Monday, April 7, 2014

7 Ridiculous Rules About Food

I'm not big on "rules".  You might find this perplexing, since I'm an attorney and all.  But here's the thing, practicing law is about bending the rules or getting around them.  If everyone blindly followed all the rules all the time, we wouldn't need lawyers!  (Perish the thought!)  Since I'm an attorney AND a foodie you can guess my stance on rules as related to food.  When it comes to food there are no rules.

Too many times I thought a certain combo was just beyond the possibility of delicious, only to be proved wrong.  Eating new foods and new food combos is really about being adventurous.  Many people in the U.S. tend to think of peanut butter as being paired with sweet things; with jelly on a sandwich, in cookies, etc.  Did you ever consider mixing peanut butter with vinegar, ginger, tomato paste and lime juice?  It's called satay sauce, and it's amazing IMO.  It is generally served with grilled meats in the far east, but is also delicious on just about anything from veggies to noodles.  Those same far east places - many of them have never heard of, let alone considered putting peanut butter on bread and adding jelly!

Remember Elvis's famous favorite sandwich of bananas, peanut butter and bacon on grilled bread?  Sounds odd, tastes delicious.  Any food combo could be the next Elvis sandwich, you just never know.  If we all follow these "rules" we're never going to find that next awesome umami creation.  I've even heard, more than once, about a depression era sandwich involving peanut butter, mayo and lettuce.  I still have not had the guts to try it, but those who have raved about it!

Consider for example ketchup on ice cream.  Sounds disgusting right?  Now what if I told you about artisinal tomato gelato with candied basil leaves?  That seems more "foodie adventure" and less "gross" right?  Initially this food combo sounded downright nasty, now ... not so much.  Remember the viewpoint on sushi in the 70's and early 80's?  Raw fish?!?  EGADS!  Now, even most supermarkets have pre-made sushi on hand, and sushi restaurants are in every suburban shopping mall.  It all came about because someone was brave enough to at least taste it.  Perspective and the willingness to have an open mind (and an open mouth) is key.

Maybe savory inspired desserts are not your thing.  That brings me to my next point.  Just because you don't like it doesn't mean someone else won't.  And that's what chafes me about food "rules".  Worldwide, folks eat some pretty amazing and sometimes questionable things.  Sometimes it's about necessity, other times tradition, and the best reason of all - maybe they just LIKE IT.  Food rules are about snobs trying to force others to adhere to their palates.  Eating is such an individualized experience, there's no reason to limit that.  If you want one special person's take on food, then eat a meal they made and delight in experiencing the love of food from their point of view.  This is what it's all about when you chose a restaurant based on the chef (famous or not) that developed the menu and/or cooks there.  But don't think for a second that their tastes should influence what goes on in your kitchen, more blatantly, in your mouth, unless you want them to.

What is this all leading up to?  This article that I came across while bouncing around the interwebs.  Gone are the days when red wine is only supposed to accompany red meat and white wine should be paired with fish.  I tend to agree that most red wine will overpower the delicate taste of fish, but I'm not about to make a RULE about it.  I'm certainly not going to look down my nose at you if you enjoy them together.  Here's the thing, I tend to think that cheese (with rare exception) overpowers the taste of ground beef; yet cheeseburgers are a staple of the American diet.  It doesn't matter if we agree on that point, because here's the thing, I'm not eating from your plate and you're not eating from mine!

This article starts out with the premise that ketchup + hot dog = blasphemy.  Apparently only mustard will do for the oh so revered hot dog.  First of all, hot dogs are nothing but lips and assholes anyway, so why do we need to get snooty about it??  These are not gourmet German sausages whose delicate flavor balance will be ruined by tomato paste and vinegar.  It is literally the scraps of meat boiled down and thrown into a casing.  They are delicious hot off a grill or plucked from hot water on a city street corner, but which condiment you chose is not going to disturb your culinary experience here.  Heck, in Chile they serve hot dogs with copious amounts of mayonnaise! Second, mustard and ketchup are completely different flavors. It's apples and oranges, and I am more likely to use both or neither on a hot dog than to chose between them.  If Andrew Zimmern has taught me anything, it is that you never know what food combo could be a gold mine of flavor and deliciousness, so don't limit yourself!.

