Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bird Boredom

It happens to us all.  Recipe rut, same ole-itis, nothing-sounds-good food boredom.  I'm going through it with chicken.  I just scored these big, beautiful chicken breasts from Aldi (a sweet $1.69/lb, no less) but I have no interest in cooking them.  I trimmed them up and got them in the freezer to await my next great idea.  But, no ideas have come forth.  The thought of chicken right now holds absolutely 0% of my attention.  Yawn. 

So, you guys need to help me.  If you have a recipe that you think can shake me out of poultry doldrums, bring it on!   

Thursday, January 26, 2012

New-fangled Sausage & Peppers

I love how romantic and classic Italian food always sounds. Just the mere mention of it can conjure up images, aromas, even flavors. But, in reality, I find (most) "traditional" Italian fare pretty disappointing. Now, before anyone fires up the Fiat and starts heading over here to beat me senseless with a massive mostaccioli, let me explain. I LOVE Northern Italian food most of all. But, here in the U.S. (at least the part I grew up in) "Italian" is pretty much synonymous with tomato sauce, pasta, onions, peppers and meat.

One dish that always sounds enticing to me is sausage, peppers and onions. 

There's just a couple of problems here.
  • I hate sausage. Well, I love the flavor of sausage, but not what sausage is. I'm very particular about meat. Fat, gristle, bones, hard unidentified shit, etc. doesn't belong in meat and certainly not in any food I'm going to consume. 
  • Peppers are ok to me in small doses. Qualification: jalapenos and chiles I'm good with because I like some heat. But when it comes to bell peps, I get more picky. I like green ones for fajitas, pizza, sauces, etc. But, it makes me mad when yellow, orange and red bells are marketed as "sweet" peppers. NO THEY AREN'T. They still taste like a regular old bell pepper, but milder in flavor. There ain't nothin' sweet goin' on here. 
  • Onions are wonderful. But, combine them with bell peppers and tons of tomato based sauce and my experience with an Upper G.I. at age 17 enters my memory like a herd of elephants. But things have changed. 
Over Thanksgiving, Aunt Kathy introduced me to something similar yet different. Chicken and apple sausages and (actual) sweet peppers.

Since she's in Florida, she has Publix stores at her disposal that make ours here in S.C. look microscopic. In fact, when we returned after the holiday, I searched my Publix to make sure I hadn't overlooked these items before. Nope. So, I talked to one of the employees and told him about these sausages and peppers I'd seen in Publix-land. Well, sometime this month, I noticed them showing up here. I have no doubt that I had absolutely NOTHING to do with that. I'm just glad that they are here. 

I'll quit rambling and let you know more about what I'm talking about... In the bacon/sausage/lunch meat cooler, look for "Alfresco" sweet apple chicken sausage. They are low fat, all natural and gluten free. The best part? Smooth texture, no gristly weirdness and they taste awesome, especially grilled. Next is the peppers. In the produce section, look for bags of small, multi-colored peppers. I don't know what brand name is on them, but you can't miss them. Kathy rubbed them with olive oil and then popped them on the grill. Here's the significant thing: THESE PEPPERS ARE ACTUALLY SWEET. Finally, truth in advertising :-) 

To be honest with you, the old Italian sausage with peppers and onions doesn't even sound remotely appetizing anymore now that I've discovered this delicious (and more interesting) alternative. If you're a traditionalist, I respect that; more power to you! But, branch out and try these too. I think you'll be happy about having another sausage and pepper dish in your repertoire!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Diner: newest to Columbia's dining scene

First, let me admit.  The Food Truck Rodeo at Crosshill Market was our original destination.  However, two hours into the event, we arrived to find lines for some trucks that (I swear) were 100 people long.  I realize that last night's event was very heavily attended, but honestly, any mobile food biz should be able to turn faster than that.  That is the nature of the food truck, by definition.  I want this trend to work in Columbia, but so far, it's not working like it does in the big cities where the concept originated. 

So, anyway, with temps in the 40's and two kids with us, it became apparent quite quickly that this wasn't going to work for us.  So, instead, we turned our sights on the new "The Diner" which was just next door.  They just opened this week, so we all went in with the clear understanding that they would surely be working through some kinks and growing pains, as any new restaurant does.  It's for that reason that I'm not even casting a vote on Urbanspoon yet because I'm a fair person; they need more time to get their groove on before I really make up my mind.

Anyway, some friends have already asked for my two cents' worth on last night's dinner, so here goes:

First, we had to wait a bit, but not overly long.  However, the vestibule of this place is quite small.  That means when people are waiting for a table, the entrance to the restaurant becomes quite congested and there's nowhere to go.  We also learned that moving us to the bar (the open area adjacent to the hostess stand) wasn't possible because kids aren't allowed "in the bar."  Not to nit-pick semantics, but why does a classic diner need a "bar?"  A place to pour beer and wine and mix up drinks, yes.  But am I going to go to my neighborhood DINER as my regular bar hangout?  Not likely.  Ok, not at all.

