Tuesday, May 31, 2011

It's not the beach, but pretty close...

Today the temperature display in my car said 103.  It's the last day of May.  May is supposed to be springtime folks.  Yet, it's a hundred and friggin' three.  We haven't made it to the beach yet and at this rate, by the time we go, which is usually late summer, the entire planet will be ablaze and the ocean will be rapidly evaporating.  But, at least our homes aren't swirling up above us and crashing down thanks to some evil tornado, right?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sizzling Flank Steak!

I had some time by myself today after a meeting downtown and decided to walk over to M Cafe for a little lunch.  I haven't been to M Cafe in a long time, so it was nice to be back.  As I neared the restaurant, I could smell it.  (This is a good thing).  I love being in a city and smelling good food smells.  Chicago is good for that.  So, as I arrived, I was already jacked about my pending meal.  

This is one of those places that I've been to enough times that I've tried several things on the menu but then one day, I ordered something that I'm stuck on.  I tell myself each visit, "Ok, this time I'm gonna do it.  I'm going to order something else NO MATTER WHAT!"  I peruse the menu, I ponder, I consider. Then, the waiter comes and I say, "I'll have my usual.  Sizzling flank steak with the cold noodle and salad."  He says, "What do you mean when you say 'cold noodle?'"  Uh oh...have they changed the menu?  I quickly look.  It's not called sizzling anymore, but it still offers me noodles instead of rice and there's mention of salad.  The waiter and I exchange mildly confused looks.  A moment of silence.  Finally, he says, "Why don't you just tell me how you want it."   

*****H A L L E L U J A H*****

Sorry about the lack of focus..the iPhone was even excited about this lunch!
This guy has just entered my Waiter Hall of Fame.  Why yes, I'd love to tell you exactly how I'd like it.  So, here it is.  If you like M Cafe or Miyo's, I recommend this little meal.  Sizzling Flank steak:  marinated in a soy based sauce that has a hint of curry.  I think they actually use skirt steak, which until recently wasn't well known in the South, so I think they always just called it flank for ease of understanding.  It's thin, tender and the marinade is just fantastic.  Garlic Green Beans: These come with the steak.  They are sauteed just until the skins blister.  My favorite way to cook beans.  Cold Noodle:  Pretty self-explanatory, but I like a little puddle of their house salad dressing on the plate, then the cold noodles, then a dollop of Sriracha or something similar.  House Salad:  the lettuce is beautifully fresh, absolutely no blemishes, it looks like they just picked it from the field themselves.  But the house dressing is the magic component here.  I've heard over the years that many of us here in Columbia have begged the owner, Michelle Wang, to bottle this stuff and she won't do it.  I can hardly describe it...soy, peanut, hot sauce???  I don't know; just trust me and order it!

So, I had a very successful and satisfying lunch experience. Oh..bonus!  I've always said I feel like I could write childrens' books.  I got an idea in my head a few days ago, so since I was dining alone today, I took a pad and pen and started writing.  If anything comes of it, I can tell you later about the irony of the lady at the table across from me!

M Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 20, 2011

Another Confession

I love salad.  I often joke about the day when I win the Powerball and have a commercial size salad bar installed in my home (along with a person to maintain it.)  I have a cookbook entitled Salad Days. Guess what?  It's all about salad.  I have another cookbook that is nothing but dressings.  I love a salad as simple as the Mullaney Salad to a monster Greek salad, Iceberg lettuce and all, to a masterpiece that can feature anything from a black bean cake to sliced filet mignon.  Just sitting here typing, I'm thinking about great salads I've had:  the crab cake salad at the Blue Marlin, blackened shrimp on a Caesar, a big giant bleu cheese wedge.  But, despite all the exquisite salads I've had in my time, I have a confession to make.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Hit me, Schnitzel!

German food is hard to find. You have to find a German person who happens to own a restaurant.  Have you ever noticed that?  All over town you can find Mexican places owned by Indians, Chinese places owned by Mexicans, and Sushi places owned by Chinese.  But, I've never, ever, EVER found a German restaurant that wasn't owned AND operated by Germans.  Think about it.

Columbia is fortunate to have Julia's Stammtich.  Julia and her son run the place, they drive bitchin' German cars and serve up plates of food that are bigger than your head.  There are only about 8 tables and they are only open 4 days a week.  They don't take credit or debit cards, so that makes them officially the last place on Earth where you can write a check.  I almost forgot how to fill the damn thing out!