One of my favorite things to eat for lunch is tuna fish with mayo and oregano along side sweet pickled bell peppers.  Hubby HATES finned fish, mayo in any incarnation and bell peppers.  My enjoyable meal is his nightmare.  HE, on the other hand, eats this monstrosity he calls a  "baconator", which includes bacon (obviously), boudin, pepper jack and jalapenos.  Just the smell of it nauseates me.  But he likes it, and good for him!  (Note:  I may post that recipe the next time he makes it, because who knows if any of you will enjoy it as well.)

So let's look at some of these "rules":

1. Steak should never be ordered cooked more than medium rare.  I tend to agree on this one.  I'm not saying it should be a rule, you've got the right to chow down on dry shoe leather if you want to.  I do agree that you're depriving yourself of a better eating experience, but I'm not going to be obnoxious about, like some steak houses, who refuse to serve well done meat.  You paid for it, eat it how you like it, just don't send it back to the kitchen when they do as you requested.  On the other end of the spectrum,  I don't care for rare steaks either.  By definition, rare has a "cold center".  If I wanted my meat raw, I would have ordered tar tar.

2. Don’t eat french fries with mayonnaise—this includes aioli. This makes no sense.  A potato is basically a blank canvas that you can pair with anything from curry to ketchup, from tuna salad (looking at you U.K) to cheese and gravy (helloo there Canada!).  You want mayo on those fries - go for it!  Mayo AND ketchup - yes please!  What's that?  Mayo and fries are "weird"?  Have you ever heard of POTATO SALAD?  Ya know, that ubiquitous bowl of *gasp* cooked potatoes and mayo served at barbeques all the live long day.

3. Adults shouldn’t drink milk.  Yes, yes I know the whole argument about milk being for mammal babies and that most adult mammals, except humans, don't drink it.  Other adult mammals also eat all of their food raw and have sex in front of their peers.  So you go ahead if that flips your wig, just don't say I didn't warn you. I'm all about the dairy because ... ice cream!  and cheese! and yogurt!  and butter! and ..... Are you lactose intolerant or otherwise allergic to milk?  That's unfortunate - more cheese for me!

4. Never put ice in wine. Even on a hot day. Even if it’s a cheap bottle of rosé.  Why?  I'm not a wine drinker, so maybe I'm missing something here, but I don't see the big deal.  We put ice in cocktails.  Yes, I know it waters it down.  Whole diatribes on this sort of thing have been written when it comes to hard liquor, and people really get their underwear in a twist. It all comes down to what you like.  Maybe folks want a little extra water with their alcohol for varying reasons - to stave off a hangover, to nurse their drink longer, or just because they enjoy cold wine ans don't have the time or inclination to chill the entire bottle.  Personally I like all of my "cold" drinks ridiculously cold, ice crystals in my milk is just fine, even beer needs to be almost freezing (calm down Britain, I know you like your liquids room temperature and your beer slightly warm, just sit down and sip on that pint and it will all be ok).  

5. No cheese on seafood, including when it’s mixed with pasta.  I'm generally not a fan of this, but I can see why some folks would enjoy it.  And there are some noted exception; parmesan on shrimp scampi is divine.  And HELLO, lox and cream cheese! I can see why you wouldn't want to combine a delicate fish with, say sharp cheddar.  But again it's your plate.  Also, I cannot imagine growing up in the U.S without mac n cheese and fish sticks on the menu.

6. Don’t eat a burger or pizza with a knife and a fork—especially if you’re the mayor of New York.  Yes, I'll think you are silly.  But I also will think you're silly for staring up at the skyscrapers in NYC or putting on a seat belt in the back of a yellow cab (*ahem* Hubby *ahem*).  Burgers and pizza are technically finger food, but so is sushi, and they still give you chopsticks when you order it.  (Sushi has its own cavalcade of "rules" that we won't even delve into here.  I consider it like any other food, do what you want.  Unless you're in Japan; because those folks invented it, and it's just a matter of respect.)  The mayor of NYC really should, due to his position, know "better" because he had better know the local custom and culture.  Also note that, while the article doesn't mention it, certain types of pizza and burgers require flatware lest you end up wearing more than you ingest AND burn your fingers in the process.  Common sense folks, use it.

