Saturday, October 30, 2010

**Product Review** Good Earth Dinner Kit

October marks a year since I learned about, figured out and wigged out over couponing.  Funny how that has become a verb.  And, I don't mind telling you, I've become pretty damn good at it.  I have cut our household expenditures by at least 60%, and that may be a conservative estimate.  All I can tell you is that it has added up...big time.

So, for quite some time I've been seeing and actually cutting out coupons for some product called 'Good Earth.'  I hadn't heard anything about it from friends, on TV, Facebook, nothing.  So, I saved the coupons, never saw a sale for this product, coupons expired, I clipped the next ones.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I decided to break this cycle and (insert audible gasp here) buy one at RETAIL (+ a coupon of course; I'm not crazy).  I only bought one to give it a go.  Here's how it all went down:

I chose the 'Mediterranean Chicken' kit.  It consists of a seasoning packet of herbs & spices (garlic, parsley, oregano, basil, onion), a cheese sauce packet (cheddar, cheese cultures, salt, etc) seasoned flour and whole-wheat angel hair pasta. Now, of course there are some components that come from a lab.  Hello people, we can't store stuff on the shelf, in boxes, jars, tubes or bags without a little help from the lab!  Although I hated chemistry with a passion, I must advocate for that's not all bad just because it has a long name that you can't pronounce.  Hell, we had more than one President who couldn't properly pronounce 'nuclear' and consequently have millions of Americans that now do the same, because, that's how the President(s) said it.  Ok, I'm off track...reeling myself in.  

The ingredients I was responsible for:  chicken, olive oil, milk, & hot water.  Trim and slice chicken (good for people like me who can't tolerate skin, fat or cartilaginous funk).  Coat chicken in seasoned flour and pan fry in olive oil until golden.  Then I added herb packet, hot water, milk and sauce packet.  Of course the pasta is boiling away at this point (a whopping 5 minutes, thank you angel hair).  Boil then simmer about 8 minutes.  They suggest either serving the chicken & sauce over pasta or tossing together.  I chose the latter.

It was very good.  Not $18 entree in a restaurant good, but a rockin' good entree for a 15 minute meal at home after work on a busy pre-Halloween night. (I "installed" cob webs on the porch and carved a pumpkin tonight too).  The flavors were very full and satisfying and the sauce pulled it all together...pasta, tender chicken and Mediterranean spices.  I had lots leftover and so I'm curious to see how it tastes tomorrow, since so many dishes are better on day 2.  And, here's good news:  a serving size is 1 cup and has 290 calories, 3g of fat and only 470mg of sodium.  The biggest problem with most "prepared foods" is that they have enough sodium to dry up 4 million jellyfish. 

So, if you want my opinion (you do, right?) give it a try.  Oh yeah, on the box, they recommend a variation using pork tenderloin sliced into thin medallions.  That sounds super duper to me, so that's what I'm planning the next time around.  As my life gets busier, I find it's just smart to have some little tricks like this hanging around in the cabinets.

Coffee Season

I become a big coffee drinker when the weather cools off.  During our SC summers though, the mere thought of coffee makes me queasy, literally.  And, the diehards who drink it throughout the day; how do they do that?  Or the Marlboro Coffee Man/Woman who drinks a steamy cup with a cigarette dangling out of their mouth.  And, I have never understood how some people can order a sandwich and a cup of coffee.  I mean, coffee just isn't a "with a meal" kind of drink.  I guess maybe if you're a Mount Pilot girl perhaps (Hi, Doll).

Anyway, my office has a Keurig.  I am officially enamored with this machine.  What a brilliant invention!  So, this time of year, I can pop in a K-cup of hot chocolate, regular coffee, decaf, hazelnut, oh, the possibilities are many!  I'm a seasonal coffee drinker, so this is perfect for someone like me.  And, since Neil's coffee consumption comes in waves, no more making a pot of coffee for me to have one or maybe two cups and then have coffee left over.  I can't bear to waste anything. So, I have a ziploc full of coffee ice cubes in the freezer.  You know, for all the coffee ice cream I'm gonna make one of these days. Yep, any day now...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

How my Husband has Influenced the Columbia Restaurant Scene

Today's deal on Groupon is for Za's.  It's a half off certificate.  50% off anything gets my pulse rate up!

