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.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I never win anything

Well, at least that is what I tell myself with each time I throw that losing lottery ticket into the trash.  However, yesterday was something different.  I have business cards made up for this blog.  Some are simple and nice while others actually say "You have been reviewed" on them.  I try to leave at least one at every restaurant that I go to so I can write up a review of my experience and post it here, online.
Anyway, my wife and kids frequent the Noodles Company restaurant outside of the South County Mall, at least once every two weeks.  So, I entered my business cards into the drawing and just for fun, thought it would be fun to win, and well, I did.

What I won, was a tasting menu, served by a manager, on an evening of my choice.  Me and up to 5 others are invited and we get a free meal.  While this seems like a great idea, I just can't wait.  I look forward to my meal.  It is tonight (the 15th) at 7:00pm.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

what is the Nawgan drink?

You have probably seen the item on drink shelves and were a bit curious.  The large Red Bull sized cans have a drawing of a brain on the can and then in bold letters it says "nawgan".  It says it has caffeine and is not carbonated.  So, in the illustrious words of Cat from Red Dwarf: "Yeah, but what is it?"

It is touted as a brain drink.  The theory is that there is a certain chemical that stimulates brain function and basically causes the receptors in your brain to work better.  They, the medical people of the world, think that this makes people able to think more clearly and more efficiently.  The problem of course is that this is just a theory and they are still not 100% sure what it does.

What this drink has, unlike many other energy drinks that I am used to, is different chemicals and vitamins.  It has Citicoline (which is this chemical that increase nerve activity in the brain), Alpha-Glyceryl Phosphoryl Choline (which is a form of that neurotransmitter chemical that helps increase brain function), Lycopene (which is the antioxidant found in red foods which has been shown to fight against some cancers) and d-Alpha Tocopheryl Acetate (which is a form of Vitamin E).  Unlike the other energy drinks, which mostly have B vitamins that help the body pull more energy out of the foods you eat, this one is mostly filled with things that increase brain activity; including caffeine.

So, it says that it works, yet when the caffeine free one was ingested at about 10pm, it didn't help my wife nor I stay awake or stay alert longer.  I am trying the "Tarocco Orange" flavor which is supposed to taste like Blood Orange.  The problem is that it doesn't taste very orangy.  The drink tastes like someone left a diet orange soda out for a few days, allowing it to get completely flat and then watered that drink down.  The orange flavor in it is so mild and shallow that it doesn't register as being orange or tasty to me.

I'd give the drink a 2 out of 5.  The issue is that it is impossible to tell whether it works best or not at what it does.  Every morning changes things for me, whether it was a the amount of sleep I acquired the night before or how sound or deep I slept at night and so forth.  All of those factors are in the equation of whether or how active my brain is the next morning or the next day.  So far though, it looks as if I'd rather take my general energy drink than this one.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where are the truffles, at Truffles?

I admit, one of my most favorite things in the world is: Irony.  I love seeing things that are either described for what they are not or named for something they are not.  One of my favorite examples of irony has to do with the names of cars and vehicles in the automotive industry.  For instance: an SUV called an Armada, when an armada is a group of warships from Spain.  A single vehicle, is not an armada, it is a single vehicle.  I also like the car that is called a Rendezvous.  A rendezvous is a location for a meeting, as in, a bar may be a rendezvous spot.  A car, by its very nature, cannot be a static meeting spot because it moves around. You cannot suggest to meet by the blue Rendezvous on Memorial Drive, unless you know for certain that the vehicle will not move and remain stationary no matter what.  A moving meeting place, doesn't really act as a reliable meeting place.

So, first off, at Truffles, there was nothing on the menu that had truffles in it.  That is ironic because the restaurant is named Truffles!  If I opened a restaurant called Tasty Pizza and didn't serve pizza, that would be ironic.  Now, apart from a bad walk down the nomenclature aisle, the restaurant is very nice and should be visited.

My wife and I went there to celebrate my birthday and we went there because Niche didn't have an open spot, even 3 days ahead, before 9:30pm, 30 minutes before they close.  But that is another story; http://tasty-magazine.blogspot.com/2011/10/niche-best-of-luck-because-im-your.html.

