieu to Mr. and Mrs. Bucky and ventured back the the NC Transportation Museum. For those of you who say there's nowhere to take your kids, you should stop your bellyaching and head to Spencer. I'm no train fanatic, but the museum is great! For starters, it's free, which always adds to a museum's greatness. For $6, you get a highly informative and fun ride on an old locomotive. LA had never ridden a train before, so that made the trip even better. We saw the Wright Brothers' plane, old cars, and flight attendant uniforms from the 1960s. From the "gift station", I obtained the dining car menus for lunch and dinner from 1976. I talked LA out of buying the engineer's hat. We also learned a lot about trains. (Did you know that, when a train comes to a crossing, it blows its whistle two long times, a short time, and another long? And that all train whistle signals are standardized throughout the US and Canada? I live near a train crossing and have verified Point #1. And now you've learned something, too.)

Sadly, there are no photographic records of this journey.  LA and I both forgot our cameras.  We didn't think we'd need photos of the truck stop.  Next time, we'll take the cameras.  We've learned our lesson: we will never end up where we actually planned to go.  But the day ended up even better for it.  Had we found the 3rd best truck stop in America, LA wouldn't have had the pleasure of his first train ride, and I wouldn't have had the pleasure of seeing him eat a fly.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Pigs and Potatoes

With LA back in my guest room, I now have a captive audience/guinea pig for some experimental recipes. I have a number of them in mind, but I decided to start slow. I'd found a wonderful-sounding recipe in the classic cookbook Favorite Recipes from Southern Kitchens: Meats.  What's not to love about a book called Meats?

The recipe? Pigs and Potatoes. This recipe has everything that I look for: catchy title, short ingredient list, easy instructions, and the promise of an unusual dining experience. The ingredients called for are simply baking potatoes and sausages. The instructions were easier said than done: bore a hole in each potato with an apple corer and jam a sausage link into the hole. Bake until done.

Sounds easy enough. We picked our potatoes, ensuring maximum girth for the hole-boring. Next came the sausages. Spinach and garlic chicken sausages sounded tasty.

Breakfast sausages would be about the same diameter as the holes created by the apple corer. The chicken sausages were not. With a lot of elbow grease and laughter (and a little squirting from the sausages, I finally got the sausages into the potatoes and into the oven (at 425 degrees F for 45 minutes).

The smell that filled the house had us eagerly awaiting the ring of the timer. The potatoes were finally done and we dug in. The sausages were very good. Redolent of garlic, light-tasting, and not at all greasy. Surprisingly, though, the flavor of the sausage didn't permeate the potato. Not even a little. LA liked the sausage, but added, "This is the driest potato I have ever eaten." I rationalized it by saying that a normal baked potato would have butter and sour cream to help out with the dryness. LA wasn't buying it.

Beigest meal ever.

I haven't given up on Pigs and Potatoes. We'll be having it regularly until I can make it edible. Next time will be with Mexican chorizo. I say a greasy sausage will make for a better potato. LA prefers the word "moist". Either way, I see a lot of Pigs and Potatoes in our future.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Pumpkin and Spice and Everything Nice

I'm not normally a huge proponent of Walmart (although I am there at least three timer per week), but I am advising everyone to put down whatever you are doing and head there right away.

My nearest Walmart has been undergoing "renovations" for two months now. As far as I can tell, "renovations" actually means "moving everything around on a daily basis so that I can never find what I'm looking for". The one constant is the candle aisle.

I often stop to smell all the candles, hoping for one, just one, that smells so good that I can't live without it. I finally found it.

Walmart's Mainstays brand Pumpkin Spice candle is my New Favorite Thing. The smell envelopes my entire living room and makes me feel as though I'm living in a pumpkin pie. And the small one is just $1! Plus, it comes in a jar, so it's portable and you don't even need a candleholder.

The only downside is that my New Favorite Thing is causing me to crave autumn and all the things that come with it. Like pumpkin pie. Until autumn officially arrives, I'll just be burning my pumpkin spice candle.

If you aren't a big fan of pumpkin pie (God forbid!), they have other scents too, like hazelnut, Cinnabon, and something involving cotton.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Magical Fig

Two weeks ago, I noticed a woman at the farmers' market inquiring about the contents of a basket. The vendor replied, "They're figs", at which point I shouted, "You just made my day!"

Fig season is my most anticipated. I eagerly await the appearance of the little nuggets of deliciousness each fall. Figs taste like nothing else, and I can't get enough.

Due to the smart dealing of one farmer, I returned home today with four containers of figs. For lunch, LA and I had figs with prosciutto, goat cheese, and black pepper honey. After dinner, I had more figs with goat cheese and honey. I still have three containers left.

Tonight will be spent scouring cookbooks for new and interesting ways to cook figs. Or I could just eat the rest of the figs straight from the containers. That's the most likely scenario.

If you've never had figs before, now is your chance. If you decide to pass on them, that's okay, too. I'll just eat enough for both of us.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

An Average American Weeknight Supper

Actual telephone conversation:
Me: Sorry it's loud--I'm making dinner.
LA: What are you making?
Me: Broccoli and Brie risotto with chicken.
LA: Oh.  Sounds good.

LA pointed out that this isn't a normal conversation between average Americans.  I realized some years ago that a normal meal for me really isn't that normal.

