Monday, April 25, 2011

I'll Give You Something to Cry About!

With the knowledge that I wouldn't be able to drive for one to two weeks after my surgery (which went quite smoothly), I've been cooking large batches of things and then freezing them.  Our freezer is full of "war rations"--little foil bricks of assorted deliciousness.  We've got creamed tacos, meatloaf, lasagna, chili, and beef stew hiding out in the freezer.  But it all seemed a little beef heavy.  I wanted something that would be lighter.  Of course, I still had to make a huge portion of it.

Last week I bought a turkey breast.  The whole thing.  It even came with a gravy packet!  I started throwing more items into my grocery cart, thinking of all the wonderful things I could have with my turkey.  Then the lightbulb came on.  I could make a turkey roulade!

I can't be bothered to follow someone else's recipe or write down my own, so I thought about what would taste good and then went with it.  The stuffing started with half a loaf of Everything bread from Walmart.  That bread is ridiculously good.  I cut it into large cubes and baked them in the oven at 350 degrees F until they were croutons.  I minced half an onion and several stalks of celery and cooked those with about two cloves of garlic.  I tossed those into a bowl with the croutons, then sprinkled in ground sage, dried thyme, and black pepper, moistening it with 1 1/2 cups of sodium-free chicken broth.  At this point, I realized it was bland.  I stared at the open pantry for minutes, hoping something would catch my attention.  Green chiles!  Really, it was a toss-up between green chiles and chickpeas.  I mixed in a teaspoon of diced green chiles and what seemed like way too much cumin.  The stuffing still didn't taste how I wanted it to, but I said "to hell with it" and moved on. 

I removed the breasts from the bone, then threw the bone in a pot with cold water, the remaining half onion, some peppercorns, parsley, and more celery.  It's still cooking.  I butterflied the breasts, cutting a slit in them and opening them like a book.  I pulled out my trusty rolling pin and started whacking the heck out of the poor, defenseless breasts.  The rolling pin also came in handy to chase away nosy little dogs.  That was the moment that LA showed up in the kitchen, looking at me like I'd gone completely mad.  "What are you doing??"  "Flattening the turkey."  I thought it was obvious.  I put the stuffing at one end of each breast and rolled them up.  LA ate the remaining uncooked stuffing out of the bowl.  I placed the breasts on a greased baking pan.  Then I did something amazing.

I grabbed the low-sodium bacon out of the fridge and laid slices on the turkey, tucking them in so they didn't curl up during cooking.  Bacon-wrapped stuffed turkey breast!  LA was in awe.  Into a 350 degree F oven they went.  I have a thermometer with an alarm that tells me when my food is done, so I stuck that in so I wouldn't have to watch the turkey.  I had more important things to worry about, like whether or not LA and I had gotten prison mail (he did, I didn't).

After about an hour, the house smelled like bacony goodness, and the turkey was done.  I removed the breasts to a platter and scraped all of the drippings into my saucepan.  Following the directions on the accompanying gravy packet, I added 1 cup of water and 1 cup of homemade turkey stock and brought it to a boil.  I cut open the gravy packet and carried it over to the pan when the inevitable happened.  It slipped out of my hand.  I grabbed the now half-full packet from the floor and quickly dumped it in the pan.  I was covered in gravy, my apron was covered in gravy, the stove was covered in gravy, and, most especially, the floor was covered in gravy.  The dogs thought they'd died and gone to gravy heaven.  LA tried to get them out of the kitchen, but I considered them to be the cleanup crew.  They did a fantastic job.

I returned to the gravy, to which I added more green chiles, cumin, and black pepper.  Time to eat!  The turkey sliced effortlessly and had a beautiful stuffing center.  I ladled some gravy over three slices and handed it to LA, before preparing some for myself.  Before cutting in to my own, I asked LA how it was.  He told me he was too busy "eating delicious" to talk.  He was right.  I thought I would cry.  The bacon was crisp, the turkey was tender and moist, and the stuffing was spicy and had absorbed additional juice from the turkey.  All I could say was, "I think I'm going to cry."  I thought about poor Kayla, having to eat dry, bland old turkey while I was eating stuffed yumminess.  I guess next Easter, she'll just have to spend it with us.

Also, kudos to me for doing most of this one-handed.  I single-handedly made a turkey dinner!  Well, I thought it was funny anyway.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

It's Good to Be Regular

Ha!  Fooled you!  You thought this would be a diatribe on the wonders of bran, but you were mistaken.  I'm talking about being a regular at a neighborhood dining spot.  And no, chain restaurants and fast food joints do not count.  I mean real, neighborhood restaurants, with real servers and food that hasn't come straight out of a box.

When LA first moved in with me way back in November of '09, we made it our goal to become regulars at the North 29 Grill in Kannapolis.  We went every Saturday; eventually Miss Tammy and the gang learned our names.  Then they learned that we lived two houses away.  They also learned some personal information about us, which I will not go into further at this time.

For us, becoming a regular somewhere gave us a sense of home and community.  Neither of us has any family in the state (unless we count each other), and we were both tired of feeling anonymous in the community.  We solved that problem with our weekly outings to "the Grill". 