Once seated, we ordered the fried pickles and cheese sticks to share.  The cheese sticks were very good....cheesy, gooey, and dusted with herbs.  The pickles were also well seasoned, crispy and came with a remoulade sauce which I think had a touch of horseradish (nice touch.)  Henry's pickles are still my favorite but these were a very close 2nd.  

Kids menu:  Sarah (my god-daughter) is a grilled cheese aficionada.  She was pleased with her sandwich because it featured more than one type of cheese, was gooey and "stretchy" but she commented that the bread was greasy.  Maybe next time we can ask for light butter on the outside of the bread.  My Vivian ordered the kids cheeseburger, which received her signature "10 thumbs up" but she could only eat 1/2 of it.  

Grown-ups:  Mike chose the meatloaf.  I have to rely on him here since I am not a meatloaf eater and really know nothing about the stuff.  It was a thick slice served with mashed potatoes and green beans. He commented that the meatloaf was very nice but wasn't sure about whether the mashed potatoes were homemade.  Euge and I both ordered the "Daddy's Bleu Burger."  It was a pretty well done patty, but not cooked beyond recognition.  This burger has onion, jalapeno and bleu cheese mixed into the patty.  We both felt it was nicely flavored but while we could certainly pick up the jalapeno, neither of us could detect the bleu cheese.  The fries were flavorful but I would have liked them to be crispier.  

Finally, the girls wanted to order the hot fudge brownie for dessert.  Granted, I'm not a sweet-freak, so I'm probably not the best judge here.  It was tasty, the kids loved it, but let's be honest...what has to happen to a brownie that a kid won't love it?

The food was certainly not bad but it didn't knock my socks off either.  But, let me clear about this.  I truly believe that all new businesses, especially restaurants, have to get in the groove and work into their skin.  I am pretty confident that this place will evolve into a very nice addition to our dining scene.  I hope that the opening of The Diner and soon the Whole Foods right behind it will both be responsible for breathing new life into this area and bring more new biz with them.  Try out The Diner.  The menu looks very nice and I'm sure the entire experience will simply continue to improve with time.  It's only the first week, after all.  And P.S....we had EXCELLENT service.  That is a huge check mark!
The Diner on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Progresso Souper You Contest

The nice folks at MyBlogSpark have notified me that the Progresso soup guys are gearing up for their "Souper You" contest.  If you don't know, or don't usually shop for Progresso, they have a huge line of soups now that are extremely low in calorie, but still tasty and will make your tummy feel full and happy.  These are the details:
o This year, the Souper You® Contest will provide three lucky winners with an ultimate makeover experience in Hollywood; this includes a trip for 2 to Los Angeles, California where the winner will receive a head-to-toe makeover including hair and makeup, guided shopping spree with a $1,000 fashion retailer gift card, $1,000 spending money and 2 tickets to this season´s live finale of NBC´s The Biggest Loser.

o Progresso is asking fans to visit www.SouperYou.com and submit their photo with a brief essay about why they love Progresso soups and why they deserve a makeover, by no later than February 22nd.

o Fans can check back on March 12th for the announcement of the top ten finalists, and to vote for their favorite finalist until March 25th.

o In addition, visit  http://bit.ly.ProgressoCoup to download a printable coupon for $1.25 off the purchase of four (4) cans of Progresso Soup today, and feel free to share with your blog readers so they can take advantage of the savings as well.

If any of you guys enter, let me know. Sure would be cool if someone from our world wins a trip to L.A.!  And, don't miss out on this coupon.  If you haven't already joined the "Coupon Nation,"  head over to Southern Savers to learn how to make coupons really work for you. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Compton's Kitchen

Generally speaking, I think I'm pretty much an "in the know" kind of person.  Well, two days ago I discovered that <lo and behold> there are things about this town that I don't know about.  I know, I know...I'm just as shocked as you.  So, you can imagine my surprise to learn about Compton's Kitchen over in Triangle City.  Clearly, this place has been around awhile but has managed to escape my attention all these years.  Granted, Triangle City isn't exactly my stomping ground, but come on!  How is the hell have I not even heard a word about the joint?  

So, after an appointment over that way, my mom suggested we go there for lunch.  It was like stepping back in time in a small town.  I googled Compton's first and read some reviews on their website.  So, going in I had been informed that biscuits are a must.  It's basically a "meat 'n three" kind of restaurant with tried and true Southern favorites. It's clear that they are blessed with a regular crowd.  And, I saw two guys I know from town that obviously crossed the river to have lunch here. 