Like trivia?  Here's a true story about Za's. We've been going to Za's since it opened.  I can't even remember how long that's been...10, 12 years maybe?  We had a favorite waitress named Lisa, who we always requested.  She would always indulge me and go to the kitchen to have them 'doctor up' a dish for me when I wanted to place  a "When Harry met Sally" kind of order.  They always had great specials: one of which was the smoked salmon pizza.  Neil loved it so much, that the kitchen would make it for him even when it wasn't on the specials menu.  

Well, one night, the manager came to our table to let us know they were revamping and getting ready to print a new menu.  And guess what they added as a permanent item?  That's right, Neil's smoked salmon Za (as I like to call it.)  It's still on their menu today.  They still keep forgetting to print "Neil's" in front of the name of the pizza, but we all know it's his.  If you like smoked salmon but haven't tried this, you owe it to yourself.  It's got a creamy smoked gouda understory, delicious capers, garlic, red onion and of course the salmon. 

Another little known piece of trivia involving Neil relates to Dano's Pizza.  (Hmmm, pizza, I'm seeing a pattern here)  When Dano's first opened, we stopped by to check it out.  Neil asked the owner, Dan, if he could make a stromboli, but make the filling Philly Cheesesteak, instead of the usual Italian-type filling.  Dan looked a little unnerved by this flavor proposal, but he agreed to make it.  Well, guess what?  That's right, it's on their menu!  Who knew Neil could wield such power over the restaurateurs of Columbia? 

Thank you, I'll be here all week! Don't forget to tip your server!
So, I guess the logical conclusion would be this:  if you have a favorite restaurant and you'd like something new added to their menu, have Neil accompany you and he will perform his restaurant Mind-Meld and make it so.  Tips are appreciated!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

It Ain't Pretty, but it's Homemade!

Believe it or not, I've never made a homemade apple pie.  I just didn't grow up with apple pie being a regular in my Mom's repertoire.  Interestingly, I've always been drawn to apple pie and I read the recipes all the time.  So, when Viv and I picked all those beautiful "Blushing Gold" apples from Hendersonville, I decided now is the time!

So, I went for it today.  First, let me make a confession.  I'm a decent baker, but I have always had trouble with dough/crust/pastry.  From pizza dough to pie crust.  Everytime I turn around I have a magazine or Ina Garten telling me how easy it is to do a crust from scratch, and I believe them, but when I try,well, it is anything but easy for  me.  

Nonetheless, I decided I'd try once again today with the crust and I was gonna go all the way to the actual elusive apple pie.  Long story short, I had crust issues, but I managed to hammer it out and create a pie.  Maybe I pulsed too long in the food processor? I don't freakin' know...

So, it's been baked, the house smells wonderful and Neil says it looks great.  In fact, what he actually said was, and I quote, "Wow, baby, that looks like a real "old lady at church" kinda pie." It's cooling and setting up now.  We'll know later tonight how it turned out!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Crockpot Chicken Marsala

I used to be afraid of crockpots.  I'm kind of weirded out about leaving any cooking device on when I'm not around.  I realize throughout history, cooks have put a pot roast in the oven, gone to pick up the kids, gone to the market, gone to church, etc. and returned home to find their house not burned down and smelling like a yummy pot roast. So, when Neil and I first teamed up 13 years ago, he was flabbergasted that I didn't own a crockpot and couldn't believe that I was actually afraid of them.

