Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wow, that's what I call a box.

I know that the line is "Now that's what I call a knife," in reference to Mick Dundee showing a would-be robber his large knife versus the tiny switchblade that the guy uses.  But, for some reason it was in my head when I saw this.

This box of cookies, I purchased for $7.99 plus tax, at the local Walgreens store.  This box is about 3 inches high, 6 inches wide and 36 inches long!  This was a box of real cookies made and imported from Germany.  I know that those in Germany may think that this is no big deal, but here in America, Germany has this connotation of being a location where cookies are the best.  This large box of cookies had 4 smaller packages inside of it.

So, going in a clockwise-rotation, you have; some super buttery chocolate chip cookies, some shortbread/ginger bread cookies, some shortbread cookies with a layer of milk chocolate on the back, some chocolate covered shortbread with a dark chocolate drizzle, some vanilla wafer cookies with a chocolate filling, chocolate covered chocolate cookies with white chocolate sprinkles and some of those rolled cookies. Every cookie was delicious and completely worth the price I paid for them.  If you are a cookie fan, I suggest you race to your nearest Walgreens and look for these cookies.

Also of note, that this is the last article for the year.  This year of 2011, I have written 127 articles, which puts me at 227 total.  Thanks for reading and keeping along.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Silver Spoon part 3

I wanted to let you know about this and how happy I was about making this dish.  I did the Chicken in Lager recipe from the Silver Spoon book and used the broth and the tender vegetables to make a risotto.  I took all of the broth and placed it in a pot, brought it to a boil and in the other pan, put some of those cooked carrots and leeks in some olive oil and then added a cup of aborio rice.  I played the normal technique of making risotto which is a long task but came out with some meaty, rich and very tasty risotto.

Now, what else did I make out of this cookbook?  Well, to continue my crusade, I made some Brussel Sprouts and almonds:

My wife then had some fake crab meat and she wanted something good, so I made her a cold crab salad.

But what made this salad a good addition to this blog, was the fact that the red sauce on top of this crab salad, was made from a different sauce.  I had to make a Velote' sauce which was basically just a roux and some seafood stock together.

Then I had to make an Aurora sauce, which is a Velote' sauce with tomato sauce added in.  I did that and had this finished sauce where was drizzled on top of this salad.  My wife liked the salad and made a good comparison to the Mexican layer salads of the 1970's.  This salad had a layer of raddichio, hearts of palm, crab meat, and then sliced dill pickles.   

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Is this too many cookies?

A recent trip to the local Walgreens proved interesting when I found and purchased this:

No, there is no smoke or mirrors here, this is a yard stick and that is a box of German cookies that is 3 feet long!  The best part about these cookies, isn't the fact that it is in the largest box I have ever seen.  The best part is because they were made outside of the US, there is no High Fructose Corn Syrup.  So, go to Walgreens and pick up a box today.  (Only $7.99!)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Silver Spoon part 2

I love the recipes out of the book and thought it would be fun to post pictures and my reviews of the recipes I try from the book.  So, here is part two of this idea.  (If anyone buys the book and wants to cook along with me and tell me how everything went for you, please let me know, my wife thinks this would be an awesome idea.)

So, the way I cook, is that I wait for a nice Saturday or Sunday to come along and after having marked about 5-6 recipes, I cook away.  I cook at least two protein rich dishes, so that one may be used for dinner at home for the next few nights and the other gets taken to work for lunch.  This is what I have made within the past week.

This was listed as a Pizza Napolatana, which was me making pizza dough, then putting some extra virgin olive oil, chopped tomatoes, fresh chunks of mozzerella and then some canned anchovies.  I'm not an anchovy person, but I know I did a good job when my wife eats the whole pizza.

This one was an interesting one, this is cream of lettuce soup.  This had milk and vegetable stock boiling together as the base and then about 6 cups of chopped lettuces were added and then blended together.  It tastes surprisingly good.

There was a recipe for a dish called "chicken in lager".  Basically, the recipe wanted me to boil some chicken in some lager beer, chopped celery, leek and carrot with salt and pepper.  That sounded fine, but I'd rather cook a chicken in my Dutch oven than in a pot any day.  So, I set the oven to 400 F and then placed all of the ingredients as well as some extra beef stock and water to fill it more than half way, so the liquids can get into the cavity of the bird to cook it.  I put the chopped veggies inside and then covered it to cook in the oven for an hour and a half, turning the chicken every 30 minutes.  It finished and looked like this:

The broth that was created was delicious and full of flavor and the meat on the chicken was juicy and fell off of the bone.  Do the recipe the book's way or my way.

This above picture is beets with anchovies.  It is a very simple recipe which has you cooking the beets then dicing them up.  Next you take a can of anchovies and after rinsing them, you place them in a hot pan with some extra virgin olive oil and some red wine vinegar.  You stir them around for what seemed like 2 minutes as they completely disintegrated.  You spoon that fishy mixture on top and then mix it up.  My wife, the anchovy eater, loved the cooked beets and anchovies so this is a good recipe for her or anyone else who loves anchovies.

The last thing I cooked in this week was "lentils with bacon".  What you do is soak the lentils overnight then the next day, pour them into a pot.  This recipe is interesting compared to past lentil recipes which I have tried because this one doesn't have you keep the vegetables.  With this one, you cut the carrots and celery in large chunks so they cook with the lentils and give flavor.  When the dish is finished, you pull the vegetables out and toss them.  The bacon is cooked whole, with the lentils as well and then when it is finished cooking, you take the bacon out, chop it up and mix it back in.  I added chopped onions and kept them chopped instead of whole, as I like the flavor of onions. (I call onions "flavor enhancers" to my kids to help persuade them to eat them.)

Everything that I tried was delicious and as I move along in the cookbook, I will continue to do more pictures and more foods for anyone to see.  I am finding this Italian cookbook, easier to follow and make better tasting dishes than say a Mario Batali 350 recipe cookbook.  (I'm not suggesting that Mr. Batali is not a good Italian chef, only that the layout of this book is simpler for people like me to follow: anyone can cook.) 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A good idea but horrible execution.

