Thursday, April 24, 2014

Trytophan Fix

What's your favorite food?  This is probably the most often asked question ever.  And everyone has an answer. Or answers, in the case of variety freaks like myself. It's an interesting question because of the wide range of answers you'll hear.  Pizza, lobster, crepes Suzette, chicken chow just never know.

But here's one you may not think of right off the bat.  Turkey and dressing.  That's right; the American Thanksgiving staples around which our annual celebration is centered.  Most people probably have this meal once a year.  But, there are others. Others who really dig turkey. Those who are connoisseurs of this great gallinaceous bird. I have known one of these people from the day I was born.  She's my mom.

"I know good turkey when I see it."
 And when I say these folks are connoisseurs, I'm not joking.  She can look at turkey in a restaurant or at a catered event from across the room and tell you if she's going to eat it or not.  You see, it has to be REAL turkey.  

I know, it sounds stupid for me to even say that, but here's what she means.  She cannot tolerate processed turkey like that log shaped "turkey roll" for instance.  She practically gags at the mere utterance of the words "turkey roll."  No, what she seeks is an actual slice of roasted turkey, sliced off the actual bird itself, having never taken a trip through any type of automated machine or formed into any shape other than turkey-shaped.
Turkeys are NOT shaped like circles
 My sister and I have joked for years that if Mom ever ends up on Death Row, she'll pick turkey & dressing for her last meal.  We joke, but it's really not a joke at all.  She'd do it.  She's like the dad on "Christmas Story." 

Interesting carving stance...he just wants that turkey!
 She loves the stuff. So, what's a turkey devotee to do once Thanksgiving comes and goes?  Oh sure, you can buy yourself a turkey and roast it at home on any given Tuesday, but really, does anyone ever actually do that?  But, my Mom has found the answer.  She has found the place to satisfy this need.  If you ever feel like you don't know what day it is, you'll know it's Thursday when my Mom mentions The Cracker Barrel.

Now, you guys know how I am about chain restaurants. For the most part, I hate them but I do acknowledge that they have their time and place.  Frankly, I think the Cracker Barrel is one of the weirdest places on Earth.  I guess their mission statement goes something like "Have the motoring public pull off the Interstate, come eat some overpriced "country food", then wander around aimlessly before ending at the cashier to pay for their meal, a pound of taffy, ballerina costumes for the grandkids and the rocking chair that the spouse is loading into the back of the van".  However, every Thursday, the Cracker Barrel serves real turkey and dressing.  The vegetable du jour is always sweet potato casserole to round out the Thanksgiving experience, if that's what you're going for. 

There you have it.  Real, sliced, roasted turkey every single Thursday of every single week.  For these trytophan fanatics this is like having lunch in Shangri-La. As much as I joke about the Cracker Barrel, I must admit that I'm happy to go there on Thursdays with my mom.  Turkey's her thing, I get it. Until she gets to Heaven... you know, the land of milk and honey turkey and dressing, I'll gladly accompany her to her occasional turkey fix.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 21, 2014

Goin' Old School

I grew up eating steak.  Not everyday, of course.  But, we had it pretty frequently at home.  Don't get me wrong...we weren't overly wealthy or anything.  In fact, my mom was pretty thrifty. But she believed in giving us variety and giving us quality.  So, when we did have steak, it was a good one.  Because of this, I grew up viewing a steak as a good meal, but not some extra special, stop the presses, alert the media kind of meal.  Remember "A League of Their Own?" I always get cracked up when Doris' dad says excitedly that he's going to take her out for a "steak dinner" to celebrate.

My Uncle Tommy was a pretty regular meat and potatoes kinda guy.  During the summers, my sister and I would get on a Trailways bus and ride up to Spartanburg to spend a week or so with our cousin.  It was the adventure of the year.  Riding a bus without parents, a satchel full of games, snacks, toys and candy for the ride. It was cool then.  My mom always talked to the driver, put us right behind him and he looked out for us the whole way.  Today, I can't even fathom putting the Vivver on a bus and watching her drive away.  The world is indeed a very different place.

On Friday nights, my Aunt Jennie always made a "steak dinner."  I remember it was usually T-bones.  We rarely had T-bones at home, so this was a novelty.  We had baked potatoes and tossed salad with an assortment of dressings.  You know, it was the 70's, the advent of prepared foods of all types! America wasn't satisfied with just oil and vinegar anymore. 

The other day I was working on a long overdue grocery list when Neil commented on how long it's been since we cooked steaks.  So, I sought out some pretty ones and that's what hit the plates that night.  And, I went old school.  Salt, pepper, garlic.  Pan sear then bathe the steaks in butter as they cooked the rest of the way.  Baked potatoes with choices of sour cream, chives from my patio, freshly cooked bacon bits, cheddar.  

This was our end result.  No salad this time, but steamed pea pods instead.  We love those!  It's funny how a flavor, a dinner, an aroma can conjure up so many memories for us.  This supper made me think of Uncle Tommy, who we lost about 12 years ago.  He would have liked having dinner with us the other night!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Recent Thoughts

Some recent culinary observations:
  • roasted cabbage is a new favorite at my house
  • I make a pretty mean chicken parmesan
  • people love pizza from Grecian Gardens
  • banana pudding makes us Southerners happy
  • realizing you don't have an onion can be devastating
  • nobody does s'mores correctly anymore
  • I have missed the rush of a good couponing heist
  • my child tried to convince me that her teacher snacks on croissants & feta cheese during her piano lesson
  • I am in love with our new fridge

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Texas Tamales

Texas is known for a lot of things.  Oil rigs, the Dallas Cowboys, cattle, steak, BBQ and Tex-Mex food.  While other Southwestern states can also lay claim to Tex-Mex, well, notice that there aren't cuisine names such as Ariz-Mex or New Mex-Mex. Nope, Texas has the Tex part sewn up.

