Wednesday, March 30, 2011

**Restaurant Review-Zoe's Kitchen**

I have been the fortunate recipient of catering from Zoe's Kitchen before but have never made it into the restaurant.  Samples of their food I've had include grilled chicken skewers, grilled vegetables and (truly) the best Greek salad I think I've ever had.  

Today, I had to take the poor little Vivinator to the doc for the lovely cough that I've shared with her.  When I put my hand on her last night and realized I could make a grilled cheese sandwich on her back, I knew that cough had taken an ugly turn and chances are the ears were about to join the party. So, sure enough, both ears are "fully involved" and the doctor sent me off to Publix for free antibiotics.  Can you believe they do that?  Free anything in today's world excites me greatly!  My Publix is one of the "urban stores" which has no pharmacy, so off to Forest Acres I went.  The pharmacy was backed up and asked if I could do a little shopping.  Hey, I wasn't's free medicine, right!  So, I seized the opportunity to visit Zoe's on Forest Drive.

I went in determined that I was ordering that fantastic Greek salad, but once I got in there, my mind reeled.  The menu was awesome.  Just simple, fresh, Greek-inspired salads, soup, sandwiches, wraps.  Nothing too fancy, but just quality.  Have you ever been able to sense quality just by "feeling" a place?  That's what was happening to me.  So, I decided to actually read the menu and perhaps decide on something other than salad.  So, I approached the cashier and ordered the "Gruben" which is a turkey reuben dubbed a "Zoe's favorite."  Then, the guy  behind the counter asked me if I'd ever had their chicken salad.  "Does it have celery in it?" I asked.  "Yes," he said.  Well, that takes me out of the running. But he convinced me to try a sample and lo and behold, I loved it!  Celery and all.  Theirs is shredded very fine so you can appreciate a little crunch, but not that foul celery flavor.  So, I changed my order to chicken salad on the 7-grain bread.  When it came to my side order, I couldn't really make up my mind, so I took the cashier guy's recommendation again and ordered the rice pilaf.  I know, it's not a typical side you'd have with a sandwich, but he was right it's simply delicious. 

Since I was by myself, I had time to study the menu.  They offer lots of lean foods...turkey, grilled chicken, homemade chicken & orzo soup.  Definitely not the average sandwich shop kind of fare.  The decor is warm yet bright and sunny.  And, they have several patio tables as well.  And, there's now another place in town where I can order chicken salad without disappointment!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good, Satisfying & Simple Meal when you just need a Short-cut!

I have had a cold this whole week.  I expected maybe a day or two under the weather; no big deal.  I've had 'em before.  But, this did not turn out as expected.  No, this cold was more ferocious, more evil, more intent on doing me in.  It teamed up with 2011's massive Pollen Invasion to try to conquer me.  But alas, I have prevailed.

So, in the midst of this epic health battle, I still had to be the incredible, amazing, to-be-awed Super Mom that I am known to be, right?  That included taming the laundry beast (this damn thing cannot be beaten; it keeps coming back), having Neil out of town for 2 nights (extra "mommy, mommy, mommy" questions as I'm sick as the proverbial dog), working and performing feats of genius and cooking.  So, by the time last night rolled around, I was a little ragged around the edges.  But, guess what, my foodie-licious little buddies?  I loaded up on cold  medicine, poured a glass of wine and hit the kitchen.  Result?  The ridiculously easy,  yet SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS open-faced roast beef sandwich.  Oh yeah!  
It looked a lot like this! 

But, remember, I was sick, so I'm going to be going all "Sandra Lee" and "Semi-Homemade" on ya.  Actually, I cooked very little, but the point I'm trying to make is that you can crank out a hot, homey, satisfying, old school dinner even when you feel like sticking your head in the oven.  (that's a funny story I'll have to tell you sometime...).