So, once upon a time, my friend Eugenie got married.  She got crockpots galore for gifts (apparently) and offered one to me.  I took the leap and accepted.  Now I have to admit that I love the damn thing.  And, it's a big one too.  I can cook the (dreaded and nerve-wracking big cuts of meat), chili, soup, and (wait for it, wait for it) CHICKEN MARSALA.

I credit my co-worker Catherine for printing the recipe for me.  I changed a few things, just minor, because as some of you know, I will follow a recipe the first time and tweek the next time.  So, before I headed to work today, I got it all ready to go, set a timer for Neil and he turned it on for me at the appointed time.  Result?  Came home to a wonderful smelling home and a delicious supper.  

I went to Greene's and got a California Marsala wine for about $5.  I always assumed it was expensive. That's what I get for assuming, right?  The chicken was so tender, when I went to pick it up from the pot, it was falling apart.  Even though I'm not a mushroom eater, I do appreciate the flavor they impart.  The sauce was just fantastic.  The only thing I will do differently next time is to add salt.  Salt gets a bad rap for the whole sodium thing.  That's because people misuse's not intended to be glopped all over the food.  It's purpose is to enhance and bring out other flavors.  So, use it wisely and it makes all the difference.  (If any of you are watching the current season of The Next Iron Chef, you know they all keep getting blasted by the judges for under-salting.)

Ok, enough of my babbling.  As usual, if you try it, I'd love to hear about your results and your opinion.  The base recipe came from Pillsbury's website; here's how I actually prepared it for us:

  • 3-4 boneless chicken breasts 
  • 2 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt & 1/2 tsp pepper (as I said, I'll add more here next time) 
  • 8 oz fresh mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 cup Marsala wine
  • 1/2  cup water
  • 1/4 cup corn starch 
Coat crockpot crock with Pam-like spray.  Place garlic and oil in  next.  Season chicken with salt & pepper.  Place on top of garlic.  Then, place mushrooms on top of chicken then pour wine over all.  Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours (I did ours for 5 hours and it was falling apart tender).

Remove chicken from pot and cover with foil to keep warm.  Mix water & corn starch until smooth, then stir into the mushrooms and juice in the crockpot.  (This is where I'm going to add maybe a teaspoon or so to the sauce next time.) Turn the heat up to high and cook until the sauce thickens & is bubbly. Add chicken back in and cook until the chicken is hot.

I served it over fettucine with the sauce spooned on top, and with an Iceberg wedge salad with blue cheese & thick-sliced bacon pieces.  Neil thinks I'm a genius and Vivian thinks it's really cool that she's the only 4 1/2 year old who is enough of a big girl to not only pronounce Chicken Marsala but also to actually like it.  She's taking some to school tomorrow for lunch!  I love that kid!  :-)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Great Chick-fil-A Grand Opening

Many of you know that my husband works for Terracon EnvironmentalWhen Chick-fil-A decided to build in Five Points, Terracon was called in to install a (anti-) vapor-intrusion system.  So, for a few weeks, Neil hung out at the dirt site of Chick-fil-A, supervising this endeavor.  So, every morning on the way to school, the Vivver and I would pull in for more kisses and hugs. 

As "Daddy's Chick-fil-A" has grown and evolved, she's become more and more excited with each passing day.  She's said things like "It's really coming along" and "When are they ever gonna open that Chick-fil-A?"  You get the idea.  Well, yesterday was the Big Day.

Neil took her in after school to have an early supper.  She was able to meet the cow, received her own cow to bring home and, of course, had the kid staple, chicken nuggets.  And let me tell you, that take home cow is now a coveted toy.  When she woke up this morning, the first words she uttered were "Where's my Chick-fil-A cow?!" And, as Friday is show-and-tell day...

Those of you in Columbia know that Five Points was all a-buzz yesterday with the Grand Opening and then the Hootie & The Blowfish street dedication, concert & sidewalk sculpture unveiling.  Well, this morning, the energy was still pumpin'.  You know how you find yourself doing the slo-mo "NNNNO" in warp speed when something comes out of someone else's mouth? Like for instance, the moment Neil uttered this aloud, "hey, maybe Mommy can stop by the Chick-fil-A and get you a biscuit for breakfast."  NNNNNNO (warp warp) No other breakfast could compare; no other breakfast would be considered.