How many times have you watched a cooking show or reality show and heard someone say that "it was a really good idea but the execution just wasn't there"?  There are bunches and bunches of new ideas and concepts in the food industry and while I think that they slowly become more and more hi-tech and futuristic and I applaud them, for their concepts, the real product doesn't make it too well.
I know, the picture is blurry, but that is because while this idea was solid, the execution was out of focus.

The idea was a can of coffee in which has its own self-heating element.  The can, has a thick foam around it, like those old beer can coolers which were just foam cups that the can goes in.  At the base of the can, under it, is what is best described as one of those portable hand warmers.  It has a button, that must be pressed and when it does, like the warming bags, probably has a metal disc inside that starts a chemical reaction which then heats the metal can and heats the coffee.  There were instructions that also suggested that after you pressed the button, to then shake the can, lightly for about 3 minutes or so, so that it could heat the contents.

There was a small problem: the can never became warm.  The can which was about $3-$5, was a great idea but when the can never heated, I had no idea how much longer it had to be shaken.  The instructions stated that you had to shake it until it started to steam.  Well, I shook it for a few minutes, my wife shook it for a few minutes and it never steamed.  It never got warm enough to steam.  When we finally opened it up, my wife took the first swig and was revolted by the taste of bad, luke warm coffee.  I hate coffee and even gave it a try as it tasted awful to me as well.

Now, could we have had the one bad can?  Sure.  But, if the coffee tasted that bad inside, that wouldn't have been just us, but everyone else who purchased this can.  Bottom line: don't buy it.  I think my wife and I agreed on a poor 1 out of 5 stars for me.  We ended up pouring the contents out as it was completely distasteful.  I know that the concept alone is brilliant and could be applied to cold drinks as well, so you could buy a soda and press the button on the bottom which instantly cools the can and thus cools the drink and you cannot go wrong there, even if it doesn't work and you are left with room temperature soda pop.  But having an item that is supposed to be hot and having it room temperature is a failure.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

My Doctor Who fix for the year...

When I was young, I was so interested and obsessed (seems a better word) with the Doctor.  I first watched Doctor Who in the early 90's, while the local PBS station was having their member pledge breaks.  The station would start off and play the first episode that they had and then have a marathon, working their way through until the current show's run in the 90's.  I immediatly liked the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, when I watched a few episodes.  This Doctor was eccentric, dressed in a mix of Victorian and other strange clothing and laughed in the face of danger.  He was captured many times, made fun of his enemies and even tortured and always stuck his neck out for others.  He may have been stuffy sometimes, often telling other scientists that they were stupid and making fun of some humans in general, but he always did what he could for the betterment of humanity.  I liked his swagger, his use of information and his one-liners.  I liked his playfulness and his seriousness and was instantly set out to incororate some parts of his personality into my own.  I wanted to be that Doctor.

Anyways, over time I watched the new episodes and even now as they are on the 11th Doctor, I started to like some of the pop culture references made in the series.  It does so in such a way that it helps to bring the Doctor Who world into our own and make it seem more real.  Well, all of this came even more real when I was at Global Foods and bought some interesting items.

The one one the right, comes first.  It is a Jammie Dodger.

The 11th Doctor loves these cookies.  They are a chewy raspberry filling in between of two vanilla cookies. There is a little heart cutout where you can see the filling and they are not only very tasty but addictive.  I know that at one point, the Doctor uses a Jammie Dodger for a TARDIS self-destruct mechanism to fool some Daleks.  The fact is, that this is a real product and it is very good.

I saved the best for last: Jelly Babies.  I believe the 2nd Doctor first used Jelly Babies but offered them once to Sgt. Benton of U.N.I.T. in the late 60's.  Now what I love about the 4th Doctor is at one point, he offered, Davros, creator of the Daleks, a jelly baby, only to be turned down.  His one liner: "Would you like a jelly baby?" has become umbiquous with his character as much as his long 16 foot scarf.  The Doctor has used his Jelly Babies to befriend alien creatures, cavemen and even used it as bait for traps.  It is to the 4th Doctor what the Sonic Screwdriver was to the 10th Doctor.  (But the 4th Doctor also had a Sonic Screwdriver)

Jelly Babies have a gummy outside, like a spice drop or a gum drop.  The inside is softer, almost a liquid filled center and very sweet.  I see why the Doctor offered these to enemies and friends alike.

If you are a Doctor Who fan and you want to get these, they were found at the Global Foods store in Kirkwood, MO. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

A request had been made...sorta

Here is the thing, around the end of November, my wife wanted to go out and celebrate her birthday.  So, I started to look for places to go.  I was looking for some night clubs but since there appears to not be a single decent nightclub in St. Louis, one without fights, shootings, thugs, or with at least somewhat dance-able music, we skipped the dancing.  I was thinking of places to go when I noticed that a restaurant had "Liked" my facebook page about Tasty-Magazine. I wondered if that was because the restaurant liked to read the blog in general or if it wanted to be reviewed.  Either way, I thought it should work.  My wife could order the Sushi and Sashimi choices and I could order everything else.

So, we arrived at Miso, on Meremac, on a cold and rainy Saturday evening.  We came in the upstairs area and upon seeing it packed, it was suggested that we move downstairs and then go and enjoy the full service in the Lounge area.  We walked down the stairs to a dimly lit area with some nice music and we were led to a smooth couch with some glass tables, lit with candles.  The are was pretty romantic, except for the big screen showing some college football.

I wanted to try many things and have a good time.  So, like other famous reviewers, I made a wide selection of foods as my wife stayed along things she enjoyed.  I ordered many items on the "Share Plates" selection as these were meant to go with many people but I ordered many, thinking that the serving sizes would be small, since the way the restaurant seemed.  I was wrong.  The overall severing size was quite large as you would need what I would guess to be 4 people to eat one Share Plate.

I first received the "Sesame Dragon Wings" with a creamy cilantro dressing.  I like the hot wings, which were good hot wings, a 3 out of 5, but there was nothing special about them.  Someone had sprinkled black and white sesame seeds on the hot wings and they were not overly spicy either.  The sauce wasn't that good, as it was described as being a creamy cilantro dressing but was really blue cheese dressing with a sprinkling of dried cilantro.  They were good and I think people should order them, but I have a thing for hot wings.