Ok, get ready.  You will not need to take notes here.  I took deli roast beef and sliced it into strips.  Then I warmed some olive oil in a pan and gently cooked some minced garlic, not so much to cook the garlic, but to flavor the olive oil.  I added the roast beef and cooked it on low just to coat with the garlic oil and warm.  Then, here's the hard part...I poured in a jar of "Homestyle" gravy from the grocery store.  (I know, I know... my mother-in-law, Mimi, the homemade gravy Queen is looking down at me shaking her head right now, but hey...I was sick!  Probably a high fever, I bet!)  I added freshly ground salt & pepper and spooned this yummy stuff over toast points.  It was fabulous.

And, the good news is that today, I am 400% better than yesterday.  The healing power of deli meat and jarred gravy?  Hmmm, something to think about.  Of course, it could have been the medicine I guess.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Freezer Depletion

Ever since I became a coupon-junkie, I developed a freezer problem.  Meaning, I got to a point that buy-one-get-one sales and coupons had gotten my freezer so packed to the gills that I had to put myself on restrictions.  I can't even count how many times I've come home from a shopping trip and Neil looks at what I've bought, looks at the freezer and says "That'll NEVER go in there."  I love it when he says 'never'.  It's the ultimate challenge word.  And I always reply, "Oh, honey.  It's going in there!"  I love to win.

Maybe it's the change in the economy over the last few years, but I gotta tell you, there is something very comforting to me knowing that I have food in the freezer.  There's the convenience factor...get home late from work, you know there is something in there that you can quickly defrost and get on the plate.  Or, forget defrosting.  Grab a bag of Wanchai Ferry. Then there's the seasonal thing...I have a homemade blackberry pie in my freezer right now that I can serve tonight if I want, reminding us all of summertime.  Then, there's the economy issue...the sheer comfort of having a pot roast, pounds of shrimp or homemade pot pies sitting in that freezer just whispering to you, "don't worry, you can take care of your family with good, healthy food. I'm right here behind this door."  Ok, I don't actually hear the food talking, but you get my drift. 

This morning, I peeked inside to get an idea of what I should do for dinner tonight and guess what?  I could actually see some of the shelves.  There was some open space in there!  The frozen stash is dwindling.  While there's still some great stuff there, this means I can lift the frozen food restrictions I placed on myself!  B1G1 crab cakes, chicken breast, all my pre-chopped treasures for quick casseroles...we will meet again soon!  I wish I could invent a way to freeze sour cream, milk and ricotta...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Saint Patrick's Day 2011

This is Vivi's plate, complete with green milk...she thinks I'm a rockstar!
I love corned beef.  Yep, it's true. As a kid, my mom never cooked an actual corned beef brisket.  But, I think that was probably because in the 70's brisket wasn't very mainstream in the South, certainly not the Irish "corned" preparation.  Being from a Florida fishing village, it's doubtful that my mom grew up eating corned beef brisket, or that she'd ever even heard of it until adulthood.  As I was growing up however, it was Dottie who introduced me to corned beef and pastrami deli meat.  I loved them both.  So, even before I ever encountered a "real" corned beef myself, I'd already consumed many a'package of deli meat of the Irish persuasion. I believe I was in high school when my Uncle John brought this new, heavenly, off-the-wall creation to Thanksgiving:  a corned beef that he actually corned himself and finished off in the smoker.  Divine!

So, of course this time of year is when you can find a plethera of corned beef in the grocery stores and when it's on sale.  I dare you to find one on sale any other time of the year.  Being a corned beef lover, I've checked.  Pretty much weekly.  Believe me on this point.  Anyway, it is that time of year, and I couldn't be happier!  

Even though my family is primarily German (way back in the old days of course), and I've never been to Ireland, and my hair only turns red in the summer, I am a fanatic for this meat. You see where I'm going...yes, it was Irish dinner night Chez Akre.  I'm pleased to report that even the sweetest 5 year old leprechaun in the world not only gave the meal a thumbs up, but she ate with Irish gusto!  Our menu?  Corned beef, Syracuse salt potatoes and sauteed green beans.  And for the Vivver, green's magically delicious, you know.