We've since said our good-byes to the fine folks at the North 29 Grill, as we embarked upon new adventures in the Queen City.  But being in the big city left us with a bit of dilemma: which place should become the new "our place"?  We had Carolina Kebap, which is run by friendly people who serve fantastic Turkish food.  If you go there and the roast chicken is available, get it!  Las Margaritas is good, but it didn't quite fit the bill.  On one of our early outings to see what was in our area, we stumbled onto Liberty East Restaurant, Open 24 Hours.

We took our chances on Liberty East late one night.  The parking lot was practically empty.  The unfriendliest host in the restaurant seated us.  We then had the pleasure of meeting our waitress.  She was an older woman with short hair and a smoker's voice.  Here's our actual exchange:

Me:  "We've never been here before.  What's good on the menu?"
Peggy:  "everything"
Me:  "And what's your name?"
Peggy:  "peggy"

Peggy doesn't speak with capital letters.  Or inflection.  Or even a glimmer of life in her eyes.  Other servers have confirmed that Peggy is always like that.  Other servers are also friendly and helpful, but there's something about Peggy's soulless service that makes her our favorite.

The Liberty East is a diner, whether their name says so or not.  Wood spindles between booths, wood-patterned melamine on the walls, and wagon wheel light fixtures.  They also have a refrigerated pie case that they use (much to my consternation) to store boxes of cereal.  At the front, near the cash register, is a non-working cigarette machine--the old school kind where you pulled the lever and your box of cigarettes fell down.  Ah, the good ol' days.  The menu also hasn't been updated in a generation.  Not only can I get livermush with breakfast, but I can get liver and onions for dinner.  With that being said, the food is certainly worth the trip.

Liberty East has three daily specials that may or may not come with soup (depending on whether Peggy is your server), three vegetables sides, and your choice of banana or chocolate puddin' (again depending on whether Peggy is your server).  All this for usually under $7, depending on the main item you pick.  LA had beef tips over rice, which he thought was really good, although the gravy had a weird taste to it that I attributed to allspice.  I had the pot roast.  Tender, with chunks of carrot and fingerling potato, but again with the allspice.  Another server said the hot open-faced turkey sandwich is made with deli turkey, so she didn't recommend that.  I did get the hot beef sandwich and got my money's worth.  Two slices of white bread, with probably a half pound of roast beef, served with the brown allspiced gravy and a side of steak fries.  The roast beef dinner is stacked even higher.  In both cases, I was eating roast beef for more than one meal.  My favorite menu item is the cheeseburger.  Nothing special, but it is tasty.  The burgers are served with unsalted steak fries, which is a bonus for me. 

On the flip side, LA was disappointed in the gyro pita, as was I with the patty melt.  And I love a patty melt.  Neither were bad, just not as good as some of the other items we've had. 

Liberty East is where we head late at night when we're hungry and don't feel like cooking.  We've gone anywhere from 8pm on a Saturday night to 11pm on a weeknight and have been on of the few tables.  The folks that are there are of every age, color, and "lifestyle".  Saturday mornings are a different story.  I took my friend Vince to the Liberty East when he was visiting from Orlando.  The restaurant was packed, and we were the youngest people there by probably 30+ years.  The breakfasts are good, and they are available all day.  Watching the breakfasts cooks was also a fun pasttime, as I could watch the stack of eggs quickly shrink. 

A few things to keep in mind AKA the bees in my bonnet:  1) The wait staff goes out the front door to smoke.  2)  The bathrooms are clean and in good condition, but smell like mold and cleaner.  I couldn't even stay in there long enough to use them--I just walked in, looked around, and walked back out.  3)  The servers usually have friends and/or family there while they're working.  Don't they have sidework?  4)  I've seen three different men working the cash register, all at different times of the day, so I assume they are the owners and have shifts.  They all have the same accent that I can't place, and they are all exceptionally unfriendly.  One is less unfriendly than the others, but not by much.  When they're not busy, they usually sit in the first booth nearest the register, which is intimidating for me when I'm seated near them.  I heard one of them joke with a customer once, but it came out sounding more like a threat on their life.  And they never act like they've seen us before.

We're still working on becoming regulars.  Since LA and I are always together, we're a little easier to remember.  Maybe it will sink in one day and we'll be welcomed with open arms.  And, to answer your unasked question, no, there's no Liberty West Restaurant.  We asked.

Liberty East Restaurant is located at 5112 E. Independence Blvd.  It's between Sharon Amity Rd and Idlewild, next to Casual Male XL and Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

UPDATE:  We went back to the Liberty East for lunch on 4/9.  The same cook and dishwasher have been there every single time we've gone, which makes me wonder if they are ever given any time off.  The man at the cash register was younger and friendlier than the regular ones (and an admitted chocoholic).  I had the roast beef dinner, this time ordering the black-eyed peas as one of my sides.  Oh my word!  Next time I go, I may just order those and nothing else.  They had been cooked with onions, which I could taste, but they were so good.  I didn't detect as much allspice or whatever it is in the brown gravy this time either.  I practically liked the plate clean.  LA had a "tossed salad", which was iceberg lettuce and one tomato wedge.  Our waitress was quite pleasant and gave me regular refills of my soft drink.  She just brought a pitcher of sweet tea for LA.  We'd actually gone there because LA was craving banana puddin', then he didn't even order any!  It's still our favorite place in Charlotte.