I then ordered a plate of "Kobe Sliders", which were described as coming with "carmelized onion, Yuzu truffled aioli and “Tokyo” style fries".  What I received was a plate of sliders, which is the term now for small hamburgers.  I forgot if there were four or three of them on the plate.  They had butter grilled buns, a large heaping of grilled onions and Kobe beef in the middle with just a dollop of sauce.  The burgers were cooked right for being Kobe beef, which meant that they were seared on the outside and pink on the inside.  The meat, by itself was very flavorful and moist.  The "Tokyo fries" was not what I had expected.  The fries were also an item on the "Share Menu" and a small discussion with my wife had resulted with a thought that the fries, which were said to be "nori-furikake style fries", should have been fries with the rice seasoning of seaweed and spices.  All that could be tasted was regular French style fries with salt on them.  I know what the nori-furikake seasoning tastes like as my wife has several cans at home for her use and they all have a stronger flavor than what was on the fries here.  Don't get me wrong, the burgers made up for the fries, so it wasn't a failure. Just don't expect some outrageous fries with your outrageous burger.  The burger was a 4 out of 5 and the fries were a 2 out of 5.
We then had the "Steamed Pork Pot stickers with pork, shrimp, soy vinegar sauce".  I'm not a huge fan of seafood and while I thought that the pot stickers wee very tasty, a 3 out of 5, the sauce was very fishy and I avoided it.  The pot stickers were light, crunchy and flavorful as the sauce was heavy and fishy.

I also ordered some sushi rolls for my wife, who loves sushi.  She said that overall the quality of the fish was very good, extremely good.  She loved the meal but had some misses in her hits.  The idea was that the classic sushi rolls were excellent.  Although, when there was a signature roll made by Miso, the flavors seemed to not work together and either fall flat or be to complicated to get a good harmony of flavors out of it.  One of the rolls which my wife ordered said it had Kimchi in it and was supposed to be Korean inspired.  However, my wife loves Kimchi, proper Kimchi, the kind which had been fermenting for up to a year, like REAL Kimchi.  The Kimchi that was placed within this roll, however was not real Kimchi.  The Kimchi tasted like lightly picked cabbage, not even pickled enough to taste like sauerkraut, but just like someone took some cabbage and poured some white vinegar on top.  My wife couldn't finish that roll and was quite displeased.  I think she would have given her overall sushi experience a 3 out of 5 though.

So, overall, it would appear that Miso is a good place to go.  It ranks right up there with some of the nicer places in St. Louis.  I would say that if you are looking for a nicer place for a Sushi date, then you need to go to Sushi.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It tastes just like real kittens

I went to another fun trip to Global Foods and picked up something very strange.  While looking in the Russian and Eastern European aisle, I found this:

I found out that this is a German import and it is supposed to be "chocolate cat tongues".  Yeah, you read that right, these candies were supposed to represent a cat's tongue that was chocolate covered.

Okay, this is weird, a candy that is supposed to look like or be related to cats is a bit strange.  I just hope that no cats were harmed in the making of this product.  The tongues are actually slender pieces of marzipan and then covered in dark chocolate.  It does taste good and you just have to make it past the idea that you are eating something made from cats, and then you are okay.  They are very tasty.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Silver Spoon

Alright, I'm not doing a Julie to Julia thing here as 1) I don't have the time and 2) I don't have the money.  But I purchased this book, several months ago and it has just been sitting in my basement, where most of my books are.

Now, I think I'm a few years late, for as long as this book has been out, there have been hundreds and maybe even a thousand reviews of this book as of late.  It is a massive book, the kind of book that you find in the largest section of the Harry Potter world as the type of book that weighs over 10 pounds on its own. The mere mention of weight makes me wonder how many people have walked around the house with bruised foot tops or toes due to dropping this book.  Ouch.

The book is huge and that isn't a bad thing as it is filled with hundreds and hundreds of recipes from the Italy region.  The book was first published in 1950 and is the most successful cookbook in Italy.  This is real Italian cooking and while you would think I would say that the best part of the book is the pictures, you are wrong.  There are hardly any photos in the book.  What I like the best in the book is the way that it is organized.  Let's say that you open most other books and you have some radishes in your house that you want to cook and can't think of a good recipe.  If you have other books, you look in the back under an ingredient index, if there is one, or look elsewhere and try to find a recipe.  With this book, The Silver Spoon, you go to the "Radish" section and look at the 5-6 recipes starring radishes.  This book is organized by main ingredient which lets you plow through and see everything you want to find.

So, without further adieu, here are some things which I have made and taste really, really good.
This is Sausage Crostini.  This was done by making my own "sausage" with ground beef, parsley, oregano, basil and salt and pepper.  I added the cheese to it and spooned it out on french bread slices.  After 15 minutes in the oven, it was all melty-yummy and worked well together, giving you a taste of sausage and toast.

Stuffed Grape Leaves. What I think is interesting, is that I have grown up within the past few years, making and eating the stuffed grape leaves from Lebanon, of which my wife's family is from.  From a past cookbook on Russia and European cooking, I made a stuffed grape leaf recipe from Turkey.  Now, I made this recipe from Italy.  It is interesting that the Mediterranean countries that have grape leaves, roll them up with something good.  I didn't think this recipe is as good as the Lebanese one, but still very good.

This is listed as a Cauliflower Salad (2), and it is steamed then thrown in a bowl with some olive oil, white wine vinegar, tarragon and parsley.  A nice sprinkling of salt and pepper and that is it.  It reminds me of the simplicity of some French dishes where the ingredients are the star.  It is a good vegetable dish.

This was a turnip greens baked parcel which wanted me to bake some turnip greens, with chopped turnips, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper in the oven in wrapped up foil packets.  The greens were perfectly steamed and tasty.

Lastly, I have some of the Potato and Bacon Pie.  This is a quiche', I believe, as it has a base of eggs and cream (or milk) that encapsulates and cooks around some baton cut potatoes and some slices of bacon and onion.  This was so good that my wife and I were using it for breakfast.

I have decided to cook out of this cookbook for the rest of this year and I will post pictures of the recipes as I cook them.  If you see this book on sale anywhere, buy it!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

All hail the waffle

I've always wanted one and now I have one.  My wife picked me up a Hamilton Beach Waffle maker for an early Christmas present for me and I am thrilled.  I have been making waffles for the past week now.