The daily special was a "chicken pan pie" which sounded interesting but since this was my first time, I knew I had to start off with the ultimate classic...fried chicken.  The lady at the counter asked if I was ok waiting about 12 minutes for them to cook me a fresh chicken breast.  Heck yeah!  I'd wait 12 minutes anytime for a freshly cooked piece of anything.  And, it was well worth the wait.  It was a big, golden breast that arrived at the table steaming hot.  The meat was so tender and remarkably juicy.  Additionally, I had the macaroni and cheese and green beans.  The green beans were canned but were well seasoned.  The macaroni was homemade and the spoonful they gave me was so big it might have had its own zipcode.  

Mom chose the country style steak.  I'm really skeptical about this dish because it can be oh-so-good or oh-so-bad.  I tried a bite and WOW!  It was awesome.  Incredibly tender, which as we all know, can be difficult to achieve with cubed steak.  She also had cabbage, mashed potatoes and field peas.  Hallelujah!  Real field peas...you know, the little tiny dark brown ones that it seems you can only get here in SC.  

Then, there were the biscuits.  If you know a good biscuit when you taste it, then you know what I'm talking about.  This is that biscuit..enough said!

I'm still baffled about how I didn't know about Compton's until now, but I'm glad that now I do.  It's nothing fancy.  The prices are reasonable.  The staff is friendly and inviting.  And the food reminds you of Sunday dinner with your family.  If you haven't been over there, make a point of doing so.  
Compton's Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 9, 2012

I couldn't NOT buy it. I know, right?

I just watched Jenny's video about saving on produce.  Ironically, I just snagged a deal on broccoli at BiLo this week.  Broccoli was B1G1.  I mean, really.  Think about it.  When was the last time you saw any fresh fruit or vegetables that were B1G1?  Probably close to never.  So, I went skipping down the aisle on a serious broccoli-seeking mission.  They had bundles of 3 big stalks that counted as "1."  This made each bundle $1.34.  That's incredible.  As much as I would have loved loading up the cart, I am realistic. Man cannot live by broccoli alone.

So now I had the task of coming up with something to do with lots of broccoli.  Time to conjure up some soup!  So, I made a double recipe of Cream of Broccoli.  Plenty for us to have for dinner and put some away in the freezer.
Green gold! 

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble
 So, we made a nice little dinner of fresh broccoli soup and these C.R.A.Z.Y. twice-baked potatoes that I saw Rachael Ray make on her show.  Oh sure, it looks like a heart attack spud, but worth every bacony bite.  I highly recommend you try it out.  I'm sure you can imagine the look on any man's face when you present him with this bacon and potato bombshell!

This hit the spot!
 Now I need to decide what to do with the 2nd bundle of broccoli that I have.  I love the old classic broccoli with cheese sauce, of course.  I am human, afterall.  Chicken and broccoli always work well together.  Quiche.  Simply steamed with lemon.  A tidbit for you:  don't throw out your broccoli stalks.  You can peel them, slice into julienne and add to a stir-fry, eggroll stuffing, vegetable stock, you name it.  They pack just as many vitamins, folate and minerals as the prettier florets.  So, ignore President Bush and eat your broccoli.  Especially when it's B1G1.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Far East meets Down South

Here in good ol' S.C., we all rang in the New Year in our traditional way.  Food, drinking, and food.  The food is integral and is pretty much the same for us all. Superstition and tradition dictates it.  Every January 1st, all us South Carolinians (and other Southerners too) cook up some kind of pork (for good luck and wealth), collard greens (for cash), black eyed peas (for coins) and cornbread because, well you know, we like it with just about everything.

So, I chose to do BBQ in the crockpot and cooked my peas and collards low and slow for most of the afternoon.  Mom and Dad came over and we all feasted.  It was pretty awesome, if I do say so myself!  And today, we are fortunate to have lots of tasty leftovers to not only reheat and enjoy again, but to experiment with and reinvent!

Neil and I got the idea in our heads to go the route of the eggroll.  And, I'm so glad this thought crossed our minds.  

First, I made one with just collard greens inside.  Super.  Then, I added a little cream cheese to make the filling just a little more silky.  Good idea.  Next, we added black eyed peas to the mix.  Still going strong.  And lastly, I put some of the BBQ inside with the others.  Neil ate three of these.  And gave me a thumbs up. And, the little one ate one as well and proclaimed that it was "fantastic!  Keep up the good work, Mommy!" as she slapped me on the fanny.

I'm so glad we tried this.  It really worked! It sounds a little far out, but trust me, it works well.  Tomorrow, I'm using some more of the black eyeds for some pea cakes.  Maybe with a big ol' salad.  Or maybe with more BBQ...it was awfully good too!

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