Monday, August 30, 2010

Super cookie

Everyone loves a cookie, right?  Even more people love a chocolate chip cookie.  Well, the other day I got lazy and instead of making a dozen cookies of my own chocolate chip cookie recipe, I decided to do something new and different.  That is my cookie.  That cookie is 9 inches in diameter and as yummy and tasty as a good chocolate chip cookie. 

Does anyone want one?

Friday, August 27, 2010

How not to run a restaurant, part 2...

Just like the original restaurant, that is not to be named, my family and some co-workers decided to check out the new restaurant in town and see how it is.  Located on Main Street, in Columbia Illinois, this new place wants to be known for their wine and delicious food.  We had a problem with what we experienced.

So, there are nine of us and we were looking to try the place out, ordering appetizers, kids' meals and foods for everyone.  The first thing that was tough was that we waited 5 minutes for them to clean off a table, which was right in front of us and just needed to be wiped off and a single cup had to be thrown away.  That was it and that took 5 minutes!

Secondly, after we were sat, it took about 15 minutes for a waitress to come to us and get our drink order.  After that we ordered food. 

Now, we have an hour for lunch at work, and we waited and waited and an hour later, we still had no food at our table!  Well, we had the appetizer which was a bad spinach dip and a bowl of Kraft mac and cheese and that was it.  One hour after coming in and more than 40 minutes later, no food for anyone else.  And I will point out that we went at about 12:30pm and there were no more than 15 people in there eating as well!  So, no one can tell me that they were too busy to get food to us.

It is now 1:54pm, my wife just brought in our food, as I had to leave after an hour of waiting and get back to work with my kids.  My wife told me that as soon as they brought the food out, she asked them to wrap it all up, and they complained saying that the food was only put in 20 minutes ago!  That is not a true statement as where was the order while we sat there for 40 minutes after we told the server. Not once did we receive an apologize or anything as they acted like it was our fault.  I am eating as I write and guess what?  Its not that good.  The steak and straw sandwich and chips is cold, fatty, flavorless and the chips have no taste to them at all, and one was even raw. The onion straws are soggy. The sandwich, as I did finally get it, 45 minutes later, is not good. 

So, restaurant, I don't want to tell people to not go there, as the Union is already doing that for me.  But step it up a notch.  At your current rate, your restaurant will likely be open no longer than a few months. I for one will not tell anyone to go there, nor will any of the other 7 adults whom went with me. 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Anthony isn't the only American chef who has been to Beirut...

Here he is, again, 4 years later, in Beirut.

The last time that Mr. Bourdain was in Beirut, he spent the show inside of a hotel as the city and airport was bombed, back in 2006. 

My family and I went to Lebanon, the home of my wife's family, early this year in January and also last year in December.  What a place!  Let me re-hash some things about Lebanon. 
 First of all, everyone was friendly.  I look like an American or least I do not look like any Mediterranean person.  I did not hear a single harsh word, either in Arabic or English, directed against me.  My wife's cousin took me out with him to just run to the small food store down the street and we practiced buying things and speaking some Arabic and just being nice to the locals.  They were extremely patient with us and didn't complain at all.  One of the men who was behind the register even helped count out the change to us, so I could help understand the money system a bit better. I remember going into a small shop and the employee heard us speaking English.  He asked us, "are you American?"  We said "yes". And then he followed up with a question that I never thought I would hear; "Are country doesn't look like what your country says it is, does it?"  He was correct too.  Lebanon, from what we saw, is like a whole world in one country.  They have sandy beeches, thick forests, stone mountains and plains to grow food and grains on.  They have large cities and tiny towns and it is all in one country.  It would be as if someone took America and shrunk it down to a miniature size.  The best thing someone said to me was "Welcome to Lebanon."  You don't see that on the news.  Here in America, every news station portrays Lebanon as a desert country where bombs are constantly going off and the city if in ruins and Americans are killed on site.  Not true in Lebanon. 

Next up, service.  There has only been one other place in the world, where I have been in a restaurant and has someone shadowing me, in a good way, and taking care of my every need at a restaurant.  In Lebanon, whether it is a nice place in Beirut with executive chefs, or a small roadside kitchen outside in the mountains, the food and service has been incredible.  The picture above, by the way is the dessert table.  Besides providing us with enough food to sink the Titanic, they were regularly taking away trash, dirty dishes and the like out of our way.  Then, when we could eat no more, they moved us to this table and asked us to eat dessert.  The American dollar was worth way more than the Lebanese pound and I don't recall the value of our meal in US dollars, but it was joke worthy.  That much food, for such a small price.

If I think of something else, I will post it on here.  My wife often talks about living in Lebanon and while it would be and was a culture shock, it could be fun.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Is poor execution worse than not making your own food?