Green and t-ádh
Lastly, I was told in the car on the way home that Viv's teachers said "it's ok" to bring treats for the class tomorrow.  Hmmmm....wonder why they didn't actually say this to me or any other parent?  So, feeling particularly "Super Mom-y" I opened up the cabinets and cranked out some green sugar cookies with green & white sprinkles.  Oh yeah,  I'm that girl! I can't be stopped. I'm cook-a-rama-licious.  Don't hate.

So, on this eve of St. Patrick's Day, I bid you (thanks to the fine folks at Google)  Lá Fhéile Pádraig Happy le mo chairde go léir Cócaireachta.  

Friday, March 11, 2011

**Restaurant Review-Copper River**

As most of my friends know, I'm not a big "chain" eater.  Neil is big-time not a fan of what he refers to as "corporate food."  But, every now and then, chain restaurants serve a purpose and find their way into our lives.  The secret to their success is consistency.  You can pull into a McDonald's, Ruby Tuesday or a Ruth's Chris, for that matter, in any city and know what to expect and what you'll receive.  I admit, I'm not the most adventurous when I'm in a strange city without any recommendations from people on where to eat.  Like all those cool joints that Guy Fieri finds hiding in strip malls and the backs of gas stations...I'd love to eat at these places.  But, like Guy, I'd only discover them via referral.  You won't catch this girl wandering into "Anyplace, USA" and venturing into something like "Fat Betty's Restaurant" in the strip mall next to Dollar General.  But, I digress (yet again).
Yeah, we're close friends, Guy and me.  Uh huh, that's right.

Yesterday, my mom and I met our good friend Kay at Copper River in the Harbison area.  I admit that I thought this was not a chain but recently someone informed me that I was wrong on this point.  I'll say this though.  For "corporate food" I think it's more than above average.  The decor and atmosphere is warm and comfortable and the variety of the menu is a positive.

First, their "House" and "Copper River Salad" are identical twins of California Dreaming.  I'm going out on a limb here, but I bet you ten bucks that you can't find more than a handful of people who will truthfully tell you that they don't love these salads. At Copper River, they offer a pretty wide variety of sandwiches, burgers, and soup.  When I've been there in the past, I think I've always ordered salad.  But this time was going to be different.  They have this big, wood fired oven that I've always eyed, but never ventured out into their pizza offerings.  Yesterday as I passed by someone else's table, I saw what I wanted.  It's the Spicy Cajun Shrimp pizza.  

Pizza guy, courtesy of Copper River's website
I was quite satisfied with my choice. It is basically a white pizza with a creamy bechamel type base, tomatoes, very thinly sliced red onion, and one of my all-time favorites....CAPERS!  Lots of 'em!  And top it all off with spicy, fried Cajun shrimp.  The shrimp had nice flavors, although their Cajun spice has a little too much salt.  (See?  I love salt, but I know when there's too much of a good thing!)  The combo of capers, creamy sauce and the acidity of the tomatoes and onions were just dreamy with the shrimp.  I was a happy little pizza addict.  

My mom and Kay both got salad, which was as good as ever.  Mom added a bowl of she-crab soup which was good, but not the best one I've found in our area.  She-crab is another of those dishes that I sample every chance I get.  Ok, now I'm getting emotional since this has reminded me that Doc's is closed and my beloved Doc's she-crab is now in the vault.  [fighting back the tears, I won't cry, I can't cry.]

The point of my story is this:  if you're over at Harbison and feel like a really good salad or a delicious, fresh, wood-fired pizza, pop into Copper River.  You'd find me here versus an Applebee's in a skinny minute!Copper River Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Hungry

I'm feeling emotional and thoughtful today.  I was on my way to a meeting, sitting at a red light, when a man passed in front of my car. This man appeared to be in his late 50's, but as we all know, poverty can age people way beyond their years, so he could have been younger, as far as I know.  He had hair that could use a wash, a grey overcoat, worn tennis shoes and a very intent look on his face.  I can't really put my finger on what that look meant.  It didn't seem to be pain.  Not sadness or stress.  Just intensity.  I imagined that he was just thinking something like, "Just one foot in front of the other, keep breathing, keep moving."  I noticed that there was a cellophane wrapped "honey bun" poking out of his coat pocket.  From the direction he was traveling, I bet he'd just come from either the Texaco or Exxon up the street and had bought that honey bun there.

