Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Why was this in the clearance section???

As I admitted to earlier, I have a penchant for looking through and buying things on the clearance shelf at Dierburgs.  Last week I saw something for $2 and while it was still $2 I thought about it and bought it anyway.  It was a bottle of chocolate cupcake Shake n' Pour.

I know, it may seem a bit lazy, but it has a really simple concept: measure the water, pour it in and shake and bake.  It was really easy.  So, I did just that.  I pre-heated my oven, took out my silicone muffin wraps and then started to get everything ready.  You shake the bottle for as little as one minute and that is all that is needed.

Now, what came out of the oven, in the time mentioned on the back, was perfect moist and chocolate cupcakes.  Now, they were very moist, like super moist chocolate cake and they tasted good, not like other bad instant chocolate cupcake mixes.  You know, like those other dollar store brands where the chocolate taste has this metal flavor, reminiscent of a mouthful of pennies?  Not here though.

The cake is rich and while my sons and I inhale these cupcakes I wonder "why this was in the clearance section?"  There was no bad chemicals, no high fructose corn syrup and nothing bad.  So, it seems it was just pulled off of the shelf because the company was no longer promoting it.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Welcome to the White Knight

Back in the early 1950's, a family opened a small diner downtown.  They called their small diner: The White Knight Diner.  The small diner, held about 16-18 people and was situated at a busy intersection of what is now near 18th and Olive.  From what you can see now, driving about, this was perhaps the only restaurant for many years downtown.  Unlike other restaurants that come and go downtown, this diner has been open, since the 1950's.  It wasn't closed down for a bit through the years, it wasn't closed down to remodel it and it doesn't even close down when the weather is bad.  The diner is there and looks just like it did, 60 something years ago.

What you have inside, is a large American Flag, lots of pictures and other memorabilia, white metal sheets on the walls and ceiling and a small cook's line behind a counter.  It looks like any other diner would. But while it may look like it has been stuck in a time warp for the past half century, the food is great and it has very reasonable prices.  They serve lunch and breakfast all day and even have a Facebook and Foursquare page, which is always a plus.

So, what did I order?  Well, it was 10:20 on a Wednesday morning.  My wife was at the dentist downtown and I had time to spare.  Whenever we are downtown, for one reason or another, we see this diner but have never gone in, much less I never knew that it was even there or had been there this long!  Basically, I walked in to look around, I was still full from my breakfast at 9:00 am and decided to try to order a burger and see how it was.  I mean, the burger was 1/4 pound and was only $2.59!  So, I ordered it and when I got it, it tasted great.  It was a simple but perfect burger, like the kind you would get at 5 Guys Burgers and Fries.  It was just a simple burger and cooked right and with all of the other things on the bun, it was just perfect for a mid morning snack, or second breakfast as my wife would put it.  

So, what did I think?  I would give the burger a simple 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars.  Was it high tech? No.  Was it something new that I had never had? No.  Was it good and would I order it again?  Yes.  Would I suggest it and this place to others?  Yes.  It was actually so good, that even though I was still full and not very hungry, I wasn't expecting to eat the whole thing and I did anyway.  It was very good.  

If you are downtown, and looking for a good burger, don't go to TGI Fridays and don't go to Hooters: Go to White Knight Diner.  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Where are my golfing foodies?

Hey golfers, or old golfers, this is for you.  This year, the 2013 Senior PGA golf tournament will be held at Bellerive Country Club.  This is the 74th one and is here in St. Louis.  While this may attract several golfers or fans of the game, what makes this special, is that Kitchen Aid is the main sponsor.  Still, you may think that the event which goes from May 21 to 26 may still be of no big deal to you; fans of food.  But what makes this awesome is that there will be "celebrity and local chef appearances, interactive cooking and product demonstrations, a golf simulator and much more."

Sounds pretty cool right?  Here is what they sent me to share:

KitchenAid Fairway Club Schedule of Events 
Thursday, May 23
• 1:00–2:00 p.m. – Chef Andrew Zimmern (Bizarre Foods America – Travel Channel)
• 2:30–3:30 p.m. – Chef Anthony Devoti (Five Bistro)
Friday, May 24
• 1:00–2:00 p.m. – Chef Cat Cora (Around the World in 80 Plates – Bravo)
• 2:30–3:30 p.m. – Chef Kevin Storm (Bellerive Country Club)
Saturday, May 25
• 1:00–2:00 p.m. – Chefs Pat & Gina Neely (Down Home With the Neelys – Food Network)
• 2:30–3:30 p.m. – Chef Jack MacMurray (Schneithorst’s Restaurant & Bar)

Cookin’ and Rockin’ for the Cure 

What: Following the second round of Championship play on Friday, May 24, KitchenAid will host Cookin’ and Rockin’ for the Cure to benefit Cook for the Cure ®, the KitchenAid brand’s partnership with Susan G.
Komen and the fight against breast cancer.