Like many others, many millions of others, I watch Top Chef.  But what is even more surprising is how someone who made bad food goes home over someone who didn't make all of his food. 

If you don't watch, here is a summary:

Alex made veal Parmesan, and besides cooking the veal to the point that it was rock hard, made an interesting dish.  Execution and technique was awful in his dish, but he made everything himself.

Angelo made a beef Wellington and bought store bought puff pastry and then made pizzas out of that with the beef and mushrooms on top of that. 

Now, both dishes were bad and both of them were up for a possible elimination.  However, because Alex went home, does that mean it is alright for chefs to buy some of their ingredients at a store pre-made?  I mean, Beef Wellington has 3 main ingredients: pastry, beef and mushrooms, right?  Well, he didn't make the beef and he didn't make the pastry so all he did was throw everything else together?  

So, I'm a chef and I'm making some strawberry stuffed French toast.  Is it right for me to buy store made jam to stuff my French toast?  Since I can already make jam, I would make my own and make my own everything.  So, why did Alex go home?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Granite City restaurant in St. Louis

Granite City Food and Brewery is a fairly new restaurant which I had attended this past weekend with my family.  No, its not from Granite City Illinois, but from St. Cloud Minnesota.  The restaurant has a feel of a dimly lit pub, with a large bar near the front, a large glass window in front of the kitchen and a square dining room with booths that are large enough to sit 6 people comfortably.  We stopped into the location on Olive on Saturday night.

We were greeted quickly and given a booth, which is the perfect option for kids and while we were still getting our things settled, a woman came by with a complimentary plate of carrot slices and ranch dressing.  Normally this is a strategy that is employed by restaurants who know that their kitchen is taking a while to get food out.  So, the pre-appetizer is given to help ease any starvation issues that customers may be feeling.

Even after this, we ordered an appetizer that was actually part of the special. There were three specials and it basically was that you could order one appetizer and two entree's for $34.99.  We ordered the Idaho nachos, the Ravioli and the meatloaf. We also ordered two kids meals, which were the chicken strips and the corn dogs.

The Idaho Nachos was a dish of large cut waffle fries with all the typical good nacho condiments on them.  As you can see from the picture above, lots of bacon, sour cream, at least two kinds of cheese and green onions were on top of these fries.  It was okay and I mean okay as it was a 3 out of 5 stars for me.  It was good, but the excessive amount of seasoned salt on the fries, made it possible to eat only a few and take a break. In most every case, bacon does make everything better.  However, when the bacon was merely added to get attention and really doesn't play well with the other ingredients, then I'd say that the bacon is needed.  In this dish, sure the bacon was very tasty, but there was likely half a pound of it for no reason. 

My wife ordered what was some ravioli and this huge plate came out.  Mind you that we ate a few handfuls of the appetizer and were starving for a change and something a lot less salty.  My wife liked the pasta and gave it a 3 out of 5 stars saying that it was a huge helping of food and was good but nothing that blew her out of the water.

Look at the picture here and what does that look like?  Does it look like a steak under some onion strings and on a piece of bread?  That's not what it is and it is what it is.  It clearly is a meatloaf, made from what tastes like steak.  So, they picked a great steak, like sirloin and then made a meatloaf out of it.  After they cooked the meatloaf, it looks like they seared both sides like you would a large steak, making for some crunchy outside and some soft inside.  Not too many vegetables were present in this version of the meatloaf but it was good still the same with the garlic mashed potatoes. I gave a 3.5 out of 5 stars considering that I have never seen anyone grill a meatloaf.

The kids didn't get away with anything light, even though they were kids. Here we see two buckets of food.  Each with 5-6 pieces of the protein and a large handful of shoe-string french fries.  Oddly enough, their french fries were not overly salted.  I did try their food, because they insisted and both tasted okay.  I mean, sure, they are kids meals and not expensive but they tasted like they were pulled out of the freezer and put into the fryer, with no change or imagination done by the restaurant. A 3 out of 5 stars is what I would give either one. 

Every thing was great in the restaurant. The service realized that we were hindered with two very touchy kids and made it a point to place food away from them so we could cool it off first or help divide things up for the kids.  I think a manager made his appearance once and asked us how we were doing and we were visited by our server at least once every 5 minutes. The only issue with the service we had was after we had received our dessert.  The server came right after we got our dessert and checked on us and then disappeared.  She was gone.  We waited for her to come back and no one spoke to us or checked on us for 10 minutes.  She probably wouldn't have come back to us if it wasn't for me asking another male server to page her for us.  Besides that last 15 minutes of us trying to pay and leave, that was the only unsettling thing about the whole meal.

The ultimate pairing...