I have to say that this on sale for $29.99 waffle maker is awesome.  You make a simple batter, pour it in, and flip the maker and within minutes you have a round waffle.

  I started with regular waffles and within minutes, I had a stack.

Let me tell you that if you place the setting on "3", the maximum, it will produce hot and crunchy waffles, that taste perfect.  What is really fun about the recipe I found, is I was able to tweak it.  I replaced the 4 tablespoons of sugar with Truvia and replaced the tablespoon of melted butter with extra virgin Lebanese olive oil.  A few cuts to calories does improve the taste.  What is also cool, is that you can make subtle changes of flavor.  For instance, when I went to the store and bought vanilla ice cream, at about 8:00 AM, the cashier and bagger were asking why I was buying ice cream that early.  I told them that I was going to put it on my waffles.  That made them silent and earily staring at me.  The thing is, I made root beer flavored waffles, using a root beer candy flavoring.  The waffles tasted like root beer so I wanted some vanilla ice cream on top so every bite tasted like a root beer float.  This shocked the two grocery store employees: "I've heard of root beer floats but never heard of anyone making waffles that tasted like them."  Well, that is what I do.

So, if you are looking for a waffle maker, I highly suggest using the Hamilton Beach one, I have pictures up there.  I have had waffles turn out perfect, every time.  This devise gets a 5 out of 5 for me, works perfect and every time and was less than $50.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


Okay as a huge proponent for make-it-yourself foods, I am a huge fan of the latest stunt from McCormick.  In the spice aisle, you can find all-in-one recipes and spices, complete with recipe card.

For instance, here is Spanish Chicken Skillet, as it is called.  What makes this so easy?  Look at the spices!!!!  In the package, right there in front of you, is all of the spices you would need for the dish. They even include red pepper flakes as an optional spice, to adjust the heat.  When you turn this package over, there is a tear-on-the-dotted-line spice card that you can remove while making the dish.

So, if you read the recipe, you need just a few other things: flour, salt, chicken, olive oil, green pepper, onion, a can of tomatoes and some chicken broth or dry sherry.  So, together it looks something like this:

Now, it was a really simple dish as you made a flour coating to coat the chicken and fry it up in a pan with the oil.  You then cooked all the vegetables together with the spices and when it was finished, it all went together. I feel a bit embarrassed as I don't have a picture of the finished protect but can tell you that for a dish that was put together and cooked in less than 20 minutes, it taste very VERY good.

Anyways, if you are thinking that you have nothing to cook and have no plans for a dinner meal, or lunch for that matter, I highly suggest picking up one of these spice packages and make a new meal today.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Nothing else but to say it.....

I want to wish everyone in the US a happy Thanksgiving.

For those of you outside of the US, I wish to relate to you a common misconception that is taught to children in the US about Thanksgiving.  When I was in grade school, I remembered being taught that Thanksgiving was created when the Pilgrims and the Native Americans got together.  As Americans, we were taught that the Pilgrims needed food and were starving and out of nowhere, some Native Americans (we were taught to call them Indians) came by with food and they sat down outside for a big picnic with turkey, cranberries and sweet potatoes.

The fact is a big more refined.  The Pilgrims lived by the seashore and most likely didn't have turkey but had plenty of fish and lobster, mussels and other shellfish.  They had some smaller birds, maybe venison and maybe sweet potatoes.  They were Native Americans and while Columbus called them "Indians", because he thought he had sailed around the world and landed at India, the tribe that was likely there was the Wampanoag Tribe.  Another piece of history could have been created because the leader of this tribe was very smart and noticed that among his possible enemies, it would have been easier to help the new Settlers so that he may have an ally against his enemies.  

One idea is that the day was first celebrated by the Spanish, in the 1600's as a "thanks to God" for delivering them safely to the new world.  But the idea of the Natives helping the Pilgrims is in fact a true one but wasn't on this day of Thanksgiving and instead was just a 3 day harvest celebration.  It wasn't until President Lincoln created the first Thanksgiving in 1863 as a way of saying thanks to God for a good harvest and health.  He proclaimed it to be a national holiday and has remained the last Thursday in November, ever since.

Also, since 1970, a group of Native Americans started a day of morning on Thanksgiving because of the large amount of Native Americans who were killed by Americans as a direct protest of this day.  As far as football is concerned, I think that the NFL or whoever does football, thought that since families would all be together it would work to get games televised for the most viewers.  I hate football, so I don't know about that.

So, there are some quick ideas and since the Internet is at your disposal, take a look around and see how much Thanksgiving has been created and tweaked to make it the event that we celebrate today.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

It all started when I was 16...

My family had a good tradition: get a job at 16.  The idea was that I would learn some work ethic and well as some respect for money.  I know it worked because I know people who either haven't worked a job till they were in their 20's or didn't care about their money at all.  So, on June 5, 1995, I went in for my first day of work, as a bus-boy at Old Country Buffet.  My older brother had already worked there for two years and they hired me on the basis that I was as good or better than my brother.  I worked at this location, in Shrewsbury, until around 1999, when I also worked a part-time job at Blockbuster video.  It was about this time that my brother started college and so he decided to quit working at OCB and work at another location, which was also for his major.  I finished ties at this location and had some disagreements with the new management, which wanted the workers to all follow her and fear her.  This was difficult because we all worked together for about 4 years, most of us college aged and all friends who worked great as a team.  We didn't fear management and worked with and treated managers like friends, with which was easier.