So, as I pulled in and noticed the orange cones that were extending their drive-thru lane due to the forty five hundred hungry chicken motorists, I decided this was a time to actually exit the vehicle and go inside.  And, happily, it was all good.  We ordered, we found the cow (that costume ends up making that guy about 7 feet tall, btw), had a big squeezy cow hug and were on our way.  As we walked back to the car, I could feel all those drive-thru people glaring.  Hey, you want chicken, you gotta know how to get chicken.

And lastly, I leave you with this. After joking around all morning with things like 'chick-falafel' and 'chick-fil-B', Vivian took a pause and then simply said "I like the chicken."  Enough said really.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Making Chicken

Yesterday, my good buddy Kelley, tweeted me this: "Chicken breast marinated in leftover Greek dressing on the grill is very yummy." I would agree wholeheartedly. This made me think of a recipe I need to share with you guys.

Have you ever ordered grilled chicken in a restaurant and you know it's been either been marinated or seasoned with something, but you just can't figure it out? I've always wanted to be able to duplicate restaurant chicken and then, one day it happened...I opened my Food & Wine: The Chicken Collection cookbook and there it was. The ultimate chicken marinade. I made it. I freaked. It WAS restaurant grilled chicken. At last, I've unlocked the secret!

So, here's what I do.
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions

  • 2 Tbs Dijon

  • 1/4 tsp thyme

  • 3/4 cup olive oil

  • 3/4 cup lemon juice

  • salt & pepper

  • I mix all this in a ziploc. Then, I make shallow scores in the chicken breasts on each side. Don't cut too deeply or your chicken will fall apart. Just score it lightly to let it take up more marinade. Pop them in the bag and into the fridge. I have left them in all day while I'm at work and it's just fine. Then, of course, you grill them.

    Such a simple preparation for what I consider the most fantastic grilled chicken on the planet.

    Oh, by the way, I typed this recipe by heart. Once I get back to my cookbook, I'll let you know if I forgot anything!

    Tuesday, October 19, 2010

    Modesto is a No-Go

    The Vivver and I took a couple of days to visit my little sis in Asheville. Ok, here's a confession...I took my mom up on her offer to borrow her Honda Odyssey (that's a mini-van, for those of you who don't know.) Yes, I did it. Know why? It has the super duper ultra DVD system. Anyway, it does make for a much more pleasant trip for a 4 year old.

    So, upon arrival yesterday, Katherine & her husband Darren and we decided to head out for some lunch. Since the weather was perfect, we clearly needed somewhere with outdoor dining. Enter MODESTO.

    Now, let me be clear. The menu is really cool, different and creative. We ordered a quattro formaggio panini, lamb panini and an apple, pecan, chicken and taleggio pizza. The food was wonderful. I'd visit this restaurant again....depending on who's working...

    Our waiter really needs to re-think his line of work. First of all, although Katherine is the only one out of all of us who saw it, apparently, every time he walked up to our table, he had a seriously runny nose which he then sucked up in order to talk to us. Tending to a 4-year old, I was rarely looking up at the guy. Then, I asked if they had a kid drink such as lemonade. He responded "yeah, but we make it from scratch (wrinkles nose) and most kids think it's 'too lemony'." Ok, do you have orange juice that is universally acceptable? Fine. Then, after perusing a very adult, involved and borderline ridiculously expensive lunch menu I asked Snotty, "Can you make a simple grilled cheese for her?" Here's the response: "Well, our chef is pretty particular and I don't want to annoy him." Ok, sure...he can decide what we're going to have, based on his whim and mood, and I'll happily let his arrogant ass pick up the tab.