Hats, boots, belt buckles, wooden Indian...they got it all. 
I happen to love Mexican food in all its forms. Since this was my first visit to the Lone Star State, I knew some sort of Tex-Mex was definitely in my future.  After visiting NASA/Johnson Space Center, it was time to fuel up.  We went to a place called Eduardo's Mexican Kitchen. I've probably talked about this before, but it's really, really hard to get a good tamale here in Columbia, SC.  They are usually too much masa, not enough filling and dry as the Agave Desert. If I could get a good tamale, it should be here in Texas, right?  Right.

My dad, mom and I all ordered the lunch tamales.  The meat was tender and moist, nice shredded pork, which I love. The masa was also tender and flavorful. The tamales were covered in a nice ranchero type sauce and served with charro beans.  Dad and I opted to pair ours with a frosty Dos Equis, while mom went the margarita route.  I wish I could get a tamale like this at home.

Moist shredded pork inside, tender masa outside

Yummm, Dos Equis amber
 For those of you who follow my Facebook page, you may remember that I mentioned the most, awesome tamales that came from a Kroger?  Well, it's true.  As much as I loved my lunch at Eduardo's, there is a Kroger near my sister's house that is serving up even better tamales than the restaurant.  I know, I know, sounds crazy.  But, ever since my parents went out to help Katherine move, they have been talking non-stop about these tamales.  In the deli, there are some Mexican ladies back there making fresh tortillas and tamales.  They bought some while we were all there this trip and OMG, who'da thunk it?  They were incredible.  The masa layer was a little thinner and the meat was cooked perfectly and so very tasty.  It made me think of how often Guy Fieri has discovered goat curry in a gas station or fish tacos at a Zippy Mart.  

Stay tuned.  I have more Texas food adventures to tell you about.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014


My brother-in-law accepted a really great job offer back in the fall.  IN TEXAS. 

This is amusing on one very obvious level.  My sister lived in Colorado for many years.  Her best friend is a Colorado native.  One thing we know about Coloradoans, they LOATHE Texans.  This may sound silly, but one of the first thoughts that went through my sister's mind was "oh, crap, what's Amy gonna think?"

Well, they are alive and well in Houston, specifically the Clear Lake area.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with Houston like myself, the Clear Lake area of town is where NASA is located. I mean, really.  I think it's pretty groovy that on a day to day basis, my sister is now traveling down Space Center Blvd and NASA parkway, etc. The other surprising thing is that Houston is coastal.  Now, before you all think I'm stupid, let me explain. I'm a map geek.  And, while I've always realized Houston is near the water and right across the water from New Orleans, I never realized that Houston has contact with salt water. It's freakin' awesome!

The first night we were there, Katherine and Darren kept talking about taking us to "the place under the bridge."  After I realized they weren't referring to a soup kitchen, I was intrigued.  It's a cool place called Outriggers and it is, in fact, under a bridge and right on the water.  

It is a casual place with an awesomely seafood heavy menu.  Mom and I ordered the same thing: the shrimp/avocado appetizer, which was just the right size dish I needed that night.  It was spicy grilled shrimp served on top of 2 avocado halves, which were seated on shredded lettuce.  All was drizzled with a terrific remoulade.  My dad ordered an oyster Po-Boy, which was the one dish of the night that didn't score any points.  Dad said it was way too much batter and not enough oyster.  

My sister ordered shrimp tacos and my brother-in-law went for the Tilapia Veracruz.  His dish looked wonderful, but I was so busy with my shrimp remoulade, I forgot to bug him to give me a bite!  But, the star of the night was what my Wunderkind ordered...crawfish.  According to Katherine, it seems to be crawfish season in Texas.  She said everywhere you go, you see people even steaming and selling them on the side of the road!  Of course, I immediately asked my baby-child if she was interested in having "crawdads" since she devours them each year at the Crawfish Festival in our neighborhood.  I was quickly reprimanded by Katherine..."we" call them crawfish.  Well, you know what happened next, right?  I refused to call them anything but crawdads.  After all, they ARE crawdads.

The only thing I wish I'd thought to ask was what type of spice, or level of spice they cooked their crawdads with.  They arrived at the table, and it was evident that they had a pretty good coating of spices on the shells.  Nonetheless, my baby was undeterred.  I peeled them for her and she made it through about 8 of them before the cumulative effect of the spices got her.  I asked the waitress for milk and was shocked to learn that they have no milk.  I actually asked her, "So, wow, you guys don't make White Russians here, huh?"  Her reply?  "Oh yes, we just make them with creamer."  <<Insert gag reflex here>>

They were incredibly good and the pound we ordered was only $6.99.  Needless to say, we had plenty to take home.  Next day, we ate them right out of the fridge and they were still just as good.  They were so tender, well flavored, so so good!  Truth be told, as we were all standing around my sister's kitchen island doing some late night snacking, I pretty much ate all the leftover crawdads.  Nobody else got in the game...oh no, too slow!


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