Julia's is a hop, skip & a jump from our house, but I can rarely talk Neil into going with me.  Today, I have the day off and decided to head down there myself.  I got the sunny corner table and proceeded to "try" to educate myself on this new GPS app I downloaded.  (Still not mastered yet.)  I ordered a glass of wine and Jaeger Schnitzel.  First, you receive a crusty roll and butter, along with a salad consisting of pickled beets, shredded cabbage, green beans and a little lettuce. I think it's all dressed lightly with olive oil or maybe a mild vinaigrette.  The only thing I wish they'd do differently here is use fresh green beans.  Funny thing about Jaeger Schnitzel is this:  I hate mushrooms.  I like their flavor, but I can't stand actually eating them.  But, I can appreciate what they impart to a sauce.  The point I'm making is this:  whether you're a mushroom fan or not, Jaeger Schnitzel won't disappoint.  It's an enormous pork cutlet pan fried, as most schnitzel is.  Then, Julia smothers it in beefy mushroom gravy (Oooh, umami).  Again, the only change I'd make here is fresh mushrooms rather than the jarred kind.  You have a choice of spaetzle, German potato salad or homemade home fries.  Today I chose spaetzle, which is good since you have all that yummy gravy.  

Julia's is one of my favorite places not only for the food, but the fact that it is a true family owned and operated joint.  It's a tiny restaurant in a dumpy, old shopping center that you'd never even notice if you aren't looking for it.  Julia and her son are hands on and the most polite and friendly people and whether you go alone or with a group of friends, you'll feel welcome, you'll be well fed and you'll leave knowing that your business was appreciated.  If you haven't been to Julia's Stammtich, get in the car.  Head over to Jackson Blvd and get your schnitzel on.

Julia's German Stammtisch on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Easiest and Most Awesome Ribs Ever!

This is another story of a recipe that lived in my house for quite awhile before I finally made it.  Ribs are a food that you find all over the South, but not all of us are born and bred rib chefs.  In fact, until I made this recipe, I was always very intimidated by the idea of cooking ribs.  Depending on who you ask, you'll learn that cooking ribs requires hours and hours of slow cooking on a grill or boiling first, grilling then hours more in a slow oven or baking, grilling then grilling again.  You name it, I've heard it.  That's the reason this rib recipe sat around my house so long.  

But, the picture on the cover of Bon Appetit was so beautiful, I just couldn't discard it.  One day, I'll muster up the courage to try it, right?  So, this magazine lived here...you guessed it...on top of my microwave until that fateful day finally arrived.

I remembered Neil's mom telling me that the only ribs to even bother with are the baby backs and that they aren't available all the time. You have to keep your eyes out for them.  The groceries are full of all kinds of rib-types.  For instance, "Country Style" means fatty, gristly, nasty, reject meat just clinging on the bone hoping for mercy.  Don't buy those.  So, one day, I saw baby backs in the store, on sale and they looked very lean and pretty.  I went for it!  I bought them and I came home, went straight to the microwave to retrieve the recipe, and got started. 

That was one of those days that Neil was impressed with his little Wanna-be Chef-wife.  I was at the grill, following instructions to a "T", focused and intent.  I think he was proud of me for jumping off that rib cliff but I also think he was genuinely excited.  Well, long story short, the ribs were fantastic.  We both loved them so much, we were giddy.  And, the most impressive thing of all?  They don't take hours...less than an hour actually to cook.  What????  That's right folks...easy, flavorful, and quick enough for a weeknight.  

Wrapping these babies in delicious honey-ginger marinade!
So, the other day I found goodlooking ribs at Aldi and I couldn't resist them.  I had yesterday off, so I mixed up the marinade. That marinade is so heavenly, it smells so good you want to eat it with a spoon.  So, I had the ribs marinating in the fridge most of the day.  When it came time to cook, I made a foil packet of red potatoes, onions, yellow & red bell peppers and green onions.  Drizzle with olive oil, close up and it goes on the top rack of the grill.  I also had fresh corn, so I rinsed them in water and wrapped in foil...off to the top rack.  

Then, the fun part.  At least, it usually is.  These ribs are a cinch to cook.  You grill them 8  minutes per side with the grill open.  Then, 8 minutes per side with the grill closed.  That's it.  They are tender, the flavor will punch you in the face and all is right with the world.