What is it? Peanut butter and jelly? Chocolate and bananas? Bourdain and St. Louis?  No, even better: video games and food.

In this new time, when one can do virtually anything they want with food, some people work hard making food products that either are found within video games and replicated by them or make items that are from a specific theme.  In particular, I am looking at my favorite game and some mixed drinks which were inspired from the game.

In the world of Bioshock, the player takes control of a man who is the sole survivor of a plane crash into the Atlantic Ocean.  He swims his way to a black lighthouse and then finds a submersible that takes him to a giant underwater city called Rapture.  There in this art deco inspired utopia, the character runs across dangers which are the product of an increased technology that is so futuristic but still set in the 1960's.  The game is a magical experience and should be played by everyone.

This is a plasmid:
Here we have a drink inspired by an item in the game.  The plasmid, within the Bioshock game, allows your character to acquire some supernatural abilities such as shoot electricity from your palm or fire from your fingertips.  This drink, along with the glass, has a feel to it which resembles the look of the plasmid.

While a mixture of this drink does sound like it could taste fruity but I am unsure of the abilities that it may bestow.

Monday, August 9, 2010

A double edged sword...

While many will admit that Monsanto has evil business practices, horrible animal testing policies and basically wants to rule the world, you can't deny that its not that bad of a company.  As a friend who works for Monsanto put it "all the really bad things that Monsanto has created has been created for the US Government."

Now, I know that a company like this spawns people who hate it for what it is and others like it for what it can do. Let's look at some of the things that Monsanto has done.

First of all, in its first 50 years Monsanto was responsible for giving my great grandfather a job as a chemical engineer and while that sounds like just a job, considering that my great great grandfather before was a farmer working land in what is now Corondelet, near St. Louis, if he hadn't gotten that job, my family may have not had been as it is now. Back then, Monsanto was responsible for the production of such things as caffeine, saccharin and even sulfuric acid.  Monsanto sold the caffeine and saccharin to Cocoa Cola and helped to grow.

Monsanto was also important in making such materials as rubber, plastics and synthetics.  They were the first to make and produce everything from seeds that could survive cold winters to things like LED's.

Now, they have created some 'bad' things and most of these things were okay at the time and now, are seen as bad.  Monsanto is responsible for Agent Orange, DDT and most if not all of the herbicides and pesticides that are used today.  Those poisons don't degrade and as such, do leave toxic prints wherever they are laid.

They also can genetically modify foods and while it may be seen as a great help in feeding this every-growing world, a lot of people don't like the idea of eating anything that has been genetically modified. The fact is that if you have been eating any fruit or vegetable, most likely it has already been genetically modified.  Most people don't know this, but I found out from an earlier article I had written that what we enjoy as Strawberries, were created as a genetic crossbreed in 1740!  So, if you are eating things like seedless watermelons, soy milk or strawberries, you are ingesting things that have been genetically modified.  And GM foods are what will feed this world in the future.  Imagine corn that can be grown in super hot temperatures or can even withstand frost.  Imagine wheat that has twice as much protein in it so when bread is made from it we eat healthier. Imagine seeds that insects will never touch or eat and are harmful to them so when we eat that which is grown from it, we are happy. Imagine how food can be changed to fit our world now.

Now, some people will say that why should humans eat something that is dangerous to animals and insects?  Well, chocolate is poisonous to my cat, people have life threatening allergies to nuts and shellfish and people get sick from drinking water out of the tap.  So, does this mean that I should not eat chocolate, shellfish or water?  

Still we cannot deny that Monsanto does do things like sue farmers if a seed of theirs lands on their property after taking a ride from the wind or an animal and the farmer does not pay for licensing.  This type of business work is similar to one installing copies of Windows 7 onto computers and then suing those computer owners for not paying for the licenses.  I don't agree with this practice nor do I defend Monsanto.

I know that the example is a bit fuzzy but I have spoken with a lot of people who tell me that we should not eat pigs because pigs do not eat humans.  For every one person that has evidence to support an idea there is someone who can rebuke it.  I am not saying that Monsanto does not dump toxic waste into waterways or poison animals and plants.  But compared to other companies and even our own government, Monsanto is a saint. I defend Monsanto a bit, because it is located in St. Louis and such a central part of our economy and I have friends who work there.  Besides that, they are evil but as I listed, they do and have provided things for us.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Would you like to have a sample?

I have had enough of it and had to talk about, I have 31 years of experience in enjoying samples.  I remember being so young and little and traveling within the old National store with my mother and getting free cookie samples. 

Later on, I remember getting great samples at the Kroger stores, when they still were in st. Louis.  Things like whole candy bars or half of a can of soda or other great things. 