All I could think about was how that honey bun was certainly capable of filling his stomach, but would bring no nutrition.  But, that may not matter to him right now.  Maybe it was an indulgence that he's saved some pennies for over the last few days.  A special, sweet treat that any one of us could throw into our basket without a second thought.  I wished I had a roasted turkey, green beans and sweet potato casserole right there in the car that I could give him.  But, he may not want it.  Meaning, just because he appears to be downtrodden, he can certainly still have pride.  He certainly has feelings like I do.  Where would he take it?  Does he have a home?  I just don't know.   

My sweet baby child is very focused on homeless and hungry people.  She goes to pre-school at our church and our church houses and runs a Soup Cellar.  While the children don't spend time down there, they are all aware of it. Vivian takes money from her piggy bank and donates to the Soup Cellar.  Even though she's just (almost) 5 years old, the church actually sent her a tax receipt.  She has gone to the Winter Shelter with my parents to drop off leftover food donated by area caterers.  And recently, she concocted an elaborate plan for us to provide food on the weekends for the Soup Cellar folks since the Cellar is closed on weekends.  I'm learning a  lot from this beautiful child.  

As so many people in today's American economy are suffering, experiencing difficulties and the fear that comes with them, scrimping and getting by, Vivian and this man I saw today remind me of how truly lucky I am.  I have a wonderful family.  We have a house, we have food, we have love, we have friends who care about us, we have resources.  I wish I could run out into the streets and feed all the people who are hungry.  No one should be deprived of food, nutrition and health.  But it happens, doesn't it?  While I can't take care of them all, I can keep doing my part with my compassion, my donations, and my voluntarism. And, encouraging others like you, my friends, to do the same.  

I'd love to find that man from today and offer him a meal. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

**Restaurant Review-Tsunami**

Tsunami is nothing new to Columbia, but even as long as it's been here, we've never made it there.  As you know, Neil and I are big Saki Tumi and Tako Sushi fans.  I guess we just never felt the need to go a little further down Gervais Street to Tsunami because we were happy with what we had.  We did check it out last night however, finally.

How we ended up there is a classic tale of good marketing.  Enter Groupon.  This past December, Groupon offered a good deal for Tsunami. I bought three of them thinking a) we would finally have a reason to check them out and b) I could use them as gifts.  So, yesterday, the opportunity arose for Neil and I to meet after work. 

Let me start by saying that overall, I like Tsunami and I will go back.  But, our visit was not without some bumps in the road.  So, bear with me.  We sat at the bar because our intent was to have a drink and a "snack" before having to pick up the Vivver at mom and dad's house.  The bartender was a pleasant but very young girl.  I point out her youth because the vodka martini she mixed was just not very good.  It was pretty much a short pour of vodka, no vermouth to speak of, and therefore way too strong and medicinal and not very flavorful.  Also, she was already shooting sake with a customer and it was only 5:45.  I wonder what shape she was in by 9:00?

I liked the decor and atmosphere of the place very much.  Dark, rich colors accented with cool light fixtures and a nice aquarium.  The sushi bar itself was extensive and attractive. I also like the changing colors of the wall behind the bar.  (Sometimes pretty colors are all I need to be happy.)  The only thing I'm perplexed by is the large "crack 'n peel" #30 on the wall next to the sushi bar? 

The bartender informed us that there was a special for the evening.  Three sushi rolls (particular ones to choose from) for $8.95. That's a pretty daggum good deal people.  So, we ordered the Philly (smoked salmon, cream cheese & cucumber), the Charleston (shrimp, cucumber, spicy mayo) and the spicy tuna (spicy tuna, hot sauce, cucumber.)  We also ordered the shrimp potstickers.  I loved the shrimp roll because I pretty much love anything with shrimp in it!  The smoked salmon was good too, but it was cut way too big.  I should have asked for it to be double cut.  Neil can vouch for the spicy tuna, because I'm not a sashimi girl.  He liked it but had to add sriracha, but that's not unusual for Neil.  The potstickers were tasty in that they contained lots of shrimp and you could really taste it.  The dough was very light and crispy...but that's because they were fried.  A true potsticker is pan fried on the bottom, so it doesn't stick to the pot (get it?) and then steamed.  Like I said, these were tasty, but were really a fried dumpling rather than a potsticker.  They were served with ponzu, which was a very nice complement to the fresh shrimp flavor. 