Who: Celebrity chefs Pat & Gina Neely – a conversation and cocktail demonstration.

St. Louis chef cook off – renowned St. Louis Chefs Jack MacMurray & Frank McGinty will battle in a cook-off with a secret ingredient where the audience decides the winners.

An Intimate Unplugged Evening with Rock N Roll Hall of Famer and founding member of Traffic: Dave Mason.

When: Friday, May 24; 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Where: Palladium St. Louis
1400 Park Ave
St Louis, MO 63104

Info: Visit for tickets and more information

So, look at it this way, tickets pay for the event and seeing such greats as these.  If I didn't have work, I would go and see them and hear them.

He hasn't steered me wrong yet

I have to be honest, not since Fr. Dominic or Chef Jeff Smith have I watched a chef on television and then been able to actually put into practice what they preach and have found myself with equal or better results than what I have expected; than with Alton Brown.  I have to be honest, that a lot of what I know, I learned from these three television personalities.

When I was young, and hungry, I remember waking up on Saturday mornings and watching cartoons.  None of this crazy CGI stuff, the television of my childhood played G.I. Joe, Transformers, Voltron, Gummi Bears,  He-Man and Thundercats.  I remember that you could watch all of these until about noon-time when the original Star Trek was on channel 30.  So, we watched Star Trek.  After Star Trek, were the cooking shows. In the 1980's, the show to watch was called The Frugal Gourmet and stared a chef by the name of Jeff Smith.  Jeff Smith was just an awesome guy and wasn't a stuff chef, but reminded me of an early friendly Emeril-type of personality.  He was known to laugh, joke and even make fun with guests on his show.  He had written several cookbooks which have won awards.  His show, aired 261 episodes!  According to The Seattle Times, he was considered to be a "Food genius" in the industry.  He knew about some science but as much as you could know in the 80's.  That was the first person that really spoke to me and gave me an interest in cooking.  He made it seem like cooking was so fun and there was so much to it that he didn't leave the viewer in the dark.  He explained why he was doing something, why he would use foil instead of paper or why he wanted to use butter instead of oil.  He explained things and to someone that liked watching cooking shows for enjoyment, it was a bit of learning to go with that as well.

In the 1990's, as Jeff Smith's show was coming to an end, a new show took his spot.  The new show, was called Breaking Bread with Fr. Dominic.  It was an interesting format, but it had an older man, who was nice, friendly and explained things.  What made Fr. Dominic similar, besides these past items, is that he actually new much of the science behind bread and baking and did a good job explaining it.  It was a weird show at first, watching a guy, in a robe, at a monastery, teach about cooking and baking but he knew what he was talking about.  Every afternoon, I'd watch his show and watch it with the ideas that at one time, I'd like to learn and cook bread on my own.  It is him, who I think of every time I would roll out dough on my board, on my counter-top.  When my wife and I first moved into our house, I would try to bake bread at least once a month, but it was soon becoming a hassle, with kids.  You have to mix and let dough rise, then knead and rise, then knead and rise again, then shape and rise and then bake.  So, while it seemed like a perfect activity to do on a sunny fall or spring morning, with kids who want to leave the house and do something outside, it became more and more difficult to do.  While I still enjoy the feeling and smells of the kneading bread dough between your hands and fingers, right now a bread machine has taken over to still give me that required bread loaf at least once a week now.    

Now, in the late 1990's, a new show took over my favorite spot and featured an odd chef who seemed to explain so much about the reason and science about food, that it was starting to feel like a classroom activity or demonstration.  Alton Brown launched Good Eats and it turned a regular cooking show, where 3-4 dishes would be prepared, ahead of time, to one where 3-4 dishes would be prepared, using real-time and explained.  At this time, the only other way that yeast was explained easily enough for me was with Fr. Dominic and now explained by Alton Brown.  Alton uses a wide assortment of visual aids, to explain everything from yeast to the chemical composition of milk and all while keeping my interest.  It is also important to note, that just like the previously mentioned chefs, everything that Alton has published, works.  Everything that he has said, works as well.  My wife noticed the other day that taking individual lettuce leaves and wrapping each in a paper towel and then wrapping them in plastic, seemed to make them last longer than just throwing them into a vegetable drawer in the fridge.  This is something that he recommended.  I made pocket pies using a recipe that he had published online and it works just fine for those as well.  So far, not since the earlier chefs, have I found recipes that seem to have worked each and every time.