The restaurant is nice, from the outside, it has large windows, which look blacked-out.  On the inside, it is made to look like a fine Italian restaurant, complete with large stained glass dome in the ceiling and fake wooden walls and windows on the inside. Let's just say that on the outside, it looks like a normal red brick building and on the inside looks so much nicer.  My wife and I were given a nice seat and we started our fun, which was looking at the menu and trying to decide what to get.

They started to get our attention by giving us a very knowledgeable waiter who was filled with book-smarts but no street smarts.  For instance, he was okay with us mentioning to him that we were foodies, but then he explained to us what Swiss Chard was.  They eventually gave us some bread and butter spread.  The bread tasted like a small Italian bread with some added sugar for sweetness.  The spread was like someone took some butter and added large amounts of parsley, olive oil and basil.  It was tasty and better than the normal bread and butter.

Next we ordered our starters and I wanted something different.  I have cooked with beef marrow before, having used it to make some great tasting beef stock and soup base.  So, I thought it would be a huge risk, as in something that neither my wife or I had ever done before.  My wife wanted to try something new and ordered the "Housemade Salumi   |   chef’s selection of three, seasonal garnish, crostini." whcih she really enjoyed and was an interesting mix of what the restaurant is capable of.  The only issue that my wife had was in the explanation of what it was.  The waiter explained that there was a preservative of an inedible fruit that they make edible.  He used "preservative" where he meant to say "preserve" and he didn't explain it that well. But overall, my wife loved everything on the dish and would likely say a good 3&1/2 out of 5 stars on this.
I had picked the "Roasted Bone Marrow   |   pistachios, capers, crostone, herb salad" which is shown below the salumi dish.  My wife thought it so primal yet elegant to eat the mushy insides of a cow's bone, but yet have it flavored so balanced and tasty that you could eat it right from the bone using those little spoons.  The taste wasn't super beefy, but just beefy enough that it went perfect with the Italian herbs and olive oil  I was in love, especially with the thyme that was the "herb salad".  When you smeared the marrow mix onto a piece of toast and then sprinkled some of the herb on top, it was super delicious.  It tasted unlike anything I ever tasted before and the wonderfulness of eating something this unusual for me, was so good.  Considering that it was tasty and new to both of us, I gave it a 5 out of 5 stars.

My wife then had her turn to pick something interesting and then chose "Cocoa Maccheroni   |   duck ragu, rosemary, piave stravecchio".  We had it explained to us, even though I have made pasta, from scratch at home before.  I have even made chocolate pasta, which isn't sweet, so we had an idea of what we were getting ourselves into.  We ordered it and it came in time.
It was a very tasty dish.  The pasta was cooked perfectly, the flavor was spread out evenly among the dish so there wasn't a big pile of one thing in one spot, like a bunch of duck one one spot and none in another.  It was as if this dish was mathamatically designed so it would have been spread out evenly everywhere.  It was also very earthy as you tasted that duck, along with just a faint hint of the cocoa.  I think we gave it a 3&1/2 again.  My wife did point out that when it was first served to her, it was white on brown on brown.  It could have used some color to it and in a location where almost ever dish had basil in it, I was surprised that there wasn't a bit on top, either sprinkled or even for garnish.

I wanted to order some venison, but because it was out, I ordered the "Beef Shortrib   |   ragu genovese, smoked olive oil".  It was great.  It was beefy and had what tasted like a normal scoop of regular store bought Italian sauce on top of it.  Besides how simple it seemed, it was delicious and was a good 3 out of 5 for me.
It had the down to earth beef flavor mixed lightly in this rich Italian sauce with basil and some mushrooms.  It was good and really seemed to work well together.

Sides were a big decision as so many looked good.  I think my wife felt green deprived with her pasta dish and so decided on the "braised winter greens with garlic, sicilian anchovy and preserved lemon."  There was a large issue with this dish being that it was very, very wet.  She thought it would be more like a salad, with some dressing on it.  But the greens were over-cooked and reminded me of a dish that someone would make with frozen greens.  They were broken, watery and flavorless.  I think this got a 2 out of 5 stars.
I picked something that can never be screwed up:potatoes.  I picked the "roasted carola potatoes with olives, garlic and parsley" and it was so perfectly done, just like it should be.  Each small potato was perfectly cooked through, not too soft and mushy and not to hard and crisp.  They were perfectly seasoned as well as normal potato dishes are sometimes too salty and this was just right.  A 3 out of 5 for me.