The next location I worked at was the Manchester OCB location.  It was a new location and about a 25 minute drive from my home, where the older Shrewsbury location was a mere 5 minutes and within walking distance as well.  This new location had most of the staff from Mexico and I'm not joking, as when a rumor of an immigration officer showing up one day came to the surface, we had over 2/3rds of our staff call in sick.  It was at this location, that the managers wanted to hold on to American workers, or legal workers, and chose to promote me to management.  So, as a college student, I started my role as Shift Supervisor.  It was here that they first had me train in every position, then become certified in every position, and then become a supervisor.  The idea was simple: if anyone called in sick or was unable to come to work, I could fill in the spot.  It was a great idea from a manager point of view as I could work the food line and still count as the front of the house supervisor.  (Kill two birds with one stone.)  I didn't mind bussing tables, making tips, working the cash stand and even going into the dishroom, but I was always nervous about the cooks line.  It wasn't a fear that I would mess anything up or under cook or overcook but a fear that I didn't know how to do it.  It was simple, as my GM said, "you follow the recipe, follow the instructions, and make the food."  As strange as he was and the sole reason for requesting a transfer and eventually leaving that location, it is strange to note that what he said about the recipe instructions, was a way to brake the wall, in my mind, about cooking.  After that wall was broken or the veil was lifted, I could cook and did cook, just about anything there, even things that I wasn't supposed to.  Do you want a jelly filled donut?  Well, I'd take a dinner roll out of the proofer, drop it into the fryer for a minute, then roll it in some sugar and fill it with a packet of jelly.

As I said, my issue was, that the GM, at the time, was dating an employee, which was against company policy.  That employee, quickly found her way up the ranks and into upper management.  She also had every family member of her's who worked at this same location, making as much as a $3 to $4 raise.  When I asked for a raise he gave me a nickel.  The woman's family gets dollars and a I get a 5 cent coin.  That seemed a bit unfair.  It also didn't help that my friends who were also Shift Supervisors with me, were working less and less as they went to college and managers I admired and liked were sent away to other locations.  I asked for a transfer and put it in.  After a long negotiations process between my half-inebriated GM and the District Manager, I was allowed to move to a location at South Lindbergh, about 10 minutes from my home.

The store at South Lindbergh was where it all changed.  As a Shift Supervisor, I was working in the kitchen about 50% of the time.  Unreliable cooks would consistently call in sick and the restaurant was short on cooks so the managers wouldn't fire anyone.  So, what did I learn on the cook's line?  Well, I learned how to bread and cook enough fried chicken for 10 people, at once.  I learned how to make large amounts of soup, as much as several gallons at once.  I learned how to make sure all the foods tasted correct and that they were not too salty or missing salt; which was a regular complaint from many older people.  So, anyways, I learned that the food that we cooked was actually pretty healthy and good for you as unlike other competitors of ours, we did not use fillers, extra sugars or corn syrups and we didn't use MSG.  The food at Old Country Buffet was probably better for you than the fast food chains and cheaper than other all-you-can-eat buffets.

After 8 and 1/2 years of service, I left Old Country Buffet, or Home Town Buffet as it was then changed to.  Unlike most of the employees at this location, that were legal immigrants, I could afford to go to college and it was there I went off to.  The other half of the staff was mostly high school girls who were looking for their summer jobs to make shopping money.  What stayed with me was how to cook some of the menu items, how to cook things in large batches and how things should taste.  That helped start the seed for a foodie.

Now, after about 8 years, just a week ago, I went to that last Home Town Buffet.  I was at the local all-you-can-eat buffet, the new competition: The Golden Corral.  I wrote about the higher cost, the cost of paying for a drink separately, the large amount of food options but the mediocre food quality.  I wanted to go back to the last place of employment, before my career and see what has changed; if anything.  What I found out, was a bit shocking and disturbing.

First off, we went for lunch on a Saturday.  I tried to see if anything had changed at the restaurant,  I was shocked to have seen that so much had in fact changed.  First of all, when you went to pay first for your meal so many years ago, you paid and you had everything included.  Now, you not only pay for your meal, but you have to pay for your drink separately.  That is new and another dollar or two for a drink, seems a bit steep.  I think I drank one cup of sprite and that was it, so that was hardly worth $2 or whatever.  But anyway, we get our ticket and get to our seat.

What they started when I still worked there, was that the company discovered that it could legally change the
job of the bussers to servers, and therefore could get away with paying them around $4 an hour plus tips.  I always hated this idea, even as a manager, because unlike restaurants where the servers take orders and handle everything, the bussers or "servers" now, were expected to bring in as much as $3-$5 per table even though there is no real urge or requirement to tip them.  I admit that they could get drinks or help get napkins and clean up but that's about it.  I also remember some servers not claiming all of their tips, because why should they pay taxes on something that someone gave them?

So anyways, we get our spot, where I see a server that was there when I was there.  We also then get ready and we start going up for our food.  Let me tell you this right off the bat, most of the food, the quality, has not changed since I worked there.  My wife and I both felt that the food at the Golden Corral was awful, but the food at HTB is still pretty good.

This is a fun thing, a random piece of information, but when they changed from Old Country Buffet to Home Town Buffet, they thought that they were going to do away with the "Old" part of the restaurant.  So, they changed the little separators on the booths from red curtains to frosted glass, changed the carpet to a tad bit lighter carpet and then put some pictures on the wall.  That is it.  So, those chairs and tables are still the same as they were before.

So anyways, we get some food and only a handful of menu items have been new, most are old ones I remember.

I tried to get some things I never had tried.  I have a slice of calzzone, some orange chicken, a dumpling (which I have tried and is the same recipe), a slider and some onion rings.  Everything on this plate was good, even the onion rings, which is odd because sometimes restaurants can't get the onion to be tender enough or the shell to be crispy enough.

Next was the plate of things that didn't work well.

Two items on this plate were some of my favorite items which I had every meal and every day I worked there.  To the top left was mashed potatoes and brown gravy and the lower left was some cornbread dressing.  Now, when I had worked there, the mashed potatoes were made from an instant potato product called "potato pearls".  They were tiny balls of dried out potatoes that when mixed with water, made a perfect creamy mashed potatoes.  They tasted like potatoes when I worked there, now they don't taste like anything. I would guess that they got rid of the potato pearls which were made from real potatoes and instead got some artificial thing that resembles potatoes.  The cornbread dressing used to made from real cornbread which was cooked earlier and tasted good, this cornbread dressing tasted bland as well.  To the right side of the plate was some new desserts like a chocolate brownie with some vanilla icing and sprinkles and a giant chocolate chip cookie.

Something that was also a change is that there used to be a closet, by the back part of the salad bar, where the extra toilet paper, soap and paper towels for the bathrooms would have been kept.  I would guess that in order to increase traffic, they took everything out of that closet and made it a game room.