I had some leftover pesto, plus cream in the fridge and a chicken breast in the freezer, so I thought dinner might be spaghetti with chicken and pesto cream sauce.  But, alas, no spaghetti, and it was raining, so walking up to the supermarket was out of the question.  I had lasagna noodles, but wasn't really feeling it.  And I'll be the first to admit that I'm all thumbs when it comes to making fresh pasta.  A quick inventory revealed arborio rice, frozen broccoli, and some left over Brie from God-knows-when.

I didn't grown up eating risotto.  I grew up on tater tot casseroles and Hamburger Helper.  My first encounter with risotto was in my own kitchen, when I tried a recipe for lemon and leek risotto, from a vegetarian cookbook I'd just purchased.  The risotto was very al dente, but the guests were polite enough to eat it all.  A short time later, I had risotto in a restaurant.  I was hooked.  I was also determined to become a risotto master.  I'm not even close, but risotto has still become one of my stand-bys.  I use it as a base for whatever is handy, and I have yet to be disappointed.  Whether or not it my risotto meets the authentic Italian standards may be up for debate, but it's definitely not average American.

Food for thought:  What kind of person tells her family members that her spouse has died when he really hasn't?  On that note, I'd like to give a shout out to Uncle Bill, who, despite reports to the contrary, didn't meet his maker a year ago.  Good to have you back, Uncle Bill!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Where's Lula?

My recent posting hiatus can be attributed to two separate, but somewhat related, occurrences.  First occurrence: I got a virus on my laptop.  Yes, a virus.  Please don't send me emails and comments asking if I'm really sure it's a virus.  LA verified it for me as well.  I can turn on my laptop and that's about it.  Money being tight, I've had to put off getting it looked at or fixed.  My sole method of posting at this time is by library visit.  I've become a regular.

The second occurrence is directly related to the first.  With my laptop out of commission, I couldn't spend my days surfing the web, watching TV (since I don't have a TV, my laptop plays this role), instant messaging people, what have you.  This gave me a lot of down time, in which I looked around my house and realized just how much I hated my kitchen.  Time to take matters into my own hands.

For one week, my intrepid sidekick LA and I painted the kitchen, including the cabinets.  We disagreed over whether or not spraypainting the cabinets would be a good idea.  Good idea or otherwise, we did it.  Then realized the cabinets were sucking up all the paint.  With our do-rags on, high from the spray paint fumes, we returned to our nearest home improvement store to buy a gallon of paint.  In a can.  They didn't appreciate our singing or our questions, such as "Can you make this white even whiter?" or "What do you have that will get paint off linoleum...and my feet?"  By the time we got through with the cabinets, we were so tired of painting that we said to hell with painting the cabinet doors.  They're still lying on my living room floor.  The beauty of a lack of cabinet doors is that everything is super easy to get to.

LA in a fog of spray paint.  It's a wonder we didn't die.
Once the cabinets were done, it was time to paint the walls.  On LA's advice, I had chosen "Carrot" from the paint strip.  I think "Cheeto" may have been a more appropriate name.  The first coat that went on was ghastly.  What was I thinking to paint my kitchen the color of a Cheeto?  By the time the second coat dried, I was convinced I'd made the right decision.  LA even agreed. 

Was it worth it?  While I still have to scrub the spray paint off the kitchen floor, the rest of the kitchen looks amazing.  It's so happy and welcoming.  I actually want to cook now.  So look forward to hearing more about my culinary adventures, since I will be spending far more time in the kitchen.

The doors will be painted and added at a later date.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Have Your Cake and Wear It, Too

I love food.  I love big, tacky jewelry.  I love when I can combine the two.  Ok, I'm not the one doing the combining.  A certain Handsome Savage dabbles in jewelry design.  Just one of his many talents.  While I often provide him with cooking advice and samples, I receive handicrafts in return.  His newest jewelry adventure involves rings made out of tiny household products:  toilet paper, trays of beer, and, my favorite, foods.  Just yesterday, I became the proud owner of a cake ring.  A ring with a cakeplate and a big sparkly pink cake.  Everyone loves cake.  It makes people happy.  The same Handsome Savage is even having a cake tattooed on his arm as we speak.  Now I can look down whenever I am feeling sad and be cheered up by my happy cake ring.  It's fantastic.

If you are interested in your own piece of original household-item or food-related jewelry, you can contact LA by visiting the above link to his blog or following the link from the menu on the left.  If that is too much work for you, let me know what you'd like and I'll pass it on.  An Etsy boutique is also in the works.  Be the first on your block to wear an authentic Handsome Savage beer tray ring!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

It's Not Pronounced Kweesh

Every time I hear the word "quiche", I think of the dinner scene in Sixteen Candles.  The whole family is eating quiche, and Long Duck Dong asks how you spell it.  Grandpa Fred replies, "You don't spell it, son.  You eat it!" 

I, for one, don't spell it.  I do eat it.  I think quiche is great:  scrambled eggs, delicious add-ins, and a pie crust.  What could be better?  I know that quiche became ubiquitous in the 1970's, and the flavorless, rubbery versions ruined it for everyone.  But for me, quiche never died and has no need to make a comeback.  I've been eating it all along.

I briefly worked as the pastry cook in a Charlotte restaurant and was responsible for making the quiches, as they would offer a "quiche du jour".  In case you didn't know, "quiche du jour" is French for "quiche made out of whatever is left over in the cooler and needs to be used up before it goes bad".  I never eat quiche in a restaurant.  At home is a different story. 