So, everything was pretty good all around until it came time to use our Groupon.  The youthful, sake-drinkin' bartender didn't know what to do with it and had to call for back up.  That person who seemed to have a managerial air about her, then proceeds to tell me that the Groupon requires that we have a minimum of $16 worth of food and we were $1.06 short.  She then proceeds to babble on about seeing something on the news about Groupon not disclosing expiration dates and fine print to customers.  Now, any of you who know me know that this is the kind of ridiculosity that infuriates me.  Don't come bug me over a friggin' $1.06.  Just make it happen.  And, don't tell me a bunch of crap that isn't true...for instance...I (very calmly I might add) pointed to the actual piece of paper that is the Groupon and said, "Wow, here's the expiration date right here.  And look!  Here's a paragraph that is actually entitled 'fine print' and it merely states that tax and gratuity isn't included.  There is no mention whatsoever of a food minimum.  This would certainly be the place where that kind of information would appear."  I went further to tell her, very politely, that I had no intention of arguing over $1.06."  She managed to figure out a way to just deal with the coupon that HER COMPANY chose to offer and leave me alone.  Earlier, I referred to the fact that we came here because of effective marketing.  See...the Groupon is designed to get NEW customers (like me and Neil) in the door, which it did.  You really want to irritate people over fine print that doesn't exist and $1.06?  Not smart. 

Ok, my rant is over on that subject.  As I said before, I will go back.  I liked the food and the atmosphere, which are two of my big three criteria.  Since I have two more Groupons, I guess we'll go when we're really hungry so this $1.06 won't be a topic of conversation again!

Tsunami Japanese Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Childhood Favorite, Just Remembered

As I'm munching on a few slices of turkey pepperoni (it's spicier than regular, you know) my mind travels back to a childhood dish invented by my mom.  It was the ultimate special treat for me and Katherine.  Come to think of it, it ties into my lifelong love of and advocacy for pizza.  The dish, you ask?  Dottie Webber's "Pizza Macaroni."

It's been years since I've had it.  As a kid, it was the ultimate "awww right!" dinner at our house, at least for us kids.  Not real sure how dad felt about it.  When I was in college, I cared for 5 little girls after school as their dad recovered from cancer and I made it for them.  But, that was a long time ago, so now, I'm relying on memory.  Of course, I could call mom, but I doubt she has it written down.  

So, here's the memory.  Elbow macaroni in a 13"X9" casserole dish.  Layered then with pepperoni, hamburger meat, cheese and sauce.  Back in the 70's, it's highly likely that she used cheddar because it was sort of the everyday staple.  And, since my mom was raising two "eclectic" eaters, she added black olives.  All this was baked and was the most excellent supper on the planet. 

Now that I'm the mom, I'm thinking about how I'd go about making it for the Vivver.  She is a sausage fan, so I think I'd brown sausage & hamburger (add garlic of course) together.  Maybe throw some onion in there during the browning.  Turkey pepperoni and black olives definitely.  I'd probably use a pasta or pizza sauce if I'm in a hurry, otherwise I'd make a simple tomato sauce with herbs.  I've learned from Neil's pizza creation that I will use a combo of mozzarella & cheddar.  But the elbow macaroni?  No change!  Sometimes fancy pasta shapes just make me mad.  Don't mess with a good thing.  

Dottie: The "Pizza Macaroni" Creator
Now that I've remembered this casserole, it's time to try it out on Vivian.  I hope (and I bet) she'll love it as much as Aunt Katherine and I always did.  And do.  I'll go one step further...I bet if I made this and took it to my sister, she'd flip her proverbial lid!  Thanks once again mom, for a fond and delicious childhood food memory!


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