    Then, Slurpy suggests that I order the $8 Quattro Formaggio panini for Vivian. "Yes," I say, "That is in fact a grilled cheese, isn't it?" So, I told doofus to bring it. It came with "homemade chips" which were so overcooked that even a kid rejected them. The side car of tomato soup was good, but since they sent it out to (again, to a four year old child) with a spoon that you'd use in a serving bowl of mashed potatoes, she had difficulty appreciating it. I'm don't have to have kids to know that a child can't cram a serving spoon into her/his mouth.

    As I said earlier, the food was quite good, but the service sucked tail pipe. For those of you who know me personally, I will pay for good food, but I will become enraged by crummy service. Slurpy, as I like to call him, was pleasant enough, but was a POS waiter. I asked him for Splenda; had to get it from another guy who I caught passing by later. Asked for to-go boxes, took about 10 minutes for that to materialize. And, then getting the bill. Let me tell ya...nothing agitates me more than having to wait for a bill in the first place and then having to wait to PAY it. Don't leave me sitting there trying to desperately pay and get the hell outta here, while you wander around doing who knows what? This guy was so non-present on the floor, I can't even imagine what he was up to. I guess sucking up to the temperamental chef so he wouldn't piss him off. Don't worry about the people out front who are going to (or not) tip you, Drippy.

    Sunday, October 17, 2010

    Doc's is Alive and Well

    You may remember in my post about TakoSushi, I referenced that they are located where Doc's Gumbo Grille used to be. In conversation(s) I've come to realize that a lot of people think Doc's simply closed. But, they are still around, just in a new (and for me, a much more convenient) location. They are on Rosewood Dr. at the site of Jim Casey Fireworks Emporium & the old Keg o' Nails.

    As I've said before, Neil and I are really partial to locally owned/operated restaurants. Neil likes to call them "non-corporate food." Doug, the owner of Doc's, lives around the corner from us. He's a nice guy who has been in the biz in Columbia forever. (Remember the good ol' days at Greenestreet's? Yeah, that was him)

    Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that Doc's is a really cool, local joint and I want you all to support them. I think since moving, they could use the community patronage, especially since so many people seem to think they are gone. The restaurant isn't overly large, so it has a friendly atmosphere. They frequently have live music and then there's the menu.

    They feature New Orleans-like fare. Now, I'm not gonna B.S. you and say that it's just like being in the Big Easy. Nothing is like New Orleans but New Orleans. But, for Columbia SC it's a nice change of pace and an interesting menu. So, let's get on with it...

    Neil likes dishes like red beans & rice and etouffee. I absolutely LOVE their she-crab soup. It is loaded with crab and vegetables, so it has some "tooth" to it, unlike some others in town that are either too thin and watery or so thick and rich that they practically become a solid right there in the bowl. I also love the shrimp Po' Boy. I've made it clear how I feel about shrimp. Add some spicy, tasty remoulade on fresh bread, and I call that a killer sandwich!

    So, for those of you here in Columbia, please keep Doc's in mind and drop a little cash there once in awhile. I think you'll enjoy the food and it's just good biz to support a local guy. At least I think so...

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    The Mouths of Babes

    I haven't made any major culinary strides this week. So, I find myself just thinking about where I want to go soon, what I want to cook soon, what are favorites that need to be made soon? So, I went to the expert-Vivian.

    I asked her this morning what her favorites foods are. Here's her list:
  • steak

  • asparagus

  • shrimp

  • onions (cooked only)

  • vegetable soup

  • Interesting...I knew about the steak and shrimp, but the asparagus surprised me. Don't get me wrong, I'm delighted to hear her say that! Just surprised. Now, onions I questioned. I said "you don't like onions" to which she quickly retorted, "yes I do, if they're cooked, like in Grandma's vegetable soup." Ok, I can buy that.

    Any ideas on how I can get her interested in sushi? I'd love to see those little hands using chop sticks!