Quiche recipes abound in books and on the internet, many claiming to be the "ultimate" or "best".  Thomas Keller, who is a genius, has a recipe for quiche in his book Bouchon.  He says that it's not really a quiche unless the crust is at least 2".  Julia Child says the crust needs to be at least 1 1/2".  Both suggest using a flan ring.  Chef Keller also requires processing the eggs in a blender to make the quiche extra fluffy and not eating the quiche until the next day, when you cut out a slice and reheat it in the oven.  I'm sure his version is delicious.  And a lot of effort.  Plus, I'd have to buy a 2" flan ring.

I do not claim for my version of a quiche to be the ultimate.  I'll leave that to Chef Keller's 2" flufferated version.  If I'm being lazy (as usual) and don't wish to make a pie crust, I'll buy either a full-size frozen pie crust or a refrigerated pie crust that I can cut into smaller sizes.  I blind-bake it (with no filling) for 5-10 minutes, just to get it to set.  I find whatever is in the fridge that I want to add to my quiche and prepare that.  Finally, I mix 3 large eggs with one cup of liquid, be it milk, cream, half-and-half, whatever.  Put the add-ins in the crust, pour over the custard, then bake until it's done (350 degrees F for about 40-45 minutes).  Easy peasy.  (If you're even lazier than I am, most supermarkets sell quiche custard in the frozen section.  Just pour in the crust and you're done.)  If you get heavy-handed with your add-ins and have custard left over, make another quiche or whip up some scrambled eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

A note on the liquid used in making the custards.  I recently received a frantic call from a certain Handsome Savage regarding the liquid.  Here's the conversation:

LA:  Can I use water instead of milk for the liquid?
Me:  You can, but it will be gross.  Remember the omelet at Libby's that you didn't like because you said the eggs had been watered down?  It will taste like that.
LA:  Ok.  I'll talk to you later.  I need to go buy milk.

Your quiche, and anything you make, will only be as good as what goes into it.  Garbage in, garbage out.  It's worth repeating.  Quiche's return to the mainstage is tenuous, at best.  I'd like to see it stick around, so no crappy quiches, please.  It's better to go without than ruin it for everyone.

Monday, August 2, 2010

We All Scream for Ice Cream

Kannapolis seems to think that summer is over.  We ended a "beach music festival", complete with fireworks, to mark the end of summer.  On July 31.  I don't necessarily buy into their theory that summer ends when July does.  In Colorado, August brings fresh, juicy, ripe peaches.  Here, in NC, the season begins a little earlier.  Peaches have been showing up in the market for a couple weeks, but they just keep getting better.  As you all know, I'm a bit lazy, and standing over the sink to eat a drippy peach is a little too much work.  I like to find alternate ways to eat peaches.  One of the very best is peach ice cream.

I'm sure I could find plenty of peach-flavored ice cream at the supermarket, but I'm talking real ice cream with real peaches in it.  Where the peach flavor comes from the fruit itself and not from some lab on the New Jersey Turnpike.  To be sure, I knew that I'd have to make my own.

Making ice cream is a lot easier than most people imagine, especially with the advent of the electric ice cream machine.  I got one for Christmas several years ago.  While I don't use the machine frequently, I do use it often enough to be glad I've got it.  The most difficult part is remembering to keep the canister in the freezer.  Now that my freezer is reasonably empty (thank you, Early Escapades!), I keep the canister in there at all times.  When I decide it's time to make ice cream, I can do it right then.  No advance planning required!

Peach ice cream is also a good option (as is peach cobbler) to use up some of those peaches just sitting around, getting a little overripe.  But don't use any that are way past their prime.  Remember, garbage in, garbage out.  I picked up some blemished peaches for this purpose.  They're cheaper and just as good in ice cream.  Another bonus of homemade ice cream is that it tastes almost nothing like purchased ice cream.  Unless you love the insipid taste of store-bought, generic ice cream.  Then homemade may not be for you.  But I love it.  Maybe it's because I can taste the love in it.  Love tastes better than something made in some lab on the New Jersey Turnpike (there's that phrase again).  This way, I've got summer in the freezer until I decide that summer's over.

Peach Ice Cream
Adapted from Baking at Home with the Culinary Institute of America
Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
2 cups sugar (divided use)
6 large egg yolks
1 tbsp vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
1 lb ripe peaches
2 tbsp sugar

Prepare an ice bath:  place ice cubes and cold water in a large bowl.

Combine cream, milk, and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a heavy, nonreactive saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer, stirring constantly.  Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks with the remaining 1/2 cup sugar until it thickens and turns pale yellow, about 2 minutes.  Gradually add about 1/3 of the hot milk mixture to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan.  Cook over low heat until the custard coats the back of a spoon (about 180 degrees F), stirring constantly.  Pour the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl.  Place the bowl in the ice bath.  Add the vanilla.  Stir the custard every few minutes until cool.  Refrigerate at least 4 hours and up to overnight. 

Peel and pit the peaches, then cut into slices or chunks.  Sprinkle with the sugar and refrigerate for a few hours.  After the peaches have macerated, puree half.  Crush the other half into smaller pieces.

Freeze the chilled custard in an ice-cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.  Towards the end of the freezing, slowly mix in the puree and the peach pieces.  Pack the ice cream into containers and freeze 2-3 hours before serving.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Whole Lotta Bakin' Going On

I’ll admit it. I’ve been lazy lately. I’ll blame the heat for part of it. It’s just been too hot to turn on the oven and bake anything. My air conditioner struggles to keep the house cool when I don’t have the oven on. But I’d been craving some jam thumbprint cookies. The weather finally cooled a bit (if you can call 90 degrees cool), so I decided that it was baking weather. Time for thumbprint cookies!