7. Milk must be poured into a cup before the tea. I have to say, I have never heard of this.  According to Wikipedia:
Whether to put milk into the cup before or after the tea is a matter of debate. In the early days of tea-drinking, milk would be poured into the cup first to avoid the thermal shock of hot tea cracking the delicate porcelain. Adding milk second may scald part of the milk while it is poured into the hot tea. Pouring tea after milk reduces the maximum temperature reached by the milk, as the poured tea is gradually cooled by the milk. In other words, pouring milk after tea produces abrupt milk heating, while pouring tea after milk produces more gradual milk heating. Also, adding milk second produces an initially less homogeneous mixture (see figure above; even when the mixture is not stirred, however, it quickly becomes homogeneous due to random molecule drifting and thermal convection currents).
Ummm yea, whatever.

So what out of the ordinary food combos do you enjoy??  Do you routinely follow these rules?  If so, is it just a routine or do you feel strongly about them?

Friday, February 28, 2014

It's True!

It is, in fact, true that pre-made baking mixes go bad.  I generally don't use them, but I have "inherited" some from other people.  I recently made one at my MIL's (mother-in-law) request.  It smelled a little funny and I knew it was technically "expired".  So, I added some leavening to the mix, as that's really the only thing in a mix that is going to go "bad". 

I baked these oatmeal, apple muffins and they came out fine ... until I tasted them.   Imagine chewing on an old piece of carpet that has been used as an ashtray - YES!  It was THAT bad!  So I grabbed the box from the recycling bin to check the "Use By" date; July 2010 !!!!  OK, so a little past the date is fine, apparently FOUR YEARS is too much to ask, and rightfully so!  Lesson learned!!

I'm sharing this with you so that you can learn from my mistake and not have to experience this unpleasantness in your own kitchen.  We now return you to your regularly scheduled browsing of cat pics and song lyrics. 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Give It a Chance

You're going to have to trust me on this post, I'll hold your hand all the way through it, I promise. Many of you are going to immediately label this recipe as "gross".  However, much like people felt about sushi in the early 80's, the concept seems gross at first glance, but really, it's DELICIOUS.

I'm talking about fried chicken skin.  Poultry pork rinds, chicken chicharron, call it what you will, but this stuff is uber tasty y'all AND it yields the. best. by-product evah!  I'm referring, of course, to schmaltz.  Also referred to has "liquid gold", schmaltz has a variety of cooking applications.  I keep a container in my freezer at all times.  Originally, I only used it in my chopped chicken liver recipe (another awesome thing that sounds gross that we will discuss another day).  Now I regularly substitute it into savory recipes instead of oil or butter.  My favorite uses are for browning rice before adding the cooking liquid or instead of butter in boxed stuffing mix.  But, as usual, I digress.

I always liked the crispy chicken skin on baked chicken, however Hubby is not a fan, so I started skinning my chicken before cooking it, so that he wouldn't lose out on the flavor of the sauce or marinade I used when he removed the skin.  This also gave me a container of chicken skin to fry up so I could use the rendered fat later.  Some people throw out the fried skins after they get the schmaltz out (shameful!) or give the fried skins to dogs or cats as treats.  I always knew those fried skins were a tasty treat, and I used to nibble them in secret, almost like folks who tuck into a roll of pre-made cookie dough like it's a giant lollypop.  Then I read this article  where some fancy, schmancy chef took chicken skin mainstream.  Now I am an unabashed lover of fried chicken skin, in all of its applications.

Also, because I live in Texas now, EVERYTHING is game for eating on a tortilla, taco style.  If you have not had Texas brisket tacos or barbacoa tacos, my goodness you are missing out! I highly recommend The Democrat over at Torchy's Tacos.  Anyway, so I got to thinking about these chicken skins and tortillas and Chicken Chicharron Tacos were born!

