Monday, August 13, 2007

About last night...(part 2)

So we talked of many things in our short little visit. We talked cameras...pinknest had just gotten a new one after testing several models. She was showing Molly how to adjust the lighting conditions setting, since both had Sony cams.

While everyone was talking cameras, I was showing off my newly cleaned-out refrigerator, which I just happened to have a shot of on my camera; I was planning to post it here in a post about cleaning up, but I'll put it in here since it's relevant. It was a funny moment. "That's cleaned up?!" pinknest exclaimed. She doesn't know that I am the world's biggest condiment hound! Those of you who know my refrigerator know that this is indeed clean! And you can shut up now. :)

pinknest was also telling us about her recent New York Times find: a recipe for cold-brewed iced coffee. She was telling us how terrific it was. So I went home and made some. Wow, was she ever right. Fabulous. Rich. Not a hint of bitterness. You have to try it!

BB & addROC enjoyed some appetizers, one of which was a plate of fries...a BIG plate of fries. Those looked fabulous. But starches and me are not always good friends, and since I would be eating some past later with my meal, I forgo trying one.

They also tried this sausage appetizer. Very Germanic!

Molly and Shane had this appetizer; I wasn't sure what it was, but it looked interesting. And of course, served with the obligatory lingonberries. And beer. There was lots of beer.

I ordered the Huhn Paprikash as my entree. Chicken in a tomato, cream, and paprika flavored sauce with roasted onions. It was delicious, but Jess thought it needed something. More salt might have been good. The pasta that accompanied it was buttery and lightly seasoned, though I couldn't identify with what; it was delicious, and I was tempted to eat every bite. But then I thought of what starches do to me, and I stopped about two-thirds of the way through.

Okay, I have to go now. Our French guests are preparing to go into the city, and I am going with them today. So we are off to the train.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

About last night...

It was a fun-but-too-short evening at Loreley, 7 Rivington, just east of Bowery, where we finally got to meet pinknest and several other bloggers for a delightful evening of conversation and some very good German food.

We were off to a little bit of a rough start - I had prepared a bag of goodies to bring to pinknest that included a cookbook, a jar of strawberry preserves I had made, and a pint of cherry tomatoes from my tomato plant. We were a little late getting to the train station so we dashed from the car to make it to the platform. In my haste to get the programmable parking machine paid (it took five tries before it accepted my payment!) I forgot the bag and left it sitting in the car, running to the platform to catch the train. I was so irritated with myself that I almost decided to turn around and go home, but I am so glad I didn't. I have been waiting for 5 months to give her the book, so needless to say, I was disappointed with my extreme absent-mindedness. I'd forget my freaking head if it weren't screwed on.

At any rate, it was great fun finally meeting a kindred cooking/eating spirit in person, and her other half, along with several others who were so entertaining!

The fun began at 8:00, but unfortunately we could only stay until 10:00, since we had to be up early to pick up guests arriving from France this morning at JFK. We weren't ready to leave at 10:00, but since we didn't get home until almost midnight, it was good that we did.

Jess and I are not big on German food, but I was very happy to find some items on the menu that were delicious. And they made a great whiskey sour there.

So, we met pinknest...

And Matt, her other half, who really wanted to watch the Mets game, but entertained us as the musical director for the evening!

And Molly and her other half, Shane (forgive me if I have misspelled or mistaken these names!)Shane had a delightful Irish brogue.

And Brooklyn Bitch and her other half, addROC. addROC is the cook at their place, and from the stuff she has on her blog, sounds like a good one! Visit her blog, you will enjoy reading it.

Those were the people at our table.

There were many more that we only met briefly...

...and some we didn't get to meet at all.

I started with a bowl of roasted tomato soup, which I told pinknest I would have given 3.5 out of 5 breadsticks!

pinknest had some delicious-looking potato pancakes with lingonberries and applesauce.

Okay, I have to finish this post tomorrow - it's bedtime! Sorry!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

House brands vs. national brands

Time was when house brands of items were often second-rate in comparison to national or regional brands. You typically chose house brands because you were on a tight budget, not because you thought they were better than the national brands. But the times, they are a-changin'.