The reason behind the cookie craving was a photo I’d seen in one of my French cookbooks. I am one of those food nerds who flip through cookbooks and drool over all of the photos (not literally). The photo of the cookies always catches my eye. According to the cookbook, they’re very easy to make and inexpensive. I love that French cookbooks often tell you the ease of the recipe and how much you’ll be spending on it.

Jam thumbprints can be pretty boring and often need a bit of jazzing up. How did I jazz up mine? Apricot mango pepper jelly. With red pepper flakes in it. I picked it up from Joanie, of Ohana Favorites, at the farmers’ market. Sweet and spicy all at the same time. Perfect.

The cookies turned out a little less sweet than others I’ve made. I attribute this to the use of a French recipe. European sweets are often less sweet than American ones. That works for me. After trying several thumbprint cookie recipes, this is the one I’ll probably be sticking with. Plus it is very easy and inexpensive!

Petits-four a la confiture
(Jam Thumbprints)
Adapted from Francoise Bernard’s Ma Cuisine d’Aujourd’hui (Hachette Pratique)

Scant 1 cup flour
4 tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 tbsp sugar
1 large egg, separated
¼ cup jam
Pinch of salt
Ice water, as needed

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

In a mixing bowl, using a wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugar until they lighten. Add the egg yolk, flour and the salt. When the dough becomes too thick to beat with a spoon, continue mixing by hand.  If the dough is too crumbly and doesn't hold together, add ice water 1 tsp at a time until the dough just comes together.

Make walnut-sized balls of dough and place them on a greased or lined baking sheet. Make an indentation in the middle of each ball with your finger or the handle-end of a wooden spoon. Divide the jam evenly among each ball of dough, just filling the indentation.

Lightly beat the egg white with a fork, then brush the beaten egg white over each of the dough balls. Cook for 20-25 minutes, rotating the pan once. Allow to cool on a rack. Makes about 24 cookies.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

And the Winner Is...

My friend, Vince, always says that customer service is a dead art. After spending a lot of time in customer service, I tend to agree. Phone specialists don’t care about your problem, and that’s assuming that they even understand what your problem is. After fighting with the USPS phone system for 15 minutes while trying to track a package, he hit 0 to get an operator and was promptly informed by the automated system that “there is no need for you to speak with a representative. The information you have been provided is correct.” Go into any retail outlet, and the odds are good that you won’t be spoken to or even acknowledged. Even the Walmart greeters are getting a little slack in this area.

My biggest irritation comes with the apparent disinterest in customer service on the part of waitstaff. I have been rushed out of restaurants by waitstaff ending their shift (this usually occurs around 4-5pm, when day shift leaves and night shift turns up). I’ve had plates stack up through the entire meal because the server didn’t feel like removing appetizer plates when bringing dessert. Or having to beg for a drink refill. I’ve been a server, so I know that it can be an extremely difficult job, especially during a rush. I also, however, tend to go to restaurants during the off-hours when the server may only have one or two tables. When I was surviving on tips, I made every effort to keep my tables happy. Chatting with my coworkers didn’t pay the rent.

When I see some spectacular customer service, I feel it’s important to recognize it. That’s why today I am presenting the inaugural Lemon Goodness Customer Service award. And the winner is…Paula from the Kannapolis IHOP. IHOP. Really?

LA and I weren’t really interested in anything specific, and we were going to be in the vicinity of the IHOP, so we decided to go there. Paula recommended the strawberry lemonade by saying that she takes a cup home with her every night. LA went with the recommendation, but I chose watermelon lemonade. After looking at their specials menu, we saw that the “Minionade” was strawberry lemonade with sprinkles on top. I asked Paula if LA could have sprinkles on his. She brought the sprinkles out and dusted his drink with him. When he needed a refill, she asked if he wanted sprinkles on it, as well as offering sprinkles on our to-go beverages.

As always, LA and I were laughing hysterically about jokes that only we find funny. Paula said that we seemed fun and wanted to work with us. We told her that we’re unemployed but not to feel too bad about it because we hadn’t liked our jobs anyway. She told us to apply for jobs at the IHOP because she’d love to work with us. LA and I agreed that we’d love to work with her.

When it was time to order, I told her that LA wanted the “Rooty Tooty Fresh ‘n’ Fruity”. Paula said many of her customers order it as “the Rooty Tooty, hold the Fruity”. Considering my dining companion, this was especially hysterical. In all honesty, LA didn’t want this, I just wanted to say it. We both ordered the special Minion pancakes: lemon pancakes with berry compote and whipped cream. If you stop by IHOP in the near future (while they’re available), we both highly recommend the Minion pancakes.

Paula told us that she’s been at that IHOP for 11 years. She isn’t worried about job security, because people will always want to eat. Even if they don’t have jobs. Like us. It was obvious to us that Paula must love her job. She’s been there for 11 years, which means she isn’t an aspiring actress or just passing the time until a better job comes up. While she joked around with us and was a pleasure to talk to, she also made sure that the service itself was good.

These days, it’s easier to find poor customer service than great customer service. We found one of the greatest. I also want to say that we left Paula a hefty tip. She deserved every penny of it. If you want to be treated like you’re actually appreciated as a customer, go see Paula at the Kannapolis IHOP. We agreed that we’ll be returning. We may even call and get Paula’s schedule first!