Now, I can't see why any restaurant would welcome kids to run around their food bars to run in and out of a 'game room', but that looks like just another thing that has changed.

I notice that a lot has changed and it is a bit sad.  I do plan on going back again and seeing if anything else has changed, for better or worse.

Monday, November 21, 2011

High protein, high fiber, low fat

One of the shows which I loved to watch growing up was called Scientific American Frontiers and it played on the local PBS station.  It ran for quite a long time with Alan Alda as the host and covered a wide array of scientific and technological discoveries and topics.  It was the poor man's version of Nova, which also ran on PBS. The thing that was so great about Scientific American, was that with Alan Alda's interest played out with no acting, it helped people like me, who was just 23 at the time of the broadcast of this show.

So, the episode that made me think of writing about it was first shown in May of 2001 and was about diet and lifestyle.  This was something so slightly interesting but still not really important to me at the time but now, this seems like a great thought.  So, while watching the episode, a Doctor was telling our beloved host about a new theory he has in which he believes that people will live longer if they reduce their fat and calories.  I've heard this idea or one similar to what Dr. Roy Walford was suggesting, in which it is as if our bodies are like automotive engines. Like engines, there is an expected number of miles or years that it can work from until it gives up and dies.  For our bodies, the theory is that there is a calorie cap on how much our bodies can deal with before we quit.  Dr. Walord was suggesting that a diet where everything we need is consumed and the fats and extra calories are left out, would help us further achieve this goal.

Dr. Walford, gave a recipe to the show and even made a whole meal for Alan to try and they ate it while discussing metabolism facts.  So, I was thinking of this and then tried to track the salad recipe down.......which I did.

Dr. Walford's Supreme Vegetable Salad

Serves 4
1/3 cup dry chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
1/3 cup dry lentils
1/3 cup brown rice
1/3 cup wild rice
1/3 cup oat bran
1 medium sweet potato
3 spears broccoli or
5 cups florets
1 carrot
3/4 cup raw mushrooms
6 cups (1 large head) romaine lettuce
1/2 cup parsley
1 large red pepper
2 medium zucchini or other summer squash
1 medium tomato
1/4 small head red cabbage
1 medium onion
16 ounces commercially prepared salsa, mild or spicy
4 tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 tblsp olive oil
1 hard boiled egg
3 ounces tomato paste 

Soak garbanzo beans for several hours or overnight.
Discard soak water.
Combine garbanzos with lentils and add enough water to a 2-quart saucepan to generously cover beans.
Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
When cooked, drain any remaining water and cool.

The rices can be added to the beans, or cooked separately.
To cook with beans, add an additional 1 cup or boiling water, the brown and wild rice to the simmering beans.
Simmer an additional 45 minutes. Add bran during the last 10 minutes.
Hardboil one egg.
Meanwhile, steam the sweet potato for approximately 15 minutes, or until soft.

Cool and slice into bite size pieces.
Steam the broccoli and carrot for 10 minutes, cool and slice into bite size pieces.
Slice mushrooms, tomato, red pepper, squash, and onion into bite size pieces.
Shred the cabbage and finely slice the parsley.
Break or cut lettuce into bite sizes.
In a large salad bowl, combine all vegetables.
Chop the egg and add to the vegetables.
Drain excess liquid from the salsa in a strainer and blend together salsa, tomato paste, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil.

Add to the bean-rice-vegetable mix and stir thoroughly.
Excellent served with a whole grain bread or pumpernickel roll.  
 Now, what I plan on doing, is trying this out and seeing how it turns out for me and my family.  I'm sure it is delicious with that much vegetables and other good stuff in it.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A complete waste of time...

Nestled in historic Kimswick, in the middle of nowhere off of 55 South in Missouri, is a little house turned restaurant called The Blue Owl.  Known internationally for their huge and towering apple and caramel pies, this home-style restaurant is loved by the likes of everyone from Oprah to Paula Dean.  However, I have no idea why.

It was my mother's birthday and she has a likening to home-style foods so my brother suggested this restaurant.  There was 9 of us in our group and we called ahead and made reservations, at least 24 hours ahead.  We figured that even though they may be busy, a 2:00 reservation may mean that we get sat about 2:15, if they are really busy and running late like they would at the local IHOP.  We didn't expect that the most time of our dining experience would be us waiting.

So, we drive 30 minutes to get there, don't find a parking spot in the 40 car lot across the street and park about 2 blocks away.  We then walk in, stand in line like sardines, smashed and pushed by a plathora of older people thinking that we are trying to get ahead of them in line and will be sat before them, and then tell the hostess that we have reservations.  It is just 2:00pm when we tell her that we are the 2:00 party of 9 whom called yesterday.  "Great" she says and then she asks if we are all here.  I tell her yes and we are all waiting.  She tells me that they will get the table together and it will be a couple of minutes.  I also overhear her and another woman talk about a large table in which all they had to do was bus it and it could be ready as it was 2 tables pushed together.  So, while we may not have been the next group and there may have been other groups before us, we did make a reservation.  And like the Seinfeld episode, a reservation means that they reserve a spot for us so when we get there, we can sit down immediately.

This restaurant had not seen that episode.  My family waited, and waited and waited.  Forty-five minutes later, after I asked them again, they took us to a table way in the corner.  It was a large circle table for 10 people.  What gets my head turning, is that it appears that they couldn't push two tables together for us and we could only sit at a table that was made for a group of 9-10 people.  What I mean is; during that 45 minutes that we waited for our reserved table to be ready, they sat so many other groups.  You have no idea how many people I hear being announced that their spot was ready: "Walley party of 4, Johnson party of 2, Frank party of 7," and so on and on.  Tons of people, likely 50 people sat down at tables while we were waiting for our reservation.  I motioned to my brother, from across the waiting area, that we should drive back North 55 and could get a seat faster at the Cracker Barrel.  Since the idea of this reservation was such a joke, we could have been sat sooner if we had just showed up at 1 or 1:30 and then just waited.