So, as the title states, if you are looking for something new and wanted to try out a recipe, I suggest looking up something that Alton Brown has done, or look for his shows, which are being replayed again on Food network.  His shows are full of information and much like the other two chefs I have listed, he knows what he is talking about.  He isn't some next food network star whose show will dissipate and be off the air in a week.  Alton Brown is obviously a gold mine when it comes to people like me who want to cook good food but also know why and how it becomes good food.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Back to Fired UP! (BBQ Food Porn)

Last week, I had to run to the Ozarks for business and as such, only had one hour to eat lunch.  Where did I go?  Fired UP!  I haven't been to Fired Up in a few months and thought it was a good trip to see if anything had changed.  What was interesting, was that our server told us that there is a new, huge menu, coming out.  The new menu isn't just because it is summer time, but also because the restaurant is growing.  Good for them.

So, what should I get?  Fire Up is know for the smoker and BBQ, but if their other food was just as good?  "What if, their burgers were as good as their BBQ", I wondered.  Well, that is what I had ordered.  One of the guys I was with ordered the one pound of smoked sausage and that came out on a nice new plate.  No more plastic baskets here.

So, of course, this was delicious and we get it every time, or at least this time and last time.  If you like smoked sausage, a bit on the spicy side and cut on the bias for the best bite, then this is for you.  This is an easy 3 and 1/2 stars out of 5, so eat it up as it is Very good.

Now, what I had ordered next, just for me, I gave a 4 out of 5.  It is awesome, as in, go and try it at all costs.  I ordered a burger, I think it was called the Smokehouse Burger.  I then picked my usual sides of potatoes dripping in melted butter and cornbread.  The burger was a 1/4 pound burger, and was likely cooked and then placed in a smoker, because it did have a smoke ring around it.

This burger is freakin' delicious.  You want to see what makes it so good?

When you take the top bun off, you see this.  What is this?  That is chopped, smoked, bacon.  The burger, besides being perfectly seasoned and cooked perfectly, and smokey, has bacon all over the top of it.  How could you not want this?  Is your mouth watering yet?  Every bite was smack fun of smokey flavor, and then bacon goodness and then that perfectly salty burger.  Not overly salty, but enough salt that makes you realize that it is tasty beef, like how a good steak has a good amount of salt or how a good loaf of bread has some tasty sea salt on top.  The bacon was smokey, just that slight bit of crunch needed and then tender, not quite crispy or crunchy but almost.  The burger was heavenly.

So, make sure you go there, before they get too busy:
You can see them on Facebook, here:

Monday, May 6, 2013

I'm guilty

I sin every time we go to Dierburgs.  I shop and tend to hoard items in the Clearance section.  You have the most profitable Dierburgs in the St. Louis area, with tons of space and items from almost most of the countries and then you have about six 6 foot long shelves with maybe 20-30 items on them that have been discounted beyond all means.  I can't help it, I think I spend the most time in the store on anything, looking at these items.

Who wouldn't be interested in 12 day old doughnuts for $2?  What about a 1 pound package of all-purpose flour that has a taped up tear on the side of it of $1.50?  What about an energy drink for $1 or even a bottle of Shake and Pour chocolate cupcakes for $2?  I admit that while some of the items are just disgusting, like toothpaste flavored candies or that energy drink that was supposed to be acai berry and grape and tasted like overly watered down kool-aid.  But some things, are just things that will not look good on the stores and they can still make a buck on.  I will buy anything for those prices using the same set of standards that I use for my other shopping.  I check the expiration dates, ingredient lists and even the structure and stability of the packaging.  I also notice how quickly they are to remove seasonal items, like a cereal that has material on it no longer relevant as those with contest, give-aways or sweepstakes.  But still, $1 for a box of name-brand cereal is still good.

You can say what you want, but I think there are savable things on those shelves.  What about you, do you shop the clearance shelves?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Back to Basso

There are a few places that I love in St. Louis.  These places have a perfect combination of food, service and atmosphere.  With so many things changing in this city, St. Louis still has an issue deciding whether it wants to do things on its own or try to follow in the footsteps of East or West Coast big name cities.  Night clubs on Washington Avenue tend to try to play the music and make the feeling of New York or LA clubs but fail in doing so.  Just because it works there doesn't mean it will work here.  In the same token, I have seen restaurants with ideas which may work well in California try and fail here in the Mid West.  What has to be done for a successful restaurant here, is to work with the culture and foods that are present here. Don't try to make a bar as good as those in Las Vegas, don't try to have great food like that of New York and don't try to have impeccable service like Beirut.  What you should do, is make something unique and St. Louis.