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Hummus Among Us

Flipping through Stuff White People Like: A Definitive Guide to the Unique Taste of Millions, one discovers that white people love hummus.  They (we) like to keep it in the fridge next to the Brita pitcher.  Truth be told, my hummus is usually on the shelf above the Brita pitcher, but it's still there all the same.  I don't know how, when, or why white people jumped up on the hummus bandwagon.  According to the aforementioned book, we do love adopting other people's cultures. 

I don't know when I had hummus for the first time.  My mother and I would get gyros from a Greek fast food place in the mall, and maybe I had it there first.  Or perhaps at Yum Yum Cafe, where I was first introduced to Chicken Shwarma.  You'd never guess that Yum Yum Cafe was a Middle Eastern restaurant, going by the name alone.  I can thank my friend Jon for taking me there for the first time.  It was a block away from our dorm, and several of us took a little trip.  I've been a sucker for Middle Eastern food ever since.

Where was I?  Oh, right...telling you about how much white people love hummus.  Or maybe just about how much I love hummus.  Having it for the first time is a revelation.  It's nutty, earthy, a little tangy, and very creamy.  I would never have imagined that chickpeas would taste so good (or eggplant, in hummus's cousin baba ghanoush). 

The best part about hummus may be how unbelievably easy it is to make.  I will say that it's easiest if you have a food processor.  I bought my food processor for the sole purpose of making hummus (I do use it for other things occasionally).  The most difficult part is tracking down tahini, which is paste made from ground sesame seeds.  Most large supermarkets are starting to carry it, and it's often found in either the Kosher section or near the peanut butter.  Once you find it, stick it in the refrigerator and it will be there until the end of the world or you run out, whichever comes first.  I have a giant jar that I bought over two years ago.  I'm still using it.  If you're really lazy, hummus can be purchased ready-to-eat in the produce or deli section of most supermarkets.  Oddly, my nearest supermarket has it with the cream cheese and non-dairy creamer.  Go figure.  We've also found hummus nearly ready-to-eat in a can at the Super G Mart.  Although it appears that you would just open the can and eat it (like Joe and LA did), the fine print on the side actually says that you need to add garlic and lemon juice.  It's still easy.

LA has been making all manner of hummus lately, using beans other than the typical chickpeas, most notably black bean hummus.  Google "black bean hummus" and you'll find scores of recipes.  Hummus really is a great snack.  High in fiber, no cholesterol.  I suppose it would be even better for me if I ate it with carrot sticks, but I prefer the more traditional pita bread.  Even if it is whole-wheat pita.  With it being 100 degrees and humid every day, I'm looking for things to eat that don't require cooking.  Hummus is the way to go.  If you haven't tried it before, now is definitely the time to do so.

I have been making the following recipe for ages, and I have no idea where it comes from.  LA has been substituting lime juice for the lemon juice and prefers it.  I haven't tried it yet, but I wanted to throw it out there as an option.*


1 14-oz can chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans or ceci beans)
3 tbsp tahini
2-3 tbsp lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, crushed
pinch of salt
cayenne pepper, to taste
1-2 tbsp olive oil

Drain the chickpeas, reserving the liquid.  Put the beans in a food processor with the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and salt.  Process until very smooth, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally.  Add the cayenne pepper and process until blended.

With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil.  If it's too thick, add some of the reserved bean liquid to thin.

*When the weather starts to cool, I'll be posting a recipe for one of my favorite soups of all-time.  It includes chickpeas and tahini.  You can justify buying tahini for two recipes!

Friday, July 23, 2010

Mmm...Butter-Wrapped Margarine

Yesterday I participated in a live online chat with Kathleen Purvis, the food editor of the Charlotte Observer (a link to her blog, I’ll Bite, can be found on the menu on the left). Most participants asked questions pertaining to seasonal items, such as zucchini or peaches, or about local restaurants. A participant named John asked the best question of the day:

Is margarine safe to eat straight from the tub? Or is there some sort of special preparation you use? I like to wrap margarine in butter before serving. Is that recommended?

Ms. Purvis, I, and, presumably, the rest of the participants were not prepared for a question of this caliber. In the case of John’s question, the whole is definitely not greater than the sum of its parts. Each part is a beguiling question all its own. Therefore, I’ve decided to break down the whole and attempt to answer or, at least, offer my thoughts on each part.

Is margarine safe to eat straight from the tub? Margarine has been around for over 130 years. While it hasn’t been available the entire time in tub form, I, and most of you, grew up eating margarine straight from the tub, most notably on toast. When my niece was about 3, I saw her eating a spoonful of a thick yellowish substance, but couldn’t make out what it was. When I asked what she was eating, she replied, “Butter” (I wouldn’t expect a 3-year old to say “Margarine”). Rather than trying to convince a 3-year old that eating a spoonful of margarine may not be the healthiest option, I instead asked my mother why she’d given it to her in the first place. Her answer? “That’s what she wanted.” My niece recently graduated from high school relatively unscathed and without dying a horrible margarine-induced death. I am aware of arguments on both sides regarding the safety and health factors of eating margarine. Trans fats, no trans fats. The argument is basically whether or not to eat it at all. I have yet to hear an argument regarding the tub.

Is there some sort of special preparation you use? I wish John had elaborated on this point. I’m not familiar with a “special preparation”. Maybe melt it and then chill it to get it back to its hardened state? Sprinkle it with lard? Luckily, John does have an idea.