All-in-all, I'd say that Truffles was a very good restaurant.  If you combine some great food selections with some great ideas, you get this restaurant.  While it wasn't what I was hoping for, it did the best job it could providing me and my wife with a lovely evening.  I suggest going to Truffles, even if you don't try calling Niche first.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Candy, candy, Samhain

In the immortal words of Garfield "Candy, candy, candy!"

Halloween is over and as kids all over the US get over their sugar hang-overs, I'm here at work, still munching on some of my favorite candies.  I have a Twix, Snickers, 3 Musketeers and a Milky Way.  I wanted to write about something so I figured, candy is a good idea.  Everyone loves candy, even those who are not supposed to eat it still eat it.  So, while I try to separate the good candy from the bad candy and then throw out the high fructose corn syrup laded candy, I tend to think, sometimes after my chocolate coma, about how the candy was made.  Now, I have tried to make my own candy at home and it isn't an easy task.

So, anyway, Halloween is basically the American form of Samhain.  Samhain is a Gaelic harvest festival that runs on October 31st and November 1st.  In old Irish culture, Samhain was the end of the Fall and the beginning of Winter, which is characterized by the end of the fall harvest.  In history, people gathered together, had harvest parties, made bonfires and slaughtered livestock before the winter.  In the later centuries, people would wear masks and costumes in order to ward off any spirits or demons. I would guess then these people would then go door to door and offer to scare away the evil of the home or building in return for payment. Which is where trick-or-treating came from.  Foods that we associate with Halloween were typical fall and harvest foods, like corn, apples and nuts.

Now, Halloween is basically, just the trick-or-treating part of Samhain.  For instance, apparently the carving of pumpkins came from the Christians who carved turnips to resemble their dead family members for All Souls Day.  Halloween, means the day before All Hallows Day, as in All Holy Day as in All Souls Day.  There was also this old idea, and I think it has pagan ties, that the spirit world's barrier is thinnest on the day before All Saint's Day.  This causes many spirits and ghosts to pass over or at least try to pass through.  So, by dressing up, humans are able to scare these spirits back to their own side.  This idea is the reason why the demons of many a horror movie and story, always seem to strike on Halloween.

Okay, back to the candy...

The four candy bars I have in front of me, are from the same company: Mars.  Mars candy was started by Frank Mars, whose mother taught him to make candy when he was young and he started selling his own candies by age 19.  The first time he started his company, it failed and it wasn't until he started a second company where it was later incorporated into the Mars company we have today.  The company is still family owned and makes many numerous candies as well as other labels under their own, such as Uncle Ben's.

Snickers, brings in about $2 billion dollars a year, just from that one kind of candy bar.  The bar was invented in 1930 and named after Frank's favorite horse.

Twix stands for twin sticks.

Milky Way was invented in 1923 as the first distributed filled chocolate bar.  Its flavor comes from malted milk, like a milkshake.  It is a milky way of making the candy bar and was named after this idea, not the galaxy.

3 Musketeers was invented in 1932 and originally the package had 3 small bars inside: a strawberry, vanilla and chocolate malt bar.  During the war when sugar was tight, they phased out the strawberry and vanilla and kept the chocolate.

What is great to see, is as of today, on their website, Mars does not use High Fructose Corn Syrup in their candy bars.  They use the same family secret recipes as Frank learned from his mom, probably almost a hundred years ago.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Go Cards!

So, while walking through the local grocery store, I saw this:
Mr. Albert Pujols's is standing there in his cardboard self, selling me an protein shake.  How could I say no to him, right?  So I bought a chocolate flavored one.
Was it good?  Well, it tasted like every other milk based protein shake out there.  It tasted just like Muscle Milk and had about the same amount of vitamins and nutrients in it.  Even more so, 32 grams of protein is a lot or protein.  With a daily suggestion of about 50 grams of protein for an adult, this covers about half of your day-s worth.  A single 8 ounce glass of whole milk, has 8 grams of protein.  So, is it possible to get your needed amount by not eating meat?  Yeah, but easier if you do eat meat.  My kids normally eat a chicken nugget happy meal and there is about 3 grams of protein per nugget.