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    New Scampi Dish

    My little girl loves shrimp. This makes me happy because I also love them. I'm kinda like Bubba in 'Forrest Gump'...shrimp creole, shrimp and grits, shrimp burger, barbeque shrimp...

    I've been asked about posting recipes and/or photos. I don't want to bombard you with recipes all the time, but every now and then I think it's ok and appropriate. Of course, more often than not, home food photos are atrocious and look like a plate of grey ickiness but, here goes...

    Last night I did a scampi-type dish. Just sauteed about a pound of shrimp in butter, real butter, not "futter" (What Neil calls fake butter). Removed them from the skillet and then sauteed 2 tsp of minced garlic in a little butter for about 30 seconds and added 2 Tbs lemon juice, the shrimp, & some pepper. I also threw a splash of wine from my glass. I cooked some orzo, tossed with about 1/2 tsp salt and 2 Tbs minced parsley and served the shrimp on top. Roasted some asparagus and that was dinner. Much to my delight, the little one scarfed it up, including the asparagus (that can be a 50-50 shot usually).

    Best of all, the entire meal took about 12 minutes to prepare. It was fast, easy, and delicious!

    Sunday, October 10, 2010

    **Product Review**

    P.F. Chang's Frozen Meals for Two

    I love cooking Chinese at home. I love cooking anything at home. But, let's be real. I work 9 hour days, I have a VERY active 4 year old, I like to spend time with my husband, so sometimes, cooking just isn't in the cards. Especially when I come rolling in after dark and immediately have to join in on the "please, please, please just calm down and go to bed" routine. So, do I cheat occasionally with pre-fab food? Hell yes I do!

    Take yesterday evening for instance. Picked up the Vivver after work, dodged all the football fanatic traffic, got home and went straight to the "please, please..." (see above). By the time that was all over, we knew the chances of getting take out or delivery was nil since every joint in town was now overrun with exuberant Gamecock fans. So, I turned to the freezer and decided to try out the new P.F. Chang's home meals (which I got for pennies, thank you coupon gods, and bought to give it a whirl). The one I had was ginger chicken with broccoli. Gonna have to give it a thumbs up.

    It was really good! I am also a fan of Wanchai Ferry, but they have different components that have to be cooked in stages then put together. The Chang's simply required that the entire contents go into the skillet, cover it, give it about 15 minutes and done. Nice flavored sauce, not too sweet. Lots of broccoli, in fact, it's the first ingredient listed on the label. Good quality chicken, no funkiness (see my post about my meat issues for reference). In short, it was an awesome, fast, tasty, crazy-after-work-kinda dinner. If you have a schedule even remotely like mine, I'd recommend you give it a shot. It's comforting to me to know that I have stuff in my freezer that I can turn to in a pinch.

    If you try it and like it, I'd love to hear it. If you don't like it, you can tell me but I'm just gonna tell you you're crazy. Ha Ha Ha... I crack me do y'all stand me? :-)

    Saturday, October 9, 2010

    The Snack Bag

    So, today I'm at work and Neil has two days at the track this weekend (motorcycle racing). My dear, sweet parents decided to take Vivian to the Aquarium in Charleston today. The excitement began building yesterday.

    First, she had to pack a suitcase. Of course, Charleston's only 2 hours away and they're coming back this afternoon, but she packed about 17 T-shirts, 23 pairs of pants, 1 stuffed unicorn, 2 books and 3 videos. It was quite heavy, but she managed to lug it to the front door last night, you know, so we wouldn't forget it this morning. Then came "The Snack Bag." Did you just hear that Dunt Dunt Duhhhh music?

    She found a bright yellow nylon zippered bag and began packing up provisions for this LOOONG road trip. Here's what the Snack Bag contained: 1 of my good spoons (I switched it out for a plastic one when she wasn't looking), 1 Fiber One strawberry yogurt, 1 leftover fish stick, 1 unwrapped slice of turkey, 1 unwrapped slice of American cheese and 1 bottle of water. I couldn't stand it; I had to put the turkey & cheese in a ziploc when she wasn't looking. And, I took the liberty of adding some trail mix. Seems like a Snack Bag is just supposed to have that. Plus, everyone knows that nothing goes better with a leftover fish stick than trail mix, right?