First things first, you need to fry your chicken skins and render out all that schmaltz.  I like to start with a medium hot pan which I sprinkle with a little kosher salt.  Try to get the skins as open and flat as you can before they hit the hot pan, you want as much surface area touching the hot pan as possible.  Also, once they start to cook, much like bacon, you are stuck with whatever shape they are in. Sprinkle a little more salt on top once you have them in the pan; this helps to render out the fat, and adds to the flavor of the finished product.

You're going to need to flip them at least once to get them nice and brown and crispy.  Tongs are your best bet for that.  This pan is going to be "spitting" fat up anyway, so the last thing you want is to be dilly dallying over it with a spatula, flinging half cooked chicken skin, and making even more of a mess.  In fact, get yourself a frying screen.  It allows steam to escape so whatever you are frying gets browned and crisp, but prevents the top of your stove from becoming an oil slick.
Liquid Gold i.e. Schmaltz

You'll need to leave plenty of room between each skin so they don't get soggy, and drain the rendered fat between batches.  That gorgeous amber liquid is what you'll be saving in your freezer for future cooking projects.  I let mine cool, in a heat safe container, on the counter or in the fridge, then add it to Tupperware in the freezer.

You want the skins to be golden brown and crispy, so don't worry, they will likely need to cook longer than you think.  I primarily use my sense of smell to know when they are done.  You want to get them out of the pan and onto paper towels or brown paper to drain just before they start to burn.  They will continue to crisp up as they drain and cool, and literally end up like the chicken version of pork rinds.

You can use these cooked skins for a variety of other things.  You can mince them and sprinkle them on top of mac n cheese, baked potatoes or stuffing, add them to soups, stews or chili for additional chicken flavor, or sprinkle them with dried herbs or grated Parmesan and eat them as a snack.  You can even crush them and use them as a coating for carb free mozzarella sticks!  Folks who subscribe to "Paleo" or "Atkins" meal plans will especially like this.

While your "chicken rinds" drain, mix up your buffalo sauce.  Melt 1-2 tablespoons of butter and add in your favorite hot sauce in a 2-1 ratio, so 4 tablespoons of hot sauce to your 2 tablespoons of butter.  I prefer Frank's Red Hot Original Cayenne Sauce, and they also make a specific buffalo wings sauce that you can just use straight from the bottle.  But feel free to use Tabasco or whatever brand is the favorite in your neck of the woods.  I do this in the microwave, but if you want to dirty another pan, go ahead and knock yourself out.  Use a Teflon brush to add a light coating of sauce onto each skin.  Let is dry for a couple minutes, then flip it over and do the other side.

All that is left to do now is assemble your tacos. I prefer flour tortillas, but corn works too.  I like mine simple, with some fresh cilantro, a few dabs of blue cheese dressing and a squeeze of lime juice.  Crumbled bleu cheese would work well too.  If you want something fancier, diced tomatoes, pico de gallo or shredded cabbage all make nice additions.  If you're not into blue cheese, then ranch dressing or a bit of sour cream will temper the heat while adding flavor.  The sky is the limit when crafting a taco, so get creative!  If you're new to eating fried chicken skin, you might want to ease into it and mix the skins in with some pieces of chicken breast meat.  Now all that's left to do is crack open a cold drink and enjoy!

So I hope you give fried chicken skins a chance!  Let me know what creations you come up with!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

I'm Baaack - and I brought Cake!

I never intended to be away this long.  A myriad of things have happened in the last eight months.  The bar exam really kicked my butt as far as studying and awaiting results.  [BTW for those who have not heard I passed!!!]   Hubby and I lost a dear friend to cancer.  I lost my unemployment.  And I finally had some friends and family visit from the Northeast!

Since I found out I passed the bar exam in May all of my time and effort has been going into job hunting.  We did have a big party to celebrate my passing, and I'll post about that soon.  There has not been much going out to eat or elaborate cooking, but (hopefully) things are back on track now.

