A Thanksgiving don't.

November 23rd, 2005

One of my professors was telling our class the other day how she does not cook. When her children were growing up she said they would be disappointed to learn that she had made them a homecooked dinner. For Thanksgiving, she now buys the turkey, takes it to her sister's house and she says she gets to clean up. That part she is good at. Only once did she try to make a Thanksgiving turkey.

::Flashback::

As she had never done it she was following a recipe; though a little too closely it would appear. "Baste often," read the instructions and that is just what she did. She admitted to us that she basted her turkey every 5 minutes...

For those of you who do not spend much time in the kitchen and those of you who do but still don't get why this is hysterical, when you open your oven door you release all of the heat and doing so every 5 minutes is a pretty fantastic way to ensure that your turkey will not cook at all.

When her timer rang, she pulled out the bird and sure enough, it was not cooked...at all. To her credit (I think) she did not throw in the towel. She refused to be beaten by the one mistake so to cook her turkey, she placed it in the microwave to finish it.

And that was the first time, and thus the last time, she attempted to make a Thanksgiving turkey.

Maybe the meal you'll have isn't so bad now is it? Just a little story that I thought I would share with you before your hearty feasts tomorrow. Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

Pot Roast

November 23rd, 2005

What a day. Not only was I able to use my new $20 Calphalon Saucier but I was able to use it to make my first pot roast. And it could not have been easier.

I started with (pre cooked weight) 7 lbs. of chuck roast from Costco (of all places). This is a tremendous amount of roast, but we are healthy eaters and none ever goes to waste. The cut was actually very nice. There was not much waste on it at all. I was very impressed. It is good to know that Costco is a legitimate source for roast.

It might have been slightly overkill, but to be on the safe side I sprayed the bottom of my pot with non-stick spray before pouring in some olive oil.

Season your meat however you like. This part is really where one pot roast will differ from another. I utilized an old trick my mom uses and involved neither salt nor pepper. She gets some strange Italian seasoning packets from who knows where. Empty both of them is her instruction.

The roast is cut into four relatively equally sized pieces and placed in the pot to brown on the stove in the olive oil. For fun I added some dried onion flakes, one chopped garlic clove and just a splash of red wine once all sides of my roast had been browned.

Ok, now the directions get a bit difficult. You may want to write this part down so as to not forget...

Cover your pot and place it in the oven. Walk away.

Did you get that? Should I go over it again?

I set my oven to 300 degrees. Yes, only 300. I let the roast cook for 3 hours. I did not touch it until I took it out of the oven those 3 hours later.

My family has always served pot roast shredded. Once the roast has cooled enough to touch pick up the pieces and pull them apart in roughly bite sized pieces. After 3 hours in the oven the pieces will fall apart, you should not have to work too hard at this. Be careful however, the meat will hold in the heat and you can easily hurt your fingers.

Serve with whatever sides you wish. We opted this time against placing any vegetables in the pot with the roast but it is great with carrots, potatoes, even onions. To accompany the roast at the wishes of my dinner guests we did have mashed potatoes and green beans. DO NOT throw away the juices in the pot once your roast is removed. Pour that into a gravy boat or similar serving dish and set it proudly on your dinner table. The meat will not be dry, but who can say no to a little more juice?

I have leftovers in my fridge. They will keep for a few days; longer had I frozen them. What a great meal. These are leftovers I look forward to, not shy away from.

Enjoy!

November 21st, 2005

Slaying the dragon of delay is no sport for the short-winded.

November 14th, 2005

He who controls others may be powerful, but he who has mastered himself is mightier still.

La Strada Ristorante - Chicago, Ill.

November 14th, 2005

Normally I am not much of a fan of Italian restaurants. I often find that their menus are limited and the food is extremely average. I cannot remember having a meal at an Italian restaurant that I considered a positively memorable experience; well before we ate at La Strada Ristorante anyway.

We were staying at the Fairmont Hotel which is just a few minutes walk from the restaurant. There was no coincidence involved here, the weekend was planned (expertly I might add).

La Strada Ristorante

Our reservation at La Strada was for a private party. They had drinks at the bar with hors d'oeuvres before we were seated at our tables. The wait staff walked around with bruschetta, portabello strips and absolutely the biggest scallops I have ever seen, and they just happened to be wrapped in bacon. If you have never had scallops wrapped in bacon, you are doing yourself a great disservice. I will say that for some reason I actually prefer smaller scallops for this appetizer, but those offered at La Strada were still delicious.

Dinner was four courses, each enjoyable in its own way. First was the Lobster Bisque. It was served with caviar, which was a first for me. I do not plan to have it again, but the bisque itself was very good. It was also the first time I have had Lobster Bisque with baby shrimp, though truth be told I prefer it with chunks of lobster meat. Call me crazy.

Course number 2 was the Caesar salad. Simple yet I would take a Caesar salad over any other. I have recently had a few bad experiences at other restaurants which use bad Caesar dressings. That was not the case at La Strada. It was the best I have had in awhile.

The third course was my favorite. The irony is that for one who does not like Italian food, typically, my favorite course was the most stereotypically Italian. Looking at the menu online I believe we had the Cappelini Caprese. The website lists it as "angel hair pasta, light tomato, fresh mozzarella cheese". Another simple dish, but it was really very good, and the highlight of my dinner.

We finished the dinner itself with a full plate; as if we had not had enough food to this point. Filet, stuffed jumbo shrimp, potato and vegetable side dishes. My filet was really very good. I would not normally order a filet for myself, but had no complaints with the one picked on my behalf; it was delicious. I ate one and a half of the two shrimp, but thought it was a bit much. Having had shrimp in the Lobster Bisque, I had nearly enough earlier in the meal.