    Thursday, October 7, 2010

    I'm Becoming the Roast Beef Queen

    As I posted before, I'm still learning to comfortably use big cuts of meat. A few weeks ago, I got sirloin tip roasts B1G1. I cooked one with ginger & a really yummy jus and put the other in the freezer. So, time for Round 2.

    Yesterday, I went in a different direction. I cut slits in the meat and this time inserted garlic. Ummmm, garlic! Then, I spread Dijon all over the surface and sprinkled it with thyme. THEN, and this is a first for me, I covered it with slices of thick cut bacon. I've seen recipes forever using this technique to keep meat moist, but for some reason, I've just never tried it. Roasted in the oven for about an hour. Served it with acorn squash that I baked & filled with apples, raisins, walnuts and a little maple syrup and then lastly some steamed broccoli. It's hard to tell with Neil because when I ask if he likes my food, he just points at his empty plate and gives me this look (Uh, duhhhhh).
    I feel like it was a success.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    Gyro my Hero

    I've always loved the flavor and even the look of a gyro, but that lump of meat on a stick causes me great concern. You know what I'm talking about, right? They shave the meat off of this lump for the sandwiches. That's how you get those super thin slices of meat.

    I am extremely picky about meat. While chicken wings are a very social eating activity in the South and my husband is a pro at it, my loathing of meat with bones in it leaves me out. Meat with any kind of fat left clinging to it will be flatly rejected by me. And any meat that I can't identify visually (like the lump on the stick) is probably not going to make it past these lips.

    So, yesterday, my mom ventured out and made homemade gyros. Of course, knowing whose kitchen food comes from makes all the difference in the world. And, knowing that my mom fully understands my meat issues, I knew that finally I could indulge in this great Greek grandeur without trepidation. She used Alton Brown's recipe (click here) and it was awesome. The tzatziki sauce was perfect...thick and rich, cooling cucumber and a healthy dose of garlic! Even my 4 year old wunderkind enjoyed her very first gyro. That was very cute.

    So, I will be making homemade gyros myself from this day forward. I'll sink my teeth into it with reckless abandon because I know EXACTLY what kind and quality of meat is in there! I know, I'm a freak. Don't even get me started on celery.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    GROUPON has finally come to town!

    Yippee! Groupon is here at last! I've been seeing their deals posted on Southern Savers, but the closest city to us was Charlotte. The way it works is they post a "deal of the day" each morning. There is a minimum number of people that have to respond to it. If the minimum is met, then the groupon is available for everyone to purchase. This sounds confusing, so let's use today's real life example:

    Groupon's Columbia debut was today with Mr. Friendly's. They offered a 1/2 price gift certificate. Pay $15 for a certificate good for a $30 tab. The minimum was 20. So, as long as 20 people were willing to buy it, then so be it. If not, the gift certificate would not be available to anyone. Well, they hit 20 alright...if fact, they "SOLD OUT" at 765! Unbelievable showing for Columbia! I'm sure we impressed them with that kind of debut traffic.

    If you want to subscribe, click this link and just sign up. Using this "referral link" from me will get me a nice little $10 kick-back; I'm sure you won't mind. Then, you'll receive the email each day with Columbia's "Deal of the Day." It's very cool. And, it's all kind of businesses. Restaurants, movie theatres, arts venues, sporting events, it could be anything. You'll also notice on their site that you can suggest businesses. We all need to get on there and recommend our favorites places, then more deals for us in the future. Everybody wins!

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    The Most Special Meal

    This is a sweet story, but I have to give you some background info first in order to make sense, so bear with me...