Some of the best little surprises come from Target stores, a Dayton-Hudson company that long ago decided to be an excellent mid-market retailer: better quality than K-mart, Venture, Caldor, or the other craptastic retailers that have begun to vanish, and if offers nicer, cleaner, more well-organized stores than the behemoth Wal-Mart. I'll gladly pay the small amount extra to shop at Target rather than Wal-Mart.

But back to the brands controversy. Target has two house brands that it sells, Archer Farms, and Market Pantry. Not every one is a winner, but there are many. For instance, chips: I love Archer Farms Chile-Lime tortilla chips better than any other national brand's chile-lime chip. Archer Farms also makes wonderful Salsa Cashews for snacking, as well as trail mix. These are just a few of their product I have tried. They certainly beat Planters and Fisher. Market Pantry whipping cream (not already whipped) is delicious and rich, and is significantly cheaper than brands you would buy at the store. They also have a line of water mix-ins that compete with Crystal Light's "On the Go" products. They are better-tasting to me, and they cost less.

Walgreens also distributes a nice line of nuts and an especially fine cashew, whether plain salted, or Chipotle. Again, they are better-tasting than Planters or Fisher and a lot less greasy. I can't even eat a Planters cashew anymore. Walgreens and CVS house-brand dry roasted peanuts also have a better flavor, to me, than Planters. But if you're looking for smoked almonds, stick with Diamond, the national brand. On those, CVS and Walgreens fall flat.

But if you're really looking for food surprises, you might be surprised by Costco's "Kirkland Signature" brand. For me, they hold the prize for cashews with their delicious Fancy Indian Cashews in an almost 2-lb. tub. But that's the problem...buying at Costco means large quantities; you won't be eating 2 lbs. of cashews yourself in a period short enough to preserve their freshness, so you'll have to keep them in the fridge or freezer, but they are worth it.

Then there's the Kirkland Signature canned salmon. I know, you're appalled at the idea of canned salmon. I used to be, too. Most canned salmon has the bones still in it, and some of the nasty, slimy skin in there, too - revolting. But after reading a review of the salmon in Costco's bi-monthly magazine, I decided to give it a try. It is the most wonderful canned salmon you will ever eat - it is spectacularly good. And if you have a cat or dog, you can pour off the broth and use it over your pet's dry food - they will go nuts.

Kirkland Albacore Tuna is also much better than its Chicken of the Sea-brand counterpart. Much better. And Kirkland canned chicken beats Swanson or Valley Fresh any day.

Don't get me wrong; I don't buy all Kirkland Signature brand items. Most of the food items are great, but I am not as crazy about their frozen foods. And other household items, like dishwashing and washing machine detergents, aren't that great. Kirkland shampoos? No. Kirkland crackers? Yes. And they occasionally have some little goodies that are just fascinating. Like a 2-lb box of chocolate truffles (sold only during fall and winter) that is just $5. A superb, purely chocolate, non-alcoholic truffle that melts in your mouth and is simply addictive. They aren't branded as Kirkland, as I recall, they are called "Truffettes de France". Try. You won't be disappointed.

Now I am not suggesting that all store brands are approaching the quality of national brands. They aren't. There are still plenty of junk house brands out there. But as national brands begin to conglomerate under single parent companies, and the new company tries to economize or fit the brand more to their lines, the quality is seeming to go downhill. And stores like Target, Walgreens, Costco, and CVS are changing the landscape of food shopping, largely for the better.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


As I blogged about a couple of months ago, I got a new santoku knife, and I love it. I use it a lot. And in the past couple of weeks, I've noticed that it has lot some of its original sharpness.

I have a lot of other knives, too, and many aren't as sharp as they used to be. Some were not that sharp to begin with.

I have tried to keep them pretty sharp with the steel rod I have, but it just doesn't do the job I'd like. I had been considering buying some whetstones to aid in the edge-finishing task, but it's such work that I decided to start checking out electric sharpeners.

I did quite a bit of research and decided on the Chef's Choice 130 sharpener. I had a set of Henckel's knives that we bought a number of years ago. They weren't the most expensive Henckel's knives, but they weren't the cheapest, either. They were better than most of the other knives I had, but compared to the santoku I bought recently, they were pretty useless. I followed the instructions for the sharpener to put an entirely new edge on them. I was doubtful of their ability to be cleaned up, but I was wrong. They are sharper now than when new.