So about that cake.  It''s not really about a cake as much as it is about icing.  A few days ago I stumbled across this amazing sounding recipe for Fluffy Brown Sugar Icing over at I Wash ... You Dry. Aside from sounding really interesting, the photo made my mouth leak.

And I just knew I had to make it, which means I needed a cake.  The author said that she found it was especially delectable on peaches.  There you have it, now I know I need to make a peach cake.  Since this was all experimental anyway I decided to do something I almost never do - use a boxed cake mix.  Don't get me wrong, I don't shun people who use them, I just prefer scratch recipes for cake since they aren't really much more work and I think they taste better.  But I digress ....

So I found this dusty box of cake mix on the shelf.  And let me tell you, it was OLD you guys y'all.  I knew the dry ingredients wouldn't go "bad", but I also wasn't sure the leavening in it would still work.  I plunged ahead, and immediately knew I was going to doctor this cake mix up.

It was "yellow" cake (what the hell flavor is "yellow"?!).  So instead of the cup of water it called for I added a cup of peach brandy; because ya know PEACH flavor and because liquor makes everything better!  (If you're a teetotaler I'm sure peach juice or pureed peaches and water would work just fine, but since I usually only use alcohol in my cooking and rarely drink it straight, I like to use it as often as possible.)  I also threw in two more eggs than the recipe called for because I like a more dense cake and my main complaint with mixes is that they come out all springy and spongy.  Between the alcohol and the extra eggs it was a little soupy, so I added a dollop of flour to tighten it up.

As an aside, I need to tell you about this flour.  I had a container of all purpose flour.  I recently bought a bag of self rising flour for a specific recipe.  Someone who shall remain nameless (and it was not Hubby) thought they were being helpful and mixed them TOGETHER.  This was very frustrating, but this particular cake could have used a smidge of extra leavening, so I used this flour "concoction" for my boxed cake experiment.

Anyway, the cake smelled wonderful while it was baking, and it DID rise and came out dense just as I had hoped.  The batter did rise unevenly though, and the top of the cake layers had little humps.

I have NEVER seen a cake rise like that, but given the circumstances  I am not surprised.  They turned out of the pans beautifully and the bottoms were firm and perfectly golden.

Next I went to make the icing.  I dumped the ingredients into a sauce pan and since it says to bring it to a hard boil I threw the burner on medium-high and set the timer for 10 minutes (like the recipe says) and walked away to beat my egg whites.  I don't know what I was thinking.  That saucepan had brown sugar, corn syrup and a touch of water in it.  You DO NOT leave a concoction like that by itself to boil.  I should know better.  But I did it, and THEN I was brain dead enough to pour that hot mess (literally!) into my gorgeous fluffy egg whites and beat it.

I did NOT get the glossy icing I was promised.  It DID blend, but there was hard burnt sugar on the edges of the bowl and the counter and the finished product tasted like death with a wicked hangover.  After Hubby agreed that I was not imagining the disgusting taste, I threw my hands up in the air and tried not to scream and stomp my feet.

Hubby lovingly sent me out of the kitchen and he dumped the icing and melted cleaned up my sugar toxic spills.  At one point some dried sugar was on a kitchen towel and he got scraped with it.  "Your icing CUT me!!"  Is icing supposed to fight back?

SO, lesson leaned!  I came back this morning afternoon with renewed purpose.  I put the sugars n medium and stirred and watched and watched and stirred.  I beat my egg whites until they were fluffy clouds and then I beat in the hot sugar mix.

(Total aside, between the egg whites and the strict instructions to pour in the sugar and NOT STOP beating the entire time, it is a wonder anyone could make this recipe without a Kitchenaid.  My arms would be DEAD!)

The icing came together perfectly! It was glossy and gorgeous and was a bit like soft marshmallow fluff with a molasses flavor.  It was delicious without being cloyingly sweet.  (I am already brain storming ways to modify the recipe to do other flavors with the egg white base!)

I immediately set to work on icing my peach brandy cake!