    My little girl is in the 'Cherub Choir' at our church. She has choir at 9:00 on Sundays. So, I go to the early service while she's in choir. Then, Sunday School follows. Since I have to work today, my plan was to leave after SS, since I've already been to the service, and have a little bit of time at home with Viv and Neil before going to work.

    As we're heading to the car, she says, "But what about the children's sermon?" Ok, turn around, we'll go to the first 15 minutes of the 11:00 service, children's sermon and then go home. No problem, we've done it before. Piece of proverbial cake. Wrong.

    Today is World Communion Sunday. For the first time in history, my child actually paid attention to the children's sermon this morning. The minister was explaining Communion and was referring to it as the "special meal." So, Viv listened (everyone who goes to church with us will understand how monumental this is!), put her little hands together and bowed her head for the prayer and we all exited the sanctuary. Vivian has left the building.

    So, we're heading to the car again, when she says, "Aren't we going to stay for the "special meal?" Oh, here we go. As I'm trying to logically explain why we aren't, here's my sweet baby wailing through the church building, "I want the special meal!" The car ride was a nightmare. Her tears are flowing as my heart is breaking. I mean really, here's a child begging for Communion and horrible mommy is actually saying no? So, I radioed ahead for reinforcement.

    About half way home I got her interested in the story of the Last Supper and the tears finally stopped. By the time we pulled in the driveway, she had recovered and all was right with the world. Daddy greeted us at the door and escorted us in to our own "special meal." We all knelt at the coffee table and went through the ritual with our english muffin and grape juice. Vivian was so into it, that we had to do it twice. The second time, she administered Communion to us. It was a very special meal indeed!

    My friend Kelley once talked about how special it was for her to take Communion with her daughter and I saw them do it together this morning. I agree, taking the "special meal" with your child is a very dear and meaningful experience. Especially when she understands it so well to administer it to you.

    Friday, October 1, 2010

    90% off at Insane!

    If you've never checked out, you need to do it today. They have a 90% off sale going on. But, it's ending today. At checkout, use the code WOW. I just got gift certificates for Yesterday's, Saluda's and Yo Burrito for $3.60. You better hurry!

    **Restaurant Review**

    Mai Thai-West Columbia

    Well, this isn't totally like a review since I've been there a zillion times. It's one of my favorite places in Columbia. I kind of discovered it by accident a couple years ago and it was instantly on my list of killer restaurants. If you haven't checked it out, here's my two cents' worth.

    First, and foremost, it's a family owned business...yea! Secondly, the food is simply fantastic...vegetables are meticulously cut to the right size/shape (I've been told the chef is really picky about it and fusses if the others don't get it right), all fresh meats/seafoods and the perfect Thai balance of sweet and hot. And thirdly, the service is impeccable.The restaurant is a comfortable place to be too. It's dimly lit, well decorated and small.

    So, yes, I've been there a zillion times, so why is it on my mind today? I picked up dinner on my way home last night and just felt like sharing. Neil is super spicy guy and if you know the Thai people, they can blow your head off to any degree you wish. I ordered him Red Curry with chicken with a hot scale of 4. Turns out, he could've had and would've preferred a 5. I should've known. The red curry has a nice coconut base of course, then that awesome red curry burn to it afterwards! Mix in the spice of basil, bell pepper and tender bamboo shoots...Yum! I ordered Pad Ba Mee with shrimp. This is a mild noodle dish (the little one loves noodles, so I knew she'd want to share) that is packed with vegetables...zucchini, pea pods, baby corn, carrots. It's absolutely wonderful. It makes you feel so comfortably full but never stuffed. Other faves include Panang Curry, Drunken Noodles, Green Curry and of course, the coconut soup and Tom Yum soup!

    If you're unfamiliar with Thai food, you're really missing out. It is NOTHING like Chinese. Their cuisine has an intricate balance of herbs, citrus, sweet and spicy. And, the food is actually pretty. If you go and check them out, I'd love to hear what you have to say.
    Mai Thai on Urbanspoon


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