I have a "Le Gourmet Chef" Chef's knife that I really like. It was Jess' mom's. It was always one of my favorites, but when I got the santoku, I discovered it wasn't as great as I thought it was - but it was infinitely better than any other knife I had at the time. Then I ran it through the sharpener, and I was so happy with it again. Even though it's not the same as the santoku, there are tasks for which it is well-suited, and so I 'll be using it a lot more.

I have a set of oak-handled knives my dad bought for me when I graduated from college. They've never been my favorites - they have spent most of their lives in drawers, rarely being used. I sharpened them on the sharpener. I can now cut anything from wrapping paper to chicken with very little effort.

I have a pair of Fiskars scissors that I have been unhappy with for quite a long time. They lost their edge and I had tried to bring it back with the rod, but with little success. I ran them through the sharpener and they are back to their old selves...cutting paper just by gliding the scissors through the paper in a single motion rather than having to work the handles.

If you cook a lot, good, sharp knives can save you a lot of time. And this sharpener will really do a great job of keeping your knives in tip-top shape.

I bought mine at Bed, Bath and Beyond with one of the 20% off coupons they routinely send in the mail. After the discount and tax, it was about $119. Best money I have spent in a loooong time.

It's (real) tomato season!

The reason for the parenthetical notation above is, of course, that the things sold in the stores as tomatoes are actually nothing like real tomatoes. They may look like tomatoes but taste nothing like real tomatoes.

Real tomatoes are grown in a garden or on a farm during and harvested from about the middle of July until the end of September. Cherry tomatoes may set a little earlier than that. Real tomatoes are not firm like peaches. Real tomatoes have a rich flavor, they don't taste like cardboard. Real tomatoes don't go mealy inside when they ripen.

It's hard to find real tomatoes in a store; sometimes you can find them at a farm stand or open-air market, but even then, the prospect of finding a good one can be dicey.

One of my favorite varieties of tomato is Better Boy. The flavor is so much more rich and robust than most. I also like Big Beef or Ponderosa Pink.

Last year, I grew cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100, the only variety of cherry tomato I grow) and regular tomatoes (Celebrity, JetStar). The regular tomatoes didn't produce much...and what they did produce was not that great. I won't grow either of those varieties again. I will stick with my Better Boys.

The Better Boys are just beginning to ripen and I took the first one in last week. The flavor was spectacular; I am looking forward to more of them! Especially with some fresh basil I've grown and a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper...yum!

The cherry tomatoes are producing like crazy. I have one plant and it produces enough for us and enough to occasionally take some in for people who work in our offices. They are so sweet! When I get a lot of them, I like to cut them in half and use them in turkey-bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches.

Saturday, August 04, 2007


So we hosted a barbecue for Jess' office today. It was quite the production, but it was way, way too much food! There were so many leftovers that we'll be eating them for days. I had a lot of leftover bread dough from earlier in the week when I made cinnamon rolls for a woman at work who was leaving, and I had also prepared extra dough for guests we were supposed to have on Friday night. But the Friday night guests bailed, so I had the dough and needed to make it into something. So I made dinner rolls and cinnamon rolls with the idea that I would probably just freeze them but not use them for today's lunch. But at the last minute, I decided I would put the dinner rolls out to see if anyone would want them. They ate about half of the tray, which was fine; I could freeze the other half. But they really had interest in the cinnamon rolls, the smell of which had entranced them as I took them from the oven. I feared they would overshadow the cobbler and cookies I had made, and indeed they did. I have 2/3 of the cobbler left and have no idea what I am going to do with it. Right now, I feel so bloated I don't care about any of it.

Here's what it looked like:

The dinner rolls: steamy, doughy, chewy, and deliciously yeasty...fabulous with a big slab of butter.

The smoky barbecued brisket.

The savory baked beans. I make them with a bit of the brisket stirred in, and some other spices.

And of course, cole slaw.

Yummy home-made potato salad brought by someone else (and I don't usually like potato salad).

Delicious roasted vegetables, also brought by someone else.

Sangria (foreground) and margaritas on tap.

The tart and delicious cherry cobbler.

The pièce de résistance...sticky, gooey, soft and spicy, warm and yeasty, totally over-the-top cinnamon rolls.

And finally...a margarita toast to you!