As I turned them for the last time yesterday, I also turned my burners down to keep the grill around medium.  I then walked around the corner of the house, helped the Vivver fill up a little watering can and when I came back I noticed fire.  Yep.  Fire.  What's this wanna-be chef's ultimate nightmare?  House burning down.  I turned off the burners and flipped the lid open.  There are my two racks of ribs engulfed in a raging fire.  So, first, I grabbed my tongs and rescued the meat.  The veggies were shaking in their boots up on the top rack...they might have to be sacrified.  Then, I called  Neil.  Uhhh...what do we do?  We turned off the gas of course, closed it up and let it burn.  Obviously, some grease/fat had accumulated in the bottom of the grill and caught on fire.  The temp of this grill had gone from 400 degrees to 700 in the time it took me to fill up a kid's toy watering can.  
Right before the big inferno started

Anyway, we rescued the ribs and the veggies survived too.  The house is undamaged and still standing.  All is well, thank God! Oh, by the way, it's never too early to explain to children about grease fires and why we don't need them to try to use their watering can on one.  Dodged a major bullet there!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Guilty Pleasure

Many of you know that my mom and I are both Realtors (r).  I was 11 or 12 when mom became licensed.  Back in those days, agents were taught to behave like call girls...the phone rings, someone wants you, you get up and get in the car.  The only (and pretty friggin' major) difference is that a call girl comes back with money.  Selling homes is a longer, more detailed and complicated process.   Here's a news flash...people who sell real estate are actually PEOPLE.  They have families, hobbies, other responsibilities...we're not on call because you know what?  Nobody dies in real estate, therefore, I do not need to be "on call."  Uh oh...I'm going down digression street, aren't I?

Anyway, there is a point to my rant.  Since my mom was trained back in the old days, she would answer the phone while helping us with homework, cooking dinner and even while eating dinner and she'd sometimes hang up, walk to the garage and drive away.  WTH?  Consequently, my dad, my sister and I had to learn to cook.  And you know what?  We did. And we'll all really good at it!  So, while it sounds like I'm bitching about how things were for real estate agents then (and I am) I'm also trying to illustrate that there was a silver lining to this cloud.

My dad immediately gravitated to high end dishes, which characterized his taste.  Up until that point, we'd never eaten veal.  But, my dad became quite the expert chef of veal piccata, veal oscar and wienerschnitzel.  Next, he "imitated" the Greek Island of Scorpios dish from Main Street's Epicurean.  By the time he was finished with it, it was so good that none of us ever ordered it again at the restaurant because Dad's was so much better.  And after a lifetime of hating fish, my dad got me to finally try fresh tuna that he had grilled and served with a light, fresh pesto cream.  All the while, Katherine and I were in the kitchen too.  We all developed our own styles and specialties and K and I actually began to make the family's weekly shopping list and would head off to Irmo's Winn Dixie with a blank check signed by the parentals.

This was my dinner tonight...crab cake, homegrown asparagus, sirloin & BEARNAISE!
Ok, enough history.  Dad's introduction of Veal Oscar began my love of Bearnaise sauce.  I love it so much that I think about ways I can incorporate it into stuff that you don't normally find.  I am trying to get my head around a bearnaise inspired soup.  I love it on steak, I love it on seafood, I love it when it runs over onto potatoes. I just love it.  That's all I can say.  It's definitely one of life's guilty pleasures...you simply can't make it without butter.  At the risk of sounding like (my least favorite Food Network star) Paula, butter is a powerful force.  In fact, if you meet someone who tells you they don't like butter, I'd say they're a big, fat liar.  If you've never had bearnaise sauce, do yourself a favor.  It elevates your dish to a decadent level.  This is one of the goodies we can thank the French for! 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Decadent Snack

We all have those moments.  I just need a snack, nothing major, not a whole meal, just a snack.  My most recent snack attack resulted in truffled french fries.  Hello?  Need I say more?  

I simply cooked some frozen Ore Ida fries, salted with sea salt and sprinkled with white truffle oil.  Yum. 

My other favorite french fry dish is to actually fry them in olive oil.  This results in this rich flavor that is very reminiscent of Portugal.  But, my friend Holly the dietician killed that buzz when she started talking about boiling olive oil releasing free radicals and crap like that.  Dang it Holly! :-)


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