I like to wrap margarine in butter before serving. Again, John really could’ve elaborated on this one. This is, in fact, my favorite part of the question. I surveyed a couple people to see if they could figure out how John was accomplishing Butter-Wrapped Margarine. LA’s partner Joe and I both theorize that perhaps he softens a stick of butter, then wraps it around a chilled stick of margarine. My mother thinks he might soften the butter and just spread it on the margarine. Either way, I’d love to be in the kitchen with John when he’s wrapping his margarine. I’d also like to see how his guests react to this delight. Joe pointed out that John’s special preparation really does put you on the fast track for a massive coronary.  Really though, more than knowing how he wraps the margarine, I'd like to know why. 

Is that recommended? No. While I wouldn’t necessarily dissuade someone with John’s tenacity from wrapping margarine with butter, I cannot recommend or even endorse this solution. If you can really call it a solution. I would love to ask John where this suggestion came from in the first place. Is it an old family tradition? Did he hear about it on one of the morning TV shows that are always frightening my mother with how ubiquitous and relatively innocuous household products will kill or, at the very least, maim you?

John, if you’re reading this, please answer my questions, as I have answered yours. I eagerly await your response. Until then, I will be eating my margarine directly from the tub, as I am just too lazy to figure out how to go about wrapping it. Fingers crossed that it’s safe!

P.S.  In case you're wondering, Ms. Purvis's response to John's question was "Why would margarine not be safe from the tub? I don't think it needs preparation. It's margarine."

Friday, July 16, 2010

Terror at the Supermarket

Who knew that the supermarket could be such a dangerous place?  I regularly walk to the supermarket, since it isn't that far.  Today, on my trip, I got offered a ride from a very creepy guy, who turned around on the highway to come back to where I was walking, and who then chose to sit in his truck and stare at me.  I made a side trip into another store, hoping to wait out the creepy guy.  When I finally made it into the supermarket, he was waiting for me.  Right by the door.  He then proceeded to follow me around the store, and even went to the same checkout lane that I did, although it was the farthest from where we'd most recently been and not the shortest.  Then stood unusually close to me.  I practically ran out of the store and across the highway.  I even had a plan hatched in case he followed me out.  Miss Tammy and LB at the Grill would play a role as my protectors!  Fortunately, he drove on by and didn't follow me to the Grill or home.  I didn't have to use Plans A, B, or C (all of which were fully formulated in my head by this point).

I would like to thank Officer Zienka of the Kannapolis Police Department, who came to my house, took a report, and was very polite and sympathetic.  Unfortunately, he said that the supermarket customer service manager is not overly helpful and doesn't usually cooperate in any investigation, even into shoplifting.  Officer Zienka also said that "crackwhores" in an adjacent area will accept rides from strangers and that makes all the men offering think that anyone will accept a ride.  I was advised to start driving to the grocery store.  I really didn't need this much excitement in my day.

On a side note, I googled "Kannapolis police Zienka" to make sure I got his name right.  One of my first results was "lesbian zdenka donkeyporn".  At least I got a laugh out of all of it.

Menu Scolaire Update

I found out today that my dad definitely still will not eat canned peaches.  Thank you, School Lunch Program!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Riddle Solved?

It seems that we may finally know the answer to the age-old question:  Which came first, the chicken or the egg?  British scientists have determined that it was the chicken!  Read all about it here.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Menu Scolaire

From 2nd through 8th grade, I went to school in a rural community. Lunch there was the same for everybody: meat, starch, veg, and dessert with a glass of milk. Well, okay, not for everybody. John was lactose intolerant, so he got water. But everything else was the same. I remember hot turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes. Ketchup-coated meatloaf with cheese-topped mashed potatoes. My least favorite lunches included sloppy joes or sauerkraut. Karen would eat the sauerkraut, so the rest of us would put it in our hands and pass it to her under the table. Sloppy joes were not as easily passed, so we had to find ways to make them edible enough to get through half. My dad was the janitor there, and he can tell you about the canned peaches that were served. Or, in his words, “those damn slimy peaches”. To this day, I still don’t think he’ll eat canned peaches.

When I started high school, we moved to a larger town with a more “traditional” school lunch program. We had the regular school lunch line, with foods that most of us wouldn’t eat, and the pizza and burger line, filled with rubbery pizza and what appeared to be cardboard cutouts of burgers. My junior year saw the installation of a salad bar. If I did manage to eat school lunch, it was from the salad bar. More typically, it was a Dr. Pepper and Grandma’s chocolate chip cookies from the vending machine (sorry, Mom). The salad bar was a definite improvement and gave us the opportunity to eat something that resembled food. Many schools are “considering” this route, and I highly encourage it. Food service managers can say that kids won’t eat vegetables, but that’s because the vegetables they’re usually given have been overcooked to the point of grey mushiness. Or the vegetable is ketchup.

One of my favorite blogs is Fed Up with Lunch: The School Lunch Project. Mrs. Q eats school lunch every day, then photographs it and provides commentary. Most of what she eats falls squarely in the classification of “beige food”. Mrs. Q also allows guest bloggers. My favorite guest blogger is a resident of Toulouse, France, and provided a link to Toulouse’s website, where you can find school lunch menus all the way back to January. I had to take a look. Honestly, I nearly cried. I then called Vince and read some of the menus to him. He nearly cried. He also asked where these meals were when we were kids. Why don’t we deserve good food? I’ve decided to provide some sample menus as well. If you’d like to try your hand at reading them in French, they can be found here. Otherwise, please to enjoy in English.