I tasted the scraps that I shaved off the cake (remember those humps?) and it was delicious!  It had a very strong peach brandy flavor.  I think I would do half liquor and half water next time, but Hubby said he preferred the strong flavor, so we shall see.  The cake came out a tad lopsided, but given how I just threw stuff in a bowl and came up with it, I think I am going to call it a win.

OK, so now who wants to come over and help me eat all this cake??

What's the craziest combination that you ever baked/cooked that turned out well??

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Bar Party Bonanza

Well, we had the bar party last month, and it was awesome!!  The theme was purple, since that is the official academic color for law.  We even had purple crudite, with purple cauliflower, purple peppers and eggplant, purple cocktails, pulled pork from a whole roasted pig and a bunch of other yummy things!  I'm sorry to say that I have no photos of any of the food, as I was so awash in all the excitement that I completely forgot to take any!  But I did not forget about you dear readers!  Below are some of the most requested recipes from my guests.


As with most things I make, I did some research online and pulled elements from several recipes and then added my own twist.  This is what I came up with.  I made this to throw on tortillas with pork, but it's so universal that folks were dipping veggies and anything else they could get their hands on into this stuff!  We had a fair amount left over, and that's when I discovered it goes well in omelets, on burgers - you name it!  No wonder this is considered Peru's version of ketchup!

2 bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley (that curly crap is a garnish, NOT food!)
2 bunches fresh cilantro
1-2 C fresh oregano
1/2 C fresh thyme leaves (no stems, they are too woody!)
1 C fresh mint
1-2 C fresh basil leaves
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled or the equivalent chopped amount
4 medium size shallots, peeled
1/3 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C lime juice
1/2 to 1 tsp red pepper flakes
2-3 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 C olive oil

Essentially you want to throw everything into the food processor and blend, but it will not all fit at once, so you need to blend, then add more, then blend again, etc.  Add the garlic and shallots whole and let the machine do the work.  I added the vinegar straight away to allow for some liquid to help emulsify.  The olive oil and lime juice should go in last, after everything is good and chopped up. 

You want to let this sauce sit overnight to blend all the flavors.  It would also make an awesome marinade for a brisket or pork roast!


I adapted this recipe from one I found in the official Game of Thrones cookbook.  They put it on roasted chicken, but it also goes extremely well with any poultry or pork.

1 C apple cider vinegar
2/3 C honey
1/2 C dried fruit (I used raisins, but feel free to use currants, chopped apricots, dried cranberries, etc.)
1 tbsp unsalted butter

Put everything in a saucepan and simmer until the sauce reduces to about half (warning, serious vinegar smells will attempt to choke you, but soldier on, the sauce is worth it) and the dried fruit plumps up.  Then pour over roasted meats or serve on the side as a gravy.  Leftovers can be stored in the fridge, but it needs to be reheated to use again as it becomes thick like plain honey.  This sauce keeps indefinitely as it is made mainly from vinegar and honey, two things that literally never go bad.

Big drink dispensers - that's a lot of vodka!


3 oz vodka
1 1/2 oz. cranberry juice
1/2 oz blue curacao
1/2 oz sweet and sour mix
1/2 oz Sprite
ice cubes
purple sugar - for garnish

Blitz everything in a blender and serve in a martini glass with purple sugared rim for individual cocktails.  I mixed it in BIG batches and had large drink dispensers set out with cups and sugar for folks to serve themselves.

Spiced CarrotSpread 

This was a big hot with guests as well. It's meant as a dip for corn chips or pita wedges, but again, dipping raw veggies into it, or using it as a spread on a sandwich seemed to work for everyone.  It's reminiscent of Indian cuisine with the cumin and cardamom.  Next time I might even be tempted to add a dash of garam masala to it.
  • 6 medium carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 small garlic clove, chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger (or powdered)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons tahini
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper

Seta steamer basket in a saucepan with 2 inches simmering water. Add carrots.Cover and steam until tender, about 12 minutes. (I boil until they are mushy with a pinch of salt.) Transfer to a food processor, along with garlic, cumin,ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, cayenne pepper, tahini, and lemon juice. Seasonwith salt and pepper. Process until smooth, about 1 minute, adding up to 2 tablespoons water if necessary.