Enter Chef Patrick Connolly, who is not only "like us" and from St. Louis, but he learned and worked and cooked and moved East where he became big, famous and earned a James Beard Award.  Then after working in more restaurants and earning more praise he came back and worked here.  Now, while all of this may sound humble and modest, let's be honest: the man comes up with some great food ideas. Basso tries to use everything seasonal and locally farmed or raised.  If Missouri beef is good enough for the high priced steak houses in Las Vegas, I'd say that it is good enough for the nice gastro-pubs here.  As I stated earlier, Basso does everything with a nod and twist of Italian flare.  While it may not seem as authentic and on the nose as other fine Italian eateries in the area, you can see the spark and the enjoy the flavors that bring just about every dish back to Italy.  

Now, the last time we had eaten at Basso, was late February and my wife and I enjoyed everything about it.  This time, we had brought two more people and they had not known that this place was here, but were ready for adventure.  The cool thing with Basso, is that they serve "Family style" and this means that you order some plates and share some plates.  This doesn't mean that there is too much food though, it is a nice and romantic enough place that a couple could order 4 plates and be full and happy without having extras.

Also, as Chef Robert Irvine or the guys behind Mystery Diners or Restaurant Stakeout know, a restaurant still counts on the service and even here at Basso, Blaise has done an awesome job as Service Manager as everything in the front of the house is run perfect.  No one waits too long for anything, the waiters and bussers are friendly and talkative.  They also know about the things on the menu and ave their favorites as well.  They don't try to sell or push things that are expensive and like to actually ask and please you, while there. So, even though I want to say and talk about the food, let me be clear that the service is perfect.   

We had ordered several things and saw that first of all, from our awesome dining location: at the kitchen bar, the menu had changed since the last time we had been there.  It is a clear sign that a menu is based on accessible items and seasonal ingredients, when you notice that the menu items change from time to time.  With just a few things still on the menu from last time, we went ahead and ordered a bunch of new things to try.

The first thing we had ordered was the Caprese Salad.  The Salad was tomatoes, basil and some cheese in the middle.  It had a nice vinegar and oil dressing and tasted fresh, clean and savory.  It wasn't too sweet from the tomatoes and it wasn't too savory from the pepper and basil.  I'd give it a 3 out of 5.

Then we got the baked lamb meatballs, which had these little meatballs, in a cast-iron skillet, with sauce, crumbled cheese on top and these balls of polenta.  The meatballs were moist and delicious and sprinkled with fresh oregano.  The polenta was perfectly cooked and great in the sauce.  The sauce was not too sweet and worked just well.  I'd say a good 4 out of 5.

So then we order the potato gnocchi which was potato gnocchi and some roasted mushrooms, tarragon, pecorino and all served in what tasted like a white wine reduction.  It was delicious and furthermore was so good that if I had stopped in for lunch, in the future, I'd get this for myself, for my meal.  So, good and so ....good.  I'd throw 4 stars at them right now.

For a pizza, we ordered the Ramper's Delight, which had ramp greens, fennel, fontina, prosciutto and some lemon.  The pizza was quite awesome.  All pizzas are cooked in their wood fire oven and unlike other places that claim to have a wood fire oven, to the back wall, next to the kitchen is a huge wall of chopped wood, which fuels the fire!  The pizza gave you the smokey flavor from the wood, the crispy-ness from the crust, and the wonderful play of the lemon sauce drizzled over the pieces of greens, fennel and meat.  It was very nice and very good.  Last time we had the Donald pizza, and this one was way better.  I'd say another 4 out of 5 on this one.

Now, for desserts: we had ordered the cookies, which were six yummy cookies.  The tiramisu, was plated in a small 8 ounce mason jar and was inhaled by the two women sitting at the bar with me. The lemon cheesecake, was also a big winner.  All good enough to get at 3 out of 5.

 So, what are my final thoughts?

If you are looking for a great lunch, go here and get a great pizza.
If you are looking for a nice and romantic night out, go here and get the kitchen bar area.
If you are looking for a place with good drinks and great food to watch the Blues, come to the bar in the center of the restaurant.
If the prices were less, so I could afford it,  I would bring my wife there every weekend.
The food is great, having been there now 2 times having had over 10 items from their menu, there has not been a bad one yet.  The service is perfect, everyone is friendly and you are likely going to get a big thank you when you leave.  Go here now!
Basso on Urbanspoon