So, 45 minutes later, we are sat in the farthest reaches of the universe: a spot in the far back corner of a side room and we have had plenty of time to study the menu and we decide to order.  About 10 minutes after we sit, a waitress comes over to us to get our drink orders.  Since we have had time, we thought that if we ordered our food at the same time as our drinks, the food would come out sooner.  Buy, we were dumb.  We told the waitress our drinks, then told her our order selection and the food picks for the kids and we waited.  As we and the other hundred people were waiting near the entrance for our seats, we had tons of servers walk through us with large round trays full of food, perhaps every 2-3 minutes, so we thought that the kitchen was moving quickly.  Well, about 15 minutes after we had ordered our food and drinks, our drinks came to us.  About 20 minutes later, we had our salads and then 20 minutes after that, we got our food.  So, if you do the math, that means that our food came about an hour after we had ordered it.  Yep, about 55 minutes.  The night before we watched some Restaurant Impossible and the restaurant where Chef Robert Irvine was, was being reamed for taking 47 minutes to bring food out and we waited 55 minutes!?!?!?!?!?

It took so long for the food to arrive that the kids, all three of them, had already filled up on the crackers and the lemonade they had.  So, when their food arrived, it was a fight to get them to eat.  One was sleepy and the others wanted to run around, because they had already been seated for about an hour, waiting.

So, food arrives as I said and this is what we had.  We were not a small group as we had about 5 adult meals and 4 kid meals.  So, there should have been everything we needed.  So, we had my wife who ordered the cob salad and a diet coke, which totaled $12.95 without a drink for a total of $15.20, (which is comparable to a cost of a main course and drink at a place like Chevy's), my kids each had a kids lemonade and a hot-dog meal, about $4.95 each for a total of $9.90, not including the two $2.25 drinks..  Then my niece had a similar meal for $4.95 and on top of that, my 80 something year old grandmother ordered a kid's meal as well for $4.95 with a regular drink for $2.25.  My sister-in-law ordered a half order of the quiche with the you pick 3 meal and a drink for $2.25 so she added to about $12.20.  My mom ordered a full size of the quiche which was $12.95 plus $2.25 for the drink totaling $15.20.  My brother ordered the Chicken Salad Croissant which was $10.95 plus drink for $2.25 totaling $13.20.   I was the big spender as I ordered the special of the day, which was Chicken Fried Steak with Country Gravy.  My special of the day was $13.95 plus $2.25 which totaled $16.20.

So, if we did the math, this came to about $100.80.  So, while I can't really speak for anyone else, I can say that my $13.95 plate of food was the smallest portion I have ever seen for that cost.  For like under $10 at IHOP, I can get twice as much food.  So, my Chicken Fried Steak was a bit tough, the large roll in came with was dry and didn't taste like a fresh roll at all, it didn't have that fresh made bread yeast flavor, which I know about from when I bake bread at home, each week. The scoop of mashed potatoes was bland and tasted like the instant mashed potatoes.  The country gravy was nasty.  It tasted like someone had made normal white country gravy and then added sugar to the mix.  It was sweet, almost as sweet as a desert sauce.  So, going with my dish, it failed miserably.  My dish, is what a 2 out of 5 looked like.  From discussion around the table, no one seemed to really enjoy their food either, so it wasn't just me.

So, finally as we make it through our meals, or just push them aside, we ordered dessert.  This restaurant is supposed to be known for the dessert or its pies so that is what was ordered.  My wife and I thought that if the food was bad, the desserts must be awesome. There were two cookies ordered, a pumpkin cake slice, a slice of French silk pie, a slice of peach pie and a slice of strawberry/rhubarb pie.  Best I could tell from the menu, the slices of cake and pie were about $7.95 each.  The cookies were listed at about 89 cents each, so two of them makes $1.78.  So, if we were to assume that the cost of each slice was $7.95 and there were two, which did not come with a special meal, then all together dessert was $17.68.  Let me get this point out, my grandmother, whom has over 60 years of baking experience, and is most known for her strawberry and rhubarb pie thought that the strawberry and rhubarb pie she had ordered was awful.  It was solid, as was all the pies.  It was as if the pies were made with gelatin and were like cutting through a frozen cake, as nothing fell away or crumbed away from the cakes.  It was as if they made the pie filling with copious amounts of corn starch to make a very thick pudding-like pie filling.  If they did use a starch to act as a thickening agent, they used too much because the pies didn't taste right.  The strawberry and rhubarb pie didn't taste like rhubarb at all.  The peach pie was almost bland.  The French Silk pie didn't taste at all like chocolate, but of a grainy starch.  And overall, the pie crust was not flaky or even easily breakable, but acted as if the crust was in fact recently frozen.  It was almost chewy and like rubber.

Now, I don't mean to be rude or mean, but a bad experience at a restaurant will cause anyone to feel angry, especially when the bill came.  All of this food, came to a total cost of about $120.26.  The bill, because we had more than 6 people, had the gratuity included already and the total then was $148.48.  That was a $28.22 tip!!!  The server was awful, she was rude, she would push her way between people to reach all of the table and she even dropped a fork full of food on my 4 year old niece as the server was taking the plates away.  There was no sorry, just an off comment like "everything's falling today".  She didn't have to be rude or incompitent, but could be because she already knew that her tip was accounted for.  Unlike people who may have their tips adjusted depending on how good the service was, she didn't care because even if she was the worst server in history, she was still going to get her tip. That was about 24% of so.  Now, there may be a + or - error as this was all off of memory and looking at their online menu.  After I had given the server my credit card to pay and she ran it and returned, she took the regular receipt, allowing me to only have the "customer copy".

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Okay, here is the deal, as told to us by Kate, one of the managers at the South County location of the Noodles & Company, no money is spent on billboards, commercials or other advertising and they basically get customers from word of mouth.  So, I thought of it as a bit of a coincidence that me business card from this magazine, gets picked to win me and 5 other people a free tasting.  But, I'll go along with it.

So, we arrived last night, just in time and the 5 of us sat down.  I had my family, my wife, two kids, and her cousin, Franco.  We sat down to what we all thought would be just a few dishes, small portions for us to try as this whole thing was free.  However, as Kate told us, they would be bringing us regular sized portions, and a lot of them, so we better be hungry.  Well, Franco had stated that he wished I told him this so he could have skipped lunch.