This party was a long time coming, and I am so glad that so many friends and family came to help me celebrate passing the Texas bar exam!  That exam is just one more step to converting me from a Yankee to a Southern gal!

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Thanksgiving and a Little Exam We Call THE BAR

Yes, I have been on a hiatus, you might say.  I didn't intend for it to go on this long.  Actually I was pretty strongly working my way towards the minimum posting guidelines to get a place in the Austin Food Blogger Alliance.  Alas, their posting guidelines are there exactly for people like me who start a blog, and then fall by the wayside.  My lack of posts, while temporary, will likely continue for awhile.

Quite simply, Hubby and I had some money concerns.  No money means no going out to eat, and no exciting cooking experiments at home either.  So then what was I to blog about?  I could have continued posting, but how many diatribes on chicken noodle casserole can one read?!  Posts on hot dogs are hardly scintillating either.

In all fairness, it was also a little procrastination on my part.  We did go out occasionally, but I didn't take notes, and I would have to reconstruct those visits in my head.  Right now, all my addled brain can tell you is that The Hula Hut was VERY disappointing (and if you click on the link, be prepared for hellishly loud Hawaiian music, don't say I didn't warn you); and The Noble Pig was absolutely freakin' awesome, and I had literally one of THE BEST sandwiches I have ever eaten (and that's coming from someone who grew up with real New York type deli)!

Money is slightly better now than it was over the summer, but now I am about to dive, head first into preparing for the Texas Bar Exam.  For those unfamiliar, this is the hellish exam you have to take to become a licensed attorney in any given jurisdiction.  While I am licensed in New Jersey, Texas feels that I need to take their test too.  This will be three fun-filled horrific days of testing, followed by a nervous breakdown inducing waiting period of MONTHS before I get my results.  Therefore I will studying my tail off from now until late February.  After a 48 hour nap brief respite where I try to regain my sanity in early March, I hope to be back and posting on a regular basis again.  [And when I find out I passed I am going to throw one HELL of a party, so be prepared for that.]

For right now I will try to satiate your desire for posts with an array of photos from the Thanksgiving dinner I made (along with my trusted sous chef, Hubby).  I may try to post some quick pics of Christmas goodies, but I make no promises, and after Saint Nick departs, I will definitely be in deep hibernation until after the exam.

Sweet potatoes after roasting, with all of their natural sugars leaking out

Cornbread, which is destined to be reborn as stuffing! (Y'all can call it "dressing" if you like. I don't "stuff" it in the bird, but I still call it stuffing.)

Squash post roast, now it has to cool so it can get pulverized!

Squash about to be roasted for soup
Finished squash soup

turkey brine

icy green beans destined for casserole
cranberry/port tart filling
creamed corn a la Alton Brown - heaven!

Stuffed celery, a holiday must

Ginger bread crust awaiting pumpkin cheesecake

mashed sweet potatoes w/ bourbon, OJ & brown sugar
apple pie, I forgot to foil the edges!

THE bird!

the beginning of stuffing
Cranberry/port wine tarts
turnips and potatoes simmering

Epicurious mac n cheese
the buffet
tinfoil buffet, must keep hot!

the buffet , view 2

 Also, I have to give credit where credit is due.  This Thanksgiving meal was brought to you by Wolfgang Puck, Epicurious, Emeril Lagasse, Alton Brown, Betty Crocker and my Mom. Honorable mention goes to Paula Deen just for the shear amount of butter used.

Bon Appetite! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

寿司こんにちは![Hello Sushi!]

Yes, yes, I have not been keeping up with posting.  We have been doing a fair amount of entertaining over here and I didn't want to saturate you with just recipes and no reviews.  I have several places I have not published reviews for yet.  I am hoping to get to Monument Cafe and Shady Grove soon.  But first, let's talk about raw fish

Last Sunday I went to Imperia in downtown Austin.  It wasn't my choice, I went there for a meeting, but boy am I glad I did!  First off, it's on Colorado Street, which is, along with all the surrounding area, under construction.  This made both getting there AND finding parking a little more challenging than I would prefer.  That being said, they have valet if you want to drop the cash for it.  I was lucky enough to find a spot right around the corner.  (Also, it bears mentioning that I parallel parked like a champ!)