Mache and beet salad
Breaded fish
Pumpkin puree
Organic apple tart

Leek tart
Organic roast chicken
Green beans
Chantailloux cheese

Radishes with butter
Salmon with sorrel sauce
Vegetable cakes

Endive salad
Hamburger steak with tomato sauce
French fries
Roquefort cheese
Peaches in syrup

Grated carrots
Ham or Fish sauteed in butter
Organic yogurt

Other weeks, the kids got veal marengo, lamb curry, and beef stew. If the kids are eating school lunch, this is what they’re getting. If they don’t want what’s on the menu, they can bring their own lunch. No one is pandering to their tastes by saying, “Kids don’t want salmon in sorrel sauce, so we provide them with nachos and chicken nuggets.” The kids eat the salmon in sorrel sauce, and they grow up to have experienced a wider range of tastes. They’re also less likely to be picky eaters. Just ask LA about that.

I’m not saying that we have to take on the French menus in our schools. Maybe accept the spirit of what they do. We don’t have to serve our kids crap because it’s cheap and we think it’s all they will eat. Offer them something that actually looks appetizing (grey peas are no one’s idea of appetizing) and see what happens. You never know, we might end up with kids who like eating vegetables more than Flamin’ Hot Cheetos covered in nacho cheese.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Yum Yum and Other Tidbits

While the American supermarket has every item that I want on a daily basis, sometimes I want to dress up, go to a fancy specialty food store, and make my pantry feel pretty.  This was part of the reason LA and I ended up in South Park:  I wanted to go to Dean & Deluca.  I love Dean & Deluca.  Mainly I love to go there and wish I had the money to buy all the things that they sell.  I stand at the chocolate counter and stare in amazement like a...well, like a kid in a candy store.  Fleur de sel caramel chocolates, strawberry balsamic chocolates, peach caramel chocolates.  I want it all.  But it's not just the candy.

They have a great selection of sanding sugars for baking, raspberry shallot mustard, a million types of salt.  Plus they have a spectacular cheese and charcuterie section.  We were looking at the cheeses and were offered some samples.  First up, a smoked blue cheese.  I can honestly say I'd never had one of those before.  Not a creamy blue, it was still very smooth, with a mellowness brought about by the smoking.  I didn't think it could get better.  Next we had an ashed goat's milk cheese.  I was surprised when LA took a piece, since he usually is fairly vocal about his dislike of goat cheese.  The middle of the cheese had the slightly chalky consistency typical of a fresh goat's milk cheese, it was very creamy around the edges, similar in texture to a Camembert.  LA and I both liked that one, although not as much as the blue.  Finally, we were offered a piece of an aged sheep's milk cheese.  When LA grabbed it, I knew he hadn't heard what she said.  We both bit into it and declared it the best of the three.  It was nutty and reminded me of Gruyere.  While LA was contemplating buying some of it, I said, "It's sheep's milk", at which point he began to gag and carry on like it was the most disgusting thing he'd ever eaten.  I reminded him that, only moments before, he'd loved it.  Didn't matter.  The love affair was over.  He continued gagging until I took him to one of the sample stations around the store and he got a piece of bread. 

We also considered buying some "Pepper Delights", although the card was laying on its side and I thought they were called "Peter's Delights".  I'd hate to think of what those are.  The Pepper Delights were small green peppers stuffed with prosciutto-wrapped mozzarella.  A couple customers assured me that they were addictive.  I asked the quite-attractive counterman if they were spicy at all.  He said that they were far too spicy for him, but maybe we'd like them.  After the issue 6 feet away at the cheese counter, I decided to forego the Pepper Delights.  I didn't have any bread in the car to feed LA if he didn't like those.  So far, I had avoided all traps, but I was unable to resist the pastries.  My heart was set on a lemon meringue tart, but, at $7, my wallet was against it.  My wallet won.  I settled for a lemon cupcake.  Which I ate the following day.  That thing was huge!  I ate it in one sitting and regretted it for several hours.  I'm not used to having so much sugar in my stomach at one time.  I had initially planned on eating the cupcake right away (in front of LA), so I needed a beverage with which to wash it down.  Dean & Deluca carries bottled water in the shape of a flask!  Was there any way for me not to buy it?  I think not.  Apparently I got some looks later, in the car, while I was taking a drink from it at a stoplight.  I was actually proud of myself and the restraint that I showed in Dean & Deluca.  I would've happily walked out of there with my arms (and LA's) full of gourmet delights.  That will have to wait until the next trip.

Besides not wanting to torment LA, my other reason for not eating the cupcake right away was that I'd been informed I would be doing some pie testing later.  I'm not much of a sugar fiend, so I have to limit myself to a small amount per day.  When we got back to LA's, he provided me with slices of two pies.  The first pie was a peanut butter pie, whose recipe had been given to him by a non-cooking friend.  One cup of peanut butter, one cup of sugar, and two containers of whipped topping, combined and plopped into a graham cracker crust.  I'm not a big peanut butter fan.  I like it with jelly, and that's about it.  I took a small sliver of that and still only ate half of it.  If you are a peanut butter fan, then it's a great pie.  He served it straight from the freezer, making it incredibly convenient as well.  If you want an easy dessert for a hot summer night, that may be the way to go.  Unless you don't like peanut butter.  That's where the second pie comes in.