Within the past 5 years, I discovered Costco and Sam's and if you love free food, a Sunday at one of those places is the place to be.  On an average day, at Costco, you can sample some cheeses, some grilled hot dogs, some cut fruit of some sort, watch a demonstration of some great cleaning product or paper towel, try some crackers with salsa, have a drink of fruit drink and then sign up for some Chinese acrobatic show at The Fox.  That is a slow Sunday, I think. 

Now, the reason for this blog is a rant, against See's Candies, which I believe is in a portion of South County mall, in St. Louis.  I went by with my kids, three times and the old bat watching the candy gave samples to everyone but packed them up as we walked by.  So, what is it about me that doesn't allow me to have a candy sample?  Is it because I look young?  Is it because I have kids?  Is it because I dress strange?  Why is it?

I know that if I was the person giving out samples I would want to give them to people who would most likely buy them, but giving a sample to a mom and the 4 teenage girls with her and have them walk in seems like giving me and my kids a sample wouldn't hurt.  The old woman though, just stares at us from over her glasses.  If you give out food samples, don't be racist, sexist or discriminate but offer them to everyone.  Rant finished.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A great themed restaurant with no theme....

This past Friday night, I had an opportunity to review and experience the River City Casino's finest food and beer establishment: the 1904 Beer house. This beer house was supposed to be of a 1904 old time, river boat, theme and the only thing that established that idea was huge chandeliers and some pictures of some old steam and paddle boats. The restaurant has dark and stained wood on the bar, huge marble slabs for the table tops, and hard wooden floors and chairs.  The male servers and wait staff wore dark overalls with white shirts and the ladies wore a red, white and blue colored dress, like the St. Paulie girl on the beer bottle.  The bartenders, had just basic black shirts and pants on.

The menu isn't that large and can be quickly looked over as there isn't anything that seems to stand out as it was trying to be traditional American, I would assume, but some things were of different nationalities.  My group of 4 foodies, including myself, decided to order all appetizers and some other things to see how everything tasted.
What you see here, in a clockwise direction is: onion rings, pretzels with cheese sauce, sausage pizza, fried Rubens, and German spaghetti.  The onion rings were your basic onion rings.  They had a similar crunchy breading to that of Steak N'Shake. So, while I enjoy them, I wasn't overly enjoyed by them.  They get a 3 out of 5 from me.  The pretzels were large, thick and tasty.  They were cooked all the way through which is tough for pretzels that large.  They were perfectly done on the outside and with just the right salty flavor as well.  I didn't make it to the pizza, as I tried everything else, but my friend who had eaten it said it was great, giving it a 3.5 out of 5.  The fired Rubens were tiny balls of meat and cheese and such and then rolled together in a bread crumb breading and then deep fried.  They have a 1000 island dipping sauce and overall, I really liked them.  They were not mind blowing but the first I have seen of this type so they get a 4 out of 5 for me.

This was the German spaghetti and was not an appetizer but a normal entree'.  It was a huge portion and had basil, garlic, cheese, cream, mushrooms and sirloin tips in there.  It reminded me of a proper beef Strogonoff, with the sour cream sauce but this one perhaps has some white wine and garlic and butter. I tried some and it was delicious.  I'd probably give the pasta dish a good 3.5 out of 5 stars as well.  That large thing was probably about a pound of bread.  The bread had a minimal flavor as it was a tool for soaking up broth or sauce more than anything.

These slider-looking burgers were actually Kobe beef burgers.  The burgers were quite large as the Kobe was in more of a meatball shape.  They were deliciously cooked and probably just seasoned with salt and pepper.  They were juicy and worked well as a burger as my father had said :"That was the best tasting burger I have ever had."  I thought they were good as well and get a 4 out of 5 from me.

My father ordered the sausage and cheese board and this is it. Several kinds of cheese, sausages and olive along with a mustard and ketchup sauce is what this entails.  Everything was good but none of it was over the top or super delicious, as it was a general meat and cheese tray.  It was good though with creamy light cheeses and a good selection of Italian meats like pepperoni and prosciutto.  I would give this a 3 out of 5.

  Lastly we have the German deviled eggs with a Creole seasoning.  What these were though, were the very basic deviled eggs with bacon on top.  The seasoning tasted like paprika and the mix in the eggs were just very basic and didn't taste anything special or fancy.  I'd give these eggs just a simple 2.5 out of 5 as their addition of bacon tried to move it up further trying to back up on the bacon.  Bacon does make everything better, but you can't make a normal item and put bacon on it to make it better.  The eggs get a 2 out of 5 for me.

Overall the night was a lot of fun and the food was good, especially when paired up with a good selection of their beers and drinks.  All the food was reasonably priced and since it was located just outside of the gaming area, children could technically come into the restaurant as well.  It is definitely a good place to go for a meal, a snack or a drink.