What would a good dinner be without dessert, right? They prepared a small sampler for each of us. We had a piece of cheesecake, a baby cannoli, a strawberry dipped in chocolate and the most magnificent mousse I have ever had. I cannot find the mousse on the website which is disappointing because I am curious to exactly what it was, and I would like to give credit where credit is due. One friend had told me on our way into the restaurant that their cheesecake was to die for, which was true, but I would take more of that mousse any day.

The menu items are more expensive, but the food and the atmosphere are worth it at least once. I would imagine La Strada is a pretty popular date spot...if you can afford it. Dress nicely.

The restaurant is located at 155 N. Michigan Ave. (312) 565-2200

Caviar

November 14th, 2005

A few milestones involving both me and fish eggs:

November 12, 2005: First time I tried caviar.

November 12, 2005: Last time I will try caviar.

November 10th, 2005

It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness.

MAX New York - San Diego, CA

October 25th, 2005

Heading to San Diego for my first time last week, all I knew going in was that I had to make reservations for Thursday night so we could take a client out to dinner. This is by far the best part of my job; traveling to big cities, picking nice restaurants and enjoying (hopefully) a fine meal there. http://www.sandiegorestaurants.com/max/photo.cfm?photoid=10

Life is tough, I know. Especially when you end up at a restaurant like MAX New York.

There were 9 of us having dinner for this reservation. We were seated at a square table, which was perfect. The table sat 10 (3x2). There was no awkward distance between two people at the ends of a rectangular table and no cramped-for-space feel of a circular table.

We were out for business; suits, shirt (with or without tie) were all acceptable, though I do not think necessary. I did not look around as much to see if anyone at other tables was dressed down much more, but I would not imagine they were. The Gas Lamp District area of San Diego (home to MAX) is a relatively upscale part of town from what I could tell.

Appetizers-a-plenty hit our table: Jumbo Shrimp Cocktail, Maine Lobster & Blue Crab cakes, and Fried Calamari, Shrimp & Scallops. My favorite part was the shrimp that came in the Fried Calamari, Shrimp & Scallops sampler. It was battered in the same style as the calamari, very good.

Their Creamy Lobster Bisque was not my favorite lobster bisque, but it was good. Don't worry about me. I am not enough of a bisque snob that I am not able to enjoy one that isn't the best I have ever had.

It may come as no surprise that I ordered the 24 oz. Bone-In Rib Eye, as it is what I get at every steakhouse. It is served with a Rosemary Sauce which I was not excited for, thus I ordered a Bernaise Sauce with my steak. It turns out, however, when you do that, they give you both. They plated my steak with the Rosemary Sauce and gave me the Bernaise as a side, which did not thrill me. But I am not without fault; I could have specified my intentions. The steak was still very good.

As with many steakhouses, the side dishes were a la carte. We ordered Grilled Asparagus, Sautéed Wild Mushrooms and Garlic Mashed Potatoes for the table. You cannot go wrong with any of these sides.

At the time of dessert, many claimed not to want any. Three of us ordered anyway and we shared them with the table; Tiramisu, Fudge Brownie with Vanilla Gelato, and White Chocolate Creme Brulee. I ordered the brownie. It was very good. Though I did not try the other two as everyone else did, the table favorite was the White Chocolate Creme Brulee.

The location (827 5th Ave.) was right downtown. Tell your cab driver you want 5th Ave. between E and F, you can't miss it. I loved how the front of the restaurant was open, not just one normal door. I guess you would have to see it to understand.

The meal was not outrageously priced. It was what we had expected. This was important as there were so many of us.

Probably the highlight of the meal for me was the service. The entire restaurant staff was very accommodating. They asked about almost everything rather than assuming anything. And it may have been just some guy off the street, but I prefer to think it was the Manager who came to the table to make sure everything was satisfactory; a small detail, but one I appreciate. We were very well taken care of at MAX New York.

October 11th, 2005

Versatility is one of your outstanding traits.

Big Montana

October 5th, 2005

This is a formal goodbye to Arby's Big Montana. It pains me to do it, but I feel it is the right thing to do. The sandwich of sandwiches has been gone for a few months, but I have not been able to talk about it until now. Not until now have I been able to admit to myself, let alone to others, that it was taken away from us.

If you are unfamiliar, Arby's had a sandwich called the Big Montana that was nothing more than a hefty pile of roast beef between two pieces of a sesame roll. Other sandwiches looked up to and admired the Big Montana, and with good reason. And now it is gone.

The "Large Roast Beef" is what they ask me to call the replacement. Their fascist propaganda claims that it contains just as much roast beef as did the Big Montana, only on a smaller bun. Let them make their outrageous promotional statements. It is not the same.

I still go to Arby's and order the Big Montana...out of respect...and they "correct" me as they ring me up for a Large Roast Beef, then assure me it's the same amount of roast beef. It is not the same amount. It is not the same sandwich and we will never get it back.

I can understand the rationale from Arby's perspective when we, as a society, have (unfortunately) adopted a "less is more" approach to carbohydrates, so less bun on your roast beef sandwich looks like a good idea. And even more than that, now you have however many roast beef sandwiches on your menu and only one size roll (I repress all thoughts of their onion roll). From a cost stand point, I am sure it saves Arby's plenty of money.

I am not without reason, their excuses are fine with me. Oops, did I say excuses? I mean...explanations. But save the talk, I don't want to hear it. I want a Big Montana and I do not think it is ever coming back.

Please, next time you are together with friends, pour one out for the Big Mo'.

R.I.P. Big Montana