The next pie was blueberry yum yum.  And it really was yum yum.  Blueberry pie filling, sugar, Dream Whip, and cream cheese in a graham cracker crust.  I'm not typically a fan of blueberries, but this was so good.  LA gave me a small piece and took the larger piece.  In retrospect, I should've distracted him and took the larger piece when he wasn't looking.  The yum yum can be made with any berry pie filling, and, like the peanut butter pie, can be made and kept in the freezer.  Both pies only require assembly.  If LA can do it, so can you!  (He'd probably tell you that, too.)

As a side note, I'm a little behind on my Saturday Night Live, but I caught an episode in which Zach Galifianakis (who I love), as a gay beauty pageant dad, tells his wife, "You smell like a bunch of stinky ol' Bojangles sausage biscuits."  Do they even know what those are in New York?  I, for one, love a Bojangles sausage biscuit.  With some Bo-rounds.  Hmmm, I might be going out for breakfast.

Blueberry Yum Yum
from L.A. Berlyn

1 purchased graham cracker pie crust
2 cans blueberry pie filling
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 box (2 packets) powdered dessert topping mix
2 16 oz packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup milk

Combine sugar, dessert topping mix, cream cheese and milk.  Spread half of the cream cheese mixture over the pie crust.  Top with the pie filling.  Spread with the remaining half of the cream cheese mixture for a marbled look.  To have a white cream topping, pipe the remaining cream cheese mixture on top, rather than spreading it.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Lunch Counter

Some mornings come earlier than others.  Yesterday's didn't come early at all.  It came so late, in fact, that I missed the farmers' market.  So LA and I had to find something else to do.  Hmmm, what to do on a very warm Saturday?  We headed on down to South Park.  (Cue Les Claypool.)  We did have ourselves a time, too.

The food court at the mall wasn't appealing to either of us.  We passed on McCormick & Schmick's since they do steak and seafood, and I really don't want to deal with LA going into anaphylactic shock over lunch.  He didn't feel like Mexican food, and M5's menu didn't appeal to him.  That brought us to The Counter, for "Custom Built Burgers".  The Counter is a small, mostly West Coast chain with a menu consisting, unsurprisingly, of mostly burgers.  The restaurant is small and industrial, with high ceilings, visible ventilation, and a lot of blue paint.  Too much blue paint, in my opinion.  Even the staff wears blue t-shirts.  While we were waiting for our food, we got to watch the World Cup.  If you call periodically glancing at the monitors above the bar "watching the World Cup". 

LA went the easy route and ordered the Hobo Pack.  The menu describes this as "an assortment of grilled vegetables topped with fresh herbs".  While it didn't specify which vegetables, LA was told that it did contain mushrooms and he would not be able to order it without them.  He ordered it anyway, deciding that he would just pick them out.  What he got was a parchment packet filled with an assortment of grilled vegetables.  I saw corn, red peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms.  He loved it and said he would start making it at home.  Minus the mushrooms.

I like to make things difficult for myself, so I custom built my burger.  While options are good, too much of a good thing can be overwhelming.  For my burger, did I want beef, chicken, turkey, or veggie?  1/3 pound, 1/2 pound, or 1 full pound (post-cooking weight, not pre)?  Did I want it on a bun or on a bed of lettuce?  If I wanted a bun, did I want a regular bun, whole wheat, or an English muffin?  Those were the easy choices.  I was allowed one cheese, but had to pick from among 11 different options.  I could have up to four toppings from a selection of 20.  I can't imagine picking carrot strings, hard-boiled eggs, and pineapple as toppings for a burger, but obviously someone else can.  Mustard and mayo aren't good enough for The Counter's patrons. I still had to choose from among 20 sauces. My mind was spinning by this point, and I wished I'd just picked the BLT from the standard menu. Before the headache kicked in, I settled for a 1/3 pound beef burger with Tillamook cheddar, bacon, dill pickle chips, scallions, and organic mixed greens, with garlic aioli on an English muffin.  Oh, and the fries are extra.  But what's a burger without fries?  So I got those too.

The burger arrived perfectly cooked and one inch thick.  Some may say that I have a big mouth, but I encountered some difficulty consuming the burger.  I think "nibbled" best described how I ate my burger.  The fries were shoestrings, sprinkled with seasoned salt.  They were very good.  I used the garlic aioli as a dipping sauce.  Aioli is really just a fancy word for mayo, so I was expecting garlic-flavored mayo.  I didn't detect even a hint of garlic.  I also didn't detect a hint of cheddar on the burger, although I could see it was there.  The bacon was a little on the undercooked side, but tasted fine.  I was most happy with the scallions.  They gave the burger an unexpected kick that was lacking from the cheese and the aioli.  A tasty burger, yes.  Worth the price?  Not really. 

I know this is South Park, where I should be happy to pay more for the privilege of appearing wealthy or trendy.  The waitress told LA that she is a vegetarian.  I said that of course she is.  All servers in a place like that are vegetarians.  It may even be a rule.  She was friendly and polite, but more interested in chit-chatting with her friends than taking care of her tables.  This also may have been a rule, since only one server spent more time serving customers than talking to coworkers.  I wasn't unhappy with the experience at The Counter; just not impressed.  The food was good, but not good enough for me to make another trip.  I don't need 20 sauces and 11 types of cheese.  I can get a burger with much less hassle anywhere, for the same price or less.  And not have a headache when I leave.