First up, Kate brought out some pot stickers and a spinach salad.  The pot stickers tasted like they had a nice mild spicy chicken flavor inside and were just the right crunchy on the outside.  They went best with this dipping sauce, which was like soy sauce mixed with red pepper flakes and something else tasty.  The sauce was good enough that if we had shot glasses, we would have taken them all in unison.
The spinach salad was reminiscent of all other greatly executed spinach salads with a warm bacon dressing.  This one was a bit different because the tart flavor was due to some balsamic vinegar and to cut that were some freshly cut strawberries.  You tasted, spinach, bacon, vinegar and strawberries and sometimes the flavors were all at once and created a complex flavor symphony.

Okay, so what made this such a good start, was also the fact that Kate, may have been smarter than the average bear.  She noticed that we had brought in two kids with us, my 3 and 5 year old.  She may have noticed that they were acting a bit, well, like a 3 year old and a 5 year old boy does.  So, she also brought out  a dish of the regular mac & cheese as well as a dish of the buttered noodles.

The mac & cheese is a winner, every time we come to this place.  We always order a dish and split it between my two boys.  It is regular elbow macaroni with a cheese sauce and shredded cheese on top of that. We also had the buttered noodles.

The buttered noodles is mostly what I get.  I do like trying new things, but after a long week on a Friday night, which is usually when we get to the mall and go out to eat, I feel like just eating some simple comfort food.  The buttered noodles dish is simply wide egg noodles served in butter with some salty Parmesan cheese.  It is so simple, but I love it.

So, when we start to make our way through that first round, Kate talks to us about the first section of food: Asian.  She talks to us and stresses that all dishes are cooked to order, can be made custom, and made from the freshest ingredients.  She started off with bringing out the Indonesian Peanut Saute' and the Thai Curry Soup, which is one we requested that we wished to try.

The Indonesian Peanut Saute' was spicy and nice.  It is listed as the most spicy item on the whole menu and the 3 of us, adults, loved it.  It had a nice Asian flavor to it and as you eat it, it gets better and better.  Then when you finish it.  You think to yourself, where is the spice?  And then it hits you.  Spicy enough to make your nose run, and to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, but not too spicy.

The Thai Curry Soup was next and we are always a bit paranoid about other places serving Thai food.  We do, after all, live within 3 miles from the best Thai restaurant in the St. Louis metropolitan area: Thai House.  The soup had that nice and spicy yellow curry flavor in the broth, loads of vegetables and a few noodles.  It was like an Asian version of a noodle soup.  It was very nice.

Alright, so it is at this time that the three of us, announce that we are full.  But Kate doesn't hear us, or pretends to not to, and she keeps on bringing us delicious and delightful dishes.  The next dish was The Med Salad, which is your Mediterranean salad, using Romaine, greens, tomatoes, red onion and such with a yogurt dressing and feta cheese.  What a tasty salad, it tasted like a salad that you would find in your best Italian restaurants.

To go along with this, also from the Mediterranean menu, was the Pasta Fresca, which was a very Italian inspired pasta.  It had a nice mix of vegetables as well.

So, we are making our way now, filling our stomachs even further and the Whole Grain Tuscan Linguine comes out.  It is tasty, as you can taste the difference in the pasta flavor, being a whole grain instead of a white starch, complete with some Parmesan-crusted chicken on top.  It was tasty and the crust on the chicken was very good.

I know what you are thinking, we have to be blowing up at this point.  It is also at this point that Kate tells us some wonderful and unexpected news: we can take home all the food we don't finish.  All this time, my wife and I were thinking that this was just like any other free tasting in which they would take back anything  we didn't finish.  We were wrong as Kate brought out a stack of to-go boxes and we started to fill them up.  This was awesome, not only we were getting a feast fit for a king, at no cost with a manager being our personal server and guide, but we got to keep all of it as well.  Hail to the king, baby.

Kate comes out with the final nail, the last punch and the two dishes left that completely ruined us.  The first one out from the American menu selection was a Chili Mac & Cheese.  This mac & cheese had a spicy chili on top of it as well.

The second dish that they gave us was an instant winner: Truffle Mac & Cheese.  Many years ago when I started watching Food Network television, I became interested in truffles and eventually tried them and loved them.  A quick stop at Whole Foods where I purchased truffle oil quickly spring boarded me onto the truffle bandwagon.  My wife and I were using that truffle infused oil for everything from stir fry to popcorn.  I love the taste of truffles and this restaurant does the same thing.  The Truffle Mac & Cheese is made by basically cooking everything with truffle oil.  Even the mushrooms, I believe they were procini mushrooms, Kate may have said, were cooked in the truffle oil so it tasted as if they were each truffles.

Now is the part of the tasting that I had just about everything boxed up and we are all finished, filled to the brim.  Just then our new friend Kate shows up with another tray of food, this time, as sandwiches.  She brought us The Med Duo which has chicken and tons of vegetables with a Med dressing.

We also had another kind of sandwich on that same plate.  The second one was the Wisconsin Cheesesteak Duo, which I didn't get a bite but everyone else was very happy with.  We are full, beyond full and our bellies are in pain with so much good food.  Just when we thought it was over, it almost was.  Next was dessert.  What? Really?  Kate really expects us to eat anything else?  I had food that was comparable in taste and satisfaction as some expensive restaurants in town.  Kate comes out with dessert and my 5 year old's jaw hits the floor.  A selection of giant cookies and rice krispy treats large enough to use as bricks for a castle.

Let me tell you now, that the only thing which I did not try on this table was the Wisconsin Cheesesteak Duo sandwich.  I tried a little bite of everything else and was happy with everything. The great thing about the Noodles & Company is that their prices are extremely reasonable, with most of those noodle dishes being less than $6 even as a regular bowl which is normally just $5.39.  This is a lot of food for such a small price and by the silence at our table, for most of the tasting, the mac & cheese dishes should keep your kids calm and quiet.

Thanks to the Noodles & Company staff for keeping up with us and thanks to Kate for taking care of us.  Thanks also to the store manager, Alex Cedeno for contacting me and setting this all up and for having us.  It was our first tasting experience anywhere and it was quite a very good evening.   If any of these pictures looked good or tasty, please go over to the Noodles & Company at the South County Mall, or wherever one is near you and go in.