The inside is cool and dark, which was welcome on a sweltering Texas evening.  The entryway vestibule is one of those waterfalls where the water softly cascades flat over the surface of the wall.  (Yes, I touched it to see if it was real water.  Yes my mother raised me better than that.  No, I am not ashamed of my behavior because it was KEWL!)  The dining area is rather large, with several seating areas, three tatami tables, the obligatory sushi counter and an impressive bar.  We sat at one of those raised tables with stools (which I find uncomfortable, and thus usually decline); but we were a rather large party and they were very accommodating about giving us our own space and joining two tables together to ensure we had enough room.

 We arrived just as their 2 for 1 sushi special was over for the evening, but they were continuing with "reverse happy hour".  Our waiter, Bastion, was helpful in explaining drink specials and he returned my banter volley immediately.  He was, in a word - awesomesauce.

The restaurant fancies itself a bit "swank" as evidenced by the hostess's laisse faire attitude and the chill surroundings.  The wait staff is also uber-attentive.  In restaurant parlance this means EXPENSIVE; but when it comes to food, you usually get what you pay for, so you really can't complain.  Bastion continued to amuse me throughout the evening with his quips, while simultaneously taking good care of us.  He kept everyone's water filled and even poured sake for those that ordered it, lest we be taxed by having to lift the tokkuri and pour into the choko ourselves.

I ordered a crab rangoon appetizer.  It was tasty, but at $10 I would skip it next time as I can get the exact same thing at any Chinese take out place for a third of the price.  I didn't mind much, because what I was really looking forward to was the sushi!  (Oh sorry what?  meeting?  agenda?  Did we have stuff to discuss?  Whatevs.)  Bastion was very hands on when we ordered and flat out told us which items were his favorites and which items to avoid.  One particular specialty roll he described as "not so much" and followed it up with, "I warned you, if you order it anyway and hate it, I am not taking it off the bill."  All this with the appropriate attitude and neck swerve.  I swear this guy was straight out of Manhattan, but no, he's a Texas boy with a New York 'tude.

I ordered the "4138" and a spicy tuna roll.  The 4138 is tempura shrimp and avocado topped with salmon sashimi, and the best part, a spicy peanut sauce with crushed peanuts.  It was HEAVENLY.  I thought the peanut sauce would make the whole thing taste like a satay, but noooo, it was the perfect complement.  The tuna roll was also delish, and artfully presented with chive fronds.  Their pickeled ginger was white instead of dyed pink, and I was also immensely impressed that when i asked for "fresh" wasabi (as opposed to that green putty), Bastion not only knew what I was talking about, but they had it!

4138 Roll
I also had the good fortune to sample my friend's Red Devil roll.  That is spicy marinated tuna with black sushi rice and roasted red bell peppers topped with spicy mayo and white angel sauce.  The description didn't initially grab me, but the taste was phenomenal!  I will definitely be ordering this roll the next time my wallet allows me to make a return visit.

I decided to take a gander at the dessert menu.  I was expecting some azuki bean paste wrapped ice cream or maybe some lychee nuts.  The tempura fried ice cream tempted me, but again Bastion was there to advise.  He first asked if we wanted just a little something sweet to end the meal or a "dessert experience".  DUH.  And so, we ordered a half baked chocolate chip cookie with ice cream on top.  When it arrived, it was not just a cookie, it was a COOKIE!!  And yes, it was an experience.  Let's just say I was glad he brought multiple spoons.

When the bill came, I was leaning over to grab my purse.  Damn high tables, I could not reach it and I hate climbing in and out of those stools.  One of the sushi chefs was walking by, and he grabbed my purse and handed it to me - top notch service all the way.  The bottom line is the food is amazing, the ambiance fantastic and the service beyond reproach.  The prices are a little steep, but not out of this world. They have specials and, personally, I used a Groupon, so it can be done reasonably.  If you like sushi, then you really should check it out!